Calling the Bluff
Charles Rangel, Democratic Congressman from New York, will be calling for a return of the draft when he returns to Congress in January. In his article, Congressman Rangel states:
I believe that if those calling for war knew that their children were likely to be required to serve — and to be placed in harm's way — there would be more caution and a greater willingness to work with the international community in dealing with Iraq. A renewed draft will help bring a greater appreciation of the consequences of decisions to go to war.
This is an interesting political gambit. In a way, very reminiscent of the Wall Street Journal's call to raise taxes on the poor. By calling for the sacrifice of war to be shared equally, Rangel is hoping to prevent war.
One can only wonder how the Bush administration will respond.
Death to Capital Punishment
In this week's New Yorker, Scott Turrow writes a telling article on his experience as a member of Illinois's commission to recommend reform of that state's capital punishment system. Turrow, a former, US Attorney and bestselling author provides archetypical annecdotes surrounding capital punishment cases, from the conviction of the innocent to the random disproportion of punishment to the fears from super-criminals. Ultimately, however, Turrow comes down in opposition to capital punishment.
Here are the two of the more interesting points from the article:
Capital punishment is supposed to be applied only to the most heinous crimes, but it is precisely those cases which, because of the strong feelings of repugnance they evoke, most thoroughly challenge the detached judgment of all participants in the legal process—police, prosecutors, judges, and juries. The innocent are often particularly at risk. Most defendants charged with capital crimes avoid the death penalty by reaching a plea bargain, a process that someone who is innocent is naturally reluctant to submit to. Innocent people tend to insist on a trial, and when they get it the jury does not include anyone who will refuse on principle to impose a death sentence. Such people are barred from juries in capital cases by a Supreme Court decision, Witherspoon v. Illinois, that, some scholars believe, makes the juries more conviction-prone.
I admit that I am still attracted to a death penalty that would be applied to horrendous crimes, or that would provide absolute certainty that the likes of Henry Brisbon would never again satisfy their cruel appetites. But if death is available as a punishment, the furious heat of grief and rage that these crimes inspire will inevitably short-circuit any capital system. Now and then, we will execute someone who is innocent, while the fundamental equality of each survivor's loss creates an inevitable emotional momentum to expand the categories for death-penalty eligibility.
One feeling you get from reading Turrow's article is the variability and capriciousness of our Justice System. Similar crimes don't mete similar punishments. Eyewitnesses are confused, manipulated, and mistaken. Jailhouse informants lie. Even fingerprints are no assurance.
How many innocents are sacrifices to the altar of our own deceptions of justice? How many should we tolerate?
How to Remove Dictators?
Give them tenure! argues Cullen Murphy in the Atlantic Monthly.
"Uh, Professor Saddam? I don't think I deserved a B on this paper."
Here's a wonderful little animated interaction thingy called Flyguy by Trevor Van Meter. Happy Holidays.
In his Dec. 23rd, 2002 Washington Post article War and the Fickle Left, Robert Kagan makes the claim that the left, in the avatar of Michael Walzer, modified its position on unilateral action in Iraq at about the same time as the United States swore in George W. Bush into the White House.
"Walzer's illogical about-face is embarrassing but, sadly, not unique," states Kagan. "Yesterday's liberal interventionists, in Bosnia, Kosovo and Haiti, are today's liberal abstentionists. What changed? Just the man in the White House. Intellectual consistency, even for great thinkers, is no match for partisan passions."
Regardless of what you may think of Michael Walzer's politics, you have to grant that he is, indeed, a great thinker. His book, Just and Unjust Wars, is one of the seminal works of modern just war theory. As a professor at the Institute for Advanced Studies, Michael Walzer has published over 20 books on various philosophical topics, taught courses on political philosophy, and contributed to various philosophical and national journals and magazines. (Michael Walzer's CV)
This is not to say that Mr. Walzer can't be wrong or can't have his reason subjected to his 'partisan passions'; however, when discussing the thoughts of 'deep thinkers', it helps to read them without a hidden agenda. As the man said, when it comes to the hearts of men, you bound to find whatever you're looking for.
And, in fact, if we read Mr. Walzer's articles in a more charitiable light, we can make a pretty good argument that no switch of thought has occurred. It is a little more subtle than Kragen gives Walzer credit for.
In Walzer's 1998 New Republic article The Lone Ranger, Walzer is making a technical argument. Walzer states that unilateral action, in and of itself, is not necessarily a good reason to oppose a war. However, Walzer is very cautious with his defense of unilateralism.
"This isn't an argument in support of unilateralism generally. The long history of imperial wars by one or another of the great powers ought to make us suspicious of unilateralist claims. But suspicion is not the same thing as opposition. Some unilateral uses of force can be justified; some might even be morally necessary. We have to worry about each case, about prudence, effectiveness, and proportionality--really worry, which means that automatic opposition is flatly wrong. If we are not ready, sometimes, to act unilaterally, we are not ready for real life in international society." (Walzer, The New Republic, 1998)
More importanlty, Walzer is not making a claim in support of any action against Iraq. At best, you could argue that Walzer would feel war is justified if inspectors are forcibly removed from Iraq, but you'd have to rely on some supporting evidence other than the 1998 Republic article. Kagan has cited none.
Kagan has mischaracterized Walzer's argument. Just because Walzer does not find unilateral action sufficient reason to oppose a war, does not mean that he would support all unilateral action to start wars. I might not oppose you punching me in the nose on general principle, but I'm going to want a real good reason when you do it.
However, in Walzer's 2002 New Republic article Inspectors Yes, War No, Walzer is not necessarily opposed to unilateral action.
"So we may yet face the hardest political question: What ought to be done when what ought to be done is not going to be done? But we shouldn't be too quick to answer that question. If the dithering and delay go on and on--if the inspectors don't return or if they return but can't work effectively; if the threat of enforcement is not made credible; and if our allies are unwilling to act--then many of us will probably end up, very reluctantly, supporting the war the Bush administration seems so eager to fight. Right now, however, there are other things to do, and there is still time to do them. The administration's war is neither just nor necessary." (Walzer, The New Republic, 2002)
So, what are we to think about Robert Kagan's article. I can only think of two choices. Kagan either innocently misread and misunderstand Walzer's arguments and articles, or Kagan is willing to mischaracterize determined and principled philosophical thought in service to his own 'partisan passions.'
Here's the links to Walzer's articles. You be the judge.
- The Lone Ranger by Michael Walzer (The New Republic, April 27, 1998)
- Inspectors Yes, War No by Michael Walzer (The New Republic, Sep. 30, 2002)
More stats on race
- Percentage of all Americans in poverty in 2001: 11.7%
- Percentage of white Americans in poverty in 2001: 9.9%
- Percentage of black Americans in poverty in 2001: 22.7%
-- Citation: Census 2001 Poverty Tables [ferret.bls.census.gov]
- Percentage of all Americans who own homes in 2001: 67.8%
- Percentage of white Americans who own homes in 2001: 71.6%
- Percentage of black Americans who own homes in 2001: 47.7%
-- Citation: US Census Bureau Annual Housing Survey [www.census.gov]
- Median income of all American households in 2001: $42,228
- Median income of white American households in 2001: $46,305
- Median income of black American households in 2001: $29,470
-- Citation: US Census Bureau Annual Income Survey [www.census.gov]
- Percentage of all Americans in Managerial or Professional positions in 2001: 29.7%
- Percentage of white Americans in Managerial or Professional positions in 2001: 30.7%
- Percentage of black Americans in Managerial or Professional positions: 20.7%
-- Citation: CPS Annual Demographic Survey [ferret.bls.census.gov]
Santa Claus Racist?
Six to Eight Black Men
by David Sedaris
A heartwarming tale of Christmas in a foreign land where, if you've been naughty, Saint Nick and his friends give you an ass-whuppin'
I've never been much for guidebooks, so when trying to get my bearings in a strange American city, I normally start by asking the cabdriver or hotel clerk some silly question regarding the latest census figures. I say silly because I don't really care how many people live in Olympia, Washington, or Columbus, Ohio. They're nice enough places, but the numbers mean nothing to me. My second question might have to do with average annual rainfall, which, again, doesn't tell me anything about the people who have chosen to call this place home.
What really interests me are the local gun laws. Can I carry a concealed weapon, and if so, under what circumstances? What's the waiting period for a tommy gun? Could I buy a Glock 17 if I were recently divorced or fired from my job? I've learned from experience that it's best to lead into this subject as delicately as possible, especially if you and the local citizen are alone and enclosed in a relatively small space. Bide your time, though, and you can walk away with some excellent stories. I've heard, for example, that the blind can legally hunt in both Texas and Michigan. They must be accompanied by a sighted companion, but still, it seems a bit risky. You wouldn't want a blind person driving a car or piloting a plane, so why hand him a rifle? What sense does that make? I ask about guns not because I want one of my own but because the answers vary so widely from state to state. In a country that's become so homogenous, I'm reassured by these last touches of regionalism.
Guns aren't really an issue in Europe, so when I'm traveling abroad, my first question usually relates to barnyard animals. "What do your roosters say?" is a good icebreaker, as every country has its own unique interpretation. In Germany, where dogs bark "vow vow" and both the frog and the duck say "quack," the rooster greets the dawn with a hearty "kik-a-ricki." Greek roosters crow "kiri-a-kee," and in France they scream "coco-rico," which sounds like one of those horrible premixed cocktails with a pirate on the label. When told that an American rooster says "cock-a-doodle-doo," my hosts look at me with disbelief and pity.
"When do you open your Christmas presents?" is another good conversation starter, as it explains a lot about national character. People who traditionally open gifts on Christmas Eve seem a bit more pious and family oriented than those who wait until Christmas morning. They go to mass, open presents, eat a late meal, return to church the following morning, and devote the rest of the day to eating another big meal. Gifts are generally reserved for children, and the parents tend not to go overboard. It's nothing I'd want for myself, but I suppose it's fine for those who prefer food and family to things of real value.
In France and Germany, gifts are exchanged on Christmas Eve, while in Holland the children receive presents on December 5, in celebration of Saint Nicholas Day. It sounded sort of quaint until I spoke to a man named Oscar, who filled me in on a few of the details as we walked from my hotel to the Amsterdam train station.
Unlike the jolly, obese American Santa, Saint Nicholas is painfully thin and dresses not unlike the pope, topping his robes with a tall hat resembling an embroidered tea cozy. The outfit, I was told, is a carryover from his former career, when he served as a bishop in Turkey.
One doesn't want to be too much of a cultural chauvinist, but this seemed completely wrong to me. For starters, Santa didn't use to do anything. He's not retired, and, more important, he has nothing to do with Turkey. The climate's all wrong, and people wouldn't appreciate him. When asked how he got from Turkey to the North Pole, Oscar told me with complete conviction that Saint Nicholas currently resides in Spain, which again is simply not true. While he could probably live wherever he wanted, Santa chose the North Pole specifically because it is harsh and isolated. No one can spy on him, and he doesn't have to worry about people coming to the door. Anyone can come to the door in Spain, and in that outfit, he'd most certainly be recognized. On top of that, aside from a few pleasantries, Santa doesn't speak Spanish. He knows enough to get by, but he's not fluent, and he certainly doesn't eat tapas.
While our Santa flies on a sled, Saint Nicholas arrives by boat and then transfers to a white horse. The event is televised, and great crowds gather at the waterfront to greet him. I'm not sure if there's a set date, but he generally docks in late November and spends a few weeks hanging out and asking people what they want.
"Is it just him alone?" I asked. "Or does he come with some backup?"
Oscar's English was close to perfect, but he seemed thrown by a term normally reserved for police reinforcement.
"Helpers," I said. "Does he have any elves?"
Maybe I'm just overly sensitive, but I couldn't help but feel personally insulted when Oscar denounced the very idea as grotesque and unrealistic. "Elves," he said. "They're just so silly."
The words silly and unrealistic were redefined when I learned that Saint Nicholas travels with what was consistently described as "six to eight black men." I asked several Dutch people to narrow it down, but none of them could give me an exact number. It was always "six to eight," which seems strange, seeing as they've had hundreds of years to get a decent count.
The six to eight black men were characterized as personal slaves until the mid-fifties, when the political climate changed and it was decided that instead of being slaves they were just good friends. I think history has proven that something usually comes between slavery and friendship, a period of time marked not by cookies and quiet times beside the fire but by bloodshed and mutual hostility. They have such violence in Holland, but rather than duking it out among themselves, Santa and his former slaves decided to take it out on the public. In the early years, if a child was naughty, Saint Nicholas and the six to eight black men would beat him with what Oscar described as "the small branch of a tree."
"Yes," he said. "That's it. They'd kick him and beat him with a switch. Then, if the youngster was really bad, they'd put him in a sack and take him back to Spain."
"Saint Nicholas would kick you?"
"Well, not anymore," Oscar said. "Now he just pretends to kick you."
"And the six to eight black men?"
He considered this to be progressive, but in a way I think it's almost more perverse than the original punishment. "I'm going to hurt you, but not really." How many times have we fallen for that line? The fake slap invariably makes contact, adding the elements of shock and betrayal to what had previously been plain, old-fashioned fear. What kind of Santa spends his time pretending to kick people before stuffing them into a canvas sack? Then, of course, you've got the six to eight former slaves who could potentially go off at any moment. This, I think, is the greatest difference between us and the Dutch. While a certain segment of our population might be perfectly happy with the arrangement, if you told the average white American that six to eight nameless black men would be sneaking into his house in the middle of the night, he would barricade the doors and arm himself with whatever he could get his hands on.
"Six to eight, did you say?"
In the years before central heating, Dutch children would leave their shoes by the fireplace, the promise being that unless they planned to beat you, kick you, or stuff you into a sack, Saint Nicholas and the six to eight black men would fill your clogs with presents. Aside from the threats of violence and kidnapping, it's not much different from hanging your stockings from the mantel. Now that so few people have a working fireplace, Dutch children are instructed to leave their shoes beside the radiator, furnace, or space heater. Saint Nicholas and the six to eight black men arrive on horses, which jump from the yard onto the roof. At this point, I guess, they either jump back down and use the door, or they stay put and vaporize through the pipes and electrical wires. Oscar wasn't too clear about the particulars, but, really, who can blame him? We have the same problem with our Santa. He's supposed to use the chimney, but if you don't have one, he still manages to come through. It's best not to think about it too hard.
While eight flying reindeer are a hard pill to swallow, our Christmas story remains relatively simple. Santa lives with his wife in a remote polar village and spends one night a year traveling around the world. If you're bad, he leaves you coal. If you're good and live in America, he'll give you just about anything you want. We tell our children to be good and send them off to bed, where they lie awake, anticipating their great bounty. A Dutch parent has a decidedly hairier story to relate, telling his children, "Listen, you might want to pack a few of your things together before you go to bed. The former bishop from Turkey will be coming along with six to eight black men. They might put some candy in your shoes, they might stuff you in a sack and take you to Spain, or they might just pretend to kick you. We don't know for sure, but we want you to be prepared."
This is the reward for living in Holland. As a child you get to hear this story, and as an adult you get to turn around and repeat it. As an added bonus, the government has thrown in legalized drugs and prostitution—so what's not to love about being Dutch?
Oscar finished his story just as we arrived at the station. He was a polite and interesting guy—very good company—but when he offered to wait until my train arrived, I begged off, saying I had some calls to make. Sitting alone in the vast terminal, surrounded by other polite, seemingly interesting Dutch people, I couldn't help but feel second-rate. Yes, it was a small country, but it had six to eight black men and a really good bedtime story. Being a fairly competitive person, I felt jealous, then bitter, and was edging toward hostile when I remembered the blind hunter tramping off into the Michigan forest. He might bag a deer, or he might happily shoot his sighted companion in the stomach. He may find his way back to the car, or he may wander around for a week or two before stumbling through your front door. We don't know for sure, but in pinning that license to his chest, he inspires the sort of narrative that ultimately makes me proud to be an American.
Stats on Race
KILROY'S WEEKLY INDEX (don't be too insulted Harper's)
- Chances an applicant with a white sounding name is more likely to be called for an interview than an applicant with a black sounding name: 50%
- Percentage of black Americans who live below the poverty line: 29.3%
- Percentage of white Americans who live below the poverty line: 11.2%
- Percentage of black Americans in the United States: 12.3%
- Percentage of black elected officials in the United State: 1.6%
- Percentage of white Americans with a college degree: 24%
- Percentage of black Americans with a college degree: 13.2%
- Percentage of college professors who are black: 4.7%
- Median income for black Americans in 1995: $22,393
- Median income for white Americans in 1995: $35,766
- Median family net worth for white households: $43,800
- Median family net worth for black households: $3,700 (not a typo).
- Percentage of the country's regular drug users who are black: 13%
- Percentage of drug arrestees who are black: 35%
- Percentage of drug convictees who are black: 55%
- Percentage of those sentenced to prison who are black: 74%
- Percentage of white adults who think that average African-American is better off in terms of jobs than the average white: 58%
- Percentage of whites and blacks respectively in managerial or professional positions: 29% and 19%
- Percentage of whites and blacks respectively in low skilled service jobs: 13% and 23%
According to a 1990 Survey of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.
- Percentage of respondents who saw blacks as less intelligent: 53.2%
- Percentage of respondents who saw blacks as lazier than whites: 62.2%
- Percentage of respondents who thought blacks more likely than whites to prefer living on welfare: 77.7%
- Percentage of respondents who thought blacks more violent than whites: 56.1%
More on Race Preferences
In the blog Just One Minute, The Minute Man attempts to justify the results of the University of Chicago study mentioned below by arguing that 'blacks degrees are worth less' because
"A school makes a great effort to recruit minorities. Might the faculty feel some pressure to keep those students afloat? And, for the more sinister-minded among you, suppose a white student complains to a dean that a professor is unsympathetic. Possible consequences for the Prof? Now, suppose a minority student complains. Is the Dean more likely to get involved? Is there a possibility that professors think this way as they meet with students who have questions about the professor's grading policy?"
Given the results of the study Alan Krueger reported on, I'd conclude the exact opposite. Since evaluating resumes and evaluating college papers is a somewhat similar exercise, I'd theorize that it would be more likely to that professors grade blacks more stringently than whites.
Consider the following results from the 1990 Survey of the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.
Given to a cross-section of about 1200 Americans, 150 of whom were black, the following results were tabulated:
- 53.2% of respondents saw blacks as less intelligent.
- 62.2% of respondents saw blacks as lazier than whites.
- 77.7% of respondents thought blacks more likely than whites to prefer living on welfare.
(From A Country of Strangers, by David K. Shipler)
Given the predominance of this attitude concerning the intelligence of blacks, I think that it's spurious reasoning to think that professors at colleges would somehow act so differently as to make a college degree held by an African American as somehow worthless of consideration.
(Begin Sarcasm) Naw, there is no need for Affirmative Action (End Sarcasm)
An article in the NY Times by Alan Krueger details how racism still exists in hiring.
From the article:
"To test whether employers discriminate against black job applicants, Marianne Bertrand of the University of Chicago and Sendhil Mullainathan of M.I.T. conducted an unusual experiment. They selected 1,300 help-wanted ads from newspapers in Boston and Chicago and submitted multiple résumés from phantom job seekers. The researchers randomly assigned the first names on the résumés, choosing from one set that is particularly common among blacks and from another that is common among whites...
So Kristen and Tamika, and Brad and Tyrone, applied for jobs from the same pool of want ads and had equivalent résumés. Nine names were selected to represent each category: black women, white women, black men and white men. Last names common to the racial group were also assigned. Four résumés were typically submitted for each job opening, drawn from a reservoir of 160. Nearly 5,000 applications were submitted from mid-2001 to mid-2002. Professors Bertrand and Mullainathan kept track of which candidates were invited for job interviews.
No single employer was sent two identical résumés, and the names on the résumés were randomly assigned, so applicants with black- and white-sounding names applied for the same set of jobs with the same set of résumés.
Apart from their names, applicants had the same experience, education and skills, so employers had no reason to distinguish among them.
The results are disturbing. Applicants with white-sounding names were 50 percent more likely to be called for interviews than were those with black-sounding names. Interviews were requested for 10.1 percent of applicants with white-sounding names and only 6.7 percent of those with black-sounding names. "
Not very hopeful.
Legalize Pot and Kill Pot Culture
Here's an interesting and funny article on legalizing pot by John Scalzi.
Arguments for Atheism
In Slate today, there is an interesting article called The Atheist Christmas Challenge - Can You Prove God Doesn't Exist? by Jim Holt.
Here is my attempt at illustrating three arguments for an atheist worldview.
As I'm sure has already been mentioned on the Fray, using a logical argument to prove a negative is impossible. At best, you can develop an argument that a hypothesis is improvable.
Therefore, an atheist has at least three routes to go to defend their hypothesis that God doesn't exist: the empirical route, the human nature route, and the pragmatically ethical route.
THE EMPIRICAL ROUTE
Under the empirical route, an atheist does not have to actually prove that God exists; he or she merely has to state that the evidence for God's existence does not rise to the level required for a rational being to assent to. It is up to those who believe in God's existence to provide that evidence and argue that it does meet those standards.
One can argue, as Russell does, that the best one can be is agnostic about belief in God. But using Russel's standard, one would have to be agnostic about any being. If you replace the word 'God' in Russel's argument with the word 'Santa Claus' or 'fairies', you would get similar results.
More difficult is the conflicting definitions of God. God, unlike Santa or fairies, has as many definitions about his/her/its existence as there are people. It is difficult for an atheist to put together any sort of empirical defense against the existence of God when theists keep changing their mind about what God is.
Which leads us to...
THE HUMAN NATURE ROUTE (also known as THE MEME ROUTE or THE LINGUISTIC ROUTE)
Under this argument, an atheist does not argue against the belief in God; rather the atheist argues that human beings are naturally prone to invent fanciful, imaginary constructs to explain their world. God, argues the atheist, is a very effective meme. As a side effect of human consciousness in the world, humans are very predisposed to constructing God or gods.
There seems to be plenty of evidence for this. Throughout history, every culture has developed these fanciful beings that they worship. Most people no longer believe in these beings and would argue against the existence of say, Zeus, or Odin, or Ananzi.
Since studies have shown that people who tend to have a belief in any higher being tend also to have better chances of survival of diseases, etc, an atheist could argue that human beings are evolutionarily predisposed to these types of beliefs.
An atheist can also attempt to give a cause to this hypothesis.
An atheist can argue that one of the essential elements, perhaps the essential element for human survival has been the development of language. Individual human beings have survived precisely because they have been able to co-ordinate (or even manipulate) others to act in their best interest. And as the saying goes, "When all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail."
So when human beings are confronted with other factor that endanger their survival, such as the environment, or disease, they want to try and manipulate that factor directly, and they try to do so with the only tool they have, language.
Human beings give the environment and disease and any other event that they cannot control, a language in order to attempt to 'communicate' (read manipulate) with that event. And before you know it, you have the Tornado god, and the Sun god, and the Rain god, etc. Is your village still getting hit by tornados? Well then, you must not be talking to Tornados the right way. Try using this Tornado prayer.
Given that human beings have this tendency to construct these fanciful beings due to our innate linguistic nature, a rational person should discount any proposals for the existence of these fanciful beings without significant evidence to the contrary.
When the boy is always crying wolf, you're going to want to see some real hard evidence of wolf activity before you believe the boy.
THE PRAGMATIC ARGUMENT
Another route to supporting an atheist world view is the argument that 'God' is a concept that we have outgrown. At one point in human culture's history, God was a useful concept that assisted us with coping with the world at large. Sure it had some horrific side effects (such as Crusades and Inquisitions and such), but in the end, it was beneficial for most people to believe that the universe was somehow on their side and that they were part of a larger plan.
However, with the advent of science, the size of our population, the democratization and increased destructiveness of technology, and the increased virulence of religious thought, 'God' as a concept has ceased to be a net positive for humanity and become a liability.
Humanity needs to rid itself of this 'God' thing before the belief in 'God' and the desire for all others to believe in my 'God' destroys us all.
Kilroy Was Here
School Vouchers and Improving Neigborhoods
In the Atlantic Monthly, there is a very good article on how school vouchers can improve the value of neighborhoods. (
Reversing White Flight by Johnathon Rusch )
From the article:
"Vouchers are possibly the best desegregation and urban-renewal program that the United States has hardly ever tried—or so research by Thomas J. Nechyba suggests....
Nechyba made two interesting moves. First, he chose to assume, as opponents of vouchers maintain, that vouchers would not improve public schools. Second, he took note of an important fact that education analysts often overlook when considering vouchers: most people choose their schools by buying their homes. Being located in a good school district can easily add 25 percent or more to the price of a house, as real-estate agents are well aware. ("It's worth it—the schools are great.")
Introducing vouchers, Nechyba found, had a striking positive effect—not on poor public schools (remember, he assumed they would not improve) but on poor neighborhoods. "We're talking about large effects," he told me. "We're talking about average incomes in poor districts rising 20 or 30 percent, and housing prices going up comparably. We're talking about the tax base going up dramatically."
Why? Nechyba explains that quite a few parents stretch their budgets to live in communities with good public schools. Make vouchers available, and many of these parents will find that they can get more house for less money—and maybe a better education for their kids to boot—by moving into an undesirable public-school district and sending their children to a private school. In fact, he told me, "What we see in the model is that the people who tend to take up the vouchers include some people who already live in bad districts and simply can't afford to live anywhere else—but more are people who live in districts with good public schools, who decide instead to live in districts with bad public schools and send their kids to private schools." "
In general, I am skeptical about school vouchers for the following reasons.
First of all, profit motive, by it's very nature, must remove some resources away from the market and towards shareholders, etc.
Secondly, the market (like evolution), tends to drive differences of quality in the market based upon what people are willing to pay. For the public good of democracy, it may be more important that all schools are equal rather than some schools operating having very high quality.
Since one of the more powerful ideas of our democracy is the idea of the social or class ladder. Yes, this idea state, we do have different strata in our society. But these strata are accessible to anyone with the talent who is willing to put in the effort. Work hard, young Horatio, and you too can climb up that social ladder.
The rungs of this social ladder are built with our educational system. If a market based system damages that social ladder, then the democracy as a whole will suffer.
However, the article in the Atlantic is forcing me to re-examine my position.
Kilroy Was Here
Why Whites Hate Blacks
On NPR last night, I caught a snippet of a race round table that was very good. You can catch them here:
While I haven't had a chance to listen to at length, I remember being quite touched when a young black man stated that he could understand slavery from an economic perspective, and he could get past that. However he couldn't understand why whites hated blacks so much. "Why did whites lynch us?" the young man stated in near tears. "Why did they mutilate our bodies?"
I think I can provide an answer to that young man that I've experienced in my life. My family has a saying: "You always hate those you've wronged."
It's born from a belief that everyone wants to maintain a positive view of their selves. So when a person or group wrongs another unfairly, they are forced into a state of cognitave dissonance. Either the offending group is unethical and wrong, or somehow the wronged party deserves this poor behavior. Whenever the wronged party cries out for justice or fairness, the offending party is forced into a painful self-examination. So, rather than go through that self-examination, the offending party gets angrier and angrier and focuses more and more on why the wronged party deserves what happened.
For most of this country's history, whites as a group have wronged blacks. I won't go into the litany of offenses that whites have performed on blacks not only on an one-to-one individual basis, but, probably even worse, in the construction and enforcement of our political and economic institutions.
Though America has made progress in the last 35 years, we still have a system that puts blacks and other minorities at a fairly large disadvantage. Many whites continue to wrong blacks by believing that America should not do anything to resolve this disadvantage.
As a result, whites are forced into believing that blacks deserve this inequality. They, as a group, do not take personal responsibility. They, as a group, are predisposed to crime. etc. etc.
And whenever blacks cry out against this injustice, rather than examine how whites continue to participate in this unequal system and how we can change it for the better, whites continue to hate.
Kilroy as Freud
'Color blind' Racism
After reading up on the Lott issue (and affirmative action in general) over the last few days, I've been surprised at the level of outrage expressed by the right against affirmative action.
This post is an attempt to identify the differences between the right and the left on race issues, and to detail why the left feels that the rights opposition to remedies for past racial injustices amount to racism.
The differences between the right and the left are where they focus their attention in the subject of race.
The left tends to focus their attention for race matters on results and the large scale where the weapons of large populations, statistics, and history come in to play.
If the system provides equal opportunity regardless of race, so the left argument goes, then the distribution of social goods (political power, jobs, salaries, access to health care, etc.) across different racial populations should be about the same, all other things being equal. In fact, social goods are not distributed equally. Therefore, the system must not provide equal opportunity.
The cause of this lack of equal opportunity, the left argument continues, must be the results of institutionalized racism that existed in this country at least until the Civil Rights movement and the social, individual racism that persists across our society to this day.
Therefore, the left argument concludes, we must provide legal remedies to counteract the effects of the past. These remedies will provide balance to a system that is already weighted against minorities. Without it, social goods will always be unfairly distributed in America due to race.
The right,on the other hand, tends to focus their attention of racial matters on the rules and the small scale. The weapons of their argument are the individual anecdote, strict rationality, and the present.
Yes, the system was bad, argues the right, but that was a long time ago. We've removed those Jim Crow laws from our system. The rules are equal now.
Affirmative action is an attempt to bring back 'racism' into the system by making the rules unequal in favor of minorities. If it wasn't good for whites way back when, why is it good for minorities now.
Plus, my brother/friend/sister/cousin lost their job or didn't get a job due to this affirmative action thing even though they were more qualified. That's not fair.
To summarize, the left says, "The system is inherently racist. Look at the results. We gotta fix it!" while the right says, "The system is fair. Look at the rules. We gotta leave it alone!"
The problem with the right argument is that taken to its conclusion, it is racist. That is, taken to its conclusion, this argument assumes that whites are inherently superior to other minorities.
Before you hit that reply button, let me go through the argument.
1. The measurement of a system that provides equal opportunity regardless of race is that two people with equal merits should have similar distribution of social goods all other things being equal.
2. Currently, the distribution of social goods is unequal across the races all other things being equal. Here are just some quick stats as examples:
- Unemployment rates are much higher for blacks than for whites even after normalizing for levels of education. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
- Salaries for blacks and for women are less than for whites and for men even after normalizing for education levels. (Ibid)
- Blacks and women are severely underrepresentated in leadership positions in either business or politics.
- Minorities are far likelier to be in poverty.
3. Since our we've passed laws to make our system fair, this disparity in social goods must be because on average blacks do not have equal merit to whites. This argument comes out in a couple of different ways:
- Whites (and/or men) take more personally responsibility for their actions than blacks. Because minorities (and/or women) spend their time complaining of perceived injustices rather than improving themselves, learning English, etc., minorities (and/or women) don't get as much as they should.
- Whites (and/or men) have more intelligence, or a better nature to succeed, etc than minorities.
This leads to an unavoidable conclusion; the right believes that whites and men succeed in a fair system because they are in some way better than other minorities and women. This is a nearly textbook definition of racism and sexism.
Affirmative action and other race and gender based remedies, on the other hand, does not assume the superiority of minorities and women over whites and males. It just assumes that the system is unfair because the results of the system are unfair. This is not racist.
More to come later.
Kilroy Was Here
Detention camps redux?
Yahoo reports that thousands of Middle East immigrants have been rounded up in California.
Right Wing News has posted it's 20 Most Annoying Liberals of 2002 on it's website, and I can't help but wonder why? Then I remember; the politics of personality work.
Conservatives in America have been running against personalities and avoiding ideas since 1980. Democrats and liberals do it, too, but the Republican political machine has mastered it. (For example, you won't be seeing any 20 Most Annoying Conservatives of 2002 on a site). Running on ideas takes a lot of work, research, thought; running against a personality just takes a well-timed insult.
More importantly, though, personality politics work. It's easy to demonize people, and then dismiss them with a label. Don't like a domestic policy? Suddenly it's "Clintonesque". Don't like criticisim of your offensive racial ideas? That's just those libs being politically correct. Hey, anti-deficit economists getting in the way of your tax cut? They're "Rubinites". And the list goes on and on.
Suddenly, you don't need to be an active political thinker. You can consume your politics the same way you consume your sports, and political debate in our country spirals down to the level of sports-talk radio.
Requiescat in Pace Egalitarianism
High-priced restaurants too filled with the common folk? Time to eat at the exclusive dining clubs.
As quoted in the weblog Gawker, Robert Kanter, the CEO of ETG is quoted as saying, "I resent it on a Friday or Saturday night when restaurants have a crowd that isn't particularly 'preferred."
I could comment more, but I believe this speaks for itself.
The Virus of Christmas Present
The following story actually happened to me as well. Enjoy!
The Gift of a Virus from Salon.
Defending the indefensible
In his article in the NY Post, Dick Morris attempts to defend Trent Lott's recent comments in praise of Strom Thurmond. "Let's start with the fact that I've known Lott for more than 15 years..." states Morris. "He is no racist."
However, Morris misses the point when it comes to Lott's statements. This is not about Lott's beliefs but his behavior.
It seems hard to believe but, 140 years after our country's Civil War, and 40 years after our country's Civil Rights Movement, there is still a small, virulent, and political active base that supports racist policies. Perhaps even more than Al-Qaeda, these racist few are the true enemy of the American ideals and government. Most Americans find their ideas abhorent and would not hesitate to say so.
Trent Lott's statements provide political and idealogical cover to that racist few. It allows these people to look in the mirror and justify their immoral beliefs. "Blacks are not as good as us," they can say. "And the rest of the country agrees with us. Just listen to what Lott said about good ol' Strom! The only reason Lott can't be as explicit as us is because of the politically correct Liberal Media. Let's go to church now."
Our leaders should be held accountable for the behavior more so than their beliefs. Lott's behavior gives aid and comfor to the enemy of our ideals. As such, he should be held accountable.
Fortunately, I believe that this time he is.
A life of ease
Life is too easy for the working poor. The hours of work at soul-deadening jobs for low wages, the unemployment, the fear, the anger, all of this is too easy. The poor choose this life so that they can avoid to pay their fair share of taxes. According to The Washington Post, the Bush administration is refining arguments on why the poor should pay more.
Timothy Noah, in Slate, explains why this particular argument bears no weight. In fact,
- The top 1% of the nations wage earners, earned 19% of all income in the nation, and paid 26% of all taxes. Quoting Robert McIntyre, "Not exactly socialism." (Citizens for Tax Justice)
- !n 1992, US households with income over $100,000 average $9,280 worth of cash and in-kind benefits from the federal government, while those households earning less than $10,000 average $5,560. (The Atlantic Monthly)
- If you look at state and local taxes, the richest households pay on average 7.9% of their income, while the poorest pay 12.5%. (Citizens for Tax Justice)
Republicans are going out of their way to try and recharacterize these taxes to make it look as if the rich are shouldering more of the burden of our community institutions than the poor. Bush's advisers are trying to reclassify the payroll tax as some sort of savings account the government runs rather than a tax.
This whole charade forces me to shake my head. Why? Other than for power, why doctor the numbers so badly? Why not see things as they are and address these problems? It is not good for our democracy that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. In fact, I would argue that it is better for our democracy when income disparity shrinks, and our tax system should be primarily focused on maintaining the health of our democracy.