Monday, March 31, 2008

The Economics of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Here's a post about economics, as suggested by Tammy. Well, sort of a post on economics.

I was watching the (original) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie (with Gene Wilder) - which came out the year I was born and which I have always really loved. I got it on DVD last year so my daughter could enjoy it, and I was watching it this weekend because my daughter put it in the DVD player to watch.

At the beginning of the movie, there is the "Candyman" song sequence, where the owner of a candy shop sings about how Willy Wonka was born to be a candyman and dances about, giving out candy in various forms to the children in the shop. Since I was a kid, this sequence always bothered me for this reason: A major plot point in the movie is Charlie's lack of funds to even buy a candy bar (because he's so poor) - and yet here, right at the beginning, you see all these kids dancing around, getting hundreds of dollars worth of candy for free - the proprietor just hands it out, you see no money exchanged. I wondered, why can't Charlie get some of that free candy?

Then as I watched it, and saw Charlie looking in through the window longingly as the sequence ends, all of the various arguments I've had in the blogsphere flooded in, and I wondered if instead one could take it for just how Charlie sees it - like all the kids get to dance and get candy for free (seemingly) and he's just left out of it because he's of the wrong class (too poor). Or something like that. In other words, it only SEEMS like candy is given away to him, given the relative wealth difference between him and those other children. They can afford it enough so that it seems (to Charlie) like it is just given away. I know, this is really overthinking it - in reality, they just wanted to do a musical number about candy, and that was a fun way to do it.

But this brought back the various blog arguments I've seen because of how it relates to perception. The "privileged" children in the store getting free candy - or rather, seeming to get free candy to the "non-privileged" Charlie Bucket - when the reality was, they really don't get free candy - Charlie's perception is mistaken -- which rather turns on its head the whole notion of "Standpoint Theory" - where the non-privileged supposedly have better insights than the privileged - in this case, the privileged know what's going on better than the non-privileged.

Though in my personal opinion, I think standpoint theory is mostly bunk (and it has been fairly effectively refuted by people other than me) for the simple reason that I don't see how one could ever think to know the experiences of others without ever having walked in their shoes - being less privileged doesn't suddenly offer a person any insights - and it may even cause envy and resentment, which would color perceptions. I think it is part of the notion in leftist thinking that the poor are somehow better than those who aren't poor (and especially better than the rich) when, last I checked, rich, poor, or middle-class, we are all the same species, with the same strengths, weaknesses, and personal biases.

Which brings me to more economics - survival of the fittest. Some use that as an excuse to do nothing for the poor (except blame them) and I think this is bunk. It is true that if one is truly exceptional, one can go from poor to rich. And so it is also true that some of the rich are people who have done exactly that - and so in that limited circumstance, you really can say that a person truly deserved to be rich and those poor people he or she left behind deserved it less because they didn't work to earn it. But that is not the norm - a huge amount of wealth in our society is inherited - even more so as we eliminate the estate tax and as certain members of the upper class strip out public funds to enrich themselves (like with the Iraq war). Being born to someone rich doesn't mean one deserves to be rich - while there is some component of genetics to who we are, such that a successful person might breed successful children, even there there is variation, especially as one goes down to successive generations. Beyond that, it is easier to make a million when you are born with a million in a trust fund.

The way I think about the various "classes" is this: I think the main determiner of what class you will be is what class your parents were - rich parents, rich children; poor parents, poor children. I think it takes a very special sort of individual (and some luck) to manage to climb to a new class level - from poor to middle or from middle to rich - or from poor to rich. You can decrease that difficulty with some help - like with the GI Bill, that sent a whole generation to college after WWII - that created a robust middle class (which has slowly eroded away of late). Of course, it also helped that all of the world industrial powers other than the United States had been bombed into rubble and so we had basically total market share for manufacturing for a while.

What this boils down to is this: you really can't say that the poor are poor just because they are lazy or unable to be anything else. It is really hard to get up out of one class - particularly when you start at the bottom. Sometimes cultural things make that worse - like favoring jocks over studying - while a few superstar jocks may get out, a much more reliable method of improving yourself is through education - which means being a nerd and studying over partying and socializing or doing sports.

I think the key is education - making it available for everyone and making it of good quality. And I don't support things like vouchers - which I see as a backdoor way to suck funds out of public schools and put it into religious schools, and as a subsidy for upper class parents who already have kids in private school and just want a tax break for it. (Because the vouchers never cover full tuition, and so the poor, who can't afford even partial tuition, are still stuck - leaving those who benefit the most those who can afford private school already anyway).

I'd favor vouchers if they did two things: 1) if they were not for religious schools - I don't want my tax dollars paying to teach bronze age superstitions as fact and 2) if they covered 100% tuition of any school you sent your kid to, so it would actually allow even the poor to have full school choice, as opposed to just giving a subsidy to the upper class to send their kids to school.

I favor some form of national health insurance - again, making it easier for the poor and middle class to move up - because the main cause of bankruptcy is not credit card spending sprees, it is medical bills.

I favor regulation of corporations for 100% transparency of their books - I think the best form of regulation is not so much forbidding certain behavior (though you still would have some of that) as it is making all behavior on public display. I would also give more power back to stockholders - you know, the people who actually OWN the companies. It is sickening to me to see, for instance, over half of shareholders vote to limit a CEO's compensation and then see the board just ignore it. I'd make 2/3 or 3/4th majoritys required of shareholders for setting things like CEO compensation and golden parachutes - and I'd add an extra layer of protection on golden parachutes - I'd make them all also contingent on a 2/3rd vote of the stockholders at the time of exercise. Of course, the GOP would hate this - this would take away a lot of their power and financial base - but hey, giving shareholders (owners) more power is what would make for a TRUE ownership society.

As it is, I see CEOs and boards using companies as personal banks, looting the value and living off of them like leeches. Which I find sickening. I'd think a true libertarian would want to eliminate that sort of legalized theft.

As I said before, the GOP favors privatization of profits - and the public financing of losses. Which is exactly the opposite of a free market. If they gamble and win, they want to keep all the winnings, if they gamble and lose, they want the taxpayers to bail them out and prevent them from taking any losses (and also allow them to keep their millions already "earned"). This is bullshit. I think what the Fed is doing now, in general, is really bad - they are lowering interest rates, which will just give a tiny bump now in exchange for a huge recession and huge inflation in the future - 5 to 10 years from now. But hey, anything to juice things up in an election year. Bush just keeps on proving that no matter how bad he's been, he can get even worse.

As usual, I have wandered far - from chocolate to Bush. To get back to Charlie - Charlie is wrong in his perception - there is no free chocolate. The other kids do have to pay for it. It only seems to him like they don't or that they have an unending supply because he has so little and because perhaps he likes to imagine things that way, as if he could somehow get there himself, if only he works hard enough. In a way, that's like the general lie that keeps the poor voting GOP - the notion that they vote for things that are hugely beneficial for the rich and powerful with the idea that they could somehow get those benefits too, if only they worked hard enough. Which is a lie - the benefits that the GOP gives are just for its cronies - and the hard work they reward is that of lobbyists, not anyone who actually produces anything. And as a final thought - I hope everyone reading this now has either "Candyman" or even better, "Pure imagination" running through their heads from the movie. Because I sure can't get them out right now after having watched the movie several times for toddler.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Newsflash: Shroud of Turn is a FAKE

But of course, the fact that it has long been established as a fake (and as a simple work of art) doesn't stop stupid stories like this from popping up every so often. Which just goes to prove that evidence and facts are irrelevant if you are a "true believer."

What is even sadder is that the story really could have made that readily apparent - there is plenty of information out there to definitively show that it is a fake. But then, that wouldn't get the reilgious nutcases all excited by the article, which was probably the point - advertising revenue.

Both carbon dating and providence indicate the shroud originated somewhere around the 13th century. Any "controversy" about that is manufactured by those who want to obfuscate the facts and keep their religious artifact idea alive. Isn't it funny how every scientific analysis agrees, and it is only those who are Christians who seem to disagree with those analyses.

Just file this as one of those things that annoys me.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Another kick to my stomach. Looks like, to save a bit of change, the Mars Rovers are going to be shut down. Wonderful. In the meanwhile, we spend more money than that every freaking hour in Iraq. I want to puke. I want to scream at the top of my lungs. I want Bush and Cheney fucking impeached, then tried for treason and executed. Then as I realize that none of this will happen, I want to cry.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Question for My Readers

Despite my generally sleep-deprived state of late, I still feel the urge to write, and even have several things I may write about about soon - but it occurred to me - of those who read here, is there anything in particular anyone would be interested in seeing me discuss or say more about? Anything I say that is particularly annoying? Anything I should just shut up about already because I've already said it a dozen times? My curious mind wants to know. I tend, in the non-electronic world, to thrive on back and forth in conversation - that's probably why I enjoy commenting on other blogs so much - through dialogue and discourse, I develop my thoughts. So I'm asking for some dialog here. Thank you in advance for any suggestions offered.

My Political Positions

I promised some time back I'd put a post up about my various political positions, in part as a reaction against my dislike of certain politically charged labels. Then I never quite got around to it for various reasons, many baby-related.

I'm not sure anyone was really waiting with bated breath to see what my views are - one could probably guess what most of them are anway, based on the previous 275 or so posts I've made on this blog. But I figure it is still a useful exercise for me. I don't claim this list is exhaustive - partly because I'm exhuast-ed and so little bits of information tend to slip by me, including such tid-bits as what day of the week this is, and whether it is day or night. That said, here goes:

One common theme for me, the core of what I value, is civil rights. And by that, I mean the rights of the individual that trump anything that government can do. When it comes down to a determination between government power and individual rights, I'll err on the side of individual rights. Because I don't trust the government - not because I'm a conspiracy nut, but because

1) power corrupts - anyone with power is going to be at least somewhat corrupted by it. Best to limit that power, and one limitation on government power is inalienable rights of individuals. Every court case that affirms constitutional rights of individuals over government power is like weed killer, killing a little of the weed that is government power.

2) power tends to grow over time (much like the aforementioned weeds) - as time goes on, governments try to grow their powers, increasing opportunities for 1) above - it is just an inevitable thing. And power, once gained, is really hard to pry out of the hands of government - civil rights, enforced for individuals against the government, is a check on this - to a certain degree, each expansion of government power can only come by ignoring or abridging individual rights - so to protect those rights is to give less avenues of approach for government to grow in power. (Think of it like a maze designed to keep weeds from growing too far).

3) government power tends to go to the ones who can afford office - that tiny minority known as the rich upper class - and so though we have a representative government, they really tend to represent only that core constituency - the rich and powerful - but where there are individual rights that trump government power that means, since there are far more individuals who are not rich and powerful than those who are, that is another check

In sum, I'd rather limit as much as possible what government is allowed to do, particularly when it comes to what it can do to individuals.

That said, I'm not anti-government. There are plenty of things that can probably only be done by a government - public services and things that really are not profitable or are natural monopolies that simply would not be done well if they were in private hands. One can debate which things fall into that category and which things don't, but the existence of this category is undeniable. Public roads, for instance, or the regulation of the limited band of the airwaves and airspace are other examples. I'm starting to think that national health insurance of some sort should also fall into that category, simply because I don't think there is any way to make treating illness a profitable enterprise where it can be so expensive that most people really can't afford it, so the only way to make a profit on health care is to let poor people (and now middle class people) die. I don't claim to know what the best way of doing this is, but with a national plan, the risk can truly be spread around to everyone, as opposed to being borne by a small segment of the population.

I'm pro free-market - because I truly do think that is the best way to handle MOST of the economy. Republicans claim to be free market, but I think the latest scandal (Bear Stearns) proves that what the GOP wants is to privatize profit only while making losses public - in other words, they want corporate welfare and socialized economics that allows the wealthy to get wealthier when times are good, and when times are bad, it bails out the wealthy from having to take responsibility (or any losses) for their own free choices made when times were good. They also like to give huge contracts of questionable value to their friends -- in the end, what they do when they have control of government is they appoint cronies and drain the treasury for their friends, and use the Justice Department to prosecute Democrats (and other political enemies) while shielding their own felons from scrutiny.

While I don't particularly think the Democratic Party is all that great, either, at least the people they tend to put into power believe in government, are competent, and less corrupt than the GOP people.

I am a skeptic - I favor evidence rather than fantasy or wishful thinking. Which is why I'm an atheist. It is also why I like to eschew labels - some will decide whether or not a given government program, for instance, is a good thing based on the ideology of who suggested it or who it might benefit politically - I prefer to look at the evidence and ask the question - will it work and do what was intended?

I've been somewhat vague thus far, so here are some specifics. I zealously advocate all of the civil rights in the Bill of Rights. (In contrast to those on the left who seem to forget that the 2nd amendment is in there and those on the right who seem to forget that there is anything in there BUT the 2nd amendment). Maybe someday I'll get into the individual amendments, but for now, suffice it to say, I think we've just about flushed the 4th amendment (search and siezure) down the toilet and I truly think the 2nd amendment clearly protects an individuals right to bear arms - the whole thing about militias is an indication of part of the reason why that right exists - militias used to be defined as 'every able bodied man' of a certain age - and so for a militia to really work along those lines, every able-bodied man would have to own and know how to use a gun. So that right needed to be protected. And so that also means it includes military weapons. Now, I'm not some nutcase advocating everyone have an assault rifle, hand grenades, and a tank in the garage, but taken in context, it is hard to see how the amendment itself can be read to limit it. The writers of the amendment sure didn't trust governments telling the populace what arms they could keep and where. The whole Revolutionary War started based on an attempt to confiscate arms and ammunition. In the end, what does this mean? It means I think everyone has a constitutional right to arms, and not just handguns or hunting rifles or non-assault weapons. Any arms.

There, now I've said things that on the one hand would get me labeled a looney leftie, and on the other hand, I'd be labeled a right-wing nutcase. Which is why I dislike labels. Because I'm neither. And the right and the left both annoy me to a great degree. I think the left now annoys me more, perhaps because I share more positions with some lefties than I do with those on the right and so I get the illusion of reasonableness from those shared issues - a notion that can often be shattered when I actually have a conversation with certain lefties and find out that the position comes from ideology rather than from any serious examination of the issue. Obviously, not everyone is like that (thank the stars) but enough are that I've come to conclude that what matters most is that someone be a reasonable (and intelligent) person, not what side of the political spectrum they are on.

That's why, though I don't agree with everything he says, I have some respect for Andrew Sullivan. He was big enough to admit he screwed up on the Iraq war, and then, about the GOP and conservatism in general. That is a hard thing to do, publically admitting you were a fool. There are still things I think he's a bit of a looney on, but then, nobody agrees on everything. He has the usual blindspot in his rationality that the religious have, for instance. He's also a rabid Hillary Clinton hater. I mean, on a lot of the things Clinton has done, he has a point, but that can get lost in the frothing-mouth hatred.

Another "libertarian" aspect to me is that I am against the whole stupid drug war, and other "consensual crimes" such as prostitution. If two consenting adults want to have sex for money, why the hell is it anyone else's business? Or if someone wants to dope themselves up in private, why should anyone else care about it? Almost all of the problems with drugs and sex for money are caused because they are illegal. Almost all of the other crime associated with both would disappear if they were legalized. And no, this does not mean you couldn't make driving while high illegal or that suddenly women could be forced into slavery as prostitutes - kidnapping and operating a vehicle while intoxicated would still be very much illegal. As would slavery. Those who can't separate the former from the latter have some serious issues that probably are beyond my ability to solve.

(And getting back to my point about government power above - I'd immediately rule all federal drug laws unconstitutional because there sure as hell is nothing in the constitution granting the federal government the power to outlaw drugs of any kind - commerce clause my ass!)

I'd greatly curtail the power of prosecutors, whom I think have way too much power. I'd also open up offices for public defenders, paid the same as prosecutors, with their own separate staff of experts (forensic laboratories, investigators with police powers, and so on), who are all run out of a department in each locality that is headed by an elected official akin to a DA but who is instead a Public Defender - and I'd tie all increases in "fighting crime spending" to that office, such that for every dollar spent on prosecutions (in any capacity, from police on up) to a dollar spent for the defender's office. Only then would I consider us to have "equal justice under the law." I know, good luck with that one.

Oh, and I'd prosecute half of the Bush administration for various things...

Ok, enough pipe dreaming for now. Maybe I'll continue this later.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Time Travel Forum

Ok, I found this hilarious, and probably not just because I like the idea of time travel. I also felt some echoes of the sorts of discussions I see elsewhere online.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Two-Year Olds Don't Listen - Film at 11

My two-and-a-half year old daughter recently moved up to a new room in day care. She's adjusted rather well, though I had heard a few things about the room that were not complimentary - or rather, about how they treated the kids. But I never saw anything unusual - just a bunch of kids running around playing.

Then the other day, I came to pick up my daughter and all of the "teachers" in the room had a concern - that my daugter "doesn't listen" - that they sometimes have to chase her to get her to be changed or that she refuses to sit down on the rug with all of the other children for group activities. They asked me what I did to get her to listen. I was surprised - I said something about her doing that sort of thing to us (my wife and I) as well and that there wasn't anything we did to get her to "listen" - when I later told my wife about this, she got very upset. And then I did, too. Two-year olds don't listen - that's what makes them two-year olds. What do they expect? Military precision drilling? My daughter has always done her own thing. In the older room, they let her. I'd often see it when I picked her up - everyone doing a group activity except her - she'd be off happily doing her own thing. She'd be social sometimes too - she liked to be social sometimes - but she also liked to do her own thing. I rather like that - I don't want some mindless follower for a daughter. I think I did the same thing when I was a kid, though I was also less social - I did what I wanted to do rather than what the group was doing.

I think it is a problem because the "teachers" should know better - two-year olds sometimes listen, sometimes they don't. That's just how they are at that age. I wouldn't start to expect real listening til at least three or later. If they bring it up again, I'll probably ask them just what the heck do they expect out of a two-year old.

Outrage Junkies

Maybe I've just read too many left-of-center blogs, self-named feminist or otherwise, but I'm sensing a pattern. There seem to be certain individuals that appear to actually get off on being outraged. It is like nothing makes them happier than having something they can scream and raile about swear about, and then they can further the fun by screaming and yelling and swearing at those who comment about it who don't 100% toe their narrow party line on the issue. And if those comments are polite and reasonable, they just change them by paraphrasing something like "I disagree with your position, I don't think this particular instance of X represents racism or sexism or whatever" to read in their "quoting" of it back to the commenter as "shut up stupid bitches, get to the back of the bus like the whore you are." And then they can again be outraged that such horrible things were "said" to them.

I don't mean to imply that most of the sites I read do this, or that they do it all the time, or that those that do it have a majority of commenters or blog posters who do that sort of thing. It really varies. A blog like IBTP would be one extreme - there all the posts are pretty much like that, as are the majority of the commentators. Other sites have a few posts like that and a few commenters like that. And I'm sure there's plenty of spectrum in between.

This is also not to say that there aren't things to get legitimately upset about or even outraged about. But when the instances start to get more trivial (like one long outraged post I saw about a woman athelete who DARED to be seen in her sports clothes, ready to start running a race, because well, that also meant she was bent over, and everyone knows that a woman only bends over for sex (which I found rather ironic - the self-professed feminists were the ones sexualizing her and shaming her for doing it - me, I just saw an athlete ready to run a race.)) - when they start to get more trivial, you have to wonder if there isn't just a grasping for straws to be outraged - to get an "outrage hit" to start the day off right.

As part and parcel of this is the claim of the mantle of victimhood. "Oh, look at me, I'm a victim, because some athlete had her picture taken." And woe to anyone who questions that victimhood or, even worse, points out that there are others who are far worse off. This usually results in several things happening. First, the original outrage junkie will claim that they are the worst victim, even as they give lip service to other "victimhoods" such as racism (if the original outrage was sexism). And if the comparison is to someone not on the left-wing approved list of victims, then they will pull out the "well, everything else being equal, I'm still a victim" - so if you, for instance, point out that someone with no arms and no legs is worse off than an able-bodied woman, they'll say that well, a man with no arms and no legs is better off than a woman with no arms and no legs, so they "win" and are still the bigger victim for being a woman. (Never quite explaining how an alleged gender disadvantage is even on the same planet as losing all your limbs). And lastly, come the insults - particularly if you are not in the demographics of the victim-group of the post - obviously, if you are a man, you can't comment or your opinion doesn't matter if the discussion is about women as victims (though apparently when men claim any sort of victimhood, women are not only fully qualified to comment, but their comments trump that of any men because well, they're women). (And all of this works just as well with race as the victimhood).

This has now been taken into the political arena as the Democratic nomination heats up and you see various supporters of Clinton and Obama now each fighting to get the victimhood status - with supporters of Clinton claiming they can never vote for Obama because he's "victimised" HRC with sexism (based on some vague statements), of course ignoring all of the racism from the Clinton campaign (including one rather outrageous commercial where they darkened Obama's face and widened it - funny how this never got mentioned on certain feminist cites I read). And so the quest for victimhood has gone presidential. The thing is, compared to myself and everyone I know, HRC and BHO do NOT look like victims to me.

I see two rich, powerful people, either one of whom has a shot at getting the most powerful political office in the entire world, and who already hold one of the most powerful political positions in the entire world - that in the Senate of the United States. They have lived the lives of rich and powerful people. I will never have one-one millionth the power that either of them will have. So forgive me if I don't start weeping at how they are hurt by some sexist statement or some racist statement. I want one of them to win. I'd prefer it be Obama. But Clinton works, too. But neither of them are victims. Whichever one loses will still be in the Senate, will still be rich, and will still leave a huge inheritence to his or her children, who will also grow up privileged, rich, and powerful. Which just goes to show that class trumps race and gender. "All other things being equal" is a load of crap when you leave out the relative weight of things.

If you want to know how privileged someone is, tell me their social class and wealth first, not their gender or their race. If you tell me someone is a woman or an african american (or both), that does not tell me anything about how privileged they are - they could be rich, they could be dirt poor. They could be a few months away from the white house, they could be a few days away from eviction into the street. But tell me they have a million dollars in the bank and they went to Harvard or Yale, and I can tell you that they are privileged without knowing another thing about them. (Though even there one has to be careful - they could still be missing all their arms and legs... and I hesitate to ever call anyone in that situation privileged, no matter how rich they are).

As usual, my thoughts have wandered far. To get back to my original theme - I think some people really do get off on being outraged and on claiming the victimhood mantle. And I think this cheapens those things that really are outrage worthy and it also cheapens the discussions of such legitimate things. It may feel very satisfying to hurl profanities and put down someone who you imagine to be in the class of those who "oppress" you, but it really doesn't accomplish much, particularly where the person you are directing that anger with never personally did anything to you and might even be willing to listen to you if you were more reasonable.

(And now you can queue another outrage junkie response - that this is just saying that all women who complain are "shrill" and blah blah blah - to which all I can say is, bullshit. Tone matters. Hurling vile insults at the drop of a hat proves only one thing - that you are an asshole not worth having a conversation with. Sure, if someone is nasty to you, they might deserve a nasty response back. But if all they do is politely disagree, hurling insults, questioning what they say based on stereotypes (for instance, that they are a white male), and patting others on the back for doing the same just proves to me that you are an outrage junkie, not someone actually interested in a conversation or solving anything.)

Another class of "victims" I want to bring up, just to show that there are also right-wing versions of this, are the Christians who cry "persecution" - woe is them, they only control every elected branch of every government in the entire nation, Federal, State, and local - oh, how persecuted that must make them feel. They like to play the victim card as well, even as they try to shove all of our culture into their own tiny box. They also like to get outraged, though for them, a woman athlete's picture isn't the illustration they use, it is fart jokes, or their church not getting preferential status by the government. Or a movie that they didn't get to censor.

I may add more to this later... suffice it to say that I'm not particularly impressed by outrage junkies, and my inclination has been more and more to simply ignore them. There are people with something legitimate to say - I'd rather give my attention to them.

Updated: Lastly, I want to add that I think what is partly behind the "high" that outrage junkies get from being outraged is a sense of moral superiority - their expression of outrage also allows them to be on a high horse, looking down upon the culture and the unwashed masses that are in it as beneath them, beneath contempt. They are obviously superior - their outrage proves it!

Monday, March 17, 2008

Cartoon Denial


Here's another fun thread at Amps. I have a few things I'm dying to do a post on, but failing the time for that, here's a quick link to all the fun, where I've put a few comments in. Feel free to point out the error of my ways...

(To recap for those who haven't read the thread - what I mean by '6th best' is, from my example with fake numbers for purely illustrative purposes: Say african americans are 10% of the population (with whites being 90%) - I know the numbers are wrong, this is just to keep the math simple. In other words, anyone who complains about the numbers has just proved they totally missed the point. Back to the example. So say there are 5 jobs at a company. Ten people apply. By demographics, 1 is black, 9 are white. Only 5 can get a job there. But also, only a single white person of that ten can benefit from racism, and this only can be the white person who is 6th best and also can only happen where the african american is in the top 5. Because otherwise, even with no racism, 5 white people would get the 5 jobs. It is only where, but-for racism, the african american loses a position that one is opened up for a less qualified white person, the '6th best' white person' - and then only that single person passively benefits from the racism in the hiring decision.)

I want to be clear - I don't disagree with the general concept of the comic, that one could possibly passively benefit from racism as a white person. What bothers me about it is that it really does imply that passive racism benefits every white person - rather than just those on the margins - because it shows pretty much every phase of "Bob's" life as benefiting from passive racism - which means Bob is either the most marginal person in existence, seeing as he seems to be the '6th best' at everything he does, or passive racism must pretty much benefit every white person. Now, I realize the limitations of trying to convey in a comic of a six frames a general idea - and I'm not saying this was deliberate - but it is an inevitable consequence of illustrating this idea (passive racism benefits) in this manner, which was part of why I think it is a good idea to point out that it isn't everyone who potentially benefits, just those on the margins.

It was also interesting to note that no one wants to factor in Affirmative Action - agree with it or disagree with it, it is a reality out there in many places, and it certainly alters the equation about who benefits from passive racism, or whether anyone does in a given situation. Maybe at the very least, what it does is cancel out any latent passive racism.

What is also interesting is that so many people want to jump on what I said without ever addressing the original premise. It is like there is a deep aversion to admitting that many, perhaps most, white people are not only not racist, but don't even benefit from other people's racism.

Friday, March 14, 2008

House Democrats Grow a Spine

House Democrats just grew a spine! Now we just need to see if they can hold onto it. Maybe they can share it with the Senate Democrats.

(And isn't it interesting to see how yet again, the GOP votes unanimously - you can almost hear the goose-steps.)

I can hardly believe it - I actually feel GOOD about the Democratic Congress, however briefly it may last. Now if we can just keep FISA telecom immunity from ever happening, and those lawsuits go forward, maybe we can FINALLY find out at least some of the illegal activities Bush has been up to these past seven years.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A truly awesome post by Glenn Greenwald

Glenn has done it again with his post on Misadventures in logical reasoning -- and lessons learned from the Spitzer scandal.

What is also particularly interesting is the comments - if you can get through them all. There is a lot of the sort of thing I see on certain feminist blogs there that generally annoy me and Glenn deals with that rather well.

One highlight:

Tina Schrier says:

If you are truly interested in knowing how feminists view prostitution--I don't think you are, but well--the Feministing blog has been running a great thread on this very topic, also in relation to Spitzer. You can go read it to get a leg up on your feminist theory regarding prostitution.

Glenn responds:

I completely reject the notion that there is such a thing as a monolithic feminist view on prostitution and that you have the right to designate it. I already pointed to Jane Hamsher's views on prostitution which are the same as mine. I spent all week emailing with Digby on this issue, whose views are very much aligned with mine. I consider them feminists in every sense of the word. Why are their views not the "feminist" view on prostitution but yours and those at Feministing are?


As for the women saying they like to prostitute themselves, slaves in the American south could always be found saying they were happy with their lot (like Jupiter Hammond), Iraqis can be found who will say the Americans should stay forever, and about 20% of people will say George Bush is a great President.
Do we believe them? Are they right?


I don't trust your ability, or mine, to override the judgment of other adults about their own lives. I prefer to leave it to adults to make judgments about their own lives, even when they're wrong. The right to be wrong - without having know-it-all busybodies override your decision-making - is an important part of being a free adult.


As for bodily freedom--I'm all for it. But . . ..


Whenever someone says "I'm for freedom X, but . . . ," that's always a good sign that they're not -- as in "I'm for free speech, but . . ."
We enact legislation to protect people from their own stupidity and shortsightedness every day (helmet laws anyone?) For that matter suicide is against the law; you don't have the right to kill yourself. Part of the reason drug laws stay on the books, whether or not you support them, is the demonstrable harm drugs do to the users (it's only partly a plot by big pharma). Prostitution is a huge risk for the hooker and a public health risk as well.
So yes, when people are being patently stupid, we pass laws to protect them from themselves and others they may hurt in the process of being stupid. Why should prostitution be different?
I don't believe in any of the laws to which you're equating prostitution laws, so I'm not treating prostitution differently. I'm treating it exactly the same.


Why exactly? And why so touchy on this issue?


I love how people think this tactic -- "Hey, why so touchy about this issue" -- is going to work to deter others from advocating their views. It's an incredibly dishonest tactic, though one I'm quite used to.
"Hey -- why are you defending the First Amendment rights of white supremacists? Must mean you're a racist."
"Hey -- why are you defending the right of people to use drugs? Must mean you're a cokehead."
"Hey - why are you defending the right of people to hire prostitutes? Must mean you hire prostitutes."
Do you know people who are actually affected by tactics that low and absurd?
I'm "touchy" on this issue because I really can't stand busybodies who can't mind their own business and who convince themselves that they are so wise that they have the right to regulate the lives of other adults and even turn them into criminals. People like that are incredibly destructive and self-loving. It's the Jerry Falwell Syndrome, though it's found in many places other than right-wing evangelical pews.

Another great comment by Glenn that sums the scandal all up rather succinctly:

"I am really astonished -- though I know I shouldn't be -- by how much people enjoy expressing moral outrage over the sexual lives of other people."

That needs to be put in gold leaf and framed.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Parenthood, Take Two

I'll likely have been working on this in fits and starts for a while, so apologies if this is disjointed. As I mentioned recently, I am the proud father of a new baby son, my second child (joining my daughter, already in progress at 2 and a half years old).

This experience was actually much smoother (and quicker) than the last one. We had scheduled a c-section for the end of February. It seems my son had other ideas.

Thursday night, I was at home, playing Dungeons and Dragons (well, running a game), as I do Thursday nights, from 6-9. My wife was home, as she was off work for her pending pregnancy. But we still had a babysitter (which we usually did because my wife would not be home by 6) to help out, given the rather large bowling ball that my wife was carrying around. My wife sent home the babysitter around 8 (to save money, no doubt). Around 8:10, I hear her yelling from upstairs (we play in the finished basement) to get upstairs and to call back the babysitter. I got on the phone as my wife told me that her water had broken. Unfortunately, there's no answer. I figured that our babysitter probably had her radio on loud and did not hear her phone. So I kept calling over and over and she eventually answered after about five tries. I told her the situation and asked her to come back.

Fortunately, we had already gone through the drill once before already, about a week earlier, when there was a false alarm and we had gone to the hospital around 10 in the evening. That actually made it easier this time, because we knew the drill, we knew that our daughter would be ok and that our babysitter (still in high school) could do it.

Obviously, the game was ended at that point, and I sent everyone home while we waited for the babysitter to get back about ten minutes later. Then we got into the car and headed to the hospital. I actually felt rather calm (even as my wife was very worried - she was mostly worried because she heard a loud "snap" before her water broke and thought she had broken the baby's neck - silly, I know, but she worries). I figured it was just the sound of the membranes breaking. I think I was also calm because I knew that even if things moved fast, we still probably had hours. And it was totally unlike how it was with our first child, where instead of a broken water, we had a gush of blood take us to the hospital. That turned out to not be the only thing that was different this time around.

Once we got to the hospital, they started to put things into motion right away. My wife sounded a bit unsure about a c-section (though she had one the first time) but that was mostly her usual tendency to go back and forth on every decision. She finally convinced the doctor she meant it and off they went to get her into the OR. By 10:45 she was in there, and I was waiting outside. I had to wait outside, garbed in scrubs, for almost 30 minutes, much longer than it was with our daughter. I figured this was because they were putting a spinal line into her, something they had done in advance the last time as they tried to do regular labor with my daughter.

Finally, after waiting, I was called in. My wife was there, and they had not yet put up the screen. For a minute, I was worried about that, because I didn't see the screen anywhere and I know I would have passed out if I saw them cut into her. Fortunately, they quickly brought it up right before they started, and so I sat and waited for the sounds of a baby being born. I marvelled at the computer they had in the room with the software keeping track of everything going on (along with her medical history in earlier entries). I asked a few times if they were close, and finally they said they were.

I stood up, turned on my camera (not looking at the incision, but just past the screen) and then I heard it, his voice screaming. It did not hit me as hard as it did the first time, with our daughter. First, we had less worry this time (at least I did). And I knew what to expect, not just for the birth, but for everything else that comes after - (last time I marvelled that they actually let us take our daughter home - I didn't know the first thing about babies aside from what I read in a book). As it turned out, things were even better this time in ways I didn't realize they would be.

With our daughter, they had some worry about her oxygen, so they showed her to us and then whisked her up to the ICU (and then right back down to recovery to be with us - turned out she just needed a minute). But what this meant was they didn't do all the usual things with a new baby in the OR. I didn't know they even did them there. Like weighing and measuring the new baby - all that was done as an afterthought in the nursery last time. This time, they did it all in the OR (which is probably what they usually do, though I didn't know it). It was actually very nice - we got to spend a lot of time with the baby right away, got to see all of his vitals, and things were much more relaxed.

All in all, it went much more smoothly and with much less worry than the first time. The only question I had was about circumcision (i.e. male genital mutilation) - I asked them to make sure that they didn't do it (no one had said anything about it before then). Later, it turned out, they asked about it alot - they asked my wife many many times about it, perhaps just confirming that she didn't want to do it. I wonder if they were pressuring her into doing it, but in any case, she still said no each time.

Just after 1:00 a.m. I went back home to go to sleep (while my wife was in recovery). The babysitter and my daughter were asleep in bed, though I had to turn off the light and TV in the bedroom. Then I went to sleep in our guest room until morning. Though I do admit, I didn't sleep very well - I was probably too excited.

The next morning, the babysitter (who was unsurprisingly in no hurry to go to school) asked to see the new baby at the hospital, so I took her to see the baby (after dropping my daughter off at day care), and then had to go back home after about an hour to let my parents into our house (they came up - my dad for the weekend, my mother for the week, to help out so I could go back to work - I don't have a huge amount of vacation).

Still, despite all the positives, it has been very hard having two children, particularly when one is still only 2 1/2. I've pretty much taken up doing everything except taking care of the new baby. My wife takes care of him, I take care of our daughter, the household, and of course, still am at work. It is exhausting. My wife is exhausted, too, from lack of sleep. I usually get enough now. Our daughter has adjusted well - she knows mommy can't pick her up and she is just with me in the bed now, with my wife in the other room with the baby (so the baby doesn't wake us up - our daughter needs her sleep to grow properly and I need it to function at work and do everything else). We can get somewhat snappy with each other, mostly because of lack of sleep, but we are adjusting ok. It just makes having three kids seem impossible right now. While my wife said she definitely did not want anymore at the end of the pregnancy, she said the same thing with our daughter, then changed her mind after she was born. Now, I think we are both on the fence. I don't know how we could survive another child, but I still think we are open to having just one more, assuming we can make the proper arrangements (and can afford it).

But that is years away. Right now, I just want to make it through the next year in one piece.

We are tired, but generally happy. Our daughter loves the new baby, though she doesn't really get too close to him, partly because my wife is afraid of him getting sick, partly because our daughter seems a little intimidated by him. I think having him around has helped her grow up a bit - she's adjusted rather well, she gave up her binkys, and she seems to show some patience when we deal with him and give her less attention (unless she's really really tired, but even then, she's ok with just getting attention from one of us).

And so life goes on!

Sleep Optional

My new little one likes to EAT. Alot. Constantly. Every two hours. Or less. My wife wants to shoot herself. On the plus side, it is good he has a healthy appetite and is growing fast. Over an ounce a day. I just hope this doesn't last. But it probably will, at least a month or two (or three...)

My mind is so wiped right now, I barely know what day it is.

Friday, March 7, 2008

This Just Sucks

So it looks like the Space Shuttles will all be retired by 2010, and we'll have no possible replacement before 2015, so for five years we'll be depending on the Russians (mostly) to get to the Space Station. Stupid.

Maybe if we didn't just waste a trillion dollars in Iraq, we would have had the funding to get something going sooner. I know there are arguments against spending money for spaceflight at all. Guess what? I don't give a crap. Space flight is COOL. End of discussion.

This is just sad. I guess it was more important to make money for Exxon and Halliburton than it was to do this. I guess the only upside is that having little activity at NASA during the Bush administration means that there was less opportunity for Bush and his incompetent cronies to totally fuck it up.

I must confess I was not paying any attention to this issue. But it is interesting that it seems very little media attention had been paid to this for years. Like, when the decision to retire the shuttles was made when there was no replacement. Certainly there wasn't enough attention that I heard about it, and I tend to look at articles mentioning NASA.

*Sigh* Here's another reason for me to feel disillusioned with our federal government.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

An Interesting Post by STF

Here is an interesting post by Sweating Through Fog. I think he really nails something that has always bothered me within certain feminist discussions, but that I never quite put a finger on exactly what it was, though I'm sure I've talked around it. He gets it on the bullseye:

When you spend years learning the secret ways to discern the ghost of Patriarchy that stands behind every social exchange, it can come as a shock to discover that men are human beings. That they actually have emotions - just like women! That they have desires far deeper, and far more nuanced than the brutish need for sex and power. Wow!

And so that notion is what bothered me - that men somehow have to prove their humanity to women in certain feminist discussions I've seen - usually from the start. You see it in how a comment is often assessed initially by the gender of the commenter. An insight or criticism is taken much more seriously if it is from a woman rather than a man. (And in some cases, it is rejected altogether, often with an insult, if it is from a man).

Which brings me back to my earlier discussion about why I thought the word "feminism" really needed to give way to something more about gender equality and fighting traditional gender roles. But I don't want to rehash all of that. Mostly, I'm just giving some kudos to STF for an insightful post.

Men Overwhelmingly Unconcerned if Wife Makes More Money

At least, that's what this article indicates. Specifically, it states that 88 percent of men would not mind if their wives made more money, and only 12 percent would mind. This does not surprise me in the least. Perhaps the only people who would be surprised by this are rabid misandrysts who desperately want to paint all men as women-hating neanderthals (ok, perhaps it is un-PC to act like "neanderthal" is an insult - ugh, I've seen too many Geico commercials).

From personal experience, I can say that I really do not mind that my wife makes more money than me. In fact, we couldn't get by if she didn't. She makes more than twice what I do. She also gets rather large bonuses on top of that each year. If anything, she's upset that I don't make more, but then, she's always been a fan of making more money (both for her and myself - count me a fan as well).

Next year, I may stop working or only work part time for a while, to save money on day care (and on taxes - the marriage penalty sucks and hits us rather hard). We'll have to see how things go. Any job I do has to have great flexibility and reasonable hours so I can get the kids from day care because my wife often has to work very late and drive a long way (she drives to whereever her current client is, which can change from month to month). There aren't many jobs for lawyers that have that kind of flexibility. I'm lucky that my current job does, but my current job will evaporate in a year, so I will have to explore other options.

And so color me unsurprised that men don't care if their wives make more. I not only don't mind, I count on it. (And color me unsurprised that the media is yet again taking something that has probably been established for quite some time and treating it as "new" and a "sea change" because, well, the reporter didn't know about it).

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

$11,000 Coffee Maker

Yes, $11,000. And no, it is not a Pentagon coffee maker. It makes only one cup of coffee at a time. The thing is, it can make it exactly the same every time, which is something new.

Still, though this appeals to the techno-geek in me to a great degree, I still can't stand coffee, so I'd never actually use one.

OMG Triplets

With a two week old at home and a two-year old at home, I REALLY feel for these people right now.

My wife and I talked about having three kids, but just two is really hard, and the first year is probably the hardest (not that it is "easy" later). It will take a lot to go through it all this next year and then decide to do it a third time. Alot depends on our finances - they need to have improved significantly before we will consider it. And we're not getting any younger. So we may go for three, but we may stop at two. I guess we'll figure that out in a few years.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

E Gary Gygax - Dead at 69

I just found out he died. That's sad. I don't have exact details, but I'm sure it will come out soon.

Ask me no questions, I'll tell you no lies - Talking about Clarence Thomas

Clarence Thomas is a Supreme Court Justice with whom I probably have very little in common and with whom I agree very little. There is much to criticise in his opinions.

One thing I will give him credit for, though, is consistency. I'm not talking about the sort of consistency shown by Scalia, who invariably votes pro-right wing, pro-GOP, regardless of how much he has to twist the law (and even his own prior holdings) to do so. I'm talking about actual intellectually honest consistency - in that he seems to stick to his line of reasoning, no matter where it may take him, even if it puts him at adds with Scalia and his pro-GOP, pro-right-wing holdings. I still think most of those decisions are wrong (if not all) but at least he's consistent about it, at least he has an intellecutal framework he tries to consistently apply. That I actually respect. That tells you what you need to do to convince him. That also shows that he is far more intellectually honest than Scalia, who pretends like he has some framework (which he misnames "textualism" or "strict constructionism") but then just makes the side win that he wants to win and tries to shoehorn it into the text afterwards, often with cute rhetorical tricks like stating an obviously broad issue very narrowly (or vice versa). So if the issue is consenting adults wishing to have whatever sex they want behind closed doors, for Scalia, the issue isn't whether the Constitution respects privacy, it is whether the Constitution specifically says the right to own a battery operated dildo is protected (which of course such a general document would never say even if it was clearly meant to be protected). But if the issue is instead whether or not the federal government has the power to, say, ban medical marijuana, then suddenly it is about the government's general power to regulate commerce and he doesn't seem to have a problem with the fact that nowhere in the Constitution (one for a limited government with all powers specifically outlined) does it say that the federal government has the power to ban medicinal marijuana. See how that game works?

In any case, I am writing this mostly in response to this article, which points out another point of criticism of Thomas - his failure to ask questions from the bench. This article doesn't do it, but many others have. And I just want to say that this is a load of bullshit. Asking questions from the bench is generally not about deciding the case, it is about other things. Hell, most appellate cases are probably already decided by the judges sitting on a panel before oral argument even begins. Maybe this is less true with the Supreme Court, which supposendly only takes the less-clear cases, but it is probably true that most cases are won (or lost) on the briefs, long before oral argument. The briefs are what matter. Most of what is in oral argument is probably for show, or between individual justices. Unless there's something really unusual or unclear, there should be no need to ask questions much of the time. Any question that would be really important ought to have already been answered in the briefs. Not only that, but with 9 justices, odds are, even if there is a good question left to be asked, a justice need only sit and wait and one of the other 8 justices will ask it.

I don't think the number of questions matters, just the legal reasoning in the opinions matters. So Thomas's failure to ask questions is irrelevant and means nothing, except that he's less long-winded than his colleagues. Which is probably a good thing.

As a practioner, I like to see questions on appellate panels, but usually only to get a clue where the panel is going with a case, not because I think they really are necessary or add anything most of the time. One could probably file most appeals without oral argument (saving time and money) - only the briefs really matter.

So if one is to critisize Thomas, please, do it for substantial reasons. Not for bullshit like how many questions he asks at oral argument. That simply doesn't matter. Take it from someone who knows.