Make the economy so bad that people can't afford to get divorced.

As a result, divorce has become more complicated and often more expensive, with lower prospects for money on the other side. Some divorce lawyers say that business has slowed or that clients are deciding to stay together because there are no assets left to help them start over.
Maybe that's what Republicans mean when they say that they're constantly trying to strengthen marriage--their economic policies are making it so people are just stuck. Permanent underclass for everyone!

Via Atrios

Poor reasoning

I came to this story (Warning: images NSFW) via The Rumpus, a new site devoted to culture matters, literature, etc., put together by my friend Stephen Elliot (and for whom I may be doing some writing in the future--early stages on that). It's an interesting story that concerns the intersection of porn and the mainstream, and how it's becoming easier for porn actresses to not only cross over, but continue to do their adult work even while becoming mainstream figures as well.

But there's a problem with part of Susannah Breslin's argument. Here it is:

While some feminists like to spend their time caterwauling about the supposed sexism of AA ads, it bears mentioning these ads were conceptualized and shot by Kyung Chung, who, it also bears mentioning, is a woman. Previously, Chung got feminist knickers in a crack-splitting twist when she shot herself for a Manhattan AA billboard. Gee, it's a good thing feminists are ripping their hair out and clawing at their eyes and pulling down the drapes over supposedly sexist ads shot by a woman, or I'd have, like, no self-esteem.
Replace Chung's name with Phyllis Schlafly's, and replace the idea of sexually explicit ads with the argument that women ought to shut up, stay home, and pop out lots of babies, and you see the problem with the argument. Women can easily be anti-feminist, and in fact, many are.

Now I'm not saying that Chung is anti-feminist, nor am I saying that Breslin is either. I'm not even going to get into whether or not the AA ads they're talking are particularly exploitative--I'm not in a position to make an argument about that, and there are lots of people more qualified than I am to do so. It's irrelevant to my problem with Breslin's post. My point is that we really don't want to base an argument on "she's a woman so she's obviously not sexist," because that can lead to all sorts of irrational arguments.

Quick football question

To Miami Dolphin fans--what gave you the most glee yesterday?

1. The Dolphins completing their worst to first act

2. That they did it against the Jets

2a. That they did it against the Jets at the Meadowlands

3. That they did it with the Jets' former quarterback

4. That the Jets head coach lost his job today over their late season collapse

After all that rivalry goodness wrapped up in one big weekend, does it really matter how the Fins do next week? I mean, sure, you want them to win, but I'd have to say that by any measure, whether from the team's rebound to the joy of jamming it in the faces of the huge number of obnoxious local Jets fan transplants that inhabit south Florida, this season has already been successful beyond anyone's imagination. That a Fin win kicked the Patriots out of the playoffs was just sauce for the goose.

Some numerical perspective

Hilzoy has a terrific post up about the latest hostilities between Israel and Palestine, and I'm only going to add this as perspective to this really salient point that she's made.

I imagine what people on both sides are thinking is something more like: do you expect us to just sit here and take it? Do you expect us to do nothing? To which my answer is: no, I expect you to try to figure out what has some prospect of actually making things better. Killing people out of anger, frustration, and the sense that you have to do something is just wrong.
I agree wholeheartedly, but to give a sense of just how much killing has happened in just this latest attack by the Israelis, look at the numbers this way. There are nearly 300 reported dead in Palestine out of a total population of about 2.6 million, which is just over 0.01% of the population. That same percentage of the population in the US would be about 30,000 people, if I've done my math correctly (which is never a certainty), or the size of a small town like the ones I grew up in.

Now remember--as a nation, we lost our collective minds when an attack took the lives of ten percent of that number in September of 2001. We wound up in two wars, one that was sold to us under false pretenses, and re-elected the guy who lied us into it, even though we knew he was incompetent, because as a group, we lost it after a single attack that killed one tenth as large a group as the Palestinians lost in the last couple of days. We've managed to restore some part of our sanity because we weren't being barraged with repeated shocks every day, every week, every year. Neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis have that luxury, because there are too many people vested in keeping the violence going. There's too much power at stake.

It's easy to sit back from a safe vantage point and make grand pronouncements about who's right and who's wrong and that one group or another deserves to be retaliated against for their actions. The reality is far more complicated than that. Even if we were able to point back to some initiator, to some person or group and say "you are responsible for this," it wouldn't matter at this point. There are too many grievances committed by too many people--all are to blame.

And the ones in the worst situation here are those who see the senselessness of the violence, the ones of whom Hilzoy speaks when she writes "I expect you to try to figure out what has some prospect of actually making things better." They're out there, and they're trying, but the forces arrayed against them are mighty, and without compunction and without conscience, regardless of which side they're on.

I suppose there's some circumstance in which universities might be over-funded, but unless you're the kind of person who feels public money ought not go to higher ed at all, I think it's fair to say that we're not at that point in Florida right now. In fact, the way the state is funding the university system in Florida, one might wonder if there's a concerted attempt afoot to get rid of it all together. It's apparently not enough for the legislature that Florida universities rank 13th from the bottom in appropriation dollars per student, fourth from the bottom in tuition and fees, and fourth from the bottom when the two are put together. We're also near the bottom nationally when it comes to faculty salaries, and that's starting to have an impact that's wider than most might understand.

When a lead Florida State University researcher needed five faculty members last year to start a landmark center dedicated to studying autism, state budget cuts prevented the school from hiring the additional professors.

The Ohio State University, however, had the money, recruited the researcher -- and his more than $1 million in federal grants -- and in a few years could be reaping the benefits of an autism program that may bring $10 million annually to the school.

Statewide, university officials fear more such exoduses as lawmakers prepare to meet in special session next month to discuss another round of financial reductions....

But in addition to the surface-level slashing, university leaders fear the residual effect of pushing out top school researchers who will take their federal grants with them.
You get what you pay for. Florida isn't paying its best researchers, and is suffering a brain drain to other parts of the country which causes the negative effects to multiply. See, not only are we having problems holding onto our own top researchers, who bring in money both in federal grants and in patent royalties, but we're also losing the up-and-comers who are usually the ones doing the real groundbreaking work.

But it doesn't stop there. If Florida gets a reputation as a state that doesn't give a crap for research in its university system, then it'll be hard to convince researchers to come here even if we do start throwing money at them. Why should a researcher come to a state that has shown everything from negligence to outright disdain for higher education, which pays its faculty members poorly when they're expected to live in one of the most expensive parts of the country, and which can't be trusted to fund research from one year to the next?

Yes, I understand times are tough economically, but we're talking about losing even more money than we're currently investing, simply because we're disrespecting the people who are bringing in money from outside sources. We're cutting off our noses to spite our faces, and it will haunt us well into the future if we don't do something to change our priorities.

Reinforcing patriarchy

I could tell from the title that this story would bug me--"Viagra helps CIA win friends in Afghanistan." At least the article didn't waste any time getting on my nerves.

The Afghan chieftain looked older than his 60-odd years, and his bearded face bore the creases of a man burdened with duties as tribal patriarch and husband to four younger women. His visitor, a CIA officer, saw an opportunity, and reached into his bag for a small gift.

Four blue pills. Viagra.

"Take one of these. You'll love it," the officer said. Compliments of Uncle Sam.
I mean, it's not like Afghanistan's tribal leaders have a history of repressing women or treating them like property or anything. It's not like tossing some Viagra at a tribal elder would reinforce their notion of power as being linked inextricably to male sexual potency or anything like that, right?
Afghan tribal leaders often had four wives — the maximum number allowed by the Koran — and aging village patriarchs were easily sold on the utility of a pill that could "put them back in an authoritative position," the official said.
Oh.

I know that even under the best of circumstances, women in Afghanistan aren't going to get the same kinds of rights that women in the US or western Europe currently have any time soon. Humans don't just overturn societal biases overnight. Women in the US only received the right to vote less than 90 years ago, and anyone who would argue that sexism isn't still a problem here is a moron. Afghanistan has considerably farther to go. But we're not helping things by reinforcing the stereotypes.

Some people will no doubt tell me to look at the bigger picture--that if giving an old man a boner makes it easier for US troops to move around in an area, the net effect is so good as to outweigh the negatives. I agree that there are immediate benefits for the soldiers in the affected areas, but I wonder if this is a case of winning a battle while losing the war. How do we expect for attitudes toward women in this part of the world to change if we reinforce them? I know that's not high on the military's list of priorities in Afghanistan, but maybe it ought to be--after all, it's more effective in the long run to bring enemies around to your way of thinking than it is to try to kill them all.

Stepping in it to find it

Steven Levitt is confused. He doesn't understand why SUVs are still dying even though gas is cheap again. He gives three possibilities, but this is the real winner.

2) The uncertainty of fluctuating gas prices takes the fun out of owning an S.U.V. Even if gas prices won’t be that high on average, it is so unpleasant to have an S.U.V. when gas prices are high that people don’t want to have them if gas prices are volatile. This explanation seems kind of dumb to me, but maybe it is possible.
First of all, it's not dumb, especially if you're a middle-to-working class individual who's living paycheck to paycheck. Having your weekly transportation costs more than double on you can really jam you up when you're living tight to begin with, and seeing as how the average worker hasn't gotten a real raise versus inflation in 30 years on the average, that's a big deal. Temporary relief in the form of gas prices returning to what we're used to isn't going to be much of a motivator when it comes to buying a new vehicle, especially when the pain is so recent.

There's also the matter of fossil fuels being a limited resource, and the successful framing of energy independence as a necessary part of national security that has changed the American mindset toward SUVs in general. We do understand supply and demand on a basic level, after all, and as oil gets scarcer and scarcer, as it inevitably must, we know that it's going to get pricier and pricier. Now, if gas stays around its current levels for a couple of years, we'll see a return to bigger vehicles, I have no doubt. Americans have short memories, which is a nice way of saying we're dumb about this sort of thing. But that's not going to be enough to save the Humscalade from a short term death.

Happy Holidays Indeed



We didn't actually buy this, which is just as well--that much Val Dieu in one place would probably result in a hangover that wouldn't leave until classes started again in January, and I have some stuff to handle between now and then.

Say hello to Gracie

Gracie is the latest kitten to be adopted into the extended family. Amy's parents have lost two cats to old age in the last couple of years, and the one who was left was moping around all lonely, so we got Gracie today.

This is video of her from last night when she was still at the Petsmart--she's a shelter kitten, housed there by the Humane Society, not one from a breeding farm--but we picked her up today and she proceeded to destroy the first toy we bought for her, and she licked what felt like a layer of skin off my right arm, all while trying to climb the ladder onto the top bunk of the room she's staying in for the next ten days. She purrs like she has an engine in her chest and will climb absolutely anything. She's the friendliest kitten I've ever seen.



Oscar, the older cat, has no idea what he's in for, though seeing as he's turned into a black hole of catdom, having someone to aggravate him into motion will probably do him some good.

Can't...resist...

The temptation to mock this story is pretty strong. After all, the punch line almost writes itself.

The Broward Sheriff's Office said 35-year-old Gina Marie Marks claimed she was a psychic with special powers. Over the phone and in person, she allegedly told her victims that by giving her money, she could cleanse them of curses and evil spirits.
Seriously, what's the difference between Marks and say, Benny Hinn? or Oral Roberts? or any other faith healer? Oh wait--here's the difference.
Marks also told her victims the money would be returned after the cleansing; however she never delivered on that promise. Instead, Marks defrauded five victims of close to $65,000.
Oh. Marks promised to return the money. If she'd just charged for her services, she'd have been fine, I suppose.

Worst NFL team ever?

Last year, it was the Dolphins flirting with a winless season, until they pulled out an overtime win against the Ravens in week 14. This year, after a shellacking by the New Orleans Saints (who have a winning record and are guaranteed no less than a .500 finish and are still last in their division--brutal), the Detroit Lions became the first NFL team to go 0-15 to start a season. It's all on the line for them next week in Green Bay.

But does that make them the worst NFL team ever? It's not a simple question, believe it or not, because there is a team that was once more futile than that--a certain Florida team from the west coast.

When Tampa Bay got its franchise in 1976, it wasn't so easy for teams to become competitive immediately. Free agency didn't exist to the degree it does now, and it was easier for teams to lock up players and create dynasties. Those were the days of the Cowboys and the Steelers, the Purple People Eaters and, as a matter of fact, the Dolphins, as perennial playoff contenders. And man, did the Buccaneers stink.

They lost, not only every game in their first season, but the first 12 in their second season. Until they played the New Orleans Saints, that is. I remember that game, vaguely--I was only 9 and new to Louisiana, and football, for that matter, but I knew it wasn't good. I knew that my team must be really bad if that team beat us handily, which is why I was nervous about today's game against the Lions. When you've been snakebit as many times as Saints fans have, you come to expect bad things to happen.

But 0-26 is a pretty massive losing streak. Detroit would not only have to lose next week to a below average Packers team, but go 0-9 to open next season to match the Tampa streak.

And yet, even though I dislike the Buccaneers because they're a division rival to my Saints, and so am tempted to keep them in the all-time cellar, I think the Lions are worse.

See, the Lions got this crappy in an age of unbelievable parity in the NFL. Look at the Dolphins, for example. Thirty years ago, chances were that a 1-15 team would probably be a 4-5 win team the next year if they did well. Now, a worst-to-first scenario is practically a given in at least one division every year. It's hard to stay bad these days, and yet the Lions have managed it to a degree unseen in the modern NFL. They've taken bad to a near art form. They lost at home, 42-7, to a team that had been eliminated from the playoffs last week, and so might have been down. That, my friends, is bad.

So throw out the records here, because they don't compare. Detroit, you've done it. You're the worst team ever in the NFL. Unless you beat Green Bay next week, anyway. And man, am I glad I'm not a packer fan right now.

Is that all you've got?

Via John Cole, it seems that Newsmax, casting about desperately for something else to beat the President-elect with, has settled on, of all things, his choice for inaugural poet.

Obama has been touted as among the most literary presidents in modern history, but his choice for an inaugural poet has some scratching their heads.

Acting more like a man of politics than a man of letters, Obama picked former Chicago neighbor and family chum Elizabeth Alexander to deliver an original inaugural poem next month. Alexander, 46, is an African-American studies professor at Yale. Her brother worked on Obama’s campaign and transition team, according to the New Yorker magazine.
Okay, there's a limited set to pull from here, but it seems to me that of the three previous inaugural poets, you can make a good case that two of them were political choices. Angelou replaced Williams in 1992--I only know this because I studied under Williams at the University of Arkansas--and even if choosing a woman of color wasn't a political choice, the poem she wrote was decidedly a political one. As for Frost, again, even if his choice wasn't a political one, the poem certainly was a political one (though of a politics not shared by a number of poets today, I'd imagine). Williams got his chance in 1996, and he'd been close with the Clintons when they were Law Professors at the U of A.

So assuming Alexander is a political pick--and given their past relationship, that's certainly not a given--the question remains, so what? It's the inauguration--it's kind of a political event--and it's not like there hasn't been a long history of poets thrusting their politics out there for all to read and hear.

One other thing: the poem Newsmax "excerpted," titled "Neonatology," is available here. I doubt it's the sort of thing Alexander will use as a template for the poem she'll read on January 20.

"I eat at chez nous."

I was listening to the Dan LeBatard show the day they came up with this idea, and I agree, it adds some fun to the announcing of the Panthers games. After all, we live in a culture where younger guys often have conversations that are nothing but movie references and song lyrics--we outgrow it if we're convinced of just how annoying it gets, I promise--so it's not surprising that Randy Moller's new schtick is popular.

I guess my suggestion was a bit too erudite for them--it's a lyric from a Yes song from over 20 years ago, and it has a French term in it, though you'd think that would go over in Montreal. But the attitude it right for hockey--"I eat at your house" is snarky enough for when you've just scored a goal on the road, right?

Okay, it isn't. But I had to try.

What's the catch?

That's the question I have to ask after reading this piece from Bloomberg about Credit Suisse's plan to get rid of some of their more toxic securities.

Dec. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Credit Suisse Group AG’s investment bank has found a new way to reduce the risk of losses from about $5 billion of its most illiquid loans and bonds: using them to pay employees’ year-end bonuses.

The bank will use leveraged loans and commercial mortgage- backed debt, some of the securities blamed for generating the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, to fund executive compensation packages, people familiar with the matter said. The new policy applies only to managing directors and directors, the two most senior ranks at the Zurich-based company, according to a memo sent to employees today.
Why do I ask about the catch? Because I've never known a situation where the people at the top of a company--especially a financial services company--willingly take a kick to the head when it comes to their pay. We've seen it time and again during the bailout--companies get billions of dollars to loosen up the credit market and they use it on dividends and executive perks and to shore up their own liquidity, but not on lending. So while this looks good for the moment, I wonder what the catch is? I wonder how this company is going to swing it around so that their directors and managing directors make out like bandits once the dust has settled.

Pastor Ted

Ah, Ted Haggard. He's a great example of how homobigotry can really destroy a human being. He went from being one of the nation's most powerful preachers--albeit as a preacher of the odious "prosperity Gospel"--and an adviser to the President to an insurance salesman and self-described loser with his own entry in in the Urban Dictionary:

A gay man or lesbian, usually closeted, who actively works against gay rights or supports politicians that do so...

Named after megachurch leader Ted Haggard, who was infamously shown to have taken meth and received massages from a gay escort in private while denouncing the evils of homosexuality in public.
Haggard is the subject of an upcoming documentary by Alexandra Pelosi, which is why he's back in the news a bit. He reveals that praying away the gay didn't really work for him.
"The reason I kept my personal struggle a secret is because I feared that my friends would reject me, abandon me and kick me out, and the church would exile and excommunicate me. And that happened and more," he says.
Yeah, it did, Mr. Haggard, and it happened (and will continue to happen) to a lot more people because you pushed the same message at the front of your church.

This is a tough blog post to write, because I really do want to feel sorry for the man--I don't like seeing anyone unhappy, especially over something as core as their sexuality--and it's clear that he still beats himself up over being gay. He's not being honest with himself, and its causing not only him but his entire family great emotional pain. And yet I also feel a great deal of anger at him, because he's visited that sort of pain on so many other young men and women in his life, and because he continues to perpetuate the stereotype of homosexuality as not only a choice, but as a sinful one that deserves the shunning and rejection he preached for so long.

So here's some advice for Mr. Haggard. Let it go. You're gay. You want redemption? Stop being ashamed of who you are and make room in your faith for others like you--closeted gays who are afraid to come out because they've been told they were wrong for being who they were. There's nothing unnatural about being gay, but there is unnatural about lying to yourself about it.

Majel Barrett Roddenberry has died of leukemia at the age of 76.

It's hard to think of another actor who had a more profound, long-term effect on the Star Trek Universe. In the original pilot for the show, she played the first officer, the unnamed "Number One." In the original series that aired, she was relegated to the position of Nurse to Doctor James McCoy--Star Trek: TOS was revolutionary in a lot of ways, but putting women in positions of command and dressing them in something other than mini skirts wasn't one of them.

But Barrett-Roddenberry made a comeback of sorts in the Next Generation and other spinoff series, playing the character of Lwaxana Troi, a brash, loud ruler and dignitary who was unafraid of her sexuality. I think she's one of the more interesting characters in the Star Trek universe.

Oh yeah, and she was the voice of the Starfleet computer systems as well. Hard to get more ubiquitous than that.

Apparently, she reprised her role as the voice in the upcoming "reboot" of the Star Trek franchise. I can't say I'm excited about the movie, but I'm glad that the makers at least paid that sort of tribute to the universe that currently exists even while glamming it beyond all recognition.

Sarah Haskins does it best, as usual:




The Kay's commercial she references with the couple at the tree lot has been around for years. They just replace the necklace with whatever they're claiming is "meaningful" this year. Someone at Current.com commented that this commercial seems to target men more than women. I can see that, though I think women are still being targeted the same way children are targeted by toy commercials. The child runs to mommy and daddy begging for the coolest toy in the whole wide world. Women are expected to internalize this message of "if he loves you he'll buy you this" and then secretly hope it's waiting under the tree, or maybe linger in front of it the next time she's at the mall with the men folk. Except, women aren't stupid. That part seems to get left out of this sort of advertising.

Zombie Objectivism, Part II

When I wrote my Zombie Objectivism post, what I had in mind with the "zombie metaphor" was the idea that despite Objectivism (the doctrine of mere selfishness rationalized to seem like a grand philosophy) being declared dead with the collapse of the economy it wrought and the admission before congress of its most powerful apostle, Alan Greenspan, that his entire worldview was wrong, we should not expect it to go away -- it will persist, "undead," but still roaming around, seeking brains. I argued the ways in which it is like (it is) a religion, in that its adherents are impervious to reason, and suggested we be vigilant against its inevitable return, which we can expect to be as destructive as ever.


I hadn't really thought about the other "zombie connotations": the mindless pursuit, the repetition of the same idea over and over again, the simple annoyance (almost comic, like a houseguest that won't leave, or a 12 year old that won't stop talking), nor had I considered that a kind zombie objectivist might come and stalk the comments thread as though to tap-dance morosely to the very tune I'd been trying to remember: ah yes, that's what it looks like! Thank you! Did everyone see that?

The disingenuous arguments thrown up madly like flak in a warzone, the verbiage by gross tonnage dumped, the rhetorical baiting followed by righteous indignation and a quick scramble to the top of the high horse: we've seen this all before. The objectivist, live or undead, has always been marked by a simple inability to see that others perceive her bullshit, or an inability to care. The person she is conversing with concludes (rightly) that this person either holds me in low esteem or simply doesn't care what I think; now who would bother to argue with a person like that?

So the reasoned person does not. And the objectivist, whose only goal was "winning" anyway (and certainly not truth), walks away smugly believing she has once again "triumphed" -- a sad delusion that will lead the misguided fool to an even greater persistence with the same sorry ideas the next time it comes up. The rest of us would pity the poor soul, but when someone so strains and mocks the bonds of human sympathy, most resist throwing good pity after bad.

But most of us know: reasoned thought does not begin with a theory and then set out to prove itself right. Reasoned thought begins with evidence and seeks a theory; if it has a theory, it sets out to prove that theory wrong. Once the theory has been proved wrong, it seeks a new theory with new evidence. To do otherwise is mere rationalization, not reason (even if it is logical -- things may be both logical and wrong), and it impresses none but the fool.

In my original post I mentioned (and provided links to) some of the universe of evidence that has emerged in recent years as a result of skeptical research which one has difficulty reconciling with Ayn Rand's ideas. If the woman were alive today, she would no doubt know all about this stuff, and she would have tailored her theories around it. But she lived prior to this research, knew nothing of it, didn't account for it, and her work, as a result, does not describe the world we know in 2008; it describes what we knew of the mid-20th Century, when we knew less.

Probably the single most laughably-arrogant attribute of the objectivist is the attitude that she knows something you don't, and if only you listen to her and learn what she knows, you will think like she does. This is laughable because the "philosophy" she espouses is fairly obvious -- only the rationalizing of it is complex -- and because most of us are already familiar with it, and also because it never seems to occur to her that you might know something she doesn't.

Like this:

We do not control our own minds. Scientists researching decision-making have discovered that our minds make decisions subconsciously, and, afterwards, we tell ourselves that it was our idea. Free will is a perception, not a reality.

In fact, humans are so out of control of their own minds that they can be switched from positive to negative and back again simply by being handed a warm or cold object.

But it doesn't matter, because group IQ is far more important than individual IQ: a chimp is more intelligent than a baboon, but a society of chimps is dumber than a society of baboons, because baboons are more inter-dependent, and chimps are more individual -- and while chimps are going extinct, baboons are thriving to the extent they are considered "pests" (unfair invective for a species whose only crime is success).

As Dan Gilbert says (and his research shows), one of the many things we share in common with each other is the false belief that we are each unique -- in fact, most of us make the same decisions, have the same likes and dislikes, and our happiness isn't at all dependent on what we do, how we live, or what fortune we attain in life.

In one of Howard Bloom's books, he describes a study done on a group of boy scouts at camp: they found that each group of 4 boys housed together fell into 4 roles: the leader, the enforcer, the nerd, and the clown. When the experimenters decided, halfway through the study, to re-arrange the boys by role, they discovered that in a cabin peopled by 4 former leaders, 1 became an enforcer, 1 a nerd, and 1 a clown -- immediately. In a cabin peopled by 4 former enforcers, 1 became a leader, 1 a nerd, and 1 a clown. Even the former nerds rearranged so that one was a leader and one an enforcer and so on. In any society there is a minority of people who laze about and take advantage of the work of others. (This includes societies of ants and bees.) Reorganize the hardest-workers into a separate society, and the same percentage of diligent-Dannies will become lazy.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. If your mind is open to the scary reality, there's a lot out there to learn.

In all of these experiments no one set out to disprove mankind's individuality or find excuses for lazy people -- in fact, most of them set out to prove the opposite. Yet the results came in and our knowledge base expanded, and we learned these things about mankind: our idealized vision of ourselves is wrong. We are socially-interdependent animals who could survive about as well separated from human society as my foot would survive without the rest of me. We should not be faulted or praised for the roles we play, because we do not choose them, and if we play them well, it is to benefit the society, the body made of us all, not ourselves, because we will be happy or unhappy at the same levels, either way.

EDIT/ADDED: another apt use of the zombie metaphor, on another religious meme, from Pharyngula.

I've seen two inaugural poets in my lifetime--studied under one at the University of Arkansas--so it's not like George W. Bush deciding not to have one was a huge break from tradition, but I am glad to see that the Inaugural Committee is bringing it back for this one.

The poet is Elizabeth Alexander, about whose work I know absolutely nothing. I'm sure I'll get a taste of it between now and January 20th. According to her bio, she's of the same generation as Barack Obama, studied with Derek Walcott at Boston University, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer in 2005. There are links to three of her poems on the same page as her bio.

Ah, Rick Sanchez

Rick Sanchez is mad at Playboy. Or at least, he's reading Twitter feeds in an outraged voice, according to Riptide.

Let's be clear here--Playboy knew what it was doing when it took that picture and put it on the cover. There's no question that they were invoking Catholic imagery--even the title plays on the idea of adoration, for crying out loud. But I think the Catholics who are part of the outrage industry really missed an opportunity here.

See, I think a smart Catholic would point to the words of Jesus, who said (and I'm paraphrasing here), "You will be objects of ridicule on account of my name," and say something like "Playboy's treatment of our holy symbols is a sign that we're doing God's work." Of course, I'm an atheist, so what do I know about this sort of thing.

The thing most Christian religions have forgotten is that their churches were born out of powerlessness. Most major Christian sects were persecuted at some point in their histories, so response to ridicule was a large part of how they built their faith base. The big churches, however, have forgotten what that was like, because they've been the power for so long--they just get offended because someone has dared to tweak them a little. That's what happens when you evolve from revolution to governance--it's not so much fun when the barbs are being tossed at you instead of you tossing the barbs.

Of course, for people in the outrage industry, that's a losing proposition. There's not as much money in turning the other cheek as there is in stamping their feet.

Renters and their Rights

Or, rather, their lack of them.

After working a full day and tending to her three children, the last thing Latasha Jones felt like doing was making the rounds in her apartment complex to collect contributions for the building's water bill. But she had no choice -- the landlord, in foreclosure, had abandoned the building and stopped paying it.

More than once over the past year, tenants of the 11-unit Liberty City complex had come home to find the water shut off. Eventually, they stopped paying rent and took the matter into their own hands, forming a kind of rudimentary condo association to manage the property at 1575 NW 69th St.
In a situation like this, where the people in the building have formed a group in order to keep things going, and where the owner has bailed on the property, the residents ought to be allowed to take it over, and should be given assistance to make it happen.

I've been interested in the idea of expropriation since I saw the film The Take, a documentary done by Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein (of The Shock Doctrine) that dealt with the meltdown of the Argentinian economy and the way some local groups got together and decided to reopen the businesses they'd worked at for decades in some cases, but which foreign investors and wealthy locals had abandoned. The idea is that a business can be more than just an engine for making money--in some places, it's the glue that holds a community together.

And it seems to me there's a congruence with the renters in this article. They've been abandoned by the authority who was supposed to be taking care of certain matters. Their contract has been broken, and they're left, in most ways, powerless to do anything about it. So when they band together to retake some of that power, they ought to be rewarded for that effort.

Realize that these are not squatters--these are people who have lived in these apartments in some cases for over a decade. They're as married to their homes as any homeowner, and that might be difficult for non-renters (or even some renters) to grasp. I'm not saying that this is a solution for every case in which an owner has abandoned his or her property, but there ought to be some sort of program that can help those who fall into this category. As it is, renters get no kind of assistance in cases like this.

Amy is an awesome writer

I don't know if I mention this often enough, but Amy is an awesome writer, and storySouth agrees, as they've put her in their "Best of" issue which covers the last seven years of their existence.

Amy was included for her poem "The Biggest Jazz Funeral In History, which she wrote for my daughter not long after Hurricane Katrina. It brings tears to my eyes every time I read it. Head on over there and give it a read.

Read the rest too. storySouth is a great online journal (and I don't just say that because they've published me too) and I'm sure they could use the added traffic. Also, thanks to John C. for emailing Amy and letting her know she'd been included on the list.

Ban Divorce

Via Pandagon, here's a video that talks about an attempt to ban divorce in California. Why? To protect marriage, and children, and the sanctity of the family.



It's a little preachy, but given the source material they were working with, it's a bit difficult to not be. After all, when you base >the whole argument on the ancient writings in an often-translated book of questionable accuracy, you're going to have differences of opinion. And here's a warning--click on that link only if you have a desire to read two men go round and round for eight pages over whether Jesus hated teh gay. It gets a little tedious, let me tell you, and makes me glad I'm no longer having to try to pull a coherent worldview out of that book.

Dear Freakonomics,

I know you folks like to be edgy and cute and look at economics in a different way than your more stodgy brothers and sisters, but this isn't funny. But even if I grant you that comparing prostitution to rice consumption is a legitimate economic comparison--and I'm not ready to do that, as it places women and their sexuality in the category of a commodity to be bought and sold on the open market--what you did in the closing of the column is inexcusable. You asked your readers to "[provide] the best answer to the question of what prostitutes and rice have in common," and offered a prize for the winner, all without even stopping to consider what would come in the comments. Here's a small sampling.

they both seem more desirable when you’re not getting any — frankenduf

The wild varieties are the best! — Jason

San Francisco — billy

More prostitutes eat rice than any other staple?
“Rice. It’s what’s what does the trick.” — Jon L

In desperate times there is no substitute — Matt

Consumption of both increases in a recession.
Both can be small or large, hard or soft, and white or brown.
The desire to consume again returns very shortly after a serving. — Eric

Southeast Asia has a large domestic supply of both. — Tim

Despite the recommendation of suppliers, both should be washed before before eating. — Mike M

Yeast infections? — X

Sometimes they’re sticky? — The Notorious H.A.M.
That's just from the first 20 or so comments. There were 136 comments by the time I started this post, and only a very small fraction weren't of this type. Euclid, at coment #35 inadvertently got the answer right when he/she said "They are both tasteless." Euclid was just directing the answer at the wrong group--it's the Steven Leavitt (who asked the question) and the commenters who took this as an opportunity to let loose with some sexist and racist jokes who were the tasteless ones.

Want



Do not want.

I'm a stage-skipper

Rachel Maddow dove into the Bush shoe-dodging episode last night, and walked us through the five stages of grief--it's in the first couple of minutes of the video below.



Not to be too flip about this, but when I read about the story, and then saw the video, I jumped to the final stages Maddow described--acceptance and outrage. Okay, I'll admit there was a brief stopover at the humor stage--who throws a shoe? Honestly--except that I knew the depths of insult that action carried with it.

My immediate reaction was very much one of empathy. I put myself in the position of that Iraqi journalist. I imagined that my country had been invaded and occupied in the name of spreading some other form of government. I imagined that I had lost family or friends in the occupation, that my life had been made chaotic, that I lived in near constant fear for years, and that I suddenly found myself in a room with the architect of that destruction, who was taking a victory lap no less. Throw a shoe or two? That would be the least of it.

Now it's come out that Muntader al-Zaidi "had been planning some sort of protest against Mr. Bush for nearly a year," but I still find myself in full agreement with al-Zaidi's point-of-view. I'm not a believer in American exceptionalism, at least in the sense of "my country, right or wrong." I think that our nation has, in its founding documents, the potential to be an exceptional nation, a model for the rest of the world, but far too often we don't live up to the standards we claim to hold dear. When that's the case--when we talk smack about how great we are and then don't live up to it--we shouldn't be surprised when the rest of the world treats us with disdain.

Blow Me

Just kidding. :-) Charles Blow laments the "end of dating," as the "hookup culture" has officially taken over:

The paradigm has shifted. Dating is dated. Hooking up is here to stay.

(For those over 30 years old: hooking up is a casual sexual encounter with no expectation of future emotional commitment. Think of it as a one-night stand with someone you know.)

According to a report released this spring by Child Trends, a Washington research group, there are now more high school seniors saying that they never date than seniors who say that they date frequently. Apparently, it’s all about the hookup.

When I first heard about hooking up years ago, I figured that it was a fad that would soon fizzle. I was wrong. It seems to be becoming the norm.

The rest of the piece is about what you'd expect, except that he does actually take a moment to ask an "expert" (she's here to fix the cobble) if there is an UP side to hooking up:

According to [Kathleen Bogle, a professor at La Salle University in Philadelphia who has studied hooking up among college students and is the author of the 2008 book, “Hooking Up: Sex, Dating and Relationships on Campus"] the pros are that hooking up emphasizes group friendships over the one-pair model of dating, and, therefore, removes the negative stigma from those who can’t get a date. As she put it, “It used to be that if you couldn’t get a date, you were a loser.” Now, she said, you just hang out with your friends and hope that something happens.

Then comes the "downside":

Girls get tired of hooking up because they want it to lead to a relationship (the guys don’t), and, as they get older, they start to realize that it’s not a good way to find a spouse. Also, there’s an increased likelihood of sexual assaults because hooking up is often fueled by alcohol.

He calls this "gender inequity," but who is the one saying that girls want spouses and boys don't, or that girls want relationships and boys don't? And since drinking goes on during "dating" as well, and rape certainly happens during "dates" ("date rape"? it's in the dictionary and everything) isn't the last point moot?

I have a different perspective on dating: dating, especially dating in which the sex/marriage/mating desire is stated up front but sex is not actually going to happen for a while, makes people who only want sex dishonest about their motives (they pretend they want a relationship), and people who only want a relationship equally dishonest as they tease and tempt the other, trying to hook him/her into a bond. (The genders don't matter.)

When people hook up, on the other hand, there's no opportunity to lie. They're in it for sex. Two people who both like sex are very likely, if they enjoyed themselves, to come back for more. And if something grows out of that, fantastic. If not, they had a fantastic time. Win-win.

What he's describing are people who really want relationships but who are "hooking up" just to try to tempt and tease someone into a relationship, which means they're just plain doing it wrong. They're bringing their lies and deceit into an arena that values honesty. If you want to have long talks and spend hours cuddling in front of the feel-good movie of 1963, find someone who wants to do that with you.

Brian and I hooked up in mid-October of 2000, and we both enjoyed it so much we decided, the next day, to go on a date. The date was fantastic too. More than 8 years later, we're still together, and these have been the best 8 years of my life. 

Hooking up is not some sort of evil social phenomenon that will destroy our culture; it's a no-bullshit way of getting to know someone for people who are interested in sex. Frankly, a lot of sadness has been reaped in this world because of marriages (or relationships) between one person who loves and needs sex and another who can do without, or would just rather not. What's wrong with these two pools of people having such drastically different "loving" styles that they become less likely to mix? 

Don't get down on hookups, get down on the dishonest, lying jerks who have sex with people in order to wheedle something out of them. Be master of your sexual destiny: have fun and get yours every time. Expect nothing. Sex doesn't create obligations, unless, of course, you're renting it out. In which case, say so.

Humanity Before Profit, Finally

Good news reported today:

In a move that provides relief to thousands of renters who face eviction but draws the federal government even deeper into the housing market, the loan giant Fannie Mae said Sunday that it would sign new leases with renters living in foreclosed properties owned by the company.

It is the first nationwide effort to provide widespread relief to renters ensnared by the unfolding mortgage crisis, and it will effectively transform Fannie Mae — a government-controlled mortgage finance company — into a national landlord. It may also increase pressure on private lenders to establish similar programs and on lawmakers to pass renter relief.

“There are renters all around the country who have been holding up their end of the bargain and paying their rent faithfully, but the landlord got into trouble, and so the renter is now unfairly facing eviction,” said John Taylor, president of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, a consumer advocacy group. “It’s really good news that Fannie Mae is doing this. Now the question is whether private sector will follow suit.”

In recent months, skyrocketing foreclosure rates have exposed as many as 70,000 renters to evictions, even though many never missed rent payments, according to analysts who track housing data. In many cities and states, renters can be evicted after their home goes into foreclosure, regardless of how long their lease stretches into the future.
Make no mistake, this decision will create problems (of administration and bureaucracy especially), but the one that it's going to prevent -- the sudden flow of millions of homeless families into the streets of America to live as shamed squatters while their former abodes sit empty (or squatted-in), unwanted, losing value, and devolving into wretched squalor -- is much, much worse. It's a rare case where humanity came up against profit and humanity won. Hurrah!

Malcolm Gladwell has a piece in the latest New Yorker that, as is usual for his work, seems intriguing until you actually realize what it is he's arguing, and then it falls apart. (Breaking down his signature style is a post for another day.) In this case, he's talking about teachers--the piece is in "Annals of Education," after all--and he compares them to quarterbacks, but not just any quarterbacks--quarterbacks who have made the jump from college to the pros.

I hope you see the problem with his analogy too.

In case you don't, let me break it down for you. There are 32 NFL teams, each with starting and backup quarterbacks, and many times, 3rd-stringers on the practice squad, for a total of 96 (at most) people playing the position. Not all of these players are good at what they do--they're good enough to get to the NFL, but most fans will tell you that their favorite team's QB is either a) a bum and ought to go back to bagging groceries, or b) great, but their team is screwed if he gets hurt. Quarterbacks are also, with rare exceptions, the highest-paid players on the team.

What do these two groups have to do with each other? Well, Gladwell puts it this way.

There are certain jobs where almost nothing you can learn about candidates before they start predicts how they’ll do once they’re hired. So how do we know whom to choose in cases like that? In recent years, a number of fields have begun to wrestle with this problem, but none with such profound social consequences as the profession of teaching.
And that's Gladwell's mode--take two things that seemingly have nothing to do with each other, come up with a pithy name for a problem, and connect the two. But it really fails in this case, because the two worlds he's describing couldn't be more different.

Gladwell sees the problem this way: the gulf between good teachers and bad teachers is massive, and the problem is that we can't determine in advance who is going to be a good teacher and who will be a bad one. If we could do that, we'd improve our school system. And somehow, it would be cheaper for us to do that than to implement other solutions--he never gets into the specifics of that bit. But here's where I see the massive flaw in his argument:
Teacher effects dwarf school effects: your child is actually better off in a “bad” school with an excellent teacher than in an excellent school with a bad teacher. Teacher effects are also much stronger than class-size effects. You’d have to cut the average class almost in half to get the same boost that you’d get if you switched from an average teacher to a teacher in the eighty-fifth percentile. And remember that a good teacher costs as much as an average one, whereas halving class size would require that you build twice as many classrooms and hire twice as many teachers.
At first glance, that seems to make Gladwell's point--better teachers make more of a difference than class size, so we just need to identify better teachers and get them into the system. And since you're not doubling the number of needed teachers, even if you have to pay the good teachers more, you'll still come out ahead.

Here's the problem. This isn't Lake Wobegon, where all the kids are above-average. Part of the reason we don't have more good teachers in the K-12 school system is because, while we demand an elite education for them--Bachelors degree with certification at minimum, Masters preferred--we pay them poorly, support them less, and then act like they ought to be grateful for it because they're getting some sort of inner satisfaction for doing such a meaningful job. Elite students, with rare exceptions, don't go into K-12 teaching. That would be like Gladwell's elite college quarterback taking a job doing the team laundry, pay-wise (and status-wise, frankly).

The real question shouldn't be how do we make the current system work better--it should be how do we change the system so that it will work better. So let's return to his original point about teachers.
And remember that a good teacher costs as much as an average one, whereas halving class size would require that you build twice as many classrooms and hire twice as many teachers.
A good teacher is going to cost more than an average one, if you're trying to lure better people into the market--and unlike the NFL, where there are more people trying to be quarterbacks than there are people who can do the job, the current teacher shortage has only been going on for the last few thousand years. It's hard to be demanding in your application process when you need bodies.

Gladwell's suggestion might work if we're talking about one wealthy school district--go out and hire better teachers. But presumably he's talking about making the entire system better, and that means pulling people from different professions, different majors, different walks of life and convincing them (using something other than financial inducements, it seems) to become teachers. How's that going to work?

Or you can hire more average teachers--which will cost more than we spend now, but again, so will Gladwell's solution (though he glosses that)--but give them fewer students and thereby raise the quality of their teaching. Which is more likely to work in both the short and long terms? I know where my money is.



Story here.

Will Dubya save his party?

It seems really odd to write those words, given how much damage he's done to the Republican brand in the last 8 years, but the news that both President Bush and VP Dick Cheney are ready to tap the TARP to bail out the Big 3 makes me think that they're actually seeing somewhat clearly at this point in time. One small nit to pick with King George the Lesser's statement--Congress didn't fail to act. Your party obstructed the deal, and you're having to save them from themselves, which again, is really odd to type.

Why am I saying that this would be so damaging to Republicans? Here's one reason--a map of every domestic auto manufacturing site (via Hestika). That's not just Michigan--that's the entire midwest, including some states that are both reliably red and mostly red. Republicans are in the minority everywhere but the south right now, and it's no surprise that the Senators leading the charge against the bailout are from the south--Shelby is from Alabama and Corker is from Tennessee--but if they kill the domestic auto industry, they won't win in the Midwest for a generation. Bush, never a great thinker but a pretty good campaigner, must get that. Plus, he already knows his legacy is bad and figures that if the Big 3 go down in his waning days, it'll never be salvaged.

As I've said in the past, I'm pretty utilitarian on this--I'm not all that concerned who gets the credit, as long as the industry is kept afloat, at least until the economy turns around, and if that means giving Bush some credit, then I can swallow my pride and do it.

Lesson 1: When it comes to union-busting, the Republicans will bargain in bad faith every time. Here's the UAW giving their side of the story, and, no surprise, Senator Corker was screwing with them from the start.



Lesson 2: You can't truly bargain with people who are willing to burn it down. Professor David Hart doesn't believe the Republicans are willing to let it fall, but he's wrong. Corker, along with Richard Shelby and other open opponents of the bailout, will let the midwest go to hell in a heartbeat. We're not dealing with rational actors here--we're dealing with people who are so sold on the idea that organized labor is bad that they're willing to risk the long-term livelihoods of millions of people over it. And this despite the fact that their states have seen, over the last thirty years, massive job losses because companies have outsourced manufacturing jobs to cheaper labor markets.

Lesson 3: Since you can't bargain with people who are willing to burn it down, you have to marginalize them. That's where we stand now. Polls show that the Big 3 bailout, though not particularly popular on its own, is far more popular than the banking industry bailout, and the people opposing the bailout just saw their party get its ass kicked for the second straight election. They're on the wrong side of this issue, and they need to pay a political price for it.

So I say again, Majority Leader Reid, make them filibuster this in real time, on national television. Force them to make their arguments to the American people. Make them explain why allowing the death of an industry that affects 10% of the working population is an acceptable idea. If they're going to act crazy, make them do it in front of everyone.

Snow in New Orleans

Which can only mean one thing--global warming deniers are bringing the stupid. Let me break it down for everyone who wants to point to snow in New Orleans as proof that global warming isn't happening. This is as simple as I can make it, and I'm typing slowly just to try to help you out.

1. Global warming causes climates to change.
2. When climates change, weather gets weird.
3. When it snows in New Orleans twice in the last five years, that's weird.
Expect the deniers to miss this very simple, yet salient point.

You can insert any number of other weather oddities in the last couple of decades to make the same point. You can point to the increased severity of hurricanes, or the increased number of them. You can point to the fact that in 2004, a hurricane appeared in the south Atlantic Ocean, something so rare that scientists didn't know what to call it at the time because they'd never seen it before. Weird. Why? Because humans have had an effect on the global climate, and that makes odd stuff happen. Pretty simple, when you look at it like that.

Let's just make it plain--if you're working class economically, Republicans hate you. They'll let your industries fail without a second thought, all because they want to break unions.

The group came close to agreement, but it stalled over the UAW's refusal to agree to wage cuts before their current contract expires in 2011. Republicans, in turn, balked at giving the automakers federal aid.
That's the meat of any future discussion of the bailout--it's Republicans versus the UAW, and to hell with anyone else caught in the crossfire. And make no mistake, if the US auto industry fails, then we'll have another Great Depression on our hands, because we'll lose not just the auto industry jobs and those directly related to them--parts suppliers, auto dealers, auto finance people, etc.--but we'll lose lots of jobs in the communities affected by those job losses. We're talking a cascade effect of massive proportions, and it'll batter an already reeling housing market as well, because people who are out of work can't pay for the houses they live in already, much less improve them or buy new ones.

And all because the Senate Republicans are stamping their feet like petulant four-year-olds and demanding the UAW take a pay cut before their current contracts expire. Never mind that the UAW has already conceded a ton of things in order to make the bailout work. Never mind that it's not the UAW's fault that the auto industry is in such bad shape in the first place. Never mind that it's Republican policies that have created the economic catastrophe we're facing.

The article notes that a procedural vote lost by winning 52-35, because it takes 60 votes to pass anything in the Senate. That's only true at the moment because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid isn't forcing filibusterers to actually filibuster. If there were ever a time to make the Republican opposition put their necks on the line, this is it, Senator. Make Corker and Shelby and all the rest stand in the well of the Senate and talk till they pass out, and then talk some more. Make them spend Christmas in DC instead of home in their states, and run it all the way till the new Senate is sworn in, and then make them start over again.

Make them put it out there for everyone to see. If you're working class, Republicans hate you. They will screw you in favor of big business every single time, and they'll smile and tell you they're doing it for your own good.

Amy mentioned the worker sit-in at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago earlier this week, and I noted how President-elect Barack Obama had openly supported them. Well, apparently it had an effect. The workers are still out of a job, but they are getting what they're owed.

Republic Windows & Doors, union leaders and Bank of America reached the deal Wednesday evening. Each former Republic employee will get eight weeks' salary, all accrued vacation pay and two months' paid health care, said U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, who helped broker the deal. He said it works out to about $7,000 apiece.

"We lost the jobs but we got something," said Lalo Munoz, who worked at the plant for 24 years.
Here's hoping that that the workers there will be able to move into new jobs in tough economic times. But the lesson to take away from this, I think, is that organization can yield positive results. We don't just have to sit back and take it when the bosses make a decision. It's time for a labor comeback.

Zombie Objectivism

Objectivism was declared dead in the last week of October, 2008: Alan Greenspan, a devotee (and disciple) of Ayn Rand admitted before congress and the world that the ideas he'd pursued for 40 years failed, and, as a result, the economy was collapsing, the US government was being asked to bail out Wall Street, and the banking system was being fully Socialized -- a series of events no one from any political persuasion desired. The bug that bit the banks was very clearly a lack of regulation, and it happened so quickly, no one had time to spin it any other way. Stunned market-worshippers paused and said, "greed is NOT good?"

But a pause is just that, a pause: let the era of Zombie Objectivism begin. For if there is one quality that unites all objectivists, it is an extreme rightward tilt on the "tenacity-stubbornness spectrum." It is, after all, an ideology that praises and promises (and assures rightful belonging of) the world's rewards to the extremest jackass: in the kingdom of the kind, the soulless man is king. Ayn Rand is a writer who, had she been less articulate, would be remembered only in a long-dead psychiatrist's notes as a particularly vexing sociopath. She lacked empathy and reveled in the freedom that brought her. She mocked and abused those with feelings. She asserted these beliefs with cold, convincing logic through the medium of liars and those who refuse to accept reality, who prefer to replace it with one of their own: fiction.

In this sense, Objectivism is a super-meme: it is an idea appealing to the human tendency to escape reality (through a medium that denies reality); it encourages in its disciples a desire to proselytize, as well as an extreme tenacity, as well as a devotion to logic, a form of argument many find overwhelming and confusing (anyone who has actually studied logic knows that just because something is logical does not mean it is right -- but few study logic). After a short time of "trying objectivism on," the nascent objectivist sees Rand's ideas confirmed: the world is peopled by small-brained, easily duped suckers who are obviously lower on the food chain than oneself and deserve their subjected state -- the final ego-feeding triumph of this meme is that it makes its adherents feel right, and smart, and in-control -- it lets them feel they've got secret "inside" knowledge about how things really are.

In short, it's a religion.

Which is why it isn't going away: Zombie Objectivism is here to stay. A true rational philosophy evolves over time, takes evidence into consideration, entertains at length alternate and competing points of view, and is ultimately abandoned for something better, more accurate. But objectivism isn't objective, or rational, at all. It's simple and appealing. It makes people feel right and strong. It makes them feel they are part of a special in-group that "gets" it, while the rest of humanity doesn't. Which is why it remains un-evolved after 50 years, despite decades of research indicating its most basic precepts are flawed.


The human race's understanding of how the world works has come a long way since the 1950s, but not everyone reads the results. Aristotle was brilliant, but his theory of the planets and sun was wrong; he lacked the info. Copernicus's deathbed publication got the revelation of a sun-centered system out into the world, but there are still some who cling to the old philosophy. So there will be objectivist dead-enders long into the future, beyond our lives. We should make sure they don't get the reins of power back -- they'll be after them: they're a tenacious batch. 


How far was too far?

According to ABC News, this was the attack ad on Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright that John McCain refused to let run near the end of the election season.



I don't think it would have made a difference in the outcome if he'd run it--the Wright issue was long over by then, and the other deficits McCain had to make up were too great--but I'm sure the pressure was high on McCain to do so, and I'm glad he didn't. And there's no question that Sarah Palin would have run it in a heartbeat.

Here we go again

If the early spin coming out of the press on the Rod Blagojevich story is any indication, pull your life jackets out of the closet, because we're headed back to Whitewater. Note, for instance, this story from Politico, which hits the ground running.

At first blush, Barack Obama comes out of the Rod Blagojevich scandal smelling like a rose. The prosecutor at a news conference seemed to give the president-elect a seal of approval, and the Illinois governor himself was caught on tape complaining that Obama was not interested in crooked schemes.

But make no mistake: The Blagojevich scandal is nothing but a stink bomb tossed at close range for Obama and his team.
So let's get this straight.
1. Blagojevich wanted something in exchange for Obama's Senate seat.
2. The Obama team, and apparently lots of other people, told Blagojevich to take a hike, to the point where Blagojevich was pissed off about it.
3. Blagojevich gets arrested.
That's not just first blush, and if the rumors that Rahm Emanuel tipped the Feds to the plan are accurate, then the Obama camp is a fricking hero here. Update: That story isn't confirmed, and a source close to Emanuel says it's not accurate.

But in true concern troll fashion, Politico says this in the next paragraph:

Legal bills, off-message headlines, and a sustained attempt by Republicans to show that Obama is more a product of Illinois’s malfeasance-prone political culture than he is letting on—all are likely if the Blagojevich case goes to trial or becomes an extended affair.
And Politico, along with all the rest, will be there to make sure that every talking point, no matter how inane, will be covered.

Just a reminder

If you're able, call in gay today, in support of LGBT rights. I gave my last final yesterday, so I wasn't going in to work today anyway, but I will make the ultimate sacrifice and not grade papers tomorrow in support of my LGBT friends everywhere. Don't try to convince me to do otherwise--it's a sacrifice I want, nay, need to make.

Students have (probably) been badmouthing their teachers for as long as the two have existed--this is not a surprise. Something else that isn't surprising is that principals are oten fairly humorless people.

The drama began in November 2007 when Evans, a senior at the school, created a Facebook page that criticized her Advanced Placement English teacher, Sarah Phelps, as "the worst teacher I've ever met."

Evans, who also posted a yearbook photo of Phelps, sought comments from other students to express their "feelings of hatred" toward the teacher.

Three of her classmates posted comments--praising Phelps and chiding Evans.

"Mrs. Phelps is one of the most amazing teachers I've ever had and there's plenty of people who agree with me," one student wrote. "Whatever your reasons for hating her are, they're probably very immature."

Two days after posting the information, Evans took it down on her own free will.

But when Peter Bayer, the school's principal, learned of the posting, he suspended Evans for "bullying and cyber bullying harassment towards a staff member."
So let's recap. A teenager--not generally the type of person with the best judgment--complains about a teacher on her Facebook page, an action which does not have the effect she obviously hoped for, and takes down that complaint two days later. The principal, unable to deal with such an affront to the teacher-student power structure, exceeds his authority and suspends the student.

Look--if a student is mouthing off to a teacher in a class and is messing up the learning experience for the other students, is abusing a teacher verbally in the school hallway, or something along those lines, then fine. Bring the hammer down. But the principal needs to realize just how far his or her authority extends--and it doesn't extend to a student's Facebook page, just as it doesn't extend to phone conversations or other forms of communication. I imagine the ACLU, who filed the suit on behalf of this student, will win this suit, and they should.

Oh, ouch.

Via John Cole, this is, so far, the most awesome story of the day.

KopBusters rented a house in Odessa, Texas and began growing two small Christmas trees under a grow light similar to those used for growing marijuana. When faced with a suspected marijuana grow, the police usually use illegal FLIR cameras and/or lie on the search warrant affidavit claiming they have probable cause to raid the house. Instead of conducting a proper investigation which usually leads to no probable cause, the Kops lie on the affidavit claiming a confidential informant saw the plants and/or the police could smell marijuana coming from the suspected house.

The trap was set and less than 24 hours later, the Odessa narcotics unit raided the house only to find KopBuster’s attorney waiting under a system of complex gadgetry and spy cameras that streamed online to the KopBuster’s secret mobile office nearby.
I understand that police have jobs to do--all I ask is that they obey the laws they're supposed to be upholding while they do that job. As citizens, we aren't supposed to be able to pick and choose what laws we want to obey. Why should police be any different?

A bittersweet story

Is this a happy story or a sad one? All depends on how you look at it. First, the sweet.

The 16th annual Harvest Drive helped 400 families this year, nearly double last year's effort.

But thanks to generous donors, there was enough to take care of everyone on the list.

"We went to our schools, went to our community, and we were overwhelmed," said Patti Bradley, who organizes the drive with Renee Herman and Kim O'Neill.
The Harvest Drive provides a Thanksgiving meal and a week's worth of groceries, so this was no small undertaking. 400 families is a lot of people, and a lot of expense, what with rising food costs. Now the bitter.
Organizers said they saw an increased need this year in families throughout Broward.
Yeah, more people in need than in past years. The Harvest Drive helped out 400 families for a week, but I'm sure that more than 400 could have used the help, and that they'll still be struggling after that week's worth of groceries are long gone.

I'd like to thank the people who donated their time and money to the effort, but I hope we recognize that there's only so much we as a society can do as volunteers at the local level.

Look for the union label

I think it's fair to say that none of us Incertians are fashionistas--my personal fashion sense ends at making sure my socks match, and I do that mostly by wearing white ones when I'm not wearing flipflops.

I, however, am not the President-elect.

He has to wear suits, so I'm glad to hear the news that he's wearing something American-made.

The president-elect will be wearing a custom black tuxedo made by HSM, a suburban Des Plaines, Ill., union shop. Cost? $895 at Nordstrom department stores. Obama's latest purchase will add to his growing collection from the 121-year-old suitmaker. Earlier this year, he bought six suits from the largest U.S.-based menswear maker, which he wore throughout the campaign....

"We are thrilled at the opportunity to create a wardrobe for someone as dynamic as President-elect Obama and to participate, in however small way, in our nation's civic activities," Brett Schenck, president of Hart Schaffner Marx told the Chicago Sun-Times. "Equally positive is that we are being embraced as an American, union-made manufacturer that prides itself on quality, value and fit."
I'm passing on the opportunity to call this a union suit, mostly because I suspect almost no one will get it. But I am glad that, even in a decision as innocuous as this one, that President-elect Obama is going union, because organized labor has had an unfair rap in this country for too long, and an openly supportive President will go a long way in healing their reputation. Ezra Klein made the same point when talking about the situation Amy mentioned below.
One interesting side of Obama is that he managed to win the election without proving particularly reliant on any single interest group. Labor does not have much of a claim on him, and nor does the AARP, or the Sierra Club. So these sorts of statements are more significant than if Obama were simply giving the AFL-CIO some expected payback, as they suggest a certain level of authentic sympathy.
That's something that Howard Dean said back in 2004 when he was raising all that money in small donations--that no one group owned him because we all owned him. Yet another way in which Howard Dean seemed to presage Barack Obama.

So here's hoping for a resurgence in organized labor. We need to get card check passed, so that President Obama can sign it, and we need to get some good people in as Secretary of Labor and on the NLRB. And maybe the big unions can get together and start running ads with the "union label" song in them. If you're old enough, and you read the title of this post, you've probably been humming it the whole time, and you will be for the next week, because that bastard is catchy. I'll probably be walking to the beat for a month just because I wrote the words.
It says we're able
to make it in the U-S-A!!!!!!!!!!


EDIT: Amy Adds:

Solidarity

We're with you, brothers and sisters sitting in up in Chicago -- you're not only demanding your own rights and your own due, you're standing up for the rights of us all. We're with you. 

Sign Fail



Sounds like it will be a blast. I'll bring the gauze.

Poetry in the White House

Oh yeah, that's some change I can believe in. Lots of other bloggers can handle the economic and foreign policy stuff President-elect Obama talked about on today's Meet the Press. Here's what I'm loving.

When it comes to science, elevating science once again, and having lectures in the White House where people are talking about traveling to the stars or breaking down atoms, inspiring our youth to get a sense of what discovery is all about. Thinking about the diversity of our culture and, and inviting jazz musicians and classical musicians and poetry readings in the White House so that, once again, we appreciate this incredible tapestry that's America.
Sweet. I'm not even particular about who they invite to read. I'm just glad that the arts and sciences will get a place of (relative) prominence in this administration.

It might be legal

but it ain't right.

A year after being acquitted on terrorism conspiracy charges in the Liberty City 7 case, a Haitian-born Miami man has been ordered deported by an immigration judge.

Lyglenson Lemorin won acquittal on criminal charges last December after persuading a federal jury that he was only marginally involved in the so-called Liberty City 7, a band of devotees of an inner-city religious group the government contends conspired to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago and Miami's FBI building in 2006.
It's not right because Lemorin was acquitted. Not let go because of a hung jury, not on the hook for charges to be reinstated against him. Acquitted. Found to be not guilty of the charges lodged against him. And yet he's going to be sent back to his home country.

Even the judge who heard the immigration case said that Lemorin was "technically" not a member or supporter of al Qaeda (scare quotes courtesy of the Herald). But he's "technically" being sent back to Haiti. When I wrote about this case back in September, I pointed out that the Liberty City Seven trial has been a catastrophe for the Bush Justice Department from the beginning, and that the immigration case being brought against Lemorin smells like ass-covering. I see nothing in this story to change my mind on that.

Weekend funny

It's going to be a super-tight weekend for me, without much blogging--end of the semester stuff, and I'm farther behind than normal--so I'm giving you the latest Sarah Haskins video, by way of Broadsheet.




Also, another milestone--this is our 3,001st post. I'd have added the 3,000 milestone to the post below, but it didn't seem to fit in with the tone.

Controversial? Why?

I wasn't surprised to learn that a sign put up by an atheist organization next to a nativity scene in the Washington state Capitol building was stolen, and then later turned in at the office of some local dee jays. After all, there are a lot of people who don't think atheists ought to be able to express themselves in the same ways that religious people are allowed to, say, by putting a sign up next to a nativity scene, and who will seek to quash that expression.

But look at the way the story begins.

A controversial atheist sign that was placed in the state Capitol near a Nativity scene vanished Friday morning, but then turned up at a Seattle radio station a few hours later.
Why is the sign controversial? Because atheists put it up? How is it any more controversial than, say, a menorah, when has been in the same place in past years?

Short answer is, it's not more controversial, or rather, it shouldn't be. After all, it's not like the atheists are looking to get the nativity scene out of the building.
"Our members want equal time," Barker said. "Not to muscle, not to coerce, but just to have a place at the table."
And that's fair, as far as I'm concerned. Just treat us the same as everyone else.

Update: Dear Paul the Spud--you're not only wrong, but you managed to be more offensive than I ever imagined you capable of being while doing it. Please take your self-righteousness and false equivalencies, fold them up until they have four or five very pointy ends, and insert them in the most uncomfortable place you can imagine.

It should be no surprise that I'm in favor of the Big 3 bailout plan, and frankly, without many qualms. I'm a working class guy, even with the 2 degrees and the academic job. I've spent most of my life in that part of the economic spectrum, and most of my working life doing jobs that required more labor than introspection. So while I'm no fan of the management of the Big 3, and acknowledge that they've done a pretty crappy job when it comes to choosing what cars to make, I still support the bailout wholeheartedly, because it's my working class brethren and sistren who will take it in the teeth if the Big 3 go down. The execs are set for life--it's the autoworkers and the parts makers and the people who own and work in the diners and retail shops and grocery stores in those communities that depend on the auto industry who'll feel the pain if the Big 3 go down.

But as usual, Jon Stewart says it far better than I can.



So here's the Random Ten. Open your iTunes--everyone uses iTunes now, right?--and post the next ten songs to pop up in Party Shuffle. No cheating to make yourself look cooler than the rest of us. None of this "oh, I only listen to Icelandic underground tundra pop" crap, okay?
1. Plastic Lips--Aquabats
2. New York Telephone Conversation--Lou Reed
3. Mama--Sugarcubes
4. Super OK--Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer
5. Night Out--Lifesavas
6. Outro With Bees--Neko Case
7. Don't Leave--Faithless
8. Kissing the Lipless--The Shins
9. Buggin' Out--A Tribe Called Quest
10. Nowalaters--The Coup
So what are you listening to this fine Friday?

Stupid Quote of the Day

From Richard Shelby (R-Toolbag):

“If you made this presentation to get a bank loan I suspect that any sensible banker would summarily reject your request.”
Senator, if we'd had sensible bankers covered by sensible regulation for the last ten years or so, we wouldn't be looking at this sort of bailout for the Big 3. And if the Big 3 were going to the bankers we currently have only one year ago, they'd not only have gotten this loan, they'd have gotten one twice as big with no collateral and with an interest two points below prime.

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