July 2007

2007 07 31
Live long and prosper

Posted by in: Odds and ends

I took the test mentioned here, which calculates your “real age” based on your diet, exercise habits, etc., and compares it to your “biological age.” It also tells you your life expectancy.

So, apparently my real age is about 11, which would explain why, at the biological age of 34, I still don’t need to shave every day. Also, apparently I can look forward to living to be about 96.

Boy, I’ll bet this post will take on a special poignancy if I get killed in a freak accident before then!

Howls of outrage (8)

2007 07 31
On the call to round them up

Here’s a letter in a Brooklyn newspaper calling for Islam to be officially declared a cult, and for Muslims to be rounded up into “intern camps.”

Since you can always find bigots here, there, and everywhere, it doesn’t surprise me to learn that some of my neighbours in Brooklyn feel this way. It does, however, surprise me to see it printed in a Brooklyn newspaper, even a small, second rate one. It’s the most offensive and alarming of a few letters I’ve read in that newspaper recently, but certainly not the only one that displays open anti-Muslim bigotry.

I’ve written a letter to the editor already. Even if you don’t live in Brooklyn, you might consider dropping the editor a quick note to say that you’re surprised that such a cosmopolitan place has a newspaper willing to provide space for this kind of view.

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2007 07 31
Caveat Brooks-Reader

Today David Brooks writes:

Edwards would create a million housing vouchers for working families. These would, he argues, ”enable people to vote with their feet to demand safe communities with good schools.” They’d help people move to where the jobs are and foster economic integration.

The problem with his approach is that past efforts at dispersal produced disappointing results. Families who were given the means to move from poor neighborhoods to middle-class areas did not see incomes rise. Girls in those families did a little better, but boys did worse. They quickly formed subcultures in the new communities that replicated patterns of the old ones. Male criminality rose, but test scores did not.

I wonder which studies he submitted to the NYT fact-checkers to support this claim? Here’s what I’ve read:

This has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) through its Moving To Opportunity (MTO) experiment, in which it was found that residents moving from poverty-stricken neighborhoods into more affluent areas saw positive health results. The MTO program was an ambitious experiment by HUD, building on the famous Gautreaux litigation and the emerging concept that deconcentrating poverty is the most efficient way to improve the lives of the poor. The Gautreaux families were dispersed throughout the Chicago area and when freed from the harms of concentrated poverty, they were much more likely to be employed, their children did better in school, and they were generally safer. (Myron Orfield, “Segregation and Environmental Justice” (pdf), Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology 147 (2005).

But Brooks tells me otherwise. What ever shall I believe?

UPDATE: Thanks to Aaron in the comments for pointing to this post by Ezra Klein in which Klein praises this Brooks column. Klein points to this set of studies on the Moving to Opportunity program that seems to confirm some of Brooks’s worries. It does appear that the results from Gautreaux were more promising in many ways than were those for MTO. Indeed, MTO was inspired by the successes of Gautreaux, which are listed summarily by Orfield in the quotation I provided in the original post.

The researchers are still unsure, but they suggest that the differences between Gautreaux and MTO may be the result of the fact that Gautreaux was a court-ordered deconcentration of poverty for certain designated families, whereas MTO involved families chosen by random assignment.

In any case, there are three follow-up points I’d like to make.

First, the results of MTO are still good. It’s not that girls do so much better and that boys regress. The finding is “that boys in the experimental group fared no better or worse on measures of risk behavior than their controlgroup counterparts.” And while the experimental groups do not seem to have fared better economically–something that is truly puzzling–all studies point to a general enhancement of mental health for participants. The researchers that Klein cites conclude, “These adult mental health benefits may have important spillover benefits, particularly to children, since children have been found to have more problems in school and more behavior problems when their mothers are experiencing mental health problems.” The moral is that it is not at all clear that the benefits associated with Gautreaux and MTO, especially the mental health benefits, would be inferior tools in the fight against poverty when compared with the face-to-face counseling that Brooks favors. There does not seem to be enough data to compare these, so the results of MTO and the promised results of projects like the Harlem Children’s Zone do not seem capable of making the case for Obama and against Edwards.

Second, Gautreaux and MTO relied on the use of housing vouchers to re-situate participant families, and it is likely that if more sweeping legislation were to be drawn up, it would involve an expansion of the Section 8 housing voucher program. However, a recent case in Maryland County Court may work its way up the judicial ladder–or spawn similar rulings in other states–and undermine the voucher program. Ruling that Montgomery County cannot force a landlord to accept the vouchers, County Circuit Judge Durke G. Thompson wrote “Simply put, the county cannot force the landlord to enter into a contract with the federal government where the landlord is unable to negotiate the terms. That is beyond the scope of the county’s power.” If the conservative courts, especially the Supreme Court, gets ahold of this case, it could be curtains for what Brooks is labeling the Edwards plan.

Lastly, there is something that Edwards has that Obama does not, and that is a freedom from Robert Rubin and the Clinton wing of the Democratic party. Rubin (among others) advised Clinton to shove NAFTA down the throats of Clinton’s base before tackling health care–thereby emptying labor unions’ lobbying coffers even before the fight for universal health care began. There have been reports of Obama’s connections to Rubinomics, including his support for the new centrist Hamilton Project. It is not at all clear whether Obama is willing to use the power of the federal government to invest in poor communities and, even more importantly, move toward a full employment that puts the breaks on trade agreements that undermine poor and middle class American families.

Despite entering the fray of inter-Democratic party politics, Brooks’s line is the standard conservative line: blame the “culture of poverty” that pervades Black communities and impedes economic success. This is why he likes the face-to-face aspect he claims to find in the Obama-preferred Harlem Children’s Zone. But this culture of poverty argument was put decisively to rest by Algernon Austin and Jared Bernstein in response to similar causal arguments forwarded recently by Bill Cosby. Austin and Bernstein write:

Black poverty fell 10.6 percentage points from 1993 to 2000 (from 33.1 to 22.5 percent) to reach its lowest level on record. Black child poverty fell an unprecedented 10.7 percentage points in five years (from 41.9 percent in 1995 to 31.2 percent in 2000).

The “culture of poverty” argument cannot explain these trends. Poor black people did not develop a “culture of success” in 1993 and then abandon it for a “culture of failure” in 2001.

What really happened was that in the 1990s, the job market finally tightened up to the point where less-advantaged workers had a bit of bargaining clout. The full-employment economy offered all comers opportunities conspicuously absent before or since.

Right now, if you want to bet on an economic policy that would support movements toward sustainable full employment–the Clinton boom of the 1990s, while reducing poverty, was generated by the stock market bubble which eventually burst to the detriment of many–then you bet on Edwards. Even without the tools used in Gautreuax and MTO, Edwards’s policy bag includes major economic policy tools that make conservatives like Brooks, and neoliberals like Rubin, shudder. The ills of poverty cannot be successfully fought with location-specific programs such as those favored by conservatives like Brooks. In fact, this is precisely why conservatives like Brooks favor such policies. They want to blame Black culture and take the focus off grander economic causes. Then, when face-to-face counseling for those in poverty fails to eliminate the ills of living in concentrated poverty, they can throw up their hands, having already dispatched the arguments in favor of more radical and sweeping measures.

While I’m still more confident that Edwards is more willing to buck the Clintonite/Rubin anti-populism in favor of moving toward sustainable full employment, there are heartening developments in the Obama camp. So I’m remaining open-minded. Obama is still very much a work in progress. But until he commits fully to rejecting Rubinomics–which means rejecting the austere and ineffective policy menu that Brooks claims to find in Obama’s proposals–I’ll stick with Edwards.

Howls of outrage (5)

2007 07 27

Norm writes:

A question I have put several times and have not heard an answer to is this: why did not more people who felt they couldn’t support the war in Iraq also not oppose it – in view of the plain fact that opposition meant leaving Saddam’s regime in power, free to continue torturing and murdering Iraqis? OK, they judged the consequences of the war would be worse than the consequences of leaving Saddam in power. But too many of them in doing that, even without taking the side of Saddam’s regime or of the subsequent Iraqi ‘resistance’, were rather more focused and vehement in their animus against the war effort and those prosecuting it than they were in expressing solidarity with democratic forces in Iraq or expressing anything much at all about the enemies of democracy there.

I don’t see what’s wrong with the answer he supplies here himself, which, contrary to what he suggests, he must have heard all over the place, if he was listening: that we opposed the war because we thought even worse things would come of it than Saddam Hussein in power – something we were right about, as Norm now accepts. As for the rest of it, I think we’re back to the argument from silence again. But here’s how it seems to me to work: Norm can construe rhetorical emphasis in opponents of the war in ways that are deeply unflattering to them, but when fairly obvious and problematic issues of rhetorical emphasis are pointed out in his own work, it’s not supposed to be an issue worth worrying about.

Anyway, at this point we’ve whittled down the charge against the bulk of the anti-war types to the fact that we put too much emphasis on our criticisms of the war and not enough on expressing solidarity with Iraqis. Prior to the war, I think the following suffices: we had our hands full. We were trying to stop a disaster, and although it’s hardly the most pressing issue, it’s hard not to be ticked off at people who made a silly game of pretending that trying to avert this disaster meant we had some sort of defective moral sensibilities.

The more important point is that after the war, the criticisms of corruption in the so-called reconstruction were in significant part expressions of solidarity with Iraqis. Criticisms of long-term basing ambitions in Iraq were also in significant part expressions of solidarity with Iraqis. So too were criticisms of many of the other decisions, large and small, that forced Iraqis into a bitter choice between collaboration with a corrupt neo-colonialist invading force with long-term designs on the country and a wretched sectarian insurgency. And, again, Norm had very little to say about these aspects of the occupation (beyond the issue of torture), perhaps distracted by the moral idiocy of the critics of the war, which I suppose is just one more reason to think them naughty.

I’m pretty sure the occupation was doomed anyway, and that no amount of complaining from critics could have saved it. But as long as there was hope we really did need as much focussed criticism as possible of precisely those aspects of the occupation that exacerbated a bad situation. Ritualistic denunciations of the insurgency – people who were widely understood to be wicked, who weren’t listening anyway, and who weren’t accountable to voters – just weren’t a priority.

Howls of outrage (2)

2007 07 25

Posted by in: Categories, Metablog

In light of the new developments around here, I thought the categories should have their own category.

That’s all.

Howls of outrage (3)

2007 07 24
I write letters

Well, a letter. In response to this hatchet job (subscription required):

Dear Editor:

Let’s put to one side the question of whether philosopher John Rawls’s normative theory of justice is true or false. Even focusing on just the non-normative facts, David Lewis Schaefer’s portrait of Rawls’s work is flatly mistaken where it is not simply incoherent (“Justice and Inequality,” July 23, p.A 14). For example, in one breath Schaefer says that Rawls’s work “legitimize[s] the view that the absolute well-being of most Americans matters less than their relative position.” Yet in the next he says, correctly, that Rawls’s principles permit inequalities that raise citizens’ absolute standard of living. Schaefer next says that “Rawls did not ground his account of justice in an empirical examination of human nature,” but then goes on to mention Rawls’s discussion of “excusable envy”, which occurs within a dense, 150-page expanse of text wherein Rawls engages in an empirically-informed discussion of developmental psychology. Finally, Schaefer says that Rawls’s later writings were “increasingly deferential to the Marxist critique of liberalism,” while in fact Rawls has been widely criticized by those attracted to his earlier arguments for dulling their radical bite with his later work. Those interested in what Rawls actually thought will be well-advised to look beyond Schaefer’s new book.



UPDATE: My letter was not published (sub req). Three others were. The good news is that these letters offered some good criticism of the original article. For instance:

I was asked to write a paper on the lifeboat scenario — a thought experiment involving an overcrowded lifeboat entering a storm, where it is clear that not all will survive. A dedicated Rawlsian at the time, I decided to apply his theories to the assigned situation. But no matter how I construed them, his theories kept leading me to the conclusion that the only “fair” result was that everyone in the lifeboat had to die.


As Rawls’s dictums are alive and growing in the body politic, the instances of trashing our ideals are endless. They are eroding the very fount of our republic and have become a cancer on our civilization.


It is no accident that Rawls’s “general ideas” result in Marxist policies. Thirty-five years ago, Ayn Rand accurately predicted the logical political consequences of Rawls’s ideas.

So there really was no work left for my letter to do.

Howls of outrage (3)

2007 07 24
Let me guess, the plan to protect the Green Zone is codenamed “Stalingrad”

A review of a recent book on Xenophon’s Anabasis passes on a little tidbit about the Iraq War that I hadn’t heard before: “Early plans for the current administration’s invasion of Iraq included a program of infiltration with the code name ‘Anabasis.'” (( The author’s footnote reads: “Michael Isikoff and David Corn, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War (New York: Crown Publishers, 2006), p. 6. I am grateful to Page Dubois for calling my attention to this instance of classical reception.” ))

That’s actually pretty funny, in a dark way.

Howls of outrage (2)

2007 07 24
Some gems from today’s NYT article on US plans for Iraq

Posted by in: The Iraq War

Article is here.

“If eventually the Iraqi government and the various sects and groups do not come to some sort of agreement on how to share power, on how to divide resources and on how to reconcile and stop the violence, then the assumption on which the surge strategy was based is invalid, and we would have to re-look the strategy,” Colonel [Peter] Mansoor [the executive officer to General Petraeus] added.

While the plan seeks to achieve stability, several officials said it anticipates that less will be accomplished in terms of national reconciliation by the end of 2009 than did the plan developed by General Casey.

“You are not out there trying to defeat your enemies wholesale,” said one military official who is knowledgeable about the plan. “You are out there trying to draw them into a negotiated power-sharing agreement where they decide to quit fighting you.

“We are going to try a dozen different things,” said one senior officer. “Maybe one of them will flatline. One of them will do this much. One of them will do this much more. After a while, we believe there is chance you will head into success. I am not saying that we are absolutely headed for success.”

So if Iraqis do not “eventually” reconcile, the surge will have been foolhardy. But given its realism, the plan does not anticipate much reconciliation by the end of 2009. Still, the military believes there’s a chance that “after a while”–that is, a while after 2009–we’ll be headed into success. I think what we have here is a declaration by implication that the surge was foolhardy. Of course, that is what the brass was telling Bush in January, before he fired them.

(Edited for grammar–mine, not NYT’s)

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2007 07 24
Thank you, Deano!

Posted by in: Economics

While reading David Brooks’s list of neoliberal victories on the plane this morning, I was hoping–praying–that either Dean, Max, or Jared would write a prompt reply. And here it is. Thank you, Deano!

UPDATE: More here.

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2007 07 21
Standing as one

After Paul posted a deliciously silly Kevin Costner movie trailer, Anne confessed in the comments that she just assumed that everyone had already seen it. People, this is how utility goes unmaximized! So, in the spirit of recycling old favourites for the odd soul who might have missed it the first time, I give you America: We Stand As One. When I first found this video, I showed it to my roommate at the time, a Serb who finds the U.S. deeply puzzling in many respects. We agreed that after much searching, we had probably finally found the Essence of America.

Howls of outrage (30)

2007 07 19
Gig Friday [CANCELED!!!]

Posted by in: Music



Friday, July 20th, 2007
Time: 8:00pm – 9:30pm
The E-String Band featuring Yoon Sun Choi
Venue: Biscuit BBQ
Location:Brooklyn, NY


A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2007 07 18
On the call for more of the same old rhetoric

Norm links approvingly to a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education on rhetorical responses to terrorism, the upshot of which is that Western leaders fail to engage in enough moral denunciation of terrorism, eschewing this for practical and “logistics-heavy rhetoric about getting to the bottom of each case.” Norm remarks: “Merely to read his proposal brings home how rare a language of forthright public condemnation of terrorist politics now is.”

This strikes me as mostly silly. The most obvious feature of, say, British and U.S. political leader’s responses to terrorism over the last six years has been a cynical attempt to exacerbate and exploit hysteria about possible future attacks in order to push unrelated agendas. If people are now coming to favour a more measured and practical approach to terrorism, surely this ranks as the most obvious reason for it, as opposed to, say, political correctness, which the author puts at the top of his list of explanations. And, contra the author of the piece, we’ve seen plenty of morally loaded language, much of it from bad politicians pursuing rotten agendas who want to obscure that rottenness by fulminating vaguely about evil and whatnot. Neither Norm nor the author bothers to mention the contraction of civil liberties in the U.S., the dishonest selling of the Iraq War, or the massively expanded use of torture and extraordinary rendition by the United States — all policies defended explicitly and repeatedly by hysterical appeals to the threat and insincere and hypocritical moralizing about its nature. I’m guessing these things made a bigger difference to public attitudes than the fear of offending terrorists.
Add to this the fact that terrorists want to terrorize, and one way of thwarting them is to not get too ruffled (which is perfectly compatible with taking the threat seriously). And so on.

Just to be clear, if you want to denounce terrorists as morally reprehensible, by all means go ahead. But it’s pretty weird to offer an analysis of people’s responses to political rhetoric that ignores the political context in which the rhetoric is employed. The context here involves the repeated abuse of the rhetorical tropes in question, so I hardly think it’s irrelevant.

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2007 07 18
Um, ew.

There are just so many gems in this NYT piece on abstinence-only education. But this takes the cake:

In northeastern Texas, advocates of abstinence education vow to fight for their mission because to them, it is not just a matter of sexuality or even public health. Getting a teenager to the other side of high school without viruses or babies is a bonus, but not the real goal. They see casual sex as toxic to future marriage, family and even, in an oblique way, opposition to abortion.

“You have to look at why sex was created,” Eric Love, the director of the East Texas Abstinence Program, which runs Virginity Rules, said one day, the sounds of Christian contemporary music humming faintly in his Longview office. “Sex was designed to bond two people together.”

To make the point, Mr. Love grabbed a tape dispenser and snapped off two fresh pieces. He slapped them to his filing cabinet and the floor; they trapped dirt, lint, a small metal bolt. “Now when it comes time for them to get married, the marriage pulls apart so easily,” he said, trying to unite the grimy strips. “Why? Because they gave the stickiness away.”

Tune in next week when Mr. Love uses a straightened paper clip to show that curing homosexuality is as easy as a trip to Office Max.

Howls of outrage (3)

2007 07 17

Bill O’Reilly likens Kos to David Duke and the Nazis, and says that it’s real easy to regulate online forums. He says boycotts etc. are called for. I’m sure it’s been noted somewhere else, but I’ve not seen it: NewsCorps owns Fox News. It also owns Myspace. You wanna make O’Reilly pay? A good place to start is right here.

Howls of outrage (2)

2007 07 17
A banner day for Explananda

Posted by in: Blegs, Metablog

I’m told that some people can’t see the banner at the top of the screen. (The image is here, if you don’t know what I’m referring to.) I haven’t the faintest idea why not, though I imagine it’s the fact that I went into the original template design and ripped out a whole bunch of stuff that looked irrelevant to me. The code for the header section is here, and the original, unmutilated header code is here. And, yes, of course it doesn’t validate, and of course I ought to be spanked on my naughty bottom for that. But come on, I don’t actually understand any of this stuff. I just want a blog with a nice banner. Is that so much to ask? Any help appreciated.

Howls of outrage (13)