Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Photo: Eva de Guzman

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Income Inequality in OECD Countries Is Growing

The gap between rich and poor has grown in more than three-quarters of OECD countries over the past two decades, according to a new OECD report.

OECD’s Growing Unequal? finds that the economic growth of recent decades has benefitted the rich more than the poor. In some countries, such as Canada, Finland, Germany, Italy, Norway and the United States, the gap also increased between the rich and the middle-class.

Countries with a wide distribution of income tend to have more widespread income poverty. Also, social mobility is lower in countries with high inequality, such as Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States, and higher in the Nordic countries where income is distributed more evenly.

Launching the report in Paris, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría warned of the dangers posed by inequality and the need for governments to tackle it. “Growing inequality is divisive. It polarises societies, it divides regions within countries, and it carves up the world between rich and poor. Greater income inequality stifles upward mobility between generations, making it harder for talented and hard-working people to get the rewards they deserve. Ignoring increasing inequality is not an option.”...

Atlas of Hidden Water

Awesome. BLDGBLOG:
An "atlas of hidden water" has been created to reveal where the world's freshwater aquifers really lie. "The hope," New Scientist reports, "is that it will help pave the way to an international law to govern how water is shared around the world."
This prospective hydro-geopolitical legislation currently includes a "draft Convention on transboundary aquifers."

"What the UNESCO map reveals," New Scientist adds, "is just how many aquifers cross international borders. So far, the organisation has identified 273 trans-boundary aquifers: 68 in the Americas, 38 in Africa, 155 in Eastern and Western Europe and 12 in Asia." One of these is the Nubian Sandstone Aquifer System, whose waters are nearly a million years old.
According – somewhat oddly – to the International Atomic Energy Agency:
    The ancient system’s massive reserves, estimated at 375,000 cu km of water (equivalent to about 500 years of Nile River discharge), are confined deep inside the earth’s underground chambers – staggered, tiered, and pooled beneath the sands of the Sahara Desert, oasis settlements, wadis (dry riverbeds that contain water only during times of heavy rain), small villages, towns, and large cities.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Spreading the Wealth

If we were more of a high-falutin' elitist culture, we might reflect more on the expressions we're so quick to deride. Daniel Little asks,
...why would any middle- or low-income American object to the principle that the most affluent should assume slightly more of the burden? Is it that they imagine (fictionally) that this is where they will wind up eventually, and they won’t want the bigger tax burden when they get there? Do they give credence to the trickle-down theory that got this whole slide towards greater income inequality going in the first place in 1980? Plainly most people are deeply offended by the excesses of executive compensation that are now so visible; is that an impulse towards socialism? Or is it simply that they’re alienated by the label that is being thrown at this fairly ordinary tax proposal — which certainly gives a lot of credence to the irrational power of negative image marketing?

From McClatchy:
...For decades, ["socialism"] served mainly as a cudgel with which conservative Republicans beat liberal Democrats about the head. When Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan accused John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson of socialism for advocating guaranteed health care for the aged and the poor, the implication was that Medicare and Medicaid would presage a Soviet America. Now that Communism has been defunct for nearly twenty years, though, the cry of socialism no longer packs its old punch. “At least in Europe, the socialist leaders who so admire my opponent are upfront about their objectives,” McCain said the other day—thereby suggesting that the dystopia he abhors is not some North Korean-style totalitarian ant heap but, rather, the gentle social democracies across the Atlantic, where, in return for higher taxes and without any diminution of civil liberty, people buy themselves excellent public education, anxiety-free health care, and decent public transportation.

The Republican argument of the moment seems to be that the difference between capitalism and socialism corresponds to the difference between a top marginal income-tax rate of 35 per cent and a top marginal income-tax rate of 39.6 per cent.


This is what the Republican Party has done to us this year: It has placed within reach of the Oval Office a woman who is a religious fanatic and a proud, boastful ignoramus. Those who despise science and learning are not anti-elitist. They are morally and intellectually slothful people who are secretly envious of the educated and the cultured. And those who prate of spiritual warfare and demons are not just "people of faith" but theocratic bullies. On Nov. 4, anyone who cares for the Constitution has a clear duty to repudiate this wickedness and stupidity.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

On Torture

The book, On Torture, was published this week by Johns Hopkins University Press. It is, collectively, an attempt to recast the misleading "torture debate" of the past several years and understand torture in its broader meanings, means and ends, official depictions, institutionalization, and implications. Please take a look. I think, now, we need to focus on accountability. But we have to have the problem framed correctly from the outset. The previous "torture debate" doesn't do this. I hope and believe that this book does.

Here's the Amazon link.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

African Fishing Crisis

Photo: Candace Feit for The New York Times. Fishermen in Bissau, Guinea-Bissau.

A crisis mirrored the world over. More on this later. And earlier.

Many scientists agree. A vast flotilla of industrial trawlers from the European Union, China, Russia and elsewhere, together with an abundance of local boats, have so thoroughly scoured northwest Africa’s ocean floor that major fish populations are collapsing.

That has crippled coastal economies and added to the surge of illegal migrants who brave the high seas in wooden pirogues hoping to reach Europe. While reasons for immigration are as varied as fish species, Europe’s lure has clearly intensified as northwest Africa’s fish population has dwindled.

Uganda Powder Flask


Not to be underestimated (and you know I've gone on ad nausaeum about international legitimacy...).

In recent years, we have increasingly perceived ourselves as a tolerant people, willing to think anew about the prejudices of the past. Much of the economic dynamism of the country—the vibrancy we cherish—comes not just from the fact of this openness but from our psychic investment in it. Even when the government lets us down badly, as it has in the recent past, we think of ourselves as a good and decent people. Misguided, perhaps, and easily fooled. But good. Even Arabs who hate the U.S. government under either party always insist that they like the American people.

So what happens if we wake up the day after the election to find that the nation has rejected an exceptionally intelligent, thoughtful, and eloquent candidate in a year when 80 percent of voters think we’re on the wrong track? To what would we attribute Obama’s defeat? The inescapable conclusion would be that, no, America is not ready for a black president after all.

Out, damn’d spot! The stain of America’s original sin would spread further yet, pushing us into a past we had hoped to transcend. The normal pain of one party losing an election would be intensified enormously by the pain of history. Republicans (who barely tolerate McCain) wouldn’t cheer much; they would know in their hearts that the party of Lincoln had completed its metamorphosis into the party of cynicism.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Need and Healthcare

Smart lad, that Ezra. It's a discursive ethical debate with a cast of unscrupulous players, not a free market of perfect information.
Health care is a sector where consumers are told what they need. Markets need information, and the folks with the information are the doctors. Health care, in other words, is a mediated market. If you want the "market" to work better, you need to focus on the folks who actually make it work. The problem is not in what consumers "want," but what they are told they need.

Powell and Pluralism

Colin Powell, after endorsing Obama, said what has needed to be said.
Well, the correct answer is, he is not a Muslim, he's a Christian. He's always been a Christian. But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president? Yet, I have heard senior members of my own party drop the suggestion, "He's a Muslim and he might be associated terrorists." This is not the way we should be doing it in America.
(Photo from here, via The Field).

The Colombian Connection

Hendrik Hertzberg in the New Yorker regarding the rather odd obsession with Colombia by John McCain during the last debate:

As you may remember, this is not a new obsession for McCain. Puzzlingly, the first thing he did after he clinched the Republican nomination, at the beginning of July, was to get on a plane and go to…Colombia. Or maybe not so puzzlingly. In the second paragraph of the New York Times story previewing the trip, Larry Rohter wrote:

Since 1998, the lobbying firm headed until recently by Charlie Black, one of Mr. McCain’s closest confidants, has earned more than $1.8 million representing the Occidental Petroleum Corporation, the leading foreign producer of gas and oil in Colombia. The lobbying firm, BKSH & Associates, has also represented Colombian textile and apparel manufacturers and a former foreign minister and presidential candidate who is also a prominent businesswoman.

The Times went on to note that human rights groups have accused Occidental of complicity in the killing of peasants and labor leaders believed (erroneously, in the case of the labor leaders) to be affiliated with guerrilla groups.

The week before McCain left for Colombia, Carl H. Linder, Jr., who made billions as the C.E.O. of Chiquita Brands International, hosted a fundraiser for McCain at his home in Cincinnati, Ohio. It raised $2 million—a lot of money, though not much compared to the $25 million fine Chiquita paid for paying, under Linder’s leadership, more millions to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, a bloodthirsty paramilitary group which the State Department officially classified as a terrorist organization. But, as Nico Pitney pointed out at the time in a well-documented report at the Huffington Post, Chiquita was an equal-opportunity terror funder in Colombia: it also made payments to leftist guerrilla groups, including the notorious FARC. Nothing to do with ideology, of course. Just a routine business expense.

Besides Black, at least four other McCain staffers or major fundraisers, including the campaign’s finance director and a former national finance chairman, have earned tidy sums lobbying for the Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

But John McCain is an honorable man. Therefore, it is inconceivable that any of these “associations,” to use one of his favorite words, had anything to do with the Republican nominee’s extraordinary solicitude for the Colombia trade pact, let alone the way he rolled his eyes when Obama spoke of the murder of Colombian labor leaders.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Chinese Bayberry


Friends and foes have called Cuba many things - a progressive beacon, a quixotic underdog, an oppressive tyranny - but no one has called it lucky, until now.

Mother nature, it emerged this week, appears to have blessed the island with enough oil reserves to vault it into the ranks of energy powers. The government announced there may be more than 20bn barrels of recoverable oil in offshore fields in Cuba's share of the Gulf of Mexico, more than twice the previous estimate.

If confirmed, it puts Cuba's reserves on par with those of the US and into the world's top 20. Drilling is expected to start next year by Cuba's state oil company Cubapetroleo, or Cupet.

Palin as Parmenides

Nonsensical (via Sullivan):
Palin didn't need Greek columns. People react to her because they believe she represents what the Greeks established.
There's very little way in which this makes sense unless this means that Palin is a fan of aristocratic government and general disdain for democracy, the view of Plato and Aristotle, or maybe the elite, male-run, property-owning, slave-society democracy of Athens. Socrates' preferred communistic "city of pigs." Or maybe είδος, the Forms? Or the τέλος of φύσις? How about The One?

It's "elitist" to point out the incoherence, of course, because it involves knowing at least something about something. So, let's assume these generic "people" believe something random about the Greeks which Palin supposedly represents and leave it at its utterly meaningless that.

Tough Times in the Czech Republic for Kundera

Milan Kundera in a park in Prague in 1973 during a rare visit to what was then Czechoslovakia.
(Agence France-Presse)
Interesting news this week regarding an article published in the Czech Republic that Milan Kundera denounced a Western intelligence agent to the Czech police in 1950. Kundera has always had a mixed reputation in Czechoslovakia - since he has lived in France for over 30 years, is now a French citizen, and usually writes in French. Discussion ensues over a historical accounting that's not yet, and may never be, fully developed.

Back to Mill

We've been discussing John Stuart Mill's On Liberty recently in one of the grad seminars I teach. This led me to happen upon this recent essay on Mill by Adam Gopnik in the New Yorker in the form of a review of Richard Reeves' new book, John Stuart Mill: Victorian Firebrand. It's a good essay, a rather sweeping biographical piece with some focus on Mill's love, Harriet Taylor, and Mill's feminism. A quick snippet:
The mature Mill is a stable thinker but not a systematic one. He recognizes the existence of half-truths alongside near-truths, and of “almost so”s right by “yes, nearly”s. “Truth, in the great practical concerns of life, is so much a question of the reconciling and combining of opposites,” he once wrote. “Even progress, which ought to superadd, for the most part only substitutes, one partial and incomplete truth for another.”

How Keynes Might Help Regarding the Financial Meltdown

Take it or leave it, but this is a good discussion of Keynes in light of the financial crisis.
What was wrong was the theory. The price level is not a leading, but a lagging, indicator. Asset bubbles can coexist with a stable price level, even while the rest of the economy is starting to slide into depression. And this, in essence, is what Keynes believed was happening in the late 1920s. Money, he argued, was being switched from production to speculation. The rich were getting very much richer, while the incomes of the rest were stagnating. "Profit inflation," fueled by collateralized debt, went together with an "income deflation." Share prices were being driven up to dizzying heights even as farmers were finding it harder to service agricultural mortgages. Every financial crash is different in detail -- today's started in the banking system, not the stock market -- but the anatomy of all is surprisingly similar: A speculative frenzy, triggered by some technical innovation such as mortgage-backed securities, that collapses when reality -- in the form of more sober valuations -- kicks in.

No one has bettered Keynes in his understanding of the psychology of financial markets. "Most . . . of our decisions to do something positive . . . can only be taken as a result of animal spirits . . . If animal spirits are dimmed . . . enterprise will fade and die" is one famous remark. "Speculators may do no harm as bubbles on a steady stream of enterprise. But the position is serious when enterprise becomes the bubble on a whirlpool of speculation. When the capital development of a country becomes a by-product of the activities of a casino, the job is likely to be ill-done" is another. Professional investment, he wrote, is like "a game of Snap, of Old Maid, of Musical Chairs," whose object is to pass on the Old Maid -- the toxic debt -- to one's neighbor before the music stops. What makes the game toxic is not greed, which is universal, but uncertainty masquerading as certainty.

"The outstanding fact is the extreme precariousness of the basis of knowledge on which our estimates of prospective yield have to be made," Keynes wrote in his great book "The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money" in 1936. We disguise this uncertainty from ourselves by assuming that the future will be like the past, that existing opinion correctly sums up future prospects, and by copying what everyone else is doing. But any view of the future based on "so flimsy a foundation" is liable to "sudden and violent changes. The practice of calmness and immobility, of certainty and security suddenly breaks down. New fears and hopes will, without warning, take charge of human conduct . . . the market will be subject to waves of optimistic and pessimistic sentiment, which are unreasoning yet in a sense legitimate where no solid basis exists for a reasonable calculation." Keynes accused economics of being itself "one of these pretty, polite techniques which tries to deal with the present by abstracting from the fact that we know very little about the future."

The "Morality of Immigration"

An interesting exchange on the ethics of immigration... The original essay by Mathias Risse appeared in Ethics and International Affairs (Spring 2008), reproduced here at the Carnegie Council's site. Responses to the original paper follow here. Here's a selected, and partial, beginning framework for the discussion:
Questions about immigration fundamentally challenge those who see themselves in the liberal camp. One hallmark of the liberal state is that it takes individual attitudes in many areas of life as given and rules them out only if they threaten the functionality of the state. When confronted with immigration, a liberal state may choose to develop a systematic approach, and thus come up with a view of what kind of people it wants to include or exclude, or it may choose not to develop such an approach. In the first case the liberal state passes judgment on people in terms of their fitness for membership. Any criterion used for inclusion also reflects a judgment on those who already live in the country, and will bring about change that is beneficial for some citizens and detrimental for others. In the second case the liberal state has to live with the consequences of whatever alternative approach it develops.

Things become yet more complicated if one sees immigration in a global context. Immigration can plausibly be regarded as one way of satisfying duties toward the global poor—duties that many political leaders and citizens, as well as most contemporary philosophers, would acknowledge, at least in some form. Immigration—permanent or temporary—can serve this function partly because it allows some people access to greener pastures, and partly because of the remittances sent back by immigrants to their countries of origin. Once we think of immigration in a global context, we are led to ask more fundamental questions—namely, why it would be acceptable in the first place (especially to those thus excluded) that we draw an imaginary line in the dust or adopt the course of a river and think of that as a border. As Rousseau famously remarks at the opening of Part II of his Second Discourse on Inequality, "The first person who, having fenced off a lot of ground, took it into his head to say this is mine and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society." Is it only because of such simplicity that states are accepted? Such thoughts leave us wondering about the legitimacy of a system of states per se.

Anathema to Democracy

McClatchy runs a good piece on ACORN and the violence that the McCain campaign is clearly stirring regarding the bogus voter fraud issue. The latter is not a point of dispute at all - the issue is bogus and the McCain camp and its surrogates repeatedly instigate. And, despite the efforts of some in the media to suggest otherwise, there is no moral equivalence here between the McCain and Obama campaigns. I wish the national media would quit treating it as such. This is clear instigation to violence and that is the limit of free speech. These people are anathema to democracy:
These aren't accidents. This is a collective, ongoing effort by the GOP and McCain campaign. So, bereft of ideas in response to the many problems we face, the McCain campaign has obviously gone negative. This is a typical political response for the losing candidate. But this particular one passed the threshold of decency some time ago, quickly passed by the level of vigorous democratic debate, and has now entered the realm of a general assault on pluralistic democracy. It seems hyperbolic to say it - and I'm surprised and dismayed to find myself saying it, despite the shakiness of US democracy in the past - but I think we're at the point where we need to be very careful to defend democracy itself. This vote is an extremely important one.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Vote Obama

This blog endorses Barack Obama for president. With that suspense out of the way, please go help out Obama-Biden here. The campaign needs continual support through November 4th.

I know the whole thing looks like a done deal, especially with the new set of battleground state polls today, but the deal has to be finalized and the message of this election ought to be a landslide-and-coattails moment of accountability as much as anything else. It has been an utterly rotten past eight years.

If the World Could Vote for a US President...

... It would be pretty clearly Obama (via Drew). Of course, democracies are always constrained, technically speaking, by state boundaries. But I think it's worthwhile not treating global opinion as merely a thought experiment. The US has expansive influence politically, economically, militarily, and culturally. Many Americans may not care, but much of the rest of the world does because they see the real effects of what kinds of decisions Americans make about their political life. This may be obvious to many of you, but what's less obvious is the global frustration of seeing one's life affected, one's culture affected, and one's economy affected by whatever political changes take place in the US while having absolutely no say in those changes.

By the way, note who McCain has in the bag: Burma, Iraq, Papua New Guinea, Moldova, and nearly Turkey. The vote numbers are small, and the methodoology suspect, but it would be interesting to see a much larger sampling.

Sunday, October 12, 2008


China's Market-based Agriculture?

Interesting in at least two senses: 1) the move towards reforming one of the oldest central pieces of the Chinese communist state-planned economy; and 2) an apparent drive towards industrialized agriculture, which, in the case of the US has been ravaging to small rural communities and ultimately also food prices.
Chinese leaders are expected to allow peasants to buy or sell land-use rights for the first time, a step that could draw hundreds of millions of farmers more firmly into the city-centered market economy.

The new policy, which is being discussed this weekend by Communist Party leaders and could be announced within days, would be the biggest economic reform in many years and would mark another significant departure from the system of collective ownership and state control that China built after the 1949 revolution.

Fannie, Freddie, and Fear of the "Arab"

The McCain campaign, as we all know now (including members of the migration of Independents to the Obama vote), has been a nasty piece of work. It is a fear-mongering, divisive, and rather stupid campaign bereft of a consistent and coherent set of ideas. Its last card was also always its first: that John McCain is a man of upstanding character and that that's a good enough reason to vote for him. That's all over now. He has shown himself to be a petty, small, and not terribly bright man (and I even propose this - for those of you dismayed by the lack of intelligence of George Bush, consider that McCain might not even achieve Bush's level).

But they've been trying to build a larger narrative, which the reality-based community appears not to grasp. Since the financial and economic meltdown is so complex that many of those working on the issue aren't sure of its dynamic and potential effects, and since it's thus difficult to turn it into political points because no one in Washington is exactly sure where to play out the politics, the Republicans seem to have directed efforts towards manufacturing their own reality out of the mess, as they're wont to do.

The McCain people and surrogates have been trying to turn a particular narrative - in brief, that Fannie and Freddie are the cause of the global economic meltdown and that Barack Obama's campaign is in bed with the former leaders of Fannie/Freddie. If you talk with Republican true-believers, you hear this over and over. Fannie and Freddie are the root of the meltdown.

This helps paint part of a larger picture about Obama that apparently plays well with many Republicans. It involves:
  • Fear on the part of everyone regarding what the financial crisis will mean over both the shorter- and longer-term.
  • Fear of world government (that government intervention in the global financial crisis is the first step).
  • Fear or disdain of minorities (Fannie and Freddie were targets before the current crisis because they offer low-interest loans to minorities and the eocnomically disadvantaged - as Neil Cavuto of Fox said, "Loaning to minorities and risky folks is a disaster").
  • Fear of "the Arab" candidate (or "Muslim") in search of a new global order.
  • (And toss in fear that "liberals" - tolerant of minorities and "Muslims" - are going to take away Christmas from everybody).
But, as usual, the house of paranoia comes tumbling down when its foundation turns out to be wrong.
As the economy worsens and Election Day approaches, a conservative campaign that blames the global financial crisis on a government push to make housing more affordable to lower-class Americans has taken off on talk radio and e-mail.

Commentators say that's what triggered the stock market meltdown and the freeze on credit. They've specifically targeted the mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which the federal government seized on Sept. 6, contending that lending to poor and minority Americans caused Fannie's and Freddie's financial problems.

Federal housing data reveal that the charges aren't true, and that the private sector, not the government or government-backed companies, was behind the soaring subprime lending at the core of the crisis.

Subprime lending offered high-cost loans to the weakest borrowers during the housing boom that lasted from 2001 to 2007. Subprime lending was at its height vrom 2004 to 2006.

Federal Reserve Board data show that:

_ More than 84 percent of the subprime mortgages in 2006 were issued by private lending institutions.

_ Private firms made nearly 83 percent of the subprime loans to low- and moderate-income borrowers that year.

_ Only one of the top 25 subprime lenders in 2006 was directly subject to the housing law that's being lambasted by conservative critics.

The "turmoil in financial markets clearly was triggered by a dramatic weakening of underwriting standards for U.S. subprime mortgages, beginning in late 2004 and extending into 2007," the President's Working Group on Financial Markets reported Friday.

Oh well, so much for that. This isn't to say, however, that that fuzzy picture of the world is going away any time soon.

Consciously Conceptualizing Death

Death is so strange to us because consciousness cannot experience death, which involves the lack of itself. So says Jesse Bering in Scientific American.
...people in every culture believe in an afterlife of some kind or, at the very least, are unsure about what happens to the mind at death. My psychological research has led me to believe that these irrational beliefs, rather than resulting from religion or serving to protect us from the terror of inexistence, are an inevitable by-product of self-consciousness. Because we have never experienced a lack of consciousness, we cannot imagine what it will feel like to be dead. In fact, it won’t feel like anything—and therein lies the problem...

So why is it so hard to conceptualize inexistence anyway? Part of my own account, which I call the “simulation constraint hypothesis,” is that in attempting to imagine what it’s like to be dead we appeal to our own background of conscious experiences—because that’s how we approach most thought experiments. Death isn’t “like” anything we’ve ever experienced, however. Because we have never consciously been without consciousness, even our best simulations of true nothingness just aren’t good enough.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Le Clézio

Photo: Jessica Gow/Scanpix, via Reuters
I've never read a book by him in its entirety, mostly because I'm a much slower reader in French and J.M.G. Le Clézio is not widely translated. But Le Clézio has been one of Helmette's favorite writers since she was little. It's neat when your reading tastes receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, so congratulations to Helmette... as well as JMG.


Wednesday, October 08, 2008


My sentiments also too, indeed (and McWinky it is, for now and evermore). Wolcott:
Even as I wave a farewell hankie at my investment holdings as they sink into the briny deep, I draw spiritual comfort from seeing the McCain-McWinky campaign unceremoniously drown with them. McCain could still win, but the advance signs of rapid decay are everywhere in his campaign, a death mask forming with rictus sneer that resembles a silent snarl. I harbor no grand illusions about Obama, he isn't my messiah (I don't have a messiah, the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson supplying more than enough transcendence to last a lifetime), and I'm still not sure how much he comprehends how gravely this country has been gutted over the last decade. My rooting interest is less about Obama himself than about how big a hurt he can put to the Republican Party. I don't want the Republican Party simply defeated in November, I want to see it smashed beyond all recognition, in such wriggling, writhing, anguished disarray that it can barely reconstitute itself, so desperate for answers that it looks to Newt Gingrich for visionary guidance, his wisdom and insight providing the perfect cup of hemlock to finish off the conservative movement for good so that it can rot in the salted earth of memory unmissed and unmourned in toxic obscurity.

Tough Being a Racist These Days

Ben Smith:

An Obama supporter, who canvassed for the candidate in the working-class, white Philadelphia neighborhood of Fishtown recently, sends over an account that, in various forms, I've heard a lot in recent weeks.

"What's crazy is this," he writes. "I was blown away by the outright racism, but these folks are f***ing undecided. They would call him a n----r and mention how they don't know what to do because of the economy."

Monday, October 06, 2008

Inventing Liberals

Perhaps because liberals generally hold fairly reasonable positions (with which the majority agrees when not cowed by fear-mongering and distortion from the right), and probably because Republicans can never find enough enemies to satiate the appetite of their political maw, nor allies for that matter, they have invented the "anti-gay liberal." This takes "creating our own reality" into new and unexplored territory. The Republicans' "own reality" is now populated not only by satanic gay communist Muslims who hate America, but also liberals who look and sound just like rightwing conservatives. I suppose this was finally needed in that alternate reality so that a specious position could come with the endorsement of someone ostensibly endowed with common sense. Salon:
"I'm a liberal Democrat." So began a widely circulated opinion piece by David Blankenhorn appearing in the Los Angeles Times on Sept. 19 in support of Proposition 8, an initiative on California's November 4 ballot that would eliminate the marriage rights of same-sex couples recently recognized by the California Supreme Court. The piece is entitled "Protecting Marriage to Protect Children." Blankenhorn's theme is: "It's perfectly natural to be a liberal Democrat but against gay marriage, because I am." Thus, he stakes the credibility of his position -- that marriage by same-sex couples is bad for children -- on his purported status as a "liberal Democrat."

Conservatives applauded Blankenhorn vigorously. A press release sent out Sept. 22 from Christian News Wire emphasized, "What is noteworthy is the source: the author of the Op-Ed piece is a Liberal Democrat, which underscores the broad support for Proposition 8 in order to protect marriage for society, our institutions, and for children in California." Gushed one blogger: "Frankly it's astonishing that a liberal could hold the kind of morality, honesty and insight displayed in this article and still call himself a liberal, but okay....

During the 15 years preceding 2006, IAV received nearly $4.5 million in funding from a coterie of ultra-conservative Republican foundations, including the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Scaife Family Foundation, and the Randolph Foundation. These foundations supply funds for a network of right-wing Republican think tanks that promote a variety of causes such as the elimination of gay marriage, abortion rights and embryonic stem-cell research; prayer in public schools; creationism and deregulatory free-market economics...

The appearance of Blankenhorn's op-ed in the peak of campaign season (it also ran in the San Jose Mercury News on Monday) plays into a larger Republican strategy. In recent election cycles, Republicans have used anti-gay marriage ballot measures nationwide as a wedge issue and to rally their conservative base voters to the polls. Eleven states put anti-gay marriage propositions on the ballot during the 2004 presidential election; this year, in addition to California, there are propositions up for a vote in Florida and Arizona. While gay marriage may be less of a wedge issue this campaign season, John McCain arguably needs all the help he can get -- including Blankenhorn's -- to rally a conservative Republican base known to dislike him.

Ground cherries

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Giant Taati


Remember not so long ago when the tight presidential campaign polls in Minnesota were cause for concern for Democrats? Star Tribune Minnesota Poll:
The poll, conducted last week among 1,084 likely voters, found that 55 percent support Obama, while 37 percent back McCain.
Minnesota should have gone for Obama anyway. But remember the supposed struggle for Pennsylvania? New Hampshire? New Mexico? Etc. And traditionally red states like Virginia and North Carolina? And "must-win" states for McCain like Ohio and Florida?

It's a terrifyingly knock-on-wood thing to say, but this race is over. After, of course, one month of vile desperation by McCain/Palin and Republican operatives.

About Climate Resistance

I know almost nothing about the self-styled climate-change curmudgeons Ben Pile and Stuart Blackman or what they've published online or off, yet I was pleased reading the 16 tenets they put forth on their About page and finding it so easy to resist going along with any one of them. That's the kind of curmudgeonliness we all like to go up against.

1. There is good scientific evidence that human activities are influencing the climate. But evidence is not fact, and neither evidence nor fact speak for themselves.

Yea, so what?

2. The evidence for anthropogenic climate change is neither as strong nor as demanding of action as is widely claimed.

Says you. Then there's what the IPCC says.

3. Our ability to mitigate, let alone reverse any such change through reductions in CO2 emissions is even less certain, and may itself be harmful.

So if Kevlar in vests has some toxicity, soldiers and police should fight gun battles without them?

4. The scientific consensus on climate change as widely reported inaccurately reflects the true state of scientific knowledge.

Pshaw. See my replies to 1 and 2, then go read widely elsewhere.

5. How society should proceed in the face of a changing climate is the business of politics not science.

In a manner of speaking, but where are you headed with this?

6. Political arguments about climate change are routinely mistaken for scientific ones. Environmentalism uses science as a fig leaf to hide an embarrassment of blind faith and bad politics.

Environmentalism? Political arguments? Whose do you mean? You can't mean Al Gore or the people I've been listening to.

7. Science is increasingly expected to provide moral certainty in morally uncertain times.

Well there's one to bounce off your thesis advisor.

8. The IPCC is principally a political organisation.

You could say the same about the AMA, but that doesn't make it wrong about what's unhealthy.

9. The current emphasis on mitigation strategies is impeding society’s ability to adapt to a changing climate, whatever its cause.

Unregulated profiteering will take care of it? Leave it to Exxon and Enron? Step away or move upwind of the emissions source and then we'll talk.

10. The public remain unconvinced that mitigation is in their best interests. Few people have really bought into Environmentalism, but few people object vehemently to it. Most people are slightly irritated by it.

And if speed limits slightly irritate most people? Have few really bought into them, because so many occasionaly speed? If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is there to hear it.... I'm bored and slightly irritated myself now.

11. And yet climate change policies go unchallenged by opposition parties.

Political unanimity in the face of a broad concurrence by scientists! If only this were true of Congress.

12. Environmentalism is a political ideology, yet it has never been tested democratically.

As a few people say about taxation.

13. Widespread disengagement from politics means that politicians have had to seek new ways to connect with the public. Exaggerated environmental concern is merely serving to provide direction for directionless politics.

Exaggerating concern in the advocacy of my interests is O.K. with me.

14. Environmentalism is not the reincarnation of socialism, communism or Marxism. It is being embraced by the old Right and Left alike. Similarly, climate change scepticism is not the exclusive domain of the conservative Right.

You say that like it's a bad thing.

15. Environmentalism will be worse for the poor than climate change.

Spanning left to right but being untested democratically, this "Environmentalism" must not be any policy or platform in particular you're talking about, in which case I suppose you might as well say what you like. It's only preposterous out of context.

16. Environmentalism is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Mental models tell me that's hot air, even if I can't tell what it means exactly.

Mp3 of the Day

Today's is from the blog, OpiumBen, another great, idiosyncratic music blog. I have in mind the song, "Menyelam Pakai Pipa Udara" by Obeng Ungu and Jalan Buntu from the 1982 album 1951: Sumatran Ladies Wearing Hats as Outlawed by the Government. This is politically-driven Indonesian pop run through a bit of more traditional gamelan sounds and electronic tweedling and sampling, reissued on the Hot Air label. Head over and pay homage to OpiumBen.

p.s. The image above is not related to the tune - just one OpiumBen has up on the post - but it's too cool not to re-post here.

Defining the Realities of Victory

Peter Galbraith in the NY Review of Books:
We hear again and again from Washington that we have turned a corner in Iraq and are on the path to victory. If so, it is a strange victory. Shiite religious parties that are Iran's closest allies in the Middle East control Iraq's central government and the country's oil-rich south. A Sunni militia, known as the Awakening, dominates Iraq's Sunni center. It is led by Baathists, the very people we invaded Iraq in 2003 to remove from power. While the US sees the Awakening as key to defeating al-Qaeda in Iraq, Iraq's Shiite government views it as a mortal enemy and has issued arrest warrants for many of its members. Meanwhile the Shiite-Kurdish alliance that brought stability to parts of Iraq is crumbling....

Friday, October 03, 2008

Photos of North Korea

Stunning photographs of North Korea by Eric Lafforgue. Here's the flickr page. See also his website.

Carmen Miranda in the Quad

This blog must post this:

Emily Balcetis, of Ohio University, and David Dunning, of Cornell University, published a study, in the journal Psychological Science, called Cognitive Dissonance and the Perception of Natural Environments. Balcetis and Dunning describe an experiment in which the test subjects "were taken outside to a highly trafficked, grassy quad at the centre of campus ... The experimenter handed subjects a Carmen Miranda costume, including a grass skirt, coconut bra, hat adorned in plastic fruit, and flower lei. Subjects were told to put on the costume, walk the width of the quad alone, and return, before answering questions about their emotions and their experience."

The researchers were cunningly manipulative, but not to everyone. They made some people feel obliged to stroll in this outlandish getup. But they let others know they could decline.

The Carmen Miranda-ised test subjects "walked across the quad from one statue to another and back (365 ft, or 111.2m, each way) and completed a survey asking them to estimate the one-way distance ."

Balcetis and Dunning predicted the test subjects who felt they had no choice about being Carmen Miranda would make the longest estimates of how far they had walked. That's exactly what happened.


Debate 2!

Photo: Gen. McClellan of Aghanistan

Just a couple of points... Sarah Palin started off surprisingly well by stringing together a series of sentences. Joe Biden started off tired and laboring. That shifted about halfway through when Palin ran out of the stock of talking points and had to start repeating them regardless of the question. But she did so by stringing together real sentences. It was an improvement for her.

Right now, Pat Buchanan is on MSNBC talking about Palin's "authenticity." Granted that I might not perceive it that way and can't speak for those who do, but this was a pretty blatant form of cutesy sassiness that you get used to hearing often in a place like Texas (and, apparently, Alaska). She's obviously all style, little substance. Style plays well in politics, though, and I'm sure there are plenty of people who liked that style, apart from the true believers.

But... Biden picked it up and thrashed Palin in the second half of the debate. Remember, we're talking about appearances. Biden's clearly smarter and more knowledgable. You could run the debate a hundred times and he would win every time on substance. (Buchanan's now screaming something). But he managed to be harshly critical of McCain and cast a sympathetic figure at the same time. He doesn't talk about his family's history nearly as often as Palin does, but when he does it is, frankly, a more compelling, sympathetic, and honorable story than Palin's.

Whatever.... This didn't change much. The big news of the night is that Sarah Palin is not an absolute nincompoop. Pretty sad.