September 30, 2013
Cigarettes... They Are Hard To Keep Track Of
And don't try to pretend that this sort of thing doesn't happen to you all the time:
The report examines the ATF’s performance of income-generating undercover operations (so-called “churning” investigations). The ATF appears to have conducted these operations in a manner inconsistent with its own policy. According to the report, none of the 35 requests for undercover churning operations was reviewed and approved by ATF’s Undercover Review Committee, as required by ATF policy. In addition, 33 of these 35 investigations did not comply with other ATF requirements governing requests for and approval of churning authority.
The ATF respectfully disagrees with certain of the findings of the Inspector General’s report. It contends, for example, that it is unable to account for only some 447,218 cartons of cigarettes rather than the 2.1 million cited in the report.
That last item made us curious, so we hied our Bad, Heteronormative Self over to the IG report to see what additional context could be found:
After learning of our findings, ATF’s Deputy Director ordered ATF forensic auditors to conduct a separate reconciliation of the disposition of cigarettes from two of the largest cases in the OIG’s 20 case sample, as those two cases included the substantial majority of the 2.1 million cartons of cigarettes we could not reconcile.
The ATF told us that it reviewed every single Report of Investigation (ROI) from these two cases to see if it referenced the disposition of cigarettes, even if the ROI was not referenced in the case management log. The ATF stated that during this review, it found a limited number of unexplained deposits associated with the two investigations and assumed that those deposits were related to the sale of cigarettes and then estimated the number of cigarettes that were likely sold given the amount of the deposit. Using these methods, the ATF review arrived at a significantly smaller amount of unreconciled cigarettes than our audit.
In other words, they lost track of the cigarettes. But surely they were more careful with taxpayer money:
According to ATF, [a] confidential informant was allowed to keep more than $4.9 million to cover his business expenses. However, we found that the more than $4.9 million covered more than just the business expenses related to ATF activity, including 100 percent of the confidential informant’s total business operating overhead. In addition, the confidential informant attributed about $2.37 million to “commissions” for the sales that he made.
In an interview with the OIG, the confidential informant stated that the “commissions” were not actually expenses, but profit that he retained.
Given the healthy profit margin, we are surprised that more American companies aren't lining up to help the federal government crack down on crime!
If all this sloppy accounting worries you, fear not. We're sure the feds will take much better care of the taxpayer dollars used to implement ObamaCare.
Killing the Goose That Lays the Golden Eggs
Robert Samuelson on the affluent society vs. the spoils society:
There are two ways to become richer. One is to provide more goods and services; that’s economic growth. The other is to snatch someone else’s wealth or income; that’s the spoils society. In a spoils society, economic success increasingly depends on who wins countless distributional contests — not who creates wealth but who controls it. This can be contentious. Winners celebrate; losers fume.
Of course, the two systems have long coexisted — and always will. All modern societies chase growth; all redistribute income and wealth. Some shuffling is visible and popular. Until now, that’s been the case with America’s largest transfer, which is from workers to retirees through Social Security and Medicare. In 2012, this exceeded $1 trillion. Still, for the nation, the relevant question is whether productive behavior (generating economic growth) is losing ground to predatory behavior (grabbing existing wealth and income). There are good reasons to think it is.
Since 1950, the U.S. economy has grown slightly more than 3 percent annually. But projections for the future are just above 2 percent. The slowdown mostly reflects an aging population, which translates into less expansion of the workforce. Indeed, overall growth of 2 percent may be unattainable if, as some economists argue, the pace of innovation is slackening. All this suggests diminishing economic gains in the productive sector.
The smaller the gains, the more people will fight over existing income and wealth, because — as has been said — that’s where the money is. The United States’ annual income (gross domestic product) now exceeds $16 trillion; the value of all fixed assets owned by businesses and individuals is roughly $50 trillion. Diverting even a small sliver of these sums can be hugely enriching.
The aspect that concerns the Editorial Staff most is that income redistribution represents a tax on marriage/two parent households and a subsidy for single parenthood and economically inefficient household formation:
We don't really object to people freely choosing living arrangements that promote poverty and dysfunction. But we really do object to being asked to subsidize those choices on the argument that it's "unfair" that we chose a more traditional lifestyle. Our current economic policies are punishing the conditions responsible for American prosperity, and yet we wonder why the 50 year old war on poverty appears to be losing ground?
Faced with overwhelming evidence that redistribution isn't reducing the number of poor Americans, clearly the answer is more redistribution. If at first you don't succeed, try... try again.
More Context on
Terrorist Attacks err... Temper Tantrums Government Shutdowns
A few days ago, the Editorial Staff posted a summary of 17 government shutdowns that rather undercuts the President's misrepresentation of this one as unprecedented or limited to budgetary issues. Glenn Kessler provides more context on the history of previous shutdowns:
In 1973, when Richard Nixon was president, Democrats in the Senate, including Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Sen. Walter Mondale (D-Minn.), sought to attach a campaign finance reform bill to the debt ceiling after the Watergate-era revelations about Nixon’s fundraising during the 1972 election. Their efforts were defeated by a filibuster, but it took days of debate and the lawmakers were criticized by commentators (and fellow lawmakers) for using “shotgun” tactics to try to hitch their pet cause to emergency must-pass legislation.
President Obama said that GOP lawmakers now are trying to “extort” repeal of the health care law via the debt limit, but that’s also what Democrats wanted to do with President Nixon, who opposed the campaign-finance reforms.
Indeed, Linda K. Kowalcky and Lance T. LeLoup wrote in a comprehensive study of the politics of the debt limit, for Public Administration Review, that “during this period, the genesis of a pattern developed that would eventually become full blown in the mid-1970s and 1980s: the use of the debt ceiling vote as a vehicle for other legislative matters.”
Previously, they noted, the debt limit bill had been linked to the mechanics of debt management, but now anything was fair game. Major changes in Social Security were attached to the debt bill; another controversial amendment sought to end the bombing in Cambodia. Kowalcky and LeLoup list 25 nongermane amendments that were attached to debt-limit bills between 1978 and 1987, including allowing voluntary school prayer, banning busing to achieve integration and proposing a nuclear freeze.
In 1982, Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker unleashed a free-for-all by allowing 1,400 nongermane amendments to the debt ceiling legislation, which resulted in five weeks of raucous debate that mostly focused on limiting federal court jurisdiction over school payer and busing. The debt limit only passed after lawmakers decided to strip all of the amendments from the bill.
One of the most striking examples of a president being forced to accept unrelated legislation on a debt-ceiling bill took place in 1980. The House and Senate repealed a central part of President Jimmy Carter’s energy policy — an oil import fee that was expected to raise the cost of gasoline by 10 cents a gallon. Carter vetoed the bill, even though the United States was close to default, and then the House and Senate overrode his veto by overwhelming numbers (335-34 in the House; 68-10 in the Senate).
So much for the "unprecedented" part of the President's latest whopper. The suggestion that once passed, laws can neither be defunded nor repealed is likewise demonstrably false:
...the implication from Democrats that once a bill becomes a law, it is as indelible as the Ten Commandments, etched into rock by the hand of God Himself, is precious when we consider the source. The Democrats, after all, mounted a 10-year campaign against the “Bush tax cuts,” and did so despite defeat after defeat on the issue. Those tax cuts joined a long line of laws that the country later substantially revised or repealed entirely. A partial list includes: the Clinton tax increases, portions of the Reagan tax cuts, the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, portions of the Kennedy tax cuts, the gold standard, portions of the National Labor Relations Act, Prohibition, the direct election of senators, the Sherman Silver Purchase Act, innumerable tariff schedules set during the 19th century, the three-fifths clause, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the Missouri Compromise, the Second Bank of the United States, the original rules of the Electoral College, the Articles of Confederation, and, of course, the rule of King George III.
The Second Bank of the United States is a particularly instructive case. There, Andrew Jackson effectively did away with the bank not by repealing the law outright, but rather by defunding the institution, stripping it of its federal deposits and sending them to his cronies in state banks. No less a liberal eminence than Ted Kennedy cited Jackson’s bank veto message in his famed “The Dream Shall Never Die” speech at the 1980 Democratic convention. But as Democrats gather for their annual Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinners to complain about the perfidy of Republican efforts to defund Obamacare, it is unlikely they’ll mention the actions of their party’s founder. Also likely to be left unmentioned is Harry Reid’s flirtation with the movement to defund the Iraq war.
September 28, 2013
Temper Tantrums Government Shutdowns
Dylan Matthews of the WaPo's Wonkblog has compiled an annotated list of the 17 previous government shutdowns: why they happened, how long they lasted, and how they ended.
It makes for interesting reading. But whilst the context Matthews provides is extremely valuable, all that nuance and detail makes it hard to see whether any patterns exist in the data. Accordingly, the Blog Princess has simplified the information so that even a thoroughly reprehensible collection of knuckle dragging, atavistic Reich-wingnuts like the assembled villainry can grok it.
Never let it be said that we don't care deeply for even the most hate-filled and extremist of Gaia's creations.
We have extracted the month and year of each shutdown, the duration in days, and the parties controlling the House, Senate, and White House. Shutdowns longer than a few days are highlighted in a carefully neutral shade of grey. Democrat control of each entity appears in the true blue hue of enlightened collegiality and compromise that is only possible when Good People are elected, whilst the Deeply Dangerous Rethuglican Stranglehold of Death (how does that even happen, anyway?) is denoted by a harsh and jarring red; the better to raise the blood pressure and offense the senses.
Not that we're biased in any way, mind you. We just call things as we see them:
A few observations:
1. About 2/3 of the shutdowns occurred when Congress was controlled by the same party.
2. Longer shutdowns are more common when the same party controls both houses of Congress or a Democrat is in the White House.
3. Short shutdowns are more common when Congress is divided or a Republican is in the White House.
4. Seven of the nine short shutdowns occurred when Republicans controlled one house of Congress and the White House.
5. In all cases where a divided Congress shut down the federal government, a Republican was President.
For the easily amused among you, a version of this graphic that includes additional fields is also provided for your clicking and viewing pleasure.
Though we realize that serious bloggers are not supposed to admit this sort of thing, our characterization of the resolutions is somewhat subjective and was done quickly, that we might move on to other things. Still, it may be interesting to some if used with that caveat in mind.
... President Obama is willing to negotiate with Iran, but not with the House of Representatives... not only has Obama refused to negotiate with the House, he has also had his spokesman describe Republicans as suicide bombers. The irony is rich: those who are concerned about $17 trillion in debt “have bombs strapped to their chests,” while the world’s biggest sponsor of actual suicide bombers–you know, the ones who blow people up, as opposed to disagreeing with Democrats–are newly-discovered moderates.
September 27, 2013
Worried about all those computer glitches and delayed provisions? Don't be.
Here's a cute mouse on a swing.
Coffee Snorters - Citrus Fruit Edition
In our never ending attempt to keep the villainry informed of those all important Pachyderms in the News stories, this morning we are reliably informed that elephants are quite fond of oranges.
On Thursday afternoon, Wolf Blitzer grilled White House Press Sec. Jay Carney over President Barack Obama’s insistence that he will refuse to negotiate with Republicans over the next increase in the nation’s debt ceiling. Blitzer asked Carney to explain why the circumstances were different when Obama was a senator and voted against an increase in the debt ceiling under President George W. Bush.
Blitzer began by noting that Obama will be “the first president in a long time who won’t negotiate with the opposition to try to raise the debt ceiling.”
But it didn't stop there:
After running a clip of the president saying, “if you like your doctor, you like your plan, then you can keep your doctor, you can keep your plan,” Blitzer said that wasn’t the case.
“As you know a lot of people are not going to be able to keep their doctor or keep their plan under this system,” Blitzer said. “What do you say to them?”
Carney denied Blitzer’s charge.
“Well, Wolf, when you say a lot of people, that simply is not true,” Carney said. “If you have employer provided health insurance, that health insurance will not change when Obamacare takes effect and the marketplace is open on Jan. 1, and the options that you have will not change unless your employer decides to change them.”
Carney attempted to explain how people with pre-existing conditions and others could now have coverage and at lower costs than before.
“Hold on a second,” Blitzer said. “All of that is true, but you know that there are companies like UPS, Home Depot and a lot of other companies that are taking full-time employees, making them part-time employees, eliminating their healthcare benefits.”
Blitzer also explained that those people could not keep their benefits – and may not even be able to keep their doctor.
The peasants no longer seem to know their place. If only there were a profession whose mission it was to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted...
It’s easy to dismiss Obama’s claim on factual grounds. More interesting is to see what prompted it: a soda-straw view of the world in which only the president’s inauguration-day priorities are visible. His aim then was to bring home U.S. troops, end the “endless war” of George W. Bush, defend the homeland from al-Qaeda and step back from the quagmire of the Arab Middle East. He did all that; ergo, the world is more stable — and from the attenuated perspective of an American who mainly wishes the world would go away, perhaps it is.
This definition of stability, however, requires ignoring all that would disturb it — anything that might demand new military commitments or deeper U.S. engagement with Arabs and their seemingly endless conflicts.
... Obama warned the General Assembly on Tuesday that “the danger for the world is that the United States, after a decade of war . . . may disengage, creating a vacuum of leadership that no other nation can fill.” Sadly, it is not just a danger. It was the message of his speech — and the tangible result of his presidency.
Ouch. And the hits just keep on comin':
IN HIS second inaugural address, President Obama delivered a ringing pledge of U.S. support for American ideals around the world. “We will support democracy from Asia to Africa, from the Americas to the Middle East,” he promised, “because our interests and our conscience compel us to act on behalf of those who long for freedom.”
Just eight months later, the idealism is gone. In what may be the most morally crimped speech by a president in modern times, Mr. Obama explicitly ruled out the promotion of liberty as a core interest of the United States. Instead, he told the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, America’s core interests consist of resisting aggression against allies; protecting the free flow of energy; dismantling terrorist networks “that threaten our people” and stopping the development and use of weapons of mass destruction.
...has a president ever boasted that promoting democracy will not be a core interest?
...Presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan have promoted these “practices” not just to “achieve peace and prosperity,” as Mr. Obama said, but because they believed deeply that every human being has an inalienable right to live in freedom and dignity and that the United States is uniquely positioned to help other people achieve those rights.
This President seems to be racking up a lot of "firsts": first President to refuse to negotiate with the other party over the debt ceiling, first President to state that promoting democracy is not a core interest...
Obama chooses odd issues to take the lead on.
IRS "Can't Find" $67 Million Slated for ObamaCare Rollout?
We hoped they looked under the sofa cushions:
The IRS is unable to account for $67 million spent from a slush fund established for Obamacare implementation, according to a Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) report released today.
The “Health Insurance Reform Implementation Fund” (HIRIF) was tucked into Obamacare in order to give the IRS money to enforce the tax provisions of the healthcare law. The fund, totaling some $1 billion of taxpayer money, was used to roll out enforcement mechanisms for the approximately 50 tax provisions of Obamacare.
According to the report: “Specifically, the IRS did not account for or attempt to quantify approximately $67 million [from the slush fund] of indirect ACA costs incurred for Fiscal Years 2010 through 2012.”
The report also found several other abuses of taxpayer funds...
To add insult to injury, the IRS has told the Inspector General that it will comply with the recommendations made in the report; unfortunately, the slush fund has been fully spent, making that promise meaningless.
And these people want us to trust them with our health care (and our medical data... and our financial information)? They can't even keep track of the money we hand over to them.
CWCID: Bad Blue
September 26, 2013
The ObamaCare Implosion
An established political idea is like a vampire. Facts, opinions, votes, garlic: Nothing can make it die.
But there is one thing that can kill an established political idea. It will die if the public that embraced it abandons it.
Six months ago, that didn't seem likely. Now it does.
The public's dislike of ObamaCare isn't growing with every new poll for reasons of philosophical attachment to notions of liberty and choice. Fear of ObamaCare is growing because a cascade of news suggests that ObamaCare is an impending catastrophe.
Big labor unions and smaller franchise restaurant owners want out. UPS dropped coverage for employed spouses. Corporations such as Walgreens and IBM IBM +0.45% are transferring employees or retirees into private insurance exchanges. Because of ObamaCare, the Cleveland Clinic has announced early retirements for staff and possible layoffs. The federal government this week made public its estimate of premium costs for the federal health-care exchanges. It is a morass, revealing the law's underappreciated operational complexity.
But ObamaCare's Achilles' heel is technology. The software glitches are going to drive people insane.
Creating really large software for institutions is hard. Creating big software that can communicate across unrelated institutions is unimaginably hard. ObamaCare's software has to communicate—accurately—across a mind-boggling array of institutions: HHS, the IRS, Medicare, the state-run exchanges, and a whole galaxy of private insurers' and employers' software systems.
Recalling Rep. Thomas's 1999 remark about Medicare setting prices for 3,000 counties, there is already mispricing of ObamaCare's insurance policies inside the exchanges set up in the states.
The odds of ObamaCare's eventual self-collapse look stronger every day. After that happens, then what? Try truly universal health insurance? Not bloody likely if the aghast U.S. public has any say.
The observation about the software couldn't possibly be more apt. Great essay - read the whole thing.
September 25, 2013
How to Win the Guy/Gal of Your Dreams...
Old School Edition. For men, it is important to be suave and debonair:
"... never fart when you are dancing; grit your teeth and compel your arse to hold back the fart... Do not have a dripping nose and do not dribble at the mouth. No woman desires a man with rabies. And refrain from spitting before the maidens, because that makes one sick and even revolts the stomach. If you spit or blow your nose or sneeze, remember to turn your head away after the spasm; and remember not to wipe your nose with your fingers; do it properly with a white handkerchief. Do not eat either leeks or onions because they leave an unpleasant odour in the mouth."
Antonius Arena, Leges dansandi (1530)
Personal hygiene issues do not play so prominent a role in the whiles of the distaff half of humanity, who need only cultivate what the Editorial Staff once saw described (hilariously, in a passage about Beagles) as "an earnest, gentle, and pleading expression" whilst surreptitiously focusing her psychic energies in the general direction of her beloved's ... err....:
"When you desire to make any one "love" you with whom you meet, although not personally acquainted with him, you can very readily reach him and make his acquaintance... Wherever or whenever you meet again, at the first opportunity grasp his hand in an earnest, sincere, and affectionate manner, observing at the same time the following important directions, viz.: As you take his bare hand in yours, press your thumb gently, though firmly, between the bones of the thumb and the forefinger of his hand, and at the very instant when you press thus on the blood vessels (which you can before ascertain to pulsate) look him earnestly and lovingly in the eyes, and send all your heart's, mind's, and soul's strength into his organization, and he will be your friend..."
The Ladies' Book of Useful Information (1896)
Apparently our illustrious forebears did not twerk. Thankfully, the art of Romance has progressed considerably since then.
"Science" Has Spoken
Unfortunately, our progressive public education system isn't listening:
The science is clear. Awards can be powerful motivators, but nonstop recognition does not inspire children to succeed. Instead, it can cause them to underachieve.
Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, found that kids respond positively to praise; they enjoy hearing that they’re talented, smart and so on. But after such praise of their innate abilities, they collapse at the first experience of difficulty. Demoralized by their failure, they say they’d rather cheat than risk failing again.
In recent eye-tracking experiments by the researchers Bradley Morris and Shannon Zentall, kids were asked to draw pictures. Those who heard praise suggesting they had an innate talent were then twice as fixated on mistakes they’d made in their pictures.
By age 4 or 5, children aren’t fooled by all the trophies. They are surprisingly accurate in identifying who excels and who struggles. Those who are outperformed know it and give up, while those who do well feel cheated when they aren’t recognized for their accomplishments. They, too, may give up.
It turns out that, once kids have some proficiency in a task, the excitement and uncertainty of real competition may become the activity’s very appeal.
If children know they will automatically get an award, what is the impetus for improvement? Why bother learning problem-solving skills, when there are never obstacles to begin with?
In econo-speak: "an increase in the unemployment rate makes finding an alternative job more difficult, which reduces the relative cost of effort." In human: People worked harder in states where finding a job was harder, since they were totally freaked out about being unemployed. Fascinatingly, the economists found that the least productive workers had the highest gains in measured effort -- possibly because they felt the most scrutinized in areas with high unemployment.
We are shocked.... shocked to find Science Denial in this establishment. Who do these folks think they are... Republicans?
Coffee Snorters, Telepathy Edition
Oh, like this sort of thing doesn't happen to you all the time...
Meloney Selleneit was accused of illegally purchasing a gun for Michael Selleneit, a violent felon, and inciting him to shoot Tony Pierce twice in the back while Pierce was working in his yard.
Michael, 53, later told police Pierce, 41, had been telepathically raping his wife for years and was using crack cocaine to control her mind.
"But my next door neighbor was using crack cocaine to control my mind!" may be the best excuse ever. Except, possibly, this one. (CWCID: spd)
During a discussion about the importance of good grammar, Jackson is asked by the writer, Stephen Rebello, about his thoughts on a “society that views graduating from college or grad school as elitist, or one in which President Obama or other highly educated Americans consciously drop gs off the ends of words to sound like Joe Average?”
“First of all, we know it ain’t because of his blackness, so I say stop trying to ‘relate,’” Jackson said. “Be f-----g presidential. Look, I grew up in a society where I could say ‘It ain’t’ or ‘What it be’ to my friends. But when I’m out presenting myself to the world as me, who graduated from college, who had family who cared about me, who has a well-read background, I f-----g conjugate.”
Among influential U.S. political tweeters, President Barack Obama is the undisputed king of the fake followers. A MailOnline analysis ranks his sizable Twitter following as the most deceptive total among the 21 most influential accounts run by American politicians: More than 19.5 million of his 36.9 million Twitter followers are accounts that don't correspond to real people.
The four phoniest accounts in the sample, which included Democratic and Republican Party leaders in Washington, D.C., were those belonging to President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, first lady Michelle Obama and the White House communications shop.
Of the president's 36.9 million Twitter followers, an astonishing 53 per cent – or 19.5 million – are fake accounts...
If this sort of thing keeps up, we may begin to doubt the veracity of Dreams from my Father:
Courtesy of David Maraniss’s new book, we now know that yet another key prop of Barack Obama’s identity is false: His Kenyan grandfather was not brutally tortured or even non-brutally detained by his British colonial masters. The composite gram’pa joins an ever-swelling cast of characters from Barack’s “memoir” who, to put it discreetly, differ somewhat in reality from their bit parts in the grand Obama narrative. The best friend at school portrayed in Obama’s autobiography as “a symbol of young blackness” was, in fact, half Japanese, and not a close friend. The white girlfriend he took to an off-Broadway play that prompted an angry post-show exchange about race never saw the play, dated Obama in an entirely different time zone, and had no such world-historically significant conversation with him. His Indonesian step-grandfather supposedly killed by Dutch soldiers during his people’s valiant struggle against colonialism met his actual demise when he “fell off a chair at his home while trying to hang drapes.”
September 24, 2013
It Was Right Where They Expected It To Be
Under a post by Eric Blair about one of the NY Times' never ending stream of faux "war" articles, Grim commented:
It's probably possible to categorize NYT Trolls in much the way that the TV Tropes website works.
A partial list:
1) Sensitive Man articles: 'As a man, I felt very uncomfortable during the silent meditation at the Buddhist retreat, and the ritual enemas were hard for me to take. In the end, though, I felt completely cleansed by the experience. I am on the way to getting in touch with my feminine side and becoming a better person.'
2) Mommy Wars articles: 'Although it's controversial, half of all mothers are terrible people.' Repeat next week with accusations against the other half.
3) The South Is Hell articles: 'Half church and half Klan rally, this little town we visited for an hour is emblematic of everything wrong with the South and conservatives.' (No actual churches or Klan rallies appear in the article.)
4) Republicans Hate Women-and-or-Science articles. 'Imagine my surprise to learn that my doctor was a Baptist and a donor to conservative causes! Immediately I ran back through twenty years of health advice given me and my children to see if I could spot any signs of ideological hate. Here are my free-association notes from that process.'
5) Racism Is Alive (but only from white people). 'The following anecdote about a particularly stupid clerk at a store I visited last week will demonstrate that white people are completely blind to the evils they inflict on the whole rest of humanity.'
The one that came to the half vast mind of the Editorial Staff was this one:
6. Being an Inconsiderate, Self Absorbed B*tch is So ... Liberating! "After years of complaining that all men are selfish, insensitive clods, I decided to lower myself to their level and embrace the behavior I've been whining about for, like... everrrrrrrrrrrrr. Sure, I'm divorced and living by myself now (well, except for the cats) but on the other hand I'm so much happier..."
"Except for the "loneliness" and "no sex" parts. And the hypocrisy. And the no sex. But still...."
Humans can rationalize just about anything. And we tend to find exactly what we spend the most time looking for.
The Old Normal
Quote of the day, from a list of tips for jobless grads:
That afraid feeling you have is never really going away. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but folks who were raised in the Great Depression were kind of neurotic penny-pinchers who fretted about financial security far more than the prosperous generations before and after. (Ask your parents about the older relatives who collected tin foil and rubber bands in big balls so that you could reuse them. I kid you not. That was a Thing Grandparents Did when I was growing up.) The bad news is that I, too, am also an obsessive penny pincher -- after two years of massive job uncertainty, followed by more years of earning much less money than my student loans would suggest. The good news is that your fear will end up having surprising upsides: there’s a reason that the U.S. household savings rate peaked right along with the earnings of the Great Depression kids. When they retired, savings went off a cliff. So instead of letting your fear ride you, use it constructively, to make you thriftier and more careful.
The entire list was excellent, but these items in particular stood out:
You need to take a job, any job.
Don’t say you can’t work a lesser job because you won’t be able to focus on your job search.
In a bad labor market, the only way many of you are going to get a good job -- or get ahead -- is to ask.
Have more than one iron in the fire. The more options you’re pursuing, the more likely one of them is to turn into a job.
Let this open you up to things you’d never have considered. I had no plans to be a journalist; I stumbled into it. And if I’d had better-paying options, I might not have dared to take that job at the Economist...
The common thread in all of these tips is, "be flexible". Don't expect everything to go your way. Employers don't exist to help you find your dream job. They're focused on their own goals: providing a service and making money. Figure out what they're trying to do and help them do it better.
I'm always slightly amazed when I see various pundits lamenting "the new normal" in which people are forced to accept less than they wanted, don't end up in the field they hoped to work in, take a different path in life than the one they originally intended taking. That's not the new normal - it's the way our parents and grandparents and great grandparents did things.
We look back at the end of their lives and think, "Grandpa was a doctor", or "Mom was a nurse" and assume that's all there is. But if we were to ask them about the dreams they dreamed when they were young, I'd be surprised if most of them ended up exactly where they planned to be.
September 23, 2013
He Looks *M'wahvelous*
Whilst the Blog Princess struggles out from under the avalanche of email in her Inbox, she would like to set aside silly, partisan distractions like THE IMPENDING GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN, the murder of 4 Americans on 9/11 (which is by no means related to 9/11 in any way, shape, or fashion and must not be mentioned on 9/11), or The Tragedy of Public Mass Shooting Ennui and focus instead upon matters of Far Greater Import to the future of this great nation.
That's right - we're talking about John Kerry's youthful visage:
What the heck is going on with Secretary of State John Kerry’s face???
The former senator’s usually craggy puss is now smooth, puffy and showing no sign of the laugh lines, crow’s feet or deep forehead creases that were evident in his 2004 official Senate portrait.
Mr. State Secretary’s peeps flat out deny that Kerry, 69, had any work done.
“No. End of story. That’s not a denial, that’s a fact,” said Kerry’s spokesman Glen Johnson.
But the plastic surgeons we consulted were just as adamant: He’s fibbing, they said.
“He had a ton of fat grafting into his lower face,” said Dr. Jeffrey Spiegel, chief of the Division of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Boston University Medical Center. “If you look at his face before, he was very gaunt. The side of his cheeks were sunken in and hollow.”
Spiegel didn’t think much of the work the secretary of state had done, either.
“He’s been a little over-injected, I would say. It gives him an expressionless lower part of his face, and nothing was done on top. To say he looks Frankenstein-ian is not inaccurate,” Spiegel said. “Tell him we can fix him, if he wants to get in touch.”
Dr. Adam Scheiner, a Tampa plastic surgeon and the author of “The True Definition of Beauty,” agrees with Dr. Spiegel’s diagnosis.
“If you look at his ‘before’ pictures, you can see that, as with most of us when we age, he’s had a lot of facial fat loss.... In the updated photo he has massive amounts of fullness in his mid to lower face. He’s had some kind of volume added there. Some people have liposuction in other areas and have the fat put in their face, that’s one possibility. Another is that he’s had some kind of filler like Restylane or Juvederm.”
What say you? Is our new Secretary of State merely unusually well rested? Does he have a picture of Dorian Grey stashed in his abode?
Or is Something More Sinister at work here?
September 17, 2013
Feeeeeeeeeelings (Whoa, whoa, whoa)
OK, so we started this post last night and then pasted something new over it. The Editorial Staff have been thinking that it has been too long since we've stunned the assembled villainry senseless with a rambling post about our feeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeelings.
Admit it, people: you have been sad about this, n'est pas?
Fortunately for you, the admirable
Texan99 Grim has started an interesting discussion over at that manly abode known as The Hall. He links to an essay by Sarah Hoyt, and comments:
She manages to articulate something that I hadn't quite sorted out until I read it, which is contained here:And yes, boys can be taught to act weak and much like the sob sisters. The problem is they aren’t. Not even when they’re raised to act that way. The end result is that they don’t know how to express their strength and they’ve never been taught to modulate it. Men who have only been taught to “act sensitive” but have no other discipline, no other moral, no other idea of what it means to be a man, will in fact hoist the pirate flag. Whenever a memoir surfaces from the sixties, the thing that always strikes me is how these men who were considered champions of women were in fact nasty little petulant creatures, taking advantage as much as possible. Say, the story of Ayers raping a girl and then making her sleep with someone she had no interest in, by bullying her with the idea that not to do so would be unenlightened.
This may well be true of some men, but the Editorial Staff have always seen the phenomenon slightly differently. Our quarrel with this formulation is that it rather makes it sound as though those horrid feminists and their unleavened sensitivity training are somehow causing men to treat women badly: that "acting sensitive" somehow leads to being selfish and manipulative. If this is so, we should expect there to be no real history of men abusing women (or raping them) before Betty Friedan and her testicle-shriveling ways came along to harsh the collective mellows of real, manly men.
But clearly that's not right. Though men like Ayers obviously exist, the stereotype that comes to mind when we think, "rapist" or "woman abuser" is anything but sensitive or enlightened. If Hoyt's criticism of teaching young men to be sensitive is correct (it's necessary, but not sufficient to produce men who treat women with respect), how can we not recognize that teaching young men to be overtly masculine (Is manly the opposite of sensitive? I don't think so) is likewise necessary - but not sufficient - to produce good men who treat women well.
Unleavened by self discipline, respect for others, and a strong moral code, both views of "how men really are/should behave" are problematic. Neither the politically correct aggression of radical feminism gone awry or the more direct/open aggression typical of raw, untempered masculinity is socially desirable. For civilization to endure, aggression (a valuable survival trait) must be channeled.
The same is true of women's traditional strengths. Used in the wrong way, our natural gifts can be enormously destructive. Thus, we teach our daughters not to use their verbal skills to bully or belittle others. Traditional culture encourages girls to use their innate sensitivity to resolve conflicts and strengthen family and societal bonds, not to emotionally manipulate others for selfish gain.
The danger of raising boys to be knockoff versions of girls is twofold. First, it leaves them defenseless against the natural aggression that comes with being a person of the testosterone-having persuasion. Having raised two sons, we've always been slightly amazed to hear so many conservatives describe men as inherently unemotional and rational. Men absolutely can be these things, but they don't get there naturally. The original Star Trek TV series presented a great metaphor for the need for strong curbs on normal and natural male emotions like lust, anger, dominance, aggression: the Vulcan race. Vulcans were trained from birth to be coldly logical and restrained: to feel shame at expressing strong emotion... or any kind of emotion at all, really.
Sound familiar? But then there were the times when the mask of impassivity slipped and the audience saw what lay beneath their calm exterior. It turned out their reverence for logic and emotional stoicism was a learned adaptation with enormous survival value. It was anything but natural. So I have always believed is the case with traditional male culture - it's a strong curb precisely because a strong curb is sorely needed.
And why do we work so hard to cultivate empathy and submissiveness in women and girls? Could it possibly be because these strong checks on female human nature are just as necessary as are strong checks on male human nature? Is it possible that the reason Islam spends so much time wringing its hands about female sexuality is that it actually exists (and can cause problems)? Or that the reason Western society stigmatizes female promiscuity and worships mansluts is the kind of wretched excess we saw on VMA a few weeks ago? Successful cultures find constructive ways for men and women to express what biology, hormones, and our sex drives impel us to. But we keep confusing culturally approved channels with raw instincts. They're related (they're designed to be), but not identical.
What horrifies me about radical feminism is the thought of teaching boys and men that their perfectly natural emotions are evil; somehow unnatural. That feeling lust or aggression at all is shameful (or exploitative); that these feelings are caused by outdated gender norms or artificial and divisive labels rather than by human nature.
Not to put too fine a point on it, that's just plain dumb. But even worse, it leaves them with no constructive way to deal with powerful feelings that can drive us all into decisions we'll later regret. Thinking those feelings are external, they drop their guard and never develop the self control and conscience needed to keep those feelings in check.
It's not any smarter to raise girls to think the only reason they are drawn to care for children and develop strong bonds with family members is warped social conditioning. To a greater or lesser degree, most women really do value the relationships in our lives over work. I love my career, but I can't imagine sacrificing my marriage for it.
I don't need to. I just need to accept that every choice has inherent costs and tradeoffs associated with it.
Like Grim, I'm deeply suspicious of attempts to elevate nature over nurture. Little of our modern world is natural: civilization is artifice. That cultural scaffolding can strengthen us or leave us at the mercy of our appetites. I suppose I just wish we could find a way to allow men and women the freedom to find their own balance without trying to force both sexes into a cage match fought from within a single, one-size-fits all straightjacket.
I don't really care whether a person is a good man or a good woman. Hormones have a way of making their presence known. I want a society full of good people, some of whom are male and some are female. And some are transgendered Arctic wolverines, because I'm inclusive like that. I'm pretty sure we need more support from the surrounding culture than we're getting now. Grim concludes his post by observing:
The young women, I think, will work themselves out in time.
The young men need to come back in under the weight of the -- well, 'patriarchy' isn't quite right. The Brotherhood. They need to fall back in under the mastery of better men than they are, so they might become brothers and better men themselves. The best of their nature does not come naturally. It is a product of long and ancient art.
I tend to agree with his prescription for young men, but I'm not as hopeful about young women figuring it all out by themselves because I'm not sure women are innately better than men. Culture shapes us both because we need shaping to become our best selves.
Still, I'm not convinced that the world will never be a good place until girls stick to their gender-appropriate Easy Bake ovens and boys play with Erector sets. Time for the grownups to butt out and let the kids choose their own toys. Morality is a different matter - that's a big wheel for each new generation to invent from scratch.
September 16, 2013
One of the favorite Democratic attack lines against the Bush administration was that it was "incompetent." Maybe so, but competence is also a matter of comparison.
So let's compare. The administration will be lucky to win an unbelievably thin congressional majority for its unbelievably small plan of attack. By contrast, the October 2002 authorization for military force in Iraq passed by an easy 77-23 margin in the Senate and a 296-133 margin in the House.
The administration also touts the support of 24 countries—Albania and Honduras are on board!—who have signed a letter condemning Assad's use of chemical weapons "in the strongest terms," though none of them, except maybe France, are contemplating military action. Yet Mr. Bush assembled a coalition of 40 countries who were willing to deploy troops to Iraq—a coalition Mr. Kerry mocked as inadequate and illegitimate when he ran for president in 2004.
Then there's the intel. In London the other day, Mr. Kerry invited the public to examine the administration's evidence of Assad's use of chemical weapons, posted on whitehouse.gov. The "dossier" consists of a 1,455-word document heavy on blanket assertions such as "we assess with high confidence" and "we have a body of information," and "we have identified one hundred videos."
By contrast, the Bush administration made a highly detailed case on Iraqi WMD, including show-and-tells by Colin Powell at the Security Council. It also relied on the testimony of U.N. inspectors like Hans Blix, who reported in January 2003 that "there are strong indications that Iraq produced more anthrax than it declared," that his inspectors had found "indications that the [nerve agent VX] was weaponized," and that Iraq had "circumvented the restrictions" on the import of missile parts.
The case the Bush administration assembled on Iraqi WMD was far stronger than what the Obama administration has offered on Syria. And while I have few doubts that the case against Assad is solid, it shouldn't shock Democrats that the White House's "trust us" approach isn't winning converts. When you've spent years peddling the libel that the Bush administration lied about Iraq, don't be shocked when your goose gets cooked in the same foul sauce.
People Let Me Tell You
The Stability Bubble
Robert Samuelson offers an interesting perspective on Obama's "Blame Unregulated Markets and Evil/Greedy Bankers" explanation for the 2008 financial crisis. Unexpectedly (!), it turns out that these greedy bankers lost more of their own money when the housing bubble burst than other professionals did:
Take the popular notion that banks and investment banks (“Wall Street”) knowingly packaged bad home mortgages in securities that were then sold to unsuspecting investors. The bankers, the story goes, understood that there was a housing bubble — that prices would crash and defaults explode — but peddled bad loans because it made them rich.
Although this happened, it was the exception, not the rule. That’s the conclusion of a study by economists at the University of Michigan and Princeton. They reasoned that if the investment bankers packaging mortgages expected a housing collapse, they would have been careful in their own home purchases. So the economists compared the bankers’ home-buying with that of lawyers and stock analysts who lacked specialized housing knowledge. The study, published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that the bankers showed little “awareness of a housing bubble and impending crash.” During the boom, they bought larger homes and second homes. Compared to the lawyers and stock analysts, their housing purchases fared “significantly worse.”
What explains their lapse? Probably this: Before the real estate collapse, there was a widespread belief that housing prices would rise indefinitely, preventing (by definition) a bubble. We now know this belief was mistaken, stupid and suicidal. But for many, it was genuine. An earlier study by economists at the Boston Federal Reserve reached a similar conclusion.
We've written about skewed expectations many times but it's an important point, so allow us to flog that decease equine flesh a few more times. Before the crisis, American households were saving far too little and borrowing far too much.
The financial crisis was a much needed correction to a distorted market made possible by overleveraged overconsumption. "The way things used to be" was not just unhealthy - it was unsustainable. Instead of looking at bubble-based affluence as the solution, we should be looking at it as the problem.
People once thought the future was more stable and more predictable; now they fear it’s less stable and less predictable. Their behavior becomes more precautionary. For consumers and companies, there’s a greater bias against spending, lending, hiring and taking economic risks of any kind. The economy, though not crippled, isn’t invigorated either. With changed behavior, economic models based on past patterns frequently over-predict growth.
The second reason to reexamine the crisis involves policy. The “scoundrel” theory of causation suggests that, once defects in the economic system are identified, they can be rectified with “reforms.” The Dodd-Frank financial legislation reflects this philosophy. The true history of the crisis raises a larger problem. Success in stabilizing the economy in the short run fostered greater long-run instability. What are the limits to stabilization policy? Might more short-term upsets minimize long-term calamities? Economists should be wrestling with these and other hard questions. They aren’t.
More and more, I'm becoming convinced that even the smartest people aren't terribly rational. As a homeowner, I can remember thinking back in 1983 when we bought our first home that we were in a housing bubble. It's not as though there was any shortage of predictions that the era of continually rising housing prices could not last forever.
Prices are signals. So are market fluctuations. Economic policies whose explicit goal is to distort or entirely block those signals produce a false sense of security that perversely magnifies the damage from the inevitable reckoning with reality:
Prices operate as signals in a free marketplace, efficiently allocating goods to those who want them and are able to pay for them. Few Americans would accept the proposition that we don't need information to make intelligent decisions and yet too many Americans buy off on the notion that markets will operate efficiently if the federal government restricts the free flow of information between consumers and producers.
It's almost as though we were living in an alternative universe where reality is kept strictly at arm's length.
We never learn.
Drawing Personality Tests
The Blog Princess was bored early this morning, so she decided to waste a half hour on 'draw a picture' personality tests. Here's one that asks you to draw a tree:
The tree says we are strong, careful about the people/experiences we choose, succeed when we reach out to others, have a possible lack of self control (!) or have experienced a trauma late in life, and that there's something going on in our subconscious having to do with birds.
Next, we drew a mountain OK, mountains - we never said we can follow directions. Or draw worth a damn, either...
Our mountain range sees its creator thusly:
You tend to pursue many different activities simultaneously. When misfortune does happen, it doesn't actually dishearten you all that much.
You are a thoughtful and cautious person. You like to think about your method, seeking to pursue your goal in the most effective way.
You like following the rules and being objective. You are precise and meticulous, and like to evaluate decisions before making them.
You have a sunny, cheerful disposition.
Can you draw better than a 3 year old? If so, what do your random scribbles reveal about The Inner You? Feel free to enlighten the assembled villainry in the comments section.
September 13, 2013
The First Rule of 9/11 Memorials...
...at least to hear Dana Milbanks tell it, is: "Do not talk about what happened on 9/11".
On the other side of the Capitol, conservative leaders joined the eccentric Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) at what was supposed to be a “memorial service for the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 and 2012.” But the 3,000 who perished in 2001 got just a few passing references at the 35-minute event.
The “primary purpose” of the gathering, in the words of organizer Jerry Boykin, a retired Army general, was to remember the four men who were killed in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012, in an attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost there. More to the point, the conservatives had assembled to blame the Obama administration for the deaths and to demand further investigation of the resulting “scandal.”
Or maybe it's more like, "Talk all you like, so long as you stick to the pre-approved script."
Who gets to set the rules for what's permissible during a 9/11 memorial? Is discouraging dissent and free speech some heretofore unknown function of our much vaunted free press? Oddly, I don't recall criticism of the President being off limits during the Bush years, even on the anniversary of 9/11.
Especially on the anniversary of 9/11. During the Bush years, publicly thumping the President bid fair to replace baseball as the national pastime and the press not only refrained from noting the distastefulness of it all but jumped on the bandwagon with wild abandon.
Are those horrid Republicans poaching the king's deer again?
Perhaps Herr Milbanks is suggesting there's no connection between the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001 and the terrorist attack on the American consulate in Benghazi on 9/11/2012. How impudent - downright rude, really- of them to point out that America responded to the 2001 attack, but has so far done nothing about the 2012 attack. Or maybe he's concerned that there were too few ceremonies commemorating 9/11 this year - that there was too little media reflection and commentary? That unsanctioned remembrances would prove to be a distraction from the main event?
Or perhaps it's just unseemly for a free people to demand accountability from their leaders on the first anniversary of an attack that killed 4 Americans and injured many more.
Incroyable! The peasantry have grown far too uppity, wethinks. Someone in authority should tell us to pipe down.
September 12, 2013
Important Pivoting Alert
The leader of the free world is about to direct his laser-like focus to yet another urgent priority:
The White House is signaling it wants to shift back to the economy after two weeks in which the Syrian crisis has dominated President Obama’s schedule and workload.
Obama will be “focusing” on issues related to the economy in the coming weeks, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Wednesday at his daily briefing.
He said the president wants to push forward with economic policies that the White House believes will grow the middle class.
Obama himself in his prime-time address to the nation Tuesday on Syria said voters wanted him focused on the economy and not on Syria. Public support for a military intervention in Syria is low.
Hmmm.... should the President focus on one of several global humanitarian crises that have been going on for quite some time? Or should he try to avert a total shutdown of the federal government?
Which is more pressing: long term problems occurring halfway around the world over which the United States has little direct control? Or the ticking domestic time bomb set to explode in two weeks? It is a puzzlement:
Lawmakers must agree on a continuing resolution to fund the federal government by the end of September, which also marks the end of the fiscal year. If they fail to do so, the government would shut down, except for essential services.
The president had wanted to use the beginning of September to press forward on his economic policies ahead of fights with Congress on government spending and debt.
The nation is also rapidly approaching the drop-dead date for hitting the debt ceiling, which restricts Washington’s ability to loan money and cover its payment obligations. An analysis released Tuesday by the Bipartisan Policy Center estimated the country would hit the debt ceiling sometime between Oct. 18 and Nov. 5.
Obama had hoped to enter those battles with momentum from a mid-August campaign-style tour that included a college bus trip through the Northeast, a visit to an Amazon shipping facility in Tennessee and a discussion of mortgage reform in Arizona.
The president had planned to continue that push this week, but that plan was knocked aside by the alleged use of chemical weapons by Syria’s government on Aug. 21.
When all else fails, announce another pivot. Or better yet, summon the unicorns.
First comes Megan McArdle, refusing to check her unearned race and gender privileges:
... what do you do about women who freely make choices that perpetuate structural inequalities? Do you stop them from making the choices? Neither Harvard, nor Kantor, seems to have a good answer. But that is the core dilemma. Maybe women drop out because they have a deeper biological connection to their kids. Maybe they do so because they’re raised to be nurturers, or maybe because they don’t feel the same personal anguish that a man does when he gives up on the dream of a top-flight career. Maybe if men felt they had the option to stay home, more would. And maybe women find the role of breadwinner more stressful than men do -- all the women I know who are the primary earners are neurotic about it in a way that the men I know don’t seem to be. I’m not talking about the fear that your partner will resent your success; these are women married to admirably feminist men. I’m just talking about a near-constant fear that you will not be able to provide, and your family will end up horribly destitute. I’m not saying that men don’t experience that worry, but they don’t seem tormented by it the way the women I talk to are.
Or maybe it’s that women just don’t want it badly enough. In my experience, one of the reasons that women drop out of finance, and 80-hour-a-week fields more generally, is that they just don’t want it as badly as the men. In their 20s, they’re happy to work those kinds of hours, even at tasks they find boring. They do well at them, too. But a lot of these jobs aren’t actually that rewarding as work: The investment banking associates I observed seemed to spend most of their time on basically clerical tasks, tabulating data and proofreading PowerPoints. And eventually most of the women seem to say “You know, I just care more about relationships than I do about success.” There are always exceptions on both sides: women who will sacrifice anything for the career they feel called to and men who would rather be home. But on average, the women I talk to just aren’t nearly as willing to sacrifice close friendships, and family relationships, for the sake of their jobs.
We can say that they shouldn’t have to, of course, but the sad fact is that there are trade-offs in this world. In your 20s you can finesse them -- work super hard and also have a roaring social life -- because you have boundless energy and no one depending on you. This is the age at which young women write furious articles and Facebook posts denouncing anyone who suggests that women opt-out of high pressure jobs for any reason other than the rankest sexism.
As you age, your body refuses to cooperate with your plan to work from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. and then hang out with friends. Your parents start to need you more, if only to lift heavy things. And of course, there are kids. You start having to make direct trade-offs, and then suddenly you look up and you haven’t seen your friends for two years and your mother is complaining that you never call. This is the age at which women write furious articles defending their decision to step back from a high-pressure job and/or demanding subsidized childcare, generous paid maternity leave and “family friendly policies,” a vague term that ultimately seems to mean that people who leave at five to pick up the kids should be entitled to the same opportunities and compensation as people who stay until 9 to finish the client presentation. These pleas usually end (or begin) by pointing to the family-friendly utopia of Northern Europe, except that women in Europe do less well at moving into high-test management positions. Whatever the government says, someone who takes several years off work is in fact less valuable to their company than someone who doesn’t.
Ouch. How's a sistah to raise awareness of the Deep Unfairness of Life with all these deniers
thinking for themselves wandering off the ideological reservation?
“Can you say that word? PATRIARCHY?” This woman was not gunning for a laugh; she was dead serious, and pretty angry. She looked to be 30 or so, and from the way she spoke seemed well-educated—the type of woman I portray in the book as benefiting from the new era of female dominance, when women are better prepared for the current economy and have more independence to choose their life path.
As the woman spoke, I started to think of my own Slaughter moment, when, after the birth of my first child, I decided to work four days a week, a capitulation that sank me into a terrible depression. (If only Sheryl Sandberg had been around then to tell me to “Lean in!”) I tried to figure out who, in the series of events that led up to that decision, had played the role of the patriarch. My husband? He couldn’t care less how many days I work. My employer? Relatively benevolent and supportive— willing to let me work four days or five, willing to let me leave early. I suppose the patriarchy was lurking somewhere in my subconscious, tricking me into believing that it was more my duty to stay home with our new baby than my husband’s. But I didn’t see it as a “duty.” I wanted to stay home with her, and I also wanted to work like a fiend. It was complicated and confusing, a combination of my personal choices, the realities of a deadline-driven newsroom, and the lack of a broader infrastructure to support working parents—certainly too complicated to pin on a single enemy.
I said some version of this out loud from the stage, partly because I was looking for sympathy, and partly because I wanted to convey that the “patriarchy” was not a fixed monolith we could never get around but something shifting and changing and open to analysis. But that confessional approach only brought more ire. “Lucky for you that you have the luxury to agonize about your choices,” the young woman said. “What about the woman who picks up your trash after you leave at 5?”
This is when I knew I was dealing with some irrational attachment to the concept of unfair. For my book I’d interviewed plenty of women who might find themselves picking up the trash, likely as a second job after a full day of school or another job, or both, because their husbands—or, more likely, the fathers of their children—were out of work. My young interrogator might be annoyed to learn that many of those women who pick up the trash yearn to bring back at least some aspects of the patriarchy. They generally appreciate their new economic independence and feel pride at holding their families together, at working and studying and doing things on their own, but sometimes they long to have a man around who would pay the bills and take care of them and make a life for them in which they could work less. And they want the men in their lives to be happy. It’s elite feminists like my questioner and me who cling to the dreaded patriarchy just as he is walking out of our lives.
This bean counting and monitoring—an outdated compulsion to keep your guard up, because sexism lurks everywhere—has found new life online, where feminist websites (including our own) and the Twitter police are always on the lookout for the next slight.
Sometimes the critical eye is useful, such as this week when outrage over sexist and racists tweets got Business Insider exec Pax Dickinson pushed out. (Though this is not a sign of THE PATRIARCHY—this is relatively easy victory.) Sometimes it’s just petty, like when Jennifer Weiner recently complained about a critic calling her “strident.” As a form of blogging or tweeting, pointing fingers is endlessly satisfying. But as a form of political expression, it’s pretty hollow and out of tune with reality.
This strain of feminism assumes an exquisite vulnerability, an image of women as “creatures too ‘tender’ for the abrasiveness of daily life,” as Joan Didion put it in her 1972 essay “The Women’s Movement.” (Is this why we now put “trigger warnings” on stories that mention rape or sexual harassment?) Maybe now we pay such close attention to words like “strident” because they are all we have, the only way to access the outrage of darker days. If so, we should treasure them as tokens of how far we’ve come. After all, if the most obnoxious members of the patriarchy can be brought down by a few tweets, how powerful can they really be?
Both these women's observations match my experience in the workplace.
The life of the Editorial Staff has been lived backwards by feminist standards. We married and had children early, giving up education and career prospects to follow the spousal unit from state to state as he pursued a career in the Marine Corps. His job was to earn a decent salary and map out our long term financial strategy. Mine was to raise our sons, run our home, pay the bills, and support his command whether he was in a B billet or a deployable unit. Never for one moment did he or I assume this was the way it would always be, or that there weren't alternatives.
It's just that when we crunched the numbers, this was the plan that made sense to us and reflected our joint priorities. Someone needed to stay home and focus on raising our children, keeping our home running smoothly in an environment of near-constant change and frequent moves. Someone needed to be there to unpack 300-something boxes every time we moved, to find new doctors and dentists and schools, to pay the bills, to squeeze every last drop of value out of his salary. To make an endless parade of bland temporary dwellings feel like "home".
And even when there are no children to consider, two career households simply aren't as efficient as those run by someone who has made it their career to manage the home full time. What's true in the workplace is equally true at home: if you want a job to be done well, someone needs to be put in charge of it (and to be held accountable when things don't go well). Ad hockery is just amateurism, writ large.
To believe that somehow, the same quality work can be done by a person working 1-2 hours as by a person working 8-12 hours a day is a gross insult to the hundreds of talented, smart, and hard working women I've known over the past 3 decades; women who could have done well in the job market but instead made an conscious decision to prioritize their marriages and families over monetary gain and intellectual stimulation.
Not that being a homemaker is necessarily stultifying to the mind. Some of the most thorny problems I've considered over the years were issues related to raising our two sons. I read widely from both the classics and modern works, and played an active role in our children's education and reading lists. It's a shame that the leadership functions inherent in motherhood and homemaking are so rarely acknowledge or appreciated. Being a military wife offers many leadership opportunities: mentoring of younger wives, community activities, helping senior wives with the myriad family issues that crop up during deployments.
These are functions the military has largely outsourced now, and the federal government is paying real money for services they used to get for free from civic minded military spouses. Surprise: jobs performed voluntarily by mostly stay-at-home wives and mothers who saw a need and filled it turned out to be indispensable services with real monetary value (they are, to use an overworked cliché, "force multipliers").
Having finished my education in my late thirties and entered the full time career arena in my forties has given me a different perspective on many things. Conservatives seem just as prone to idealize the motives of those who adhere to traditional gender roles as liberals are to lampoon them. In our world, female homemakers are described as selfless givers who generously sacrifice career and personal fulfillment For The Children. Male breadwinners are unappreciated, selfless protectors who cheerfully trudge off to work to provide for their families; sometimes enduring soul crushing drudgery and hardship.
And the thing is, many of these things are true. That's how traditional gender roles are supposed to work.
But I've also observed the polar opposites of these stereotypes: women who stay at home but don't actively manage their homes, nurture and teach their children, or support their husband's careers or their marriages. Men who use work to escape the demands of maintaining personal relationships; who aren't involved in their own marriages and who don't take an active role as fathers. Entering the work force as an adult, I've often observed the same egotism and destructive behaviors in men that I observed in women who turned volunteerism into a white knuckle demolition derby. Because we're human, our motivations are often an odd mix of nobility and self centeredness. We are driven by duty, but also by our own selfish desires.
If one truly sees women as intelligent beings with agency, it seems patronizing to assume that we are helpless bits of flotsam drifting aimlessly in a flood tide of patriarchal oppression. Why not give women some credit for having enough smarts to figure out what matters most to us and go after it. I suspect that's what most men do, too.
And if they don't (or we don't), shame on us.
September 11, 2013
Enid and Geraint
Whilst the Editorial Staff were writing test cases (don't ask), Grim posted a poem he wrote on 9/11.
It's beautifully written, and though I've read it every year for many years it never fails to move me.
Here's the other 9/11 essay I wanted to repost this morning. I'll excerpt just a bit of it, because it seems more valid today than it did back in 2009 when I wrote it:
Most of us, on this day, think of loss. The loss of innocence, of safety. Of nearly 3000 souls we never had a chance to know: entire lives casually snuffed out as though they had no value. Of the sons and daughters, husbands and wives who rose up to defend all that we held so lightly before that fatal day. But most of all, of the shock of having that bouyant, almost peculiarly American sense of invincibility violently ripped away by 19 savages armed, not with assault weapons or suitcase bombs, but with box cutters.
That is all it took to penetrate our superior defenses, our 21st Century technology, our smug sense of superiority: a simple tool most of us have in our toolboxes.
Sometimes, driving along urban superhighways or over gleaming bridges with gossamer supports that arc up into the clouds, or perhaps just strolling around Manhattan as people bustle hither and yon like worker ants - each intent on tasks I can only guess at - I get the feeling we are poised on the edge of history; that this moment is fragile, precious. That this perfection we call America cannot last.
I suppose it is no great wonder, then, that on this particular morning I awoke and thought - not of 3000 lost souls, nor of the 5000-odd who followed them into the abyss - but of an ancient legend.
The Phoenix is a creature of myth and fable conjured from thoughts that dwell just below the surface; an amalgam of centuries of watching people and societies repeat the same mistakes and rediscover the same eternal truths. The story of the phoenix's glorious ascent, slow decline, fiery self-immolation and resurrection reminds us of something important: the loss, destruction, conflict, and pain we instinctively loathe and seek to avoid have a purpose. They awaken defiance and determination in our hearts. They push us out of our complacent sleep - a sleep in which we stubbornly refuse to acknowledge the faint whiff of decay emanating from the glittering facade we have built for ourselves.
On 9/11 we were shaken from our sleep; forced to admit the existence of something we should have known; that abundance, freedom and technology cannot protect us from one of the oldest destructive forces known to man: simple human malice. We carry the seeds of our destruction in our own hearts. No system of government, however lofty the ideals upon which it was based, can protect us from our own failings.
It has been interesting, in the 8 years since that awful day, to watch the parade of villains frog-marched before our eyes: Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Bush/Cheney and their neocon puppetmasters, Islamic extremism, Darth Rumsfeld, the Patriot Act, the Israel lobby.
Fear itself. And the latest scary monster under the bed, the fly in the ointment of our content, the intolerable insult to our amour propre; our sense of "fairness": inequality.
What tends to get lost in the post apocalyptic hand wringing, the mourning, the incessant rounds of accusation recrimination and counter accusation, is any recognition of the truly inspiring stories that sprang from the ashes of our smug, pre-9/11 complacency.
If you have time, among all the remembrances you will read today, please take a moment to remember these men and women. We are a great nation and a great people, and will be again.
Lydia Estelle Bravo: a 9/11 Tribute
This is a repost of something I wrong on September 11th, 2006. For Don, and all the assembled villainry who have put up with my inane ramblings for so long. If you want to read the comments, the original post is here.
And At Night, I Dream Of You...
Her name was Lydia.
Lydia Estelle Bravo.
Even the sound delights the senses. There is music in it. Her name rolls off the tongue like a line from the foreign films she loved to watch with her fiancee, Antonio Bengivenga. You would want to speak the words slowly so they could be savored, rich and full-bodied, like the Sangiovese she served Antonio the night before those planes hurtled out of a clear blue sky and tilted the world on its axis.
They were to have been married in January.
How do you tell the story of a woman you never met? Someone whose life was extinguished as casually as one pinches a candle flame after a memorable evening? Reading what those she left behind had to say about her, I have no doubt that Lydia loved life; that she made the days and nights of everyone around her memorable. One piece said that to Lydia, life was a feast.
This does not surprise me. You see, Lydia was an oncology nurse for eight years. Living in death's shadow for such a long time brings everything into sharper focus. It makes one appreciate how truly precious each and every moment we have on this earth is, how lucky most of us are, even to be able to walk out our front doors each morning and do mundane things like pick up the paper, fight rush hour traffic, or sit in overlong meetings listening to pompous, pontificating nitwits rehash things that could easily be said with far less oxygen. But on the flip side we also get to see sunsets, Italian movies, giggling babies, and the face of the one we love each morning resting on that pillow beside us; looking in sleep - for a moment - as innocent and carefree as a child again.
That sight alone is worth the price of admission.
Lydia knew how to celebrate life. She and Antonio met in a sports bar eleven years ago. They travelled together, most often to Italy or Mexico, and they loved to watch foreign films - so much so that she rarely needed the subtitles. On September 10th, the night before that bolt from the blue that was to change the lives of so many Americans, Lydia and Antonio celebrated their return from yet another trip :
The night before the planes hit, Lydia Bravo cooked a pot of ribollita, the Tuscan stew of beans and greens. She and her fiancé, Anthony Bengivenga -- "she called me Antonio" -- opened a bottle of Sangiovese.
They would have been together 11 years this month, Mr. Bengivenga said. Both had been married before, both had grown children. They had found in each other a passion for all things passionate -- the films of Pedro Almodóvar, flamenco music and food. All kinds of food.
Ms. Bravo, 50, was a devoted cook. She had taken classes at Peter Kumps. She had hundreds of cookbooks -- some picked up at flea markets, others on trips abroad. Whenever they went to Italy she peeked into kitchens and chatted up the cooks. At home in Dunellen, N.J., she cooked elaborate meals.
"That was really her forte," Mr. Bengivenga said. "I would help. I enjoyed being in the kitchen with her." She taught him a few things, but not nearly enough, he said.
This is clearly a woman who knew passion, who wanted the most out of life and knew how to savor even ordinary things in abundance. Antonio describes her infectious enjoyment of life:
"She had a certain laugh. If you mention her laugh, everybody who knew her will know it. She got everybody laughing."
This is the thing that called to me over and over again as I read about Lydia. So often it seems we avert our eyes from what is sad about life. We try so hard to shield our children from difficulties, to protect them from anything that might wound their self esteem, that might discourage or frighten them. But Lydia lived for eight years in what could be viewed as one of the saddest, most disheartening places on earth: an oncology ward.
The irony of this was not lost on me, for I recently lost my nephew to cancer shortly before his seventeenth birthday. Watching children suffer from a terminal illeness is perhaps one of the saddest things on earth. It seems so unfair. But it is, at times, perhaps also one of the most inspiring things one can imagine also, for even in the midst of pain that would daunt the bravest adult, children manage to find joy in the simplest things, and they face almost insurmountable challenges with an equanimity that never ceases to amaze.
Lydia seems to have absorbed this childlike capacity to take life as it is, or perhaps it was a part of her very being; for her response to the setbacks she must have witnessed as an oncology nurse was not to lose hope, to become bitter and withdraw emotionally. It was to embrace the world around her, to celebrate it, to grab onto life with both hands and wring every last drop of enjoyment from each day. And like that bottle of Sangiovese she served on September 10th, she was the perfect accompaniment to a life well lived. She infected others with her delight in living - she couldn't wait to share the good things life has to offer. The simple things: good food, a bottle of wine, great films, travel, laughter, love. As my husband would say with a roguish twinkle in his eye, this woman was abondanzza; a moveable feast in and of herself.
It took me three tries to write this tribute.
I never write rough drafts, I never revise, and this is nothing like the two which came before, which I threw out. They were too raw, too emotional. Too personal to share. In writing them, it occurred to me over and over again how odd it was that I was even doing this.
I never would have dreamed of doing such a thing, before that brilliant September morning in 2001. You didn't know me then.
I would have thought this a silly, sentimental exercise, too mawkish. I would have had no patience with this sort of thing. To be honest, I have little patience with most of the 9/11 panoply, the remembrances, the tributes to the "victims" (a term I loathe with every fiber in my being, for I think it robs them of their dignity). I almost lost it while watching CNN the other night and hearing some inane announcer say with almost obscene relish, "You can watch the entire attack online - complete! unedited!". It's not that I want it covered up. I understand the need of some people to relive it all. It's just that it bothered me to hear that perky announcer saying, in essence, "Tune in and watch as 3000 people die!". I can't do it. If it brings healing to some, then perhaps that is a good thing. I suppose that is yet another way in which I have changed.
But I still refuse to call Lydia a victim. She lived her life to the fullest. I am angry, and sad - sadder than I can say - that she didn't get to live it out to its glorious end. She should have had grandchildren, tons of them. She should have had a full table at endless Thanksgivings, with scores of people to cook for.
She should have had so many tomorrows. But I will not call her a victim, for that grants her killers too much stature and takes from her too much dignity.
I said a few days ago that a part of me died on 9/11, but oddly enough I didn't realize it at the time. I thought then, privately, that it was as though a part of me - some protective layer - had been forever ripped away and that this had left me weaker, more vulnerable than I had been before. But though I still think this is true, I am no longer sure that this is entirely a bad thing.
Defenses keep things out, but they can also immobilize us. In so many ways, what happened that day represents a fork in my life; a turning point from which there is no going back to the way things were. And however much we may mourn our losses: the loss of loved ones, the loss of our security, of innocence, of peace, we have in other ways gained things we do not fully appreciate. I know that as much as I often regret it, I would not be here writing these words, were it not for the events of September 11th.
And as much as I hate the pain the each day's news brings, as much as I despise the too easy tears that seem all too ready to spring to my eyes these days, I am also thankful for them, for they are a reminder of how much I have to be thankful for. And such reminders often come to us in strange ways. Sitting at my aunt's funeral recently, the minister said something I loved. My aunt, more than anything else on this earth, loved to sing. And the minister said to listen for the music in everyday life; those moments of quiet joy when it is good to be alive.
Or even those moments which are painful, but which have something to teach us also. Because so often in life, it is only by experiencing pain that we fully appreciate joy; and only through loss that what we do have glows ever more brightly in our eyes.
For you see, I am still here, walking the earth. And like Lydia, my husband was inside one of those buildings that was hit by one of those four planes on 9/11/2001. But unlike Antonio, and unlike so many people whose last chance to talk with their loved ones was a hurried message, or even - God forbid - a voice mail recording, a few hours later I received a cell phone call as I sat at my desk, wondering if I would ever see the love of my life again.
Life is always too short, and there is never enough of the things we want from it. But it is always so worth the living, and always worth the celebration. And so, tomorrow night, I will borrow a scene from my favorite novel. When the moonlight hits the balcony on my patio, there will be two glasses of Sangiovese, full to the brim, placed on the edge.
And they will remain there all night. Sweet dreams, bellisima.
Update: Whisky honors Lydia
Posted by Cassandra at September 11, 2006 08:59 AM
Listening to the President's Syria speech last night, I found myself thinking of the lyrics to a old country song. It glorifies the stale, outdated gender norms and unexamined convictions the more tolerant and enlightened among us have been taught to sneer at: courage, conviction, resolve. Faith:
Now daddy didn't like trouble, but if it came along
Everyone that knew him knew which side that he'd be on
He never was a hero, or this county's shinin' light
But you could always find him standin' up for what he thought was right
He'd say you've got to stand for somethin' or you'll fall for anything
You've got to be your own man, not a puppet on a string
Never compromise what's right and uphold your family name
You've got to stand for something or you'll fall for anything
Now we might have been better off or owned a bigger house
If daddy had done more givin' in or a little more backin' down
But we always had plenty just living his advice
Whatever you do today, you'll have to sleep with tonight
He'd say you've got to stand for something or you'll fall for anything
You've got to be your own man, not a puppet on a string
Never compromise what's right and uphold your family name
You've got to stand for somethin' or you'll fall for anything
I know that things are different than they were in daddy's days
But I still believe what makes a man really hasn't changed
The dream we call America is more than the sum of her present leaders. Our power and our greatness do not trickle down to us from Capitol Hill: they rise from small towns and rural landscapes and sprawling cities whose glistening skyscrapers rise up to kiss the bottoms of the clouds.
They sprout from the soil we till, and the children we bear; from the dreams we cherish and the sacrifices we gladly offer on the altar of a future we hope for, but cannot guarantee.
Whatever else you remember on this day, remember this: we are who we choose to be. In that thought lies the glory of bygone days and the promise of a better tomorrow.
September 06, 2013
Bad Panda Sex
It's Friday, peoples, and while other bloggers stubbornly focus on unimportant distractions like whether or not we should bomb Syria into the Stone Age, the Benghazi kerfuffle, lingering income inequality, or IRS stalking of
501c3s of the Reich leaning kind potential terrorist cells planning a pre-emptive strike on 1600 Pennsylvania, this blog will not allow itself to be distracted from covering Stories That Really Matter.
That's right - we're talking about the scourge of reproductive incompetence:
A female giant panda unambiguously signals her approaching receptivity to mating. She wanders over a wide territory and scent-marks stones, the ground, and other surfaces with a waxy, hormone-rich secretion from a gland under her tail. She walks through water, to spread her scent farther. Her main vocalization changes from a throaty whinny to a high-pitched chirp, which one zookeeper translated for me as “I’m here! I’m here! My time is coming!” She masturbates, and when she encounters an adult male at the critical moment she lumbers toward him, rear end first, and lifts her tail.
Still, things don’t always work out. David Wildt, the head of the Center for Species Survival at the National Zoo, in Washington, D.C., told me, “Some pandas know how to have sex, and some don’t.” The pair at the National Zoo—Tian Tian (male) and Mei Xiang (female)—don’t. They have been together at the zoo since 2000, but until last week they had produced just two cubs, both by artificial insemination, and one of these had died. At the end of last week, Mei Xiang gave birth for a third time, live on one of the zoo’s panda Webcams.
The latest arrival is also the product of artificial insemination. As Wildt described it to me, Tian Tian and Mei Xiang are simply “reproductively incompetent.” A key difficulty is that Mei Xiang places herself in what he called “pancake position”—flat on her stomach, legs outstretched—and Tian Tian isn’t assertive enough to lift her off the ground. Rather than mounting from behind or pulling her toward his lap, he steps onto her back and stands there like a man who has just opened a large box from Ikea and has no idea what to do next. . . .
Silly humans. Tian Tian isn't incompetent. He's terrified.
Ignoring Mei Xiang's overtures is an entirely rational decision in these post-feminist times when males can be carted off to jail without so much as a trial for failing to secure unambiguous consent before forcing their unwelcome sexual advances upon the distaff half of the species.
Lose the panda porn and the Viagra: there's no aphrodisiac more potent than a SmartPhone and a Facebook account.
Who Says Hope Is Not A Strategy?
With supporters like these, are Republicans even necessary?
The United Nations estimates that more than 100,000 Syrians have died since the country’s civil war began in March 2011. More die every day. But the U.S. is not considering military action to save them.
The strikes that the Barack Obama administration favors, and that Congress is now debating, have a more limited purpose: to ensure that Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad uses conventional weapons to massacre his people rather than the chemical variety that recently killed 1,400 in the suburbs of Damascus. The hope is that U.S. intervention will encourage future tyrants to kill by firepower rather than by sarin.
The Editorial Staff doesn't care who you are - that is just plain funny.
Foul Deeds Will Out
And you folks are worried about the NSA breaking your browser encryption:
A stork has been detained by police in Egypt on suspicion of spying.
The bird was put behind bars after a man fishing in the Nile in Qena, some 280 miles south-east of Cairo, spotted an electronic device attached to its feathers.
Thinking it was an undercover agent, he captured the stork and took it to a police station near his home, said Mohammed Kamal, head of security in the Qena region.
Puzzled officers examined the bird, fearing the gadget was a bomb or spying equipment, and then called in veterinary experts.
Eventually, they discovered it was a wildlife tracker used by French scientists to follow the movement of migratory birds, said Ayman Abdallah, head of veterinary services in Qena.
He said the device stopped working when the bird crossed the French border, absolving it of being a spy.
But he said it would have to remain in police custody for the time being because officials need permission from state prosecutors to release the bird.
The world is a dangerous place, and you can't be too careful.
September 04, 2013
Obama's Thin Red Line
Now you see it...
Now, you don't. Like the racist dog whistle, it is only detectable when convenient ...and then, only by People In The Know.
Let us be clear -- the President's line setting was never meant to convey the existence of a personal line because Herr Obama was actually speaking for the entire planet. He totally has the authority to do that sort of thing, you know. It's in the Constitution, and all you cheese eating surrender monkeys are only opposing him because you want him to fail. Never mind that he seems to be doing a bang up job of failing on his own, thank-you-very-much. We're all in this failure thing together. It's the American way: if we don't all fail together, we shall surely all fail separately.
And before one of you nitwits goes there, it's not the President's fault if the White House web site can't even get The Boss's positions straight.
... the people in Syria and the Assad regime should know that the President means what he says when he set that red line. And keep in mind, he is the one who laid down that marker. He's the one who directed that we provide this information to the public. And he's the one who directed that we do everything we can to further investigate this information so that we can establish in credible, corroborated, factual basis what exactly took place.
Yes, the President said exactly what he said about that red line. It's just that his uniquely complex thought processes sometimes result in statements of such subtle, nuanc-y sophistication that the human brain is incapable of comprehending them. This is complicated stuff, peoples - far above your pay grade. And it doesn't help when the media insist on interpreting possessive personal pronouns like "my" as indications that the President was about to take ownership of the problem. Or that he was personally invested in any particular outcome:
The use of chemical weapons, itself, was not exactly Obama’s original “red line,” as he laid it out during a news conference at the White House on Aug. 20, 2012. For purposes of expediency and practicality, media outlets have simplified the “red line” as this: If Syria deployed chemical weapons against its own people, it would have crossed a threshold with the White House.
But what Obama said was a little less clear.
“We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized,” the president said a year ago last week. “That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.”
It was also unclear what the consequences of crossing that “red line” would be. Obama has cautioned that unilateral action, particularly without a U.N. mandate, may be unwise and could run afoul of international law. In keeping with the strategy he used in seeking international cooperation for airstrikes against Libya in 2011, Obama warned in a CNN interview last week that international cooperation is key to military intervention.
To many, Wednesday’s attack outside Damascus would likely qualify as “a whole bunch” of chemical weapons deployed.
Let us be clear about one thing: like the word "my", "a whole bunch" is open to interpretation, and not by the likes of you morons. What might seem vague and contradictory to some of you is actually just one more example of the dazzling brilliance for which 44 is rightly worshipped and venerated by all 12 of our allies:
The arguments were lengthy and unclear. The White House expressly admitted that their strikes wouldn’t save Syrian lives or topple Assad or making anything better in any way, and they were instead asking Americans to bomb Syria in order to enforce abstract international norms of warfare. It would be the first military action in American history that wasn’t meant to save lives or win a war but to slightly change the mix of arms a dictator was using to slaughter his population.
All this was helpful in creating opposition. But then Obama turned on a dime and decided to go to Congress at the last minute, making his administration look indecisive and fearful of shouldering the blame for this unpopular intervention, putting the decision in the hands of a body famous for being unable to make decisions, giving the argument for strikes more time to lose support, and giving an American public that opposes intervention in Syria more time and venues to be heard.
And then, after all that, Obama goes to Congress with an absurdly broad force authorization — so broad that it doesn’t specify when it ends, or even really limit which countries can be hit. The force authorization offended even Obama’s allies in Congress, left many questioning his motives, and has now been thrown out by the Senate. Members of Congress and their aides I’ve spoken to remain shocked that Obama chose to come to Congress and then handed them that document.
And on Tuesday, of course, Secretary of State John Kerry stepped before the Senate and, asked, to forswear ground troops, said, “I don’t want to take off the table an option that might or might not be on the table.” He later walked the comments back as “a hypothetical,” but they led the nightly news, and pushed the possibility of escalation further into the discussion.
The Obama administration’s strategy to cool the country on this war without expressly backing away from the president’s red lines has been brilliant, Hill aides say (just look at the polls showing overwhelming opposition!). If they are going to go to war, their efforts to goad Congress into writing a punitively narrow authorization of force that sharply limits any potential for escalation have worked beautifully.
Believing anything else — like this is how the administration is actually leading the United States into conflict — is too unsettling.
Whew! For a moment there, we were becoming concerned.
In our democracy, we govern either by leadership or crisis. If leaders are willing to take the risks associated with leadership, it’s at least possible to avoid crisis. But if leadership is not there, then we will inevitably govern by crisis. Today, unfortunately, we are governing by crisis after crisis after crisis. The country can do that, but at a price: U.S. citizens will lose trust in our system of governing, and the world will view the United States as less able to back its word with power.
Community Organizing, Explained
The phrase "community organizing", often heard during the 2008 presidential election, is meant to evoke fuzzy visions of empowerment delivered by Benevolent Elites whose motives are not open to question. That these elites would never voluntarily live or work in the communities they profess to care so deeply for (much less send their children to school with the offspring of the weak and downtrodden) miraculously escapes the fierce scrutiny of the Fourth Estate.
The glaring conflict between the professed and practiced values of the Benevolent Elite ought to be a warning that they do not actually want what they claim to want. You won't find them living in the integrated communities they claim to support. And they certainly don't view their children as sacrificial lambs to be offered on the altar of the common good:
... Mary Ann, let me break the news to you. My children are not in a public position. The mayor is. ... No, no, no, you have to appreciate this. My children are not an instrument of me being mayor. My children are my children. And that may be news for you, and that may be new for you, Mary Ann, but I want you to understand -- no, no, no, you have to understand this. I'm making this decision as a father."
Our President and Attorney General oppose vouchers and charter schools for poor black families but send their children to tony private schools (the Obama girls attend Sidwell Friends and Holder's daughter attended Georgetown Day School, where the Attorney General serves on the Board of Trustees). But what's good for the elites isn't necessarily good for the rest of America, is it?
Individuals and groups of all sorts have always differed from one another in many ways, throughout centuries of history and in countries around the world. Left to themselves, people tend to sort themselves out into communities of like-minded neighbors.
This has been so obvious that only the intelligentsia could misconstrue it -- and only ideologues could devote themselves to crusading against people's efforts to live and associate with other people who share their values and habits.
Quite aside from the question of whose values and habits may be better is the question of the effects of people living cheek by jowl with other people who put very different values on noise, politeness, education and other things that make for good or bad relations between neighbors. People with children to protect are especially concerned about who lives next door or down the street.
But such mundane matters often get brushed aside by ideological crusaders out to change the world to fit their own vision. When the world fails to conform to their vision, then it seems obvious to the ideologues that it is the world that is wrong, not that their vision is uninformed or unrealistic.
...To those with the crusading mentality, failure only means that they should try, try again -- at other people's expense, including not only the taxpayers but also those who lives have been disrupted, or even made miserable and dangerous, by previous bright ideas of third parties who pay no price for being wrong.
And that's the real point of community organizing, isn't it? The would-be organizers are never the ones who pay the price for advancing policies they would never voluntarily submit to. Fortunately for them, being a member of the Benevolent Elite means never having to follow the rules you set for the less affluent. So go ahead and send your children to expensive private schools that are anything but inclusive.
Don't worry if your policy proposals disparately impact the very folks you claim to be concerned about:
State Education Superintendent John White took issue with the suit’s primary argument and its characterization of the program. Almost all the students using vouchers are black, he said. Given that framework, “it’s a little ridiculous” to argue that students’ departure to voucher schools makes their home school systems less white, he said. He also thought it ironic that rules set up to combat racism were being called on to keep black students in failing schools.
...The left likes to talk a lot about disparate impact. In ruling against the NYPD’s stop and frisk program, Judge Shira Scheindlin even found a new term for it–“indirect racial profiling.” So imagine what Democrats would make of a policy that disproportionately harmed black students trying to get a decent education if the partisan roles were reversed.
And above all, don't worry about the validity of your arguments or how your policies would actually work in the real world:
Another hole in Benedikt's logic is the presence of another option on the spectrum of urban public-school avoidance: magnet schools and charters. Plenty of well-off urban parents who do send their kids to public school choose selective magnets, or at least charters that require some parental involvement to apply. If you send your kids to public schools that are disproportionately wealthy and white compared to the city as a whole, are you an evil person? By following Benedikt's thinking on private schools, the answer should be yes. But since, like “suburbs,” the words “magnet” and “charter” appear nowhere in her piece, she is implying sending your kid to an elite public magnet school is a morally pure choice while sending her to private school is evil.
The same goes for gifted programs and tracking. Are parents who send their kids to the local public school's gifted program evil as well? If not, how is their decision to make sure their child is challenged academically any different than that of a private-school parent?
You're a member of the Benevolent Elite, and you're just trying to help the Less Fortunate! Rules - even your rules - are for the little people.
You know: "Them".
The Eyes of Love