Subscribe via RSS Feed

Category: General

“We need something for readers who love Paglia’s content, but find her writing too coherent and unpretentious.”

[ 149 ] May 24, 2016 |

Dumb-and-Dumber-dumb-and-dumber-6240056-853-461

This is something that was published on Salon. It has words, some of them big ones, but alas the rare occasions in which the combinations of words generate something close to meaning leave you begging for the pure gibberish:

In this election, abstraction will clearly lose, and corporeality, even if—or particularly if—gross and vulgar and rising from the repressed, will undoubtedly win. A business tycoon who vigorously inserted himself in the imaginations of the dispossessed as the foremost exponent of birtherism surely cannot be entirely beholden to the polite elites, can he? Trump is capital, but he is not capital, he is of us but also not of us in the way that the working class desires elevation from their rootedness, still strongly identified with place and time, not outside it. After all, he posed the elemental question, Where were you born?

Though he is in fact the libertine (certainly not Clinton, who is libertinism’s antithesis), he will be able to tar her with being permissive to an extreme degree—an “enabler,” as the current jargon has it, for her husband’s proclivities, for example. It has nothing to do with misogyny. It has everything to do with the kind of vocabulary that must substitute for people’s real emotions, their fears and desires, in the face of an abstract market that presumes to rule out everything but the “rational” utility-maximizing motive.

If you don’t believe that these grafs could be representative, it’s your funeral.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+Share

Book Review: Michael Todd Landis, Northern Men with Southern Loyalties: The Democratic Party and the Sectional Crisis

[ 62 ] May 24, 2016 |

3b38367r

Michael Todd Landis has no tuck for the doughfaces, northern Democrats who worked to expand the slave power in pre-Civil War America. He blames them directly for the Civil War, sharply rejecting previous histoirans who have placed the blame for the war on abolitionists. In this book, Landis details a generation of utterly feckless, spineless, submissive northern Democratic politicians who fully served their southern masters, even though their own actions angered their constituents and decimated their party in northern states.

Landis chronicles northern Democrats from the Compromise of 1850 through the election of 1860, demonstrating how the aggressive Southern nationalists bent on turning the United States into a slave nation demanded increasing fealty from their northern allies they needed to hold power in the United States. Although the South had an unfair advantage because of the Three-Fifths Compromise, the growing northern population meant that to hold the House and win the presidency, the South had to have a successful Democratic Party in North. That became increasingly harder when to be a prominent Democrat meant to hold extremist positions and not compromise, even with other elements in the northern Democratic Party. The South had plenty of northern Democrats willing to play along, not only Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan, who would serve their interests in the White House, but senators, congressmen, and those who controlled state political machines.

After the Mexican War, which deeply angered northerners, the South could not run its own politicians for the presidency and expect to win. They needed northerners to do what they said. The first was Lewis Cass of Michigan, who effectively believed in nothing except his own political fortunes and southern rights. Cass took the Democratic nomination in 1848, defeating the young and ambitious Stephen Douglas and the powerful James Buchanan. Cass’s nomination led to northern Democratic splitters nominating Martin Van Buren under the Free Soil Party, helping to doom Cass and elect the Whig Zachary Taylor to the White House. Congress was a mess because of the war’s aftermath and the House could not pick a speaker. Landis credits Stephen Douglas much more than Henry Clay of solving these problems through the Compromise of 1850, but perhaps “credit” isn’t the right word. Rather, it was Douglas promoting his own pro-Southern agenda and unquenchable ambition by forcing though the Fugitive Slave Act. Landis states “Northern Democrats were clearly responsible for the Compromise of 1850” (32) because the critical Senate votes came from people like Douglas, Cass, Indiana’s Jesse Bright, who was actually kicked out of the Senate for treason in 1862, and other northern Democrats. This law infuriated northerners but Democratic politicians went ahead with it anyway, the first of many times in the next decade they would risk their own political careers to serve the South. Moreover, northern Democrats like James Buchanan took the lead in defending the law, urging for its instant implementation and punishing free soilers like David Wilmot by targeting their districts to send the first slave catchers.

In 1852, the Democrats hoped to nominate someone more capable than Cass, who still wanted the presidency. They didn’t get anyone more capable, but they did get someone who was more than willing to serve southern interests in New Hampshire’s Franklin Pierce. Landis dismisses Pierce’s abilities entirely, noting, “His tenure in Congress was notable only for his public drunkenness and his eagerness to please the Southern leadership.” (60) Through the various machinations and infighting in the Democratic Party, Pierce rose into the nomination. During his four years, he signed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, gave plentiful cabinet positions to southern radicals (including Jefferson Davis as Secretary of War), recognized the pro-slavery adventurer William Walker as the rightful president of Nicaragua, pressed for the U.S. acquisition of Cuba, and supported the Gadsden Purchase, a naked land grab from Mexico specifically in order to build a transcontinental railroad that would serve southern interests.

Amazingly, this was not good enough for the South. Because Pierce gave some major patronage positions to more moderate Democrats and tried mollify different factions of the party, and because he respected Stephen A. Douglas’ popular sovereignty position in Kansas, for the southern leadership, he was not only a disappointment but a traitor. A real leader for them would indeed invade Cuba, would do whatever it took to make Kansas a slave state.

James Buchanan harbored no such reservations about moderate northern Democrats. Hating Stephen Douglas and fully believing in the southern cause, Buchanan did whatever the South wanted. He continued to support Latin American expansionism to the extent that Nicaragua and Costa Rica, fearful of American takeover, issues the Rivas Manifesto, denouncing Buchanan’s slavery expansionist politics. Buchanan even fired a commodore for trying to catch the privateers like David Walker still operating in Central America. He also called for more land from Mexico, saying in his Second Annual Message, “Abundant cause now undoubtedly exists for a resort to hostilities against the Government.” (173)

By 1857, the core issue for southern nationalists was ensuring that Kansas was admitted at a slave state. Dred Scott killed Douglas’ popular sovereignty arguments and the South would stop at nothing. Buchanan agreed. The famously undemocratic Lecompton Constitution, which pro-slavery forces created without allowing a vote among the anti-slavery majority, became Buchanan’s one number policy goal. Many northern Democrats in the House and Senate were reluctant to vote for it because they rightfully feared for their political careers. But Buchanan pushed it through by bribery and corruption. Simply buying votes, Buchanan and his allies managed to get it through Congress, only to see Kansas voters reject it, Democrats to get swept out of office in the North in 1858 by an outraged populace, and Congressional investigations into the bribery. Southern Democrats were depressed that their northern allies lost, but saw it as a symbol that the North was the enemy, not that their own policies were bankrupt. Instead, they moved closer to secession.

At the heart of all of these actions is that Calhounism had spread throughout the Democratic Party. These people by the 1850s simply had no respect for democracy as an institution. To be a nationally prominent Democrat in 1860 was to be a follower of Calhoun’s ideology. This helped destroy the party in the North and Landis follows key states and their political machines, including Indiana, Pennsylvania, and New York, to demonstrate the slow decline of the party on the critical state level. Landis makes it clear that Lincoln did not win in 1860 because the Democratic Party divided between Douglas and Breckinridge. The North was so disgusted with the Slave Power by then that a Republican victory was almost inevitable. Landis argues that the split actually helped the anti-Lincoln forces by making Douglas and John Bell seem more moderate than they actually were. Douglas had basically been read out of the Democratic Party by 1860 because the South despised him as a traitor, so his being able to play off that allowed him to win some votes from Lincolln.

Landis also has a strong historiographical argument to make. He accuses previous historians of not only downplaying the role northern Democrats played in disunion, but also of being so enthralled by southern speechifying that they took their side. Specifically, he accuses David Potter, author of The Impending Crisis, long the standard overview of the 1850s, as being “hopelessly infatuated with Southern orators and seems bent on justifying secession and placing for the war on abolitionists.” This is as close as one can come to putting Potter as Dunning-curious. A harsh charge and I’d be curious what you all think of it, as it has been at least 15 years since I’ve read Potter and don’t quite remember the argument.

Northern Men with Southern Principles is a very good and infuriating book. If you ever had any respect for Pierce and Buchanan, you won’t anymore. These were absolutely awful leaders. It’s very much a political history and Landis doesn’t provide much of the social context in the states as to the details of the northern rejection of the Democrats in the 1850s, but that’s an exceedingly minor critique. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in these issues.

This Is Reassuring

[ 91 ] May 24, 2016 |

woody-johnson-john-idzik

Say what you will about Woody Johnson, the man has an eye for talent: Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow, Mitt Romney, Jeb! Bush. He’s backing another winner:

New York Jets owner Woody Johnson is the latest major Republican donor and fundraiser to get behind Donald Trump, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Johnson, who was finance chairman for Jeb Bush’s failed presidential campaign, plans to raise money for the Republican National Committee and Trump through a joint fundraising committee, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Johnson met with Trump Monday and is prepared to lean on potential donors to get on board, the person said.

For years, Johnson has been a major player in fundraising circles. He was a bundler for the Republican candidate in each of the past four elections, and has written some big checks himself, including the $500,000 he contributed to Right to Rise, the super-PAC that supported Bush. Johnson is likely to donate some of his own money this year, too, the source said.

Johnson, who has known Trump for years, has had an even bigger impact as a bundler. In May 2008, he arranged a fundraiser for John McCain’s cash-starved presidential campaign that brought in $7 million in a single evening. Johnson was also a top bundler for George W. Bush’s 2000 and 2004 campaigns and for Mitt Romney’s 2012 effort.

His tastes in political candidates and quarterbacks are similarly unerring:

20 (51). New York Jets: Christian Hackenberg | Grade: D-

The Jets have been looking for a quarterback and they’re taking the chance on Hackenberg. The tape has been horrible, and that includes his freshman year that everyone touts as his saving grace. He’s been one of the most inaccurate quarterbacks in college football for three straight years and his -12.1 overall grade ranked 41st in this draft class alone in 2015. The Jets are hoping that he can be a reclamation project, but he has to take monumental strides to become a viable NFL quarterback.

Hackenberg had a 53.5 COMP% as a junior. Woof! I think I understand why Fitzpatrick’s agent isn’t blinking.

An Unfortunate Mural

[ 65 ] May 24, 2016 |

ct-ctlfl-ct-ecn-mural-lynching-elgin-st-0-2-jpg-20160519

Oh dear:

The artist behind the Elgin mural that depicts a portion of a famous photo of a 1930 lynching of two black men in Indiana said the piece was intended to get people to ask questions, think about issues and consider their own place in history.

“The idea here was talking about lynching, asking questions, the history,” artist David Powers said.

“You don’t want to be on that wall with these monsters. Anywhere. In any town,” Powers said. “You don’t want to be on this wall murdering someone because you don’t like them.”

The 66-year-old Elgin artist said he has been pushing boundaries since he began creating art. He said his family has always believed in standing up for the little guy, the immigrant, and people of all races.

When social media users began calling for removal of his mural, “American Nocturne” from a downtown Elgin park, Powers was infuriated and talked about the lynching.

“These were vigilantes, criminals, who murdered people in the streets. I find it abhorrent and awful,” he said.

But if people are not reminded of these crimes, if it is not addressed in our art and in our civil discussions, it can happen again, Powers said.

When one group is afraid of the other, if they don’t ask questions and find answers, fear wins, he said.

OK, I guess? But I don’t think you can just paint the famous picture of a lynching, minus the lynched people, and then walk away. I do think the people of Elgin need to confront their past. I’m not entirely sure this is the most productive way to accomplish that. It is racist? Probably not, if the artist says so. Does such a depiction need to be both accompanied by an explanatory sign and part of a community process that includes discussion and education? Yes, definitely.

The original lynching photo is at the link if you want to look at it.

Donald Trump, Who Profits from Outsourcing

[ 35 ] May 24, 2016 |

150827102252-donald-trump-july-10-2015-super-169

Sure, Donald Trump is lying about his opposition to outsourcing and about his caring whether Americans have manufacturing jobs, but if you are Cornel West, at least he’s doing so authentically!

Donald Trump has been tough on American companies that have moved jobs to other countries. That hasn’t stopped the presumptive Republican presidential nominee from investing in them.

Trump has denounced units of United Technologies Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Mondelez International Inc. on the campaign trail — and has received income of as much as $75,000 from bonds issued by all three since January 2015, according to his latest financial disclosure form released Tuesday. He also has invested in Apple Inc.’s stock and bonds even though in February he called for a boycott of the company for refusing to help the Federal Bureau of Investigation unlock an iPhone used by a terrorist in San Bernardino, California.

I mean, sure, we can talk about how bad these companies are. It’s so much easier for me to do that when a piece of their profits are going into my Swiss bank accounts!

Jobs for Those Who Lack College Degrees

[ 179 ] May 24, 2016 |

-1x-1

As I have stated many times here, the United States has to create dignified work for people who can’t or haven’t earned a college degree. It’s simply terrible policy to blithely claim that education will solve our problems because it completely ignores the fact that some people are simply not cut out for a college education. And that needs to be OK. Those people need jobs too. It used to be that you could not have a college degree and get a factory job that wouldn’t be too exciting but would pay you decently and had a good chance of being around a long time. But now we have committed to moving factories overseas and automating what is left in the U.S. This has created huge corporate profits but has left a whole generation of non-college educated young people without hope for the future.

The outlook for many high school graduates is more challenging, as Vynny Brown can attest. Now 20, he graduated two years ago from Waller High School in Texas, and has been working for nearly a year at Pappasito’s Cantina in Houston, part of a chain of Tex-Mex restaurants. He earns $7.25 an hour filling takeout orders or $2.13 an hour plus tips as a server, which rarely adds up to more than the minimum, he said. He would like to apply to be a manager, but those jobs require some college experience.

“That is something I don’t have,” said Mr. Brown, who says he cannot afford to go to college now. “It’s the biggest struggle I’ve had.”

Most young workers have the same problem as Mr. Brown. Only 10 percent of 17- to 24-year-olds have a college or advanced degree, according to a new study by the Economic Policy Institute, although many more of them will eventually graduate.

And for young high school graduates, the unemployment rate is disturbingly high: 17.8 percent. Add in those who are underemployed, either because they would like a full-time job but can only find part-time work, or they are so discouraged that they’ve given up actively searching, and the share jumps to more than 33 percent.

Younger workers have always had a tougher time finding a job than their older, more experienced counterparts. Even so, the economic recovery has progressed more slowly for young high school graduates than for those coming out of college.

“It’s improved since the recession, but it’s still pretty poor,” said Elise Gould, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute, who noted the average hourly wage for high school graduates had declined since 2000 despite increases in the minimum wage in some places.

Ms. Gould is part of a growing chorus of economists, employers and educators who argue more effort needs to be put into improving job prospects for people without college degrees.

“Without question we have failed to pay attention to and invest in opportunities for young people who are not on a path to go to four years of college,” said Chauncy Lennon, the head of work force initiatives at JPMorgan Chase, which has started a $75 million program to design and deliver career-focused education in high schools and community colleges.

The elephant in the room in all these discussions is the end of manufacturing jobs. Policymakers, including the current president, simply have not devoted any meaningful resources to even think through these issues while at the same time intensely pressing for free trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership to send even more American jobs overseas. One could theoretically have those free trade agreements and then robust economic programs for the working class, but of course that is not going to happen. These agreements send profits to the wealthy and leave the working class behind with nothing more than lessons to pull themselves up by their boostraps and go to college for programs which they may not be suited for and for which they take out tens of thousands of dollars in debt. This is not a series of policies that lead to long-term social and political stability.

Is Big Oil Finally Getting Smart on Renewables?

[ 16 ] May 24, 2016 |

solar-panels

I have long been flabbergasted that more corporate in the fossil fuel industry didn’t realize there was tons of money to be made in renewables and that grabbing hold of those resources early on would mean lots of profits in the long run. Now that the price of renewables is dropping rapidly, maybe some fossil fuel companies are finally going to get smart.

So has the fossil fuel industry finally woken up to the dangers posed to their futures by a move to a low-carbon world, or is this all “greenwash” – relatively insignificant investments designed to shake off critics?

Or does it just make good business sense for Big Oil to do this at a time when oil prices are low, renewable projects look like steady long-term investments, and green businesses can be snapped up on the cheap?

Some of the moves certainly have serious amounts of cash behind them. Total of France, for instance, announced two weeks ago that it planned to spend nearly €1bn on buying 100-year-old battery manufacturer Saft. Chairman and chief executive Patrick Pouyanné said the deal would “allow us to complement our portfolio with electricity storage solutions, a key component of the future growth of renewable energy”.

There’s other good news presented in this piece as well. But of course there’s a lot of reason to be skeptical:

Even Exxon Mobil, often dismissed by climate change activists as the most conservative oil company of them all, has recently unveiled plans to investigate CCS more fully in a new partnership with a fuel cell company.

But some of the sums being invested are quite small: the Shell New Energies, for example, has a capital expenditure budget of just under 0.5% of its total. And oil companies do have form for shouting loudly about moving into renewables only to beat a hasty retreat.

BP in particular was pilloried for promising to go “beyond petroleum” – then running down its alternative energy division. Shell used to have a very big solar business, but this was scaled down several years ago.

Environmentalists are increasing the pressure on oil companies by accusing them of trying to slow the march to low-carbon energy, if not of being the climate-change deniers some were of old.

There are even claims that Big Oil has been deliberately infiltrating renewable energy lobby groups so that it can push its agenda of keeping gas, in particular, as a “transition fuel” of the future – something the companies deny.

So we will see. Someone is eventually going to make a whole lot of money in this industry. Whether it’s the current players in fossil fuels remains to be seen.

Ban Devices in Classrooms

[ 145 ] May 24, 2016 |

Computers and Lecture

I routinely ban laptops in the classroom because the majority of the students aren’t going to pay attention to the lecture if they have the option to upload photos to Snapchat. I know this to be true, as if I have to attend a boring and pointless campus meeting, I am probably going to be on Twitter or reading the Times or something so that I don’t have to pay attention. But in the classroom, that option then undermines learning.

Now there is an answer, thanks to a big, new experiment from economists at West Point, who randomly banned computers from some sections of a popular economics course this past year at the military academy. One-third of the sections could use laptops or tablets to take notes during lecture; one-third could use tablets, but only to look at class materials; and one-third were prohibited from using any technology.

Unsurprisingly, the students who were allowed to use laptops — and 80 percent of them did — scored worse on the final exam. What’s interesting is that the smartest students seemed to be harmed the most.

Among students with high ACT scores, those in the laptop-friendly sections performed significantly worse than their counterparts in the no-technology sections. In contrast, there wasn’t much of a difference between students with low ACT scores — those who were allowed to use laptops did just as well as those who couldn’t. (The same pattern held true when researchers looked at students with high and low GPAs.)

These results are a bit strange. We might have expected the smartest students to have used their laptops prudently. Instead, they became technology’s biggest victims. Perhaps hubris played a role. The smarter students may have overestimated their ability to multitask. Or the top students might have had the most to gain by paying attention in class.

Of course this is just one study and I don’t really know why the smartest students would flop the most. Perhaps an overconfidence in their own abilities. But there’s no question that playing on devices in class means students aren’t learning as much. The phone issue is much harder to police, but what can you do.

Replication Crisis in Psychology: Part Five

[ 8 ] May 24, 2016 |

Parts one, two, three, and four.

On the question: How should a lab regard its own “failures”?

In a paper in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Baumeister offers another sort of explanation for why experiments might fail (not open access — sorry!):

Patience and diligence may be rewarded, but competence may matter less than in the past. Getting a significant result with n = 10 often required having an intuitive flair for how to set up the most conducive situation and produce a highly impactful procedure. Flair, intuition, and related skills matter much less with n = 50.

In fact, one effect of the replication crisis can even be seen as rewarding incompetence. These days, many journals make a point of publishing replication studies, especially failures to replicate. The intent is no doubt a valuable corrective, so as to expose conclusions that were published but have not held up.

But in that process, we have created a career niche for bad experimenters. This is an underappreciated fact about the current push for publishing failed replications. I submit that some experimenters are incompetent. In the past their careers would have stalled and failed. But today, a broadly incompetent experimenter can amass a series of impressive publications simply by failing to replicate other work and thereby publishing a series of papers that will achieve little beyond undermining our field’s ability to claim that it has accomplished anything.

Having mentored several dozen budding researchers as graduate students and postdocs, I have seen ample evidence that people’s ability to achieve success in social psychology varies. My laboratory has been working on self-regulation and ego depletion for a couple decades. Most of my advisees have been able to produce such effects, though not always on the first try. A few of them have not been able to replicate the basic effect after several tries. These failures are not evenly distributed across the group. Rather, some people simply seem to lack whatever skills and talents are needed. Their failures do not mean that the theory is wrong.

Read more…

Don’t Forget the Drug-Running At Mena!

[ 83 ] May 24, 2016 |

151221122025-trump-shrug-super-alt-11

Some more real authenticity from Donald Trump:

In one recent interview, Trump said another topic of potential concern is the suicide of former White House aide Vincent Foster, which remains the focus of intense and far-fetched conspiracy theories on the Internet.

“It’s the one thing with her, whether it’s Whitewater or whether it’s Vince Foster or whether it’s Benghazi. It’s always a mess with Hillary,” Trump said in the interview.

Well, all three of these things involve equally scandalous behavior by Hillary Clinton, you have to give him that.

Oh Brother

[ 223 ] May 23, 2016 |

Trump_the_art_of_the_dealAbove: a book Donald Trump may or may not have read

Um:

Leaving aside the worthlessness of “authenticity” as a criterion of value, Donald Trump? Nothing says “authenticity” like a rich blowhard with a bad toupee and an almost aggressive indifference to the truth (not to mention his previously expressed views.)

This wouldn’t be worth mentioning except that Sanders made the, ah, interesting choice to make West one of his choices for the platform committee. I guess if he wants to use this the committee a vehicle for trolling that’s his privilege, but it strikes me that someone who not only believes that Barack Obama has been a terrible president but considers it obvious that everyone on the left side of the American political spectrum thinks Barack Obama has been a terrible president is not going to be a very effective negotiator with a group of powerful party regulars.

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 32

[ 11 ] May 23, 2016 |

This is the grave of Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg.

2015-07-28 14.49.54

Muhlenberg, a son of the founder of the Lutheran Church in America, was a Pennsylvania minister and supporter of the American Revolution. He served in the Continental Congress in 1779 and 1780 and then in the Pennsylvania House from 1780-83. A big supporter of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, Muhlenberg was elected to Congress for the first four terms of the body’s existence. During that period, he is most famous for being the first Speaker of the House, serving from 1789-91 and again from 1793-95. The list of other people to hold that post is highly varied, including Henry Clay, James Blaine, James Polk, the detestable Robert M.T. Hunter, Schuyler Colfax, and Sam Rayburn. Recent holders of the position have included Nancy Pelosi, the Crying Man, a child rapist, a defender of Belgian colonialism in the Congo, and the bought man of Charles Keating. Today, the position is held by The Last Serious Man in Washington.

Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg is buried in Woodward Hill Cemetery, Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Page 4 of 1,504« First...23456...102030...Last »