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30 Nov 01:04

Columnist Hasn’t Seen ’12 Years A Slave,’ But He’s Sure It’s Too Hard On Slavery

12-Years-A-Slave

John Derbyshire has, fortunately, not merited inclusion in these pages since he defenestrated himself from National Review in 2012 for writing what I called at the time “a confoundingly racist guide for white parents about how to speak to their children about their social interactions with black people.” Now, he’s struck again. This time, it’s with a piece about 12 Years A Slave that can’t be called a review, because as Derbyshire cheerfully admits up front, “No, I haven’t seen the thing, but I’ve read reviews. Also I’ve seen (and reviewed) a specimen of the allied genre: Civil Rights Porn,” but that attempts to demonstrate that slavery wasn’t actually so bad.

There’s a line of critique of Steve McQueen’s film–and really of McQueen’s work more generally–that the way it lingers on the suffering of slaves like Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Patsey (Lupita Nyong’o) is pornographic and degrading to the viewer, without improving our understanding of slavery as an institution and the way its legacy continues to poison us. But that isn’t what Derbyshire, who has described himself as a racist for a decade, meant. Instead, his argument is that 12 Years A Slave, which is based on Northup’s first-person account of his abduction and sale into slavery, after he’d grown up free, goes too hard on slavery as an institution, and on the people who owned their fellow human beings.

This isn’t actually an idea that deserves to be taken seriously. But examining Derbyshire’s reasoning does provide some insight into the cruelty and delusions of his worldview, and his unwillingness to engage with the ways in which trade in human life and work degraded not just people who were held in bondage, but the people who held them there. And it’s a reminder of just how factually shoddy you can be in your film analysis and still get your writing on culture published.

One of Derbyshire’s complaints is that he’s sure 12 Years A Slave doesn’t take into account the fact that some slaves spoke affectionately of their masters into account. He quotes Harriet Walker, who participated in the Slave Narratives program, as evidence that some slaves did, in fact, speak this way. Walker recalls: “Mars George fed an’ clo’esed well an’ was kin’ to his slaves, but once in a while one would git onruly an’ have to be punished. De worse I ever seen one whupped was a slave man dat had slipped off an’ hid out in de woods to git out of wuk. Dey chased him wid blood hounds, an’ when dey did fin’ him dey tied him to a tree, stroppin’ him ’round an’ ’round. Dey sho’ did gib him a lashin’.”

Derbyshire might have a point that 12 Years A Slave didn’t explore the idea that some slaves were loyal to their masters, or that some slaves saw the punishments meted out by their masters and their masters’ employees as justified, except that the movie does both of those things. While in the first stage of his captivity, Solomon meets another man named Clemens (Chris Chalk), who was stolen and resold into slavery, though unlike Solomon, who was previously free, Clemens was stolen from another master. When the man shows up to claim him, Clemens rushes, weeping, into his arms. Laster in the film, Solomon meets Mistress Shaw (Alfre Woodard), a slave who has settled into an established position as her master’s mistress. In portraying both Clemens’ open relief and Shaw’s compromise, one salved by the belief that her owner will be tortured by hellfire, 12 Years A Slave actually has more nuance about the kinds of affections slaves might have felt for their masters than Derbyshire’s column does.

Beyond the basic inaccuracy, getting oppressed people accustomed to their circumstances, or making clear to them that those circumstances could be worse, does not, in and of itself, make those circumstances defensible, much less admirable. Would Derbyshire have us believe that domestic violence is an excellent addition to any marriage because a woman who’s told that if she leaves her husband, she will be killed, accustoms herself to being battered instead? Are we supposed to believe that gay people in the 1960s preferred the closet to living openly when such lives were not available to them, and when the alternatives were unemployment, terrible violence, medical malpractice, and alienation from their families? Maybe he would! He certainly goes on to talk about how well most Chinese people he knew in the early 1980s accustomed themselves to Communism, suggesting that “You didn’t have to think much, or take much responsibility. And that suits many of us just fine.” But it’s a mistake that Derbyshire will make over and over again in this column, arguing that because there are worse options available at the time, that slavery wasn’t so bad.

He goes on to suggest that “Slavery is more irksome to some than to others; and freedom can be irksome, too. Personally, I’d be a terrible slave—too ornery. I know people, though—and I’m talking about white people—who I quietly suspect would be happy in slavery,” which is an incredibly bizarre and un-sourced assertion. It also ignores the extent to which slavery wasn’t merely an economic system. The slave narrative Derbyshire quotes mostly talks about the difficulties of making a living on one’s own, which is, of course, a reality that has everything to do with conditions like the accumulation of land holdings in large plantations, the lack of industrial development in the South prior to the Civil War, and the closing of jobs to African-Americans rather than to any sort of natural order. And while there’s no question that economic and food security are attractive things, slavery did not precisely provide those things on a consistent basis, and it was a master’s prerogative to withhold them. More to the point, slavery isn’t just about trading labor for housing and food. It’s about constraining almost every aspect of a person’s life, from their physical mobility in day-to-day life, their access to education, their right to practice religion in their own way, to marry who they choose, conduct their marriages as they saw fit and to raise their children as they chose, and to seek leisure on their own terms. I’m not sure Derbyshire’s imagined voluntary slaves would see that as quite such an attractive bargain.

He goes on to quote Robert William Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman’s Time On The Cross as saying “U.S. slaves had much longer life expectations than free urban industrial workers in both the United States and Europe.” Derbyshire doesn’t acknowledge labor historian Herbert G. Gutman’s extensive critique of the reasoning and methodology behind Fogel and Engerman’s argument that slavery was economically efficient and that slaves shared their masters’ goals–he does say that “I am told (by Bob Weissberg, who knows this territory well) that Time On the Cross is in serious disfavor with the current generation of social scientists for painting too nuanced a picture of Southern slave society,” which is not an answer to Gutman’s methodological criticisms and examination of the data sets his colleagues used, nor does it acknowledge that Weissberg was also fired from National Review over his racial views. And he slides over the fact that even Fogel and Engerman’s records suggest that the rates of physical violence inflicted on slaves was higher than Derbyshire implies earlier in the review. And even if Fogel and Engerman’s analysis was unimpeachable, pointing to Europe and suggesting some workers shorter life expectancies is hardly an affirmative defense of slavery. If you live longer, after all, the person who owns you can extract more labor from you.

This isn’t even getting into the fact that Derbyshire cites Scarlett O’Hara as a sociological expert. Or the way he echoes his own defense of himself as a racist by suggesting that “Venturing into very seriously un-PC territory, Fogel and Engerman argue that Southern white men anyway did not desire black women, an aversion the authors put down to ‘racism,’” because who we find sexually attractive of course has nothing whatsoever to do with social conditioning. Or the fact that he suggests that paternalism and racism even among Abolitionists, which I think no serious person would deny existed, somehow puts slave owners up in the ledger.

In the end, Derbyshire himself sums up his own work, writing: “In the matter of slavery, though, I already feel sure that the shallow good North, bad South simplicities of Abolitionist Porn and popular perception bear little relation to the thorny tangles of reality.” His critique of 12 Years A Slave has no actual relationship to the film in question, and a decidedly deluded relationship to reality itself. The piece is a remarkable reminder of how long certain ideas persist, and how long it’s possible for certain people to stay employed by bandying them about.

The post Columnist Hasn’t Seen ’12 Years A Slave,’ But He’s Sure It’s Too Hard On Slavery appeared first on ThinkProgress.

27 Nov 18:05

Five Awesome Things I Made This Year!

This year was a good one for me and my Operation: Create Awesome Things, so I thought I’d list five of them here: a book, a shirt, a comic, a game, and an anthology!

If you see something you’d like someone special to get for you for Christmas, you can reblog this and it is the world’s most subtle hint! You’re just hitting a button on a website! Who KNOWS what people will do with this information?? And if you’re shopping for someone who says “get me some awesome things, I dunno”, MAY I SUGGEST IN BASICALLY RANDOM ORDER:

  1. To Be or Not To Be: That is the Adventure
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    • WHAT IT IS: This is my choose-your-own-path version of Hamlet! It’s nuts!
    • WHY IS IT RAD: You can play as Hamlet, Ophelia, or Hamlet’s dad King Hamlet, but if you choose him you die on the first page and get to play as a ghost. Investigating your own murder. And every ending (there’s over 100!) is illustrated by an awesome cartoonist!
    • I WANT SOMEONE ELSE’S OPINION: check out this article on Comics Alliance - it’s their first pick for holiday gifts!
    • WHERE CAN I GET IT: your local bookstore, from Amazon, and digitally from Gumroad. Check out hamletbook.com for more information!
  2. My Face Is Up Here
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    • WHAT IT IS: A shirt! You wear it on your body!
    • WHY IS IT RAD: It saves you a lot of time when talking to strangers, as well as points out the positioning of your internal organs to all and sundry.
    • I WANT SOMEONE ELSE’S OPINION: Too bad, nobody reviews shirts!! But it’s clearly awesome so there’s my own autoreview right there. :o
    • WHERE CAN I GET IT: TopatoCo has the goods, as well as lots of other cool merchandise!
  3. Adventure Time comics!
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    • WHAT IT IS: The comic-book version of the hit television show! I write it!
    • WHY IS IT RAD: It’s a super-fun all-ages comic (which doesn’t mean it’s written down for kids - it’s for everyone! EVEN ADULTS. ADULTS LIKE… YOU??). Each trade paperback (there’s three so far!) collects a complete story arc, plus alternate covers done for each issue.
    • I WANT SOMEONE ELSE’S OPINION: the Onion AV Club reviewed issue 10, and also we won an Eisner award this year! That was nuts too!
    • WHERE CAN I GET IT: your local comic book shop, from Amazon, and single issues direct from the publisher.
  4. This Is How You Die
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    • WHAT IT IS: A book collecting tons of great stories all around the same premise: what if there was a machine that could tell you exactly how you will die?
    • WHY IS IT RAD: It’s the sequel to Machine of Death, which became the #1 bestselling book on Amazon.com the day it launched. Tons of great short stories by a bunch of really talented authors, and every story has an illustration by an awesome cartoonist too!
    • I WANT SOMEONE ELSE’S OPINION: The Onion AV Club gave it an A!
    • WHERE CAN I GET IT: your local bookstore, from Amazon, and wherever books are sold (HOPEFULLY)
  5. Stick It To The Man
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    • WHAT IT IS: A side-scrolling platformer / adventure / puzzle game!
    • WHY IS IT RAD: It’s a fun game with loads of puzzles, and I wrote the dialogue for it! AND, every line is voice acted too!
    • I WANT SOMEONE ELSE’S OPINION: Destructoid loved it!
    • WHERE CAN I GET IT: it’s downloadable on both your PS3 or Vita, so sneak into someone’s house and download it for them! You can find out more about the game here!
26 Nov 22:52

A Think Tank With An Agenda

by Andrew Sullivan

Julia Ioffe highlights the growing extremism of the Heritage Foundation:

DeMint was known nationally as a warrior for purity, spending more of his time seeking out like-minded candidates for the U.S. Senate rather than passing legislation. But, at Heritage, DeMint found kindred spirits in [Chairman of the Board Thomas] Saunders and [Heritage Action CEO Michael] Needham, who created a Heritage Action scorecard to grade Republican members of Congress on their ideological mettle. (The standard is so high that, at this writing, the House Republican caucus gets a paltry 66 percent rating.)

Among the consequences of Heritage’s transformation:

With DeMint’s arrival, Heritage’s government relations team, which once boasted the ability to meet with 250 GOP and as many as 40 Democratic congressmen on any given day, disappeared. “The people at government affairs would go down to the Hill, and they had Hill folks saying, ‘Listen, we don’t want to meet with you because of what the folks at Heritage Action did yesterday,’” says the former Heritage staffer. Heritage analysts now have a hard time getting meetings on the Hill, even with Republicans. The congressional staffer told me that, for many Republican members of the House, “their research staff is probably not dealing much with Heritage anymore. They’re systematically going elsewhere for their information.”

Pareene chimes in:

Truth be told, Heritage was always mostly political hacks, they just used to be effective political hacks with a realistic agenda. What was different now was the cheerful absense of any coherent and/or achievable goal — beyond fundraising and image-boosting for Heritage Action itself.

26 Nov 21:18

Dumbest cops in America video themselves laughing at and tasing mentally-ill, handcuffed man

by Rob Beschizza
Police and paramedics in Millvale, Pa., were recorded on video laughing as they repeatedly stunned a handcuffed and mentally-ill man as he pounded his head against the side of a desk. The video--predictably--ended up on YouTube, and the police officers involved became targets of an FBI investigation and a federal lawsuit.

Thomas Smith, 28, filed the $75,000 lawsuit against officer Nichole Murphy, chief Derek Miller, and the Pittsburgh-area borough. The FBI's investigation is apparently ongoing, reports WPXI, but no criminal charges have been filed since the incident late last year.

Smith was arrested on Sept. 21, 2012, and charged with public drunkenness. The video, shot on a cellphone, shows him shirtless and handcuffed on the floor at the police station, talking incoherently and butting his forehead against the side of a nearby desk. Officer Murphy uses a stun gun on him as paramedics or other officers laugh; in a police report, she claims she used the stun gun to subdue Smith when he became "violent."

According to the lawsuit, Murphy was fired before over conduct "similar" to that seen in the video, but subsequently rehired. Smith pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and public drunkenness.

    






26 Nov 21:17

Wonkblog: Don’t blame the Founding Fathers for California having 66 times the population of Wyoming

by Ezra Klein

This morning, I noticed traffic spiking to an August Wonkblog post on Urban planner/artist Neil Freeman's effort to redraw the United States as 50 states with equal population. It's a fun, beautiful thought experiment:

I posted the map on Twitter again. No reason people who weren't reading Wonkblog on Aug. 21 should be deprived. The Washington Examiner's Byron York, however, was not amused:

Poor Constitution. It gets blamed for everything.

But it doesn't deserve all, or even most, of the blame for population patterns in the United States in 2013. When the Constitution was drafted, there were 13 states serving as home to about 4 million people. The difference between the most populous state and the least populous was 11:1. Today, there are 50 states with more than 300 million people. The difference between the most populous and the least populous is about 66:1.

That's not the Constitution's fault. Article III of the Constitution does not say "these United States shall annex Texas in 1845 and proceed to war with Mexico in 1846. That war shall not end until control of the Land known as Alta California is won. Subsequently, one out of eight Americans shall settle in part of California, because its climate is much more pleasant than that of Vermont or Wyoming. Oh, and speaking of "Wyoming," we think that's what you should name another land mass you'll annex sometime in the future."

The Framers were wise. But they weren't precognitive. They knew nothing of America's 19th century expansions or its 20th century migration patterns. They did the best with the information they had.

By the same token, we are not time-traveling telepaths. We don't know whether the founders would have struck the precise same deal if Virginia had been 66 times more populous than Rhode Island. The deal they did strike was precarious enough: It took five tries before the plan to give each state equal representation in the Senate passed, and even then, it squeaked through by only a single vote.

If the big states had been six times more disadvantaged, it seems unlikely they would've agreed to the same terms. But who knows? Certainly not anyone using Twitter.

The map above is a good way to think of the country as it exists today. It shouldn't be dismissed because it doesn't fit the population patterns of 1787.


    






26 Nov 21:17

Wonkblog: Pope Francis has a few thoughts about the global economy. We added these 13 charts.

by Neil Irwin

Pope Francis has issued an "apostolic exhortation," a lengthy and detailed exposition of how the Catholic Church should focus its energies. And there's a lot in there about the economic forces shaping the lives of people around the world. We've compiled some excerpts of his comments that are relevant to economics and public policy.

Unfortunately, this 84-page apostolic exhortation is woefully lacking in illustrative charts. But Wonkblog is here to help! Here are the pope's comments on economic topics, annotated and charted.

"In our time humanity is experiencing a turning-point in its history, as we can see from the advances being made in so many fields. We can only praise the steps being taken to improve people’s welfare in areas such as health care, education and communications," writes Pope Francis. Sure enough, people are living longer.

(From "It's Getting Better All The Time" / Stephen Moore & Julian Simon)

Across much of the globe:

Those longer lifespans have a strong correlation with how much countries spend on health care (with the United States as an outlier in terms of spending vs. results).

"At the same time we have to remember that the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day, with dire consequences," the pope continued. Also true. In India and sub-Saharan Africa alone, there are more than 700 million people living on an income of less than $1.25 a day, the World Bank's definition of extreme poverty.

"A number of diseases are spreading." Here, for example, is global prevalence of HIV.

"The hearts of many people are gripped by fear and desperation, even in the so-called rich countries." Yep.

"The joy of living frequently fades, lack of respect for others and violence are on the rise, and inequality is increasingly evident. It is a struggle to live and, often, to live with precious little dignity. This epochal change has been set in motion by the enormous qualitative, quantitative, rapid and cumulative advances occurring in the sciences and in technology, and by their instant application in different areas of nature and of life. We are in an age of knowledge and information, which has led to new and often anonymous kinds of power." The chart below isn't exactly on point, but shows how a vast proportion of the things Americans buy are made by just five powerful corporations.

"Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?"

Our research finds some support for Pope Francis's argument that the media is paying much more attention to the vicissitudes of financial markets than to more human issues. For example, in the last six months, 1,477 articles in major newspapers in the Nexis database have mentioned the Standard & Poor's 500. Only 142 have mentioned the phrase global poverty.

"This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving?" Yep, it's true. Food waste is a big issue.

"This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape."

Here, for example, is evidence of how Americans with low incomes feel themselves marginalized and vulnerable, from a story this week by The Washington Post's Jim Tankersley and Scott Clement.

"Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and then discarded. We have created a 'disposable' culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. . .. . The excluded are not the 'exploited' but the outcast, the 'leftovers.' In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and na ve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting."

Here's what the data show on who is accruing the benefits of rising global wealth, in the United States. at least.

"The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose. The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption."

Next, the pope turns even more explicitly to questions of inequality and offers his theory of what has ailed national economies in this post-crisis era.

"While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation."

Sigh.

"Debt and the accumulation of interest also make it difficult for countries to realize the potential of their own economies and keep citizens from enjoying their real purchasing power."

Well, yes and no. It is true that southern European countries such as Spain and Greece (and Italy, which surrounds the Vatican) are suffering under the burden of high debts. And the proximate cause is austerity policies that were demanded as a condition of getting aid to meet the countries' debts. But crucial to this dynamic is the fact that the nations involved are linked to the common euro currency, and thus cannot easily pursue the usual strategies of countries overburdened by debt, namely devaluing their currency.

And many of the countries that have relatively high debt levels, such as the United States, Britain and especially Japan, have continued to have low interest rates, in no small part because they maintain control of their currencies. Here is a chart of the interest rates different countries face and their debt burdens; the original data are from a paper by David Greenlaw et al., and economist Paul Krugman manipulated it to put in place different symbols for countries that use the euro and those that do not.

As shown, the high interest rate burden caused by high debts is the story for the euro zone, not for elsewhere, which suggests it has as much to do with a flawed currency regime as debt per se.

"To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions."

Yep. Here's one estimate at the scale of the tax evasion and corruption problems, via Thomson Reuters.

"The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule."

Those words may defy any easy charting, but they have a lot of important ideas buried within.


    






26 Nov 21:06

Yet More Pope

by Josh Marshall

Pope denounces "trickle down" economics. This is part of the new 'apostolic exhortation' Francis issued today Evangelii Gaudium, which confirms and expands on his calls over recent months for a more missionary church focused on the poor and suffering.

26 Nov 21:04

Mod Skyrim, Get Job At Bungie

by Jason Schreier

Want to get a job at Bungie, one of the world's most respected video game studios? Easy. Spend thousands of hours writing a Skyrim mod so detailed and intricate, it feels like an expansion pack.

Read more...


    






26 Nov 19:07

Wonkblog: The turkey pardon is America’s dumbest tradition

by Brad Plumer

It's time once again for an absurd Thanksgiving ritual.

On Wednesday, the National Turkey Foundation will carry two plump male turkeys over to the White House and lift them onto a table. President Obama will give them goofy names like Caramel and Popcorn. Then Obama will "pardon" the turkeys and, instead of lopping off their heads and tossing them in an oven, he will let them live out the rest of their lives at the estate in Mount Vernon.

To be fair, the president has to do lots of frivolous public events like this one every year. But the turkey pardon stands out as being especially dumb and worth abolishing. Here's why:

-- It's not even a real tradition! The National Turkey Federation has donated two turkeys to the White House every year since 1947. Harry Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower did the sensible thing and simply ate the birds. No pardons there.

Some accounts credit John F. Kennedy with the first official turkey pardon, but like most JFK mythologizing, this is overblown sentimentality: Kennedy merely sent one of his turkeys back to the farm because it wasn't big enough. "We'll let this one grow," he groused of the inadequate offering. (Others credit Abraham Lincoln, who once spared a turkey destined for Christmas dinner when his son Tad pleaded for mercy, but that clearly didn't catch on for decades.)

Ronald Reagan was technically the first president to "pardon" a Thanksgiving turkey, in 1987 — but he did it as a joke to distract the press from scandal. Reporters had been hounding the president about whether he planned to grant pardons to key Iran-Contra figures like Oliver North and John Poindexter. Reagan merely quipped that he would have pardoned that year's turkey had it not been en route to a petting zoo already.

Two years later, in 1989, Reagan's successor George H.W. Bush made the turkey pardon an annual ritual. But it all started as a glib one-liner meant to deflect attention away from White House lawbreaking. Hardly a sacred convention.

-- The pardoned turkeys aren't that much better off — because the life of a turkey is misery and pain. This is going to get gruesome, and I'm sorry about that. But modern-day domestic turkeys aren't bred to have a happy life. They're raised to be as large as possible so that they can be slaughtered as soon as possible and produce the greatest volume of delicious turkey meat.

Some fun facts: A wild turkey normally grows to about 9 pounds. A turkey bred for eating, by contrast, typically grows to something like 29 pounds. (The two turkeys on their way to the White House are over 37 pounds apiece.) These domesticated turkeys are often so fat that their skeletons are unable to support that weight. They frequently develop bone deformities and degenerative joint diseases. They're incapable of breeding on their own. They often suffer heart failure or bleeding around the kidneys.

So it's no coincidence that, as US News & World Report and National Journal have discovered, most pardoned turkeys die within a year of being granted a reprieve anyway. The White House wants us to believe these turkeys are living out a life of leisure on the farm and bopping along to their favorite Lady Gaga tracks. Not so:

For the record, I'm not opposed to raising turkeys for food (and, yes, it's possible to get humanely raised turkeys). But it's not clear why we need an elaborate White House ceremony designed to obscure where that food actually comes from.

-- It's a mockery of the presidential pardon, which is an all-too neglected issue. Maybe this isn't surprising, since the turkey pardon was basically invented as a way of mocking presidential pardons. Still, it's worth mentioning.

After tomorrow, Obama will have "pardoned" 10 turkeys in all (turkeys that, as best we can tell, haven't actually committed any crimes). By contrast, he will have only pardoned or commuted the sentences of 40 actual living human beings.

The latter is a record low for modern-day presidents. At the same point in his presidency, Ronald Reagan had pardoned 313 people. Harry Truman had pardoned 1,537 people:

Last year, Sam Morrison, an official who spent 13 years in the Justice Department's Office of the Pardon Attorney before retiring in 2010, described the prevailing attitude toward pardons this way: "They tend to view any grant of clemency not as a good thing, as a criminal justice success story, but almost as a defeat — that you're taking away something from what some good prosecutor achieved." (The Justice Department disputed this characterization.)

Over at National Journal, Ron Fournier pointed out that, at the bare minimum, Obama could grant clemency to all the people still serving extra time in prison under the old crack-sentencing guidelines — guidelines that Obama himself opposed as excessive and which Congress reduced for all new prisoners in 2010. So far, however, there's no sign that the White House will do this.

The White House does, however, have a flashy Web site up letting you vote on your favorite soon-to-be-pardoned turkey. Yes, there are hashtags.


    






26 Nov 18:08

Quote For The Day

by Andrew Sullivan

francisshadow

“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. I do not want a Church concerned with being at the center and then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures … In her ongoing discernment, the Church can also come to see that certain customs not directly connected to the heart of the Gospel, even some which have deep historical roots, are no longer properly understood and appreciated. Some of these customs may be beautiful, but they no longer serve as means of communicating the Gospel. We should not be afraid to re-examine them. At the same time, the Church has rules or precepts which may have been quite effective in their time, but no longer have the same usefulness for directing and shaping people’s lives,” – Pope Francis, whose radical call to renewal and reform seems to be deepening still further.

It’s worth noting that the Pope has reaffirmed the church’s teaching on abortion, but left other “rules and precepts” in more ambiguous territory.

Know hope.

26 Nov 17:59

Narnia: Ebenezer Scrooge Will Free You From Slavery If He Really Must (But You'd Better Say Thank You)

by Ana Mardoll
[Narnia Content Note: Genocide, Religious Abuse, Chivalry, Racism, Slavery.]
Content Note: Slavery, Racism]

Narnia Recap: In which the crew land on an island inhabited by apparently disembodied voices. 

Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Chapter 9: The Island of the Voices

When we last left our heroes [sic], Lucy had warned everyone that invisible people were planning to ambush them by the boats. The nature of the ambush is unclear; the voices have indicated that they will have weapons with them, but they haven't said what their goal is -- whether they want to kill or capture or just make sure Caspian doesn't run off with the silverware is still an open question.

   “Well,” said Caspian at last, “let’s get on with it. We must go and face them. Shake hands all round—arrow on the string, Lucy—swords out, everyone else—and now for it. Perhaps they’ll parley.”

I'm not sure there's ever been any indication of Lucy being an archer before; possibly there was and I'm just too lazy to check. Either way, I love (read: don't love) that because Lucy is a girl, she obviously therefore must be a Bow Chick and her initial semi-defiance of Father Christmas (a la, "I think I'd be brave enough, even though I lack a penis and therefore your approval", and I may be paraphrasing there) has safely passed and we're back to putting her on the back-lines of combat.

And note that the back-lines of combat, which is where Father Christmas wants her because battles are ugly when women fight in order to protect her and not because he thinks girls have battle-cooties, is the place where Lucy will now be at even more of a disadvantage than her fellows because (a) the ambush will be in close quarters, where arrows are less protective (you can parry a strike with a sword/dagger, but not with an arrow) and (b) I'd imagine it's a lot harder to hit an invisible enemy with an arrow than with a sword or dagger. Because you can't really get a good swiping motion in with an arrow.

   It was strange to see the lawns and the great trees looking so peaceful as they marched back to the beach. And when they arrived there, and saw the boat lying where they had left her, and the smooth sand with no one to be seen on it, more than one doubted whether Lucy had not merely imagined all she had told them. 

LOLWHUT. So, Lucy says the island has invisible people who don't leave footprints or proof of passing, so the fact that they can't see anyone at the boars and the sand in front of the boats is smooth causes the Doubting Thomases to come out and play? Really? Like, it was all plausible before they got to the boats and didn't see the invisible people, but once they got there and the invisible people weren't visible there, that was the point at which doubts began to seriously foster. Sure.

Question: Who is doubting Lucy? Not Edmund, surely, who was so quick to defend her when she was the only one who saw Aslan in Prince Caspian. And probably not Eustace, since Edmund had that post-dragoning chat with him about how Lucy See Things (Especially Aslan) even when others don't. Surely not Reepicheep, who strikes me as the most religiously devout of the group and cares so strongly about honor -- the suggestion that his dearest Queen lied (because in Lewis' world, there are only liars and truth-tellers and Obviously Mentally Ill people, with no option for mistakes) would probably cause Reepicheep to challenge the author to a duel outright, because how dare you besmirch Her Majesty, etc.

That leaves Caspian and Drinian, who is only here because we needed someone to magically pronounce sentence on the Can The Boat Pull Up To Shore question. And since the text says "more than one doubted", I reckon we'll have to go with those two. I can kinda believe Drinian could doubt all this; he's been vaguely characterized as not caring for all this magic malarkey, and he's never been especially devout to Lucy as anything more than a little girl with a courtesy title. Though I note that 90% of this is due to the sparseness of the text rather than actual characterization. And I guess Caspian could probably be read as assuming anyone other than himself is Wrongy McMistakenface about things because, you know, they're not him.

But I bring this up here mostly because it's kinda another example of Lewis not really treating his characters as people. They're sort of an amorphous mass of Away Team here, and some of them are just randomly wondering if Lucy dreamed all this up or is bullshitting them. But there's not really a consideration of specifically which ones are wondering this. Because if there were specific consideration of who, then there'd have to follow a why. Why would Edmund doubt his sister when he didn't before? Why would Reepicheep doubt his sovereign when to do so would be entirely out of character for him? Why would Caspian and Drinian and Eustace think invisible people so strange after all they've seen and done on this trip? (Because dragons and sea serpents and magical islands you can't remember clearly but which might have had magical ponds on them are so much more believable?)

And treating the characters like individuals would give us a sense of history for Lucy, where she could legitimately point out that she sees things before other people All The Damn Time and she's Never Been Wrong Yet so maybe people could stop treating her like Cassandra. It would mean we would have defined personalities for Caspian and Drinian and Reepicheep and Edmund and Eustace, such that we could predict which ones would disbelieve Lucy and which would not. And it might mean that events could flow naturally from characters and their choices as opposed to being literally magically herded into position and then Aslaned out of trouble over and over again.

Oh, and it might also mean that Reepicheep The Mouse might have senses he relies on more strongly than sight. I kinda feel like a mouse might be able to sense the heat of 50 bodies or hear them breathing or smell them sweating in the sun. But I guess I could be wrong. 

And I again point all this out here the next time someone says that kyriarchal privilege totally has nothing to do with why Lewis is revered as One Of The Greatest YA/Fantasy/Wev Authors Of All Times, but [insert female author here] is a garbage writer because one time she forgot to use an Oxford Comma. Throwing that out there.

Anyway, let's get to the ambush scene. 

   But before they reached the sand, a voice spoke out of the air.
   “No further, masters, no further now,” it said. “We’ve got to talk with you first. There’s fifty of us and more here with weapons in our fists.”
   “Hear him, hear him,” came the chorus. “That’s our Chief. You can depend on what he says. He’s telling you the truth, he is.”
   “I do not see these fifty warriors,” observed Reepicheep.
   “That’s right, that’s right,” said the Chief Voice. “You don’t see us. And why not? Because we’re invisible.”

I know this is supposed to be proof that the Dufflepuds are stupid, but I really am hard-pressed to come up with a better answer to Reepicheep. I mean, he practically set the Chief up for that response like they were at a comedy club. And beyond that, Reepicheep just heard a chorus of voices, which has to be at least a dozen, right?

It's interesting, though, that the Chief simply says they have weapons, but Reepicheep demands that they be "warriors". Maybe this is some kind of smack-talk on his part, a la 300, (though it just as easily might not be), but I gotta say that invisibility seems like a pretty good draw-card for an ambush party to have, regardless of whether they're potters or blacksmiths or whatever at their day-jobs.


   “Be quiet, Reep,” said Caspian, and then added in a louder voice, “You invisible people, what do you want with us? And what have we done to earn your enmity?”

"I mean, we landed on your island and made pretty much no attempt to make it immediately visually obvious that we come in peace and mean you no harm, and which as a sovereign ruler of my own land I should know is in itself a very threatening thing to do, and a huge social faux pas. I mean, can you even imagine if you'd landed on Narnian soil like we have here? You'd be met by a battalion of heavily armed centaurs, I'm sure. So it's kind of disingenuous of me to act like your response is an act of enmity rather than basic prudence. Especially given that I've already taken over one island via political coup already, and indicated a willingness to take it over by force if that failed. So you probably shouldn't trust me, is what I'm saying." 

   “We want something that little girl can do for us,” said the Chief Voice. (The others explained that this was just what they would have said themselves.)
   “Little girl!” said Reepicheep. “The lady is a queen.”
   “We don’t know about queens,” said the Chief Voice. (“No more we do, no more we do,” chimed in the others.) “But we want something she can do.”

I really do not know what this outburst was intended to accomplish, since Reepicheep just signaled that the ambushing party now has a member of royalty in their clutches as opposed to Just Some Girl. That seems kinda like the thing knights and bodyguards and whatnot should learn on the first day of Chivalry School, especially given that they've already had the "don't tell the slavers we're royal" conversation earlier in the book. Which makes me think that Lewis did this on purpose to chalk up more points into the characterization bucket that Reepicheep is dangerously impulsive and shouldn't be allowed on these kind of trips, with a side-suggestion that he's a problem specifically because he's an Animal and Animals aren't too bright.

Because, seriously, I would not be letting Reepicheep on away-missions anymore. 

   “What is it?” said Lucy.
   “And if it is anything against her Majesty’s honor or safety,” added Reepicheep, “you will wonder to see how many we can kill before we die.”

Sure, that seems totally like the best response in this situation. (I also love that Caspian's "be quiet, Reep" order is just being merrily ignored because there is hot water to be gotten into.) I mean, seriously, I'm not a big fan of ambushes and wanton slaughter and destruction, but I'm also aware that they are things which exist and I'm kinda thinking that Reep maybe needs to back off the Bluff stat that he doesn't actually seem to have.

Because, really, it's just the fact that the Chief is a nice person that he hasn't pointed out that (a) they outnumber the Dream Team approximately 10 to 1 and that (b) it shouldn't be too hard to, say, kill 3/5s of them, capture Lucy and her younger cousin, and then see if she won't be amenable to their wishes when her cousin's safety is on the line. I'm not saying he should do this, but I am saying he could do this, and yet here Reep (and by extension the rest of the Royals who could be stopping him but aren't) are dripping with disdain because their lion-given privilege is JUST. THAT. THICK.

   “Well,” said the Chief Voice. “It’s a long story. Suppose we all sit down?”
   The proposal was warmly approved by the other voices but the Narnians remained standing.

SEE WHAT DID I TELL YOU ABOUT THESE PEOPLE.

Placate their captors with a gesture of trust that can't hurt them any worse (because it's not like they'll be at more of a disadvantage on the ground, what with the people being invisible) or demonstrate their total disdain by standing and presumably staring haughtily down their noses at the empty air? What Would Aslan Do, indeed.

Then we get a lot of backstory that you already know and long-story-short, the Dufflepuds ask Lucy to save them by reading a magic spell to make them visible again because it's very dull being invisible all the time. And it has to be Lucy because only a little girl can read the spells or something. ("Stop asking me questions, dammit, this is the chapter about how vain and gossipy women are so just go with it." ~ C.S. Lewis, I think.)

   And we thought we’d rather be invisible than go on being as ugly as all that. And why? Because we’d like it better. So my little girl, who’s just about your little girl’s age, and a sweet child she was before she was uglified, though now—but least said soonest mended—I say, my little girl she says the spell, for it’s got to be a little girl or else the magician himself, if you see my meaning, for otherwise it won’t work. And why not? Because nothing happens. So my Clipsie says the spell, for I ought to have told you she reads beautifully, and there we all were as invisible as you could wish to see.

Also: *blub-blub-blub* Because this is probably the first expression of parental love in these books (that I can think of, anyway) (and sandwiched in a book about Aunt Alberta The Evil Feminist and how she doesn't like Eustace ever again once he becomes a Proper Patriarch, as opposed to having it break her heart to see her still-beloved boy buy in to the Terrible Bargain) and it's coming from a father whose daughter has been mutilated by magic and Lucy -- the stand-in for this little girl now that the spell has to be reversed -- won't insist that Coriakin restore her body. Because Lucy doesn't identify with other little girls, because (a) educated men in literal ivory towers are who we should all identify with, natch and (b) women are catty and hate each other which is why Lucy hates Susan and is jealous of her despite this never coming up before. Because Women.

   “Well, then, to put it in a nutshell,” said the Chief Voice, “we’ve been waiting for ever so long for a nice little girl from foreign parts, like it might be you, Missie—that would go upstairs and go to the magic book and find the spell that takes off the invisibleness, and say it. And we all swore that the first strangers as landed on this island (having a nice little girl with them, I mean, for if they hadn’t it’d be another matter) we wouldn’t let them go away alive unless they’d done the needful for us. And that’s why, gentlemen, if your little girl doesn’t come up to scratch, it will be our painful duty to cut all your throats. Merely in the way of business, as you might say, and no offense, I hope.”

Again: Almost assuredly written to make the Dufflepuds seem churlish and stupid, but which I obstinately persist in finding endearing. Because fuck you, Lewis. And because I like people who get right to the heart of the matter. But, wait, I have more to say on this. Hang on a second.

   “I don’t see all your weapons,” said Reepicheep. “Are they invisible too?” The words were scarcely out of his mouth before they heard a whizzing sound and next moment a spear had stuck, quivering, in one of the trees behind them.
   “That’s a spear, that is,” said the Chief Voice.
   “That it is, Chief, that it is,” said the others. “You couldn’t have put it better.”
   “And it came from my hand,” the Chief Voice continued. “They get visible when they leave us.”

And if they'd been Bond Villains, they would have thrown the spear through Reepicheep rather than at a tree. I'm just sayin' that Reepicheep is seriously not allowed on the away-missions again. Never. 

   “But why do you want me to do this?” asked Lucy. “Why can’t one of your own people? Haven’t you got any girls?”
   “We dursen’t, we dursen’t,” said all the Voices. “We’re not going upstairs again.”
   “In other words,” said Caspian, “you are asking this lady to face some danger which you daren’t ask your own sisters and daughters to face!”

Okay. Now I'm going to say the thing I'm going to say. Settle in.

Here is the thing. I shouldn't need to say this, but just so we're all on the same page here: What the Dufflepuds are doing is wrong. By my moral compass, at least, it's not okay to detain people on your property (trespassing though they were) and threaten to kill them if they don't cross a dangerous magician for you. The Dufflepuds have no reason to believe that Coriakin won't transmogrify or otherwise seriously harm Lucy and the others. (Indeed, I always kinda wondered if something happened to Clipsie and if that was why she and the others wouldn't go back upstairs. I realize we're just supposed to read them as cowardly, but I think it's a valid question to demand, in light of Coriakin basically being a male (and therefore valid) White Witch.)

But what the Dufflepuds are doing is also understandable. It's morally wrong, but I would argue that it sits at a much more ambiguous level of morality than Caspian and Reepicheep chatting over whether or not to bring an army to invade the Lone Islands because mine, dammit. If Coriakin hurts Lucy and the others, it is because he is an evil overlord (a la the White Witch) who must be stopped. And if Lucy and the others care, even a little bit, about their whole We Are Godly Representatives Of Aslan Who Right Wrongs schtick, they'll want to do something to help the Dufflepuds, even if it's a prudent "let's go home and bring backup" something.

If Coriakin is the White Witch -- and I argue that he could be seen as analogous to her, though I'm doubtful that Lewis intended that (though she WAS the Emperor's hang-woman, so...) -- then the Dufflepuds are the Beavers. Only instead of saying "whoooooooooops, I totally knew your brother was drugged but just didn't notice him walking out in the snow", we get a much more straightforward proposition that the Dufflepuds' existence is unbearable and only the Pevensies can help them, so they aren't going to be given a choice, sorry!

It's wrong, morally wrong. But it's also true, in this particular case, that the Pevensies wouldn't do it if they were given an alternative. Lucy outright says:

   “All right, then, I’ll do it,” said Lucy. “No,” she said, turning to the others, “don’t try to stop me. Can’t you see it’s no use? There are dozens of them there. We can’t fight them. And the other way there is a chance.”
   “But a magician!” said Caspian.
   “I know,” said Lucy. “But he mayn’t be as bad as they make out. Don’t you get the idea that these people are not very brave?”

This is the same girl who insisted that they go to war against the White Witch if it might save her friend Mr. Tumnus, but she'll only go up into a magician's tower during daylight (they specifically hash out whether she could do it during the day since the night is so much scarier, I'm not making this up) and only when there's literally no alternative but immediate death.

So, just to be clear, Lucy the Valiant is both afraid of the dark and not in the least interested in saving an entire race of people from tyranny. Just like Edmund the Just earlier moved to skewer the stranger on the beach rather than find out who he was peaceably. These things are understandable -- we've probably all known fear and an impulse for violence out of self-defense -- but they're never remarked upon, never corrected in text.

And the patterns start to become a problem. The Animals (devout Protestant Aslan-worshipping English people) are worth saving, but not the Dufflepuds. The White Witch who turns people to stone must be killed, but not the Magician who magically mutilates their bodies. The Lone Islanders (white English people) should not be slaves to the Calormen, but the Dufflepuds should be slaves to the white man who lives in his ivory tower. And the heroes who didn't balk from a fight when it was against Miraz or Jadis now stubbornly toe the sand and quibble about the scary darkness and bemoan that they have no other choice than to help a race of magically enslaved people, but that they're only doing this because they have to.

And that's what I mean when I say that the racism in these books isn't just a matter of how, for example, the Calormen are portrayed. That's a part of it, sure. But there's other forms of racism, just as insidious, and this is one here: How saving the Animals was seen as the obvious right thing to leap up and do because Goodness and Bravery and Rightness, but saving the Dufflepuds is clearly presented as something that is only happening because the heroes were stupid enough to be trapped and ambushed. Something to be done with a heavy heart, not a glad one. And something that will be done half-assed rather than fully, since the Dufflepuds will remain mutilated and will remain slaves.

And something which does not occur in a context-free void. It matters how the Animals and Dufflepuds respectively talk and act and what they look like and what their customs are and how they are presented to the reader in terms of familiar cultural markers (in the case of the former) and othered stereotypes (in the case of the latter). 
26 Nov 17:44

Wonkblog: Holiday sales are a dirty lie

by Lydia DePillis

Hitting the doorbusters this Black Friday? You're falling for an elaborate con.

Retailers are competing more fiercely than ever for consumer dollars this holiday season, with deep discounts on popular items to get people in the door. Many of those "sales," though, are utterly meaningless: When the sticker price is arbitrary, the actual price can be whatever a store wants.

Over the years, retailers have floated prices upwards before Thanksgiving to create the perception of steep markdowns — while avoiding a big hit to their profits. Consumers, by now unwilling to pay full price for anything, have played right into their hands. When J.C. Penney tried to introduce "honesty" in pricing, shoppers abandoned the store in droves.

Thus far, the deception has gone mostly unnoticed. Today, with the aid of the Internet, it's much easier to track prices, as the Wall Street Journal did for a great story out this morning. Here are the numbers:

The number of deals offered by 31 major department store and apparel retailers increased 63% between 2009 to 2012, and the average discount jumped to 36% from 25%, according to Savings.com, a website that tracks online coupons.

Over the same period, the gross margins of the same retailers — the difference between what they paid for goods and the price at which they sold them — were flat at 27.9%, according to FactSet. The holidays barely made a dent, with margins dipping to 27.8% in the fourth quarter of 2012 from 28% in the third quarter of that year.

...

A supplier sells the sweater to a retailer for roughly $14.50. The suggested retail price is $50, which gives the retailer a roughly 70% markup. A few sweaters sell at that price, but more sell at the first markdown of $44.99, and the bulk sell at the final discount price of $21.99. That produces an average unit retail price of $28 and gives the store about a 45% gross margin on the product.

---

In a 2012 presentation, Mr. Johnson, then still Penney's CEO, said the company was selling fewer than one out of every 500 items at full price. Customers were receiving an average discount of 60%, up from 38% a decade earlier. The twist is they weren't saving more. In fact, the average price paid by customers stayed about the same over that period. What changed was the initial price, which increased by 33%.

---

In an analysis for The Wall Street Journal, price-tracking firm Market Track LLC looked at the online price fluctuations of 1,743 products in November 2012. Prices climbed an average of 8% in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving for 366, or about a fifth, of the products; the items were then discounted on Black Friday. Toys and tools had the biggest pre-Black Friday price increases—about 23%.

There are limits to this strategy: The Federal Trade Commission has rules about deceptive pricing, which say that a product has to actually be marketed for a certain price before being offered at a "discount." One lady is even suing J.C. Penney over misleading sale signs, and a defeat for the beleaguered retailer might lead to a pullback.

In the meantime, though, you might just want to take a morning on Black Friday to sleep in.


    






25 Nov 23:55

jennipoos: itscolossal: Faces of Models Transformed Into 2D...

25 Nov 21:26

Wonkblog: ‘If you don’t like negotiating with Iran what you’re really saying is you want to go to war’

by Ezra Klein

Joseph Cirincione is president of Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation, and a member of Secretary of State John Kerry's International Security Advisory Board and the Council on Foreign Relations. He's also the author of "Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons." We spoke this afternoon.

Ezra Klein: You spend your days trying to rid the world of nuclear weapons. So is today a good day for you? A bad one?

Joe Cirincione: I opened up a bottle of champagne when I heard the news. This is huge. I was at an international security conference in Halifax when the news broke and there were dozens of us celebrating. Rightly or wrongly, Iran is seen as the most serious nuclear threat in the world. Anything you can do to reduce that threat is a major step forward.

EK: Does this actually reduce the threat they pose? Certainly Israel doesn’t seem to think so.

JC: This addresses the major threat that Prime Minister Netanyahu warned the world about in September 2012. He went to the dais of the U.N. General Assembly and he held up a cartoon drawing of a bomb and drew a red line across the top. He warned the world that Iran would soon have enough uranium enriched to 20 percent and that they could quickly, in weeks or months, make a bomb.

His concerns were well-founded. Iran now has about 190 kilograms of this enriched uranium. If they got to 240 kilograms, they'd be very close to a bomb. This deal drains the uranium from Mr. Netanyahu’s bomb. It drains the amount of 20 percent enriched uranium [Iran has]. It makes it much less likely Iran could break out and make a bomb. And it goes further: It stops the manufacturing of new centrifuges. It changes the inspection regime from weekly to daily. If Iran wanted to do anything suspicious, there’s a high probability we'd know about it and could act instantly to stop them.

EK: What’s the counterfactual here? Imagine this deal wasn’t struck and things simply kept on trend. Where would this issue be going?

JC: If Iran hadn’t paused, in a matter of months they would cross Israel’s red line. In perhaps a year they could’ve constructed a crude nuclear device. In another year, they could construct a warhead to put on a missile. While we might think we had two years or so to act, Israel doesn’t look at it that way. They wanted to kill the nuclear baby in the crib. So the alternative to this deal was war.

We shouldn’t kid ourselves. There’s no sanction regime known to man that’s been able to coerce a country into compliance. So if you don't like negotiating with Iran, what you're really saying is you want to go to war. We should be clear-eyed about this. We shouldn’t think there’s some better deal out there.

EK: Israel and some other skeptics argue that diluting the uranium doesn’t mean much because Iran can quickly enrich it again.

JC: Not clear. There’s a lot of doubt that Iran has the capability to convert uranium oxide back to uranium gas. In any event, if they did it we would see it. That’s the benefit of the daily inspections.

EK: Are you confident those inspections have full visibility into the program?

JC: The core part of the inspections is measuring what goes in and what goes out. All the information we have around Iran’s stockpile comes from these IAEA inspections. This is what they do. It’s a lot like accounting. And you can have a pretty high confidence that we know what’s going on at the facilities. The uncertainty is around the question of secret facilities. This arrangement doesn’t help with that. But this is the first phase. In a final agreement, Iran is open to a much tougher inspections regime that allows inspectors to go anywhere at anytime and see anything.

EK: Are you optimistic that we'll get to a final deal after this pause?

JC: This deal doubles Iran’s breakout time to a nuclear weapon and makes it much more likely that we would see them doing it. It also freezes the program in place. And while we're watching them they can't substantially enhance their capabilities. So we don't lose anything in this deal. And all we’ve given up is a small amount of Iran’s money that we had frozen. The estimates are that they'll receive $7-$10 billion in relief. But they have more than $100 billion still frozen abroad. And all the sanctions on their oil trade and their financial system and their banking still apply. If Iran wants to get back to selling two million barrels of oil a day, they need to finish the final deal and satisfy us that they're giving up their weapon options here.

EK: One argument that Jeffrey Goldberg makes is that another objective of this deal was stopping Israel from making any sudden moves. Now that there’s a deal in place, Israel can’t simply blow up the international community’s negotiations and launch an attack. Do you agree?

JC: I think it’s almost impossible for Israel to launch a military strike on Iran right now. They're isolated. The prime minister is issuing some very tough statements but as far as I can see, he’s the only world leader issuing them. Even Saudi Arabia, which has serious qualms about the deal, is issuing positive statements at the start.

EK: To zoom out, a few months ago a deal was struck to begin breaking down Syria’s chemical weapon capabilities. Now there’s the beginning of a process to potentially end Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons. It seems like an unusually good time for anti-proliferation efforts.

JC: It pays to be a pessimist in national security. You get rewarded for painting worst-case scenarios. But every once in awhile you have to evaluate the facts on the ground. And the facts right now are breaking in America’s favor. In the last few months Secretary of State John Kerry has crafted agreements to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. Now there’s an agreement that might eliminate Iran’s nuclear weapon. This looked impossible several months ago.

The significance of all this goes beyond just weapons. One level, of course, is we're reducing major threats that could have killed hundreds of thousands of people. Second, it is being crafted in partnership with countries like Russia, which is creating a better dialogue and working relationship with them. Third, if there’s a rapprochement with Iran, it could pay much bigger dividends in the Middle East, including stabilizing Afghanistan and ending the civil war in Syria. It won't make us BFFs with Iran, but perhaps, as President Rouhani says, we could manage our differences in much the same way that Nixon managed our differences with China.


    






25 Nov 21:11

My Tumblr mail apparently ate a bunch of private messages, so I can’t respond directly.  So I...

My Tumblr mail apparently ate a bunch of private messages, so I can’t respond directly.  So I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who said nice and supportive things. <3

…And who shared my bafflement on how saying “kill yourself” is valid self-expression but saying “this person’s telling people to kill themselves” is CYBER-BULLYING.  

…Or how saying “I’m not an abuser” is proof positive that I’m an abuser.  They have like twelve posts up now about this. Oh my God, seriously, I’m not perfect, obviously at some times in my life I’ve, like, yelled at people unfairly or been kind of a jerk to my partners. I did not realize that failing to report these as “I am an abuser” was going to be spun out into that much material.

(I know I said I wouldn’t write about this any more, but the response of “you better not because I’LL BE WATCHING” was so spectacularly creepy that fuck it.)

25 Nov 20:48

My cover for this week’s New...

25 Nov 20:48

Seapods, by Robert Steven Connett

by Xeni Jardin

Robert Steven Connett shares this painting, "SEAPODS," in the Boing Boing Flickr pool, and says, "It will be exhibited and available for sale, at the "Espionage Miami 2013" group art exhibition in Miami Beach Florida, during the Art Basil USA exhibitions, (December 6, 2013 – January 31, 2014), Harold Golen Gallery, 2294 N.W 2nd Avenue, Miami, Florida 33127, Wynwood Arts District."

Check out more of his fantastic psychedelic, inspired-by-nature art in his Flickr feed or his website, grotesque.com.

    






25 Nov 18:36

INTP Confession #490

A pen and a blank sheet of paper. One of my favorite therapists.

25 Nov 18:25

CATCHING FIRE and why Katniss Everdeen is a too-rare heroine

by The Bitter Script Reader
Hunger Games heroine Katniss Everdeen is the sort of female hero I wish we saw more of in popular culture.  She's the female protagonist who drives the plot specifically through her actions and her decisions.  Her "specialness" is not her birthright, it's because she has made choices that have fostered far-reaching consequences. 

This stands in stark contrast to many heroines in Young Adult literature who are often born "special" or "different."  They don't have to do anything to earn their position as "Girl Who Would Change the World."  Before Catching Fire, I saw a trailer for the upcoming Divergent, which appears based on a similar sort of idea. The heroine of that series is subjected to a test that is meant to declare her proper role in society.  Apparently in this dystopian future, the free will to choose one's own path has been stamped out in favor of letting "the test" determine that. Much to her shock, our heroine learns that the test "didn't work on you," setting up a story that surely will place her in opposition to society, probably as part of a revolution.

A brewing revolution is also at the heart of Catching Fire, but in this case it's not because Katniss was born with a defect, or because she's a special snowflake.  Here it's specifically the fallout of her defiance at the end of the first Hunger Games.  By being willing to die rather than play the Game the way her leaders demand, Katniss has become a symbol of defiance against the oppressive government.  This puts President Snow in a difficult position. He cannot tolerate the seeds of revolution, but Katniss is too popular among the people for him to move against her directly.

The opening act of the film does a good job of laying out the early rumblings of rebellion. Snow's new Gamemaster, the absurdly-named-even-for-this-series Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), suggests that Snow first attack Katniss as a symbol. "Show them she's not one of them anymore." When it appears that long-game is taking too long, Plutarch pushes Snow to another action, cut all the champions of the Games down to size by making 24 of them participate in what amounts to an all-star match-up.  If everything goes to plan, it will eliminate the Champions as potential instigators of insurrection and force Katniss to either get her hands dirty or die.

That's a strategy that works only if the Champions are willing to toe the party line, and it's evident from the early media tours it's clear that most of them have no interest in being the Capital's dancing monkeys.  There's a thrilling sense of inevitability here.  What Katniss has brought about is too large to be put down by any government edicts or propaganda.  Before the onlookers may have bought into the lie that this bloodsport had some honor to it, this time the political strategery reeks of bullshit a mile away.  Every move Snow makes seems likely to only incite further defiance.

And all because of one girl who volunteered herself as tribute in order to save her sister.  Everything in The Hunger Games saga goes back to that one moment.  It's not an act she was fated to take. It's not an action she was born to make, and it's not something she took on because she was special in some way.  It's a moment of pure free will, and it plants the seeds of further resistance in the name of free will.

One girl can change the world, and not because she's destined to from birth - but because she is capable of having an impact beyond her station.

Twilight merely asserts that Bella is somehow special because the vampires can't read her mind.  Later entries in the saga further this concept of her "specialness" by having her become pregnant with a vampire's child.  Bella doesn't have to really earn her place as the girl who changes her world. She merely has to show up and play out a predetermined script, in a way.  It's the polar opposite of how Katniss becomes the axis her world turns on.

Not that the "destined hero" doesn't have its place, or is inherently bad.  Buffy certainly would fall into that catagory and she's an excellent female protagonist.  What helps there is that even though her powers are her birthright, the series was often shaped by the consequences of how Buffy made use of that power.

I get why many young adult leads might share this "born special" idea.  At that age, everyone feels like an outsider.  It can be a great metaphor of how teenagers feel like they are special even as they're forced to fit in with the crowd.  It's a power fantasy, even if the subtext of "the people who change the world were fated to it, so nothing the non-chosen ones do matters" is a bit disturbing.

But if there were more heroines who pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps, it wouldn't be such a bad thing.

I enjoyed much of Catching Fire, though I have to confess I've never read any of the novels.  This seemed to work in my favor during the first film, as I came away with a more positive reaction than many of my friends who were devotees of the source material.  This is definitely the Empire Strikes Back of this series, right down to the darker tone, larger scope and bleak cliffhanger.  When the film faded to black, I couldn't believe I'd have to wait a year to see the next chapter.

Having said that, I'm fully aware that my reaction would be very different if the following chapter wasn't a certainty.  These days, you can't take it for granted that a film will perform well enough for a follow-up, not even if the original movie is based on a successful series of books.  Just ask anyone involved with The Golden Compass.

The first Hunger Games could have worked as a standalone film. If it somehow had bombed, you could still walk away from that movie feeling you got a complete story, much the same as how the the original Star Wars could easily stand on its own.  Catching Fire - like Empire Strikes Back - is very much an Act Two.  There's enough meat that it doesn't feel like it's only there to set up the third part, but I'd be lying if I said it provides much closure or resolution.

In fact, there are so many sudden reveals in the film's final ten minutes that I'd probably tear into the film under any other circumstances.  A lot of very important stuff is unexplained, though I'd wager that much of it will be laid out in the third chapter, as it ends up being explained to Katniss.

BIG SPOILERS BELOW

In case you're curious what those issues are:

- Plutarch Heavensbee has been on the side of the good guys all along?  How did he get Haymitch to trust him? How was Finnick brought into the scheme?  Should we really trust either of these guys?

- How did the aforementioned steal the aircraft that picked up Katniss and Beetee? Does the Capital know about this and if not, why did they apparently send a second craft that nabbed Peeta and Johanna?

- Much confusion about Beetee's motivations in splitting up Peeta and Katniss during the climax.  The way things went down, Katniss improvised on the fly and brought the house down, but what was the "real" plan? Why make Katniss deliberately suspicious by seeming to send her and Peeta into separate traps?  Since she knew to cut out Katniss's "tag," Johanna was definitely in on the plan, which makes me even more curious about how all of this came together.  This is one area that I think could have written and revealed more smoothly.

(By the way, if these are explained in the novel or subsequent novels, don't tell me. I'll see how Mockingjay handles these points next year first.)

There's a lot in the climax that has the appearance of coming together too neatly.  Knowing that at least some of it was part of a plan helps, but there are a few wildcards within that plan that are inviting me to nitpick.  The series has earned my trust that much of this will be explained, so I'm not letting it get to me too much.

But know that if you are writing a script that has some of these issues, you will NOT get the benefit of the doubt.  As I've said before, never write a spec script that ends with "To Be Continued."  Don't end a script with so many character's motivations in confusion as they are here.  The filmmakers wouldn't have taken that big of a risk in the first movie.  They had to earn that chance.  If you're submitting a spec, you haven't gotten the same cred, and thus, judgement will be harsher.

Overall, I think I enjoyed Catching Fire even more than the first film.  This time around it was less irritating that circumstances kept Katniss from having to get too cold-blooded in the Games.  The last time around it was drilled in pretty hard that anyone who wasn't on Team Katniss was an outright asshole who probably deserved to die even outside the battle royale situation.  Katniss seems to end up with even less blood on her hands this time around, but the overall morality feels less manipulative than before.

The filmmakers have definitely raised their game here and hopefully they'll push it even further in the two-part finale, the first of which is set to open next winter.
25 Nov 18:23

Stars read mean tweets about themselves (Video)

by Scott
Jade Eklund

I love it when they're sad at the camera. Actually I love all of it.

Via TheWrap.

Ah, the price of fame!

25 Nov 18:13

Christians have not been ‘reading the Bible this way for 2,000 years’

by Fred Clark

Whenever I write something critical of the relatively recent dogma of “biblical inerrancy,” someone always responds by insisting that Christians have been reading the Bible this way for 2,000 years.

That’s not true. It’s not possible.

Christians haven’t been reading the Bible this way for 2,000 years, because for most of the last 2,000 years, most Christians weren’t reading the Bible at all.

For the first of those 20 centuries, Christians weren’t reading the New Testament because it was still being written. Even 1,900 years ago, many of the texts we refer to as the New Testament were still a work in progress.

For much of Christian history, many of the biblical texts read by most Christians were neither texts nor biblical. (“Descent of Christ to Limbo,” church fresco in Florence by Andrea di Bonaiuto, ca. 1368.)

It took another 200 years after that for those texts to be collected into anything like a formal canon. That only came about after Emperor Constantine made Christianity Rome’s official religion. The next step, then, was to translate the Bible into Latin so that every Roman-therefore-newly-Christian could read it. Jerome didn’t finish that project until 405.

At that point — 1,600 years ago — it might finally have become possible for Christians to start reading the Bible in the same way that white evangelical inerrantists read it today, but that’s not how they read the Bible. Take a look at Augustine or any of the other early church writers from the first five centuries of Christianity and you’ll find all kinds of approaches to the text — wildly inventive allegorical schemes, symbolism, reinterpretations of the New Testament almost as radical as the NT authors’ reinterpretations of the OT — that would give contemporary defenders of “biblical inerrancy” the howling fantods.

Well, then, what about after Augustine? How did Christians read the Bible in the next several centuries?

They didn’t. Not most of them, anyway. The Western Roman Empire fell in 476 and literacy in western Europe collapsed right along with it. During the Dark Ages, books were hard to come by, and people who could read and understand them were too. Christians were reading the Bible during those many long centuries, but not most Christians. It was read by, and within, the church. The prevailing hermeneutic, in other words, was nothing like the individualistic, face-value literalism that characterizes the approach of modern inerrantists. The prevailing hermeneutic was to interpret the Bible as meaning what the church says it means.

The majority of Christians during those centuries didn’t read the Bible at all, lacking both the ability and the opportunity to do so. They heard bits of the Bible read to them — in Latin, which they may not have understood — and they learned a lot of biblical lore from songs, statuary, pageants and plays. That was mixed in, of course, with a lot of other lore that was likely regarded as biblical, even though it came instead from, say, the Gospel of Nicodemas or the Vision of Tundale.

That’s how things remained for about half of those 2,000 years during which Christians have supposedly been reading the Bible in just exactly the way we’re reading it today.

The big changes didn’t come until more than 1,000 years after St. Jerome finished his Latin translation. The biggest change didn’t have anything to do with the church itself. The biggest change was technological — the invention of the printing press and the publication of the Gutenberg Bible in 1454.

Another big change came with first the Geneva Bible and then the King James Version in 1611 — more than a century after Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press, these made English translations of the Bible widely available for the first time. And thus, for the first time in the English-speaking world, it became possible to begin reading the Bible the way that proponents of “inerrancy” read it today.

So if we can’t say that most Christians have been reading the Bible this way for 2,000 years, can we at least say that some Christians have been reading the Bible this way for 400 years?

Yes, I think that’s fair. I think the same hermeneutic now championed by Al Mohler’s Southern Baptist faction and by things like the “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” first began to take shape about 400 years ago.

And here’s a brief timeline of some of that theological development:

1607: Jamestown founded in Virginia.

1611: King James Bible published.

1619: First 20 Africans sold into slavery in Jamestown.

1620: Plymouth Bay Colony founded in Massachusetts.

1636: The Desire, the first North American slave ship, built and launched in Massachusetts.

1643: Plymouth adopts a fugitive slave law.

1657: Virginia adopts a fugitive slave law.

1661: King Charles II of England calls for the Christian conversion of African slaves.

1667: Virginia passes law saying that slaves who convert to Christianity will remain slaves.

From there on it’s just a matter of filling in the details.

The shape of contemporary white evangelicalism — including the way it reads and interprets and wields the Bible — flows from that. That’s where the argument began and that’s where the argument remains.

25 Nov 17:47

Boehner Fails to Fail on Obamacare

by Josh Marshall

Late last week Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) made a big show of trying but failing to sign up for Obamacare because of the notoriously buggy website. (Actually he appears to have been using the DC exchange site.) He even did a special tweet noting his hopeless situation. Not terribly surprising given the frustrating experiences so many have had.

Actually, it turns out he had successfully enrolled and got a call confirming that about an hour after his tweet. But it gets better.

Read More →
25 Nov 17:46

Good Luck With That

by Josh Marshall

Sen. Cruz (R-TX) says that killing the filibuster (and that's really what it is) "will poison the atmosphere of the Senate."

All the snark aside (and this deserves plenty of snark), I think this does point to the bad position Senate Republicans put themselves in - namely, that it is just not really credible that any more poisoning is possible in the Senate. And no person captures that more clearly than Sen. Cruz.

23 Nov 19:42

I am done and beyond done with this whole MayMay thing. This has gone so much further than I wanted...

Jade Eklund

whoa, that linked-to post...

I am done and beyond done with this whole MayMay thing. This has gone so much further than I wanted an argument about a fucking browser extension to go.

The degree to which I feel directly, even physically threatened (MayMay is posting that they would be better off if I were dead, then inviting me to meet in person to discuss this) is not worth it. MayMay has gone from “kinda nasty on the Internet” to “holy shit, would this person physically harm me?”  I’m not going to deal with that just to debate some points about Tumblr conduct.

So I officially give up.  I don’t want this fight.  Unless I have to talk further about safety concerns, this is the last post I am ever making anywhere with the name “MayMay” in it.

Christ. Here’s a mom and baby cow.

23 Nov 19:38

Photo













23 Nov 19:33

Wonkblog: Americans think John F. Kennedy was one of our greatest presidents. He wasn’t.

by Dylan Matthews

Fifty years ago Friday, Lee Harvey Oswald assassinated President John F. Kennedy. The assassination was a tragedy -- and it turned the target into something of a secular political saint. There are few modern presidents about whom The Post's own George Will and E.J. Dionne can agree, but JFK appears to be one.

"It tells us a great deal about the meaning of John F. Kennedy in our history that liberals and conservatives alike are eager to pronounce him as one of their own," Dionne notes. A Gallup poll last week found that Americans rate him more highly than any of the other 11 presidents since Eisenhower. A 2011 Gallup poll found that he came in fourth when Americans were asked to name the greatest president of all time, behind Ronald Reagan, Abraham Lincoln, and Bill Clinton, but ahead of George Washington, Franklin Roosevelt, and Thomas Jefferson.

Some of that reputation is hard to argue with. Kennedy was a brilliant rhetorician who inspired a generation of young Americans, and his death left a lingering scar on the American psyche. But it's important that his presidency be evaluated on its actual merits. And on the merits, John F. Kennedy was not a good president. Here are six reasons why.

1. The Cuban Missile Crisis was his fault

Historians disagree on what exactly led to the October 1962 crisis that almost ended in a nuclear exchange. But basically every interpretation suggests that, had the Eastern Seaboard been wiped out that month, it would have been the result of Kennedy's fecklessness.

Let's take the most pro-Kennedy view — ably summarized by Max Fisher here — first. By the telling of Yale's John Lewis Gaddis (an able if very pro-Western historian of the Cold War), the placement of missiles in Cuba was motivated by a desire to avoid an American invasion of the island. Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev believed that such an invasion was imminent — not an unreasonable view, given that Kennedy had tried to do just that a year earlier with the Bay of Pigs Invasion — and viewed the missiles as a necessary deterrent. Kennedy did not understand this, Gaddis argues, instead viewing the move as an attempt to improve the Soviet position relative to the United States's in case of a nuclear exchange, which led to him fumbling about until reaching a deal that included promising not to invade Cuba again.

If that was the situation, then what appears to have happened is that Kennedy misinterpreted Khrushchev's action as an act of aggression against the United States and prepared for war — including doing numerous things to potentially provoke one, like revealing the missiles' existence publicly and going on DEFCON 2 — in response to his misunderstanding, backing down only once the Soviets told him what they really wanted, and he calmed down. A+ statesmanship, right there.

Another notable Kennedy defender is Graham Allison of the Kennedy School, whose book "The Essence of Decision" is a classic treatment of the crisis. Allison refers to the Cuban missile incident as, "a guide for how to defuse conflicts, manage great-power relationships, and make sound decisions about foreign policy in general." But he willingly concedes that Kennedy took numerous actions that increased the risk of war. "NATO aircraft with Turkish pilots loaded active nuclear bombs and advanced to an alert status in which individual pilots could have chosen to take off, fly to Moscow, and drop a bomb," he notes.

Allison defends that on the view that raising the stakes improved the U.S. bargaining position. All of that would make sense if getting rid of the missiles was a major security priority. It wasn't. The Soviets already had ICBMs, as well as nukes on submarines stationed near the United States.; they could nuke the United States whenever. Putting nukes in Cuba didn't change that. As Benjamin Schwarz noted in The Atlantic recently, "The U.S. almost certainly would have had far more time to detect and respond to an imminent Soviet missile strike from Cuba than to attacks from Soviet bombers, ICBMs, or SLBMs [submarine-launched ballistic missiles]."

But the worst part of Kennedy's handling of the crisis is that he spurred the missiles' deployment in the first place. There was the Bay of Pigs debacle, of course, which confirmed to Cuba and the Soviet Union that there was a real threat of an American invasion they needed to deter.

Further, as Schwarz notes, Kennedy had deployed medium-range "Jupiter" missiles to Italy and Turkey (which, of course, bordered the USSR) earlier in his term. The missiles had no deterrent value and were basically only useful as a means of attacking the Soviet nuclear arsenal as part of a first strike. That meant they were extremely destabilizing, something that was known at the time and provoked concern from Sens. Albert Gore Sr. (D-Tenn.) and Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.). Insofar as wanting to counter U.S. nuclear capabilities was a major motivation for Khrushchev, the Cuba move mainly made sense as a counter to a way more dangerous move by Kennedy. Kennedy even conceded to aides that the Cuba and Turkey missiles were "the same."

If Gaddis is right, and Kennedy viewed Khrushchev's move as an attempt to jockey for a better position in a potential nuclear exchange with the United States, then Kennedy surely would have concluded that Khrushchev only placed the missiles in Cuba because he placed them in Turkey first. Kennedy, under Gaddis's telling, escalated knowing the situation was his fault.

You should really read Schwarz's piece in its entirety, but the quote it includes from Sheldon Stern, who served as the JFK Library's resident historian for over two decades, is a good summation: "John F. Kennedy and his administration, without question, bore a substantial share of the responsibility for the onset of the Cuban missile crisis."

2. The Bay of Pigs invasion was his fault

This is hard to break out from the missile crisis it helped trigger, but, remarkably, nearly triggering a nuclear war was not the only way in which the Bay of Pigs invasion was a massive mess. There were, of course, the hundreds of deaths and thousands injured, and the tremendous damage it did to America's reputation around the world, but perhaps the most enduring legacy of the invasion was that it firmly established Cuba as a Communist state.

As David Grann noted in his biography of William Alexander Morgan — an American member of the Cuban revolutionary forces who pushed for a democratic Cuba against a Marxist-Leninist faction led by Che Guevara — the first time Fidel Castro identified Cuba as a socialist country was when the Bay of Pigs invasion happened. When Kennedy took office, it was probably too late for Morgan's side to win; Morgan himself had been executed a month before the invasion, and Che was gaining ground with Castro, who had once had more in common ideologically with Morgan. But the invasion sent Cuba firmly into Soviet hands. "It was supposed to rid the hemisphere of a potential Soviet base, but it pushed Fidel Castro into the waiting arms of the Soviet Union," the historian Peter Kornbluh says. "It was meant to undermine his revolution but it truly helped him to consolidate it."

And despite happening very early in his term, it was Kennedy's fault. He had several meetings on the subject and received numerous memoranda, many giving him cover to nix the operation. Aides Arthur Schlesinger, Robert Goodwin, McGeorge Bundy, Thomas Mann, and Chester Bowles all expressed skepticism, as did William Fulbright, the chair of the Senate foreign relations committee. The president himself seemed to be conflicted. But he went through with the plan anyway, despite having numerous opportunities to reverse course and plenty of bureaucratic support had he chosen to do so. He didn't, a bunch of people died, and Cuba is still under Communist rule today.

3. He escalated in Vietnam

Some post-defeat revisionists, most notably Oliver Stone, have tried to argue that Kennedy would have somehow saved us from escalating in Vietnam. There's little evidence for this. For one thing, Kennedy's decision to overthrow South Vietnamese president Ng nh Di m was a decisive move for greater hands-on American involvement in the conflict.

After that, the North Vietnamese escalated in an attempt to destabilize the South Vietnamese state, which in turn spurred Lyndon Johnson's 1964 escalation. That's the thing that most revisionist accounts fail to address. Kennedy's comments on the war during his lifetime obviously don't take into account the North Vietnamese escalation. It was enough to spur Johnson to escalate in turn, and we have little reason to believe Kennedy would have acted any differently.

What's more, Robert Kennedy himself said in 1964 that JFK never considered withdrawing. Some, like Robert Dallek, try to argue around that and cite comments that suggested Kennedy wanted to get U.S. advisers home, but I'm inclined to agree with Tom Ricks's interpretation of those comments: "Sure, Kennedy wanted out of Vietnam -- just like Lyndon Johnson wanted out a few years later: We'll scale down our presence after victory is secure. And much more than Johnson, Kennedy was influenced by General Maxwell Taylor, who I suspect had been looking for a 'small war' mission for the Army for several years."

4. Oh, and he backed an ill-advised coup in Iraq too

Ricks points out that Kennedy also authorized a 1963 coup against the pro-Soviet military leader of Iraq. The guy was hardly a saint, but you should generally avoid killing other countries' leaders when you can help it (I would argue you should avoid killing people, full stop, but that's another matter). The coup put the Iraqi Baath party in power, setting in motion the chain of events that would result in Saddam Hussein's decades-long rule over the nation.

5. He went way too slowly on civil rights

Kennedy is to be commended for sending federal marshals to protect Freedom Riders and troops to defend students at the state universities of Mississippi and Alabama, and for calling for a ban on racial discrimination in public accommodations in 1963. But let's not mistake the man for a friend of civil rights. When the Freedom Rides started, Kennedy was enraged, demanding of his adviser Harris Wofford, "Can't you get your Goddamned friends off those buses? Stop them."

He took a decisive turn in 1963 by calling for a real Civil Rights Act, but that came after two years of pressure from civil-rights protestors, and he still wasn't ready to go all out. As Jackie Robinson — who backed Nixon in 1960 — put it, he "needed prodding" on the issue. Nick Bryant, who wrote the sole history of Kennedy's civil-rights record (appropriately titled "The Bystander"), concludes that Kennedy probably would have passed the Civil Rights Act had he lived, but, "At the time of his death, however, Kennedy had only a small record of accomplishment in civil rights." He adds that his administration "adhered to a distinctly southern timetable in the implementation of Brown v. Board of Education."

It's hard to say if Nixon would have been better on civil rights — though it's worth remembering that he was friends with Martin Luther King Jr., was an NAACP member, and expressed to King his frustration with the tepid pace at which civil rights was moving — but Hubert Humphrey, who made his name in politics with a 1948 stand for civil rights at the Democratic convention, certainly would have been. In any case, Kennedy's record is nothing to write home about.

6. He passed no domestic legislation of any consequence.

So let's recap the legislation Kennedy signed into law:

He signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963, a good step toward ending wage discrimination based on gender but one which was extremely incomplete. It's hard to disaggregate its effect from that of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — which, surprisingly to many, ended up including an amendment extending its protections to victims of sex discrimination as well as race discrimination. The CRA was a stronger law, which makes isolating the Equal Pay Act's effects tough. That said, we know that the Equal Pay Act imposes an onerous standard on women trying to prove discrimination, and some scholars have argued that it is basically useless for women in white collar professions or other jobs with less standardized wages. A good first step? Sure. But hardly transformative.

He created the Peace Corps, famously. While that organization played a valuable role in improving foreign attitudes toward the United States during the Cold War, it's far too small to be a significant development agency, and the work it does is not especially conducive to that goal either. As Gal Beckerman put it in a good profile of the agency in the Boston Globe recently, "The agency has never been structured to do development effectively. In fact, if you were trying to design an organization to avoid having a lasting impact, it might look a lot like the Peace Corps: inexperienced volunteers sent to work in near-total isolation from one another, with time limits guaranteed to make their impact only short term." And as Robert Strauss has pointed out, its placements are rarely based on where volunteers would provide the most help. The corps was probably a net good, but was much too small and inefficient to justify the extent to which it's burnished Kennedy's reputation.

He signed legislation into law giving the president the authority to negotiate sweeping tariff reductions, power that would be used to great effect by Johnson.

He signed a modest increase in Social Security benefits, boosting the minimum monthly benefit from $33 to $40 ($257.76 to $312.44 in 2013 dollars) and enabling early retirement at age 62.

He also signed modest changes to Aid to Dependent Children (ADC), the main welfare program at the time, renaming it Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and changing the federal matching program.

What of his executive actions domestically? Well, he allowed collective bargaining among federal employees, your view of which will depend on whether you think the public sector is a proper place for labor organizing or if, like Franklin Roosevelt, you think that an inappropriate expansion of the practice. The Apollo Program was first conceived under the Eisenhower administration but Kennedy provided strong public support for it. If you think space exploration's important, that's a big step, but the Johnson administration did the heavy lifting in actually completing a manned moon landing. Whether Kennedy would have done the same is, of course, impossible to know.

Similarly, whether Kennedy would have passed much of the legislation enacted under Johnson is hard to say. The 20 percent across-the-board tax cut Johnson signed in 1964, for example, was a Kennedy initiative; depending on how you feel about tax legislation that predominantly benefited high earners, that might be a credit to Kennedy. But we do know that Medicare, Johnson's leading domestic accomplishment, would not have been passed under Kennedy. JFK had tried to pass the legislation in 1962 and the effort went disastrously, as Kennedy antagonized Democrats in Congress whose support he needed. The bill died in the Senate in July 1962, not to be considered again until Johnson took office.


    
23 Nov 19:31

How Many Agree With You?

by Andrew Sullivan

Liberals and conservatives are both wrong about how mainstream their views are – but in different ways:

It isn’t just that liberals are more divided and conservatives are more united, it’s also that liberals believe they’re more divided, and conservatives believe they’re more unified, even when it’s not necessarily true. The study asked people about their opinions on a range of questions on both political and non-political topics, then asked them to guess what proportion of people who shared their general ideology agreed with them on that particular question. The results showed that liberals displayed a “truly false uniqueness effect”—they were more likely to think that their views were different from those of their peers, even when they weren’t—while conservatives displayed a “truly false consensus effect,” believing that their views were the same as their peers, even when they weren’t.

The authors also found evidence that the liberal false uniqueness effect has at least part of its origins in liberals’ personal desire to feel unique, as measured by a “need for uniqueness” scale. In other words, liberals who were more likely to see themselves as the type of person who’s different and special were more likely to think their opinions were unique as well.

23 Nov 19:30

Wonkblog: Yes, the government should spend more each year

by Mike Konczal

Conservatives are trying out a new slogan to influence the ongoing budget negotiations: “Spend One Dollar Less.”

As reported by National Review’s Jonathan Strong, twenty major conservative leaders all signed a letter stating that “If Washington wants to take on more debt isn’t it fair that they at least be forced to spend One Dollar Less next year than they’re spending this year?”

There are several problems with this argument, but it also points to an important question: Should government spending as a share of the economy go higher or lower as we get wealthier?

On the specific “Spend One Dollar Less” argument, it’s worth noting that raw dollar spending is an incomplete way of understanding what the government does. In order to gauge the size of government spending you need to reference the actual size of the economy. How much of the economy’s resources is the government using? A large, rich country spending a certain amount of money is less an issue than a small, poor country spending the exact same amount, all else equal.

Every year there is some amount of growth and inflation in the economy. As such, the amount of government spending needs to grow in dollar amounts each year simply in order to keep doing the same things on the same scale. This is why spending and debt, when actually being analyzed, are usually conveyed as a percentage of GDP.

And that’s not all. The government provides services to—which means that as the country grows in population the government should also expand to keep the level of services constant. The U.S. population has increased about 0.7 percent in each of the past several years, with 2.25 million new people in 2011. Those are new people who will need roads, schools, clean air and water and all the other things the government provides. To keep services constant, government spending in raw dollars will have to increase too.

This also points to a related and more interesting question. Over the next decade the federal government is expected spend about 22 percent of GDP. Should that number grow or shrink as we get richer as a country? This is a fundamental difference between liberals and conservatives.

As the sociologist Lane Kenworthy, author of the forthcoming Social Democratic America , notes, it’s a historical fact that as countries have grown richer, they have spent more on social insurance. As we become richer we value security and insurance more and we are willing to spend more on it. We do this as individuals, and we do this as a country as well. Insurance mitigates against bad luck, including the bad luck of being born in poverty.

Conservatives would counter that, as we grow richer, there are more opportunities to provide security privately, without the use of government. As such, government spending should be reserved for very core, minimal functions, which will shrink as private forms of insurance and risk-mitigation flourish.

The last decade hasn’t been too kind to the latter vision of how prosperity will evolve. The serious market income gains have been concentrated in the top 1 percent of Americans, who in turn use it to fuel luxury spending competitions rather than run private welfare states. As MSNBC’s Ned Resnikoff reports, private food banks are terrified of the sequester (which cut The Emergency Food Assistance Program that helps food banks) and recent food stamp cuts, because they can’t offset that austerity with private charity. Economic insecurity has increased, and longer-term trends don’t point to any reversion soon. Any sensible politics that evolve out of this situation will involve government spending to increase with the times.

Mike Konczal is a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, where he focuses on financial regulation, inequality and unemployment. He writes a weekly column for Wonkblog. Follow him on Twitter here .


    






23 Nov 19:24

How Valve demonstrates democracy in the workplace

How Valve demonstrates democracy in the workplace:

The following is why a socialist organization of investment across society would be positive. One would not be held captive to the beliefs and politics of individual funders, but instead to all of society.

"In other words, the American business environment makes it difficult to experiment with the kind of radically flat organization that Valve is pioneering. Firms usually turn to private funders or to capital markets when they reach a certain point in their life cycle. Both kinds of investors are likely to be impatient with arrangements that benefit employees if they don’t provide measurable short-term payoffs, even if they have long-term economic advantages."

23 Nov 02:12

The state has no interior.

by lenin
“The state does not have an essence. The state is not a universal nor in itself an autonomous source of power. The state is nothing else but the effect, the profile, the mobile shape of a perpetual statification or statifications, in the sense of incessant transactions which modify, or move, or drastically change, or insidiously shift sources of finance, modes of investment, decision-making centres, forms and types of control, relationships between local powers, the central authority, and so on. In short, the state has no heart, as we well know, but not just in the sense that it has no feelings, either good or bad, but it has no heart in the sense that it has no interior. The state is nothing else but the mobile effect of a regime of multiple governmentalities.”
—  Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the College de France, 1978-1979, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008, p. 77