Dec 1, 2005

"I don't respect people who tell me what to think or what I should be doing" [LINK]

Rather obvious, but...

Daniel Murphy says all the "Support Our Troops" ribbons should be changed to "I support the troops" because he has no respect for people who tell him what to think or what to do. He is confusing simple advocacy with coercion. Otherwise similar statements such as "Free Tibet" and "Eat at Joe's" would make no sense at all, nor would writing to the Globe to tell us what he thinks.

Nov 28, 2005

"There is no response other than venom and ... lies" [LINK]

Another letter:

Mark Roddy identifies the two camps debating the Iraq war as the "stay-and-die" and "cut-and-run" factions. It's interesting that he identifies himself with the latter phrase, but it's also galling that he labels cut-and-run advocates as the "reality-based community."

Like so many critics of the Bush administration I read in these pages, Mr. Roddy dwells on the casualties of war, but nowhere considers the results of a premature withdrawal or presents an alternative long-term strategy for that troubling region. Those who call themselves "reality-based" should earn that right.

Nov 15, 2005

"Knowing then what we know now" [LINK]

The latest disturbance to my serenity:

I was rather amused to read Thomas Oliphant's assessment of the flawed intelligence President Bush relied upon in deciding to go to war in Iraq. He says Bush's defense, that he and his Democratic rivals were all relying on the best available intelligence from a number of countries, is tantamount to creating "a Potemkin universe of intelligence dupes."

Yet Oliphant is capable of some obfuscation on the matter as well. In the same column, he refers to the "now-accepted wisdom that Iraq possessed no unconventional weapons and posed no threat to the United States." Using a now-familiar phrase, he says that "knowing then what is known now," war would have been unwise.

It should be obvious that we did not, and could not, have known then what we know now. Saddam Hussein was by all accounts engaging in such dissemblance that definitive intelligence was difficult to come by. It was only by going to war that we "now know" enough to flagellate each other to score political points. To my mind, that seems like the best possible outcome considering the alternative.

There's not enough room in such a letter to address the quality of knowledge at each stage. Hussein engages in dissemblance, forcing us to rely more heavily on flawed intelligence. We go to war, and we "now know" he did not have WMDs. We do not "know" any such thing. He had them at some point, and something must have happened to them. Since there was no credible evidence they were destroyed during the period Hussein expelled weapons inspectors, Syria is a good guess.
UPDATE: Score another one. I'm happy they fixed my "did not, and could not, have known" mistake, but I'm a little pissed they screwed up "Oliphant is also capable of obfuscation as well." They also removed the reference to Democrats who believed Hussein was a threat: "he and his Democratic rivals were all relying on the best available intelligence." And "dissemblance" is a word, thank you. To say Hussein was "engaging in such dissemblance" is far better on the ear than "doing so much dissembling," which sounds childish.

Nov 14, 2005

One Person's Crime Is Another's Constitutional Right [LINK]

In Lufkin, Texas, a 16-year-old girl tried several times to kill the twin babies with whom she was four months pregnant. She finally prevailed upon her boyfriend to stomp on her midsection, an act that terminated her pregnancy. Her boyfriend was subsequently charged with murder, but she, presumably exercising her constitutional rights, was not. Unfortunately for the young man, he was not a licensed abortionist, and thus not permitted to facilitate such a killing.

Nov 10, 2005

Nail? Hammer. [LINK]

Another response to a letter in the Globe:

Carol Hurley cites figures by the WAGE Project asserting that women earn only 77 percent as men with the same educational and professional background, and are thus victims of discrimination. If this were true, it would be excellent news. It would mean that businesses can save up to 23 percent of their formidable payroll costs simply by hiring only women.

Nov 7, 2005

"Trying to sell junk that nobody needs" [LINK]

Another of my responses to a letter in the Globe:

Tom Bishop says that business leaders who complain of the high taxes and insurance costs the latest healthcare proposal might bring about are misguided, and that the real problem of struggling businesses is one of "revenue," meaning not enough paying customers. He further suggests that business owners are solely responsible for their success, and failure to adapt to changes in the business climate means they're probably "trying to sell junk that nobody needs."

But why should doing business be made harder than it already is? By Mr. Bishop's logic, we should put the squeeze on businesses as much as possible, since those that survive would be sure to produce only the most useful goods. No, higher taxes don't come at the cost of "junk that nobody needs," but of goods and services that potential customers can either no longer afford or that they can buy for less elsewhere. Mr. Bishop's insistence that business leaders are the only ones responsible for their success is simply another way of saying that lawmakers bear no responsibility for the results of their policies.

Oct 29, 2005

"A saner, more civil, and peaceful world" [LINK]

In this morning's Globe, amidst letter after letter calling for a U.S. pullout from Iraq and Bush's impeachment, I find this:

FOR ALL those who feel it seems that only dark clouds surround the earth, I'd like to offer a ray of hope. A bill is pending in Congress that would establish a Department of Peace. This innovative and forward-looking measure, which was introduced by Representative Dennis Kucinich, could be a catalyst to creating a saner, more civil, and peaceful world.

Oct 26, 2005

"Europe's superior healthcare" [LINK]

My latest letter:

Defending the French health care system, Lisa Spencer admits that the unemployment rate in France is correspondingly high, hovering around 10 percent. However, she attributes this to an unwillingness on the part of French firms to provide jobs. In an effort to mimick the American economy, Ms. Spencer says these firms would rather simply pay out dividends.

Perhaps if the French succeeded in mimicking our economy, their labor costs wouldn't be so staggeringly high. While American firms can lay off workers when necessary, for the French it is exceedingly difficult. Unions dictate the wages and benefits of roughly 90 percent of the labor force, making French workers approximately twice as expensive as their American counterparts. The view is no better for prospective workers, who face a choice between high income and payroll taxes or lavish unemployment benefits. French workers who succeed in finding a job often find their incomes rise little if at all.

If French firms would rather pay out dividends, it is because the alternative of growing their business by taking on more workers is correspondingly unattractive. If the French want all these social benefits they can certainly have them, but Ms. Spencer should be honest about their costs.

Oct 22, 2005

"A moment of racial sharing" [LINK]

Another response to a letter from the Globe:

Barbara Lewis writes of her difficulty in staking a claim to an apparently vacant seat at a crowded Starbucks, followed by a moment of "racial sharing" with a fellow African American who said he was glad to see her stand up to the obnoxious man who acted like he owned the table. From all this Ms. Lewis concludes that "race still matters" in the 21st century, but there are at least four reasons to conclude otherwise.

First, I can testify that white people confront such rude behavior all the time. There is nothing in her account to suggest the man targeted her because of her race, yet she insists there was a racial dimension.

Second, such arrogance is fostered mainly by Starbucks' living room ethos. I'm sure she would have had no trouble finding a table at a Dunkin' Donuts, where they chase you out if you show any signs of writing a novel.

Third, she says that the support she received from the black student demonstrates a "determination to support each other in the trenches" (sipping Americanos, that is), because after Katrina "we know that it is unlikely someone else will come to our aid." But the black man did not come to her aid either, and instead approached her only after the rude white man had left. Furthermore, Ms. Lewis seems to think he offered his belated support because of her race, which seems more than a bit presumptuous and sells him short.

Fourth, that such a trivial encounter is taken as an example of a racial divide tells me that we are doing very well indeed, and that the significance of race in this country is fast receding. Ms. Lewis should retune her sensitivities to accomodate this development, and control her inappropriate racial rhetoric.

Oct 21, 2005

"Society has marched young men off to war"... [LINK]

In response to a particularly deranged letter to the Globe:

J.V. Castelli criticizes the team of neurologists who say it's safe for Tedy Bruschi to play football after suffering a mild stroke months earlier. Funny, I thought professionals who write to the Globe are identified with regard to their relevant expertise, but it appears Mr. Castelli does not have a medical degree with which to offer this judgement.

He also provides no evidence for the proposition that men's health is undervalued. One of the reasons men are marched off to war, for example, is that they tend to be more warlike. Similarly, the reason men are expected to run into burning buildings is that most women can't descend ladders while carrying others over their shoulders.

"We need a national rail system" [LINK]

My response to a letter to the Globe:

I was amused to read Juliet Bernstein's account of her rail trip from California. She complains that cutbacks in Amtrak subsidies caused "delays" on her trip, one that already takes several days to complete. These cross-country routes are notoriously expensive to operate, and Ms. Bernstein seems to think it's perfectly okay for taxpayers to subsidize her leisure activity. We may as well lament our lack of a national cruise ship system. While I'm happy she has the time to spend on such pursuits, I'd like to remind her that another way to "view great cities and see the vastness of America" is to take a bus.

Oct 18, 2005

Moron Bush, Meaning More on Bush [LINK]

I received a response in the Globe:

Michael Sierra (letter, Oct. 13) is correct to point out that Al Gore and John Kerry, along with President Bush, were postgraduate underachievers. Three questions that may be more germane:

Which of these three would be least likely to be asked to teach at the postgraduate level today?

Which of these three has entered one business venture after another, seen them fold, and walked away with millions?

If asked on a written military questionnaire whether they were willing to see action on the front lines of Vietnam, which of these three would be most likely to answer ''no"? (Hint: One of them did.)

Here's my response:
Dear Mr. Scoble,

I hope you don't mind my responding directly, but I found your response to my recent letter to the Globe less that adequate. While seeming to concede my point, you ask who among the various candidates would be more likely to teach postgraduate courses. I hope you don't think the likelihood a failed candidate would score an academic position is related in any serious way to his intelligence? Let me be flip and suggest that if you're smart enough to have figured out how to walk away from even failed ventures with millions, you're more likely to choose a career in business.

Oct 16, 2005

To base your views on "absolute truth" [LINK]

Another letter, and my response:

Barry Glunt expresses concern that the Rev. James Dobson would seek to influence the political process while at the same time claiming to "base his views on absolute truth." Mr. Glunt rightly points out that the purpose of a democracy is not to arrive at "absolute truth," but to compromise among competing viewpoints.

I found this letter encouraging, since it suggests many of the views expounded in these pages may be held by people who don't absolutely believe what they are saying. Otherwise, shouldn't they feel obliged to remove themselves from the democratic process?

Oct 14, 2005

"The vagaries of the market" [LINK]

My letter for the day:

Leland Katz says that even given the popularity of private retirement options such as 401(k)s and Roths, their relative volatility means that now is not a good time to add a private component to Social Security's perceived safety net.

This makes no sense at all. Private retirement funds are popular largely because Social Security is considered a relatively unreliable option, rightly so. By Mr. Katz's logic, the less popular and consequential Social Security becomes, the less willing we should be to reform it.

Oct 12, 2005

The "C student" [LINK]

This morning's Globe seemed especially saturated with moonbats. My glancing blow:

Tom Rubenoff says we should spend less time vilifying Bush and more trying to figure out why Americans put ''this C student" into office in the first place (letter, Oct. 11). Mr. Rubenoff should be reminded that both Democratic presidential candidates Bush ran against were C students as well. Vice President Gore had a particularly substandard postgraduate record, failing both the divinity and law schools at Vanderbilt, while Bush earned an MBA from Harvard. Bush's detractors should find a more distinctive epithet.

UPDATE: hey, it made it!

Oct 11, 2005

"It's Economics 101" [LINK]

My letter in response, which will not be published:

Citing "Economics 101," Joseph Monty argues that in the face of higher gas prices, the correct policy is not to lower taxes but to raise them ("Hike gas taxes," letters, 10/11/05). In doing so, he makes several errors that for an economics student would merit a low grade.

"A dollar that goes offshore for oil is a dollar lost to the economy," he says, as if oil producers stuff the money into a mattress. By that logic we should not import any goods, since the money paid would be forever "lost."

Mr. Monty alleges that by suppressing demand, higher taxes depress oil prices so that "only a fraction of the tax increase is likely to be reflected in a net price increase." Even if this were true, it would represent a pyrrhic victory, since it doesn't matter to us at the pump the exact source of the burdensome price increase.

Using the revenues from the gas tax to reduce deficits is not necessarily a net benefit to the economy, either. It would be like paying for a house in cash simply in order to avoid the interest rates a mortgage entails. In the meantime, you likely reduce your living standards and your own investment returns. Similarly, funding highway projects does not on balance benefit the economy -- any more than not being taxed in the first place.

Oct 4, 2005

Killing Fields Café [LINK]

There's a new restaurant in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, called the "Khmer Rouge Experience Café" that is designed to remind diners of what life was like under Pol Pot. Waitresses dressed in military fatigues serve salted rice-water, corn with water and leaves, dove eggs, and tea. So far the offering has attracted a total of two foreign tourists, and managers are considering rebranding the establishment as a weight-loss alternative.

(via BoingBoing)

"Coercion, intimidation, or the threat of discrimination" [LINK]

A lettter to the Globe:

We Democrats have no problem with the fact that President Bush is pro-God ("Why are people so mad at Bush?", letter, Oct. 2).

A lot of us have a problem with the religious right's urge to use coercion, intimidation, or the threat of discrimination to bring about belief in God. We believe that people of faith and non-religious people should put aside their differences in order to defend America and the world against terrorism and natural disasters.

I understand Boston's got a lot of lapsed Catholics, but still this guy makes no sense to me. Has he been dragged, kicking and screaming, into church?

Driving with Air America [LINK]

A friend of mine recommended I listen to a bit of Air America, but cautioned that all non-Al-Franken hosts were not very good. I mentioned my qualms about talk radio, all talk radio, where the level of rhetoric tends to be pretty low. I did happen to catch a bit on the way home tonight. There was a guy on named Ed, I think, Ed Schultz? Not sure: I don't see his name listed on the AA site. Maybe it's local content.

Anyway, I caught Ed just as he started giving a recipe for duck, a Very Important Recipe may I add, one that required Great Elaboration and an Extraordinary Amount of Time to Communicate. He mentioned he was going duck hunting on the weekend, which struck me like an NRA-sort-of-thing to do. I asked myself: is this really Air America? Maybe it's local content.

After that it was onto calls, and I knew I was in the right place. FORGET ABOUT IMPEACHMENT, the caller said, THROW THE WHOLE LOT OF THEM IN JAIL. ALL OF THEM! The reason? For stealing not one but BOTH elections. Another called to say he feared full martial law by 2006. Another one insisted Harriet Miers was really a "straw man" whose lack of judicial experience would surely get her rejected by the Senate, after which Bush would pick the Supreme Court nominee he *really* wanted, no doubt some Bork-like character with horns on his head. And the whole point is there would be little support in the Senate to reject his second nominee, so Bush's diabolical plan would work. Ed seemed to agree.

Then Ed jumped over to sports for no apparent reason and started talking about how the Detroit Lions were "robbed" of a touchdown following an instant replay. And of course he seemed to assume everybody in his audience had seen the game. As far as I gathered, the receiver caught the ball while in bounds but airborne, but he landed out of bounds. Ed said he wasn't a Lions fan before, but the fact that they were robbed meant he sure was one now. This struck me as hopelessly tangled logic, and I started to wonder how all this gratuitous underdogism related to a Rawlsian theory of justice when the signal started to break up in the hills.

So it was back to my old pals at NPR, who were running a story about how the O.J. Simpson trial (now 10 years old) divided the nation by race, with black people widely supporting him and white people not. Of course the reporter mentioned the magazine cover in which OJ's face had been unacceptably darkened to make him look malevolent, and of course the revelation that former LA cop Mark Fuhrman had at times uttered the N-word. In fact, much tongue-clucking over how the trial became racially polarized, leaving out the defense team's role in injecting race as an issue. And there was no word at all -- NONE -- on the substance of the evidence arrayed against Simpson. No DNA, nothing. After all, this was simply a story about two viewpoints, the "black" and "white" ones, and we can't go around making it seem like one is more valid than the other, can we?

Oct 2, 2005

Toy Pigs Banned From Office [LINK]

Following complaints from a Muslim staff member, managers of a British council office banned all pig imagery from the workplace, including toys, porcelain figures, calendars and a tissue box featuring Winnie the Pooh and Piglet. While Muslims consider pigs unclean and are prohibited under Islam from eating their meat, the Koran does not prohibit believers from gazing upon them.

Sep 29, 2005

"It would send a message" [LINK]

Another crazy letter in the Globe:

With all the teeth-gnashing and handwringing about gasoline prices, I find it difficult to understand why we haven't yet talked about a solution that is right under our noses: reinstating the 55-m.p.h. speed limit, as was done in the '70s. Not only did it bring gas prices down; it also saved lives. It would be both quick and easy to implement. We are at war, yet where is the sacrifice? I am tired of having people pass me at 75 on the highways with ''Support Our Troops" bumper stickers mocking me as they leave me in their dust. I believe the best thing we can do for ourselves and our troops is to continue to provide a strong economy at home, and driving at 55 would surely help. It would also send a message that we are, indeed, willing to sacrifice a bit.
There are at least three problems here:

  1. This is Boston, for crying out loud. Changing the nominal speed limit has no effect on the actual speed limit. Saying it would be easy to implement is clearly wrong; what's easy to implement is putting up the new signs.

  2. What would happen if people actually obeyed the lower speed limit? The author explicitly identifies this as a sacrifice, but does not specify what that means. It means time wasted on the road when I could be doing better things. How much does that cost the economy? Well, here's a clue: "reinstating the 55-m.p.h. speed limit, as was done in the '70s."

  3. What is the point of sending a message, anyway? Aren't we already sending a message that we are willing to sacrifice our young soldiers, and willing to maintain a massive military presence in the Middle East? Just who are we trying to impress, anyway?

Sep 26, 2005

Zombie Attacks Feared in Kentucky [LINK]

In Lexington, Kentucky, an 18-year-old student at George Rogers Clark High School was taken into custody and now faces second-degree felony terrorist threatening charge after his grandparents discovered writings that outlined acts of violence against members of the school. Poole responded that the writings in question were a short story he was working on for English class that was "about a high school overran by zombies." Regardless, police say any threat made against a school is a felony in the state of Kentucky.

Sep 23, 2005

"Mingling church and state" [LINK]

Okay, it's been a while since posting, but this letter to the Globe sure got me going:

Many religious leaders support same-sex marriage. Nevertheless, this weekend promises to bring throngs of parishioners to pulpits where priests and ministers will be encouraging everyone 18 and over to sign a petition to support a popular vote on banning gay marriage. Churches pushing these petition drives are mingling church and state to such an extent that their tax-exempt status should be be questioned. Contributions to gay marriage advocacy groups are not tax-deductible. It is unconscionable for religious figures to coerce a congregation into signing this petition....
Yes, some religious leaders support gay marriage; totally irrelevant. No, it is not a mingling of church and state for church members and their leaders to express their opinions in the public square. Note the implicit threat in bringing up their tax-exempt status: you'd better shut up! If there has been any encroachment, it has been from the realm of politics, upsetting entrenched societal norms. Finally, to sign a petition based on the word of your pastor is not to be coerced any more than it is to be stopped on the street by someone with a clipboard. Think of it: you're already there for an hour of often excruciating boredom. Is that coercion?

Jul 26, 2005

Getting The Finger [LINK]

A California prison inmate sued the manufacturer of the vegetarian meals served in his cell for $75,000 after he bit into a human finger severed in an industrial accident. Unlike a recent fraudulent claim against Wendy's, the manufacturer admits to the error and there is no speculation the finger might have been planted. The inmate was originaally sentenced 15 years for drug, firearms, and assault charges, plus another 8 years for assaulting another prisoner, the reason he was in solitary confinement at the time. (via Boing Boing)

Jul 21, 2005

"Deferred Success" [LINK]

In Great Britain, members of the Professional Association of Teachers considered a motion to banish the idea of "failure" in favor of "deferred success."

Jul 20, 2005

"The role of female reproduction in the project of empire" [LINK]

Descriptive catalog text for Robin Truth Goodman's Infertilities: Exploring Fictions of Barren Bodies, published by the University of Minnesota Press. Maybe we shouldn't teach Darwin in schools after all...

An original analysis of the role of female reproduction in the project of empire.

In today's global market, ideas about family, femininity, and reproduction are traded on as actively as any currency or stock. The connection has a history, one rooted in a conception of feminine identities invented through a science interwoven with the pursuit of empire, the accumulation of goods, and the furtherance of power. It is this history that Robin Truth Goodman exposes in her provocative analysis of literary and political representations of female infertility from the mid-nineteenth century to our day.

Goodman takes Darwin's studies on sterility between species as her starting point, exploring evolutionary science as the intersection of a colonial worldview based on class struggle and the pathologizing of female identities that fall outside of reproductive normalcy. She then examines how Joseph Conrad constructs a vision of feminism as a product of miscegenation, how Alejo Carpentier and Mario Vargas Llosa deploy female figures of miscegenation to recast Latin American literature as "difference," and how ecological devastation in the Brazilian Amazon is envisioned through failures in Indian marriage. Locating points of conjunction between queer, feminist, and postcolonial theories, Infertilities points to the role of lesbian representation and reproductive politics in ongoing critiques of globalism.

And a description of Taking the Field: Women, Men, and Sports, by Michael A. Messner:
A hard-hitting look at the persistent inequities in women's sports participation.

In the past, when sport simply excluded girls, the equation of males with active athletic power and of females with weakness and passivity seemed to come easily, almost naturally. Now, however, with girls' and women's dramatic movement into sport, the process of exclusion has become a bit subtler, a bit more complicated—and yet, as Michael Messner shows us in this provocative book, no less effective. In Taking the Field, Messner argues that despite profound changes, the world of sport largely retains and continues its longtime conservative role in gender relations.

To explore the current paradoxes of gender in sport, Messner identifies and investigates three levels at which the "center" of sport is constructed: the day-to-day practices of sport participants, the structured rules and hierarchies of sport institutions, and the dominant symbols and belief systems transmitted by the major sports media. Using these insights, he analyzes a moment of gender construction in the lives of four- and five-year-old children at a soccer opening ceremony, the way men's violence is expressed through sport, the interplay of financial interests and dominant men's investment in maintaining the status quo in the face of recent challenges, and the cultural imagery at the core of sport, particularly televised sports. Through these examinations Messner lays bare the practices and ideas that buttress—as well as those that seek to disrupt-the masculine center of sport.

Taking the Field exposes the subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which men and women collectively construct gender through their interactions—interactions contextualized in the institutions and symbols of sport.

"Negativity recedes" [LINK]

Decrying the current state of American education, film director David Lynch announced that he was funding the launch of the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace, which would provide courses on transcendental meditation (TMTM). Rather than wallow in stress, Lynch said students "will start shining like a bright, shiny penny, and their anxieties will go away. By diving within, they will attain a field of pure consciousness, pure bliss, creativity, intelligence, dynamic peace. You enliven the field, and every day it gets better. Negativity recedes."

Jul 17, 2005

Michigan Considers Ban on Direct Wine Sales [LINK]

After the Supreme Court struck down a New York state ban on interstate wine shipments from producers to consumers (bypassing distributors), Michigan legislators responded with a bill to outlaw all direct shipments to consumers, even from within their state.

Jul 13, 2005

Prisoners Banned from Smoking [LINK]

The state of California adopted yet another smoking ban, this time among prison inmates, who are no doubt expected to abide by the law.

(via Reason Hit & Run)

"Something was bound to come out somewhere, sometime" [LINK]

More bad karma, this in a letter from a Montreal resident to the Boston Globe:

Kudos to Derrick Jackson for his July 8 column ''A look in the mirror" and to the Globe for publishing it.

Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, ''an injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere." The Bible teaches that ''you reap what you sow"; Hinduism (and others) speak of the law of Karma. Now, with all the death, destruction, and mayhem that Bush-Blair have given our world recently, something was bound to come out somewhere, sometime.

It is horrible and horrendously unjust that this something had to happen to innocent Londoners going about their daily business. There is no justification for attacking civilians in such a callous manner, irrespective of any argument that the US-UK invasion of Iraq has killed thousands of innocent civilians. As we all know, two wrongs do not make a right.

The problem is that the West is one of those two wrongs.

Jul 12, 2005

Irish Need Complain [LINK]

A New York City mayoral candidate had to apologize after describing her experience in the civil rights movement, being arrested and hauled away in "paddy wagons."

(via OpinionJournal: Best of the Web)

Terrorized, but just for a little while [LINK]

Following the London bombings, the BBC deviated from its usual practice and used the word "terrorist" to describe the attacks and its perpetuators. But after about 24 hours, on-line texts were altered to refer to them simply as "bombings."

(via Andrew Sullivan)

Grand Theft Auto Probed for Sex Scenes [LINK]

The Entertainment Software Rating Board, an industry body that sets age ratings for video games, is investigating whether the popular game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas edition contains sexually explicit scenes that are hidden and only available by making an obscure modification to the software. If true, it could lead to an adult-only rating that would severely limit sales of the game. To be acceptable, the game may only feature gratuitous violence such as carjackings, drive-by shootings, and gang warfare.

"A brutish flaunting of wealth and leisure" [LINK]

Sarah Boxer of the New York Times comments on the We Are Not Afraid website, set up in defiant response to the London terror bombings:

[M]ore and more, there's a brutish flaunting of wealth and leisure. Yesterday there were lots of pictures posted of smiling families at the beach and of people showing off their cars and vans. A picture from Italy shows a white sports car and comes with the caption: "Afraid? Why should we be afraid?"

A few days ago, We're Not Afraid might have been a comfort. Today, there's a hint of "What, me worry?" from Mad magazine days, but without the humor or the sarcasm. We're Not Afraid, set up to show solidarity with London, seems to be turning into a place where the haves of the world can show that they're not afraid of the have-nots.

(via Althouse)

Jul 11, 2005

"Repulsive and speciesist" [LINK]

Another letter to the Globe. Note that the Endangered Species Act does not apply to the Congo:

Of course we need the Endangered Species Act. How could anyone think otherwise? The Republican administration's attempts to water down the act are repulsive and speciesist. The Endangered Species Act is an important human-to-Earth gesture, and it must stay strong and give other species their due, i.e., a decent chance at coexistence on Earth.

But our track record in helping other living things is not pretty. Daily, we mindlessly take over the habitats of living things without a second glance or thought. And, then again, we displace other species to mine minerals like Coltan for cellphones and other unnecessary technical toys. This mining alone brought the Grauer's Gorilla in the Congo down from 8,000 to 1,000. Someone said to me, ''But, we have dominion over the animals." We do, and look where it's gotten them: on the endangered species list.

Ah, yes, we are insatiable, greedy, compassionless critters, canvassing the planet with power-fisted man-to-man war and violence with enough of a hint of fear and terror to keep us in line so the capitalists can collect contaminated cash. Our egos spew industrial waste, manmade poisons and an ugly anthropocentric attitude.

In today's technology-driven society, nothing is fast enough, big enough or expensive enough. Who do you think is going to be the last entry on that manmade endangered species list?

"So what happened in London?" [LINK]

While this weblog's purpose is to document exquisite examples of intellectual error emanating from the contemporary left, casual readers may conclude it merely reprints every letter to the Boston Globe, the most pronounced artifact of such reasoning in my daily routine:

George Bush and Tony Blair are both fighting the war on terror abroad so we don't have to fight it at home, right? Isn't that their mantra, repeated over and over again?

So what happened in London? Why have extremists launched their attacks on London and Madrid, both originally partners in our Iraqi debacle? Is not this further proof that we may not be fighting the right war?

No, we're just warming up. Presidential adviser Karl Rove was recently criticized for characterizing reasoning such as the following as a liberal trait:
The London bombing is a terrible tragedy. Too frequently the innocent suffer. There are, however, questions that must be asked.

Are the 8,000 British troops in Iraq the cause of the bombing? Did Tony Blair's support of Bush's illegal war play a role? What is the role that religion plays on both sides of this conflict? I believe that religion practiced within a larger sense of humility about the human condition may be helpful to those who need it. But practiced under the guise of hubris and arrogance, it leads to the calamities we experience too often today.

The London episode is horrible but, in my view, finds its roots in a disastrous view of life on this planet. Winona LaDuke gave a talk in Concord on July 7, and described the Native American view of life as cyclical, meaning that all actions today are taken with a view toward the future. She says the Western way is linear. Run out of resources and conquer other lands to find new resources. Don't worry about tomorrow. Oil, thy name is holy!

Western karma is not in good shape these days. We should remember the play, "Inherit the Wind" and the source for the title. "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind" comes from Proverbs (11:29). We have troubles in our own house with political and economic hegemony around the world. We rape the land and disrespect the human condition at home and abroad. And now we reap the results.

Jul 7, 2005

It "brings together history and fantasy" [LINK]

From the Fall/Winter catalog of Duke University Press, a description of Queer/Early/Modern, by Carla Freccero, Chair of the Department of Literature and Professor of Literature, History of Consciousness, and Women’s Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz:

In Queer/Early/Modern, Carla Freccero, a leading scholar of early modern European studies, argues for a reading practice that accounts for the queerness of temporality, for the way past, present, and future time appear out of sequence and in dialogue in our thinking about history and texts. Freccero takes issue with New Historicist accounts of sexual identity that claim to respect historical proprieties and to derive identity categories from the past. She urges us to see how the indeterminacies of subjectivity found in literary texts challenge identitarian constructions and she encourages us to read differently the relation between history and literature. Contending that the term “queer,” in its indeterminacy, points the way toward alternative ethical reading practices that do justice to the after-effects of the past as they live on in the present, Freccero proposes a model of “fantasmatic historiography” that brings together history and fantasy, past and present, event and affect.

Combining feminist theory, queer theory, psychoanalysis, deconstruction, and literary criticism, Freccero takes up a series of theoretical and historical issues related to debates in queer theory, feminist theory, the history of sexuality, and early modern studies. She juxtaposes readings of early and late modern texts, discussing the lyric poetry of Petrarch, Louise Labé, and Melissa Ethridge; David Halperin’s take on Michel Foucault via Apuleius’s The Golden Ass and Boccaccio’s Decameron; and France’s domestic partner legislation in connection with Marguerite de Navarre’s Heptameron. Turning to French cleric Jean de Léry’s account, published in 1578, of having witnessed cannibalism and religious rituals in Brazil some twenty years earlier and to the twentieth-century Brandon Teena case, Freccero draws on Jacques Derrida’s concept of spectrality to propose both an ethics and a mode of interpretation that acknowledges and is inspired by the haunting of the present by the past.

"Few people are affected, but the payoff is great" [LINK]

Stellar economic reasoning in a letter to the Boston Globe:

There is a movement in Congress to repeal the estate tax, or reduce it by 80 to 90 percent. That's $1 trillion over 10 years that could be used to finance public education, healthcare for the elderly, better benefits for our soldiers, a safety net for workers whose jobs have been outsourced, and many more of our community's needs.

In 2001, when the estate tax was at full strength, only 2 percent of all estates paid the tax. This amounted to only 52,000 people in the entire United States. Few people are affected, but the payoff is great. The estate tax generates enough revenue to provide health coverage to 22 million children. Currently, there are 10 million uninsured children in the United States.

The estate tax was created for a purpose. It ensures that the small percentage of wealthy taxpayers who have the resources to legally avoid paying all sorts of other taxes pay their fair share and contribute to our national well-being.

Fair is fair. We need the estate tax. Our senators should be looking out for all of us, not just the few who are lucky enough to be wealthy.

"Instead of scolding the citizens"... [LINK]

A letter to the Boston Globe:

JIM COLMAN of the state Department of Environmental Protection was quoted as saying, ''If more people recycled, reduced, and reused, clearly there would be less need for landfills (''Trash goal might be tossed aside," City & Region, July 5).

Instead of scolding the citizens (some of whom are doing their best), Colman might consider introducing legislation that would force a reduction in the amount of packaging big corporations and retailers foist on unwilling customers.

Ireland recently passed a law whereby stores have to charge 5 cents for every plastic bag they hand to a customer.

The reason people are throwing away more trash is that there is more trash. The trash stream must be attacked where it starts — with big corporations and retailers and their wasteful, expensive, pointless packaging practices. And while Colman is at it, he can do something about all that junk mail and catalogs we didn't ask for.

Jul 5, 2005

"It lacks an annoying quality" [LINK]

From an account of an anti-war demonstration in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Members of the Breasts Not Bombs contingent, which included seven women, three men and two young girls, said the war in Iraq is indecent, not their nakedness....

"Hey! Explain this to me!" said an agog visitor from Florida, approaching San Francisco police Sgt. Carl T., who was assigned to keep an eye on the crowd and who really has only a letter for a last name.

"It's not illegal," the sergeant told the woman.

"All right!" she said, giving him a high-five.

Technically, the sergeant explained, nudity can be considered misdemeanor indecent exposure if the person in their birthday suit has an intention to titillate. Because the protest is political, not sensual or lewd, it really doesn't count, he said.

And it doesn't fall into the category of public nuisance, because it lacks an annoying quality, like the guy who was doing naked yoga at Fisherman's Wharf near a children's school bus stop, he said....

Breasts Not Bombs said they are trying to make people uncomfortable to get their anti-war message across and to also desensitize people to nudity....

Since the event featured young girls, some observers who snapped photos wondered whether having the pictures processed would mark them as pedophiles.

"Unconcerned with the cost of the Iraq war" [LINK]

A letter to the Boston Globe:

It is paradoxical that Americans seem unconcerned with the cost of the Iraq war and occupation, with daily reports of lives lost, dollars spent, and loss of national respect. There have been few demonstrations to end our involvement in the war, and few demands that the Bush administration change its policy or even state it clearly.

The paradox persists because the administration does not demand any sacrifice, and Americans choose to go along with it. For example, there has been no appeal to cut gasoline consumption. There has been no request for new taxes to support the war. The administration has actually cut taxes and created a huge deficit. There is no plan to deviate from an all-volunteer military. There will be no draft, according to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

It is to the administration's advantage that we not sacrifice, and it is in our own self-interest not to sacrifice. Along with sacrifice will come demands that the administration justify its handling of the war.

This moral shortcoming, the failure to experience meaningfully the effects of a war we are waging, prolongs the war, increases the number of dead and wounded, increases the deficit, and exacerbates our loss of respect among the family of nations.

D.C. considers smoking ban [LINK]

The D.C. City Council is considering a bill that would make it illegal to smoke in a bar, even if the owners, employees and customers all agreed that smoking should be permitted.

Jul 4, 2005

Government in our bedrooms, especially around the baseboards where the dust-bunnies collect [LINK]

In Spain, there is now a law requiring husbands to perform half of the housework. No word on what responsibilities their children may have, or whether wives would be required to go out and get a job.

"A huge mystery to most women of my generation" [LINK]

Slate senior editor Dahlia Lithwick in a New York Times op-ed, on the retiring Justice O'Connor:

IN the fall of 1992, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor spoke to my first-year law school class at Stanford University, her alma mater. My class, which was almost 50 percent women — black, Hispanic, gay and disabled women among them — received her warmly. She is, after all, a feminist pioneer. The first woman on the United States Supreme Court, Justice O'Connor broke through glass ceilings the way women of my generation broke nails. She, more than any other woman in the legal profession, proved that we could be whatever we wanted.

Which is why her speech was so stunning: it was curt and unsentimental and — if recollection serves — it concluded with a lament about how annoying it is to receive late-night telephone calls from death row petitioners with only moments left before their executions. I left the hall furious, wondering how a woman could be so heartless.

She shocked me again in the fall of 2000, when I was covering oral arguments at the Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore. Justice O'Connor, 70 years old at the time, was listening to an argument about how to count the notorious "butterfly ballots" that had confused Florida voters, especially the elderly. Her characteristically tart reaction to the voters' difficulties — "For goodness' sakes, I mean it couldn't be easier" — crushed any liberal dreams that some heightened feminine compassion would decide this case for Al Gore.

Suffice it to say, Justice O'Connor is a huge mystery to most women of my generation. How could someone who blew open doors for generations of women after her show so little empathy to female victims of violence in the 2000 case of United States v. Morrison, for instance, where she joined with the court's conservatives to invalidate the Violence Against Women Act, or to teenagers facing the death penalty in Roper v. Simmons last fall? How could someone who so embodies minority advancement not use her new power to pull everyone else up with her?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg made more sense to my female colleagues....

Jul 3, 2005

"Representations of the black queer body" [LINK]

Promotional text for Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology, edited by Patrick Johnson and Mae Henderson, a new offering from Duke University Press:

While over the past decade a number of scholars have done significant work on questions of black lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered identities, this volume is the first to collect this groundbreaking work and make black queer studies visible as a developing field of study in the United States. Bringing together essays by established and emergent scholars, this collection assesses the strengths and weaknesses of prior work on race and sexuality and highlights the theoretical and political issues at stake in the nascent field of black queer studies. Including work by scholars based in English, film studies, black studies, sociology, history, political science, legal studies, cultural studies, and performance studies, the volume showcases the broadly interdisciplinary nature of the black queer studies project.

Essayists consider the ways that gender and sexuality have been glossed over in black studies and race and class marginalized in queer studies; representations of the black queer body; black queer literature; and the pedagogical implications of black queer studies. Whether exploring the closet as a racially-loaded metaphor, arguing for the inclusion of diaspora studies in black queer studies, considering how the black lesbian voice that was so expressive in the 1970s and 1980s is all but inaudible today, or investigating how the social sciences have concretized racial and sexual exclusionary practices, these insightful essays signal an important and necessary expansion of queer studies.

The "diffusion and regulation of panic" [LINK]

Duke University Press's catalog entry for Panic Diaries: A Genealogy of Panic Disorder, by Jackie Orr, Associate Professor of Sociology at Syracuse University:

Part cultural history, part sociological critique, and part literary performance, Panic Diaries explores the technological and social construction of individual and collective panic. Jackie Orr looks at instances of panic and its “cures” in the twentieth-century United States: from the mass hysteria following the 1938 radio broadcast of H. G. Wells’ War of the Worlds to an individual woman swallowing a pill to control the “panic disorder” officially recognized by the American Psychiatric Association in 1980. Against a backdrop of Cold War anxieties over atomic attack, Orr highlights the entanglements of knowledge and power in efforts to reconceive panic, and its prevention, as problems in communication and information feedback. Throughout, she reveals the shifting techniques of power and social engineering underlying the ways that scientific and social scientific discourses — including crowd psychology, Cold War cybernetics, and contemporary psychiatry — have rendered panic an object of technoscientific management.

Orr, who has experienced panic attacks herself, kept a diary of her participation as a research subject in clinical trials for the Upjohn Company’s anti-anxiety drug Xanax. This “panic diary” grounds her study and suggests the complexity of her desire to track the diffusion and regulation of panic in U.S. society. Orr’s historical research, theoretical reflections, and biographical narrative combine in this remarkable and compelling genealogy of panic and its manipulation by the media, the social sciences and psychiatry, the U.S. military and government, and transnational drug companies.

We "have killed more Iraqis than Saddam Hussein ever did" [LINK]

The free-thinking Molly Ivans in a syndicated column:

The first thing I ever learned about politics was never to let anyone else define what you believe, or what you are for or against. I think for myself.

I am not "you liberals" or "you people on the left who always. ..." My name is Molly Ivins, and I can speak for myself, thank you. I don't need Rush Limbaugh or Karl Rove to tell me what I believe.

Setting up a straw man, calling it liberal and then knocking it down has become a favorite form of "argument" for those on the right. Make some ridiculous claim about what "liberals" think, and then demonstrate how silly it is. Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and many other right-wing ravers never seem to get tired of this old game. If I had a nickel for every idiotic thing I've ever heard those on the right claim "liberals" believe, I'd be richer than Bill Gates....

Since my name is Molly Ivins and I speak for myself, I'll tell you exactly why I opposed invading Iraq: because I thought it would be bad for this country, our country, my country. I opposed the invasion out of patriotism, and that is the reason I continue to oppose it today — I think it is bad for us. I think we have created more terrorists than we faced to start with and that our good name has been sullied all over the world. I think we have alienated our allies and have killed more Iraqis than Saddam Hussein ever did....

Jul 2, 2005

"Our ability to conceive of abstract concepts" [LINK]

A short item in The Week, a digest of the international press:

In the 1950s, a chimpanzee named Congo captured the British public's imagination when he learned to paint on a popular TV show. He eventually produced some 400 works of "abstract" art. Now, more than four decades after Congo passed away, three of his pieces have been sold by the London auction house Bonhams for $26,352. The proud owner is Howard Hong, a California telecommunications consultant. "On a purely artistic level, when I saw the paintings they struck me," he said. "The style looks like an early Kandinsky." Hong added, "It is said that what makes us human is our ability to conceive of abstract concepts. This totally contracts that theory."
Another sure sign of intelligence is to have just enough wit to misinterpret the evidence of your senses.

Jul 1, 2005

"A daily helping of herring" [LINK]

A Reuters dispatch from Amsterdam:

A Dutch woman who swears by a daily helping of herring for a healthy life celebrated her 115th birthday on Wednesday as the oldest living person on record.

Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper, a former needlework teacher, was born in 1890, the year Sioux Indians were massacred by the U.S. military at the Battle of Wounded Knee....

ABC Pulls "Neighborhood" Show [LINK]

ABC pulled plans to air a new reality show, "Welcome to the Neighborhood." In the show, several families compete to win a large house near Austin, Texas. To win the house, they must meet the approval of their would-be neighbors, all of whom are white Bush voters. The show's focus was how they would deal with their latent prejudice when confronted with a set of people carefully chosen by the show's producers for the most exquisite provocation — not only the requisite black, Latino and Asian families, but two gay men with an adopted black baby, a Republican couple covered in tattoos, a seemingly normal family whose mother secretly works as a stripper, and a pair of Wiccans.

ABC canceled plans to air the show not because it represented a perverse new cultural nadir, but because of fears it violated the federal Fair Housing Act.

Update 7/13: Brent Bozell notes that members of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) prescreened episodes of the show. Their displeasure with depictions of anti-gay prejudice — even if the participants eventually grow to accept the potential gay neighbors — apparently contributed to the show's cancellation. This arguably represents a free-speech "chilling effect" that would be readily denounced in other contexts. Christian conservatives also noted their displeasure over the depiction of the neighbors as bigots, but unlike GLAAD, their input was not solicited.

"How depraved can humanity get?" [LINK]

A letter to the Boston Globe from Robert Daubenspeck of White River Junction, Vermont:

Recently, National Public Radio did a piece about military recruiters. What a horror, people going around saying, ''Come, join us and we can teach you better how to kill." How depraved can humanity get? Imagine how much better life would be if we had people saying, ''Come, join us and we can teach you how better to care for people."

Jun 30, 2005

Legal Reasoning [LINK]

Following the Supreme Court's controversial decision in Kelo v. City of New London, New Hampshire developer Logan Darrow Clements filed an application to build a hotel on the present site of Justice David Souter's residence. A hotel, he reasoned, would generate more tax revenue for the town of Ware than a private residence.

"An ever more concentrated and profit-driven media" [LINK]

Promotional jacket text for the paperback edition of Gag Rule: On the Supression of Dissent and the Stifling of Democracy, published by Penguin Press. The book's author is Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper's magazine:

Dissent is Democracy. Democracy is in Trouble. Never before, Lewis Lapham argues, have voices of protest been so locked out of the mainstream conversation, so marginalized and muted by a government that recklessly disregards civil liberties, and by an ever more concentrated and profit-driven media in which the safe and the salable sweep all uncomfortable truths from view....

Dangerous solar proposals [LINK]

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is weighing several proposals to either subsidize or mandate solar panels on residences. All are deadly, since they would entail more people scaling their roofs to service the panels.

Prisoners to Design Jail [LINK]

In Great Britain, architect Will Alsop is spearheading a creative arts program to guide prisoners in designing a "creative prison" that would emphasize rehabilitation over punishment. In fact, no such prison will be built.

"Reinventing the Route to D.C. Diploma" [LINK]

A letter to the Washington Post identifies one more goal post that needs moving:

The District is taking a significant step in the right direction by offering the option of a fifth year of high school ["Reinventing the Route to D.C. Diploma," Metro, June 20].

We rarely notice if a student takes a year or two longer than usual to complete a graduate degree because of personal obligations. Also, it is now acceptable for students to take more than four years to complete college: According to a recent UCLA study, only 36 percent of students in college in the 1990s finished in four years, compared with 40 percent in the 1980s and 47 percent in the late 1960s.

The expectation that students will finish high school in four years, however, has remained, for no reason other than tradition. Many students, including recent immigrants who are learning English, can profit from more time, and many need more time because of work obligations. We need to facilitate schooling for those who lack the advantages and commend them for their perseverance.

Jun 28, 2005

One response to grade inflation [LINK]

From an article about Harvard University by Ross Douthat in The Atlantic. Douthat recounts the announcement professor Harvey Mansfield made recently regarding changes to his grading policy in his "History of Modern Political Philosophy" course:

As many of you know, I have often been, ah, outspoken concerning the upward creep of Harvard grades over the last few decades. Some say that this climb — in which were once Cs have become Bs, and those Bs are now fast becoming As — is a result of meritocracy, which has ensured that Harvard students are, ah, smarter than their forebears. This may be true, but I must tell you that I see little evidence of it.

Nevertheless, I have recently decided that hewing to the older standard is fruitless when no one else does, because all I success in doing is punishing students for taking classes with me. Therefore I have decided that this semester I will issue two grades to each of you. The first will be the grade that you actually deserve — a C for mediocre work, a B for good work, and an A for excellence. This one will be issued to you alone, for every paper and exam that you complete. The second grade, computed only at semester's end, will be your, ah, ironic grade — "ironic" in this case being a word used to mean lying — and it will be computed on a scale that takes as its mean the average Harvard grade, the B-plus. This higher grade will be sent to the registrar's office, and will appear on your transcript. It will be your public grade, you might say, and it will ensure, as I have said, that you will not be penalized for taking a class with me. And of course, only you will know whether you actually deserve it.

Ten Commandments, Two Rulings [LINK]

The Supreme Court issued diverging rulings on whether the Ten Commandments may be displayed on government property. Displays within two Kentucky courthouses were ruled impermissible because they appeared to be the result of religious intent. But an outdoor monument at the Texas State Capitol was deemed acceptable largely because it shared its space with 17 other secular sculptures, thus diluting its most toxic effects.

"Racial Disparities in Taxicab Tipping" [LINK]

Economists Ian Ayres, Fredrick E. Vars, and Nasser Zakariya published a paper concluding that African-American passengers tipped approximately one-half the amount of white passengers, and were 3.7 times more likely to leave no tip. Also, African-American cab drivers were tipped approximately one-third less than white cab drivers, a form of discrimination in which African-American passengers participate. They conclude that eliminating the practice of tipping (by including the cost in the fare) would decrease racial discrimination.

"Conservatives caught in contradiction" [LINK]

A letter to the Boston Globe:

AS ADVOCATES of free trade, conservatives are more than happy to displace the little guy from his job for the greater public good, but when it comes to displacing that same guy from his home on similar public benefit grounds, they contradict themselves.

Jeff Jacoby embodies this contradiction In ''Fleeing free trade" (op ed, Jan. 9, 2004), he criticized Democrats for backing away from free trade and its public benefits, yet in his column ''Eminent injustice in New London" (June 26), he expresses outrage about the recent Supreme Court decision on eminent domain that will force a group of New London residents to give up their homes to make way for waterfront development.

On the one hand, Jacoby supports economic policies that displace thousands of people from their jobs (and, in many cases, from their homes), yet he finds another economic policy that will displace seven property owners from their homes to be ''execrable." Mike Cristofaro, the homeowner portrayed in Jacoby's column, should understand that, if his job had been at stake as a consequence of free trade, Jacoby would have had no sympathy at all....

"Enforcing rhetoric of anality" [LINK]

From an essay by Lee Siegel on Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, who teaches queer theory at The City University of New York. Here is a passage from a notebook by Henry James, who around the turn of the century, aged 62, hopes to return home from California with plenty of material to write about:

My long dusty adventure over, I shall be able to [plunge] my hand, my arm, in, deep and far, and up to the shoulder — into the heavy bag of remembrance — of suggestion — of imagination — of art.
You can see where this is heading. Here's Sedgwick's interpretation:
[I]n James a greater self-knowledge and a greater acceptance and specificity of homosexual desire transform this half-conscious enforcing rhetoric of anality, numbness, and silence, into a much richer, pregnant address to James's male muse, an invocation to fisting-as-écriture.
(via National Review, 7/4/05)

Jun 27, 2005

"Seeing math all around us" [LINK]

The table of contents for a new textbook, Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers.

Part One: Viewing Math Broadly

  • Teaching Math Across the Curriculum, by Bob Peterson
  • Teaching Suggestions: "Disparities in Wealth" Cartoon
  • Activity Box: No-TV Week Math
  • Driving While Black or Brown: A Math Project About Racial Profiling
  • Reading the World with Math, by Marilyn Frankenstein
  • Teaching Suggestions: "The War in Iraq" Boondocks Cartoon
  • Activity Box: Using Math to Take a Critical Look at How the Unemployment Rate Is Determined
  • The War in Iraq: How Much Does It Cost?
  • Race, Retrenchment, and the Reform of School Mathematics, by William F. Tate
  • Environmental Hazards: Is Environmental Racism Real?
  • Historical, Cultural, and Social Implications of Mathematics, by S.E. Anderson

    Part Two: Infusing Social Justice into Math Classes

  • Home Buying While Brown or Black, by Eric Gutstein
  • Teaching Suggestions: Corporate Control of U.S. Media Line Graph
  • Teaching Suggestions: "And How Do You Spend Your Wages?" Cartoon
  • Sweatshop Accounting, by Larry Steele
  • Activity Box: How Do You Live on 31 Cents an Hour?
  • Teaching Suggestions: The Global Capitalist Economy Cartoon
  • Globalization, Labor, and the Environment: A Linear Programming Unit
  • Poverty and World Wealth: Recognizing Inequality
  • Unequal Distribution of U.S. Wealth: Recognizing Inequality, Part Two
  • Chicanos Have Math in Their Blood, by Luis Ortiz-Franco
  • Activity Box: The Hidden Grain in Meat
  • Understanding Large Numbers, by Bob Peterson
  • Activity Box: How Many Sears Towers Tall Is $135 Billion?
  • "With Math, It's Like You Have More Defense," by Erin E. Turner and Beatriz T. Font Strawhun
  • Designing a Wheelchair Ramp: Putting the Pythagorean Theorem to Use
  • Radical Equations: A Review of the Book by Bob Moses and Charles E. Cobb Jr., by David Levine
  • The Geometry of Inequality, by Andrew Brantlinger
  • South Central Los Angeles: Ratios and Density in Urban Areas
  • Integrals and Equity, by Megan Staples
  • HIV/AIDS Status: Using Statistics to Understand Ratios
  • Teaching Suggestions: HIV Status Bus Stop Photo
  • Justice for Janitors: Rich Lessons in the Power of Math
  • Math, Maps, and Misrepresentation, by Eric Gutstein
  • Teaching Suggestions: Map of Territory That Mexico Lost to the United States
  • Real-World Projects: Seeing Math All Around Us
  • Teaching Suggestions: "Do You Support Invading Iraq?" Cartoon
  • Deconstructing Barbie: Math and Popular Culture
  • Multicultural Math, by Claudia Zaslavsky
  • Tracking PA Announcements: Collecting Data in the Classroom

    Part Three: Infusing Social Justice Math into Other Curricular Areas

  • Ten Chairs of Inequality, by Polly Kellogg
  • Fast Foods, Junk Foods, and Advertising: Analyzing the Barrage of Advertising Aimed at Children
  • Write the Truth: Presidents and Slaves, by Bob Peterson
  • Teaching Suggestions: "Eight Companies Earn More" One-Dollar Bill Graphic
  • Libraries, Books, and Bias: Using Math to Raise Issues of Representation
  • The Mathematics of Lotteries: Going Beyond Probability
  • The Transnational Capital Auction, by Bill Bigelow
  • Sweatshop Math: Taking a Closer Look at Where Kids' "Stuff" Comes From
  • Teaching Suggestions: "Work Faster!" Cartoon

    Part Four: Resources for Rethinking Mathematics

  • Websites, Math Curriculum and Pedagogy, Books with Theoretical/Academic Perspectives, Curriculum Guides/Resources, Children's Books, Sources for Maps, and More
  • The Rethinking Schools website also features such titles as Rethinking Globalization: Teaching for Justice in an Unjust World; Rethinking Columbus; The Real Ebonics Debate; Classroom Crusades: Responding to the Religious Right's Agenda for Public Schools; and Failing Our Kids: Why the Testing Craze Won't Fix Our Schools.

    "I feel that you are stupid" [LINK]

    Lauren Collins in a "Talk of the Town" item for The New Yorker, concerning the "Don’t Laugh at Me" (DLAM) program championed by folk singer Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary fame) as a means to decrease school bullying and ridicule:

    Next up was “The Big Betrayal Conflict Script,” a skit about two friends, Terry and Sasha, who get into a fight at a basketball game. The exercise emphasized using “I messages,” as opposed to those that begin with “you” and, therefore, can put their targets on the defensive. (DLAM also recommends having students simulate the sound of a rainstorm and discuss a story called “The Maligned Wolf.”)

    “Just make sure they’re sticking to the formula,” Hurdle-Price advised. “I often get students who say, ‘I feel that you are stupid.’”

    Stop Improving Yourself! [LINK]

    Karen Olson, editor of The Utne Reader, describing the contents of the May/June 2005 Issue. While it's always worth considering the price of progress, rapid change often dredges up such recurring fallacies:

    In assembling our cover section, we began with a simple question: Where is the pursuit of perfection leading us? From plastic surgery and steroids to mood-altering drugs, human beings are already armed with a hi-tech arsenal for self-improvement. New tools in the form of robotics and genetic engineering are said to be on the way. We've always been skilled at using the technologies of war to end lives. Now science — which has made great strides over the past century in helping us stay healthier — may soon allow us to extend our lives beyond their natural limits.

    But what, exactly, are we doing? Will changing the boundaries of our physical existence help us to live more richly, or does it have the potential to destroy us? Over one billion people on this planet do not have access to clean and safe drinking water. Millions more need treatment for diseases like malaria and HIV. How can we justify investing our resources and imaginations in robots, computer chip implants, and designer babies?

    "Unfortunate, blind, and brain-dead" [LINK]

    From "The return of '1984,'" a column by H.D.S. Greenway in the Boston Globe that ostensibly deals with the Iraq war:

    There is something profoundly Orwellian, too, about the administration's attempts to impose thought control on public broadcasting. The sometimes secret machinations to place impositions on editorial freedom, the efforts to see which people interviewed by Bill Moyers might be considered anti-Bush or anti-Defense Department or insufficiently conservative, were just the kind of efforts to squash intellectual opposition to state power that Orwell wrote about....

    The drum beat by some conservatives to bring down an independent judiciary is another case in point. We learned from the case of unfortunate, blind, and brain-dead [sic] Terri Schiavo that it isn't activist judges who are the enemy. It is judges who are not active in the correct causes.

    It is the intended persecution of Michael Schiavo, who defended his wife's right to die, however, that has for me the most sinister echoes of Orwell. Florida Governor Jeb Bush, according to news reports, will have the case reopened after 15 years to investigate how long it took Schiavo to dial 911. Thus will Michael Schiavo feel the displeasure of the state for challenging the conservative orthodoxy.

    "Marginalizing and minimizing the significance of these people's lives" [LINK]

    From a letter to the Boston Globe concerning gay-themed curricula in local secondary schools:

    Regarding the debate about discussing gay and lesbian relationships in public school classrooms, John Fountain (letter, June 24) wants to see himself as an open, accepting person. He says ''gay-oriented folks have a right to tolerance, full acceptance, and respect from the other 96 percent of the population." However, he falls short of his own words when he goes on to talk about a ''slippery slope" and urges teachers ''not to endorse or promote the ''just as good' perspective."

    To clarify, there is no reliable estimate of the number of gay and lesbian Americans. The 4 percent figure is often cited, but it is limited; it is based mainly on a handful of polls/surveys taken around a few government elections, or upon Kinsey's work on human sexuality in the late 1940s. The US Census began tracking same-sex partners only in 2000, and does not include data on the number of single gay and lesbian Americans.

    A more statistically sound estimate would be the US Census finding that same-sex unmarried partners were represented in 99.3 percent of all counties in the United States. Hence, marginalizing and minimizing the significance of these people's lives is anything but tolerant, accepting, and respectful.

    Perhaps the Census does have a "more statistically sound estimate" identifying unmarried same-sex partners in 99.3 percent of all U.S. counties. Still, that statistic doesn't tell us anything different. There could easily be a 4 percent rate of homosexuality that manifests itself everywhere to some degree. The only difference between the two statistics is that 99 percent sounds more impressive.

    One Can Blame Michael Moore [LINK]

    One Can Blame Michael Moore for many things: for lying in the service of partisan ends, for ignoring facts that contradict his radical political views, for failing to adhere to a coherent rhetorical stance, for "creative" editing and quoting interviewees out of context, for inserting himself into his subject matter, for being a total pain in the ass to work with, for being cruel to subordinates, and even for his purposefully unkempt public appearance. To this we may add that he may be responsible for a decline in the reputation of the documentary form, and for the rise of the counter-documentary.

    Moore has spawned at least one imitator, Morgan Spurlock, whose Supersize Me received a 2004 Academy Award nomination for best documentary. The film chronicles a 30-day period in which Spurlock eats nothing but McDonald's food, including super-sized portions whenever available, for an average daily intake of over 5,000 calories. Not surprisingly, he gained 25 pounds, his cholesterol shot up 65 points, and he reported feeling sluggish and depressed. What should be surprising is that he blames McDonald's for these ill effects, asking where "personal responsibility ends and corporate responsibility begins."

    "Personal responsibility for your own life never ends," answers filmmaker Soso Whaley. Partly annoyed by Supersize Me's award nomination and partly to lose some weight, Whaley sought to disprove Spurlock's thesis. She also ate only at McDonald's for a whole month, but she lost 10 pounds and said she felt great. No, she didn't confine herself to salads, but rather sensibly limited her overall calorie intake (an average of 1800 daily) while engaging in moderate exercise. Extending her diet to 60 days, she lost a total of 18 pounds and 40 cholesterol points.

    Now Whaley has her own documentary out documenting her diet. It's called Mickey D's and Me, whose title is a conscious play on the title of Michael Moore's breakthrough film, Roger and Me. Her film's provisional title, Downsize Me, was also a pun on the title of one of Moore's books. (A similar counter-documentary is in the works criticizing Michael Moore, following in the wake of various books and websites.)

    It's safe to bet that these revisionist efforts will not be as successful. For one, they are reactive, following in the wake of the object of their criticism. To most, the subject matter will seem all talked out. Their audience, too, is limited to those who recognize they have a conscious bone to pick, namely those who are already convinced. They will also be seen as tainted; Whaley is an adjunct fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank that often defends commercial interests — not that there's anything wrong with that! And while counter-documentaries represent a vibrant level of discourse, it is at the expense of the infallible reputation documentaries once enjoyed, however undeservedly.

    For his part, Spurlock has moved onto other matters. The new six-part "reality" show he produced for the F/X cable network is called 30 Days, which depicts various people doing some unusual activity for that period of time. One episode depicts Spurlock's childhood friend David Stacy spending his days "living as a Muslim" in the Detroit area. The outcome of this exercise, apparently determined in advance, is that Stacy will wind up sensing widespread prejudice and injustice directed against Muslim-Americans.

    NOTE, 7/13: Regarding the McDonald's angle, if you eat all your meals for a month at any restaurant and you're bound to gain weight, much less if you order gratuitous portions. Also, those who do want to eat out but also watch their calories could do a lot worse than McDonald's, which provides detailed nutritional information for each item on its menu.

    Jun 26, 2005

    Innocence Relegated to Indian Reservations [LINK]

    Writing in Commentary, the anthropologist Roger Sandall describes the perverse situation of Brazil's Cinta Larga Indians. Under Brazilian law, they are not considered full citizens, but enjoy the sort of protections typically offered to minors. Many believe they live on top of a huge diamond deposit, yet they are not allowed to mine their own land. Outsiders seeking to mine the land require numerous permits that entail literally endless bureaucratic delays. So instead the Indians cut private deals with the outsiders, which inevitably go sour and lead to violence. Last year, 29 miners were slaughtered by the Indians, who because of their protected status will almost certainly not be prosecuted.

    "The basketballs deteriorate" [LINK]

    From an ARTnews article detailing the career of Jeff Koons:

    “Equilibrium,” his groundbreaking 1985 show at International with Monument, included basketballs floating in aquariums, lifesaving devices cast in bronze, and reproductions of Nike advertisements featuring black basketball stars. The basketball tanks, in editions of two, originally sold for $3,000, and the lifeboats, in an edition of three plus one artist’s proof, sold for $8,000, but those prices doubled within a matter of months. In recent years a lifeboat and an aqualung have sold for about $2 million each at auction. Less in demand are the basketball tanks, whose top price at auction is $244,500, because, sources say, they are difficult to maintain and the balls deteriorate.

    Bewitched in Salem [LINK]

    The town of Salem, Massachusetts, site of the hysterical 1692 Salem Witch Trials in which 23 innocent people were killed, erected a statue of Elizabeth Montgomery, star of the television show "Bewitched."

    Salem has long viewed its terrible heritage as an opportunity for commercial exploitation, as a stroll around its tourist-drenched downtown area makes obvious. In recent years Salem has also become an unlikely congregating point for actual witches, who view the 1692 trials as a form of persecution against their own kind.

    Towards Compulsory Health Insurance [LINK]

    Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney unveiled a proposal to penalize those who lack health insurance.

    Sin Relegated to Indian Reservations [LINK]

    Lawrence Downes, writing in the New York Times, describes response to a bill that would outlaw fois gras:

    Michael Ginor, an owner of Hudson Valley Foie Gras, says he feels an anti-foie-gras mood building and is willing to be put out of business in New York if he can land on his feet somewhere else. The Bonacic bill, unlike others lurking in the legislative wings, does not take effect until 2016, giving Mr. Ginor ample time to make other plans - moving to Canada, maybe, or an Indian reservation - without worrying about losing his market dominance or facing prosecution for cruelty.

    Animal welfare advocates have thus found themselves opposing a foie-gras ban, which in this case they say cynically gives a duck torturer a decade of indulgence.

    In such rhetorical battles, it's always fun to shift ground to considerations of racial politics. Think of how much less powerful the following conclusion would have been had it concerned itself with garden-variety trailer trash:
    In Sullivan County — which could use all the economic activity it can get, beyond the force-feeding of dollar bills into video slots at Monticello Raceway — Hudson Valley Foie Gras gives a living to 175 people, mostly Latino immigrants. Many of them live in trailers on the grounds and worship in a tiny chapel of crepe-paper streamers and candles in a corner of a warehouse. Those who calculate the cruelty of foie gras would do well to include them in the equation as well.

    Jun 25, 2005

    Group Urges Trans-Fat Ban [LINK]

    Echoing the conclusions of a report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the New York Times is urging the Food and Drug Administration to ban the use of partially hydrogenated oil and other "trans-fat" substances.

    Jun 24, 2005

    "Suing Sodium" [LINK]

    The Center for Science in the Public Interest filed suit against the Food and Drug Administration, seeking reclassification of table salt as a regulated "food additive."

    Lightbulb-Changing Feminists [LINK]

    From an article by Ayelet Waldman in Salon. Ms. Waldman wonders whether she's a sufficiently committed feminist if she expects men to be more handy around the house. Note the first paragraph, in which one unfortunate man (R.I.P.) is summarily objectified:

    My husband's cousin Matthew died two years ago. He was commuting to work on his bicycle when he was hit by a car speeding through a turn. A few weeks ago his wife Stacia told me that one of the many things she missed about him was having a man in the house to fix a dripping faucet, put together an Ikea cabinet, change the batteries in the smoke detector. Matthew was killed the day before trash pickup, and that night the cans did not go out. The next week, as Stacia hauled out the heavy bins brimming with the detritus of a week's shiva — paper plates, plastic cups, uncountable wads of damp tissue — she realized that she was alone.
    How stupid can this woman be, to not be able to assemble an Ikea cabinet? The instructions are heavily pictoral and typically do not rely on written language.

    Diversity in Variety [LINK]

    A letter by Mark Taylor to Variety:

    While I respect all of the men and women on your recent panel on gay issues, I am underwhelmed by the lack of diversity they represent — racial diversity. Being openly gay and lesbian in this industry is not the sole provenance of white men and women. In the face of such a divisive political climate it is incredibly important to bring as many representatives of gay and lesbian experience to the table.

    Sexuality and the influence it has on perspective is as diverse as the population, gay and straight. To make little or no attempt to include Asian, black and Latino perspectives is, at best, as offensive and short-sighted as the mainstream media excluding fully realized gay characters from its programming.

    At worst, it speaks to a complete disregard for anything that Asian, black and Latino members of the population have to offer.

    I hope you will be more considerate in any future gay and lesbian reporting.

    "Little English language skills" [LINK]

    From a letter by Maralyn Soifer to the Los Angeles Times:

    I was "highly qualified" 12 years ago when I worked for Curtis, and I have become even more qualified in past years, having recently received my second master's degree; however, my students do poorly on standardized tests. They come to school with empty stomachs, untreated illness, poor dental care and with little English language skills. Most have never been to a museum or an art gallery, except on school field trips, and they own few books or newspapers. These are not issues that private school teachers usually encounter.

    I have often said that if LAUSD wanted to raise test scores in the inner city, all it had to do was switch populations with a high achieving school...

    To be fair, the editor is to blame.

    "Not to desecrate but to expand" [LINK]

    A letter from John Fleck to the Los Angeles Times:

    Christopher Cole misses the mark in his article, "Religion and Art in the Toilet" (Opinion, June 19) by not discussing context and artistic intent in his attempt to expose left-wing hypocrisy toward art funding and military torture. I'm the performance artist whose piece, "Blessed Are All the Little Fishes," he cites as having "an 'altar' toilet with a picture of Jesus on its lid."

    This is where Cole (and the pundits who denounced my work) took a moment out of context and twisted my "artistic intent," which was not to desecrate but to expand our views of how religion and personal experience coexist on a cultural and existential tangent. Whereas I doubt the U.S. soldiers allegedly splashing the Koran with urine at Guantanamo Bay did so with any artistic intent, and unlike a theater, the prisoners, forcibly and possibly illegally detained, had no choice in staying or leaving.

    "Myanmar to release first ghost movie in 30 years" [LINK]

    The government of Myanmar (a.k.a. Burma) has consented after 30 years to the release of a film that includes ghosts as a theme. Ghost movies were banned in the late 1960's by the socialist government of the time because they foster superstition.

    FEMA Denies MA Red Tide Disaster Aid [LINK]

    After large sheets of algae (called "red tide") came down the New England coast, infecting local shellfish beds, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts filed a claim for relief with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA denied the request.

    Jun 23, 2005

    Aloha! [LINK]

    Senator Daniel Akaka (D-HI) introduced a bill that would reclassify native Hawaiians as a Native American "tribe," creating a racially separate government under the federal Indian law system, suspending their protection under American constitutional law.

    Spray-on Mud [LINK]

    In Britain, you can now buy a kind of spray-on mud that you splatter onto your 4x4 or other large vehicle to make it look like it's been driven off-road.

    Enthusiasm for muddy 4x4's has even spawned a fetish website called, which features pictures of vehicles partially submerged in mud.

    Hufu [LINK]

    There's a new product on the market called "Hufu," which is "tofu textured and flavored to resemble human flesh."

    "N.C. counties say PETA euthanizes animals" [LINK]

    Animal shelters from two counties in North Carolina severed relationships with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals after it was discovered most of the animals the group took with the stated intention of finding permanent homes were instead euthanized. This came to light after two PETA members were caught dumping dead animals in a local shopping center's garbage containers. PETA's website later trumpeted its efforts to "solve the animal overpopulation in North Carolina."

    In the past, PETA was found to have euthanized animals it had ostensibly rescued from a research facility, because they lacked the resources to keep them. This, despite a hefty $20 million budget.

    'Normal' No Longer a Majority, Study Finds [LINK]

    In a $20 million series of studies, psychiatric epidemiologists from the Harvard Medical School have concluded that about 55 percent of Americans suffer from mental illness in their lifetime.

    "My faith in the United States seemed to fall with them" [LINK]

    ...with my keys, that is. Here's Fatina Abdrabboh (not pictured at right), a student at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, in a New York Times op-ed concerning the stares she often gets when wearing a Muslim headscarf (hajib) around campus, including the gym where she works out:

    Every television in the gym highlighted some aspect of America's conflict with the Muslim world: the war in Iraq, allegations that American soldiers had desecrated the Koran, prisoner abuse at Guantánamo Bay, President Bush urging support of the Patriot Act. The stares just intensified my alienation as an Arab Muslim in what is supposed to be my country. I was not sure if the blood rushing to my head was caused by the elliptical trainer or by the news coverage.

    Frustrated and angry, I moved to another part of the gym. I got on a treadmill and started running as hard as I could. As sweat dripped down my face, I reached for my towel, accidentally dropping my keys in the process. It was a small thing, I know, but as they slid down the rolling belt and fell to the carpet, my faith in the United States seemed to fall with them. I did not care to pick them up. I wanted to keep running.

    Suddenly a man, out of breath, but still smiling and friendly, tapped me on my shoulder and said, "Ma'am, here are your keys." It was Al Gore, former vice president of the United States. Mr. Gore had gotten off his machine behind me, picked up my keys, handed them to me and then resumed his workout.

    It was nothing more than a kind gesture, but at that moment Mr. Gore's act represented all that I yearned for — acceptance and acknowledgment.

    To which she adds: "Mr. Gore's act reminded me that rather than running away on my treadmill, I needed to keep my feet on the soil in this country." Nice construction, that.

    Jun 22, 2005

    Sequoia Trumps Jefferson in Berkeley [LINK]

    An effort has been underway in Berkeley, California, to change the name of Jefferson Elementary School because it was named after Thomas Jefferson, who owned slaves. (Nothing else about him is important.) But the proposed new name — Sequoia Elementary — came under criticism because under Chief Sequoia's "rather barbaric" leadership in the early 19th century, the Cherokee nation also owned more than 1,500 black slaves. Defenders of the new name said it would not honor Native Americans, but rather the sequoia tree.

    (via OpinionJournal)

    "No more urban farming in Zimbabwe" [LINK]

    President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has already destroyed his country's agricultural base in an effort to seize farms from white owners and give them to his cronies. This has led to economic ruin, starvation, and plummeting life expectancy rates. Now Mugabe has outlawed "urban agriculture" — city-dwellers' practice of growing their own food on small plots of land, which officials say causes "land degradation." Under a 2000 land reform effort, the urban poor are obliged to produce food on plots of land outside the cities.

    "FBI describes top domestic terror threats" [LINK]

    John Lewis, FBI deputy assistant director in charge of counterterrorism, announced at a Philadelphia biotechnology conference that environmental and animal-rights extremists were the FBI’s top domestic terrorism issue. By "domestic," he presumably means "from domestic sources." But as dangerous and burdensome as their arsons and bombings are, there's still little reason to believe environmental and animal-rights zealots are going to crash hijacked airplanes into skyscrapers.

    Geldof's Predicament [LINK]

    It's useful to step back a moment and consider Bob Geldof's situation. Frontman for a lesser rock band that resulted in a handful of hits, he transformed his career into one devoted to helping the world's poor. The "Live Aid" charity concert he organized 20 years ago, with proceeds directed towards alleviating starvation in Africa, made the entertainment industry seem at least temporarily less narcissistic. The "Live 8" concerts he is now organizing is a bid to reproduce that success.

    There is some debate about whether, even if such charity makes it to its intended recipients, it does much good. (The corresponding effort to relieve backwards nations of the debt they have incurred is particularly dubious.) But relief was never really the primary goal of these concerts; the intention was always to raise awareness. Either of these represents high virtue, at least superficially, and yet his efforts are being criticized.

    Too many white bands, not enough African bands. Too much salt, could use some more pepper. Even if we did add Baaba Maal to a roster that already included Youssou N'Dour, one could then complain that there are too many Senegalese bands, and not enough Congolese ones. Too many acts from the Wolof tribe, and not enough Pulaars. At least those concerns can be rectified to an extent. But the one criticism that can't really be addressed with anything other than PR blather is the contention that launching such an effort entails depicting Africa as a place that needs help. How do you get around that one?

    People often misuse the word tragic these days to mean simply unfortunate. After a missing boy scout is discovered alive in the woods, the sheriff says that "if it would have got much colder, this could have been a tragedy." No, what you mean is the kid would have died. Tragedy is more interesting than that. It's what happens when a heroic man of virtue, like Geldof, unwittingly gets himself into an awful, inescapable situation, typically through some fatal character flaw of his. For the audience, the high point always comes when the hero realizes how exquisitely he has managed to screw himself, like Oedipus when he discovered the woman he was sleeping with was his mother. Without commenting on Geldof's character, it's still true that contemplating his current predicament, and watching this whole dance of virtue and grievance unfold, makes you want to gouge your eyes out.

    UPDATE: The criticism continues, as reported in The New York Times. Some see Geldof's effort as haphazard, and say it may do more harm than good by shifting attention away from African leaders and onto the good intentions of Western celebrities.

    The "Nuclear Option" That Won't Go Away [LINK]

    A Google search for "nuclear option" ~filibuster now yields 2,630 hits — down from 5,310 a month ago. Disregard for a moment whether or not you favor this proposal to ban filibusters for judicial nominees, and disregard its function as a thoughtless trope. Instead, consider the phrase's artlessness. A relatively minor procedural change in a legislative body is compared with... using nuclear weapons? If that's the case, engaging in filibuster has a bit of a "nuclear" aspect to it as well, since it implies a last-ditch effort to obstruct a measure after conventional methods have failed to persuade.

    Automotive/Marine Convergence [LINK]

    Shortages are endemic in Cuba, as they tend to be in communist economies. Imagine living in a place where not only food and gasoline are rationed, but soap and underwear as well. There are even periodic shortages of mangoes, despite a lush growing climate that would seemingly render their production impervious to the American embargo.

    The journalist Andres Oppenheimer once related how he kept getting breakfast delivered to his hotel room without any silverware, forcing him for days on end to improvise ways to spread jam on his toast. He finally cornered the bellhop, who admitted the silverware was locked away to prevent theft, and the guy who had the key couldn't get to work that day due to intermittent bus service. One restaurant had to chain the silverware to the table, but wear from constant use would shorten the chains, so patrons would have to eat with their heads hovering a couple of inches above their plates.

    Now comes word that some inventive Cubans have become adept at retrofitting taxi cabs to make them seaworthy. So it has finally come to this. Now there is a shortage of rafts.

    Cognitive Dissonance [LINK]

    There's a priceless photograph in a recent (5/30) issue of Time magazine, one that is unfortunately absent fom the online edition. It's a picture of two young Muslim students at the Raza Academy in Bombay, both part of an angry protest in the wake of Newsweek's "flawed" report that U.S. troops flushed a Koran down a toilet at Guantanamo Bay.

    They are standing right next to each other, seemingly aware of each other's presence, and both holding signs that both use the exact same brush-style lettering, obviously produced by the same process. The sign on the right reads:

    The one on the left reads:
    Obviously, these two statements flow from mutually exclusive assumptions.

    "Anti-poverty wristbands produced in sweatshops" [LINK]

    It should be clear that the phrase "cheap virtue" was never intended to be taken literally.

    Thinking Through All The Angles [LINK]

    Clearly, this Globe correspondent has done so:

    We are asked by the administration to believe that this was a simple accident. According to the Pentagon, one of the guards stepped away from his post at Guantanamo, went outside, and urinated near an air vent. We are told that the wind blew his urine through the vent and onto the holy book. Is this really the manner in which our troops are supposed to relieve themselves? Are the facilities at Gitmo so lacking that they have no ready access to a men's room?

    Don't air vents tend to have duct works with curves, elbows, filters, reinforcements, etc. to keep prisoners from using them as a potential means of escape? If they do, just what gale force wind would be required to propel the guard's urine through, around, and over such obstacles? And if there was a gale force wind, why would a guard go outside in such weather to urinate?

    Mau-Mauing Leads to Flak-Catching [LINK]

    From a letter to the Boston Globe by Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International:

    I am disapponted that The Boston Globe has joined those who have chosen to misread my reference to Guantanamo as the ''gulag of our times" (''Gulag or not," editorial, June 7). I have never suggested that the two are mirror equivalents. My point is that they are both symbols of human rights abuse in their respective eras. For the Bush administration to claim anything more than that is simply to divert attention from the real issues of abuse and ill-treatment of prisoners in US custody.
    Even if we are to take her claims of "misreading" at face value, the problem is that there is, unfortunately, still no shortage of actual gulags across the world to serve as the "gulag of our times." These are places where people are incarcerated for their political or religious beliefs, and where slave labor conditions still result in many deaths by starvation and exhaustion. The symbol that's being employed thus does not apply to our era, but also to our location, our happy circumstance, and our manifest ignorance.

    An earlier letter by a man named Zeke Phillips actually defends the use of false analogy in one paragraph, then disputes the analogy is even false — never a good way to win a debate. Zeke then says we should "put aside this debate about semantics," a silly "debate" he himself puts forth. The whole point of the provocative "gulag" statement was to get publicity. Job well done!

    "Some of our problems are self-inflicted, but..." [LINK]

    From an article by Patrick Moore in the Village Voice that concerns an epidemic of crystal methamphetamine use among gays:

    Some of our problems are self-inflicted but others are a direct result of America oppressing, demonizing, and isolating gay people. The very serious effects of oppression on gay people have been long apparent — those of us living on the West Coast know that crystal meth has been steadily killing gay men for years. Historically, gay people have had significantly higher addiction rates than those found in the straight world. In short, too many of us have been torching our lives for decades now with coke, Special K, GHB, poppers, and even good old alcohol. But the real story is not told in the media, because that would require straight people to take responsibility for the harm they have caused us.
    UPDATE: In case that link seems tenuous, here to spell it out for you is Michael Specter, author of an article on crystal meth in The New Yorker. According to Specter, "over the past several years, nearly every indicator of risky sexual activity has risen in the gay community," a trend that can be traced to widespread use of crystal meth and casual Internet hook-ups. The following is from an accompanying on-line interview conducted by Daniel Cappello:
    DANIEL CAPPELLO: You report on some people who point to other problems that may be contributing to the rise of H.I.V. among gays, such as sustained anti-gay attitudes in the country, and feelings of guilt among H.I.V.-negative gays who have to “closet” their negative status. Are these contributing to the problem?

    MICHAEL SPECTER: Absolutely. One of the clear problems with crystal is that people take it to feel better. And gay people in this country have had a horrible time of it lately. The Bush Administration is openly anti-gay, and in November millions of Americans voted to deny gay men and lesbians the right to live legally as married couples. There is no way that can’t contribute to a sense of despair.