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Archive for July, 2012

Assume a Can Opener Well-Paid Spouse

[ 62 ] July 30, 2012 |

This discussion thread reminds me that I didn’t get to Jason DeParle’s atypically weak NYT piece about marriage is a ticket out of poverty. One benefit of waiting is that I can outsource my commentary to Katha Pollitt, Lindsay Beyerstein, and E.J. Graff. The whole idea that anyone could have a stable marriage with a compatible, non-abusive partner who holds down a good job if only they really wanted one is hand-waving on a par with wondering why people who live on food stamps can’t save enough to replace a broken-down car. Pollitt:

Well, if only we could clone Kevin—or maybe put great big Good Guy and Bad Guy signs on young men so that naïve college girls could tell which slacker boys are exploitive louts and which ones just need a nudge to become prime husband material. (Kevin went through a layabout stage but reformed because he wanted to marry Chris. “Marriage, in other words, can help make men marriageable.”) DeParle seems to think getting married transforms people, and maybe sometimes it does—but the lightbulb has to want to change. If marriage turned men into Kevins, there wouldn’t be so much divorce. Let’s say Jessica had gotten her boyfriend to marry her as they originally discussed—and she stayed with him for seven years and three kids, so she clearly tried to make it happen (“I wanted him to love me,” she says—what a world of sadness in those words!)—he would still have been a nogoodnik who rarely worked, lived off Jessica and his mother, and had little to do with the kids even when they all lived together. She would be long divorced by now. Her only other serious boyfriend, whom she dated for a year before letting him move in to her kids’ great delight, had to be removed after six months by the police. I don’t mean to be discouraging here, but maybe there was never going to be a Kevin for Jessica. Maybe there aren’t enough Kevins to go around, because of a whole range of developments over several decades, from the decline of good union jobs to our penchant for putting staggering numbers of men in prison.

Related is the strange assumption made by many glibertarians that single mothers must be single by choice.


The Vote Fraud Fraud, Willful Blindness Edition

[ 71 ] July 30, 2012 |

Vote suppression laws are more common in swing states. Ann Althouse is unconcerned:

Weiser’s argument doesn’t prove as much as she’d like, because it’s also true that it’s in swing states where there’s the most reason to worry about fraud. It’s a corollary to the old saying “if it’s not close, they can’t cheat.”

If there was any evidence that in-person voter fraud existed, this might even be relevant. But, of course there isn’t. And it doesn’t even make sense in theory; you can’t swing an election, even a relatively close one, by mobilizing fake voters. That’s not how elections are ever stolen. ID laws aren’t about stopping voter fraud; they’re about making it harder for people who don’t reliably vote Republican to vote.

The BULLY PULPIT — Is There Anything it Can’t Do?

[ 66 ] July 30, 2012 |

The latest Drew Westen article has the same fundamental problems as every other Drew Westen article. There is, however, one howler that’s particularly instructive. Starting with the stimulus makes sense, because there’s a least a plausible argument that Obama left some money on the table. But the argument that “Obama’s first mistake was inviting the Republicans to the table” runs into the fairly obvious problem that at least two Republican votes were necessary to pass a stimulus bill. Since we’re dealing with someone who who genuinely seems not to understand why you don’t always need 60 votes to pass a tax bill, I suspect that he really doesn’t know that the legislative context was different in 2009.

On health care, there was at least a narrow window where there were 60 Democratic votes, and Obama and Reid probably did waste too much time trying to court Snowe. But Westen never stops to consider the implications of this — if 60 votes are your absolute maximum, what leverage do you have over the marginal ones? Not much. Westen, as always, solves this problem by implying that a better presidential slogan could have gotten Bayh, Nelson, Manchin et al. on board, which still still needs more pony.

And, yet, against all odds Westen’s latest recycling of the same awful argument isn’t even the worst green lantern argument to emerge this weekend. Over to you, Col. Mustard:

Obama, in complete control of foreign and military policy, will be unrestrained by electoral considerations in a second term, and will impose his vision of a Middle East settlement on the Israelis. There won’t be a thing Congress or public opinion will be able to do about it.

Right. Obama will get those settlements dismantled, perhaps with his bare hands, and will follow that up by unilaterally creating a two-state solution. Can’t see any limitations on his power there. The president is in charge of foreign aid appropriations, right?

Humpty Dumpty Koch

[ 15 ] July 30, 2012 |

Who knew that Humpty Dumpty was the secret Koch Brother?

A fantastic class war film from 1936 by the great Dave Fleischer.

Social Darwinism for the 21st Century

[ 344 ] July 29, 2012 |

Bryan Caplan is a terrible person. Now you might say that I am too mean to the Koch-funded George Mason economist. After all, he might not beat his dog. But that doesn’t really matter here. Because Bryan Caplan is a terrible person. Why is Bryan Caplan such a scourge on the human race? This article arguing that the poor are to blame for their own poverty and thus shouldn’t be helped is Exhibit A. Here are a couple of “highlights”:

I’m not merely saying that “bad behavior is bad for you.” I’m saying that bad behavior is a major cause of poverty. If I’m right about this, there is a great, neglected remedy for poverty: Poor people should stop engaging in bad behavior. If this seems flippant, that’s not my intention. Poverty: Who To Blame will largely be a work of economic philosophy. Part of my project is to provide intellectual foundations for what I perceive as Americans’ justified frustration with welfare recipients. (Another part of my project, by the way, is to destroy the intellectual foundations for what I perceive as Americans’ unjustified frustration with Third World immigrants).


I think such meritocratic moral intuitions are sound, and ought to guide public policy as well as private conscience. If people are poor because they’re behaving irresponsibly, they should be far down our queue of people to help – if they belong on the queue at all. That said, I also happen to think that reducing the generosity of the welfare state and making assistance conditional on good behavior will (eventually) reduce bad behavior. Whether I’m right or wrong on this point, though, the fact that poor people are often the authors of their own destitution is morally significant and sadly neglected.

Why I’ve never run across these arguments before and certainly not made with such care! Gilded Age theorists like William Graham Sumner made essentially these same arguments over 100 years ago. Hacks like Sumner served the plutocrat class of the first Gilded Age; hacks like Caplan serve the plutocrats of the second Gilded Age.

And in case Caplan wasn’t enough of a throwback to the worst period in American history, he managed to find a way to blame women too.

As women’s labor market opportunities improved, their interest in low-status men with stable jobs declined. This in turn led many low-status men to either give up on work and women, or try to impress women in other ways. Some of these “other ways,” strangely, are self-destructive behavior like non-remunerative crime and substance abuse.

If only those damned strumpets respected a working-class man who brought in a single-family income (never mind that Caplan completely opposes paying working-class people decent wages), we’d still have good hard-working men in this country (never mind all the jobs outsourced to other countries).

Question: If you are a job candidate in the Economics Department at George Mason University, do they give you some kind of test to make sure you have a small enough heart. Do they just call it the Scrooge Test? In admiration of course, not critique.

I don’t know why, but somehow writing about Caplan made me want to dedicate this song to him:

H/T to Jamelle Bouie’s twitter feed (@jbouie) for this, though I’d feel better about the future of the world if I hadn’t seen this.

[SL]…Related.   And see also.

Every Nuclear Family is Nuclear in its Own Way

[ 2 ] July 29, 2012 |

Here’s a fascinating series of photographs from a book on the Soviet bomb program.  Someday, I would love to see a big coffee table book of pictures like these from all of the nuclear powers. The story that Richard Rhodes tells about the Manhattan Project is of an extended, extremely well-funded fraternity retreat from an elite engineering college.  The Russian visuals seem almost steampunk by comparison. I’m sure that the rest of programs have their own unique stories.

Sorry, there’s just no good on it.

[ 33 ] July 29, 2012 |

[It appears the only site that had this available was scuttled in December 2010. I first read a version of this during my BBS days, but as you can tell from DISADVENTURE!, DISADDENDUM!, DISMORALIZED!, DISINSOMNIA!, WHARTON!, GRADING! and DISBELIEF! the form stuck with me. It’s an inspiring tale of nerd from a time when nerdiness lacked its current cultural capital. So without further ado I return to the living Internets the glory that is The Tale of Eric and the Dread Gazebo.]

ED: You see a well groomed garden. In the middle, on a small hill, you see a gazebo.

ERIC: A gazebo? What color is it?

ED: (pauses) It’s white, Eric.

ERIC: How far away is it?

ED: About 50 yards.

ERIC: How big is it?

ED: (pauses) It’s about 30 ft across, 15 ft high, with a pointed top.

ERIC: I use my sword to detect good on it.

ED: It’s not good, Eric. It’s a gazebo.

ERIC: (pauses) I call out to it.

ED: It won’t answer. It’s a gazebo.

ERIC: (pauses) I sheathe my sword and draw my bow and arrows. Does it respond in any way?

ED: No, Eric, it’s a gazebo.

ERIC: I shoot it with my bow. (rolls for hit) What happened?

ED: There is now a gazebo with an arrow sticking out of it.

ERIC: (pauses) Wasn’t it wounded?


ERIC: But that was a +3 arrow!

ED: It’s a gazebo, Eric, a GAZEBO. If you really want to try to destroy it, you could try to chop it with an axe, I suppose, or you could try to burn it, but I don’t know why anybody would even try. It’s a FUCKING GAZEBO.

ERIC: I run away.

ED: It’s too late. You’ve awakened the gazebo. It catches you and eats you.

ERIC: (reaching for his die) Maybe I’ll roll up a fire-using mage so I can avenge my Paladin.

[UPDATE: I made a good-faith stupid on the Internets. Traditional awareness and what-all were likely violated. Please forgive me my anti-plagiaristic sins.]

Batman is racist, as is the South, pass it on.

[ 59 ] July 29, 2012 |

If you don’t care whether Batman’s not a spanked up Newt or not, that’s fine. Fine. But riddle me this: people in Mississippi are still apparently racist. What do you make of that? Is that fine?

Being that I’m from the South and know exactly what to make of that, I’m just amused by the archaic language that racists employ when declaring, I say, declaring their right to opinionating:

The church congregation had decided no black could be married at that church, and that if he went on to marry her, then they would vote him out the church.

Articles are rare commodities in the South, much like sugar cane and cotton, so no black should be offended by the articular parsimoniousness of this particular gentleman who, it should be said, should be applauded for his dire commitment to democracy, as evinced by the bringing of this opinion to his congregation to be voted upon.

The Art of the Steal

[ 135 ] July 29, 2012 |

matisse at the barnes

I saw a remarkable documentary on IFC yesterday, The Art of the Steal, which is the fascinating story of how the Barnes collection ended up in a museum in downtown Philadelphia, very much against the express wishes of the man who put it together.

Roger Ebert summarizes the film’s message as, “it doesn’t matter a damn what your will says if you have $25 billion, and politicians and the establishment want it.” In this case the establishment included the Annenberg Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and Gov. Ed Rendell, along with assorted Main Line plutocrats. These were exactly the sort of people (in the case of Walter Annenberg, literally the same person) Albert Barnes despised from the bottom of his soul. He did everything within his legal power to keep them away from his unique collection of masterpieces, which he wanted to be used for teaching purposes, rather than as, in his words, “upholstery for the houses of the rich.”

“The Art of the Steal” does not exactly come across as, to coin a phrase, fair and balanced: it is a passionate piece of advocacy, and I doubt it is anything like the last word on this subject (my knowledge of which is confined to what was conveyed by the film). But it is an utterly compelling tale of the New Gilded Age, and very much worth seeing.

Update: This story from earlier this month sheds some additional light on the matters covered by the film.

This Day in Labor History: July 29, 1970

[ 18 ] July 29, 2012 |

On this date in 1970, the United Farm Workers achieved its greatest victory, ending its five-year grape boycott after growers agreed to a contract, the first in the history of California farm labor.

Farm workers lived pretty tough lives. The itinerant nature and physical stress of the work gave employers tremendous power over their labor. They housed workers in shacks and sometimes not at all, forcing them to sleep under bridges. They paid workers almost nothing. The extreme heat of California farming regions caused heat stroke and deaths. The short-handled hoe workers had to use in order to weed the fields caused severe back problems. Workers were routinely sprayed with pesticides. Institutionalized racism made everything worse with local citizens and police more than happy to unite with owners to keep the Mexicans in their place.

Latinos in the lettuce fields, California, 1963

Moreover, farm workers did not receive protection from New Deal labor legislation. The National Labor Relations Act and and Fair Labor Standards Act excluded farm workers after lobbying by growers. The AFL certainly had no interest in organizing non-white labor, but even the CIO did nothing for them, although the IWW had organized farm workers back in the 1910s. Rural labor has routinely been forgotten about in American history, often even by labor historians.

There was a long history of farm worker organizing in California. The Filipinos who were recruited to the state’s farms after the U.S. colonized their homeland began organizing in the 1930s and laid the groundwork for Chavez and the United Farm Workers. The Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), led by Larry Itliong, was the major Filipino farm labor organization by the 1960s. During the same period, community organizers Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez, along with their Anglo ally Fred Ross, started an organized called the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) to organize the Mexican workers that increasingly dominated the labor force in the fields.

Larry Itliong

In 1965, the Filipinos in AWOC went on strike against the grape growers near Delano, California in order to get a raise of 20 cents an hour. The owners refused to negotiate as usual. Itliong reached out to Chavez and the NFWA. Chavez saw the opportunity to fulfill his dream of organizing his workers. The Mexican laborers went out on the strike and the two groups merged in 1966 to create the United Farm Workers.

Chavez’s brilliance was in figuring out how to engage the general public for the nation’s most forgotten laborers. Tapping into the idealism of the 60s, he presented himself as a martyr (which he was in some ways) for his members and positioned himself as the Chicano Martin Luther King. Like King, Chavez knew how to grab the media’s attention, often through hunger strikes. That this was also a civil rights movement meant it was the 60s white liberal ideal of what a labor movement should look like. That the Teamsters, the bête noire of the labor movement in those years, tried to steal UFW members just made the picture even more black and white. Ministers, students, journalists, and organizers descended on Delano to help, to learn, to take the struggle back to their communities. Perhaps no one brought more attention to the union than John Gregory Dunne, whose book Delano might be the definitive piece of journalism of the strike.

The UFW also showed great vision in shaping white liberalism toward its own goals, empowering consumers to help them through the grape boycott. This was not the first consumer based movement around labor. That honor might go to the Florence Kelley-led National Consumers League getting consumers to stop buying goods made by child labor in the 1910s. But the UFW boycott was one of the first and certainly the most effective union directed consumer boycott in history. Moreover, Chavez’s hunger strike reinforced his image as holding the non-violent moral high ground for the larger liberal community, an important point by the mid-60s when the rise of black power had alienated many white civil rights supporters. When Chavez ended his hunger strike under doctor’s orders, 10,000 people, including Robert Kennedy, witnessed it.

Despite the cross-racial alliance of the UFW’s early years, tensions soon developed between the aging Filipinos and the growing numbers of Mexicans. When the UFW became an organization as much about Chicano nationalism as labor unionism, it really alienated the Filipinos. The UFW flag itself, with its Aztec symbols, did work to exclude the Filipinos from meaningful decision-making in the union. I recommend this oral history of Filipino organizer Philip Vera Cruz for more on this. Moreover, as recent scholars have described in the correction to the hagiography that dominated literature on the UFW, Chavez had some deeply disturbing tendencies and began running the union in some cult-like ways.

The flag of the United Farm Workers

Nonetheless, the Delano boycott was incredibly successful, gained attention for some of the nation’s most forgotten laborers, and won real gains for the workers around wages, working conditions, and, eventually, eliminating the hated short-handled hoe. The terrible press the grape growers received for five years and the hit to their pocketbooks from the boycott finally forced them to the bargaining table in 1970. Several small growers caved in 1969 which undermined the growers’ overall position. This was hardly the end of course; in fact, when growers around the region began signing contracts with the Teamsters rather than deal with the UFW, Chavez led the largest farm labor strike in history, beginning less than a month after the end of the Delano strike. Unfortunately, the power of the Teamsters was a constant problem, even after the two unions signed an agreement in 1971 that gave the UFW the right to represent farm laborers. By the mid-70s, the Teamsters had severely undermined the UFW’s ability to operate effectively.

In the end, the working conditions and social status of farm workers still remain far behind other workers in this country. See this recent OSHA decision not to issue a new rule protecting workers from extreme heat. The UFW is a mess today, representing few workers. Yet its descendant farm worker organizations march on: The Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Florida, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee in North Carolina, Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste in Oregon.

On a side note, Cesar Chavez died on April 23, 1993, his body weakened from yet another hunger strike. That day, I was at a Seattle Mariners game. This was in the Kingdome. Occasionally, the Mariners would hire a musical act to play after the game on the field. After all, they had to give people some reason to go to the games in those years. That night, Los Lobos played. I stuck around. The band started talking about the death of Chavez and then they realized that everyone in the audience thought they were talking about the boxer Julio Cesar Chavez.

This is the 35th installment in this series. They are archived here.

Sunday Cat Blogging

[ 2 ] July 29, 2012 |

Condolences to Kevin.

Cool Kids

[ 59 ] July 29, 2012 |

Atrios gets at fundamentals:

It isn’t quite as extreme, but there are a lot of similarities between now and the Iraq debate. All of the Cool Kids know how fucking right austerity is, and are condescending to all of the silly children who think they’re wrong. Team Austerity is where the cool kids are, at the parties with the fancy drinks, and all the losers hang out at that dorky Paul Krugman’s house, playing dungeons and dragons.

None of those nerdy D&D anti-austerity people who hang out with Krugman are getting invited to Megan McArdle’s holiday party, that’s for sure.

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