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.