Monday, December 3, 2007

An Oldie, But a Goodie...

The NYT, April 13, 2002:
With yesterday's resignation of President Hugo Chávez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be dictator. Mr. Chávez, a ruinous demagogue, stepped down after the military intervened and handed power to a respected business leader, Pedro Carmona. But democracy has not yet been restored, and won't be until a new president is elected. That vote has been scheduled for next spring, with new Congressional elections to be held by this December. The prompt announcement of a timetable is welcome, but a year seems rather long to wait for a legitimately elected president.
I love it when democracy is saved from would-be dictators by military coups...

The Primitive Accumulation of Academic Capital

I hadn't heard of 02138 Magazine before, but I ran across this fascinating story via EconoSpeak:

In September 2004, Charles Ogletree, a professor at Harvard Law School, found himself having to admit that his latest book, All Deliberate Speed, contained six paragraphs lifted verbatim from a book by Yale professor Jack Balkin, What “Brown v. Board of Education” Should Have Said. Equally surprising was the fact that Ogletree hadn’t known about the plagiarism, which occurred in a passage about the history of desegregation efforts, until he was told of it by Balkin himself.

“I accept full responsibility for this error,” Ogletree said in a statement. But some readers of that statement might have gotten a different impression: Ogletree attributed the plagiarism to two research assistants: “Material from Professor Jack Balkin’s book … was inserted … by one of my assistants for the purpose of being reviewed, researched, and summarized by another research assistant with proper attribution … Unfortunately, the second assistant, under the pressure of meeting a deadline, inadvertently deleted this attribution and edited the text as though it had been written by me. The second assistant then sent a revised draft to the publisher.”

It was a curious admission. In other words, at least some of Ogletree’s manuscript was sent to his publisher without having been read by the person supposed to have written it. Yet to Ogletree, the crime was not that someone else had written the material, just that it wasn’t the person Ogletree expected to write it.

But check the title page of All Deliberate Speed and the Library of Congress catalog information, and Ogletree’s name stands alone. An impressive total of nine students are listed in the acknowledgements as a “deeply committed group of researchers,” but there’s not a hint that their words appear verbatim in the book—or, at least, there wasn’t until something went wrong.

Derek Bok, one of the two professors appointed by the law school to review the episode, barely raised an eyebrow over the apparent use of uncredited ghostwriters. As he told the Boston Globe at the time, “There was no deliberate wrongdoing at all … He marshaled his assistants and parcelled out the work and in the process some quotation marks got lost”—a description that probably sounded flip to any author who has ever been plagiarized. Ogletree was “reprimanded,” but suffered no tangible consequences.

Which is probably why little seems to have changed with the way Ogletree creates the written work to which he assigns his name; a student familiar with Ogletree’s writing process on a current book, as well as op-eds and briefs for law cases, says that, three years after the plagiarism scandal, Ogletree still parcels out the work to a group of about 10 students on his payroll. The distinguished professor of law will review, but generally leave untouched, the writing of his most trusted researchers. He then puts his name on top of it.

And, to be fair, Ogletree is hardly alone: A growing number of books attributed to Harvard professors are composed in exactly this manner.
I'll have more to say about this later...

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Work in Progress

"Aristotle's Perfectionism and the Critique of Justice"

I dashed this paper off two weeks back in time for a conference submission deadline, and now need to revise it to give at the University of Maine next week. Comments?

The Source of My Problems?

Unemployed Negativity:
It occurred to me how much the world actively produces stupidity. I do not mean stupidity in terms of the malicious and downright idiotic content of the reigning ideologies, but stupidity in terms of the form of thought itself. [...] It seems to me that we will fail to comprehend the present if we do not take serious[ly] this production of stupidity.
U.N. mentions the CNN Airport Network as a particularly egregious example. The autistic repetition of the same, the systematically aborted thought processes, the obsequious obeisance before facts that are not facts. In short, the news. Shun it, comrades!

Oof...

Sucked it real hard in class this morning. Perfect belly-flop.

Obviously, I haven't had much to add of late, but that's because:
a) I'm sick of the news and have nothing intelligent to say about it;
b) I haven't had time to read any atrociously offensive economics literature; and
c) I want to be putting more philosophy up here, but haven't habituated myself to that yet.

Will power is neither will, nor a power: Discuss...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Critical or Pre-Critical?

Kind of stacks the deck doesn't it? Post-critical is ruled out a priori. Despite the obvious influence of Kant on Heidegger and Derrida, for example, it is not at all clear to me that they are any closer to Kantian critical philosophy than is Althusser.

The lines of lineage are a bit more crossed and re-crossed than all this. It reminds me of Agamben's dichotomy between philosophies of immanence and philosophies of transcendence, or of Althusser's claim that the two tendencies of philosophy are materialism and idealism. I understand those as tactical distinctions, but to take them too seriously seems to me to be a mistake. It's dangerous to too closely identify with one's polemics.

Over on Unemployed Negativity, it has been suggested that our task is that of "thinking social relations beyond the category of the individual." That seems more fruitful to me. And if the line of demarcation is between philosophies of individuality and philosophies of trans-individuality, then Heidegger and Derrida end up on the same side as Althusser and Deleuze.

CFP: The Substance of Thought

The Theory Reading Group at Cornell University invites submissions for its fourth annual interdisciplinary spring conference

The Substance of Thought: Critical and Pre-Critical

featuring keynote speakers Simon Critchley (The New School for Social Research) and Alberto Toscano (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, April 10th-12th, 2008
http://www.arts.cornell.edu/trg/conf2008.html

The last few decades have witnessed a struggle within continental philosophy between those thinkers who accept Immanuel Kant’s “Copernican Revolution” and those who refuse critical philosophy in favor of a “classical” metaphysics that, in the words of Alain Badiou, “considers the
Kantian indictment of metaphysics…as null and void.” This conference will consider the conflict between “critical” and “classical” or metaphysical strains in contemporary thought. Has critical philosophy run its course, as Badiou suggests? Or has Kant’s critical turn determined the horizon of all future philosophical work? Or is there an alternative path? We are interested in analyzing the contemporary division between thinkers who prescribe a return to the pre-critical metaphysics of, for example, Spinoza, Leibniz, or Lucretius, and those who continue to take up various trajectories of Kant's critical legacy. The former camp might include Deleuze and Badiou as well as Negri and Althusser, while the latter might include Adorno, Benjamin, Heidegger, and Derrida. We particularly wish to encourage work that takes a stand on the conflict between the two camps, as well as work that considers the implications of the conflict for the arts and social sciences. The wide range of our inquiry includes interrogations of the nature of critique, the fate of aesthetics, the privilege accorded to immanence or transcendence, and the status of materialism. Suggested paper topics include (but are not limited to):

- transcendence and immanence
- Derrida and Deleuze
- negation and affirmation
- finite and infinite
- the rebirth of rationalism
- aesthetic ideologies
- quasi-, ultra-, immanent-transcendental
- the Althusserian legacy
- the one and the multiple
- the persistence of the dialectic
- the fate of aesthetics
- the return to Kant
- the future of the linguistic turn
- the question of critique
- futures of Marxism
- philosophies of experience
- univocity, equivocity
- the limits of representation
- the historical a priori
- the genesis of subjectivity
- the possibility of materialism
- affects, passions
- the role of the negative
- the new philosophy of science
- political ontology
- the return of nature philosophy
- radical Spinoza
- rhetoric and philosophy

The deadline for submission of 250-word paper abstracts for 20-minute presentations is February 1, 2008. Please include your name, e-mail address, and phone number. Please email abstracts to theory@cornell.edu. Notices of acceptance will be sent no later than February 15, 2008. For more information about the Theory Reading Group, visit http://www.arts.cornell.edu/trg.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Casualties on the Homefront

The Times of London has a story today on suicides among American veterans. According to them, "At least 6,256 US veterans took their lives in 2005, at an average of 17 a day." And it looks like many of these are young vets, recently returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The suicide rate among Americans as a whole was 8.9 per 100,000, but the level among veterans was at least 18.7. That figure rose to a minimum of 22.9 among veterans aged 20 to 24 – almost four times the nonveteran average for people of the same age.

There are 25 million veterans in the United States, 1.6 million of whom served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Not everyone comes home from the war wounded, but the bottom line is nobody comes home unchanged,” said Paul Rieckhoff, a former Marine and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America.

CBS quoted the father of a 23-year-old soldier who shot himself in 2005 as suggesting that the military was covering up the scale of the problem. “Nobody wants to tally it up in the form of a government total,” Mike Bowman said. “They don’t want the true numbers of casualties to really be known.”

Mr Bowman’s son, Tim, was an army reservist who patrolled one of the most dangerous places in Baghdad, known as Airport Road. “His eyes when he came back were just dead. The light wasn’t there anymore,” said his mother, Kim Bowman. Eight months later, on Thanksgiving Day, Tim committed suicide.

The "official" casualty count for this war is so far from representing its true human costs.

UPDATE: It seems that, when you control for gender, race, and age, vets are--at most--only marginally more likely to commit suicide than the civilian population. This does not, however, answer the question of whether or not vets who have seen combat (in Iraq or elsewhere) are more likely to commit suicide than those who have not.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Principle Contradiction?

HTML Mencken:
And yet, and yet… some obsessions — okay, one current obsession — is more equal than others, is a political and moral trump card: Stopping the war. As Atrios has mentioned quite a bit lately with sarcastic understatement, people forget that war is a bad thing. But it’s not just a bad thing; unjust, immoral wars are the worst thing a country could ever do short of a Holocaust. Garden variety American racism makes people miserable and gets people killed, as does sexism, homophobia, etc. But evil wars get people murdered en masse — brown people, I might add. Plus it degrades America, breaks her treasury, and the conditions war exerts on domestic politics as a rule enables rightwing policy: there is a relationship between not just the war and, say, domestic spying, but also between the war and cultural issues like racism, sexism, etc. War is the fuel that the engine of wingnuttery guzzles. Wingnuts understand this; why do you think they are willing to concede (if push becomes hard electoral shove) on every single issue but that?
Within our present conjuncture, as they say, this is right, right, right.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Who have we become?

Via Andrew Sullivan, a heart-rending story:
In fairness to an unknown visitor to our country, imagine yourself in his place. The scene is on a recent Amtrak trip between New York City and Boston. The conductor collects tickets, requests identification, folds destination stubs into seatbacks, moves on to other cars. An older man across the aisle, traveling alone, shows his passport. It is clear from their conversation he doesn’t know English.

After decades as a frequent traveler, I have thousands of pictures -- scenery, buildings, people, architecture, from around the world. Today the train passes a lovely stretch of Connecticut shore, tidal marshes, nesting ospreys, the Long Island Sound. What little attention I pay as the visitor takes pictures, is that I’m impressed with his equipment. He and I, unknown to each other, are members of a picture-taking culture, fellow citizens of a show-and-tell world. I wonder if his will join the thousands on YouTube. I imagine, after his return home, how many friends he will impress with stories and pictures of this mild, early autumn, Saturday morning journey along the New England shoreline.

The train is a half hour west of New Haven when the conductor, having finished her original rounds, reappears. She moves down the aisle, looks, stops between our seats, faces the person taking pictures. “Sir, in the interest of national security, we do not allow pictures to be taken of or from this train.” He starts, “I…….” but, without English, his response trails off into silence. The conductor, speaking louder, forcefully: “Sir, I will confiscate that camera if you don’t put it away.” Again, little response. “Sir, this is a security matter! We cannot allow pictures.” She turns away abruptly and, as she moves down the aisle, calls over her shoulder, in a very loud voice, “Put. It. Away!” He packs his camera.

Within a minute after our arrival in New Haven, two armed police officers entered the car, approached my neighbor’s seat. “Sir, we're removing you from this train.” “I….;” “I……” “Sir, you have breached security regulations. We must remove you from this train.” “I…,” “I…..” “Sir, we are not going to delay this train because of you. You will get off, or we will remove you physically.” “I…..”

Nearby passengers stir. One says, “It’s obvious he doesn’t speak English. There are people here who speak more than one language. Perhaps we can help.” Different ones ask about the traveler’s language; learn he speaks Japanese. For me, a sudden flash of memory -- a student at International Christian University in Japan, I took countless pictures without arousing suspicion.

The police speak through the interpreter, with the impatience of authority. “The conductor asked this man three times to discontinue. We must remove him from the train.” The traveler hears the translation, is befuddled. Hidden beneath the commotion is a cross-cultural drama. With the appearance of police officers, this quiet visitor is embarrassed to find he is the center of attention. The officers explain, “After we remove him from the train, when we are through our investigation, we will put him on the next train.” The woman translates. The passenger replies, “I’m meeting relatives in Boston. They cannot be reached by phone. They expect me and will be worried when I do not arrive on schedule.” “Our task,” the police repeat, "is to remove you from this train. If necessary, we will do so by force. After we have finished the investigation, we’ll put you on another train.” The woman translates. The traveler gathers his belongings and departs.

I would like to think that I would have tried to intercede on this man's behalf, but I know how hard it can be to step out of the deference to authority and resignation in the face of bureaucratic idiocy.

One moment I am proud of in my life was a much milder version of these situations in which I managed to insert myself into the gears (with help from others). Waiting to take off on a flight from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, the plane was boarded by two airline bureaucrats who went down the aisle, pointed to three people, and told them they had to deplane and would be put on a flight the next morning. No explanation, no asking nicely; just "You, move." One of the people asked to leave was a bit resistant, and i and another passenger started chiming in, asking for an explanation, etc. Turned out we were over-weight, and these three folks had paid the least for their tickets, and so had been bumped. We managed to prevail upon the bureaucrats to, y'know, ask for volunteers, and, guess what, three people were willing to wait overnight.

Bureaucrats are just following rules, they have no inclination and little or no authority to use their judgment or to negotiate. That we have empowered a mass of bureaucrats to enforce a slew of fear-induced rules about "security" will be a decision we regret for a long time yet to come. If I were from another nation, there's no way I'd visit the States right now. No way.

Marx in the News

Via Infinite Thought, we discover that Marx's dermatitis was the origin of his theory of alienation:

The chronology is wrong of course (young Marx theorized alienation, old Marx squeezed his carbuncles while writing Das Kapital), but I'm just glad to see someone is still talking about old Moor.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Islamic Finance

Here's an interesting article on Islamic finance from today's Boston Globe. Key point: interest and speculation are bad.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Be Afraid. Be Very, Very Afraid.

Following the LGM links to some of the best blog posts evah!, I discovered this very nice summary of David Frum's conservatism (and not his alone):
What ‘offends’ conservatives about the welfare state is that it is economically inefficient: it destroys value by systematically encouraging masses of people to behave in reckless, value-destroying ways, which ultimately hurts those masses themselves. The cost of maintaining the safety net eventually frays even the satefy net, and then you’ve got nothing. Of course, this is putting the thesis rather crudely and ignoring numerous variants. But never mind that. It turns out economic inefficiency isn’t what ‘offends’ conservatives after all, at least not Frum.

“The great, overwhelming fact of a capitalist economy is risk. Everyone is at constant risk of the loss of his job, or of the destruction of his business by a competitor, or of the crash of his investment portfolio. Risk makes people circumspect. It disciplines them and teaches them self-control. Without a safety net, people won’t try to vault across the big top. Social security, student loans, and other government programs make it far less catastrophic than it used to be for middle-class people to dissolve their families. Without welfare and food stamps, poor people would cling harder to working-class respectability than they do not.”

The thing that makes capitalism good, apparently, is not that it generates wealth more efficiently than other known economic engines. No, the thing that makes capitalism good is that, by forcing people to live precarious lives, it causes them to live in fear of losing everything and therefore to adopt – as fearful people will – a cowed and subservient posture: in a word, they behave ‘conservatively’. Of course, crouching to protect themselves and their loved ones from the eternal lash of risk precisely won’t preserve these workers from risk. But the point isn’t to induce a society-wide conformist crouch by way of making the workers safe and happy. The point is to induce a society-wide conformist crouch. Period. A solid foundaton is hereby laid for a desirable social order.

Let’s call this position (what would be an evocative name?) ‘dark satanic millian liberalism’: the ethico-political theory that says laissez faire capitalism is good if and only if under capitalism the masses are forced to work in environments that break their will to want to ‘jump across the big top’, i.e. behave in a self-assertive, celebratorily individualist manner.
This dovetails very nicely with the Randian only-an-ubermensch-can-succeed-in-business silliness. The two conspire in that they apply to completely different people: the poor get the fearful conformity, the rich get the fearless individualism.

Friday, November 2, 2007

We Live in a Market (***cough***) Society

Two items over at Ezra Klein:
Between 1971 and 2001, Air and Highways received 62 times the funding Amtrak did. That the train system isn't as plush should not, under those circumstances, come as a surprise.
and:

I guess those speak for themselves, eh?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Spirit of Billmon?

Glenn Greenwald:
Rockefeller, Hiatt and their friends plainly see themselves -- along with the telecom executives and lobbyists who flatter and feast them and are their peers and colleagues and friends -- as our elite vanguard. They know best, and when they break the law, it is for our own good. "Laws" are for the masses, to keep social order, to ensure that the Rockefellers and Hiatts can rule in peace and telecom executives can develop their extremely profitable relationships with government agencies without being bothered by "unfair" disruptions, such as court proceedings when they break the law.
"Punishment" for lawbreaking is not for them. Rockefeller -- with his wise and genetically implanted noblesse oblige -- has looked at everything in Secret and knows that there was nothing wrong here. And that's all we need to know. We should place faith in his Judgment that there need be no further examination of what his telecom contributors did.
I've noticed that Billmon has dropped a couple comments at Greenwald's blog. Now, of course, Greenwald is generally much more strident than Billmon--who had that wonderful ironic streak--but to read Greenwald writing that laws are for the masses, it warms my heart. Greenwald has a strong libertarian bent--as do many gay men--but the more he rails against the Beltway elites, the more like a class warrior he sounds. I love it.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Soldiers Ain't Saints

Go read this. And this.

UPDATE:

There's a lot more out there on these topics right now. Including this, which is always worth remembering:
The military’s job is to destroy the enemy, protect its forces, expand its budget, and befuddle its critics—in that order. Telling the truth isn’t even on the list.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Trying My Hand at That Witty Sadly, No-esque Blogging

John Derbyshire over at National Review Online decides to put conservative thinking in its best light:

Startling Discoveries [John Derbyshire]

More from America's Newspaper of Record this morning. Headline: Stress Mess in U.S.

We're stressed out, we can't sleep, we're drinking too much—and it's getting worse.

Well, as a chronic somniac (i.e. opposite of an insomniac), I can sleep anywhere, anytime: ball games, movies, NR editorial conferences... no problem there. Drinking's a slight worry, though, I'll admit.

When did the NY Post become America's newspaper of record?
Forty-eight percent of Americans say they're more stressed now than they were five years ago, and the same percent report regularly lying awake at night because of stress, according to a new study by the American Psychological Association.

Oh, these "studies." That forty-eight percent could just be telling us that you feel more stress as you get older. Give us some good quantitative data. Did you measure stress? Did you measure it five years ago? With controls so the test groups are sufficiently similar? It's amazing what shoddy "research" these soft-science people get away with. Gimme numbers, gimme data. "Oh yeah, I definitely feel more stressed out than I did five years ago..." Uh-huh. Who can remember five years ago in that much detail? I'm pretty sure I was married to the same lady five years ago, and living in the same house. Beyond that it's all fog.

Derbyshire is now a real man a science? He seems to have made an elementary mistake: he took the NY Post story about the study to be the study itself. A simple error really.
"Stress continues to escalate, and it's affecting every area of people's lives," said Russ Newman, a psychologist and executive director of the APA.

Get a real job, pal.

???????????? Someone who writes professionally for the National Review is telling people to get real jobs? Derbyshire rolled out of bed, still hung-over from cocktails the night before, turns on his computer, has a brain fart over a NY Post article, and calls it a real day's work.

So what is it we're worrying about while we stare at the ceiling all night? Primarily two things: money and work, the main woes for nearly 75 percent of Americans.

In related news, dog bites man, sun rises in the east, courts strike down restrictions on illegal immigration, etc., etc.

That's way up from 59 percent of us stressed out over those two things a year ago.

Economies wax, economies wane, whatcha gonna do?

First he wanted comparative numbers, then he gets comparative numbers, then he poo-poos the comparison. Is he admitting that the economy was significantly better two years ago? Can we hold him to that?

We're also worrying about making the rent. More than half of people polled say paying the landlord or making the monthly mortgage causes great stress.

So maybe you shouldn't have bought that 8,000 square foot McMansion with a $1,200 a month heating bill on a 95 percent mortgage when you got promoted to Assistant to the Deputy Assistant's Assistant? Bad life planning.

If you're worried about paying the landlord, you obviously didn't buy a McMansion--or even a crappy shotgun shack. Does he really think 95% of Americans live in 8000 sq. ft. homes? That 95% of Americans work in management positions? That 95% of Americans are guilty of "bad life planning"?

The APA study was conducted online and involved interviews with 1,848 Americans nationwide.

An on-line study? So the subject group here is people on-line, with the time & inclination to participate in your study? Oh, that's well normed.

According to the report, all that stress and worry is taking a big toll on our lives, leading us to fight with family members, drink, smoke and give up on working out.

All things unknown in the U.S.A. five years ago. For heaven's sake: I've given up on working out at least 20 times, the first circa 1965.

If 20% of people experience x at time t, and 80% experience x at time t+1, that's called an INCREASE. To claim there has been an INCREASE in x is NOT to claim that x suddenly popped int existence.

"The high stress levels that many Americans report experiencing can have long-term health consequences, ranging from fatigue to obesity and heart disease," Newman said.

Goverment must act! Someone call Hillary!

If society makes us sick, maybe society should be altered in some way, y'know. But in Derbyshire's world, it's always peachy.

The study found that as a result of stress, 54 percent of people have fought with loved ones, and 8 percent say stress has led to separation or divorce.

...Which up to now have arisen from stress-free circumstances.

More than three-quarters of respondents say stress is making them sick, from headaches (44 percent) to upset stomach (34 percent) and grinding their teeth (17 percent). And then there's the not-so-healthy ways people try to handle all that stress, from eating junk food to tipping the bottle. Forty-three percent claim they eat—or overeat—unhealthy food to deal with stress, while a third say they lose their appetite and start skipping meals.

Plainly we need a federal Department of Stress Reduction. Or perhaps we could put Prozac in the water supply?

I'd settle for overthrowing capitalism, myself.

Drinkers and smokers report downing more booze and lighting up more often when feeling the effects of stress.

If these researchers aren't short-listed for a Nobel Prize, I'll want to know the reason why.

"Some people feel overwhelmed and out of control," said Beverly Thorn, a University of Alabama psychologist who was one of the researchers involved in the study. Thorn explains that people turn to bad habits when under stress—and that often makes them feel even worse. "It's a vicious cycle," she said.

Maybe they have the wrong bad habits.

If Derbyshire isn't short listed for the Pulitzer, we'll know why, too. Still, I have to agree with him that we need better bad habits--I would propose hacking the NRO site, or egging Derb's car, or the like. I imagine it would do wonders as stress relief.

But it's not all bad news.

So what's it doing in my newspaper?

More than half of Americans listen to music, read, or exercise as a way to alleviate stress. Others spend time with family and friends. More than a third say they pray when stressed out.

Hmm. I think I'll stick with the bad habits.

Advise to the Derb: stick to the drunk curmudgeon routine. It's much more charming than the social commentary.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Inland Northwest Philosophy CFP

Call For Papers: Inland Northwest Philosophy Conference
Carving Nature at Its Joints

The Inland Northwest Philosophy Conference is a topic-focused, interdisciplinary conference co-sponsored by the Philosophy Departments at the University of Idaho and Washington State University.

15–17 March 2008 (the conference ends shortly before the 2008 Pacific APA)
Moscow, Idaho & Pullman, Washington

COMMITTED PARTICIPANTS
Peter Godfrey-Smith (Harvard), Keynote Speaker
Alexander Bird (Bristol)
Michael Devitt (CUNY)
Ned Hall (Harvard)
Marc Lange (UNC Chapel Hill)
Karen Neander (Duke)
L.A. Paul (Arizona)
Roy Sorensen (Dartmouth)
Achille Varzi (Columbia)
Kadri Vihvelin (USC)
Neil Williams (Buffalo)

SUBMISSIONS
Essays of 5–6,000 words (30–40 minutes reading time) will be accepted until January 2nd, 2008. Papers from any area that address philosophical issues related to the metaphysics and/or epistemology of classification are requested. Graduate students and individuals in other disciplines are welcome to submit essays.

Send your essay in PDF format and prepared for blind review as an email attachment to . Please mention the title of your essay in the body of the email.

NOTIFICATION
Individuals will be notified of decisions regarding submissions in early February. Accepted papers will be eligible for publication in volume eight of Topics in Contemporary Philosophy, an edited volume to be published by MIT Press, pending editorial review.


CHAIRS & COMMENTATORS
If you would like to act as a session chair or a commentator, please contact with your areas of competence.

CONTACTS
Joseph Keim Campbell, Washington State University
Matthew H. Slater, University of Idaho
INPC
co-directors

Additional information can be found at: http://www.class.uidaho.edu/inpc

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

My Famous and Lucky Family

My step-dad knows how to play cards.

Hegel Call for Papers

CALL FOR PAPERS: PHILOSOPHY OF SUBJECTIVE SPIRIT

For the Twentieth Biennial Meeting of the Hegel Society of America
Columbia, South Carolina
October 2008
More definite information regarding the date of the conference will soon be available on this web site.
Deadline for Submission of Papers: February 15, 2008

The Hegel Society solicits papers on a variety of topics connected with the theme of Hegel’s Philosophy of Subjective Spirit. Papers interpreting, or engaging in dialogue with, Hegel’s work on topics treated in Hegel’s lectures and writings on subjective spirit will be welcomed for consideration by the Program Committee. Especially welcome are papers that explore the 1827-28 lectures on the philosophy of spirit (ed. F. Hespe & B. Tuschling [Felix Meiner, 1994]), forthcoming in an English translation by Robert R. Williams (Hegel: Lectures on the Philosophy of Spirit 1827-8, Oxford University Press, summer 2007).

Submitted papers are limited to 6,000 words (i.e., about 23 double-spaced pages at 260 words per page). All papers will be blind reviewed by the Program Committee, under the direction of the Program Chair, and the format should be appropriate for such a review process. An abstract of 100 words, accompanied by a short list of principal texts used, must be submitted with the paper. Papers submitted must be complete essays; proposals are not acceptable. Papers accepted for the program must require no more than 40 minutes for presentation.

Fordham University offers the Quentin Lauer Travel Stipend, a $300 grant, for a young scholar whose paper is selected in this process. To qualify as a “young scholar,” the author must be a full-time or part-time M.A. or Ph.D. student at the time of the submission deadline. If more than one young scholar qualifies, the stipend will be awarded to the author of the paper judged best by the Program Committee.

Please send four hard copies and one disk copy (Word or RTF) of the materials to:

David S. Stern, Program Chair
Hamline University
MS-A1775
1536 Hewitt Avenue
Saint Paul, MN 55104-1284
U.S.A.

Although papers presented at meetings of the Hegel Society of America are usually published as a collection of essays, publication cannot be guaranteed. By submitting a paper, however, the author agrees to reserve publication for the HSA Proceedings if the paper is accepted for the program, and if the program is accepted for publication.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Calling a Spade a Spade

John Judis in The American Prospect:
Bush's foreign policy has been variously described as unilateralist, militarist, and hyper-nationalist. But the term that fits it best is imperialist. That's not because it is the most incendiary term, but because it is the most historically accurate.
I haven't read the whole thing yet, but doesn't it feel good to have that out in the open?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Addicted to Pain

Right wing opposition to SCHIP seems to hinge on the notion that good, responsible parents put up with jobs they hate in order to be good, responsible parents. I just ran across this comment over at Sadly, No!, which is, just, well, true. Citing one of the attackers, owlbear1 writes:

Now, pause for a second. Are you reading this at your computer at work, in a job that you don’t particularly care for or even downright detest because you have a spouse and child that depend on you? You wouldn’t be the first or last person to make that choice.

Unintentionally, the dipshit hits on the base reason why his masters are SO SO SO afraid of National Health care.

If we didn’t NEED health insurance through employers we wouldn’t put up with ALL the bullshit.
People who are in jobs they hate need to be able to justify their lives. When there is someone else who is actually doing what they want to be doing--for less money, with fewer benefits--it causes cognitive dissonance. If you can tell yourself that other person is being irresponsible, then you can feel better about the choices you've made. Protestantism and its attendant asceticism are still alive and well.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

A Word About Justice

I did the reading Jacob Levy assigned. The comments thread contains two discussion really:

1. An argument about the relative merits of utilitarianism and deontology (to which I added my two cents about the futility of utilitarianism and the obvious superiority of Aristotle).

2. A back-and-forth about libertarianism and utilitarianism as they apply to questions of inequality and injustice.

I'd like to say something slightly tangential to 2. I have no doubt that libertarianism owns justice. Utilitarianism simply has nothing to say about justice. There are critiques of utilitarianism that avoid libertarianism and yet hold onto a concept of justice (Rawls, Sen, Hegel), but that doesn't affect the point I really want to make:

I have no doubt that capitalism is just. It is rigorously respectful of human freedom in exactly the way that Richard Pozner argues. And yet, I also have no doubt that capitalism, left to run its course, will lead human beings to be the first species to go extinct by its own hand. And the road to this self-destruction will be built by justice.

Kant famously endorsed the maxim: Let justice be done, though the heavens fall. This is capitalism's motto. I am extremely averse to utilitarianism--it is incoherent, as far as I can tell--but we need to get over our justice fetishism, before it kills us.

The Sniveling, Whining Pettiness of Ayn Rand

In the wake of the 50th anniversary of Atlas Shrugged, I ran into quite a bit of chatter about Ayn Rand. Then, over the last few days--for some reason or another--I've been commenting a bunch over at "The Van Der Galien Gazette"--poking the libertarians through the bars of their digital cage, as it were.

The combination has brought to a modicum of clarity my gut-level pity and horror in the face of Randians (and other subspecies of libertarians who fetishize "business"). Take this example of Rand-speak from the NYT article linked above:
Rand said she “set out to show how desperately the world needs prime movers and how viciously it treats them” and to portray “what happens to a world without them.”
You have this festering sore of self-pity and resentment at how terribly unfair the world is--to the rich. And this self-pity masks itself behind a triumphant--and patently ridiculous--claim that business owners are the "prime movers" of the world.

The ne plus ultra of this silliness was a comment appended to one of the 50th anniversary commemorations arguing that Ayn Rand's ideas were alive and well in movies like The Incredibles. It turns out this is a common conceit among objectivists, and even showed up in the NYT review of the movie. In the movie, superheroes are compelled to hide their powers from a hostile public. In the Randian fever dream, this is JUST LIKE HOW CAPITALIST HAVE TO HIDE THEIR SUPERPOWERS FROM ALL THE LIBERALS AND SOCIALISTS OMG!!!111!! Seriously, the conflation of capitalism with entrepreneurship, and then of entrepreneurship--I've invented a new and better toaster caddy!--with being able to fly or turn invisible--it's just daft. Talk about finding heroism in the mundane.

Making money under capitalism is not heroic, and it requires the opposite of courageous individualism. I just finished teaching Hegel's Philosophy of Right, and his analysis, in this case, seems spot-on. In civil society, according to Hegel, we have to precisely conform our needs and our labor to the social norm. The invisible hand only works insofar as my activity produces things that you need, and my needs are such as to be satisfied by your activity. Any truly intransigent individuality--singularity that refuses to mesh with the social fabric--is obnoxious and futile. Capitalism is a conformity machine, not a playground for our singular superpowers.

Plus, any superhero who sold her power to the highest bidder, or tried to charge money for using her power, would be, by that very deed, non-heroic--small, petty, and corrupt. The pettiness and corruption of Randian heroism is well expressed by the departed diva herself:
In a 1964 Playboy interview, she famously said that a man who places friends and family above "productive work" is immoral, an "emotional parasite."
Obviously, "productive work" means for her, "money-making activity." What a chump!

Randianism: the perfect ideology for the powerless and stunted petty bourgeois wannabe.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Inconvenient Truths About Orwell

Christopher Hitchens, writing in Vanity Fair about one young American who took Hitch so seriously he went and got himself killed in Iraq, wraps himself in Orwell:
To borrow some words of George Orwell's when he first saw revolutionary Barcelona, "I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for."

I mention Orwell for a reason, because Mark Daily wasn't yet finished with sending me messages from beyond the grave. He took a pile of books with him to Iraq, which included Thomas Paine's The Crisis; War and Peace; Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged (well, nobody's perfect); Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time; John McCain's Why Courage Matters; and George Orwell's Animal Farm and 1984. And a family friend of the Dailys', noticing my own book on Orwell on their shelf, had told them that his own father, Harry David Milton, was "the American" mentioned in Homage to Catalonia, who had rushed to Orwell's side after he had been shot in the throat by a Fascist sniper. This seemed to verge on the eerie. Orwell thought that the Spanish Civil War was a just war, but he also came to understand that it was a dirty war, where a decent cause was hijacked by goons and thugs, and where betrayal and squalor negated the courage and sacrifice of those who fought on principle. As one who used to advocate strongly for the liberation of Iraq (perhaps more strongly than I knew), I have grown coarsened and sickened by the degeneration of the struggle: by the sordid news of corruption and brutality (Mark Daily told his father how dismayed he was by the failure of leadership at Abu Ghraib) and by the paltry politicians in Washington and Baghdad who squabble for precedence while lifeblood is spent and spilled by young people whose boots they are not fit to clean. It upsets and angers me more than I can safely say, when I reread Mark's letters and poems and see that—as of course he would—he was magically able to find the noble element in all this, and take more comfort and inspiration from a few plain sentences uttered by a Kurdish man than from all the vapid speeches ever given. Orwell had the same experience when encountering a young volunteer in Barcelona, and realizing with a mixture of sadness and shock that for this kid all the tired old slogans about liberty and justice were actually real.

I'm less interested in the particular content of Hitch's woe-is-me whining than on the odd tic shared by many liberal hawks and neocons of latching on to Orwell as some sort of iconic predecessor, who trod well before them down the path of resolute, clear-eyed idealism. I just want to note a few inconvenient aspects of Orwell (especially the Orwell of Homage to Catalonia--a marvelous book):

1. Orwell was a revolutionary socialist. His moment of truth in Spain came when he realized that the Communist Party supported by the USSR was actually counter-revolutionary and opposed to the Troskyite, autonomist, and anarchist factions that were carrying out a revolutionary transformation of Spanish society. In Iraq, the US is playing the same role that the USSR played in Spain--wrecking any possible autonomous movement in the service of creating a bourgeois ally. What has Hitch, for example, done to alert us to the truly revolutionary and autonomous movements of Iraq? Well?

2. This brings us to a second difficulty: Orwell went to Spain, joined the militia, took up a rifle, and went to the line. If those who believed that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was as just a struggle as the fight against Franco had packed up their duffel bags and gone over there, rather than writing loudly about what they have not experienced, the discourse about this war would have a radically different shape.

3. Finally, and this gets to the heart of things, Orwell cared more about telling the truth about Spain than about his own skin. He went to Spain a naive idealist, thinking there was just a black and white struggle between Fascism and Freedom, but he discovered that the Communists were allied with the business class, and were more willing to lose to Franco than they were to let the workers and peasants actually revolutionize Spain. The Fascists were bad--crypto-feudalists mixed in with big industrialists and reactionary military types--but that didn't make everyone on the other side good. The bourgeoisie and the Soviet-backed Communists were deeply conservative and very interested in preventing Spain from getting "out of hand." And, it turned out, they were the best friends Franco ever had, since they purged the Left of all revolutionary momentum, split the opposition, demoralized the sources of resistance, and turned the country over to the Fascists.

Does any intellectual honesty exist among the pro-war camp? Did anyone really think that George W. Bush leading an invasion and occupation of Iraq was going to turn out well for the people of Iraq--as opposed to the opportunists and mafia-class entrepreneurs? Really? There was never a revolutionary case for supporting Bush's little adventure on the Tigris. Never. Anyone who thought there was should have at least had the decency to go fight for such a revolution. And anyone who didn't really have revolutionary hopes for Iraq had better leave the mantle of Orwell bloody well alone.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Semantic vs. Real Distinctions

In defense of liberal hawks like himself, Roger Cohen writes:
The neocon taste for American empire is not the liberal hawk’s belief in the bond between American power and freedom’s progress.
In words, he's right. "Taste for American empire" is very different from "belief in the bond between American power and freedom's progress." The latter has more letters, and different letters. Many more 'B's for instance.

And they connote different things. A belief is cognitive, principled. A taste, on the other hand, is irrational, appetitive. But if the liberal hawks are principled and rational, then they should have the courage of their rational beliefs. If they believe that American power is bound to the freedom's progress, then they believe that more American power will further freedom's progress. And if they believe that, and believe freedom to be a good thing (and who doesn't?), then they must desire an expansion of American power. And what is a desire for an expansion of American power if it is not a taste for American empire? Or perhaps Cohen is thinking of something other than American military power? But every example in his article is
an example of American military intervention.

In truth, there is no real difference on foreign policy between liberal hawks and neocons. As Glenn Greenwald has said many times, they are both positions within the "respectable" foreign policy community, which means that they both support US military intervention around the globe, whether America is threatened or not. That is, they both support an imperial American foreign policy.

The neocons are just less afraid of saying what they want than are the liberal hawks. It's not polite to say you have a taste for American empire, so Cohen won't say it. Tastes and desires are unseemly, not appropriate for these sorts of discussions. Liberal hawks are the discrete imperialists, embarrassed by the outbursts of the neocons, but in no substantive disagreement with them.

UPDATE: Ezra Klein gets it juuuuuuussssst right:
Yet years after their sustained dance of personal regard and self involvement helped blind the liberal hawks to the reality of George W. Bush's war, one of them, Roger Cohen, is retreading the same ground, wondering why his continued advocacy for war, (or at least continual attacks on its opponents) is folded into the critiques of the neocons. Here's why: Because Roger Cohen not president, George W. Bush is. And until Roger Cohen's foreign policy vision integrates itself with an understanding of American power, and how ideas interact with the current administration, he is, effectively, a neoconservative, or, worse, an enabler of the neoconservatives who's able to advocate for their policy agenda without needing to answer for its failures.

Cohen may not, personally, think like Bill Kristol. But he certainly writes like him. "Neocon, for many, has become shorthand for neocon-Zionist conspiracy," he says, naming no names, and instead offering a simple, generalized accusation of anti-semitism against all those who question the neoconservatives. "Baghdad is closer to Sarajevo than the left has allowed," he writes, obliterating the difference between a bombing campaign undertaken to end an ongoing genocide and a ground invasion undertaken to unearth weapons that didn't exist, overturn a regime we couldn't replace, and forcibly impose a system of governance that lacked foundations. "MoveOn.org is the Petraeus-insulting face of never-set-foot-in-a-war-zone liberalism," he scoffs, having never, himself, fought in a war, but nevertheless adopting the authority of those who have.

The most important point here is that liberal hawks carry water for neocons in foreign policy, just as the DLC did for the neocons on domestic affairs. They advocate the same policy as the neocons, but claim it is for different reasons. Then the neocons get their way, using the "liberals" as cover. Then the world gets seriously fucked up in some new way. Rinse. Repeat. Liberal hawks are tools, and tools serve those who know how to use them.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Shock Doctrine

Naomi Klein's new book is being excerpted in the Guardian. Here's a taste:

One of those who saw opportunity in the floodwaters of New Orleans was the late Milton Friedman, grand guru of unfettered capitalism and credited with writing the rulebook for the contemporary, hyper-mobile global economy. Ninety-three years old and in failing health, "Uncle Miltie", as he was known to his followers, found the strength to write an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal three months after the levees broke. "Most New Orleans schools are in ruins," Friedman observed, "as are the homes of the children who have attended them. The children are now scattered all over the country. This is a tragedy. It is also an opportunity."

Friedman's radical idea was that instead of spending a portion of the billions of dollars in reconstruction money on rebuilding and improving New Orleans' existing public school system, the government should provide families with vouchers, which they could spend at private institutions.

In sharp contrast to the glacial pace with which the levees were repaired and the electricity grid brought back online, the auctioning-off of New Orleans' school system took place with military speed and precision. Within 19 months, with most of the city's poor residents still in exile, New Orleans' public school system had been almost completely replaced by privately run charter schools.

The Friedmanite American Enterprise Institute enthused that "Katrina accomplished in a day ... what Louisiana school reformers couldn't do after years of trying". Public school teachers, meanwhile, were calling Friedman's plan "an educational land grab". I call these orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities, "disaster capitalism".

Privatising the school system of a mid-size American city may seem a modest preoccupation for the man hailed as the most influential economist of the past half century. Yet his determination to exploit the crisis in New Orleans to advance a fundamentalist version of capitalism was also an oddly fitting farewell. For more than three decades, Friedman and his powerful followers had been perfecting this very strategy: waiting for a major crisis, then selling off pieces of the state to private players while citizens were still reeling from the shock.

In one of his most influential essays, Friedman articulated contemporary capitalism's core tactical nostrum, what I have come to understand as "the shock doctrine". He observed that "only a crisis - actual or perceived - produces real change". When that crisis occurs, the actions taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. Some people stockpile canned goods and water in preparation for major disasters; Friedmanites stockpile free-market ideas. And once a crisis has struck, the University of Chicago professor was convinced that it was crucial to act swiftly, to impose rapid and irreversible change before the crisis-racked society slipped back into the "tyranny of the status quo". A variation on Machiavelli's advice that "injuries" should be inflicted "all at once", this is one of Friedman's most lasting legacies.

In other words, we've got primitive accumulation all updated for a new era. You can't get your hands dirty expropriating people by force, so you wait for a disaster--or a war--to do it for you.

Meta-science

From the Wall Street Journal today:

Dr. Ioannidis is an epidemiologist who studies research methods at the University of Ioannina School of Medicine in Greece and Tufts University in Medford, Mass. In a series of influential analytical reports, he has documented how, in thousands of peer-reviewed research papers published every year, there may be so much less than meets the eye.

These flawed findings, for the most part, stem not from fraud or formal misconduct, but from more mundane misbehavior: miscalculation, poor study design or self-serving data analysis. "There is an increasing concern that in modern research, false findings may be the majority or even the vast majority of published research claims," Dr. Ioannidis said. "A new claim about a research finding is more likely to be false than true."

The hotter the field of research the more likely its published findings should be viewed skeptically, he determined.
Unsurprisingly, the folks to seize a hold of this are no strangers to self-serving data analysis:

Exhibit #1: Blue Crab Blvd: "And what is one of the hottest fields right now? Why, it's global warming. What a surprise. "

Does Dr. Ioannides say that global warming research is one of the problem areas? No. This is entirely Mr. Crabs' interpolation.

Exhibit #2: Vox Popoli: "This doesn't surprise me in the slightest, especially in light of what we've learned in the course of the ongoing evolution debate."

Nothing that seems to confirm one's already set in stone opinions is likely to surprise one.

Of course, on the one hand we have a scientist critiquing scientists. Thus, science is corrected by more science. On the other hand, we have folks who will not believe anything science says unless it corresponds to their preconceptions and prejudices. Can you tell the difference?


Thursday, September 13, 2007

News flash: Politicians want to be liked!

Atrios:
The Psychology of Politicians

At some point not all that long ago I was chatting with a member of Congress who was a bit peeved because bloggers were hostile to the member during the campaign. I was surprised by this, because while lefty bloggers certainly can be hostile to Democratic politicians, I didn't remember that they had been hostile to this one. I said as much, and the member backed off and said that the discontent existed because the campaign had gotten relatively little attention from bloggers, which was true. The conversation finished with a quote something like, "Well you know, politicians. We just want to be liked."

I was taken aback by that because it wasn't really something that had ever occurred to me before. Sure we all want to be liked, but it hadn't really occurred to me that this was a key motivator of politicians. I doubt it is for all, but I suppose it is for some.
I'd propose that it is true for 90%. I'd further propose that is true for 99% of Democratic politicians. Dick Cheney doesn't give a flying fuck if he's liked by anyone. Bill Clinton wants nothing more than to be liked by everyone.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

This Is Your Father's Liberalism

Reading Kant ("On the Proverb: That May Be True in Theory, but Is of No Practical Use"). One smart mofo, no doubt. What strikes me is how little liberalism has gone beyond his formulation of the rule of law & his conception of political legitimacy.

Certainly, citizenship is no longer restricted to male property owners, but that was accomplished more by economic changes than by a change in principle. Women and wage-laborers ceased to appear as dependent upon someone else for their economic existence. As capitalism became the dominant mode of production, labor-power had to appear as property equal to the tools and cottage of the artisan, or the field of the small farmer. Couldn't very well admit we were driving people into property-lessness, could we? But, like I was saying, this doesn't change the principle of mutually independent citizens.

Likewise, folks like Rawls have spent an inordinate amount of energy fine-tuning the sorts of things people can be thought of as possibly agreeing to. Nonetheless, the hypothetical justificatory schema remains the same.

There are new models of liberalism proposed all the time, but when you get past the fancy gizmos and new paint-jobs, and start kicking the tires and looking under the hood, you find pretty much the same engine.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Iran approaches. Are we ready?

I'll just shamelessly excerpt Josh Marshall's analysis:

You may have noticed the Iran boomlet over the last few days, the pitter-patter of rumors and hints that either a major military action or an Iraq-style PR/agitprop roll-out is set to start this week. Spencer Ackerman is looking into this over at TPMmuckraker.com. And his reporting suggests that the 'source' of all this chatter is an order Dick Cheney has sent out to his proxies at the right-wing thinktanks to start laying the ground work for war with Iran. In the short run, the aim is to open up a new front in his struggle with Bob Gates and the Joint Chiefs (who think two wars are enough for now). In the medium term, the goal is getting the war started well ahead of the end of Bush's term.

For the moment, however, my attention is fixed on one of those 'hints', Reuel Marc Gerecht's piece in the current Newsweek, in which he argues that war with Iran is most likely to come not because of Bush-Cheney warmongering or a breakdown in negotiations but rather "an Iranian provocation."

It is worth stepping back for a moment to savor this claim in its full flavor. Clearly, this must be the kind of 'provocation' comparatively weak states again and again through history seem to make against extremely powerful states -- just before the latter provides a thorough beating to the former. One can of course think of various examples over the decades and centuries.

As the agitprop engines start churning again, it is worth stepping back and considering an undeniable fact. Iran is not a rival power to the United States. The idea that Iran is a threat to the United States in conventional military terms is laughable. A terrorist threat? Sure. But that's a very different kind of threat.

Another point: Iranian meddling in Iraq. Some points are so obvious that to state them seems almost redundant. But what exactly are we doing? This isn't to put our efforts in Iraq and Iran's on equal terms. The mullah's regime in Iran is brutish, illiberal and thuggish (though the comparison was a bit more helpful before Dick Cheney was out poster-boy of the rule-of-law, western civilization and democratic values). Like most people I put intervention based on my ideals on a different footing with that of those whose ideals I don't agree with. But to say that Iran -- which has deep historical and religious ties to Iraq and is ... well, right there -- is meddling while we've been occupying and running the country for four years is just silly. You may say that these are just aggressive ways of phrasing the issue and these fact are all known. So what's the difference? But the slow build up of lies and misdirections, over time, affects our thinking and our ability to reason at all coherently.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Lazy me, lazy you

I've been plugging away on an essay I need to finish before school starts. No time or energy to write silly things on this blog.

But this is funny: Fortune magazine runs an article called "Are Americans Too Lazy?" (the blurb runs:
New research suggests that, contrary to popular perception, we’re actually working less than we used to. If so, what does that mean for our country? Instead of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., should we all be working 8 to 6?
So this is hilarious, for many reasons. But then they have a reader feedback forum, and the reader response is all over the place--from indignant denials to kids-these-days tut-tutting to UN conspiracy theories.

I read quite a few of the responses, and didn't come across anyone saying "Hooray for laziness! It's about time Americans got over their work obsession!" Whether Americans are working less or not (I suspect not--the article's data is pretty tenuous--see more at MaxSpeak), they certainly haven't lost their deep emotional attachment to working like dogs.

Here are some excerpts from the reader comments:

I think whats gone down the hill is also competence and willingness to perform. In my opinion thats a more serious issue to consider.
Americans have become lazy, and obese. The majority want their wealth handed to them and the younger generations, like mine, generation Y, want to live off their parent’s wealth. If our economy wants to stay competitive, we need to wake up and work for what we desire. As my friend said it, who grew up in China and came here to go to college, “A salary of $40,000/yr is a lot of money for me, American students expect $60,000/yr for the same position. Why would corporations pay more for an American student when they can save $20k and get an employee with an equal if not greater than GPA?” Americans need to wake up and realize history repeats itself, all civilizations come to an end, if we don’t want to fall, we need to work to stay ahead.
Screw that. How about the ceos start making a normal wage and shut up for once. They have no right blaming Americas woes on the workers. Its all CORPORATE GREED thats ruined this country.
The U.N. has never produced an unbiased report, and it never will. It was founded on anti-American sentiment. It never loses an opportunity to bash America in any way, shape, or form. The assertion that Americans are relatively lazy is so dishonest that it is beyond the pale. As one who has lived and worked overseas in more than one country, I have seen with my own eyes who has the famed work ethic.

24/7/365 is the new matra of the business world. Blackberry’s busing, cell phones ringing, wireless connections buzzing away… Why? Just because somebody else wants to earn more money for themselves? If the rest of the world wants a 24/7/365 way of life, they are entitled. Personally, I’d rather go hungry than subject myself to such an out of control life perspective. When work life fails to serve the society, we become slaves. That is when it needs to be replaced with a more intelligent economic system.

Yes. More American Men, Women, and Children are slackers. My wife and I are 29yrs of age. The small percentages of people in this nation that “work harder” are the people that will live the American dream: nice home, nice schools, nice cars, and nice retirement fun. Hard work pays off. The new generations of America want all their “bling” for very little work. Wake up America. The hard workers will prosper while the lazy will sit back in envy.
(That one is my personal favorite, I have to say.)

I thought the point of developed economy is to increase quality of life, which includes being able to enjoy life more instead of laboring 60 hours a week. And decreasing work hours over the last century has been the fruits of developed economy. The accuracy of facts and the conclusions drawn from this article is also very shady. More people retiring then before is not because we are on average more lazy but because the baby boomers are reaching retirement age. [...] In general, it is a gross misapplication of the market theory if it so happily results in bringing US workers to the level of Chinese or Peru laborers, whether in terms of compensation or hours. Market idealists should realize that the goal of the economy is not market per se but improved quality of life.

As they say on the nets: sadly, no! The wealth of nations has always been held out as if it were an increase in the quality of life, but the first lesson of capitalism is that you never get to enjoy the fruits of your labor. That's why I vote for laziness. Be lazy. Work less. You may not get ahead, but you might actually have a life.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

More on the good Dr. Clark

Via Ezra Klein, I see that Andrew Sullivan is all hot and bothered about A Farewell to Alms. I have to agree with one of Klein's commenters: "Easily Sullivan's most obnoxious tic - far worse than his know-nothing brand of big pharma advocacy - is his excitement at the possibility of reinvigorating eugenic science."

On a related note, it is worth mentioning that another place where Clark's book is getting a warm welcome is VDARE--a racist gorup of the decidedly Anglophilic variety. Clark's claims that a) the population of England is largely decended from the medieval aristocracy and that b) this aristocratic lineage bestows an economic advantage upon Anglo-Saxons is exactly the sort of pseudo-scientific race-baiting that has legs on the Right.

I predict that Clark's hogwash will join The Bell Curve in the stable of right-wing "science" references. As I recall, Sullivan (a Brit) is a big fan of Charles Murray, too.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The prison-industrial complex

Read this whole article from The Boston Review: (via Ezra Klein)

According to a 2005 report of the International Centre for Prison Studies in London, the United States—with five percent of the world’s population—houses 25 percent of the world’s inmates. Our incarceration rate (714 per 100,000 residents) is almost 40 percent greater than those of our nearest competitors (the Bahamas, Belarus, and Russia). Other industrial democracies, even those with significant crime problems of their own, are much less punitive: our incarceration rate is 6.2 times that of Canada, 7.8 times that of France, and 12.3 times that of Japan. We have a corrections sector that employs more Americans than the combined work forces of General Motors, Ford, and Wal-Mart, the three largest corporate employers in the country, and we are spending some $200 billion annually on law enforcement and corrections at all levels of government, a fourfold increase (in constant dollars) over the past quarter century.

No comment needed

Dean Baker:

"Given the gravity of the situation, the hedge fund crew is doing what all good capitalists do when things go badly: run to the government."

The Hegemony of "Common Sense"

Glenn Greenwald:

The Number One Rule of the bi-partisan Foreign Policy Community is that America has the right to invade and attack other countries at will because American power is inherently good and our role in the world is to rule it though the use of superior military force. Paying homage to that imperialistic orthodoxy is a non-negotiable pre-requisite to maintaining Good Standing and Seriousness Credentials within the Foreign Policy Community.

Conversely, one who denies that premise reveals oneself to be deeply unserious and unworthy of meaningful discourse. While differences on the "when" and "how" are permitted, there is virtually no debate within the foreign policy establishment about whether the U.S. has the right to continue to intervene and attack and invade and occupy other countries in the absence of those countries attacking us. Hence, to Cohen and his colleagues, it sounds perfectly normal and natural to say that the U.S. has "good reasons" to start wars against a whole host of countries because -- as bizarre and abnormal and unfathomable that idea is for most of the world -- it is an implicit, unexamined belief among our foreign policy elites that the U.S. is entitled, more or less, to use military force even in the absence of being attacked or threatened with attack.

This orthodoxy is not merely passively accepted, but actively enforced. The principal goal is to ensure that it remains a bi-partisan view so that, in turn, the question of America's role in the world is never subject to any real debate. The three "crazy, insane, wacko, fringe" presidential candidates are Ron Paul, Mike Gravel, and Dennis Kucinich. Yet the only thing they have in common (other than having been elected multiple times to the U.S. Congress) is a belief that the U.S. has been using its military force illegitimately by using it against other countries that are not attacking us. But that belief, standing alone, is enough to eject one from the mainstream, because it violates the central consensus of the establishment.

I heartily recommend the whole article.

It reminds me, also, of my all-time favorite quote from Thomas Friedman, that doyen of nonsensical common sense: "The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps." (NYT, March 28, 1999)

That pretty much says it all right there.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Adios Karl

I especially like this take on Rove's departure. It stresses the underlying incompetence and stupidity that, because of the bluster and media fawning, were mistaken for omnipotence and omniscience.

This is a growing theme: the people and institutions that seem godlike in their power are actually paper tigers, drawing much of their actual power from the appearance of power. Just teh other night I saw The Bourne Ultimatum with Hasana and a friend. Hasana made the argument afterwards that even highly critical depictions of the CIA and associated security apparatus increase the awe with which those institutions are regarded, since, for example, all of the Bourne movies paint a paicture of a ruthlessly effective and powerful CIA, which can only be undone by its own most ruthless and powerful creation.

Meanwhile, the reality is much more like what is shown in Matt Damon's other CIA critique, The Good Shepherd, where the CIA is full of misearble, lonely men who spend most of their time botching operations and are only truly effective at screwing up their lives and the lives of those around them. For substantiation, check out Chalmers Johnson's review of the new book, A Legacy of Ashes (via MaxSpeak).

That's the Rove/Bush/Cheney style to a tee: massive over-reaching motivated by delusions of infallibility and resulting in abject failure. I find it hard to believe that there are still conspiracy theorists on the Left seven years into the reign of these yahoos.

UPDATE: Here's more on the same theme from Digby.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The good Dr. Clark and his "Theory "

OK, the three-day gap between “in a bit” and now proves that quotidian stress beats righteous indignation. (I just need a third term—on that beats quotidian stress, but is beaten by righteous indignation, and I could patent a highly abstract version of rock-paper-scissors).

Nonetheless, I shall revisit the cause of my earlier discontent.

The review got me annoyed with the first paragraph: “For thousands of years, most people on earth lived in abject poverty, first as hunters and gatherers, then as peasants or laborers. But with the Industrial Revolution, some societies traded this ancient poverty for amazing affluence.”

  1. Most people on earth right now live in abject poverty! Half the global population lives on less than $2 a day. (That’s a World Bank statistic, and it was cited by none other than that galloping class-warrior George W. Bush: “A world where some live in comfort and plenty, while half of the human race lives on less than $2 a day, is neither just, nor stable” [quoted in the NY Times, July 18, 2001].)
  2. What sense does it make to say that hunter-gatherers have always “lived in abject poverty”? In a non-monetarized economy (gift, potlatch, etc.), what does poverty mean? Anyone care to define it? The article hints that poverty is to be measured by average caloric consumption (“By 1790, the average person’s consumption in England was still just 2,322 calories a day…”), but since the UK Department of Health currently recommends 1940 calories per day for women and 2550 for men, I’m a bit confused by what this metric is supposed to show. Is a nation where average caloric intake exceeds 3000/day wealthy, or is it just fat?

This myopic self-satisfaction is nothing special, however. You can come up with many examples every day—things are getting better all the time in every way!

What is special is the thesis of the book under review: natural selection explains why the Industrial Revolution took place when and where it did—18th and 19th Century England.

By analyzing old wills, the good Dr. Clark came upon some startling thoughts: “Generation after generation, the rich had more surviving children than the poor, his research showed. That meant there must have been constant downward social mobility as the poor failed to reproduce themselves and the progeny of the rich took over their occupations. “The modern population of the English is largely descended from the economic upper classes of the Middle Ages,” he concluded. As the progeny of the rich pervaded all levels of society, Dr. Clark considered, the behaviors that made for wealth could have spread with them.” And what are those behaviors? “The middle-class values of nonviolence, literacy, long working hours and a willingness to save,” the good Dr. Clark and his stenographer at the Times are happy to tell you.

OK, so apparently medieval England was populated by a violent, stupid, lazy, and spendthrift peasantry, held at bay by a thrifty, learned, and hard-working aristocracy, who also, luckily enough for posterity, bred like rabbits. And wore bowler hats and ties. And went to church every Sunday. And subscribed to The Economist. They looked something like this.

Seriously, does the good Dr. Clark and the noble NY Times expect us to swallow this? The kicker is that “Dr. Clark said he set out to write his book 12 years ago on discovering that his undergraduates knew nothing about the history of Europe.” They knew nothing about history, do you hear? History? The good Dr. Clark wouldn’t know history if it bit him in the backside.

For some real history, Dr. Clark should consult someone with a tad more historical sense, someone who is not so interested in projecting respectable bourgeois morality back onto the medieval lords and ladies. I’d suggest he start here.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Provocation

So I'd toyed with the idea of starting a blog for a while, but have finally taken the plunge because I read something so infuriating that I had to have an imaginary worldwide audience hear my incredulous yawp of rage and indignation at the whole thing.

What has so provoked me?

The NY Times' review of Gregory Clark's A Farewell to Alms.

Why has this provoked me?

I'll tell you in a bit...

Is this thing on?

...testing...testing...