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February 28, 2013

Obama, The One Minute Manager

From 25 minute war councils on a runway in Copenhagen to a whopping 7 minutes to avert a catastrophe his White House proposed, that he promised the nation "would not happen", and about the origins of which the President flat out lied:

Never let it be said that President Obama has failed to spend time with Republican leaders in seeking an alternative to automatic budget cuts that are due to hit most federal departments Friday. On Wednesday, for example, the president gave GOP lawmakers as much as seven minutes, a rare face-to-face encounter that the White House described as a “meeting.”

We'll give Obama one thing: it's certainly not difficult to tell where his true priorities lie.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:33 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Insensitive Bastard...

Yet another incident with Disturbing Racial OvertonesTM:

Black police officer faces charges for not investigating racial taunts against himself

You just can't make this stuff up fast enough to keep up with reality. Fortunately, we don't have to.

Posted by Cassandra at 02:13 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Well Played, Sir

Ace dares to question conventional wisdom:

I clearly remember listening to (not participating in) a conversation between two low-information female friends of mine in which they both declared themselves "feminist." I got no sense from either of them that they had much of a sense of what "feminism" was apart from three notions:

1. Women are equal to men; and
2. Women's values and beliefs are just as important as men's; and
3. Women have, or ought to have, ambitions equal to men.

Now, it seems to me likely that a great number of low-information female voters probably believe that's about the extent of what "feminism" is, and that anyone calling himself, or herself, a "non-feminist" is against such things.

Which of course we're not; virtually nobody is.

Exactly. This is precisely what a fair number of conservative women (Joy McCann is notable among them) have been arguing for quite some time: if you want to communicate with people, you have to find some common linguistic ground. Demanding that your audience accept a different (or worse, cherry picked) definition of feminism than the one they subscribe to as a precondition to discussion pretty much guarantees that there will be no discussion. Going on to tell them that they don't know what groups they claim to belong to are all about is about as good a way to close minds as we can imagine. Which may, actually, be the point of these tactics (though I'd like to believe conservatives aren't that short sighted).

Sarah Palin understood this. She openly called herself a feminist. The horrified objections of many male conservatives, who nearly fell over themselves trying to convince Governor Palin that she reeeeeally didn't know what she was talking about (or that she should accept their definitions), managed to irritate even women like myself who don't particularly identify with feminists/feminism except in the vague general sense Ace describes.

The notion that only people outside a movement are allowed to define that movement's beliefs seems perverse at best. Conservatives would never accept the cartoonish and pejorative definitions of conservatism advanced by most progressives. Nor would we agree to a definition of conservatism that seeks to define the entire movement by its most extreme voices. So why on earth would anyone expect women who already consider themselves feminists to meekly accept the characterizations of someone who not only doesn't share their beliefs, but actively loathes them? In politics, allowing your opponents to define you is generally considered to be "Not a Good Thing".

This part of Ace's post is spot on:

Second, it might be salutary to "take the world back," as they say. Given that most conservative women believe these things -- I don't detect a lot of "deference to men" among my conservative sistren (I'm just making up words left and right now) -- maybe conservative women (and men, for that matter) should just say we're "feminists," at least as most people actually understand the word to mean.

I mean, the low-information female voters I mentioned did not talk about "free birth control" or "The Patriarchy" or even "The Conversation about Puffy Faces." All that baggage -- which is really just Marxism For Girls Who Aren't Good At Math (TM) -- is part of what the left knows as feminism, and what the left calls feminism, but they're the only ones seeking to expressly define it.

Bingo. To quote Joy, maybe it's time we staked out a reasonable middle ground that actually includes the core tenets of conservatism:

There is a sensible middle ground here for conservatives—one in which we regard third-wave feminists as having pointed out that women are equal to men in the sight of God, and worthy of equal wages for equal work for equal numbers of years—[emphasis added] and yet free to stay at home and share our passion, talent, and brainpower with our kids, if we and our spouses so choose.

We can do that while rejecting the sexually abusive elements of the 1970s, and the bland “ideal” of a unisex world. We can also point out that there are real trade-offs to making motherhood a “second career,” and sometimes American women have erred on the side of postponing motherhood too long: getting married before 30 makes sense for many couples, and in a lot of instances it’s worth making real sacrifices for. So is having one person take the lead on many parenthood decisions.

At the same time, biology isn’t destiny.

The GOP is not the party of rigid sex roles. The GOP is the “come as you are party”: we believe that individuals and families can make these decisions for themselves. We love women who work in the home, and those who work outside the home; we want to keep families’ tax burdens low so that they can make parenting and housework determinations for themselves. We love science. We love rational atheists, and people of faith. We love free markets.

That is conservative.

Well, that's is what we thought conservatism was all about. Full marks to Monsieur O'Spades for addressing an unpopular but (in our not so humble opinion, important) idea.

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

The "Tit for Tat" Mentality

Brett McKay on the pitfalls of scorekeeping. The problem is that, being human, we can't quite keep our own thumbs off the scale:

Couples who fall into The Tit for Tat Trap base their relationships on strict reciprocity. “I will only do this, if you do that. And if you stop doing what I expect of you, I will stop doing what you expect of me.”

Now relationships based on strict reciprocity can work well for say, two partners joined by a business contract. I give you money, and you give me a service or product. Quid pro quo.

The problem with using a framework of strict reciprocity in a personal relationship is that it is difficult, nay, impossible to exactly calculate the worth of each person’s actions and behavior.

First off, we still haven’t even resolved the debate over which is the tougher lot–working full-time or staying home with children (having had a hand in both, I’d say they’re equally difficult, just in different ways). And does cleaning the bathroom garner more points than mowing the lawn? Is folding the laundry harder than putting it away? Is installing a fan worth more than staying up with a sick child during the night? And that’s not even getting into weighing the emotional stuff. If you’re consistently the rock while the other person is allowed to fall apart, does that tip the scales in your favor? If one spouse is mopey and morose and the other optimistic and cheerful, does the latter get more marks on their side of the relational ledger book?

Compounding the difficulty in measuring the worth of such things is the fact that we are all terrible judges of just how much of the weight we’ve been pulling. This is because all human minds are subject to what is called the “availability heuristic.” Heuristics are problem-solving mental shortcuts our minds use to figure things out…but they’re not always all that accurate and are prone to biases.

In the case of the availability heuristic, we tend to believe that the easier it is to pull something from our memory (the more available it is to us), the larger the category and the more frequently the thing happens. So for example, since the media gives so much coverage to things like gruesome and unexpected deaths, people think that you’re more likely to die in a plane crash than a car wreck, and more likely to die in an accident than from a stroke, even though in both cases that’s simply untrue, and untrue by a wide margin of error. But since such vivid deaths are at the forefront of our minds, and are easy to retrieve from our memory, we believe they happen with greater frequency than they actually do.

One of the things that influences the availability heuristic is whether or not something happens to us personally, or to another person. Things that we experience ourselves are obviously more salient, and thus reside closer to the forefront of our minds—and this makes them easier to retrieve, which sways us into believing they happen with greater frequency than they do.

Which brings up back to relationships. Because it’s much easier to recall all the efforts we’ve been making from day to day, and it’s harder to remember what our partner’s been up to, we’re prone to think that we’ve been doing much more than the other person has. It’s easy to remember how we’ve been staying up late doing the taxes and spent all Saturday cleaning out the garage, but harder to recall that the wife spent Saturday doing errands, and was planning your kid’s birthday party while you were gathering together the year’s receipts.

In a study done by Ross and Sicoly, couples were asked to estimate what percentage they contributed to taking care of specific household chores. If the husbands and wives had been accurate in their assessments (say the husband said he took out the trash 60% of the time, while the wife said she did it 40% of the time), when they added up their respective percentages, each total should have come out to around 100%. But that’s not what happened; the totals consistently exceeded 100%. In other words, each partner overestimated their respective contributions to each chore. And the same result was found for other social contexts as well (such as group projects for school or work).

All of which is to say: when it comes to accurately keeping score in a relationship, we suck.

The importance of that at last insight is hard to overstate. Human beings are by nature selfish and self interested. We can't help sliding our thumbs onto the scale we use to decide whether we're getting everything we deserve from life.

Let's face it: we deserve the best, don't we? Of course we do. Or at least, I deserve the best. Come to think of it, I'm not so sure about you people.

We've been talking about tribalism quite a bit lately. When the cult of aggressive individualism becomes inconvenient, we seek comfort from the tribe of the like-minded. It's helpful if our tribe outnumbers the others, and here the obsessive media scrutiny of Pretty Much Everything helps us determine which tribe the majority of our fellow citizens identify with.

Natürlich, the media's view of human potential slants overwhelmingly negative; tales about confused souls paralyzed by their own fecklessness far outnumber those about successful, strong, competent, and above all disciplined people whose goals and behavior are consistent with their values. These people bore us. They're so... predictable. Where's the drama? The uncertainty? The angst? You won't see them on a reality show because they are relics of outdated thinking: exceptions to the general rule.

If we are to believe the media, constant confusion, indecision, and elaborate self-justification are the norm. What's artificial these days - downright weird, almost - is the person who takes responsibility for his own actions; the one who reaches for something a little more than he was born to be. The person who doesn't have to be forced to exercise self restraint. We used to find such aspirations noble; we recognized them as essential to the evolution of our race (not the familiar black/white/yellow or male/female divisions, but the one that actually binds us to each other: the human one). Now, we find the person who aspires to better him- or herself ridiculous.

There's a not so subtle refrain here: we're meant to identify with the helpless/hapless and resent the able. Who do they think they are, making us feel bad about ourselves? A more realistic standard would adopt dysfunction as the new normal, above which it is antisocial to aspire. After all, instincts are natural, damn it! And everyone knows, or ought to know, that biology is destiny. How easily we allow ourselves to be reduced to playing bonobos at dawn (and pretty much every other time of the day too).

I keep trying to think of a single great civilization built on the idea that character doesn't matter; that expecting others to aim for anything higher than the often conflicting instincts and desires they were born with is foolish and unrealistic. We've seen where this road leads. Somewhere along the national timeline that stretches from JFK's vision ("Ask not what your country can do for you...") to Obama's ("Your country should be doing more for you...", and "The system is rigged"), we lost the vision of a mankind built in God's image: one that is capable of the divine as well as the profane. We've gone from "ask not" to "demand more"; from concentrating on our responsibilities to complaining that what have is less than what we deserve.

Our grandparents knew the world was often unfair and the system rigged. Their response to the thousand natural injustices that flesh is heir to was to redouble their efforts, to outshine the competition, to work twice as hard and become three times as good as they needed to be to succeed. Character and habitual industry were generally all the insurance they needed against the inevitable misfortunes and chance vicissitudes of life. Somewhere along the line, life was virtually guaranteed to deal out a few hard knocks. The key was to get back up again and come out swinging; so long as one refused to give up, the odds favored eventual success.

The problem with the tit-for-tat mentality is that it encourages us to obsess about things we can't control (the actions or attitudes of others, the outcomes of decisions made with imperfect information) to the detriment of the one thing we can control: our own responses to what life deals out.

The illusion that we can control other people's behavior leads to the twisted reciprocity McKay describes - “I will only do this, if you do that. And if you stop doing what I expect of you, I will stop doing what you expect of me.” This is the metaphorical equivalent of, "If I don't get what I want, I'm taking my balls and going home", and both men and women do it. I know this, because it is one of the very first lessons a 20 year old bride learned during the first year of her own marriage. But if doing what is right, not in expectation of rewards but rather because it is the right thing to do is no longer deemed to be the categorical imperative upon which self respect, genuine reciprocity, and civilization all depend, what we're left with is the depressing cynicism of "I'll scratch your itch if and only if you agree to scratch mine".

That's a morality of sorts, I suppose. I'm not sure it's one that leads to successful marriages. Or great nations.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:01 AM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

February 27, 2013

I'm Not Dead (Yet)

I'm not even in Philadelphia. Just incredibly busy, working, visiting GrandPunks, etc.

Will try to have something up by Thursday am. Have been researching a big post.

Posted by Cassandra at 09:44 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 20, 2013

The Racialization of Morality and Politics

Since 2008, the media have repeatedly flogged the notion that conservative opposition to Obama's policies has nothing to do with the fact that progressive policies like the so-called living wage, the war on income inequality, and the expansion of government are ones conservatives have opposed for decades. What's really causing conservatives to oppose the same policies they have always opposed is "racial attitudes".

But a new study suggests that these disturbing racial attitudes are powerful enough to cause progressives to ignore their decades-long opposition to the aggressive and pre-emptive use of lethal military force and the targeted killings of American citizens with no judicial or legislative oversight:

In a YouGov poll of 1,000 voters last August, Tesler found significantly more support for targeted killing of suspected terrorists among white “racial liberals” (i.e., those liberal on issues of race) and African-Americans when they were told that Obama supported such a policy than when they were not told it was the president’s policy. Only 27 percent of white racial liberals in a control group supported the targeted killing policy, but that jumped to 48 percent among such voters who were told Obama had conducted such targeted killings (which Tesler refers to as the “Obama cue”). He found a similar difference among African-Americans, but cautions that the sample size, of 60 in a control group and another 60 who were given the “Obama cue,” is small. “We can be pretty confident that blacks are more supportive when given the Obama cue, but not at all confident about how precisely large that difference is,” he told me via email.

But is it really race at work here? Or is it something else?

The study provides more evidence for the thesis of another political scientist, Lilliana Mason, which we described last fall. Mason argues that the electorate is becoming increasingly tribal. Our party affiliation is increasingly intertwined with our personal identity, making us more prone than ever to support the policies of “our side,” regardless of their actual content.

Logically speaking, whether one has moral qualms about targeted killings should have nothing to do with who, specifically, is giving the go-ahead on such actions. But this report provides more evidence that when it comes to a wide range of policy issues, our views seem driven more by loyalty than by logic.

The comparison between conservative support of health care reform (hardly a moral bright line in the way targeted assassinations ought to be) and Obama's re-invention of the unitary executive doctrine, which reliably sent progressives into fits of mouth-frothing fury during the Bu$Hitler years seems strained at best.

But I can't find much wrong with the tribalization thesis. In fact, a little digging revealed an article in which our old friend Ta-Nehisi Coates' misrepresentation of the racialization study's results is corrected by the study's author (Tesler):

Coates calls the findings “bracing”—empirical evidence for contemporary, subtle forms of racial animus operating like “quaking ground beneath Obama’s feet”. He cites a host of similar research into the white public’s views on race, as well as instances of undeniable race-baiting rhetoric from Republican leadership in recent years. He concludes:
“What we are now witnessing is not some new and complicated expression of white racism—rather, it’s the dying embers of the same old racism that once rendered the best pickings of America the exclusive province of unblackness.”

But do Tesler’s findings entirely support this thesis? As he states in the paper: “There is simply no way of knowing whether the growing polarization of public opinion by racial attitudes…was caused by the president’s race or another factor like his party affiliation”. Tesler does show that race increased in importance as Obama became the face of health care reform, but only “relative to nonracial considerations”. That is, race was not the most important consideration for respondents, just likely a more important factor than if absent a black president. Also, the level of ‘importance’ of race for respondents didn’t necessarily correspond with diminished support for Obama’s policies, except among a small fraction of respondents who reported the highest levels of resentment.

Overall, Coates’ brief presentation of Tesler’s research implies that race plays a more central, negative role in white Americans’ lack of support for Obama’s policies than what the research supports. More striking in Tesler’s data, white Americans seemed to override their own morally indefensible resentment in gauging the merit of Obama’s policies.

It all sounds so familiar.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:41 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

February 19, 2013

Serious Reporting, As Practiced by The Business Insider

Pay no attention to that Barron's cover story.

If you completely ignore the actual content, you can blithely dismiss the article as "just silliness" without the tiresome effort required to consider (much less rebut) all those annoying facts on the merits. The Business Insider would particularly like readers to ignore references to that well known purveyor of Republican dogma partisan hackery, the Congressional Budget Office.

More "silliness", doncha know?

Besides, Barron's isn't a serious publication anyway. You know, like, say... Business Insider.

Really. You don't want to read the Barron's article. You have been warned.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:48 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Say It Isn't So!

If another male politician makes an insensitive and insulting remark about rape, will it result in a media feeding frenzy? We're guessing.... not:

Democratic Colorado state Rep. Joe Salazar apologized Monday for suggesting some women are so unjustifiably afraid of being raped that they are liable to start shooting wildly.

Salazar, arguing in favor of disarming college students, said Friday on the Colorado House floor that women fearing rape may suddenly and haphazardly ”pop a round at somebody.”

“It’s why we have call boxes; it’s why we have safe zones; it’s why we have the whistles — because you just don’t know who you’re gonna be shooting at. And you don’t know if you feel like you’re gonna be raped, or if you feel like someone’s been following you around or if you feel like you’re in trouble when you may actually not be, that you pop out that gun and you pop … pop a round at somebody,” Salazar said.

Aye chihuahua, hombres. It's a good thing we don't have a woman in the White House. We shudder to think what might happen if she got her hands on the nuclear football during "that time of the month", IYKWIMAITYD.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:58 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Unprecedented Transparency

Apparently, ideas of what constitutes transparency differ:

Obama boasted Thursday during a Google+ Hangout from the White House: “This is the most transparent administration in history.” The people who cover him day to day see it very differently.

“The way the president’s availability to the press has shrunk in the last two years is a disgrace,” said ABC News White House reporter Ann Compton, who has covered every president back to Gerald R. Ford. “The president’s day-to-day policy development — on immigration, on guns — is almost totally opaque to the reporters trying to do a responsible job of covering it. There are no readouts from big meetings he has with people from the outside, and many of them aren’t even on his schedule. This is different from every president I covered. This White House goes to extreme lengths to keep the press away.”

This struck us, too:

One authentically new technique pioneered by the Obama White House is extensive government creation of content (photos of the president, videos of White House officials, blog posts written by Obama aides), which can then be instantly released to the masses through social media. They often include footage unavailable to the press.

Brooks Kraft, a contributing photographer to Time, said White House officials “have a willing and able and hungry press that eats this stuff up, partly because the news organizations are cash-strapped.”

“White House handout photos used to be reserved for historically important events — 9/11, or deliberations about war,” Kraft said. “This White House regularly releases [day-in-the-life] images of the president … a nice picture of the president looking pensive … from events that could have been covered by the press pool. But I don’t blame the White House for doing it, because networks and newspapers use them. So the White House has built its own content distribution network.”

So the White House has not only taken over a job formerly performed by the media at their own expense, but has dramatically increased the scope of the job.

Who's paying for all of this?

Oh yeah. We are. Kinda reminds me of something else I read about the President doing everyone else's job but his own ... [rummaging around in the brain housing group]... Ah - here it is!

... the Obama administration continued to back away from an immigration plan that leaked over the weekend. After USA Today reported on a leaked immigration bill that Obama's team was assembling as various factions on Capitol Hill worked on their own legislation, an unnamed administration official told NBC News on Monday that the White House was not "floating anything" and framed the leaked legislation as a backup plan.

So let's get this straight: the President has time to do Congress's job in a kinda-sorta half assed way that he ends up having to back away from, but doesn't have time to stop the sequester he proposed in the first place or meet his annual budget deadline.

Maybe we need a national "backup plan" to protect the country against Obama's inability to follow through?

Posted by Cassandra at 06:21 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 18, 2013

"Foolishness" and Rational Decision Making

In the comments of an earlier post, Grim mentioned deciding not to read a book offered at Amazon because of the disdainful way the author wrote about women. The blog princess had a similar reaction to an item she ran across this morning. Which is a shame because if you can get beyond the dismissive post title, it was actually pretty interesting:

For the first time in human history, women and men commonly compete side by side. Most of the aggressive, ambitious, daring things we attempt to accomplish are done together.

But do men and women compete the same?

Many recent findings in scientific research reveal gender differences – differences in when they choose to compete, differences in risk taking during competition, different responses to the stress of competition, and different strategies for dealing with that stress.

Here's a quick summary of the studies, but do read the whole thing - you won't be sorry. In general, when deciding whether to compete men focus more on the size of a potential reward and will compete for it, even when their odds of winning are low-to-nonexistent. Women focus more on the odds of success, and downplay the size of the reward.

Earlier, I mentioned my irritation at the post title's characterization of male risktaking as "foolish". But the author notes that when the majority of these studies were covered by the media, their headlines were equally annoying and perjorative ("Women shrink from risks/competition", which turns out not to be quite accurate, rather than "Female willingness to compete is rationally related to the odds of success", for instance).

What is a "foolish risk"? Is that one you wouldn't take? Doesn't any rational analysis of risk vs reward depend on both the circumstances and what one values and wants out of life?

A young, single person of either sex can afford to take a few more risks than a parent with dependent children. Risks taken with one's own savings require (or ought to) a categorically different calculation than risks taken with other people's money. And at some point simple enjoyment of risk taking or competition poses its own reward, albeit a noneconomic one.

What particularly amused me about this set of studies was the repeated finding that women actually appear to approach risk assessment quite rationally. And by that rubric alone (expected return), the male propensity for risk taking looks decidedly irrational (at least if rationality is defined as realistically assessing the odds of success and acting to maximize the average return on investment). Gambling isn't a particularly rational activity, in that few gamblers win more than they lose.

But there are circumstances in life when risk taking makes sense even when the odds are against you. I tend to think that risk and competition can bring out the best in people as well as the worst. It's possible that this may be more often true of men than women, though it's also quite possible that a lot of what we think are hard wired differences between the sexes have more to do with the perceived benefits and risks than our internal or external plumbing:

If a proposed activity has more risks and fewer benefits for a certain group, shouldn't we expect the decisions of that group to reflect the risk-to-benefit ratio? And if this is the case, shouldn't we expect the decisions of both sexes to change when the risk/benefit balance changes? The clear implication here is that humans of both sexes adapt to their circumstances. Though we may tend more or less in a particular direction, we are not completely hard-wired to choose commitment or casual sex. To a far larger degree than we may wish to believe, our choices reflect our circumstances: we weigh the perceived benefits against the perceived harms that may result from our decisions. Change the circumstances, and we can expect different reactions.

Which, come to think of it, is pretty much what happens when men and women are prompted to think in specified ways. Interestingly, this effect is now being cited as one reason boys aren't doing as well in school, despite having been ridiculed as "silly" and unserious when it was cited as a possible reason girls lag behind in certain subjects.

We are still waiting to hear whether the idea is utterly ridiculous, or only ridiculous when it doesn't support certain arguments. We suspect it's the latter. :p

Posted by Cassandra at 03:26 PM | Comments (28) | TrackBack

Fun with the Minimum Wage

Mark J. Perry has an interesting chart up that plots excess teen unemployment against changes to the minimum wage:

Now that Obama’s calling for a 24% increase in the minimum wage to $9 per hour, it might be instructive to review what happened the last time the minimum wage was increased – from $5.15 per hour in 2007 to $7.25 in 2009 (in three stages, see chart). Those most affected by increases in the minimum wage are the least skilled, least experienced, and least educated workers, i.e. teenage workers.
...when the minimum wage rose by 41% between 2007 and 2009 – it had a disastrous effect on teenagers. The jobless rate for 16-19 year olds increased by ten percentage points, from about 16% in 2007 to more than 26% in 2009. Of course, the overall US jobless rate was increasing at the same time, from about 5% to 10%. Therefore, the graph attempts to better isolate the effects of the minimum wage increases between 2007 and 2009 on teenagers by plotting the difference between the teenage jobless rate and the overall jobless rate, i.e. “excess teen unemployment,” and the minimum wage.

During the 2002-2007 period when the minimum wage was $5.15 per hour, teenage unemployment exceeded the national jobless rate by about 11% on average. Each of the three minimum wage increases was accompanied by a 2 percentage point increase in the amount that the teenage jobless rate exceeded the overall [unemployment] rate...

Go read the whole post - it's excellent. I want to call particular attention to the final excerpt, because it bears directly on a post I've been noodling over:

“Most readers remember the work habits they learned from their first job. Showing up on time, being courteous to customers, learning how to use technology—such habits are often more valuable than the actual paycheck. Studies have confirmed that when teens work during summer months or after school they have higher lifetime earnings than those who don’t work. So raising the minimum wage may inadvertently reduce lifetime earnings.”

Behavior and habits - both of which require self discipline - can affect lifetime earnings? Who knew? The Editorial Staff shall return to this insight anon. But first, a bit of equal opportunity snarking:

For a fourteen-year period in American history, minimum-wage laws were officially verboten in every last state of the union, having been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on April 9, 1923. The case, Adkins v. Children's Hospital, concerned a Washington D.C. law that established a minimum wage for women and children employed within the city. Two appellants challenged it: a hospital that employed a number of adult women, some at wages below the minimum; and a 23-year-old woman employed by the Congress Hall Hotel as an elevator operator. Earning $35 per month plus two meals each day, the elevator operator avowed that her "work was light and healthful, the hours short, with surroundings clean and moral," and that her employer would be glad to retain her, as she ardently wished, but only at her present wage.

...What's largely forgotten are the early feminists who hailed the 1923 decision as a heartening victory. They'd been perturbed, fifteen years earlier, by the decision in Muller v. Oregon, a case that pitted a laundry owner against a state law that forbade working female employees longer than 10 hours per day. Justice David Brewer wrote in his majority opinion that the labor protection law passed constitutional muster because "history discloses the fact that woman has always been dependent upon man," and like a minor, she requires "special care that her rights may be preserved.... In the struggle for subsistence she is not an equal competitor to her brother.... She is properly placed in a class by herself, and legislation designed for her protection may be sustained, even when like legislation is not necessary for men and could not be sustained."

When Justice Sutherland struck down the minimum wage for women and children -- and helped that 23 year-old keep her elevator job -- he also repudiated the sexist logic of that earlier case:

The ancient inequality of the sexes otherwise than physical, as suggested in Muller, has continued with 'diminishing intensity.' In the view of the great -- not to say revolutionary -- changes which have taken place since that utterance, in the contractual, political and civil status of women, culminating in the 19th Amendment, it is not unreasonable to say that these differences have now come almost, if not quite, to the vanishing point... We can not accept the doctrine that women of mature age require or may be subjected to restrictions upon their liberty of contract which could not lawfully be imposed in the case of men under similar circumstances. To do so would be to ignore all the implications to be drawn from the present day trend of legislation, as well as that of common thought and usage, by which woman is accorded emancipation from the old doctrine that she must be given special protection or be subjected to special restraint in her contractual and civil relationship.

The blog princess has often pointed out that many of the jobs she held before she got her college degree paid wages at or below the minimum wage:

During her years as a stay at home wife and mother with no college degree, the blog princess worked at mostly menial jobs (child care, lawn care, small repairs and painting) for pocket money. My earnings, though meager, yielded just enough extra money to fund DITY home improvement projects and a few small luxuries we would not otherwise be able to afford. Most weeks, she worked 25 hours or less.

Now, with a college degree and 14 years of continuous FT work experience, her earnings have multipled by a factor or 40 or 50 and yet, the Obama administration's policies bid fair to make working 50+ hour weeks no more profitable than it was to work fewer than 25 hours a week at a salary 40+ times smaller.

If this administration had purposely designed its economic policy to inflict maximum damage on women who aspire to move up the economic ladder through education and hard work, it could not possibly have done better. WAR ON WOMYNS!!11!

To add to the hilarity, the decision to stop working would mean less work for the Hispanic men and women we have been able to employ with my earnings.

The agony! The irony!

Posted by Cassandra at 12:09 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

In Which Amerikkka Devolves into a Rabid Police State

Thank God someone is finally doing something about it:

Debbie McBride has nothing but contempt for the ongoing litigation. McBride is a street-hardened building superintendent in the heart of the South Bronx zone targeted by the NYCLU. When asked about TAP, also known as the Clean Halls program, she doesn’t mince words. “I love it!” she roars. “I’m serious, I love it. Me being a woman, I feel safe. I can get up at 4 AM and start working.”

McBride represents a type that seemingly lies outside the conceptual universe of the advocates and their enablers in elite law firms and the media: the inner-city crusader for bourgeois order. In 1999, McBride moved from Brooklyn to her present residence in the Mount Hope section of the Bronx. Her own intersections with street life had left her a three-time victim of rape and blind in one eye from assault—a boyfriend had struck her for refusing to try heroin—but she still wasn’t prepared for the South Bronx. “I had had none of this before,” she says. “It was like New Jack City. People were selling crack openly in the lobby.” She asked fellow tenants how long the lobby’s drug trade had been going on. Thirty years, they answered. “Desperate,” she says, about her building’s lawlessness, McBride started attending community meetings at the NYPD’s 44th Precinct and secretly partnering with a local cop to get rid of the dealers. “I used to give him the nod,” she recalls. The officer made so many arrests in her building that he won a promotion to detective.

In 2004, a new owner took over McBride’s building and offered her the superintendent’s job. “I don’t know nothing about plumbing,” she warned him, but his instinct for character proved flawless. Today, she roams her building’s immaculate halls, searching for stray cigarette butts, with a bouquet of black trash bags tied to her belt. Her biggest concern, however, is not trash but trespassers, since many indoor crimes are committed by nonresidents. Accordingly, McBride has an inviolate rule: no one loiters inside or outside her building, not even tenants. “We’re not playing here,” she says. “People try to get in, saying: ‘I’m looking for so-and-so.’ But I throw everyone out, because I’m not going back” to the way things were.

...To get the sharpest sense of what trespass means in high-crime neighborhoods, however, one must talk to the elderly. Petite Mrs. Sweeper, with hoop earrings and close-cropped hair, is a tenant of McBride’s building. She has been confined to a wheelchair since losing a foot to cancer, but her greatest impediment to mobility comes from fear: she dreads strangers lingering in and around her building. “As soon as [people] see that there’s no po-lice around, they ask you to let them into the lobby or to hold the door for them,” she observes from her airy, light-filled apartment, decorated with a Prayer for Obama on the wall and a Ringling Brothers toy elephant in the credenza. “ ‘I’m waiting on someone,’ they say.” And then, if the trespassers gain access, all hell breaks loose: “You can smell their stuff in the hallway; they’re cussing and urinating. Then I don’t want to come in because I’m scared. I’m scared just to stick my key in the door.”

The solution to such threatening disorder, in Mrs. Sweeper’s view, is the police: “As long as you see the po-lice, everything’s A-OK. The building is safe; you can come down and get your mail and talk to decent people.” TAP officers climb the stairwells and check the roof and elevators in Mrs. Sweeper’s building two or three times a week, but she wants to see them much more frequently. Several summers ago, the 44th Precinct erected a watchtower on the block to deter the gunfire that broke out after dark. “It was the peacefulest summer ever,” she recalls. “I could sit outside at night. I wish we’d get our po-lice back. Puh-leez, Jesus, send them back!”

Obviously the problem here is not criminals. It's laws. And law enforcement.

I'm being facetious here, but citing isolated news stories of cases where human beings (and cops are human, with all the flaws and failings that implies) doth not a "police state" make. Were we to check the laws of the state where this incident occurred, I'm fairly certain that a bumper sticker would fall outside the realm of reasonable suspicion. So no, it's not "OK" to pull people over because you don't like their bumper sticker.

I'm not actually hostile to careful, evidence based arguments that excessive use of police authority has tipped the risk/benefit calculation unacceptably to the "too risky" side. It's nice if such arguments actually include the harms posed by criminal activity in the analysis, though that is probably too much to ask.

I think SWAT teams are usually unnecessary, for instance. But I also happen to believe that assuming that our current state of security would continue if we got rid of every law we don't agree with is naive at best and at worst, actively dangerous. Chesterton said it best:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.

Have at it, knuckle draggers.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:32 AM | Comments (54) | TrackBack

February 16, 2013

Some Good News

Elise is blogging again. Her latest post puts forth an interesting theory:

Perhaps what look like media malpractice and media bias to people on the Right; what look like deliberate decisions to deceptively edit and knowingly omit; what look like actions in service of an ideology and a goal; perhaps all that is simply a result of a mindset that defines certain people as existing outside the realm of decent, serious society and that believes no reason is sufficient to explain their utterly unacceptable ideas and policies.

Elise is onto something here, but I don't think it's the whole story. All writers are selective, but to paraphrase Tolstoy I suspect we are selective for different reasons.

I reject some issues because I'm conflicted about them. If I have a lot going on at work, I may simply lack the mental bandwidth for the discussions that will ensue. Sometimes - rarely - I reject a topic because it is emotionally freighted and I suspect my own position won't stand up well to scrutiny (mine, or that of others). That last one sometimes results in my writing about it anyway, but this doesn't happen as often as it should.

Sometimes I avoid topics because I know my friends disagree vehemently with me. I know I won't change any minds and don't want to distress them for no reason. This is why I don't write about pornography or prostitution. That's not something I'm proud of.

Elise's post reminded me of one of the most thought provoking posts I've ever read on bias. It took me a while to find it:

Suppose we look at writing on issues where people tend to hold strong opinions that fit with their ideology. Such writing can

(a) attempt to open the minds of people on the opposite side as the author

(b) attempt to open minds of people on the same side as the author

(c) attempt to close minds of people on the same side as the author

So, think about it. Wouldn't you classify most op-eds and blog posts as (c)? Isn't that sort of pathetic? Here are some more thoughts:

1. The default is (c). If you are not consciously trying to do (a) or (b), then you will almost surely do (c).

2. Most of us, most of the time, do (c).

3. Doing (c) 100 % of the time can earn you fame and fortune. Yes, you get criticized for it by people on the other side, but the positive reinforcement you get probably more than makes up for it.

4. Try to think of folks who try to have a high proportion of (a) and (b). The first ones that I think of are David Brooks and Tyler Cowen.

This part, in particular, fascinated me:

Tyler is good at paying attention to the strongest arguments of those with whom he disagrees. Focusing on weaker arguments instead is a classic (c) move. I only get annoyed when he gets to be so cagey with his own point of view that people can take him for holding an opinion that in fact he definitely rejects.

I spent a long time thinking about this one.

Posted by Cassandra at 10:55 AM | Comments (31) | TrackBack

February 15, 2013

“I think it’s necessary for us to have the dignity of the job that we have rewarded”

Head exploding sound byte of the day. What in the holy hell does this even mean?

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday that she opposes a cut in congressional pay because it would diminish the dignity of lawmakers' jobs.

"I don't think we should do it; I think we should respect the work we do," Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol. "I think it's necessary for us to have the dignity of the job that we have rewarded."

Do you feel like you are "rewarding" your job when you show up each morning?

Do you think you should be paid regardless of whether you get the job done or not?

I'm still waiting for these jackwagons to pass a budget. That's job one and they haven't done it for four years. It's their job to negotiate some kind of deal so the sequester doesn't happen.

The suggestion that Congress should get paid the same whether they actually do their jobs or not (or that they should escape the consequences of their own ineptitude) is just stunning.

Posted by Cassandra at 03:15 PM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

Blogging Note

I will have something up by noon today. I started a few posts last night but have not had time to finish them.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:32 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

February 13, 2013

"At No Time Did My Fingers Leave My Hands"

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office, serves up the best summary of the SOTU address:

“Our government shouldn’t make promises we cannot keep — but we must keep the promises we’ve already made.” That’s a beautiful phrase, until you realize that it is precisely the promises “we’ve already made” that are the ones that we cannot keep.

Like the President's much touted 2011 budget cuts, his claims don't stand up to inspection:

... the bill also turned out to be an epic kind of Washington illusion. It was stuffed with gimmicks that made the cuts seem far bigger — and the politicians far bolder — than they actually were.

In the real world, in fact, many of their “cuts” cut nothing at all. The Transportation Department got credit for “cutting” a $280 million tunnel that had been canceled six months earlier. It also “cut” a $375,000 road project that had been created by a legislative typo, on a road that did not exist.

At the Census Bureau, officials got credit for a whopping $6 billion cut, simply for obeying the calendar. They promised not to hold the expensive 2010 census again in 2011.

Today, an examination of 12 of the largest cuts shows that, thanks in part to these gimmicks, federal agencies absorbed $23 billion in reductions without losing a single employee.

“Many of the cuts we put in were smoke and mirrors,” said Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), a hard-line conservative now in his second term. “That’s the lesson from April 2011: that when Washington says it cuts spending, it doesn’t mean the same thing that normal people mean.”

In a way, you've got to admire the President's lawyerly style. When he's not taking credit for "historic" budget cuts that weren't, he's taking credit for saving or creating hundreds of thousands of jobs:

“After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the past three.”

Obama again is cherry-picking a jobs number. The low point for manufacturing jobs was reached in January 2010, and so there has been a gain of 500,000 jobs since then. But Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that the number of manufacturing jobs is still 600,000 fewer than when Obama took office in the depths of the recession — and 1.8 million fewer than when the recession began in December 2007.

Sometimes, his carefully crafted bloviation manages to sound downright straightforward:

If, like the Editorial Staff, you're oppressed by a vague a sense that you've heard this all before, take heart. We hear tell that at any moment now, the President will make jobs and the economy his latest #1 priority:

That is, after he gets done raising money for fellow Democrats, passing yet another law that will finally! do what Obama already took credit for doing with the Lily Ledbetter Act, and improving the election day experience. Who knows? Eventually, he may even find the time to pass a budget!

Priorities, people.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:49 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

February 12, 2013

Birth Rates, Critical Mass, and the Fear of Death

This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

- Sonnet 73, William Shakespeare

In a post entitled "Be Fruitful and Multiply", Texan 99 ponders the consequences of declining birth rates:

I've always wondered why God found it necessary to tell us this. Or, if you're not a believer, why did a culture find it necessary to exhort its own members to reproduce? Don't we have a biological imperative? How did we get here otherwise; why did our ancestors survive? It's strange to observe that one of the most basic human drives is so vulnerable to collapse, especially once birth control comes into the picture.

Do humans in the current age still have a biological imperative to reproduce at the rates we once did? I wonder. There have been several articles on declining birth rates lately, generally accompanied by the usual hand-wringing about the scary possibility that "allowing" women to be educated or make their own choices may Turn Out Badly. Recently, all this female book-larnin' was blamed for declining marriage rates. Never mind that better educated/more accomplished women are the ones most likely to get and stay married:

...overall marriage rates have been slipping since 1980. But they have slipped less for educated women than for anyone else. Furthermore, college-educated women, once they do marry, are much less likely to divorce. As a result, by age 30, and especially at ages 35 and 40, college-educated women are significantly more likely to be married than any other group.

The math behind all these birth rate articles turns out to be rather interesting, too. Not only are educated women marrying more and divorcing less than their lower class counterparts - they are also (arguably) producing more children. Examining the relative shares of all children born to women aged 40-44 (women now past usual childbearing age) in 2010 shows that the largest share (30%) of children was born to mothers with at least a college degree. Moreover, fertility rates for educated women have actually increased over the last 15 years. How can this be?

...women with the least education did have more kids than their share of the population: 14 percent versus 10 percent. But there were twice as many children born to women who were college graduates. ... When it comes to childbearing, in other words, the highly educated are almost pulling their weight.

... Completed fertility rates have increased for those with more education, and decreased for those with less, from 1995 to 2010...

The numbers are somewhat counterintuitive, but if I understand the argument correctly it goes something like this:

1. Less educated women averaged more children, per woman.

2. But are fewer of them, so their relatively higher fertility doesn't contribute as much to the total number of children born.

3. More educated women averaged fewer children, per woman. But there are more of them. So although women with Masters' degrees constituted only 9% of women of childbearing age, they bore 11% of the children.

This appears to be bad news for the "How can we limit the trend of increasing female achievement before it kills us all?" crowd.

Longevity has to play a part in any calculation of the birth rates needed to perpetuate the species, because people are living (and working) longer than they have in the past. So does population growth over time, and the amount of land needed to feed the current population. Technology has to be factored in; we're growing more food on less land that our parents and grandparents did. T99 comments:

I wonder if we've managed the transition well in our own country to a culture in which no one need be fertile unless he or she chooses. How are the incentives for childbearing different now? When the choice whether to reproduce or not becomes unconstrained, what makes fathers willing to support their children and their children's mothers? What makes mothers willing to raise the children? You'd think it would be obvious, but the demographics tell us it's anything but. When people acquire choices for the first time, there can be a scary period in which we find out what new motives will operate, and what we have to offer each other to make it all keep working.

What strikes me most about this debate is how artificial most of it is. I suspect what we're really asking is not, "How many children do we need to preserve the species", but rather "How many children do we need to preserve our present [comfortable] way of life?" Most of questions I'm seeing have more to do with the economics of Social Security and the welfare state than they do with the survival of the human race.

Incentives depend on our current circumstances. Why do we assume that, given different circumstances (perhaps a precipitous decline in our standard of living or an existential threat to human survival), women - and men, whose choices matter too - would make the same choices we make today in the presence of unprecedented abundance?

Like most conservatives, I worry about the decline of faith in public life. Very few modern institutions support the notion that individuals have a duty to anything larger than themselves. Thankfully, our President is doing his utmost to resurrect antiquated concepts like duty by sternly demanding that we practice his unique brand of "economic patriotism", even if it's no more sustainable than electric cars or the solar industry.

How concerned should we be about a culture in which no one is fertile unless they choose to be in a world where population growth looks like this?

Part of the answer has to do with whether we're concerned about the survival of the human race, or only the survival of our own culture. The human race has a way of figuring things out. When we don't, natural population control mechanisms like war, famine, and disease have a self-correcting effect.

If, on the other hand, what we're really concerned with is the survival of our own culture, which parts are we trying to preserve, and why? Is having little choice about things as basic as how many children a couple will have an integral part of our culture and our values? Or was it largely a natural byproduct of the technology and resources available to us at the time? Did our grandparents have children out of some notion that they owed it to the culture to make babies? Or were most of them more focused on their own upbringing and aspirations?

I have faith in the ability of culture to adjust to changing circumstances. When we extrapolate from the present, we're not very good at taking natural corrective mechanisms into account. To paraphrase a popular maxim, if things can't continue indefinitely, they won't. And when that happens, future generations will take their current circumstances into account.

We see the past and future through such distorted lenses. For some reason, Tex's post reminded me of a trip we took to Europe several years ago. 2004 was a difficult year. We lost a Marine in our command to suicide. A few days later, my nephew was diagnosed with a virulent strain of leukemia.

I often wonder how different our trip would have been, had we taken it in a different year.

As it was, we spent most of our time visiting churches and cathedrals in Paris, London, and Rome. We're not regular churchgoers, so the acute awareness of death had to have something to do with that. For as long as I live, I will never forget how moved I was by the Sainte Chappelle, built in the 13th century:

Standing inside it was like being transported into a kaleidoscope: every square inch of floor, window, wall or ceiling was lavishly and painstakingly decorated. It was a riot of color.

And I kept thinking, "Who would ever build something like this now?" Compared to 13th century Parisians, we have so many tools; so much money. They had to do all of this by hand. And their lives were so short. The world we live in would be unimaginable to the men who built the Sainte Chappelle, yet they who had so much less to work with created something that is still capable of striking our jaded, postmodern hearts dumb with wonder.

It was larger than man, grander than anything I have seen before or since. It's not so much that the shadow of death was lifted from my heart, but more that it no longer had the same power.

The infinite abundance we take for granted (and seek to preserve) has all but banished the immediate fear of death, disease, and abject poverty from our daily lives. But I can't help believing that that fear - that sorrow, and the perspective that comes with it - is where the greatest human accomplishments come from.

Perhaps we fear the wrong things?

Posted by Cassandra at 07:07 PM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

Green Cars and Unchecked Righteousness

The Editorial Staff are liking this Charles Lane person very much:

There’s simply no denying that the administration’s electric-vehicle project was a mistake.

But it’s worth asking precisely what kind of mistake (beyond eminently foreseeable and terribly expensive). As Bruce Springsteen once sang: “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true, or is it something worse?”

I accept the president’s good intentions. He didn’t set out to rip off the public. Nor was the electric-car dream a Democrats-only delusion. Several Republican pols shared it, too.

Rather, the debacle is a case study in unchecked righteousness. The administration assumed the worthiness and urgency of its goals. Americans should want electric cars, and therefore they would, apparently.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu, he of the Nobel Prize in physics, epitomized the regnant blend of sanctimony and technocratic hubris. He once told journalist Michael Grunwald that photosynthesis is “too damn inefficient,” and that DOE might help correct that particular error of evolution.

The department has recently backed away from the million-car target, in favor of reducing battery costs to $300 per kilowatt hour by 2015 (from $650 today). Even this seems dubious, given the APS symposium’s view that “only incremental improvements can be expected” in lithium-ion batteries.

Chu is on his way out but still dreaming. “For the engineers in the room or those who follow this, you might be saying to yourself, ‘What are they smoking?’ ” he remarked at the Washington Auto Show. “We’re not smoking anything. They are ambitious goals but they are achievable goals.”

I might add that Chu does not own a car.

If only car buyers would cease this selfish, uncooperative behavior. The President has told them what they ought to want to spend their hard earned money upon.

What more do they need to know?

Posted by Cassandra at 05:12 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Men Face "Flexibility Stigma"

The Editorial Staff found this interesting:

When children were asked in a 1999 study whether they spend enough time with their parents, they had something interesting to say. They have quite enough time with their mothers, thank you. What they wanted was more time with their fathers.

Not too much has changed in the past decade. Just recently, I heard yet another story of a father who wanted to work less in order to spend more time with his children. He overheard his daughter telling friends that, although she lives in Oakland, her daddy lives in San Francisco. (He works there.) He’s home so little, she got confused.

And no wonder. Roughly 40 percent of college-educated men work 50 hours a week or more — often much more — compared with just 14 percent of college-educated women. Men who work 50 to 60 hours a week want to work an average of 13 fewer hours; those working more than 60 hours a week would prefer to work a stunning 25 less.

As a result, it’s little surprise that fathers actually now report higher levels of work-family conflict than mothers do. In a 2011 study, the Families and Work Institute found that 60 percent of fathers in dual-earner households say they experience some or a lot of work-life conflict, compared with just 35 percent in 1977. Meanwhile, the level of work-life conflict reported by similar working mothers has not changed significantly in three decades.

Why don’t more men push for change?

The answer is what I call the “flexibility stigma.” The topic may be one that’s traditionally associated with women, but in a forthcoming special publication of the Journal of Social Issues I’m co-editing, four of the nine articles actually address how much such policies impact men. What’s the bottom line from the researchers’ findings? Men face as many struggles when it comes to using flexible work policies — if not more — because child care, fairly or unfairly, is still seen as being a feminine role.

This is not the first time researchers have looked at how men fare when it comes to flexibility at work. In 2003, one group found that men who ask for family leave suffer more negative reactions than women who ask for the same. The next year, another study found that men who took even a short time off for family reasons were given lower recommendations and poorer overall performance ratings. A few years later, researchers found that as long as a father can avoid looking like he has child-care responsibilities, having kids actually helps his career. He is given higher starting salaries than a childless man and is held to lower performance and punctuality standards.

The new research goes further by trying to address why men experience such stigmas. For instance, in one case, participants were asked to rate men and women who took family leaves and those who did not. If the employee was a man and took time off, he was less likely to be recommended for promotions, raises or high-profile assignments. What became clear was not just that men were penalized for taking leaves, but why. They were seen as bad workers precisely because they were thought to have traits traditionally viewed as feminine: being weak, insecure, emotional or naïve. In other words, the flexibility stigma is a femininity stigma.

The article is fascinating because it demonstrates the lopsided way traditional gender roles are often portrayed by various interest groups. Feminists and progressives lament the fact that parenting is largely seen as "women's work" - they see all the downsides (lower pay, fewer promotions and career opportunities, etc) and none of the benefits (more time with children, a more balanced lifestyle, more freedom/flexibility, more stable families). Conservatives and MRA types, on the other hand, love to complain about more mothers getting custody (apparently, having been the primary caretaker for years is something courts shouldn't take into consideration?) or the fact that married women don't "have to" work (ignoring that many women prefer sharing child rearing duties to bearing them alone).

It's probably too strong to call this sort of thing "sexism", but we can't help being struck by the assumptions on both sides that tradeoffs don't (or shouldn't) exist. So we have professional women continuing to ask why women can't have it all (because no one can?) and articles like this complaining about the seemingly obvious tradeoff between investing less of your time/effort in your career and diminished promotion/pay prospects.

Employers generally don't care about our personal work/life balance or the arrangements we make with our spouses regarding who does what on the home front. They do care - very much - when employees' personal lives begin to intrude upon the workplace. When privately made decisions begin to impact a company's bottom line, why are they wrong to choose what is best for the company?

Typically when this sort of article comes out, we see a lot of feminist bashing and assertions that "we're all worse off" now that society is beginning to realize the importance of fathers in a child's life. What gets me is that if men are now experiencing more work/life conflict, it's because they actually have more options than they once did.

Is that really a bad thing? Adults - whether male or female - need to learn to make choices that are in line with their values and priorities. One of my sons intentionally chose a career that allowed him to be a major presence in his children's lives. He knew he was sacrificing pay to do that and still made that decision.

While we have no quarrel with discussing or recognizing the presence of tradeoffs, we're a bit mystified by the notion that people are oppressed by having more choices.

The one constant in all of this is that the victims are always hardest hit. Discuss amongst your ownselves, knuckle draggers.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:49 AM | Comments (26) | TrackBack

February 09, 2013

Sheer Genius


Posted by Cassandra at 07:29 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 07, 2013

File Under "Don't Be Tacky"

We now know why we don't watch the Grammy's:

The Grammys, known for its over-the-top provocative performances by the world's top musicians, and home to some of the sexiest red-carpet dresses during awards season, seems to be smarting up.

Yesterday CBS sent a Wardrobe Advisory to all attendees and performers in advance of the 55th Annual Grammys, which will be broadcast this Sunday.

Asking that all talent appearing on camera 'adhere to Network policy concerning wardrobe,' the email stipulated that 'buttocks and female breasts [must be] adequately covered.'

Good for CBS. Their venue, their rules.

In our more foolish moments, we dream of a world in which married men won't feel the need to publicly regale complete strangers with continual references to how often they gratify themselves while fantasizing about having sex with women they aren't married to (where the hell are these guys' wives when this idiocy is going on?) and grown women won't petulantly demand to be treated "just like men" while doing everything in their power to be viewed as nothing more than the disposable sex objects they think men secretly see women as.

It's no surprise that we all have urges, but we have very little interest in learning about other people's. We don't even find our own all that noteworthy.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:30 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

February 06, 2013

The VC Annual "Hating on Valentine's Day" Post

It hath become something of a tradition here to gently mock St. Valentine's day. Because we are all about the traditions, this year will be no different. But first, a little stroll down mammary memory lane. In past years, we've explained why we hate Valentine's Day, urged women to up their game, provided helpful advice to the assembled villainry on how not to get lucky, and given priceless gift-giving advice to the Oink Cadre.

This year, we've found the perfect gift(s) for the uterus-having contingent - one that should warm the cockles of every man's heart. Our first suggestion is this lovely sentiment that memorializes the deep joy virtually every married man on the planet experiences when he hears you speak those immortal words, "Honey, we need to talk":

Ladies, you can gift the man in your life with this wondrous bauble for a paltry 200 dollars! But if tiny porcelain boxes don't make his manly heart go pitter-patter, there's always the coveted Pair O' Herend Kissing Swans. They come in traditional and evolved versions.

Here's the traditional pair:

Lovely, ¿no es verdad? Let's face it: who among us has not secretly desired a pair of lip-locked swans? The more highly (or recently) evolved amongst us should probably order one of the same sex versions:

If none of the preceding appeal, there's even a green model. I have absolutely no idea what's going on here, but suspect it involves bamboo sheets, oodles of pleather, and sex toys that have not (we repeat, NOT) been tested on animals:

Readers who truly care about their significant others can pick up one of these gems for a cool $600. The rest of you losers (i.e., selfish cads and caddettes who don't care about anyone but themselves) will have to be content with this list.

Or you could buck the tide and go with the gift everyone really wants: your time and attention. Isn't that what love is all about?

Posted by Cassandra at 07:38 AM | Comments (27) | TrackBack

Nothin' But Net

Something to make you smile over your morning coffee:

Posted by Cassandra at 05:53 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 05, 2013


These people are completely insane:

“I was trying to save people and I just can’t believe I got dispended,” says Alex Evans, who doesn’t understand his suspension any better than he can pronounce it.

“It’s called ‘rescue the world,’” he says.

He was playing a game during recess at Loveland’s Mary Blair Elementary School and threw an imaginary grenade into a box with pretend evil forces inside.

“I pretended the box, there’s something shaking in it, and I go ‘pshhh.’”

The boy didn’t throw anything real or make any threats against anyone. He explains he was pretending to be the hero. “So nothing can get out and destroy the world.”

But his imaginary play broke the school’s real rules. The school lists “absolutes” designed to keep a safe environment. The list includes absolutely no fighting, real or imaginary; no weapons, real or imaginary.

“Honestly I don’t think the rule is very realistic for kids this age,” says Alex’s mom Mandie Watkins.

The Editorial Staff kept stories, drawings, and other schoolwork for both her sons. She has file folders full of drawings of machine guns and battles and monsters and other scary things. In their minds, my sons turned pet gerbils and our long suffering beagle into space warriors. A family trip to Disney World was rudely interrupted by Commando, who proceeded to attack their Dad for no apparent reason as we slept in a nearby graveyard (!). Don't worry - we all survived.

A cow inexplicably crawled into the mouth of a sleeping woman, who got a stomach ache, then took Advil and died.

My sons weren't allowed to watch much TV (and no cable). They didn't even have toy guns, but that didn't prevent them from turning any long, vaguely cylindrical object into a pretend firearm. That was fine with me.

There are scores of short stories my boys wrote over the years in their files. One of the more memorable is a story my eldest wrote in the first grade. Given the assignment to write about Sleeping Beauty, my small son killed her boring-arse self off in the first paragraph before going on to write about how The Space Condor used his tornado remote control to conquer the universe.

We wonder whether Child Protective Services can take adult children away from their parents based on the thought crimes of small boys? Gosh, we hope not.

Posted by Cassandra at 02:50 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Richard III

Because I cannot flatter and look fair,
Smile in men’s faces, smooth, deceive and cog,
Duck with French nods and apish courtesy,
I must be held a rancorous enemy.
Cannot a plain man live and think no harm,
But thus his simple truth must be abused
With silken, sly, insinuating jacks?

...The world is grown so bad
That wrens make prey where eagles dare not perch.
Since every jack became a gentleman,
There’s many a gentle person made a jack.

- Richard III, William Shakespeare

The remains of King Richard III, last of the Plantagenets and also the last king from the House of York, have been discovered beneath a parking lot. Oddly, a reconstruction of the King's face reveals, not the foul, hideous wretch of legend but a handsome man:

Richard was killed in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, at the age of 32 and after just two years on the throne, having been challenged by the forces of Henry Tudor, the future Henry VII.

Dr Ashdown-Hill, who wrote The Last Days of Richard III, said: "The most obvious features in portraits are the shape of the nose and the chin and both of those are visible in the facial reconstruction."

Richard III Society member Philippa Langley, originator of the search, said on a Channel 4 documentary earlier: "It doesn't look like the face of a tyrant. I'm sorry but it doesn't.

"He's very handsome. It's like you could just talk to him, have a conversation with him right now."

The discovery of Richard's corpse is likely to revive a longstanding debate over the accuracy of his depiction in history. If you like historical novels (I do, greatly), you may enjoy one by Sharon Kay Penman. It's called The Sunne in Splendour. I own all of Penman's series in hardback and have read them each several times.

They are unforgettable, and I highly recommend them. From the reviews section of the Amazon page for The Sunne in Splendour:

As a publisher I have been lucky to be able to visit bookstores all over the country, independent and chain alike. What interests me first about these stores is what titles are being displayed in the 'Staff Recommends' section of the store. It is here that you can find treasured, beloved books quite dear to someone who works in the stores, someone waiting quite eagerly for the chance to hand sell their recommended titles.

It is in these Staff Recommend sections that I kept on seeing our Penman's titles, HERE BE DRAGONS, FALLS THE SHADOW, THE RECKONING and also SUNNE IN SPLENDOUR and WHEN CHRIST AND HIS SAINTS SLEPT.
It's funny, you can sell something for years before you notice that the author has been quietly making a powerful impact on people everywhere.

I started with HERE BE DRAGONS and I have never looked back. Her trilogy of the decline of the Welsh kings ( DRAGON, FALLS THE SHADOW and THE RECKONING)is a holiday gift I give year after year, and I'm happy to say they have always been embraced and loved. From my 15 year old niece to my 70 year old mother and many ages in between, all readers are enchanted and transported to a land and an age gone forever. But Penman makes them live forever in our minds and hearts with fantastic, unforgettable characters and wonderful history. HERE BE DRAGONS is such a great title--medieval mapmakes would write those words across any part of the map that was unknown.. a wonderful metaphor for how little the Welsh and English knew of each other.

SUNNE IN SPLENDOUR--Warning: This is not Shakespeare's Richard III. In this novel, Richard is a victim of circumstance and man vilified by the Tudors, but here presented as a decent and normal man, a man of conscience. AND he is not a murderer. Yes, those princes did die, but not by Richard's hand.

WHEN CHRIST AND HIS SAINTS SLEPT - Another wonderful title, for it refers to the 15 years of England's darkest time-the civil war between the cousins Queen Maud and King Steven. England was deserted, for Christ and his saints were sleeping. I had never even heard of these royals. Queen Maud was the legitimate heir to the throne, but a woman, and there fore not fit to rule. She is also the mother of Henry, who later married Eleanor of Aquitaine . Pretty heady stuff, more incredible men and women, another book to get totally lost in.

The blog princess is a bit of an English and Welsh history buff (yes, she is a giant dork). But if you like this sort of thing, I can promise you won't be disappointed.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:01 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Coffee Snorters: Stone Cold Killers Edition

And by "stone cold killer", we mean Fluffy the domestic purr factory. Charles Lane asks, "What shall we do about these killer cats?":

... government-affiliated scientists have produced statistical proof of feline perfidy, in a new study showing that cats stalk and kill 2.4  billion birds and 12.3  billion mammals in the United States each year, give or take a few billion.

This “kill rate” is two to four times higher than previously believed, and worse than that attributable to windmills, cars and other “anthropogenic” killers.

The victims include not just rats and mice but also songbirds, chipmunks and other valued wildlife species, according to the New York Times.

Feral — “stray” — cats, which number 80  million or so, are the main culprits, the study concluded. But the nation’s 86.4  million domestic cats account for about 29  percent of cat-on-bird killings and 11  percent of cat-on-mammal slaughter.

It's a good thing no one can prove these felines are reaping obscene profits from the fossil fuel industry (or - Goddess forfend! - voting for Republicans). Otherwise, the Justice Department would be prosecuting cats and cat owners within an inch of their miserable, Gaia-raping lives:

A few months ago, the Justice Department brought charges against Oklahoma oil company Continental Resources as well as six others in North Dakota for causing the death of 28 migratory birds in violation of the Bird Treaty Act.

...Continental was accused of killing one bird “the size of a sparrow” in its oil pits. “It’s not even a rare bird. There’re jillions of them,” Hamm said during an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

Yet in central California, 70 golden eagles were killed by wind turbines at Altamont Pass, without prosecution. The findings follow a 2008 study by the Fish and Wildlife Service that estimates wind farms kill nearly a half million birds per year in the United States.

Wethinks it's time for the President to follow his own oft-proffered (try saying *that* 3 times quickly!) advice. America should be a country where everyone plays by the same set of rules.

And if it prevents the death of just one innocent sparrow, we are morally obligated to do something.


A Virginian gently makes fun of the Commonwealth:

Only one or two centuries late, Virginia lawmakers have decided it is none of their business if unmarried couples share a roof. So the legislators are now working diligently to repeal the state’s law against “lewd and lascivious cohabitation.” Huzzahs all ’round for that.

But do not unclutch thy bodice yet. Virginia law is riddled with antiquated provisions meant to govern the “morals and decency” of the fair people of the commonwealth. And while the law against shacking up apparently never gets enforced, others do.

Just for starters: While it might soon be legal to live in sin, that doesn’t mean you can, by gad sir, fornicate. Fornication remains forbidden under the Code of Virginia, Section 18.2-344. So keep your hands and whatnot to yourself. Especially the whatnots.

And don’t even think of doing other stuff. Virginia’s “crimes against Nature” statute—Section 18.2-361—still prohibits oral sex. Even between married straight couples. Moreover, state lawmakers seem particularly opposed to that practice—because in Virginia, it’s a felony. Efforts to repeal that provision or even to reduce oral sex to a misdemeanor have failed repeatedly.

Also: Don’t try to open a “bawdy place,” which the code defines as any place “used for lewdness, assignation or prostitution.” (Assignation?)

The meme du jour (really, mème de l'année for every year we can remember) on conservative blogs is that America has devolved into some sort of fascist police/nanny state... in our lifetimes, no less! And there's little doubt that the federal government in particular passes a lot of ill advised and intrusive laws. When it is pointed out to conservatives that the Golden Age of Small Government - typically rather loosely defined as "any time I am too young to have lived under, or remember either" was just chock full of the kind of intrusive, nanny statism we upright defenders of something-or-other normally decry, they generally reply, "But we're totally *fine* with nanny statism at the State level!"

To which the princess often finds herself thinking, "Hmmm.... what's more onerous? The vague threat that federal law enforcement will happen by and arrest us for engaging in proscribed marital delights? Or the far more likely threat that local law enforcement will pull us over whilst we attempt to enjoy the wonders of nature on the Blue Ridge Parkway?

Yes, we get the arguments for federalism. It's the weirdly asymmetrical threat-assessment-and-consequent-outrage we don't quite cotton to. I can't quite escape the recurring thought that most political outrage (yes, even ours) is poorly thought out. Having lived under a system of laws in which both fornication and adultery were punishable offenses under the UCMJ, I can attest that it's quite possible to be happy - to thrive, even! - under such a soul-crushing regime. I'm reminded of a fascinating study on what happens to our professed beliefs when we're asked to explain how our preferred policy positions will work in the real world:

In a forthcoming article in Psychological Science, written with Todd Rogers of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership and Craig Fox of U.C.L.A.’s Anderson School of Management, we report on experiments showing that people often believe they understand what is meant by well-worn political terms like the “flat tax,” “sanctions on Iran” or “cap and trade” — even when they don’t.

That’s not much of a shocker, of course. The real surprise is what happens after these same individuals are asked to explain how these policy ideas work: they become more moderate in their political views — either in support of such policies or against them. In fact, not only do their attitudes change, but so does their behavior. In one of our experiments, for example, after attempting to explain how various policy ideas would actually work, people became less likely to donate to organizations that supported the positions they had initially favored.

Interestingly, asking people to justify their position — rather than asking them to explain the mechanisms by which a policy would work — doesn’t tend to soften their political views. When we asked participants to state the reasons they were for or against a policy position, their initial attitudes held firm. (Other researchers have found much the same thing: merely discussing an issue often makes people more extreme, not less.)

Why, then, does having to explain an opinion often end up changing it? The answer may have to do with a kind of revelatory trigger mechanism: asking people to “unpack” complex systems — getting them to articulate how something might work in real life — forces them to confront their lack of understanding.

This is probably the biggest single thing that keeps me blogging - having to think through my instinctive reactions to various news stories (and justify them to some very smart folks who disagree with me) may not keep me honest, but it does force me to think a little harder as opposed to indulging my beautiful and natural predilection for knee jerk reactions.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:12 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

February 04, 2013

Unions Wake Up, Smell Coffee


John Wilhelm was one of the millions of Americans who took President Obama at his word when the then-candidate talked about health care during the 2008 presidential race. He recalled the president's words during a Nevada rally that year.

"I heard him say, 'If you like your health plan, you can keep it,' " Wilhelm recently told the Wall Street Journal. "If I'm wrong, and the president does not intend to keep his word, I would have severe second thoughts about the law."

That is a significant issue for Wilhelm, who is the chairman of UNITE HERE Health, the insurance plan for 260,000 service-sector union workers. It is beginning to look like more and more employers will either cut back coverage or drop it altogether as the administration's new health care mandates make those private insurance plans uneconomical.

That leaves the unions -- which, remember, were Obama' allies in the getting the bill passed in the first place -- in a bad situation. Negotiating with employers over health care coverage is one of the main benefits they provide their members. As one union official told the Journal: "If we're not offering our members insurance and pension, why would you want to be union?" Quite so.

Big Labor's solution to this is to pressure the administration to extend subsidies to the type of health care plans jointly managed by unions and employers. In other words, the unions want the administration literally to pay off unionized companies not to drop their coverage.

The administration is resisting. Those subsidies would cause the cost of Obamacare to balloon at the very moment officials are trying to keep already skyrocketing costs under control. They already threw Big Labor a big bone by exempting union-run health insurance plans from a high-end "Cadillac tax" until 2018. For everyone else, the tax kicks in this year.

Moreover, if the administration gives in to Big Labor on the subsidies, it's going to have to explain to other employers why they cannot get the same break.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:55 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Question for the Ages...

When active duty women express concern about fraternization in the ranks, sexual harrassment/assault, and personal hygiene facilities, and the differing physical capabilities of men and women, are these issues still rightly dismissed as politically incorrect and ridiculously sexist? What about involuntary assignment to combat arms specialties (which, if women are truly to be treated equally, would be required)?

About 17 percent of male Marine respondents and 4 percent of female respondents who planned to stay in the service or were undecided said they would likely leave if women move into combat positions. That number jumped to 22 percent for male Marines and 17 percent for female Marines if women are assigned involuntarily to those jobs, according to the survey.

Both sexes mentioned intimate relationships between Marines and feeling obligated to protect female Marines among their top five concerns about the change.

Female Marines also said they worried about being targeted by enemies as POWs, the risk of sexual harassment or assault, and hygiene facilities, according to the survey, which did not give specifics.

The women surveyed also expressed concern about acceptance and physical abilities if given a ground combat job.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:36 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

What Your Sense of Humor Says About You

Interesting study suggests why a sense of humor is one of the most highly rated attributes in a prospective romantic partner:

According to Rutgers evolutionary biologist Robert Lynch, when such a characteristic is so highly sought after, "That tends to be a hallmark of an evolutionary trait."

Lynch theorized that humor may be pivotal in some way to human reproductive success and mate selection. To delve deeper, he conducted a number of studies. In one, individual subjects were placed in a room where they watched clips of HBO comedian Bill Burr, whose politically-incorrect brand of comedy is quite divisive: people often love it or hate it. While in the room, the individuals' reactions to Burr's jokes were filmed and recorded. After viewing the clips, subjects took an implicit preference test, which requires takers to rapidly categorize two target concepts with an attribute in order to determine inherent biases or attitudes.

Lynch found that "participants laughed more in response to jokes that matched their implicit preferences." For example, people who associated men and women with stereotypical gender roles laughed much more at Burr's jokes about women.

Genuine laughter arises subconsciously, so it's notoriously hard to fake. This fact, combined with Lynch's findings, suggests that sense of humor is an excellent indicator of a person's true personality. Thus, it would make sense for relationship-seekers to require a compatible sense of humor.

"I can lie about what I like, but when I laugh, I identify my real preferences," Lynch told PBS' Nova. "That would account for why [sense of humor] is so important in mate selection."

That's a bit worrisome. The blog princess has a warped sense of humor.

Maybe that's OK, so long as it's shared.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:08 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

This Is The Kind Of Thing That Makes People Hate & Fear Government

Well, that's one way to reduce inequality. Taking the President's, "You didn't build that" one step farther, the PG Board of Education wants to copyright staff, student work (even if created on their own time and using their own materials):

A proposal by the Prince George’s County Board of Education to copyright work created by staff and students for school could mean that a picture drawn by a first-grader, a lesson plan developed by a teacher or an app created by a teen would belong to the school system, not the individual.

The measure has some worried that by the system claiming ownership to the work of others, creativity could be stifled and there would be little incentive to come up with innovative ways to educate students. Some have questioned the legality of the proposal as it relates to students.

...If the policy is approved, the county would become the only jurisdiction in the Washington region where the school board assumes ownership of work done by the school system’s staff and students.

David Rein, a lawyer and adjunct law professor who teaches intellectual property at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, said he had never heard of a local school board enacting a policy allowing it to hold the copyright for a student’s work.

Get 'em while they're young, we always say.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:47 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

February 02, 2013

"Don't Photoshop Me, Bro!", Shooting Yourself in the Foot Edition

They just can't stop themselves, can they? Via Patterico:

The White House warns you not to Photoshop [the official Obama skeet shooting] photo.

...Here is the dire pronouncement:

“This official White House photograph is being made available only for publication by news organizations and/or for personal use printing by the subject(s) of the photograph. The photograph may not be manipulated in any way and may not be used in commercial or political materials, advertisements, emails, products, promotions that in any way suggests approval or endorsement of the President, the First Family, or the White House.”

...The way I look at it, you have a patriotic duty to Photoshop this image — and I have a patriotic duty to publish your Photoshop.

Never let it be said of the Editorial Staff that we failed in our patriotic duty:

Here's another:

Doug Ross has a number of patriotic offerings. Our current fave:

If you're feeling patriotic too, send your entries to Patterico. It's the right thing to do.

Update: William Teach went there....

Posted by Cassandra at 11:37 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

"A Fierce Armadillo Hunter"

Barney the White House Terrier, that dashing countermeasures expert who (when not decapitating reporters, helping Teh Shrub shred the Bill of Rights, or digging up the bones of brave truth-to-powerers from betwixt the Latin Ladies in the Rose Garden) was widely suspected of masterminding U.S. black ops in the Global War Against Man Caused Disasters, has gone to a better place at the ripe old age of 12:

Barney and I enjoyed the outdoors. He loved to accompany me when I fished for bass at the ranch. He was a fierce armadillo hunter. At Camp David, his favorite activity was chasing golf balls on the chipping green. Barney guarded the South Lawn entrance of the White House as if he were a Secret Service agent. He wandered the halls of the West Wing looking for treats from his many friends. He starred in Barney Cam and gave the American people Christmas tours of the White House. Barney greeted Queens, Heads of State, and Prime Ministers. He was always polite and never jumped in their laps. Barney was by my side during our eight years in the White House. He never discussed politics and was always a faithful friend. Laura and I will miss our pal.

During the Bu$Hitler years, Barney was a frequent subject of our unique brand of editorial inanity.

No more will we experience the thrill of BarneyCam. We shared a distant and all-too-brief bark once. It was a magic moment, frozen in time for all eternity and now, cherished as a reminder of the evanescence of all good things.

Our deepest condolences to the Bush family. Nous sommes désolé.

Posted by Cassandra at 10:10 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

February 01, 2013

Democracy And Its Discontents

“Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

― Winston Churchill, Speech in the House of Commons, 11 November 1947

On a post about immigration policy, Grim comments:

If we are asked to talk about amnesty, we really ought to start by asking about Mexico. Why are people so eager to come here while our own economy has been so slow for so long, and is contracting again? What's going on with the war on our border that is worse than the war in Afghanistan? The US Navy has recently put out sequestration guidance that will entirely eliminate its fleet presence in the Caribbean sea. Why is the priority to guard everything in the world except our own borders?

All of these questions are available to be asked, by Republicans or anyone else. I don't quite understand why we are having the debate we are having at all.

There are a number of fascinating questions here. Why are people still coming to America in droves when our economy has been in recession for so long? I think the answer to this, for once, is very simple: comparatively speaking, as much as we complain about it (being used to levels of prosperity and opportunity that are almost unimaginable in most other countries), things are just so much better in America.

It all depends on your expectations. If you come from a poor country where the rule of law is spotty at best, America seems like paradise. It is still the fabled Golden Mountain of Chinese lore. If you're willing to take the risk and come here illegally, if you're willing to take menial jobs and accept pay that is low by American standards but almost absurdly high by foreign standards (remember how many recent immigrants - legal and illegal - regularly send money home to their families abroad), you'll have more opportunities and enjoy a higher standard of living in America than if you stay in your country of origin.

If that weren't so, the flow of illegal immigrants would shut off just like a faucet.

We need to be careful. We have - I know that I have - become used to so much abundance and comfort. We don't have the same frame of reference as most of the rest of the world.

A few years ago, I met a woman while participating in a software industry consortium. I am not sure of her immigration status - when she first came here she was married. I don't know whether her husband was an American citizen and I never inquired. She had several advanced degrees, one of them in engineering.

She was originally from the Ukraine. For several years she was employed at a major university on the East Coast. When her original contract position (always meant to be temporary) expired, she secured another but then that, too, was up. And she was unemployed.

I often wondered how she survived, but our friendship, though close, was not the kind where you exchange intimate confidences or ask intrusive questions. The thing is, she sent money to her parents in the Ukraine even when I wasn't sure how she was getting by. And her perspective - her expectations of life - were so different from mine.

Grim asks, "Why is the priority to guard everything in the world except our own borders?" It seems important to ask, "What is the harm we guard against on our own borders?" Armed invasion? Or merely intrusion by people we'd prefer to keep out? What is the anticipated harm, what is the last time something really bad happened because of a breach of border security? All of these factors inform our perception of risk. My intent is not to dismiss what I view as valid concerns, but rather to ask, "What is the worst we fear?"

Conservatives are unhappy that there are so many illegal immigrants. I am unhappy that our President, whose express job it is to enforce the laws of the United States, has openly stated that he has no intention of enforcing our immigration laws. I think this is harmful to the rule of law, which is all that protects us from the less principled of our fellow citizens. Under the social contract, we agree to cede certain freedoms in return for the protection of certain rights from our fellow humans. And relatively speaking, the government actually does a pretty good job of that.

If I have a dispute with a neighbor or a business, I don't have to pick up a gun or get into a fist fight to protect my property or my rights. It's fairly easy to resolve the majority of disputes because by and large, Americans are aware that wronged parties have legal recourse. When disputes arise, we don't have to reinvent the wheel; rather, we live within a framework of deliberated laws - some wise and some not so wise - that lend order and predictability to our lives. When we think our rights have been violated, we can call the police or appeal to our local or state governments, or file a lawsuit. That implied threat ("If we can't come to some agreement, I'll take this to Someone in Authority") is enough to cause most people to work things out peaceably.

That's not the case in Afghanistan (or in the South side of Chicago). There, there is little trust in the rule of law. And so there are tribal alliances, and right and wrong is not determined by neutral third parties but rather by who is more violent or ruthless - who has the strongest allies or the most weapons. Disputes often lead to murder or violent intimidation and it's quite common for innocent bystanders to be killed or injured.

Is that system better than what we have now? How do the weakest members of society fare where the rule of law is weak to nonexistent? Is relative anarchy good for children, or women, or families? Are these people generally prosperous? Are they secure when they leave their homes (or even in them?) In a later comment, Grim writes:

As often, you have given me a good reason to reconsider my support for democracy. It comes in a good hour. But if I am to swing away from democracy, it must not be in favor of an elite like this one. William Buckley's wager was well given if Hagel and John Kerry are to be pitted against the top few names in any given phonebook.

There must be some system that encourages, if not perfect virtue from leadership, at least more than this. If there is nothing better from democracy nor elitism than this, then maybe we should reconsider anarchy.

I often think we have things so comparatively easy that we lose our sense of perspective. Certainly, I have been struggling with a sense of despair lately. I see government doing things that are so monumentally stupid that they seem Kafka-esque. And I wonder, like Grim, if our entire system of government has become unworkable? But then I take a step back from it all and look at the broader picture. Certainly government often behaves foolishly, but People still flock to the United States from all over the world. They are willing, in many cases, to hazard life and limb to come here - to leave family and friends behind and take huge risks on the chance of improving their lives. And I look at history; the thousand tales of government bumbling, corruption and venality, and (sometimes) outright evil that have characterized our largely trial-and-error progression through the centuries.

We see through such a narrow lens, taking the unprecedented prosperity and security we've experienced as "normal", and wonder why things look so dismal right now? And people in other countries look at what dismays us and think, "Maybe someday I could have that...."

Because to them, "that" is better than what they have experienced in their lifetimes. It's enough better that many of them will hazard all for the chances we take so lightly.

I'm not sure it's just our relative prosperity and security that are affecting our perspective. With cable TV, the Internet, and 24/7 media coverage (much of it skewed) we see so much more detail on the day to day operation of government that I wonder whether we're not focusing on the trees and losing the big picture? So much of the analysis we read is politically driven (in other words, the analysts have a vested interest in making the target look bad). This plays out in the mainstream media as "blame the GOP", but the internet also acts as a funnel. Conservatives and liberals select sources that provide a filtered (and often biased) perspective on the news. The same actions are vilified when the opposing party is involved and excused when it's our own party.

Regardless of which side of the aisle you call home, there's a lot of uncomfortable truth here:

Memo to Political Commentators for the Next Four Years: With a switch from Republican to Democratic control of the White House a few weeks away, I thought I would remind political commentators of the new ground rules.

1) Republicans Must Now Oppose Executive Power; Democrats Must Be In Favor Of It. In the last few years, Republicans have been the defenders of executive power: A muscular executive has been needed to fight the war on terror. On the other hand, Democrats have opposed a strong executive on the ground that it threatens the rule of law. Please note that these arguments must now switch. Republicans must now talk of the dangers of executive power; Democrats must now speak of how a strong and agile executive branch is necessary to a modern democracy.

2) Republicans Must Now Oppose Judicial Confirmations; Democrats Must Be In Favor. In the last few years, Republicans wanted an up-or-down vote on judicial nominees; one of their leading blogs on the judicial confirmations was ConfirmThem.com. On the other hand, Democrats focused on the importance of carefully evaluating judicial candidates. Please note that these arguments must now switch, too. Republicans should now visit RejectThem.com (still an available domain name, btw -- won't be for long!), and Democrats should emphasize the need for a quick up or down vote.

3) Republicans Must Now Favor Legislative Oversight; Democrats Must Now Oppose It. You get the point by now. Yup, everyone has to switch sides on this one, too. If we all stick to the script, in 6 months the old arguments of the Bush era will be long forgotten. (Oh, and extra credit to those who charge the other side with hypocrisy for changing sides without noting that they have changed sides, too.)

I hate to keep banging my Pollyanna bongo drum, but I have to ask (because Grim's questions are the same ones keeping me awake at night): what system would be better? Enlightened autocracy is subject to just as many abuses as an excess of democracy. The problems, I think, are ones of human nature and of the undeniable truth that we learn best by screwing things up and learning from our mistakes.

That sort of experience doesn't seem to transplant well - we need to make our own mistakes and rarely learn until our fingers have been well and truly burned.

Discuss amongst your ownselves, knuckle draggers.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:19 AM | Comments (22) | TrackBack