A Short Interruption

September 26, 2006

We’ll get back to our usual programming after these few announcements:

1. I hate category theory. I tend to go suicidal whenever someone even so much as mentions “category,” “categorical,” “universal property,” “the Yoneda lemma,” “functor,” “natural transformation,” or, except in the context of this blog, “abstract nonsense.”

2. Lately, the post on this blog that gets the most hits is Porn and Rape. Judging by the dearth of comments on that post, I’m starting to think that the people who find the post are looking for real rape porn. So, let me clue you in: there’s no such thing. All the so-called real rape porn these Russian sites talk about is fake. Also, you’re a demented pervert.

3. Kian liked the latest edition of my book’s first chapter, and so did I; five or six more bad chapters to edit, and it’ll be presentable. Hopefully, I’ll get it done this week.

Immigration and Electoral Politics

September 26, 2006

I’m going to make this short because I’m going to sleep in a few minutes, but it’s just occurred to me that the most surefire way for the Democrats to win elections in the next few years is to use immigration as a wedge issue. A solid majority of Americans supports a guest worker program; an even larger one supports giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship. Meanwhile, the Republican base is firmly anti-immigrant, which will conveniently cause a schism in the party.

Now, a large majority of Americans also wants stronger border control, a complete waste of money that will reduce the number of illegal immigrants by the unique integer that’s divisible by every positive integer.

Fortunately, center-shifting around that is fairly easy. Students who take intro to pol sci learn about a few basic results of political research: a single-member district plurality electoral system promotes a two-party system, democracies are less likely to fight one another than non-democracies, voter turnout increases with the level of the race (local, regional, national, etc.), and border patrols increase the level of illegal immigration.

American conservatives have shifted the center to the right over the last 30 years largely via think-tanks. On this issue, the left doesn’t need think-tanks, when “It’s in every pol sci textbook” will do.

I just had to post this

September 25, 2006

Hat-tip to Echidne: Rising Hegemon explains what’s wrong with the US today, by simply showing the covers of Newsweek by region of the world:

Oppression-Based Morality

September 25, 2006

In my last post, I talked very briefly about the leftist oppression-based morality, versus the religious sin-based one. It’s a concept I’ve been thinking about for a while, so it deserves a slightly less brief exploration.

The sin-based morality deserves little exposition, since we all know what it’s based on. The five sixths of the world’s people who are religious have made sure knowing the basics of sin-based morality is basic cultural knowledge everywhere. Even the one dominant conservative morality that’s secular, Confucianism, is sin-based.

That’s obviously not the only way to organize things. The liberal moral system is, ostensibly, based on rights and infringements. In this conception, you don’t start with what you must do or refrain from doing, but with what you, as an individual, have the right to expect. Even moral prescriptions that are identical to sin-based ones are framed differently: “you shall not murder” becomes “everyone has the right to life”; “give 1/40th of your wealth to charity” becomes “freedom from want.”

But in practice, most liberals employ a morality based not on the individualist conception of rights, but on the egalitarian one of oppression. The religious concept of sinning against God or (wo)man then becomes the concept of oppressing some marginalized group: women, minorities, homosexuals, fat people, etc. It tends to work better than merely talking about rights, because a) it also holds that inaction can be oppressive, b) for the last 200 years the spearhead of liberalism has been not just rights but also equal rights, c) it fosters greater in-group boundedness, and d) it relates to more leftist moralities than just the liberal one.

It’s certainly a good frame to understand various intra-left debates, like the one on Feministing about prostitution (which, incidentally, is clocking at 51 comments so far without a single radical inanity).

Dear Prude

September 25, 2006

Jessica has a post about a woman who sent a letter to Dear Prudie of Slate, asking whether she should stay with her boyfriend, who slept with a prostitute on a business trip. Now, sending a letter to a stranger, syndicated columnist or not, and asking her for relationship advice sounds like a very sheepish thing to do, but as usual, I’m going to ignore this and focus on the larger issue. Jessica says,

Ok, I have mixed feelings on people who have cheated–I think if you’re building a life together, forgiving someone for cheating is understandable. But that’s not what we’re talking about here. The big question isn’t whether he’s remorseful about betraying her trust. To me, it’s about whether or not you really want to be with someone who is fine and dandy about buying sex and commodifying women. Personally, there ain’t no fucking way I would stay with someone who bought sex.

There’s nothing special about sex. The idea that when you’re with someone you’re not supposed to have sex with anyone else isn’t normative; it’s a not particularly bright social convention. If that’s what a couple agrees on, it’s their choice, just like it’s their choice if they decide to put chastity belts on one another whenever they’re not in the same room. But I’ve yet to understand why anyone would care if his/her SO slept with someone else.

As for Jessica’s point about prostitution, her commenters have analogized it to Wal-Mart. It’s possible to support Wal-Mart workers’ rights without shopping at Wal-Mart, and similarly, it’s possible to support sex workers’ rights without buying sex. But I submit that someone who’d leave a partner who shops at Wal-Mart is an intolerable fanatic. Plus, if you don’t shop at Wal-Mart, you shop at other places, which usually employ more people relative to their size and pay them better; hence, if your actions contribute to Wal-Mart’s going bankrupt, then at least its workers will immediately get better jobs. You can’t say the same about prostitution.

What it boils down to is that you can’t expect people to live the left’s oppression-based morality any more than you can expect them to live any religious sin-based morality. The fiancé who had sex with a prostitute bought the woman a wedding ring, which probably had a diamond in it. If so, the diamonds were probably harvested from a mine in Africa whose labor practices make Nike sweatshops seem like the dream job. The business trip likely involved staying at hotels with underpaid workers.

So there is hypocrisy here, somewhere. Most likely, the woman who wrote Prudie is a prude who doesn’t give a damn about prostitutes’ rights but does think she owns her boyfriend’s penis. Less likely, she does in fact adhere to an oppression-based morality, but prefers concentrating on the obvious, instead of on the things everybody does.

Kingdom Coming is Optimistic

September 25, 2006

Crossposted to 3quarksdaily

The account of Dominionism given in Kingdom Coming, featuring a massive umbrella of Christian fundamentalist organizations united in their drive to establish a theocracy in the United States and by extension the world, sounds like a very depressing story. This is at least what every review I’ve found says: the reviewers who agree with Michelle Goldberg call her vision chilling, and the few who do not say she is excessively alarmist.

The truly chilling thing about Kingdom Coming is that it’s actually fairly mild and optimistic. Goldberg pauses every few pages to say that no, the United States will probably not become theocratic, because of the strength of its laws and Constitution and legal system. And she concentrates only on local fundamentalism, without talking about its mutually-reinforcing connections to warmongering and state surveillance, both staples of totalitarianism. She suggests that the gradual discrediting of American neoconservatism will lead to a resurgence of a more populist brand of fundamentalism, complete with Populist-style anti-Semitism. However, apart from that she says nothing about the intersection of neoconservatism and fundamentalism, except for one remark toward the end about a war between Christianity and Islam.

In fact, the most worrying future trends are the ones the book spends little to no time on. The formation of the Dominionist front is crucial to expose, and so is the stealth network of would-be theocrats: Rushdoony and Christian Reconstructionism, Ralph Reed’s comment about painting his face and operating under cover of darkness, the wink to the religious right inherent in Bush’s “compassionate conservative” comment. The book’s greatest success is in documenting that network without lapsing into conspiracy theories.

But at the same time, it is just as important to explore the analogy between Dominionism and other totalitarian ideologies further, and quoting Hannah Arendt’s Origins of Totalitarianism is not enough. The United States has a democratic tradition, but it also has a tradition of ignoring civil liberties whenever it’s at war; now that the view of anti-terrorism as a protracted war has taken root among most of its people, liberal democracy is in especial danger. And while Goldberg is right that most Americans may not want a Christian Taliban, most Germans never wanted the Holocaust, either—most never even voted for the Nazis in free elections.

To look at the prospects of a totalitarian ideology, it’s good to look at the factors that raise one to power, and, separately, the factors that keep one afloat. Economic depression certainly helps extremists come to power, especially if liberal democracy is seen as the source of the problem. The most plausible depression scenario in the United States revolves around defaulting on the debt; this will likely be viewed as the fault of excessive government spending, but the popular solution will likely be gutting social spending rather than raising taxes or curtailing military spending. Alone such a scenario would favor corporatists rather than fundamentalists, but not only are the two groups mutually reinforcing, but also the poverty that will ensue will be a breeding ground for religious evangelism masquerading as charity. Religious charities use poverty to their advantage everywhere in the world; that’s how Hamas and Hezbollah are not right-wing fringe parties in their respective nations.

Goldberg does in fact mention this scenario in passing, although she takes it in a somewhat different direction: she posits a more domestically-minded fundamentalism building on economic populism. This is plausible, but is not how totalitarian governments came to power in countries with strong ties between corporations and conservatives: Germany, Italy, Spain. Her scenario fits a grassroots communist-like movement better, and one of the most important things to realize about American Dominionism is that it’s anything but grassroots.

The other issue, war and its effect on civil liberties, is even more important to any discussion about Christian fundamentalism. Right now, the United States only tortures or imprisons without trial people who it thinks might possibly look like Islamist terrorists. Under an explicitly Dominionist government, this national security apparatus can easily expand to disenfranchise and imprison people of the wrong sexual orientation or active in the wrong political movement.

But when I say Kingdom Coming is optimistic, the single most critical point I’m thinking of is not Goldberg’s neglect of some of the broader angles concerning conservative fundamentalism. Rather, it’s the repeated assertion that no, it cannot be that bad, because the Constitution will still protect freedom. Ironically, the book itself contains ample of evidence why it won’t, documenting the rise of the “Christian nation” myth. And yet, it doesn’t make the requisite conclusion that just like Hitler never abolished the Weimar Constitution, which remained in effect until the end of World War Two with few Nazi amendments, so can American theocrats rise to power without repealing a single word of the Bill of Rights.

In one of the articles I once read about Christian nationalism, I saw a reference to a quote that went roughly, “We can pass unconstitutional laws faster than the courts can overturn them.” Unfortunately, I don’t remember who said it and in what context. But from Kingdom Coming and other articles, I can tell the American right’s sentiments are rarely that explicit; in most cases, it will claim to defend the Constitution, even while it pushes to abolish its self-enforcement mechanisms, especially judicial review. And so far, it has been doing a fairly successful job at that, considering that separation of church and state remains a sham, and the federal courts are still not protecting homosexuals from discrimination.

Indefinite totalitarianism requires three things: a motive, or a suitably totalitarian ideology; a means, or a modern state apparatus able to surveil and thereby oppress its citizens; and an opportunity, or a crisis of democracy abetted by lackluster opposition. Pessimistically, the United States has Dominionism, the national security state, and the Democratic Party. Kingdom Coming understandably focuses on the motive, which is why it’s so detached from the means and the related issue of warmongering. Its greatest naïve optimism then lies in understating the degree to which the Dominionist movement has the opportunity to advance.

The internationalist note the book finishes on begins with an excerpt from an interview with Iranian secularist Marjane Satrapi, in which she says, “The secular people, we have no country. We the people—all the secular people who are looking for freedom—we have to keep together. We are international, as they are international.” While an international coalition can easily backfire—in Europe, even one-superstate liberalism is ailing, let alone one-world liberalism—an intranational one can be robust.

A good optimistic note to end any discussion of American religious fundamentalism on is this: if it continues advancing, it will reach a tipping point, so that it will be easy for secularists to use its fascism as a wedge issue. The Christian Coalition, Focus on the Family, the American Family Association, and the rest of the Dominionist organizations in the US are strong, but they can’t achieve anything without allies. The smart anti-fascist will deprive them of these allies by using such historical examples as Nazi Germany to drive wedges into the heart of the conservative coalition. The motive and means of totalitarianism will remain, but this active opposition can greatly diminish its opportunity.

That’s how you do it, in a way

September 24, 2006

Frist’s trying to hold a vote on immigration this week. The bill to be voted on includes provisions for stricter border control, which as a rule is completely ineffective in preventing illegal immigration, but no provisions for amnesty or even a guest worker program.

Maneuvering toward a pre-election showdown on immigration, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist on Sunday said he would seek passage of legislation to secure the borders and predicted Democrats would resist.

Incredibly, this time the Democrats are actually resisting. It’s good that the Democrats are finally learning to resist a bill that fails to include a crucial provision that’s supported by 66% of the American people, and that takes an approach to immigration Americans oppose 63-30. Hopefully, we’ll see incremental progress, culminating in learning to oppose pernicious bills supported by the majority of Americans, like the Patriot Act.

The bill is all that is left of a comprehensive immigration proposal generally backed by President Bush that included provisions for a guest worker program and ways for an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants to work toward legal status and eventual citizenship.

Frist led a bipartisan effort to pass that measure this year, but House Republicans opposed it as too lenient on immigrants in the country illegally.

Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada, accused Frist of playing politics by seeking to blame Democrats. Frist’s move is an attempt to cover up his failure to push through more comprehensive changes, Manley said.

“The Senate spent almost a month debating and then passing tough and smart immigration reform that included border security, but Republican obstructionism has prevented us from completing that bill,” Manley said in a statement.

That’s how you do it. You don’t need a majority in the Senate to sway moderates like Specter, who the article mentions as having doubts about the Frist bill. All you need is to make it clear that conservatives are supporting an immigration bill that helps no one except people interested in applying for border patrol jobs.

Cory Maye May Live

September 24, 2006

The death penalty is barbaric. The death penalty administered to people who may have been innocent is even more barabic. The death penalty administered to people who committed absolutely no crime is a Stalinesque atrocity.

About five years ago, during a no-knock police raid of an apartment complex where one resident was suspected of drug possession, another resident, Cory Maye, shot a cop, thinking he was an intruder bursting into his home. When other officers yelled, “Police!”, he immediately disarmed.

For years, he was on death row, for no apparent reason other than the principle of law and order, which in its American form mandates that every black person be guilty even if proven innocent, and that there is no such thing as excessive police brutality or irresponsibility.

Fortunately, now there’s a temporary reprieve, in the form of a new sentencing trial. So instead of being murdered executed for being at the wrong place at the wrong time and of the wrong skin color, he may only be thrown to jail.

(Hat-tip to Lindsay)

Saturday Afternoon Links

September 23, 2006

Gordo explains why labor shortages caused by the insufficient immigration are bad for everyone:

The nativists would have you believe that this is good news. They reason that the labor shortages will drive up wages and lift millions of unskilled workers into the middle class, and they favor tight restrictions on legal as well as illegal immigration. However, the labor shortages have been with us since the 1990s, and real wages for unskilled workers have been stagnant for five years.

For example, Tucson’s construction industry has suffered a chronic labor shortage for decades. Yet the wages for construction workers in Tucson are almost 20% below the national average. It’s this paradox that defeats the arguments of those who would close our borders: a shortage of labor does not lead to higher wages; it leads to inefficiencies that stagnate wages.

Go read the rest. Then go read the rest of Gordo’s posts, and stick around to read his new ones as they’re posted.

Hat-tip to Brent: there’s a fairly easy way to break into cars with keyless entry pads, based on a nifty technique from directed graph theory called de Bruijn sequences.

A little experimentation will reveal that, if the code is 11357, and you type 5113579, the door will still open! This means that with 7 characters we managed to try out 3 sequences – 51135, 11357, and 13579. After the inital 4 numbers (which sort of primed the pump) every digit tries one new sequence. Since there are 55 length 5 sequences of characters from an alphabet of size 5, we know that we’ll need to try 3125 sequences total. With our intuition from above, we would hope that we could find a sequence of size 4 + 3125 (priming the pump, followed by one new sequence every keypress). It turns out that a mathematician named de Bruijn has already done all of the hard work for us on this one, and all of the relevant math can found under the names de Bruijn sequence and de Bruijn graph. But I’m not going to talk about math any further here. Right now, I am going to give you a sequence of minimal length that, when you enter it into a car’s numeric keypad, is guaranteed to unlock the doors of said car. It is exactly 3129 keypresses long, which should take you around 20 minutes to go through.

Tara has two outrage pieces about the Tripoli Six, six medical workers in Libya who got imprisoned and tortured and are about to be executed on a false charge of infecting children with HIV.

The more I read about this, the worse it gets. In addition to the links I mentioned yesterday, Laurie Garrett mentioned she’s been covering this for years. One example is this piece from this past June.

One of the newly charged Bulgarians, Smilian Tachev, an engineer, told Bulgarian journalists last month that he was originally arrested in Benghazi at the same time as the nurses and doctor, and during 174 days of captivity witnessed gruesome torture of the health care workers. “The nurses were beaten with many-stranded wire, for a long time and painfully,” Tachev said. “Then they were made to run, crawl, stand on one leg with their hands stretched up. When they collapsed totally, they were dragged somewhere and brought back in a helpless state.” Tachev witnessed the use of probes to force unidentified objects down the women’s throats, electrocution, and dogs loosed on the screaming victims.

After you get outraged, think of something to do. Then be a good radical and don’t do it…

Single-Sex Schools and Social Science

September 23, 2006

There’s a debate going on on Feministing about single-sex schools (and it’s even flame-free!), following a recent study that shows that girls in the UK who go to single-sex schools later make more money in life than girls who go to coed schools. So far the situation seems to be that prestige is an alternative explanation for that.

Actually, Echidne’s post about problems in social science reporting provides an entire set of problems for the study. For example, the study looked at people born in 1958, and mentions that girls who went to single-sex schools took more science and math courses; now, when even in math and science the high-school gender gap has closed or even reversed, it may no longer be applicable.

Even if you accept that British girls born in 1958 were causally better off in single-sex schools, in the sense that if in 1969 parents had sent their daughter to a single-sex grammar school she’d have made more money later in life, it’s hard to conclude that encouraging single-sex schools is a solution.

For a start, separate is never equal. A few months ago, NOW President Kim Gandy pointed out how gender segregation was effectively a back door for underfunding job training for women and girls’ sports programs.

There’s established research showing that occupations that become female-dominated also become less valued over time. So it makes sense that female-dominated education will be considered inferior to male-dominated education, even if both are considered superior to co-education. At a minimum, to show that gender segregation helps anything, one needs to show that the gender gap between single-sex alums is smaller than the gender gap between coed alums, controlling for occupation.

Finally, there’s the effect of gender segregation on men. I don’t know about any study showing that men in gender -segregated environments are likelier to be sexist, but I know enough data points to suspect a trend. In that case, if it’s causal, then co-education is necessary to maintain political support for feminism.


September 23, 2006

Olvlzl seeks to rebut arguments made by conservative pundits that American liberals are all New England elitists.

My experience with New Englanders, and the record would tend to prove it, is that we generally aren’t regionalist snobs, certainly no more than others. There is a problem with New Englanders being favored by the first in the nation primary but that’s true of any place in the country and is in the process of being fixed. There are bigoted idiots everywhere and there are great public servants everywhere too. This isn’t an exercise in regional self-congratulation but to kill the myth. Maybe that can be sent to the toxic waste dump with the rest of Broder’s foetid crock of exercised at a distance, more common in the punditocracy than in the People, pseudo- heartland, self-satisfaction.

Actually, it’s not so much about New England as about big, cosmopolitan cities. Kerry wasn’t just from New England – he was from Massachusetts. Vermonter Dean managed to come off as significantly less arrogant, though it’s probably more due to his style of pandering than due to his home state (Dean is actually as much of a Vermonter as Bush is a Texan; he grew up in the Upper East Side).

As a general rule, oligarchs like nothing less than people telling them to stop oppressing people. In their view, that is in fact tantamount to oppression. The quintessential regionalist in American history isn’t the frontiersman, but the slaveholder, who genuinely believed it was tyrannical for Northern activists to abolish slavery.

Plus, fascists tend to just loathe cities. Part of it is because urbanites don’t generally vote conservative – for example, Berlin was one of Hitler’s weakest areas when he ran in free elections. Another part of it is because the last thing any right-winger likes is a dynamic region, where innovation trumps tradition and where nonconformists can thrive. Yet another is that in the US, the big coastal cities tend to have too many immigrants to register within the average conservative’s comfort zone.

On the other hand, the importance of regionalism in US politics is overstated. The Northeast is as solidly Democratic as the Southeast is Republican, and it’s not because people in New York vote for Presidential candidates based on how close to New York they live. The Midwest, where both parties have a fighting chance, doesn’t really vote for people based on whether they’re from Massachusetts or Texas.

So it’s entirely possible that the “Kerry lost because he’s a Northerner” meme only circulates because it sounds like some special insight. “Kerry lost because he ran a crappy campaign” requires pundits to be able to know what makes for a good campaign and acknowledge that it’s not all about the voters. Concocting some mythical Evangelical backlash and writing about how Kerry was too secular for the electorate (even though his gay rights position is to the right of 60% of American voters) is truthy.

The Definition of a Jew

September 22, 2006

According to Rabbinical law, a Jew is a person born to a Jewish mother. In a thread on Majikthise dealing with yet another race scandal around George Allen, this time involving his Jewish ancestry, which he apparently denied. This promptly degenerated into a small flamefest about the definition of a Jew.

Unlike Christianity and Islam, Judaism was never a missionary religion. It doesn’t seek to convert people. Its roots are old enough that it’s almost like a local religion, belief in which is defined exclusively by ancestry. It’s possible to convert to Judaism, but it’s a rarity, and the general definition is ethnic, not ideological.

The matrilinear definition is simply the result of rape. In the diaspora, gentile men sometimes raped Jewish women, who’d then carry any resulting fetus to term and raise the baby as a Jew. As such, it made sense to define Jewishness purely on the basis of motherhood.

None of that matters on an individual level, on the other hand. Fortunately, the days of theocracy are gone in most of the world; people are free to choose their own religions. An ethnic Jew who practices Christianity is a Christian, at least in the eyes of everyone but a few outdated rabbis and the Nazis.

Book Meme

September 22, 2006

Gordo didn’t quite tag me (he said his regulars should post comments), but I want to share it with my readers who don’t read Appletree.

1. A book that changed your life:

I don’t know if there is any, but if there isn’t, the one that comes closest is The Rise and the Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer. For the first time in my life, I learned exactly why Hitler rose to power, how he could get away with turning a more or less democratic country into a totalitarian dictatorship in two years, and how he managed his cult of personality.

I read it in early 2002, when the Patriot Act and the general idea that the American intelligence agencies could listen in on virtually everything in the world. At the time, I started saluting, “Heil Bush.” Fortunately, Bush is a lot more inept than Hitler, and while Hitler was an idealist, Bush is a crook, making him a far inferior manager of a fascist system.

2. Books I’ve read more than once:

Among those I’m not ashamed to say I’ve read, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Max(x) Barry’s Syrup, and, I think, Cat’s Cradle. Serious books I never reread.

3. A book I’d take to a desert island:

Any good introduction to mathematical physics. Presumably, without such distractions as blogging and real life, I’ll be able to finally understand what it means for the group of symmetries of the standard model to be SU(3)*SU(2)*U(1).

4. Books that made me laugh:

A lot of books made me laugh. Besides comedies like the entire Hitchhiker’s Guide series, I remember laughing after reading select portions of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, The Tin Drum, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Guns, Germs and Steel, Foucault’s Pendulum, Cat’s Cradle, and The Feminine Mystique. There are dozens of books I’m forgetting here just because I don’t remember which specific portions made me laugh.

5. Books that made me cry:

I don’t think books have ever made me cry – film/television is apparently a more effective medium to invoke that reaction in me – but 1984, Brave New World, and Foucault’s Pendulum came close.

6. A book I wish I had written:

Hands down, The Handmaid’s Tale. Unlike my book’s more traditionally fascist view of theocracy, Margaret Atwood’s is more explicitly patriarchal. Women are not allowed to read. Doctors who performed abortions before the Revolution are murdered.

The only problem in the book is that it promotes the myth that sexual conservatism is a defense against rape. Atwood talks about how pre-Revolution, women always had to fear rape, whereas after it they don’t. In reality, turning women into men’s property has never protected them from rape – just ask Mukhtar Mai.

7. A book that should have never been written:

The pulp science fiction book I wrote a few years ago, for which I developed my constructed language. It’s so badly written it’s a complete embarrassment.

Seriously, I’m not enough of a tyrant to wish that books that promote pernicious ideas had never been written. Even the most rotten of all ideas deserves to be heard. Even David Irving should be allowed to publish his screeds instead of hauled to prison for saying something too offensive to the establishment.

8. Books I’m currently reading:

Sadly, none. But in most cases, I read books from beginning to end with few interruptions; if I were in the middle of a book now, I wouldn’t be blogging.

9. Books I’m planning to read:

Religion and Rationality by Habermas, The Name of the Rose, The Logic of Scientific Discovery by Popper, and Kingdom Coming by Michelle Goldberg.

Happy New Year!

September 22, 2006

May the year 5767 be better than 5766.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please reconsider bragging about how inclusive you are to talk about the “winter holidays” and decorate a “holiday tree” because Jews have Hanukah.

Oh, Fuck

September 22, 2006

Things aren’t going so smoothly as I thought in Palestine.

The Palestinians’ ruling Hamas group will not enter into a coalition government if recognizing Israel is a condition, a top Hamas political adviser said Friday, raising new doubts about President Mahmoud Abbas’ ability to bring a more moderate government to power.

At the United Nations on Thursday, Abbas indicated that the planned national unity government between Hamas and his Fatah Party would recognize the Jewish state.

But Haniyeh’s political adviser, Ahmed Yousef, told The Associated Press on Friday that “there won’t be a national unity government if Hamas is asked to recognize Israel.” Instead, he reiterated Hamas’ offer of a long-term truce.

The good news is that a long-term truce without recognition or diplomatic relations is better than outright war, and in addition “Yousef said renouncing violence was a clause of the agreement underlying the planned coalition government.” The bad news is that Hamas is still refusing to extend the truce into full diplomatic recognition even if the occupation ends.

I can understand not recognizing a government that’s illegally occupying your country, but not recognizing a government that’s doing of that sort is just needlessly belligerent.

No-Special-Occasion Links

September 22, 2006

Tara explains why factory farming isn’t the cause of the recent e. coli outbreak and why stopping feeding cattle corn won’t solve the problem.

I have a bit of first-hand knowledge of this, as one of my studies involves taking samples from cattle and growing E. coli out of it. In the place pictured, their cattle almost exclusively graze, supplemented with hay and a bit of corn. (Actually, now that I think about it, I’m not even 100% sure that they give *any* corn…) Anyhoo, we’ve isolated O157 from some of these grass-fed cows. So certainly, diet isn’t a cure-all, and it’s not necessarily even beneficial as far as carriage of O157 goes, despite the one paper Planck cites.

Mahmoud Abbas has promised that the Palestinian unity government will recognize Israel’s right to exist. On the other hand, the news report says, “Tel Aviv is insisting that any progress in the peace process must be based on the ‘road-map’ plan,” so if it can’t get Israel’s capital right, I’m not sure it can get geopolitical processes right, either.

Remember when I said the Thai coup looked like a fairly minor affair? Well, I was wrong.

Thailand’s coup leaders have tightened their grip on the country, banning all political meetings, outlawing all party activities and imposing tough new restrictions on the news media.

After seizing power in a bloodless coup this week, the military junta announced yesterday that it is taking over the duties of parliament and banning any public gathering of five or more people.


The new restrictions on the media, meanwhile, were announced in a decree on Bangkok’s television channels yesterday. Live interviews will be banned on radio and television. Phone-in comments in the broadcast media are also forbidden. And any media comments that are deemed a threat to national security are banned.

Susie Madrak writes about a day in the life of Joe Republican, the perennial get-the-government-off-my-back conservative who would have lived in a Mumbai-style slum if the ideologues he’s behind had been in power.

Joe gets up at 6 a.m. and fills his coffeepot with water to prepare his morning coffee. The water is clean and good because some tree-hugging liberal fought for minimum water-quality standards. With his first swallow of water, he takes his daily medication. His medications are safe to take because some stupid commie liberal fought to ensure their safety and that they work as advertised.

All but $10 of his medications are paid for by his employer’s medical plan because some liberal union workers fought their employers for paid medical insurance – now Joe gets it, too.

Lindsay writes a comment on her own blog explaining precisely why WJC isn’t a real liberal.

Clinton let hundreds of thousands of people die in Rwanda in 100 days because he couldn’t figure out what to do. He escalated the war on (poor people’s) drugs, helping to lay the groundwork for much of the current regime’s assault on the civil liberties of all Americans. He celebrated his welfare reform program that kicked untold numbers of mothers off of welfare into the minimum wage economy and their kids into lowest common denominator daycare.

Things I’ve learned in the last 48 hours

September 22, 2006

1. I’ve always wondered what the precise meaning and connotation of “white/male privilege” are. Now I know: white privilege is “the right of a white person not to agree with a non-white person about something.”

2. The rough meaning of the word “flaming” is “when other people flame me”; at times, it’s “when other people disagree with me insufficiently timidly.”

3. Apparently, the frantic search for membership in oppressed groups doesn’t just haunt liberals – conservative politicians with race scandals do, too.

4. Part of the issue about Islam is precisely the lack of a Caliphate that has the same authority as the Papacy.

If you don’t know what the first two are about, consider yourself lucky.

Norway’s War on the War on Women

September 21, 2006

Hat-tip to Jessica: Norway’s trying to crack down on corporate sexism ever more vehemently.

[Link] Under a new Norwegian law, all public corporations there have a year to put women in 40 percent of boardroom seats. Stephen Beard reports on the game of musical boardroom chairs that’s ensued.


Four years ago, before the Norwegian Parliament took action, women held just 3 percent of seats on listed corporate boards. Today with a quota in place that figure has leapt to 22 percent. Compare that to America’s Fortune 500 companies, where women only make up 14 percent of the boardroom seats.

The Norwegian government already sits on one of the most gender-equal nations in the world. If women only get 3% of the seats on listed corporate boards there compared with 14% in the US, there has to be something else at play.

Last decade there was an article talking about how the Norwegian government is paying parents generously to raise children. In a nutshell, the government pays parents to stay at home and requires corporations to contribute, and needless to say, women take advantage of this more than men. In both Norway and Sweden, these policies have completely skewed the gender balance in the private sector, especially in high-end jobs.

Corporations in these two countries get an incentive to discriminate against women. Women might disappear from work for 3 years while still drawing a salary; men legally have the right to, but in practice they generally don’t. It’s possible to explain the overrepresentation of women in the public sector as a result of the fact that traditionally female occupations are likelier to be governmental in Scandinavia than in less socialist countries; it’s not possible to similarly explain the relative paucity of women in Norway’s corporate boards absent quotas.

The Norwegian government’s supplemental solution, requiring men to take a small part of the total parental leave (4 months out of 3 years), is too insignificant. At its best, it means corporations have to pay men who don’t work 4 months and women 32.

A better solution would involve not quotas, or not just quotas, but attacking the system that tells women they should be mothers. It’s not the government’s business to encourage medieval family values. Part of it involves reducing parental leave possibly while stepping up daycare payments; another part of it involves making the gender distribution of parental leave more rigid (e.g. 18 months per parent, instead of 3 years for both parents).

Update: Apparently, there was some big confusion about the length of parental leave in Norway. It’s 52 weeks at 80% pay or 42 at full pay, and men only have to take 4 weeks, not 4 months (link). Thanks to Norwegian Feminist for pointing it out to me.

Excessive Moderates’ Solutions

September 20, 2006

Jessica’s liveblogging the annual Clinton Global Initiative meeting left me painfully aware how problematic excessive moderation is. The CGI panel on global poverty talks about how to look for technological solutions, and how to make trade a little more sustainable.

That reminded me of Feingold’s health care proposal, which reeks of the same inoffensiveness. Feingold says about his health care proposal, “Rather than dictating how states will achieve universal coverage, the bill provides them with the flexibility to choose their own way of covering all their residents, provided they meet specified minimum requirements,” as if there isn’t an existing solution used in every developed country but the US.

Similarly, the CGI panel talks about “adding value for trade,” whatever that means, about techological solutions, and about innovation. Never mind that the UNDP and welfare economists who haven’t drunk the growth-mediated kool-aid have already outlined concrete development ideas: debt relief, removing tariffs and quotas on third-world goods, working to improve infrastructure, urban as opposed to rural development, stopping foisting unregulated capitalism on countries.

On all these issues – global poverty, health care, education, intranational welfare – excessive moderates leave me painfully aware that the main problem isn’t to get people to recognize that things need change, but to get them to recognize that there’s no way around abandoning existing right-wing ideas (neo-liberalism, competition on the insurer level, local control, and workfare respectively).

I’m all for moderation, when it involves pragmatically supporting things that work. The problem with excessive moderates’ solutions is that they’re built not on what works, but on what is inoffensive given current orthodoxy; not on what’s innovative, but on what looks innovative.

I wish my Freshman Composition class were like that

September 20, 2006

Skatje writes about forming her own opinions individually:

In these last few years as I come of age and become aware of the social and political issues of my generation, I’ve found that I have a lot of choices to make and opinions to form. These opinions are mine alone. Though others may share them, they’re still my own because I came to believe them due to personal experience and the conclusions I myself have drawn. I believe in forming my own opinions and not letting others sweep me away into theirs.

There haven’t been many epic events where my conviction has played a key role in shaping my life; there are mostly smaller battles every day. Daily, I’m bombarded with opinions—Bush is a moron, homosexuality is wrong, religion weakens the government, Mexicans are stinky and lazy. I hear these things constantly, and I have to tune them out and not let them influence me.

What has Bush done for our country? Have I ever had a problem with a Mexican? Before I form my view, I think about the facts and my personal experience. I can’t take a side in an argument right away, I have to research into it and consider the values and morals I already have before I can be confidant that I’m correct.

I wish more people realized how powerful and how crucial this mode of thought is. How can I find facts? What are the facts? What facts would falsify my view? All of these are questions all people with functioning neocortexes must ask themselves.

By the same token, there’s nothing wrong with judging things in light of one’s own values, as long as it doesn’t blind one to reality. Some degree of obstinacy is good; if every single dissonant fact causes me to change my mind, I’ll generally miss big pictures because of normal random variations. This, incidentally, is how political talking points work: they assemble random data that isn’t particularly important and pass it off as the entire body of relevant facts.

Of course, people tend to condescend to everyone younger than themselves, so one commenter duly praised Skatje’s high school education. PZ intervened and praised Skatje’s Freshman English class, which she started three weeks ago. The only thing I can say to that is, I wish my Freshman Composition class had gotten me to write like that. Even when I wrote a similar post on UTI a little less than a year ago, I took a lot more words to say the same thing as Skatje, even 3 years after having taken Freshman Composition.