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Archive for July, 2005

Closure

[ 0 ] July 26, 2005 |

Final grades are in for my summer 2005 course. Apart from a few loose strings, I am done with the University of Washington.

8 years, 18 stand-alone courses, 27 TA sections, 14 graduate teaching assistants, roughly 1800 undergraduates total.

Good school, good department, good students.

On to Lexington.

Kill them All

[ 0 ] July 26, 2005 |

Dear US Chamber of Commerce,

Hello. My name is Rob. I have been on telephone hold with various different institutions over the past two hours in an effort to get cable and electricity in my new apartment. I believe that this experience has granted me insight into certain aspects of the telephone based business model. I am graciously prepared to share these with you, free of charge:

1. Please hire enough operators to achieve some semblence of quick service during peak times. Rage builds every additional minute that I’m on the phone. It’s bloody difficult for me to be polite in the best of circumstances, and wanting to kill any living creature I encounter after staying on hold for an hour doesn’t help.

2. Speaking of murderous tendencies, please don’t try to advertise to me while I’m on hold. I don’t care what movies On Demand features this month; I’ll find that out soon enough. In particular, I don’t need to hear the same advertisement nine times in 30 minutes. Moreover, your advertisment break up the (extremely) mild musical distraction you play in the background.

3. After asking me to push a bunch of buttons in order to find an operator, please do not regail me with tales of the glory of your push button system. I’m already on hold, and I don’t need to hear how this all could have been expedited if only I’d pushed the right buttons.

4. Please play some decent goddamn music.

Thank you very much.

Robert M. Farley

Appalachia

[ 0 ] July 26, 2005 |

Erik is right; this post is out of line. Making fun of poor rural people because they lose teeth is hardly appropriate, even if they live in red states:

1. Don’t we all know that this is because of poverty? I guess not. But we should. The level of poverty in West Virginia is a direct indictment of American society as a whole. It’s our system that allows this level of poverty. If we want to really do something about this, let’s not make fun of people. Let’s work to ensure that people don’t end up in this level of poverty. By the way, if those numbers concerned African-Americans or people of the developing world would these kind of jokes be told? I didn’t think so.

2. Dentists are expensive. Let’s say you even have health insurance. Does it cover denistry except for the most basic care? So many policies do not. I know that I haven’t had dental insurance for years. My wife has a quite good job and she doesn’t even have dental insurance because she would have to pay an exorbitant sum for not much care.

3. What does this kind of joke do for progressives politically? If I were a Republican and I wanted to convince people that the coastal elites/liberals/whatever thought they were better than “good ol’Americans” I would use this as Exhibit A. It’s when I see posts like this that I think some cultural conservatives have a point when they talk about cultural elitism. On a political level, this is really reprehensible.

Folks, anti-Appalachian prejudice is just as bad as racism or other forms of prejudice toward any other group. No, it doesn’t have the long-term historical implications of anti-black racism. But it causes real pain, feeds into Republican talking points, and, frankly, is disgusting.

Not only am I moving to the Appalachian region in four days, but I was also born there. Lay off, especially if you ever want to win West Virginia again.

Out of the Loop

[ 0 ] July 26, 2005 |

I have even more to confess than Roxanne–I can say with neither pride nor shame that I’ve never read even a page of Harry Potter, nor seen a a minute of the films. With respect to the books, it’s not that I think they’d be bad per se, but that I have other priorities: I don’t have kids, fantasy is not generally to my taste, and there’s a lot of great fiction I haven’t read. With respect to the films, I presume it would be problematic to start with #3, and Chris Columbus is about as likely to make a good film as Hugh Hewitt is likely to write a good book.

Speaking of which, I do realize that I should be more open-minded about sci-fi (which Teresa has now taught me to pronounce “ski-fee”)/fantasy, and I will get to Ursula LeGuinn at some point. One problem, though, is that I tried some Neal Stephenson last year, and had an even stronger negative reaction that Kieran Healy (although, If I understand correctly, Crytponomicon is supposed to be better than Quicksilver, the latter of which I tried to read.) At least on the basis of the 300 or so pages or so that I got through, Quicksilver is by far the worst book with any reputation for quality I’ve ever read. It’s not so much a novel as a transcript from a game of “Trivial Pursuit: Historical Dates and Technologies Edition.” I’ll outsource the rest of my review to Deborah Friedell, who argues convincingly that things didn’t get any better:

For Stephenson is himself the most vulgar of literary empiricists. His book is nothing but research in search of a narrative, a gigantic collection of index cards. In the spirit of such an enterprise, Quicksilver has its own website, and on it (as well as in the acknowledgments for the novel) Stephenson announces his reading about the seventeenth century in bookstores and libraries. He is very vain about his homework. Not a page of this tome goes by without an e.g., an i.e., a re., an et al., an a.k.a., a viz., a dagger, a footnote, a map, or a monarchical family tree.

The novel’s characters are forever “reminding” each other of events about which one would presume they would hardly need reminders. (“‘Your side won the Civil War,’ Enoch reminds [Benjamin Franklin], ‘but later came the Restoration, which was a grievous defeat for your folk, and sent them flocking hither.’”) “You see” punctuates the narrative, as does “recited like a bored scholar,” “like a dutiful university student,” “it is more correct to say,” “as you know,” “as you must know,” “as you may know,” “as you know perfectly well.” Characters are forever making mistakes, forgetting names (“with that young fellow, what’s-his-name”) and dates, so that others may readily supply them (“No, no, James I died half a century ago”).

[...]

What is remarkable about Jack and Eliza’s exchange is its shallowness, its superfluity. (The same may be said of the whole book.) Stephenson does not seem to know what to do with his characters except to have them exchange facts. In the book’s appendix, Stephenson provides a dramatis personae listing more than a hundred names. It is a dire necessity in a book in which it is simply impossible to tell characters apart. Any number of these people could exclaim, “He must still be representing the late Charles II, who was crowned in 1651 after the Puritans chopped off the head of his father and predecessor. My King was crowned in 1654.” There is no evidence that Stephenson has given any thought to how a seventeenth-century woman might talk to a seventeenth-century man, about how her understanding of the world might infuse her speech. It is so much easier to get busy with names and dates, in the manner of high school history.

When Stephenson allows humor to creep in among the facts, the joke usually depends on his reader supplying a missing piece. A character drinking tea claims that no “Englishmen will ever take to anything so outlandish.” Nudge nudge, wink wink. Another character proleptically echoes Lloyd Bentsen: “I have met the Duke of Monmouth, I have roomed with the Duke of Monmouth, I have been vomited on by the Duke of Monmouth, and I am telling you that the Duke of Monmouth is no Charles II!”

[...]

When Stephenson tries to add romance to the mix, he is unable to lose his idiot-savant tone, and what results are the most embarrassing sections of the novel. “Monmouth got himself worked round to a less outlandish position, viz. sitting up and gazing soulfully into Eliza’s nipples.” Into the nipples? There is also an adolescent obsession with men titillated by lesbianism and women made fierce by menstrual tension. (“‘This may fire or it may not,’ she said in French. ‘You have until I count to ten to decide whether to gamble your life or your immortal soul on it. One … two … three … did I mention I’m on the rag? Four….’”) But these sections are mercifully brief: Stephenson always needs to hurry back to the matter of when and where Charles I was beheaded.

You may think that this sounds unfair, but trust me–if this doesn’t sound appealing to you, you don’t want to find out.

The Moderate to Perception of Moderation Ratio

[ 0 ] July 26, 2005 |

Yglesias articulates something that is crucial in trying to assess candidates for 2008:

This, to me, is the big problem with the Clinton for President stampede. There’s something to be said for a centrist nominee. But one would want the nominee to get credit for being a centrist. One can imagine an Evan Bayh or a Mark Warner or various other people doing that, but not Clinton. The view that something as trivial as a substantive record of moderate stances on the issues could alter the overwhelming presumption that she’s some kind of demented leftwinger strikes me as hopelessly naive. It runs, frankly, against everything we know about how the media and public opinion work.

This is, I think, the best argument against Clinton. The ideal candidate for a national election is someone who as perceived as being more moderate than their actual policy positions would justify (Bush, of course, being a great example.) While it would be difficult to find a Democratic candidate who is actually more liberal than their reputation–this is just an advantage Republicans have in the current context–you can certainly find a much lower M-POM ratio that Clinton’s.

And, to repeat, this is not to say categorically that Clinton cannot win. Al Gore, who had an immense M-POM ratio, won, and were it not for Ralph Nader’s service as a Republican double agent would have had a victory beyond the reach of the Florida election laws. But it’s something you have to consider. The fact that she’s a moderate but wouldn’t get any credit for it is a negative factor when comparing her to the other potential nominees.

College: It’s Not For Poor People Anymore

[ 0 ] July 26, 2005 |

Roy has a must-read post about a Republican plan to subject student loans to variable interest rates. To me, this is the most appalling passage from the WSJ op-ed Roy discusses:

Private lenders would have that much more incentive to do their jobs properly, making sure taxpayer-backed loans go to students who are good risks.

Think about that for a second. To state the obvious, 1)most students going to college have not established credit, and 2)whether a student is a “good risk” is therefore highly dependent on their family’s assets. Despite this, the chair of the House Education Committee wants to use government guarantees to assure that banks will make capital accessible to those who least need it, while poor students will either be subject to potentially crushing (and unpredictable) interests payments after college or denied credit altogether. So, to summarize, while rational people believe that the point of government-backed student loans is to allow people who otherwise shouldn’t afford it to go to college, a significant faction of the Republican Party believes that the point of government intervention is to further exacerbate inequities in access to education. But none of this changes the fact that Sean Penn once made Shanghai Surprise, so really it’s The Left than hates the American Dream.

Baseball Challenge Standings, Week 16

[ 0 ] July 25, 2005 |

Week 16 standings. . . I wish Dave Noon would go on a cruise, or something.

1 Axis of Evel Knievel, d. noon 560
2 New Mexico Alterdestiny, E. Loomis 546
3 Shangri-La Coelacanths, J. Daw 501
4 Chan Ho Ballpark, P. McLeod 411
5 Discpline And Punish, S. Lemieux 401
6 SLC Maniloff, P. Maniloff 394
7 Sweet&Tender Hooligans, J. Dudas 392
8 Oregon Bearded Duck, R. Farley 359
9 Exciteable Roland, P. Kerwin 356
10 The Spot, D. Watkins 0
10 Swinging At Space, K. Jepsen 0

Moving this week. Will blog when possible.

People Have Rights. States Have Powers.

[ 0 ] July 25, 2005 |

A terrific post by Jim Henley stating concisely the most obvious problem with using the framework of “states’ rights.” This language not only does not appear in the constitution, but is alien to the underlying principles of the constitution. States, under this framework, have powers, but it is human beings that have rights. When you talk about governments having “rights,” you’re dealing with some system of government other than liberal democracy.

In addition to Henley’s arguments against the 10th Amendment, I would note that its invocation is sort of a broader version if the illogic inherent in trying to claim that abortion is about “federalism.” George Wallace waved the 10th Amendment when blocking the schoolhouse doors for the same reason that the denizens of redstate.org want to make reproductive freedom about “federalism”; it’s a lot easier to pretend the 10th Amendment is some sort of broad grant of “states’ rights” than to explain why the 14th Amendment is silent on the question of whether states can maintain apartheid through coercive authority. The 10th Amendment in fact, merely states something that is not in any dispute–that if the federal government does not have governing authority, powers are retained by the states or rights by the people. As Harlan Fiske Stone pointed out, “[t]he amendment states but a truism that all is retained which has not been surrendered.” I’m sure Henley and I would disagree considerably about how the scope of federal authority should be construed, but the 10th Amendment adds no content to the debate.

And speaking of Ackerman’s review of Bork, Henley’s discussion of the Ninth Amendment reminds me of this gem from Ackerman’s review. Ackerman critiques Bork’s (ahistorical) claim that the Ninth Amendment is a mere “inkblot” of no constitutional significance:

Sticking to the text, he reports that it “states simply, if enigmatically, that ‘[t]he enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.’” The puzzle here is why Bork should find the text “enigmatic.” It seems, almost preternaturally, to be written with him in mind. What Bork is up to is precisely to use “the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights” to “disparage” the idea that there are other constitutional rights of fundamental importance. I especially admire the Framers’ choice of the word “disparage.” I can think of no better word to describe Bork’s general tone.

[..]

…the Ninth Amendment speaks to all interpreters of the Constitution, presidents no less than courts, citizens no less than legislators, and expressly cautions all of them against committing the interpretive blunder that Bork would impose in the name of the Framers. (1990:1430)

As Henley says, and I have argued before, there is nothing the least bit unusual about the idea expressed by the “penumbras” language used by Douglas in Griswold; to argue that rights are implicit in the structure of the text is a banal interpretive move, and the Ninth Amendment certainly settles any questions about its legitimacy. One can, of course, prefer other methods of interpretation or the application of such an analysis in an individual case, but to argue that this interpretation is illegitimate within the framework of American constitutionalism is absurd.

Short Answers to Stupid Arguments

[ 0 ] July 24, 2005 |

Mithras and iocaste easily dispose of the mind-numbing illogic of apologists for the tube shooting.

Execution Style

[ 0 ] July 24, 2005 |

Good God.

Or maybe not.

Theoretical Innovations in the Field of Nice Guys and Bitchy Women

[ 0 ] July 23, 2005 |

The snazzily re-designed Prof. B offers a definitive post on the “nice guys” subject. I cannot, however, decide if I am better situated as #2 or #3.

I can also offer this pean to small-town life: I went to watch the Mets game at a pub, and was shocked to discover that (Imperial) pints of a decent microbrew were C$ 2.99. To Saskatchewan: creator of socialized medicine and home to cheap beer! (Oh, and my uncle’s lentil fields are pretty cool.)

Moose Jaw Blogging!

[ 0 ] July 22, 2005 |

I am here on Main Street in bustling Moose Jaw, but alas have not yet have time to visit Al Capone’s tunnels.

Given that I’ve watched maybe two episodes of the various iterations of Star Trek, I can’t believe it falls on me to acknowledge the death of James Doohan. Jeez, djw needs to step up here…anyway, I’m sure Scotty has been beamed to eternity.

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