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June 30, 2006

The Aesthetics of Security

Fascinating point from my friend Grant, currently working with the Rwandan Health Ministry:

About ten minutes away from my house a car pulled up in front of me and out stepped two gigantic police men who approached me and asked for my papers. Luckily I had my passport on me from registering at the embassy earlier the day and handed it over. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the police and to be honest I was kind of excited at the possibility of honing my bribery skills. However, after seconds, it was clear these police weren’t looking for money. After asking me a few questions and making a few jokes with me they hopped back in their car and took off.

With one of the biggest and well-trained police forces in Rwanda, it became clear quickly that this encounter was a theatrical showing of security and force. Most likely a state-sanctioned policy to impress westerners, stopping westerners rather than locals is an easier way of displaying security to those who might bring economic prosperity to the country. If police stopped locals, fear would fill watching foreigners at the possibility. However, if police stop foreigners, they create a sense of comfort.

June 30, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

See?

Turns out I can compliment the Bush administration.

June 30, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Scientists Outflanking

The Weekly Standard doesn't like it, but this strikes me as a pretty damn good idea. In Missouri, voters are about to decide on a Constitutional amendment banning reproductive human cloning but enabling stem cells (which the article argues is a type of cloning itself). The trick is that you define cloning as the transfer of an embryo into a uterus, banning that. Reproductive cloning is thus off the table, but the using cloned embryos for stem cell research is legal. Given that what folks think of by cloning is the duplication of human beings, while this is the manufacturing of stem cell lines, the definitional amendment seems to get the issue just right, and does so rather smartly. Were that the rest of the progressive movement as savvy as the stem cell advocates.

June 30, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Money Can't Buy Happinees

But seeking money can harm it:

the researchers examined data from a nationwide Bureau of Labor Statistics survey on how people with varying household income levels spend their time. These data show that people with higher incomes devote relatively more of their time to work, shopping, childcare and other "obligatory" activities. Women surveyed by the researchers in Ohio associated those activities with "higher tension and stress." People with higher incomes spend less time on "passive leisure" activities such as socializing or watching television, which the respondents viewed as more enjoyable.

According to the government statistics, men making more than $100,000 per year spend 19.9 percent of their time on passive leisure, compared to 34.7 percent for men making less than $20,000. Women making more than $100,000 spend 19.6 percent of their time on passive leisure, compared with 33.5 percent of those making less than $20,000.

"Despite the weak relationship between income and global life satisfaction or experienced happiness, many people are highly motivated to increase their income," the study said. "In some cases, this focusing illusion may lead to a misallocation of time, from accepting lengthy commutes (which are among the worst moments of the day) to sacrificing time spent socializing (which are among the best moments of the day)."

June 30, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Intense Gas

By Brian Beutler

Why do people keep mentioning this? Perhaps if the biosphere really gave a shit how we allocate our carbon molecules on a per-dollar basis, then our low Greenhouse Gas Intensity might make a difference. But that's silly. We could also, by the way, fabricate a ratio between carbon emissions and happiness indices, or carbon emissions and middle-class savings (two other arbitrarily selected measurements of economic health) and the outcome would be embarrasing--and equally useless to the problem at hand.

Ok, to be fair, there is something slightly mitigating about the fact that much of the world benefits from our rich society--just like they benefit from living in our giant military penumbra. But this is a non-sequitur for a few reasons, not least of which is that much of the world also SUFFERS because of our rich society and giant military penumbra.

If we were a totally responsible society, and could legitimately say that every product that emerged from our carbon economy went to improving people's lives, then it might be fair to assume that a different configuration of the global economy might actually make the world a more polluted, dangerous place. But that's just it: If our economy were THAT socially conscious, it would be much, much smaller, it wouldn't export carbon emitting factories that produce plastic Mickey Mouse toys to China, and it would reinvest a tremendous share of its profits into transitioning to cleaner energy. The fact is, we have an extraordinarily selfish, service-based, consumer-driven economy in the United States right now, and--with all of the muster and hours we toss into making this country so rich--the fact that we remain so reckless and myopic about the atmosphere should be a scandal, not a point of pride.

Oh, and PS, that second link came from this Andrew Sullivan post. I'm sure it's just unclear writing, but when he said, "American emissions of carbon dioxide all but halted in 2004 - 2005," I did an outrageous double take. What halted was GROWTH of carbon emissions. We're still belching out way WAY too much.

June 30, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (15)

Buckley's Regrets

Daniel Gross writes:

When William F. Buckley passes away, I hope that the obituary writers, in addition to noting his wit, his flair for language, his libertarian instincts, and his immense productivity, will also note this: At a time when a portion of the U.S. maintained a system of racial apartheid, Buckley and his magazine, time and time again, sided with the white supremacists. And in the decades since, I haven’t seen any evidence that he and his many acolytes are sorry, or ashamed—or that they’ve ever engaged in anything like an honest reckoning with their intellectual complicity in segregation.

This isn't actually the case. Indeed, Buckley has identified his position on civil rights as virtually his only error in years of publishing:

Buckley said he had a few regrets, most notably his magazine's opposition to civil rights legislation in the 1960s. ``I think that the impact of that bill should have been welcomed by us,'' he said.

It well should've. When the obituaries are written, I hope they mention that though Buckley was wrong on one of the greatest issues of our age, that though he tried to stand in front of history and yell "stop!", he had the courage to admit his error after being run over.

June 30, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Oliver Willis is a Liar

Superman Returns was not "practically perfect." It was practically watchable. At points. Which is a shame, this could've been the capstone to a series of spectacular comic book movies that proved the stereotypically kid-oriented picture books packed the complexity and pathos needed to transform a popcorn flick into an epic. The first two X-Men fit the bill, and Batman Begins was among the best movies I've recently seen. No defense, of course, is needed of the Spidey's two flicks. X-Men 3 and Daredevil, while not quite up to the level of the others, were misfires that nevertheless exhibited seeds of greatness. Superman Returns did not.

To be fair, Superman is the toughest character of the set. As the comic book industry matured away from its characters' invincibility and towards their vulnerability, Superman was always the toughest of the bunch. In the old comics and cartoons, they used to just invent new powers by the episode, everything from ice breath to turning back time by reversing the earth's rotation. It was a bit silly. But, at the time, popular. Superman's strength, however, gave way to Wolverine's rages, Spiderman's conscience, Xavier's vision, and Batman's darkness. Comic book characters began fighting themselves, their enemies little more than triggers for their internal conflicts. Superman, lacking these troubles, was left behind.

So the comics had to find ways to subvert his invulnerability. They didn't, generally, do this through strategic usage of kryptonite. Instead, they pitted Superman against his need for public legitimacy (as in when Luthor became president) or his desire to simultaneously have and not endanger loved ones. The movie, however, takes neither of these approaches. Luthor has no public legitimacy, he's a crook with a coterie of morons providing comic relief. His plan appears entirely taken from those crystal growing chemistry kits I had as a kid -- he's going to use the krypton crystal's unexplained ability to sprout in water to create a new continent on which folks will then pay him to live. Oh -- and this continent will fall atop North America killing a bajillion people.

The plan, of course, makes no sense, all the more so because Lex is already rich. His initial motivations (which are actually interesting), hinted when he condemns Superman for keeping his powers to himself and not spreading divinity across the population, totally dissipate into mundane evil geniusdom. He's not humanity's mistaken champion, protecting them from a force beyond their control. He's just an odd dude with a vendetta, a formulation that could scarcely be less interesting. As for Lois, she sorta-kinda moved on, is angry that he left for a couple of years, wrote a possibly interesting editorial about why the world doesn't need him, but is swept off her feet as soon as he returns. Some storyline. There's no tension or tough moral dilemmas for Superman -- he's got a girl he loves but who has some logistical problems, an enemy he's got to defeat, and a lot of responsibility. And that's the movie's flaw -- this is a Day With Superman, not the The Day With Superman. You get the feeling you're watching an average set of chores for the hero, not a particularly troublesome, tricky, or apocalyptic moment. And what's the point in that?

June 30, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Advising the Adviser

Olivia Judson, author of Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice To All Creation, has been writing a Times Select blog for the past couple of weeks, and doing a bang-up job of it. Her final post ends with a series of phenomena she finds perplexing, one of which I found so striking I wanted to post it here:

The first is metamorphosis. Everyone knows a caterpillar becomes a butterfly; and it is easy to work out why it might be useful to split your life between growing (caterpillar) and loving (butterfly). But what I find peculiar is the manner of becoming a butterfly: within the pupa, the caterpillar breaks down its body, including much of its brain, and reconstitutes itself along different lines. It’s a kind of reincarnation. I’d love to know how this evolved.

So would I. Nature is teh weird.

June 30, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

June 29, 2006

Jonah Responds

But not very convincingly. Here's the nut of it:

I think Ezra is desperate to misconstrue my point so that he can wag his finger and whine about mean and dishonest conservatives. My point was simple. The American economy depends on fossil fuels and the world depends on the Amerrican economy.

Jonah appears to cede the point that precisely none of his examples are particularly related to the consumption of fossil fuels, and thus his markers of American economic leadership would survive a drastic increase in CAFE standards. Even so, this doesn't much help him. He'd now have to prove that the health of the American economy relies on our refusal to, say, deploy a serious carbon tax, or vastly raise CAFE standards, or embark on a serious conservation effort. He doesn't prove any of those things because he can't. As economists believe a serious anti-emissions effort would cost us about two tenths of a percentile of GDP growth over the next couple of decades, his argument remains astonishingly unconvincing. The only interpretation I can see making sense is that liberals should show a bit more gratitude to the combustibles that made our economy what it is, but that sort of begs the question why coal-rich China and oil-rich Venezuela are stuck playing catch-up.

Indeed, Jonah undercuts his own point when he wonders if I'd be willing to switch our high-tech sector from coal-generated electricity to nuclear. I sure would, and by admitting that there are non fossil-fuel related ways to power our economy, he demolishes the point of his original post -- that our economic leadership relies on fossil fuels. Many thanks, Jonah.

Cross-posted at Tapped

June 29, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Fighting Dems

Fresh from my inbox, a joint DCCC/DSCC press release:

DSCC Chair Chuck Schumer and DCCC Chair Rahm Emanuel today warned Republicans that their plan to run their 2006 campaigns on immigration enforcement will backfire because of the GOP’s abysmal record on the issue and pointed to new polling data by Third Way that reveals that Republicans are vulnerable on their failure to enforce immigration laws.

“If Congressional Republicans want to make immigration the centerpiece of their 2006 campaign, I’ve got three words for them: make our day,” Schumer said. “The GOP Congress has had twelve years to tackle this problem but has instead taken a ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ approach to the Bush White House’s failure to enforce immigration laws. These laws need to be enforced but the GOP Congress is looking the other way as the President fails to do so. Americans have voiced their concerns with illegal immigration loud and clear. We don’t need more hearings on this issue. We need action.”

“Republicans are running a single issue campaign on an issue that they don’t have a single accomplishment on,” said Emanuel. “From border security to enforcing immigration employment laws, a noticeable lack of accomplishments is not a campaign strategy. Americans are looking for tough laws and a Congress with the will to enforce them.”

June 29, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack