Day By Day:

I've added Day By Day to the sidebar. I realized tonight I've missed a week of it, because I always read it on Cassandra's blog.

This is only the first recognition of the loss we've suffered; and the one easiest to remedy.



You know who's conspiring to wreck the country? Those darn Republicans:

Consider a thought experiment. Imagine you actively disliked the United States, and wanted to deliberately undermine its economy. What kind of positions would you take to do the most damage?

You might start with rejecting the advice of economists and oppose any kind of stimulus investments. You'd also want to cut spending and take money out of the economy, while blocking funds to states and municipalities, forcing them to lay off more workers. You'd no doubt want to cut off stimulative unemployment benefits, and identify the single most effective jobs program of the last two years (the TANF Emergency Fund) so you could kill it.

You might then take steps to stop the Federal Reserve from trying to lower the unemployment rate. You'd also no doubt want to create massive economic uncertainty by vowing to gut the national health care system, promising to re-write the rules overseeing the financial industry, vowing re-write business regulations in general, considering a government shutdown, and even weighing the possibly of sending the United States into default.

You might want to cover your tracks a bit, and say you have an economic plan that would help -- a tax policy that's already been tried -- but you'd do so knowing that such a plan has already proven not to work.

Does any of this sound familiar?
(H/t: Dennis the Peasant, who replies: 'Coming from you, Steve, any thought is an experiment.')

Well, yes it does: except that I normally hear this line of thought from Ymar, and pointed in the other direction.

Note that both sets of plans strike a large number of people as likely to destroy the country. All we're disagreeing about is which side's ideas will ensure destruction.

Here's a more frightening idea than the possibility of a conspiracy: What if we're both right?

NJ Gov


...in which the Governor of New Jersey has a polite conversation with the head of the state teachers' union.

"I don't know! I never saw anything like that before."

Talk like a Yankee

(Don't) Talk Like a Yankee:

To go with T99's post about Dixie language from yesterday, this article on New Yorkers who are trying to unlearn their native accent.

The accent was rarely an asset but has become more of a handicap in an era of globalization, when people and jobs are more mobile and a more generic identity can be seen as an advantage (think Michael R. Bloomberg shedding his Boston twang).

“A New York accent makes you sound ignorant,” said Lynn Singer, a speech therapist who works with Miss LoGiudice. “People listen to the accent, but not to what you’re saying.”
I am sure I've mentioned that training in public speaking was part of my education, in a public high school in rural Georgia. The Southern accent, which can be melodious and beautiful, is nevertheless subject to the same reception to those from outside the culture. The money behind the success of Atlanta has always come from the Northeast -- chiefly, until lately, from New York -- so it was important that a Southerner be able to walk away from his accent when he walked into a corporate environment.

It's interesting to realize that the New Yorker has the same problem, now that globalization has produced a New York whose money is coming from the world.

A Good Point

A Good Point about Public Virtue:


he cultural problem that we have today is something that Machiavelli identified over 500 years ago. He grasped that the strength of a body politic is determined by the extent to which it was infused by public spirit. As far as Machiavelli was concerned, a real public spirit accounted for the strength of the Roman Empire – the Roman republic specifically – and also the incredible things that were going on in Florence, Sienna and so on during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. And Machiavelli made the point that public spirit presupposes a set of virtues, forms of behaviour that you expect people to have as part and parcel of everyday life. These virtues would include devotion, courage, patriotic conviction, risk-taking and so on. (That all this seems so terribly old-fashioned now is part of the problem.)

I would argue that almost every single virtue that makes for public spirit is stigmatised by our society. Having recently been listening to people’s recollections at the inquiry into the 7/7 bombings about what happened that terrible day in London in 2005, what really struck me was that you had stories of people wanting to do things for the hurt and injured but who were being told by fire officers that for health and safety reasons they could not go anywhere near these people.
He goes on to talk about how this has infected even intra-family relationships.



We must take a moment to mark the passing of CDR Dennis Rocheford, chaplain, Catholic priest, and a man whom you will understand lived a very good life. I gather, from the gentle phrasing, that he was a suicide: and that is a great problem.

As Augustine says (De Civ. Dei i, 21), "not even Samson is to be excused that he crushed himself together with his enemies under the ruins of the house, except the Holy Ghost, Who had wrought many wonders through him, had secretly commanded him to do this."
One of you, who knew him, wrote to suggest the topic. Honestly, I have nothing useful to say. I did not know the man, and cannot speak -- as his companion does, so eloquently -- of his fine qualities, his friendship, or his love.

As to suicide itself, I am afraid of no man but myself: and for that reason, I find in suicide a true fear. I have never known what to say about it, when it has come to command my attention. It is right that we should face our fears, though, and I would be setting a poor example -- and doing little to practice the virtue of courage -- if I did not.

What I might say, either of comfort or of sense, is less clear. I hope, and shall pray, for the soul of Father Rocheford.

Some Good Ideas

Some Good Ideas:

...and a very few bad ones. Let's try to sort out which are which.

We're speaking of Alasdair MacIntyre, whose thoughts on virtue, ethics and morals are largely wise and well-considered:

He has lambasted the heirs to the principal western ethical schools: John Locke’s social contract, Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative, Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian “the greatest happiness for the greatest number.” Yet his is not a lone voice in the wilderness. He can claim connections with a trio of 20th-century intellectual heavyweights: the late Elizabeth Anscombe, her surviving husband, Peter Geach, and the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, winner in 2007 of the Templeton prize. What all four have in common is their Catholic faith, enthusiasm for Aristotle’s telos (life goals), and promotion of Thomism, the philosophy of St Thomas Aquinas who married Christianity and Aristotle.
So wise and well-considered are his ideas that they manage to come up with something good even when they are rooted in Marx.
MacIntyre begins his Cambridge talk by asserting that the 2008 economic crisis was not due to a failure of business ethics. The opener is not a red herring. Ever since he published his key text After Virtue in 1981, he has argued that moral behaviour begins with the good practice of a profession, trade, or art: playing the violin, cutting hair, brick-laying, teaching philosophy. Through these everyday social practices, he maintains, people develop the appropriate virtues. In other words, the virtues necessary for human flourishing are not a result of the top-down application of abstract ethical principles, but the development of good character in everyday life....

There are skills, he argues, like being a good burglar, that are inimical to the virtues. Those engaged in finance—particularly money trading—are, in MacIntyre’s view, like good burglars. Teaching ethics to traders is as pointless as reading Aristotle to your dog. The better the trader, the more morally despicable.

At this point, MacIntyre appeals to the classical golden mean: “The courageous human being,” he cites Aristotle as saying, “strikes a mean between rashness and cowardice… and if things go wrong she or he will be among those who lose out.” But skilful money-men, MacIntyre argues, want to transfer as much risk as possible to others without informing them of its nature. This leads to a failure to “distinguish adequately between rashness, cowardice and courage.” Successful money-men do not—and cannot—take into account the human victims of the collateral damage resulting from market crises. Hence the financial sector is in essence an environment of “bad character” despite the fact that it appears to many a benevolent engine of growth.
"Wait!" one might say -- and particular one like me, who has traveled in the third world. We're not talking merely of 'growth,' some vague thing that might be a chimera. We're talking about massive and sustained improvements in the quality of life, education, and liberty of people who have suffered tremendously. Taking on board that part of anti-colonialism that is valuable, we can still say that the people of (say) China are massively better off now than at any point in the past; certainly better off than under Maoism.

That is not too far a stretch for the gentleman.
MacIntyre argues that those committed to the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition of the common good must begin again. This involves “capturing the double aspect of the globalising economy and its financial sector, so that we understand it both as an engine of growth and as such a source of benefits, but equally as a perpetrator of great harms and continuing injustices.” Apologists for globalisation, he argues, treat it as a source of benefits, and only accidentally and incidentally a source of harms. Hence, the view that “to be for or against globalisation is in some ways like being for or against the weather.”

MacIntyre maintains, however, that the system must be understood in terms of its vices—in particular debt.
Here we find that he is addressing what is really the central moral and political issue of our time. The challenges posed by war, by terrorism, by torture, all these pale in scale and ramifications to the moral and political challenge of debt. That may be hard to see at once, but I think it is right. The war in Iraq has involved, directly, perhaps one percent of Americans; if you want to speak of taxes paid, it's a small percentage of what you are paying. The debt issue envelops all living generations, and those yet born; and overwhelms, in terms of cost. While there is a depth to the moral problem of violence that seems to have no bottom, too, there is that same depth to the questions we face with debt: questions which come down to leaving people to die, and choosing which people. They are questions of honor and fealty, because others have promised in our name; and to break that bond is to break all bonds.

For example, we recently received as an assertion from the Congress figure one of this report. I don't think they're adequately accounting for Federal pensions there, which are another set of massive transfer payments owed to the retiring: but that just makes the point worse. The wealth of the nation has already been spent -- and to avoid collapse, there is little choice but to repudiate some of the debts. To put it simplistically, if we eliminated Medicare and Medicaid, and refused to pay on Federal pensions, we would be fiscally fine forever: but only by breaking our promises to older Americans who no longer have a long time to plan their way out of the problem.

On the other hand, to the degree that we don't break these promises, we're destroying the lives of the younger generation -- the one that is currently trying to raise families, who are poorer on average than the older generation, and who have had less opportunity to build and save wealth. They will pay punishing taxes and watch their nation bankrupted. Whose fault is that? The Congress', for making promises while spending the cash they were supposed to set aside -- that is, for taking on debt. But also those older Americans', whose job as citizens was to stop them.

That leaves aside, as we should not, the way in which the politicians and big business (including big labor) have become a wealth-extracting machine; as Ymar and Eric rightly point out, that's the real story behind this TSA mess. Why are Americans being subjected to these radical humiliations, when (as BillT points out) there is no legitimate security purpose at work? For the same reason that the crash of 2008 can bankrupt and destroy you and me, but not the big banks! Not General Motors! They must be saved -- with our cash.

It also leaves aside, as we should not, the way in which Congress encouraged and enabled -- and, failing that, required -- the lending of money to people more likely to be destroyed by it. The moral hazard of that is something Cassandra often wrote about; perhaps she will speak to it in the comments here.

Or the same reason that QE is destroying our purchasing power in order to avoid 'inflation' -- at a time when gas and food prices are already higher than a year ago, and heading higher yet. Who is that helping? Not you and me; but it is helping the big banks.

So let's read the rest, and talk about the ideas. It's an interesting mix of influences. We've got some time this week, with the holiday: I'd like to talk this through with you. What do you think?

Soap Operas of the Tudors

"You Know Whom I Hate? That Anne Boleyn."

Apparently she was not popular with the ladies of late-Tudor England.

Many years of happy marriage to Henry followed, more than he would enjoy with any of his subsequent wives. But Catherine failed to give Henry the healthy son he wanted. Contrary to myth, the king had male heirs (his nephews). As Anne Boleyn's biographer Eric Ives once observed to me, with Henry the desire for a son was all about his codpiece, and what lay behind it, rather than the Tudor succession and national stability. A male heir from his own loins was a symbol of his manhood, and when Catherine passed childbearing age without giving him one, he was determined to have their marriage annulled. He insisted that he had broken a biblical injunction in marrying his brother's wife, and that the papal dispensation was invalid. Henry did not approve of divorce and would never do so.

Tremlett's account of the subsequent battle of wills between the spouses is gripping. Catherine emerges as an extraordinary character, well deserving of a full-length biography. There is something fascinating and chilling in the detail that even as Henry humiliated Catherine and moved to have their daughter made a bastard, she was always seen smiling and was exquisitely polite to Henry. They would dine together, and at times he even visited her private rooms. With formidable discipline she continued to show him the comfortable familiarity of the affectionate partnership they had once enjoyed, while absolutely refusing to give him the annulment he wanted. In this she had public support.

Henry's mistress Anne Boleyn was the Camilla Parker Bowles to Catherine's People's Princess. Women in particular were vociferous in their hatred....
That seems reasonable, doesn't it? The pair must have seemed the very emblem of a husband discarding a long-time faithful wife for a younger woman. Since expressing disgust with the King was treason... well, that really left one option.

How Dixie Are You?

How Dixie Are You?

Test time. My sister and I are 76% and 77% Dixie; my husband is 67%.

I don't think of myself as having a very strong Southern accent. I have cousins in South Carolina with the sound that Vivien Leigh probably thought she was achieving as Scarlett O'Hara. I have cousins in North Carolina who could pass for Jed Clampett. My own accent is sort of washed-out suburban TV, but my word usage is strictly Dixie. A Yankee colleague once was surprised to hear me say, "I'm not either," which seemed perfectly ordinary to me. He'd have said, "No, I'm not."

Some other Dixiefied locutions I never realized were so regional:

  • catty-corner
  • conniption fit, also, tizzy fit
  • coochie coo
  • everybody -- instead of everyone
  • gone -- He's gone and poured syrup all over his dinner!
  • pester
  • pistol -- that little William sure is a pistol!
  • ruckus -- last night I heard quite a ruckus in the parking lot
  • squall -- as in a baby crying at the top of his lungs gracious or gracious me
  • have to -- instead of must

Don't X-Ray My Junk

Don't X-Ray My Junk

I seem to have been born without any modesty to speak of, so I don't have strong feelings about being peeked at by x-ray in an airport. I'm less thrilled about physical contact from strangers; the number of people in the world I'll willingly hug is surprisingly small, and I don't encourage casual physical contact as a rule. Add to that my visceral aversion to any governmental agent's casual demand for an intrusion, and I start to get positively rebellious. Still, if I think there's a good reason for an inspection, I'll stand with the inspectors as against the eelbrains who'd like to bring down a commercial jet.

I draw the line when I see the intrusions imposed by people with the same mindset that brings us zero-tolerance policies in public schools. We could do with fewer policies designed to trade one risk for another without thinking through either of them. Anti-CO2 policies are a good example: only a paralysis of the critical faculties permits climate alarmists to conclude that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere pose a greater risk than the probable results of their proposed solutions. Another good example is the use of backscatter x-rays at airports.

Setting aside for a moment the more intangible risks of letting TSA officials condition American travelers to act like sheep, there's the question of whether the increased chance of preventing an air disaster is even worth the excess radiation from the backscatter x-ray machine. Yes, the x-ray dose is extremely small -- but so are the doses from medical diagnostic x-rays, and we're pretty stingy about those. An ordinary x-ray of the chest or teeth might expose you to something like 8-10 mrem. A dose of 1,250 mrem probably increases your risk of cancer by 1 in a 1,000 (the background risk being about 200 in 1,000). The dose from an airport backscatter x-ray machine is so small that you'd have to be scanned about 200 times a year to get an annual dose of 1 mrem.

That's pretty small. But how does it compare to the risk of dying in a terrorist attack on a commercial jet? This site puts it at 1 in 10,400,000, which may be roughly comparable to the risk of a single mrem of x-ray exposure (using the over-simplistic method of multiplying 1 in 1,000 by 1 in 1,250). Not that the figure of 1 in 10,400,000 means much, since probability estimates based on largely unknown future mechanisms are mostly hot air. The point is that it's not possible to make life risk-free, and it's not often even that easy to compare the risks of forbearance against those of vigorous intervention. The whole approach strikes me as wrong-headed, anyway. Why is it OK to intrude more and more into the physical privacy of airline passengers with every passing year, but we still can't profile for fear of arousing resentment in exactly the sociodemographic groups we're most threatened by? Israel's experience with ElAl shows how effective a rational approach to passenger screening can be if it relies on social clues and behavioral patterns rather than the equivalent of universal cavity searches.

I confess I'd like to see Americans stand up for themselves. Ceding to the federal government the right to do anything it takes in order to push perceived risks to an unattainable zero level is risky in itself. I'm not ready to advocate a total boycott of the airlines or even mass civil disobedience in the scanner lines. Ridicule may be a more appropriate first level of resistance. I'd like to see passengers carry extra one-dollar bills, and tuck them into the belts of the TSA employees after the physical and/or electronic groping sessions are completed.

Cowboys are universal.

Ninjas. Damn.

And I do not ever remember seeing this combination before:

I guess that's literally universal with that last one.

Get a Gun


A highly sensible suggestion from... Salon magazine??

I have decided that I will never tell my new beau about the physical abuse I suffered in the past. It is too shameful, plus I'm sure it wouldn't accomplish anything productive. I disclosed the tip of the iceberg about the verbal and emotional abuse, just to explain why I avoid confrontation. My boyfriend was upset, naturally, and said that if he ever met my ex he would tell him off. I replied that I would do everything in my power to make sure that they never met, because my ex is a big, crazy dude. My boyfriend asked if my ex could "take him" and I answered honestly that yes, he could. Plus, he has guns....

OK, so can of worms here. My boyfriend now is constantly nervous that he's going to walk out of my house on some random morning and come face-to-face with my crazy ex and a shotgun....

In my heart, I agree that I am not worth the trouble.... What can I do? I guess I should have kept my mouth shut.

Dear Damaged,

Well, no, I don't think you should have kept your mouth shut. Wife beaters and woman-batterers of all kinds would love to see their victims keep their mouths shut. They would love it if all the women they abused were to live in fear the rest of their lives. It would probably turn them on to know that you're having to sneak around having a boyfriend in secret. What a great power trip it would be for him to know that long after you've ended the relationship you still fear him.

So no, I don't think you should have kept your mouth shut.

I think you should get a shotgun.

Wouldn't you rather be the one with the shotgun?
There's more, including some hedging. Still, that's pretty sharp advice if you ask me.

Elvis is Everywhere

Songs about Girls:

In deference to T99, a song that the ever-charming (and rarely understandable) Pandora sent me about a girl who likes machetes.

Well, and who doesn't like a good machete? Or girls who like them?

As to why they thought I'd like the song, that's another question entirely.

UPDATE: I'm probably not being fair to Pandora. I find that if I answer its questions about what I like and what I don't from what it plays, in a week or so any new station is playing nothing but Johnny Cash tunes. I do like Johnny Cash! So the system works, sort of.

However, what I wanted to explore was utterly different types of music. Pandora has, for example, a good selection of early music, but it doesn't know how to differentiate it so that you don't end up with Johnny Cash. For that reason, I tend to plug in something and not adjust the station much; and so I get odd results. It's not their fault, though.

UPDATE: Oh, and Elvis. I never really listened to Elvis before Pandora; but she's right. I do like Elvis.

Of course, Elvis is everywhere. What I really wanted to listen to when I created that station, though, was songs about motorcycles.

Yard Signs

Yard Signs

Apropos of Grim's story about the burglar.

Tin-Cup Urbanism

Tin-Cup Urbanism

Two articles today about the looming municipal bankruptcy problem: Steve Malanga at Real Clear Politics, and yesterday's Washington Examiner OpEd. Malanga reports:

A recent study of the 77 largest municipal pension systems by finance professors Joshua Rauh of Northwestern University's Kellogg School and Robert Novy-Marx of the University of Rochester estimates that total unfunded liabilities of America's municipal pension systems is well north of half a trillion dollars. On a per capita basis, the professors estimated that each household in the 50 largest cities and counties they studied owes an average of $14,165 for future retiree liabilities. . . .
The city with the highest per household unfunded liability in the nation is Chicago, $41,966 per household, or $45 billion in total obligations. Illinois, meanwhile, is the state with among the most troubled pension systems, with about $285 billion in unfunded liabilities. "Even if all other spending was shut down, the city of Chicago would need to allocate about eight years of dedicated tax revenues to cover pension promises it has already made," the study by Rauh and Novy-Marx estimates. Meanwhile, Illinois' pension obligations amount to seven times annual state tax collections.

California is in particularly bad shape. San Francisco and Los Angeles are among the places with the greatest liabilities among cities, amounting to $34,940 and $18,643 per household, respectively. Their combined pension debt of $33 billion is in addition to some $600 billion in Golden State unfunded liabilities. Also on the watch list from California are a host of other cities and counties, including Contra Costa County, Santa Barbara County and the city of San Jose. Los Angeles County, which runs many municipal functions in addition to those of the city of Los Angeles, has its own woes with a staggering $27 billion in unfunded liabilities. . . .

The cost of funding retirement benefits for New York City employees . . . has increased from $1.5 billion in 2000 to some $7 billion today, out of a city-funded budget of $44 billion.
The Examiner editorial blames the problem on cities' addiction to the federal teat:
Growing dependency on federal solutions to local problems has almost always stifled innovation. "Tin-cup urbanism," as it came to be known, removed the ability of citizens to control the fates of their own communities, leading to ineffective governance and increased crime.
Sometimes the only solution to excessive debt is for the people with money to stop lending. Nationally and individually, maybe we should quit investing in munis despite the tax breaks that are specifically designed to keep that funding pipeline wide open. At the very least, it would be a sign of sanity if investors quit buying munis issued by insanely over-leveraged cities like San Francisco and New York. Locally, residents of cities will have to elect public servants who are committed to living within the means that their local taxpayers are able and willing to pay. Cities are going to have to cut up their credit cards.

Black Keys

Black Keys

I need cheering up today, so it's piano fun. This is Lang Lang fooling around in his rehearsal room with Chopin's "Black Keys" Etude.

Here's the more traditional rendition:

And here's the Chico Marx routine that no doubt inspired Lang Lang:

And this is for BillT:

History & Philosophy

History & Philosophy:

The first has normally been thought the proper education of princes; the latter, the road to the greatest possible human understanding. Modern educators seem to doubt the use of history:

Is history as good as finished? Our school system seems to think so. Often it seems that the teaching of history is treated by the educational establishment as the rough equivalent of the teaching of dead languages: an unnecessary luxury of a bygone age, and something the modern world no longer requires. In the most recent debates about the national curriculum, history has been granted the status of an "inessential subject."
Even philosophers sometimes question the role of philosophy:
The philosophical use has stumbled from one intellectual catastrophe to another. It’s never recovered since the days of Descartes, Locke and Kant.
I'd have to go along with that: back to the medievals and the ancients! Well, what about science, then?
"The main barrier is the scientism that pervades our mentality and our culture. We are prone to think that if there’s a serious problem, science will find the answer. If science cannot find the answer, then it cannot be a serious problem at all. That seems to me altogether wrong...."

One of his larger criticisms of contemporary neuroscience concerns the way it characterises the activities of the brain. Dualists about the mind and brain – those who hold that there are thinking substances like souls in the world as well as all the ordinary physical stuff – say that the mind sees and thinks and wants and calculates. Contemporary neuroscience dismisses this as crude, but Hacker argues that it just ends up swapping the mind with the brain, saying that the brain sees and thinks and wants and calculates. He says, “Merely replacing Cartesian ethereal stuff with glutinous grey matter and leaving everything else the same will not solve any problems. On the current neuroscientist’s view, it’s the brain that thinks and reasons and calculates and believes and fears and hopes. In fact, it’s human beings who do all these things, not their brains and not their minds. I don’t think it makes any sense to talk about the brain engaging in psychological or mental operations.”


“The fact is that if you look from one domain of cognitive neuroscience to another you will find that the operations of the brain thus conceived are being advanced as explanations for human behaviour, for our thinking, believing, seeing, hoping and fearing. That’s wrong, because it’s no explanation. If someone wants to know why poor old Snodgrass, as the result of some lesion, can’t do something that normal people can do, and you say that his brain can’t do it, you haven’t advanced any explanation at all. One cannot explain why someone cannot see by saying that his brain cannot see. One cannot explain why someone behaves in a certain way by suggesting that his brain tells him to. Cognitive defects can indeed sometimes be explained by reference to damage to the brain – but not by reference to cognitive deficiencies of the brain, since the brain has no cognitive powers at all. There is no such thing as a brain’s thinking, wanting, reasoning, believing or hypothesizing.”
I suppose there's always poetry.


"Please Refudiate."

Apparently the New Oxford American Dictionary really liked that turn of phrase. Congratulations, Mrs. Palin! Not everyone invents a word that makes it into the dictionary. It's more of a contribution to English than most will make; that would be an irony, if the common slanders pointed at the lady were true. Instead, it's just a pleasure to see.



A Question of Theory and Practice:

What's the difference between this:

And this:

Acceptable answers include, "There's no difference at all"; but you have to defend your answer, whatever it is.

Let's Go Fly A Kite:


What? There's not a lot of wind today.