Saturday, June 28, 2008


Happy hour menus that include delicious $2.00 hamburgers: greatest discovery of the summer.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Article of the Day

Caitlin Knowles Myers, A Cure for Discrimination? Affirmative Action and the Case of California's Proposition 209, 60 Ind. & Lab. Rel. Rev. 379 (April 2007)
[B]etween 1995 and 1999 the relative employment of minorities fell by 2.8 percentage points while non-participation rose by 2.9 percentage points. Similarly, between 1995 and 2000 relative employment fell by 1.8 percentage points and non-participation rose by 2.2 percentage points, and between 1995 and 2001 relative employment fell by 2.2 percentage points while non-participation rose by 2.0 percentage points. Breaking this down by group, between 1995 and 1999, the percentage point rise in relative non-participation was 2.9 for [*389] white women, 4.6 for black women, 5.2 for Hispanic women, and 6.8 for other men. This increase in non-participation accounts for nearly all of the decline in employment for all groups except black women, who also saw a drop in unemployment. Black and Hispanic men and "other" women do not exhibit statistically significant changes in labor force status between 1995 and 1999. The general trend continues through 2001, at which point there appears to have been a rise in non-participation for all minority groups save for "other" women, for whom the point estimates are similar to other groups but not significant, and black men, for whom non-participation fell. That there is little evidence of a negative impact on black men is in keeping with previous findings (for example, Holzer and Neumark 2000b) that in later years affirmative action had a greater impact on women, but it should also be noted that black men comprise the smallest of the six minority groups in the sample.


As a whole, the results suggest that the impact of Proposition 209 was to move women and minorities from employment to out of the labor force. If, as the results indicate, the removal of affirmative action made it more difficult for women and minorities to find work, then this exit from the labor force is not surprising.” (388-90)

Interesting data. I do think, though, that the author is a bit too bold with her conclusions. She claims that her findings show one of the following: that a) affirmative action programs are inefficient, b) affirmative action is efficient but ineffective in fostering long-term changes in prejudicial attitudes, c) the sources of inequality are not based on prejudice, or d) that California had not had AA long enough for the long-term change in attitudes to take place.(395) And her rhetoric definitely seems to point towards her preference for hypothesis "c" or especially "a" (she is an economist after all).

For my part, I think a few other possibilities exist: that e) affirmative action is necessary but not sufficient to remedy prejudicial attitudes, or f) that bans on affirmative action prevent employers from considering some positive qualities possessed by potential employees of colors, making the system less efficient and structurally prejudicial. The last one is my preferred argument -- and intriguingly, it actually matches up with classical economics rather well, as those theorists would generally hold that regulating what type of information the market "can't notice" creates inefficiencies.

Look at Me!

Congress Introduces Bill Improving Access to the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Byline: David Schraub.

Working for the LCCR is fun!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Keeping Murder Maximum

My views on the death penalty might be described as the opposite of Feddie's: I don't have an inherent objection to it, but my observation on how it's applied in America makes me skeptical that it can ever be carried in a manner consistent with our standards of justice and due process. Certainly, it isn't being done so now, and so for the time being I don't support the death penalty as a general rule.

Thinking about child rape specifically (since the Supreme Court just outlawed the use of the death penalty in such cases), I think my intuition is the same: troubles with the death penalty as applied notwithstanding, I don't have any intrinsic reason why child rape is not worthy of capital punishment. But on that score, Matt Yglesias makes a good point:
You want to make it the case that no matter what terrible things a criminal has done, he would get an even worse penalty if he killed the victim/witness. Getting bogged down into a debate over the relative heinousness of various crimes is a bit of a red herring -- there's an internal logic to the deterrent system that requires murder to carry a unique and maximally severe penalty.

A good (if not necessarily constitutionally-manifest) point.

A Congressional First

At Pam's blog, Autumn Sandeen gives her reaction to the historic hearing by the House Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions Subcommittee on the topic of workplace discrimination against the transgendered -- the first hearing of its kind in Congressional history. The hearing was chaired by Rep. Rob Andrews (D-NJ), who recently attempted to unseat Senator Robert Torricelli in the state's Democratic primary -- running to Torricelli's right. Andrews still reportedly has his eyes on higher office in the Garden State, and this might be a way of repairing his reputation amongst mainline liberals. If so, this is a good start: I attended the hearing as well, and I can say that Rep. Andrews absolutely shined.

For the most part, though, my reactions were the same as Sandeen's. The main conservative witness, Glen Lavy of the Alliance Defense Fund, was surprisingly weak. I don't mean substantively -- obviously, there is nothing he could have said that would have persuaded me. But he was just not an impressive witness. He was inarticulate, he paused for long periods, and he looked utterly baffled (if not on the verge of tears) under cross-examination by Rep. Andrews -- questioning that, while tough, was hardly making unexpected points (how is this sort of discrimination different than that of race? Discriminating against veterans? Religious people? Lavy looked like the concept that one might believe bad things on religious grounds was a horrifying and earth-shattering revelation to him).

I also concur with Sandeen that the hearing's star witness was retired Army Colonel Diane Schroer. A former Special Forces operative and expert in counter-insurgency, Schroer went from getting a new job with the Congressional Research Service in her primary field of speciality, to being a "bad fit" for it, in the 24 hours in which she told her new boss she was transitioning from male to female. As a country, we simply cannot afford to lose unbelievably talented patriots like Col. Schroer, and she hit home with devastating effectiveness both the moral and social costs of maintaining our current discrimination-friendly environment.

It is worth noting, finally, that all the questioning in the hearing was done by Democrats save one -- Rep. John Kline (R-MN), the ranking minority member and my Congressman when I was registered at Carleton. Kudos to him for showing up, and also kudos for asking reasonable questions -- albeit to one of the two conservative witnesses. But none of the Republicans on the committee had the guts to tell any of the majority witnesses -- many who were transgendered themselves -- that their social exclusion was justified. That's telling -- though I suspect only of an eventual hypocrisy.

Oh, and the Traditional Values Coalition, ever the classy organization, distributed this press release (at the commitee, no less!): "Americans Face Energy Crisis While House Of Representatives Holds A She-Male Hearing!"

Yes, these are the folks that are vested with defending "family values."

Stigma as an Instrument of Protection

In the comments to this LGM post, folks are having fun noting the apparent inconsistency between how conservatives normally deal with the topic of rape ("It's largely a myth! Women want sex then cry 'rape' to avoid the consequences!"), and the discourse surrounding the Supreme Court's recently announced decision barring execution of child rapists (specifically, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal's signing into law a bill which would castrate all sex offenders). One of the points raised by "Ugly in Pink" struck me in particular:
[J]uries will never want to convict anyone with this punishment in place out of either compassion or worry they've got the wrong guy. Rape convictions will plummet, and it won't effectively be a crime anymore unless you're forcibly raping a baby who wasn't too much of a slut. Which is exactly what they want.

Now, in all honesty, I don't think there's a huge contradiction in the child rape case particularly, because I don't think conservatives as a rule apply their standard rape apologia -- namely, the bitch really wanted it after all -- to children. But in general, I think this is a very insightful point, and gets at an interesting paradox in our discourse around certain horrible injustices -- namely, sometimes, the act of extreme stigmatization can actual help protect the unjust behavior from further reform.

One of the things I've noticed with regards to rape discourse is how so many people want to treat it differently from other violent crimes. Most of the reasons for this are rather bogus: it's no more he-said/she-said than many other legal problems courts deal with daily; there isn't a particularly strong incentive for women to lie about the crime being committed, and we don't display the same default cynicism towards accusers in other cases where the incentive to lie is far greater (insurance fraud for robbery and arson, for example). But one argument stands out: that the accusation of rape is so uniquely stigmatizing to the reputation of the accused that we must be extra-vigilent to guard against false reports.

And the premise -- that the accusation of rape is uniquely stigmatizing -- strikes me as surprisingly accurate. Despite the dearth of effort focused on providing justice to actual rape victims (not to mention prevention efforts), the abstract language we use is one of virulent condemnation -- as in Gov. Jindal's overwrought castration plan. But, far from being in tension with the anemic concrete protections for victims of rape, the stigmatizing rhetoric actually helps sustain a climate in which citizens are hesitant to take action. As Ugly in Pink says, raising the rhetorical heat to such high degrees makes jurors reluctant to convict, particularly when that means no choice but assigning draconian penalities.

Now one might say that these crimes are truly repugnant, and thus deserve the highest depths of our condemnation. And I'd agree. But consider another case: the controversy over so-called "gray rape." Many people, including many women, have been resistent to use the rape label (hence the "gray" appellation), specifically because they don't see what happened to them as being commesurate with the ultimate evil that is rape. The intense stigma attached to rape means that we are naturally hesitant to apply the label to all but the most extreme cases, and that has the effect of shielding a great number of violent sexual assaults from being brought to justice.

This plays into the previously blogged upon "just world" theorem, which basically describes the psychological preference (or need) most people have to believe the world is just. Given that constraint, it is impossible to believe that a given act X is a) horrifyingly, unforgivably evil and b) common and widespread. Despite Arendt's protest, we cannot truly believe that evil is that banal. The reconciliation comes by redefining X, usually by restricting it to a narrow enough band of cases so that it no longer can be seen as omnipresent.

In this way, extreme stigmatization of injustice acts as a ward for it. By virtue of our strident condemnations, we are simultaneously signaling that the events in question are abhorrent as well as aberrant. They are exceptions. They are so far beyond the ethical standards of society that they merit this extreme reaction. The implication is that the object in question cannot, by its very nature, incorporate any mainstream elements, for that would undermine the very lifeblood of the stigma.

Racism is another example of stigma operating to reify, rather than undermine, an oppressive force. Prior to the Civil Rights revolution, racist activities were common and widespread, but they were not considered to be evil. After the civil rights revolution, we began to come to terms with the magnitude of the injustice that racism represented. But to recognize that while still accounting for its pervasive presence in American society would force us to consider the possibility that our system might be fundamentally unjust ("to the bone", as Jerome McCristal Culp might have put it). Society can't function when the vast majority of persons are considered implicated in supreme evil. If I can't associate with a racist, and everyone is a racist, I can't associate with anyone. This state of affairs is untenable. So racism got redefined to only mean the most overt, shocking, horrifying aspects of White supremacy, and the rest gets a free pass.

How do we resolve this dilemma? I'm on the record as favoring lowering rhetorical heat in order to create space for more public action (in other words, I want to diminish the sentiment that all race-based wrongs, or (yes) all sex crimes, are "horrifyingly, unforgivably evil."). This doesn't mean that I believe nothing qualifies for fiery, virulent condemnation -- a lynch mob or a child rape certainly does. But if (and because) we do need to preserve our rhetorical cannons for those truly horrible events, that then impresses the need to develop a more vibrant, flexible vocabulary for discussing these sorts of wrongs. If "racism" is to mean "unforgivably evil", then we need words that describe racial injustice that do not have that connotation -- for there are acts of racial significance that are neither unforgivable nor justly ignored.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Reggie Love

Say it low and slow.

I saw that Senator Obama's bodyman (his Charlie, West Wing fans) is a man by the name of Reggie Love. And I thought, "could it be"? And yes, it is: the same Reggie Love who played both Basketball and Football at Duke only a few years ago.

Zizek on Contemporary Capitalism

It even flirts with readability! My favorite excerpt deals with what he calls the "four antagonisms" that are the primary threats to the viability of the dominant capitalist model in the coming future:
[T]he looming threat of ecological catastrophe; the inappropriateness of private property rights for so-called “intellectual property”; the socio-ethical implications of new techno-scientific developments (especially in biogenetics); and, last but not least, new forms of apartheid, in the form of new walls and slums.

The first three antagonisms concern the domains of what political theorists Michael Hardt and Toni Negri call “commons” — the shared substance of our social being whose privatization is a violent act that should be resisted with violent means, if necessary (violence against private property, that is).

The commons of external nature are threatened by pollution and exploitation (from oil to forests and natural habitat itself); the commons of internal nature (the biogenetic inheritance of humanity) are threatened by technological interference; and the commons of culture — the socialized forms of “cognitive” capital, primarily language, our means of communication and education, but also the shared infrastructure of public transport, electricity, post, etc. — are privatized for profit. (If Bill Gates were to be allowed a monopoly, we would have reached the absurd situation in which a private individual would have owned the software texture of our basic network of communication.)

The slum-dwellers, by contrast, he casts as the outsiders to the political community that prevent us from softening the edges of the other three antagonisms by personal action. The slum-dwellers live in an effectively extra-legal position: shorn of effective police and fire protection, beset by crime, outside the "official" economy, and deprived of health and social security protection. Their position is a constant threat to the capitalist order, and can thus act as a catalyst to prevent orderly resolution of the other three.

* I should clarify that I don't necessarily agree with Zizek, but he is an important and interesting writer whose ideas are worth chewing over, no matter how radical they might seem.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bust It Up

Senators Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Russ Feingold (D-WI) have announced they will filibuster the retroactive-immunity FISA "compromise" bill. Good for them. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has announced his support for the move, so good for him as well.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) also is apparently supporting the filibuster "from afar", but she already had her chance to derail the bill, so no good for her.

Brother Outsider

Remarking on Karl Rove's ludicrous description of Barack Obama in terms of what type of country-club member he is, Christopher Orr remarks that "On the plus side, this presumably means Rove is giving up on the whole radical-Muslim-foreigner-outsider frame."

I understand that Orr is being a little tongue-in-cheek, but this is most certainly not what is going on here. Orr is making a mistake in assuming that either frame -- Obama as haughty country-clubber or Obama as scary dark outsider -- is intended to operate as a logical argument. Far from it. They are designed to plant seeds (or exploit latent seeds) about whether Obama is truly one of "us", as opposed to "them" -- and for that purpose it really doesn't matter who "they" are.

While the country-club set may be the ultimate insiders in one sense, they are certainly far removed from the experience of average Americans. To most voters, they are part of a "they" that are distant and mistrusted -- folks we don't want to have in charge of our government. And of course, scary dark hordes of foreigners occupy the same position: distant, inscrutable, and (in the eyes of conservative demagogues like Rove) always on the cusp of wresting control of the nation from good ol' patriotic Americans. It's obviously illogical for Obama to be both barely American and a member of the blue-bloods, but putting both those frames out there is quite effective at reinforcing a vague sense of "otherness", and Rove is savvy enough to know that.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Other Catastrophe

The Jerusalem Post compares the decimation of the Jewish population in the Arab World to the "ethnic cleansing" of Palestinians by Israel. As the author writes, if Israel is to be considered part of the category, it "is perhaps the least efficient "ethnic cleanser" in the history of mankind." The Arab/Palestinian population in what comprised the territorial mandate of Palestine is currently 5 million, from a 1947 level of less than 800,000. The Jewish population in the Arab World, by contrast, crashed from close to 900,000 in 1947 to less than 7,000 as of 2001.

Leaving a Mess

Bill Kristol thinks that, if Obama is elected, President Bush will might leave a "mess" for him in Iran. If McCain is the President-elect, Bush may be willing to leave the situation to the incoming President to address, but he might want to force Obama's hand in a more belligerent direction.

The most generous way to interpret this is that Bush is so certain that Obama's strategy on Iran will be inadvisable that he won't even give him a chance to play it out. Whether or not that sentiment is justified (I, obviously, think it is misguided), I think it is at least intermingled with the political gamesmanship and (let's call a spade a spade) spite that has characterized how President Bush has combined partisan politics and national security throughout his administration.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


I start work tomorrow here -- the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. Blogging will probably be sporadic until I can figure out how it works with my schedule.

Also, needless to say, any blogging I do engage in is solely my own opinion, and not that of the LCCR.

Ridge for VP?

CNN reports that former Pennsylvania Governor and head of the Department of Homeland Security Tom Ridge would consider being a VP if asked by the McCain campaign. The article focuses on Ridge's pro-choice stance as the primary stumbling block with GOP voters. But my thoughts more run along the lines of: "wasn't he a catastrophe as head of the DHS?" Now, this could be mistaken. I could be confusing him with other Bush administration appointees (incompetence is a pretty widely shared character trait, so it's a solid bet). I could be over-estimating the degree to which incompetence is a bar to GOP voters (likely). But still, it strikes me as not the wisest choice available to McCain (personally, I think Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is the best choice -- I'm not even sure what his downside is supposed to be).

What Are Dreams Worth?

This story through Feministe, about a teacher in inner-city LA fired for being too encouraging of political activism amongst her students, is interesting to me. Dyed-in-the-wool leftist I may be, but that does not make me comfortable with every manifestation of leftism. There are some things this teacher did which I think are fine and/or beneficial. I have no problem with afro-centric curricula. I certainly have no problem with the poetry of Langston Hughes (my hyper-White suburban high school taught Hughes, for crying out loud), or the autobiography of Malcolm X (one of the most important figures in 20th century American history).

And there are things that make me uncomfortable as well. The video the students created in support of the teacher, for example (it's on the Feministe post) -- where they refer to each other as comrades? That rang the wrong way with me. The Intifada poster? Obviously I'm not thrilled. In general, the type of leftism she seems to be encouraging is not the type that is to my liking, and I'd be lying if I said otherwise. So it does not surprise me that the LA school district is even less happy about it than I am.

But there was something else in that video that was worth mentioning. The part where the kids said that this teacher had made them believe they could do anything. That they could attend top four-year colleges. That they could become doctors and lawyers. It was a message, they said, that was being given by far too few educators at their school. And if that's the case, and this teacher is inspiring these kids to look beyond themselves and beyond their surroundings, I can deal with being made a little uncomfortable. It is well, well worth it.

Lots of people go through a radical left stage. A great many of the big conservative intellectuals of the 20th century spent time as communist or socialist sympathizers. Spending time as a leftist is not the worst thing in the world, no matter what your opinion of the politics. These kids are, if nothing else, engaged in the type of civic activism that is precisely what we want to see in our American democratic project. Particularly in the inner-cities, a more engaged, civic-minded citizenry is the first step to reform. People who care about their education, who care about their surroundings, and are willing to take on the bureaucracy to get what they think they need.

Any teacher who can inculcate those values, in my book, is a teacher who deserves to stay.

Paradise Lost

So when I said yesterday that I got the internet working, what I meant was it working solely last night before ceasing for no apparent reason. My girlfriend's computer works fine, of course.

Vista deserves to burn in hells of a thousand suns, I assure you.