April 25, 2014

'Tis A Silly Thing

I've been following the incredible hypocrasy at Brandeis University regarding the the rescinding of an award of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born activist whose work has focused on the barbaric misogyny rampant in Islamic societies like the one in which she was raised, for her humanitarian work. Originally, all I knew about this story was what I read at Powerline, who are known for their adherence to complete discloure and as much accuracy as is possible at the moment. I had not, for instance, read the Sydney Morning Herald interview where she said, "The white man is held to a moral standard that, in the West, men [who have immigrated] from other cultures are not held to," she told the Herald. ''If a white man sold his daughter into marriage, most people would be appalled and there'd be an outrage in any national context in any country in the West. But when it's a man from Pakistan or Somalia or Yemen or India, then what you see is this: 'Oh yes, but …'"
Today, however, brings a post from Ace with a little more information about those who were amongst the most vehement in their opposition.

The Brandeis professors who demanded that Ayaan Hirsi Ali be "immediately" dis-invited wrote that "we are filled with shame at the suggestion that (Hirsi Ali's) above-quoted sentiments express Brandeis's values." The professors also castigated Hirsi Ali for her "core belief of the cultural backwardness of non-western peoples" and for her suggestion that "violence toward girls and women is particular to Islam." The professors note that such a view "obscure(s) such violence in our midst among non-Muslims, including on our own campus."
Eighty seven professors or 29% of the Brandeis faculty signed this letter. These professors teach Physics, Anthropology, Near Eastern and Jewish Studies, English, Economics, Music, Film, Computer Science, Math, Sociology, Education—and Women and Gender Studies. Four percent of the signatories teach Anthropology, 6% teach Near Eastern and Jewish Studies, 9% teach Physics—and 21% teach Women and Gender Studies.

I have to admit that I have always wondered what the hell one is supposed to do with a degree in Women and Gender Studies other that to pontificate about that which has baffled men and women throughout the ages, and while it may get me many a hiss and cat call, I just don't see a viable job in the degree program.

Continue reading "'Tis A Silly Thing"

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April 23, 2014

I Bet...

...y'all watch this at least twice. All I could say was, "Holy shit!" even after watching for the third time. frequent flyer and the rest of you zoomies out there will appreciate the skill - and anal retentive ability - of the pilot.

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At Lake Wobegone the IRS, Everyone Is Above Average

And they all deserve performance awards. Even the ones who break the rules:

"More than 2,800 Internal Revenue Service employees who recently had been disciplined received performance bonuses totaling more than $2.8 million between Oct. 1, 2010 and Dec. 31, 2012," reports the Journal.

No, the group that targeted conservatives didn't receive bonuses after the scandal broke last year. But the IRS sets a pretty low bar for employees to receive awards. About two-thirds of the agency's 98,000 workers received bonuses for fiscal 2012.

As for those who broke IRS rules and still got paid, the Journal reports: "The misconduct ranged from failure to pay taxes to misuse of government travel cards, violation of official-conduct standards and fraud, according to the report by the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. The discipline included written reprimands, suspensions and even removal. The oversight agency said some of the conduct issues might have occurred after an employee earned a bonus."

The internal auditor's report notes with wry understatement that "providing awards to employees with conduct issues, especially the failure to pay taxes owed to the federal government, appears to be in conflict with the IRS's charge of ensuring the integrity of the system of tax administration."

Adds the Journal: "The report identified nearly 1,200 employees with tax issues or official-conduct violations during the period who received a total of $1.1 million in monetary bonuses, and about 11,000 hours of time off. One employee who was suspended for 10 days in September 2011 received a $1,300 performance award in August 2012, the report said."

Some people might be tempted to observe that what you reward, you get more of. We're guessing such observations would not be rewarded at the branch of government charged with making sure the rest of us follow the rules.

Update: the Washington Post chimes in:

Continue reading "At Lake Wobegone the IRS, Everyone Is Above Average"

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April 22, 2014

Kings of Infinite Space

An interesting article in the WSJ claims that personality is more malleable than we think and deliberate, incremental changes to our behavior have the power to make us happier:

Changing your personality is a lot like losing weight, experts say. It requires constant intentional behavior that eventually becomes second nature. The process can be painful and humbling. But it is necessary for psychological maturity.

1. Figure out which personality traits it will benefit you most to change. Is there a pattern of conflict or negative feedback in your career or your personal life?

2. Try to gain insight into your role in this pattern, starting with your own behavior. Isolate the behavior that you think is causing you the most trouble, and work on that one.

3. Start with baby steps. Change begins with one behavior so gain control of one before adding another. Don't expect to overhaul your personality in one day, week, month or even year.

4. Remain committed. Review your progress to provide positive self-reinforcement. Expect some backsliding. When slip-ups happen, don't dwell on them. Just keep moving in the direction you want to go.

5. As your new behavior becomes ingrained, identify a new and more significant area for improvement.

One thing modern culture has lost is the notion - common when the Blog Princess was growing up - that happiness is more a function of our habits and decisions than of our circumstances or nature. Is the glass half empty? Or half full? Is the way we see things in this moment accurate, or would a different perspective produce better results?

The emphasis on passive acceptance - of the moment, our feelings, our instincts, our personalities, of other people - just as they are has eclipsed the older sense that how we are now is a transitory state: that today was meant to be a starting point, not a final destination.

The older view whispers that we really aren't wonderful just the way we are. Rather than jogging in place, we should strive to become something - someone - better. One can't help but wonder whether the rejection of striving - the notion that life isn't supposed to be such hard work - doesn't explain the sense of malaise and powerlessness that seems to have gripped the nation? This is certainly what the President keep telling us: you shouldn't have to work so hard. It's not fair that some people have more than others. Let us make things easier for you.

Except some things can't be done for (or given to) us. We have to earn them for ourselves:

Once, after having a 'discussion' with my husband, it occurred to me that in marriage outward behavior (i.e., our "form") was in many ways more important than (and may even at times play a role in determining) what both partners think to themselves privately. In other words, some times if we are not happy, it's because we've fallen into the habit of not acting happy. Correct the behavior and you correct the state of mind. Relationships are a bit of a feedback loop. In marriage, people tend to get sloppy and stop doing the nice things they did when they were courting. They take each other for granted. And all of a sudden, there is no positive feedback and they wonder where the 'magic' went? What they forgot was that the magic wasn't an externally created force: they had a role in creating it. If the flame dies out, you can re-ignite it.

Though Hamlet isn't one of our favorite plays, we've always been delighted by this exchange between the Danish princeling and Rosencrantz, who tries to reason with Hamlet's determination to dwell on the dark side:

HAMLET Denmark’s a prison.

ROSENCRANTZ Then is the world one.

HAMLET A goodly one, in which there are many confines, wards, and dungeons, Denmark being one o' th' worst.

ROSENCRANTZ We think not so, my lord.

HAMLET Why, then, ’tis none to you, for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.

ROSENCRANTZ Why then, your ambition makes it one. 'Tis too narrow for your mind.

HAMLET O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.

The riposte in the second to last line is both stinging and apt: if you see yourself in prison, perhaps you have made it your ambition to be so. The fault doesn't lie with you, Hamlet. The world is just too small and confining a place for someone of your intellect. It's all so unfair.

It's odd, this notion that encouraging people not to improve themselves should be viewed as empowering. The real empowerment lies in reminding people how much control we all have over our own lives.

Happiness is not a right. It's a responsibility, and sometimes very hard work.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:53 AM | Comments (38) |TrackBack (0) |

April 21, 2014

Good Enough for Women, Not Good Enough for Men?

In a rather bizarre response to an article asserting that "alpha" (don't get us started on how much we hate the whole alpha/beta/gamma shtick) women are better off marrying "beta" men who are willing to share child rearing and family duties, Glenn Reynolds asks, "What's in it for him?"

Hmmm. What could a man possibly get from being a more involved husband and father? It is hard to imagine, n'est pas?

What is "in it" for women who want to be an integral part of their children's formative years? Who put their marriages and families ahead of earning a big salary and the ego boost/social status that go with having an important sounding job title?

We can think of many possible benefits. The satisfaction of close family bonds and supporting the people you love is one. A strong, happy marriage another. The joy of watching the next generation grow up - of sharing the thrill of your child's first steps, the first bicycle ride with the training wheels off, elementary school band performances, soccer or baseball games, choosing a career or college, the thousand speed bumps on the road from infancy to childhood to the teen years and finally adulthood.

The never ending miracle of knowing - really knowing - your children as human beings; of watching their intellects and personalities develop over time. The glimpses of grandparents, aunts, and uncles (some of whom are no longer living) in your child's face, walk, or manner.

Of what possible value are these things, compared to being able to say you're the top dog by some arcane and frankly ridiculously competitive formula? Why is it so important to be the "alpha"; the winner, the best... even in your marriage?

If it is foolish and destructive for feminists to continually strive for perfect equality between the sexes, how much more foolish and destructive is it to question the value of being a better husband, a more involved father, a person who chooses to put home and family first in their list of life priorities?

The relentless obsession with hypergamy (even in the face of considerable evidence that women - and men, for that matter - are actually quite adaptable) seems more like insecurity than wisdom. Why not let people sort out for themselves what kind of lives and marriages will make them happiest instead of sneering at the freely made choices of people who don't share your priorities?

Or, to put Mollie Hemingway's question a bit differently, "Why are some men so insecure (that they have to put down other men's choices)?" This doesn't seem like a position of strength, rhetorically or philosophically.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:46 AM | Comments (36) |TrackBack (0) |

Happy Belated Easter

Sorry the blog princess is just now wishing you a happy Easter. She spent the weekend visiting with family. Getting out of the house for something not related to doctors or physical therapy was an unexpected blessing.

Hope the Easter bunny was good to you all...

... and that you found lots of delicious eggs:

Or if you didn't do an Easter egg hunt, that you found something fun to do:

Continue reading "Happy Belated Easter"

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April 18, 2014

Caption Contest

Alright, villains. Here is your next picture to snarkify.


Have at it.
And may the Farce be with you.

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Let The Judgement Begin - The Tax Man Cometh edition

I gotta admit that at first I wondered whether or not the real tax man might have most of y'all's attention this week, but apparently a monkey stealing a hubcap is a nice distraction...or a Freudian fantasy, who knows.
But! I've old business to conduct, so a small reminder...
...and here come da judge..ment.

Continue reading "Let The Judgement Begin - The Tax Man Cometh edition"

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April 17, 2014

Why Is Most Of Nevada Federally Owned Land?

One of the first questions that leapt out at the Editorial Staff when the Bundy Brouhaha began driving pretty much everyone on the Internet batsh** insane was, "Why in the heck is so much of Nevada federal property"? It's not that we didn't realize that a good deal of Nevada was federally owned, but over 80% seemed a tad bit excessive. Over at Grim's place, we've been arguing over land ownership concepts in the comments to an excellent post by Texan99, who comments:

I'm not often on the fence, but I can't bring much order to my thoughts about Cliven Bundy's Nevada standoff with the feds. He's an unsympathetic victim fighting an appalling machine. His cause fails to inspire me, and yet the following sentiment rings quite a bell...

I was curious about how the present state of affairs came to be, so I did a little Googling and came up with this useful post:

Where did the Federal Public Lands Come From?

...In 1848, the United States, following the Mexican-American war, purchased the land of what is now the southwestern part of the country from Mexico and paid $15 million. Present day Nevada and California were a part of that purchase along with Utah, most of Arizona, and the western portions of Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico . By 1846 the United States had claimed the Oregon Territory -- modern day Washington, Oregon, and most of Idaho. The U.S. Army was called to defend the lands. The small population of these territories meant that the U.S. Army needed to draw its officers and soldiers from the established lands east of the Mississippi. Except for California, there were virtually no non-Indians in most of these lands. It was the U.S. government and the existing residents in the east who fought, purchased, and secured these lands for the United States.

...These purchases and claims by the people of the United States of western lands established federal ownership of those lands. Later as western states were admitted to the Union, State Constitutions acknowledged the federal role in acquiring the lands with the right and title to unappropriated public lands remaining with the United States. (Lands which had already been appropriated by private citizens or earlier granted from Mexico remained appropriated. Thus, the continuity of land owership for settlers remained intact.) Congress, then, has power over the public domain land and many laws passed by the Congress govern federal agencies responsible for management of the public land.

How did Settlement and Expansion Occur on the Federal Public Land ?

Laws were enacted by the Congress through the 19th and early 20th centuries to encourage the settlement of the western federal lands. Millions of acres of federal public lands were given to railroad companies to develop transportation routes and communities, to farmers and ranchers for agriculture, to miners for finding valuable minerals, and loggers for timber to build cities still in their infancy. The result was that most of the agricultural lands were appropriated directly from the Federal Government for private uses. Mineral wealth was appropriated for private uses directly from the Federal Government. Forested lands of high productivity were appropriated directly from the Federal Government for private uses. Federal Ownership was a key link in providing an orderly way for property to be acquired from both territories of the U.S. and from the states once admitted to the union.

We dimly remember learning some of this in US History classes in high school, but here's where things get really interesting:

How did Nevada differ in the Amount of Lands Acquired from the Federal Public Lands?

Upon admission states were given two sections of public land in each township for schools. Nevada, however, did not want those scattered "desert" lands. Instead Nevada petitioned Congress to trade those sections for 1 million acres of Sage land anywhere in the state. Congress ultimately granted Nevada a choice of any 2 million acres of unappropriated lands. Nevada selected 2 million acres of the best land (near or with water) and promptly sold all of it to private uses.

With the addition of a few facts and some history, this looks a whole lot less like evidence of Big Government Run Amok or oppression of helpless states and a lot more like a sensible scheme in which the federal government essentially made it possible for states to become established, attract settlers, and raise revenue.

Go figure. We were so hoping for a villain.

During our morning shower we had been idly wondering why no one had pressured the federal government to divest itself of all this glorious Nevadan land. Having lived in the desert a time or two, we suspected the answer might be something along the lines of, "No one wants it/no one is willing to pay the federal government for it."

Here's are two interesting maps. The first one shows the land ceded by Mexico to the US under the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo:


The second shows how much federally owned land currently exists in each state:


The interesting takeaway here to us is that a fairly frequent narrative on the right - that the states created the federal government, not the other way around - doesn't appear to be terribly accurate. We've been surprised (and somewhat horrified) at some of the arguments this case has provoked on the right, as well as at the power of a narrative to shape public opinion.

There are aspects of this case that powerfully appeal to the emotions. But we can't bring our ownself to endorse the notion that a private citizen operating a for-profit business has any kind of inalienable right to use publicly or privately owned lands free of charge. Nor does such an individual possess the right to pay a non-owner of the land (state or local government) monies properly due to the actual owner of the land (the federal government). But of all the things we've read, this excerpt from the last link in Tex's post best captures our position:

When can one refuse to obey the law without expecting to bring the whole thing down? Certainly such instances exist: I daresay that I would not stand idly by quoting John Adams if a state reintroduced slavery or herded a religious group into ovens or even indulged in wholesale gun confiscation. But Bundy’s case is not remotely approaching these thresholds. Are we to presume that if the government is destroying one’s livelihood or breaking one’s ties with the past, one can revolt?

The widely expressed opinion that to disapprove of any act of civil disobedience somehow equates to saying that no one may revolt or rebel, ever, no matter the provocation simply doesn't make any sense. It's the mother of all slippery slope arguments. The Founders clearly understood this, or they would not have written these words:

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security...

When the federal government, as the lawful owner of real property, defends its right to dispose of that property as it will, this is not absolute Despotism. It's not even close.

We should take care with arguments that suggest property rights exist subject to claims by an individual that he or she is entitled to valuable goods, services, or access without obtaining permission from or providing compensation to the rightful owner. If we endorse such specious claims, what separates us from the Occupy crowd?

Posted by Cassandra at 07:13 AM | Comments (27) |TrackBack (0) |

April 16, 2014

Best. Op Ed. Ever.

By Bret Stephens of the WSJ. It was difficult to choose a favorite part to excerpt but we'll settle for this:

...what we need as the Republican nominee in 2016 is a man of more glaring disqualifications. Someone so nakedly unacceptable to the overwhelming majority of sane Americans that only the GOP could think of nominating him.

This man is Rand Paul, the junior senator from a state with eight electoral votes. The man who, as of this writing, has three years worth of experience in elected office. Barack Obama had more political experience when he ran for president. That's worked out well.

Or perhaps this:

When moderation on a subject like immigration is ideologically disqualifying, but bark-at-the-moon lunacy about Halliburton is not, then the party has worse problems than merely its choice of nominee.


The Halliburton jackwagonry worries us far less than the experience issue. We seem to have utterly lost the notion that the presidency of the United States is not an internship or an OJT opportunity for telegenic demagogues with no track record and no relevant experience.

Perhaps what we really need is some kind of Dancing with the Stars-type show. Or maybe we could elect our senior leaders via Facebook and the aptly-named Twitter. This wouldn't necessarily be any more insane than our current process.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:10 PM | Comments (24) |TrackBack (0) |

What Fools These "Adults" Be

Via V the K over at GayPatriot comes this delightful bit of didactical dimwittery (complete with misspellings!):

Part of a Sex Education Conference for Middle Schoolers brought to you by the State of Oregon and Planned Parenthood*


When did sex ed morph from education about how our bodies work and the simple mechanics of birth control, pregnancy, and plumbing to actively encouraging kids to can have more (and better) sex with more people?

Good Lord.

The Editorial Staff are always torn on sex ed. On the one hand, most parents do a really lousy job of educating their own kids about the basics. Based on various conversations here at VC, we're not even sure most parents discuss the morals and ethics issues in any depth. So we are inclined to view sex ed as a good thing, so long as what is taught is factual in nature. People should understand how their own bodies work. We learn about frog anatomy, so human anatomy doesn't seem like inappropriate area of study. Girls should not reach adolescence without knowing the basics about menstruation and pregnancy. Likewise, having witnessed the turbulence puberty brought to our two sons' lives, we're inclined to think that leaving kids unprepared for the profound changes adolescence brings to their bodies and minds is just inexcusable.

Oddly, many conservatives have no problem with morals or values being brought into sex ed... so long as they are their morals or values. The push for abstinence education is a good example of this. And admittedly, abstinence is more appropriate for kids than pretending sex is some kind of morality-and-consequences-free zone.

Sex is something most adults don't handle terribly well. How or why anyone would expect children to handle it better than we do is one of those mysteries that passeth human understanding. Like most erstwhile "adult" activities, sex has significant risks associated with it (pregnancy, STDs, social stigma, bonding to the wrong person) that require both self control and thoughtful mitigation. Regardless of your values, seeing "adults" portray sex as just another inconsequential pastime that is just as appropriate for teens as it is for adults is - or ought to be - deeply disturbing.

But bringing vendors into the moral education aspect of sex ed seems downright perverse. Aren't for-profit corporations and Big Pharma supposed to be evil, heartless exploiters of the weak and disempowered? If so, why would any self respecting progressive let them within a mile of their kids?

Posted by Cassandra at 07:20 AM | Comments (24) |TrackBack (0) |

April 14, 2014

Caption Contest - The Tax Man Cometh Edition

All right, villains. Here is your next picture to snarkify.


Have it! And may the Farce be with you.

Posted by DL Sly at 01:02 AM | Comments (24) |TrackBack (0) |