Saturday, July 21, 2007

It's Just Like a Mini-Mall

Matthew Yglesias recently commented on the potential for smaller businesses to compete with larger ones by using YouTube. His point reminded me of this gem from the annals of local advertising on YouTube:

(Thanks to Ben Stone for the tip.)

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Christian Nation?

A couple of years ago, I wrote about the relation of government and religion, but I didn't have as much support for my claims as I might have liked. In particular I could have better supported this paragraph:
The point is that government and religion need to be separate. Why? Because the framers of the constitution feared tyranny. If those who have the power of the sword can also invoke God's will as justification for the use of the sword, then there will be no way to prevent tyranny. We would in effect have a king chosen by divine right. All of this had happened again and again in Europe, and the framers were afraid it could happen here too if they did not prevent it. So they made sure that the government which has the power of the sword was not permitted to invoke religious authority as justification for its decisions.
In reading Al Gore's The Assault on Reason, I came across some passages by those framers that might do the trick:

1. Thomas Jefferson: "Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because if there be one, He must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear."

2. Thomas Jefferson redux: A political leader with religious sanctioning "has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection of his own. It is easier to acquire wealth and power by this combination than by deserving them."

3. John Adams: "The United States is not a Christian nation any more than it is a Jewish or Mohammedan Nation."

Bottled Water

I just heard a report about this on NPR the other day (via CK). I still can hardly believe that Dasani and Aquafina are really just tap water.

The water at our house is tasting especially good now that it's coming our of the new faucet I just installed in our kitchen (after a couple of hours' worth of sweating and cursing).

july 07 001

Speaking of Austria...

To follow up on my Austrian slideshow below, I thought I'd pass along a few more pictures. These come from Hallstatt, a lakeside town in the Salzkammergut below one of the largest glaciers in Austria (the Dachstein) where scientists have found evidence of salt-mining as long as 7000 years ago. Since the town is built into the side of a mountain (of salt and limestone) and is bounded by a lake, there isn't enough room in the cemetery to bury all of the dead.

austria 008

So they exhume the graves of those interred for at least 15 to 20 years and then preserve their skulls and femurs in a crypt.

austria 013

They paint the family name as well as some design on each skull to identify it.

austria 014

By the way, despite the creepy skull chapel, Hallstatt is perhaps the cutest town on earth.

austria 004
austria 002

Sound of Music

After returning from Austria in June, we watched The Sound of Music again. (The three-year-old really likes it, so we've actually watched it again and again and again.) Anyway, I noticed something this time. At the end of the movie when they leave Salzburg by hiking over to the mountains to get to Switzerland so that Captain von Trapp (a good Austrian) will not be drafted by the bad German Navy, I realized exactly where they are hiking. Mind you, the fact that Salzburg is more than 100 miles from Switzerland doesn't bother me. Chalk it up to artistic license and all (just like Maria running down from the Untersberg to the convent for vespers, doing in a matter of minutes what it would take an Olympic athlete at least two hours to accomplish). Here's the Hoher Göll (2523 meters) where the movie ends. They are hiking along the edge of the mountain at the right side (see the picture below).

austria 018

You may be able to just see a small structure on the ridge at the right. That's called the Kehlsteinhaus, a.k.a. the Eagle's Nest. It just strikes me as an odd choice for the movie to end having the von Trapp family hiking up to the Alpine hideout of Adolf Hitler even if very few people would have known that.

By the way, here's a picture of the Untersberg where Maria sings "The hills are alive with the sound of music..." (taken from the Eagle's Nest).

austria 042

Good News for Bush

According to this poll of likely voters in Wisconsin by the GOP consulting firm Strategic Vision, President Bush has a 19% approval rating. The good news for him, obviously, is that he must be poised to rebound sort of like a snake coiling before it strikes. Watch out Wisconsin Democrats!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Quote of the Day

From Business Week:
Maria Bartiromo: Would you consider a position in business or on Wall Street?
Condoleezza Rice: I don't know what I'll do long-term. I'm a terrible long-term planner.

Spirit Warriors

Having just seen the harrowing documentary Jesus Camp, I am still struck by the ease with which Pentecostals (and other so-called evangelicals) metaphorize their religious actions with images of warfare. In the documentary, we see how kids are trained to be Christian soldiers in God's army. Of course, some of this rhetoric comes from the Bible, though not so much the New Testament. Now it's possible to reinforce these lessons with action figures made by One2believe, a toy company contracted by Wal-Mart to sell its biblical-themed toys all over the country. Here's an example:
That's Samson Spirit Warrior. Many of the action figures come with supplementary biblical passages. I wonder if they'll include the part when Samson got really mad:
So Samson went and caught three hundred foxes, and took some torches; and he turned the foxes tail to tail, and put a torch between each pair of tails. When he had set fire to the torches, he let the foxes go into the standing grain of the Philistines, and burned up the shocks and the standing grain, as well as the vineyards and olive groves. (Judges 15:4-5)
Or maybe there will just be a button to push so that we can hear him sing in victory:
With the jawbone of a donkey, heaps upon heaps,
With the jawbone of a donkey I have slain a thousand men. (Judges 15: 16)
That's some good biblical ass-kicking, I mean, spirit-triumphing.

Oh, and by the way to the good Christian soldiers at One2believe, regarding Goliath Spirit Warrior, Goliath was, like, a bad guy, not really a "spirit warrior" even by your own definition.

Abstaining from Abstinence-Only

The latest federal report on abstinence-only sex education, Impacts for Title V. Section 510, Abstinence Education Programs: Final Report, shows that these programs are a failure. They simply do not work.

Furthermore, here's what critics are saying as a result:
“After 10 years and $1.5 billion in public funds these failed abstinence-only-until-marriage programs will go down as an ideological boondoggle of historic proportions,” said James Wagoner, President of Advocates for Youth.

“The tragedy is not simply the waste of taxpayer dollars, it is the damage done to the young people who have been on the receiving end of distorted, inaccurate information about condoms and birth control. We have been promoting ignorance in the era of AIDS, and that’s not just bad public health policy, its bad ethics.”


Atrios has a small bone to pick with David Corn's otherwise very good refutation and send-up of Bill Kristol's rather bizarre claim that Bush's presidency "will probably be a successful one." Corn makes the obvious case for why we should not trust Kristol (his predictions have been woefully off the mark in the past) and why Bush's presidency has been largely a disaster (Iraq--need I say more, Afghanistan--neglected, Osama bin Laden--still out there, terrorism--a growing not shrinking problem, Katrina--an American city practically destroyed, the Justice Department--relentlessly politicized and corrupted, the economy--stagnant even declining median wages, health care--skyrocketing costs, etc.).

Atrios, however, wishes to remind Corn and us that it is not true to say that there hasn't been another terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11 because we would be omitting the anthrax scare that swept the nation just afterwards (and the sniper in D.C., I might add). Indeed, the anthrax issue was frightening, but I'm not sure it really falls in the category of "after 9/11." I mean, it was literally afterwards, but I think it's fair to say that it really fell during the period of 9/11, so to speak, before the transition to anti-terrorism had really begun in our government (before the Department of Homeland Security). Not that I defend Bush in the other areas, but here's one where I think Atrios is exaggerating the importance of this chronology. It's basically true that we have not had another major attack on American soil since 9/11.

Having said that, Corn is correct to note, as Michael Abramowitz does in the Washington Post, that the latest National Intelligence Estimate is further bad news for Bush on terrorism. When we learn that al-Qaeda has a new sanctuary, new recruiting base, and new training ground that did not exist prior to our invasion of Iraq and that the organization is stronger than it was when we had it on the run in Afghanistan, we see that that the Iraq war has been a failure in the most fundamental sense--even on the terms of its own mission as described by our White House. It's good to see that the press has finally wrested itself free from its previous stance that any news regarding terrorism is "good for Bush and the Republicans." The maddening thing about such a stance was that any story seemed to feed it: successes in the War on Terror showed how great President Bush is, while failures or set-backs just showed how much we need his "strong" leadership. The worm has turned.

The "F" Word

There's a word that dare not be printed in our press or spoken in our media. It begins with F, and it's something the Republican party in Congress has been doing non-stop since January. Of course, there was a time not too long ago that this word littered the pages of our newspapers and rolled off the tongues of our pundits with ease, a time when it described the dastardly actions of a Democratic minority in Congress. Now that the tables have turned, however, we no longer hear a peep about it. To be sure, it's hard to discuss what's going on in Congress without using some expression tantamount to the "f" word, and so Reuters rummaged around in their word box of obfuscating synonyms to find the expression "procedural roadblock." I guess it's just more of that liberal bias in the media, right?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Literary Snoot

Instead of bellyaching about the "repetitive plots, the static characters, the pedestrian prose, the wit-free tone, the derivative themes," why don't you take your own advice, Mr. Charles? You've got the forum of a Washington Post article after all.
As I look back on my dozen years of teaching English, I wish I'd spent less time dragging my students through the classics and more time showing them how to strike out on their own and track down new books they might enjoy. Without some sense of where to look and how to look, is it any wonder that most people who want to read fiction glom onto a few bestsellers that everybody's talking about?
I know the Harry Potter books aren't masterpieces by any means, but they could be like "gateway" drugs into the more intoxicating stuff. Remember, complaining is not equivalent to critique or protest. Sheesh.

Six Education

A good save by John Moe here.

Schools of Edumacation

Philosoraptor writes what many of us in college teaching think but rarely say:
A better solution would be to eliminate schools of education and force teachers to actually specialize in a major. Currently you can't even teach primary or secondary school in most states unless you have an education degree. But education majors (the major program itself, not the individual students) are--as virtually anyone at a university outside the ed school will tell you--a joke.

As it stands now, go to virtually any university in the country. Look at the grades broken down by major. You'll find that education majors have one of the highest GPAs. Ed schools like to say that this is because they get the best students in the university, or because the screening process for their majors is so rigorous. But it isn't true. Ed majors are among the weakest in any university. If you doubt this, go check out LSAT and GRE scores broken down by major. Ed majors are always near the very bottom of the list. Weak students plus a weak, frivolous program plus astronomically high grades...well, these things are not going to generate top-notch teachers.
His recommendation is to eliminate the education major and all schools of education, instead making our future teachers choose a "real" major. In my anonymous and untenured way, I second that and I know many others who would too. In any case, I've never quite understood why people who obviously struggled through school for years would want to repeat the experience for the rest of their lives.

None of the Above

According to the latest AP/Ipsos poll, the leading candidate among Republican voters in the Republican primary is not a candidate at all. The lead vote-getter (25%) is "undecided or would prefer another candidate not in the current field." Indeed. (Down the field we find that Rudy Giuliani leads the GOP side with 21%, followed by Fred Thompson at 19%, John McCain at 15%, and Mitt Romney at 11%.)

Kelenna Azubuike

For you non-UK basketball fans out there, you can ignore this post. However, for those who remember him and followed his game during the Kentucky years and then the NBA D-League through last season's role in the playoffs with the Golden State Warriors, you'll be happy to hear that he has finally been given a two-year contract with the Warriors, a much deserved reward for a great but under-appreciated player. What's more, with the personnel changes taking place there (Richardson gone, Matt Barnes and Mickael Pietrus possibly leaving), Kelenna should get plenty of minutes. UK fans still remember his crushing dunks.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Filibuster Old-Style

This is a good move by Harry Reid. It's time the Republicans in Congress be exposed for their obstruction, and no better time than on the pending war legislation.

Atheism Resource

This is fairly old news at this point, but I just bumped into it today. Apparently, my post on government and religion from April 13, 2005 made an appearance on in the Atheism category on April 25, 2005. How 'bout that. I suppose in our political climate, anyone defending the separation of church and state is really just providing a further resource for atheism. (At least this blog is G-rated!)

Update: It happened again! (This time my post on Marx feeds the atheistic beast of the apocalypse.)

Wall Street Journal "Laugher"

In case you missed it last week, the Wall Street Journal editorial page (Kevin Hassett in particular), known for its Fox News-like balance and fairness, made one more of its typical pleas for tax cuts by appealing to the so-called Laffer curve, which postulates that increasing tax rates reach a cusp at which point, paradoxically, revenues actually decline with higher rates. The paradox is resolved, claimed Arthur Laffer, by noting that this optimum point maximizes tax revenues because higher tax rates actually impede the growth of the economy thereby canceling out any further gains that higher rates might have provided. Here's the idea in graphical form:


Now the Wall Street Journal, in its journalistic wisdom, attempted to demonstrate the truth of this theory with the 2004 data of tax rates/revenues from various nations. Here is the scatter graph displaying their results and the curve they have added to interpret the data. Notice how the curve seems similar to the Laffer curve.

Wall Street Laffer

Of course, you may also notice that the curve doesn't actually resemble the data points. Even a high school statistics student would know that this is D- work in plotting the scatter graph, and that's just by eyeballing it without actually running the regression. It's pretty obvious to the untrained eye that we have here what you'd expect: a positive correlation (perhaps not high correlation, but moderate).


That is, as the tax rates increase, the government takes in more revenue. Of course, there is the outlier, Norway, but let's ignore it for now (more on it in a moment). As such, here is economist Mark Thoma's proper plotting of the scatter graph.

Mark Thoma correction

So it looks like the Wall Street Journal was just desperate to make their case for more tax cuts and sacrificed their intellectual integrity to do so. This is shocking, I know. However, it turns out to be even worse. Not only did they overemphasize an outlier to skew their case, they also manipulated the data in order to make Norway such an outlier in the first place. See Brad DeLong for the details:
One more point, with respect to "omitting Norway": Personally I see no need to omit Norway. I do see a need to plot the Norway point on the graph correctly. The revenues plotted on the vertical scale include oil excise taxes levied on corporations. The tax rates plotted on the horizontal scale do not--hence the Norway "tax rate" of 28% rather than the correct 52%. Move Norway out to its proper position--with the same tax concept on both axes--and everything is fine.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

National Health Care and Free Market Principles

One comment we are hearing from the right-wing these days regarding national health care plans is roughly what Rudy Giuliani said the other night in one of the debates: "Free market principles are the only things that reduce costs and improve quality." Not only does this point fail to account for the fact that U.S. spends far more on health care than any other country, i.e., those other countries that do not rely on free market principles for their programs, and yet it ranks 37th in quality of care (according to the World Health Organization). New research from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health shows just how much more we are paying for our sub-par health care:
The study authors reviewed health care spending data on 30 countries from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for the year 2002. U.S. citizens spent $5,267 per capita on health care. The country with the next highest per capita expenditure, Switzerland, spent $3,446 per capita. The median OECD country spent $2,193 per capita.
Having noted this fact, let's consider a few further costs associated with our system that even our Milton Friedman fans should appreciate. (I'm indebted to Kevin Drum and Matthew Yglesias for much of the following.)

The main point is to note how restrictive our system is for economic freedom and mobility. In our system, people dare not risk changing jobs for fear of losing coverage or being denied coverage for a pre-existing condition (it is common for group health plans to limit or deny coverage for pre-existing conditions during an initial period). The same goes for returning to school for a year to improve one's job skills or leaving to start a new business. The risks often outweigh the potential benefits for the individual and, moreover, for the economy as a whole. (Better workers and innovative businesses add economic value to the marketplace.) Individuals miss good opportunities because of these health-related concerns and thereby so does business world.

Speaking of small businesses, they are having a hard time competing in the marketplace because decent health care plans are often prohibitively expensive to attract the best employees. Even large businesses are finding it difficult to keep up with rapidly rising health care rates. The auto industry in the U.S., for one, continues to struggle in no small measure because of the health-care constraint on their budgets as compared to their counterparts in other countries with national health care for their workers.

From the corporate level down to the individual level, we have a system that creates anxiety--about corporate bankruptcy from a payroll bloated with insurance premiums or individual bankruptcy from a catastrophic illness that an HMO refuses to cover. As a result, this anxiety impedes economic investment and labor market flexibility. In spite of what Rudy Giuliani might say, national health care serves our economic interests precisely because it is (or ought to be) a free market principle, or, to put it in the language of transcendental philosophy, national health care is a condition for the possibility of a free market economy.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Simone de Beauvoir

Until I started preparing to teach a course on existentialism this fall, I hadn't read Simone de Beauvoir for a number of years--not since my college days of intellectual immaturity back in the late 1980s (which, if you do the subtraction, is almost 20 million years ago). So reading her again now was like reading something entirely new, and I must say that it has been a delight. Following the ungainly prose of Heidegger and Sartre (with its "unhiddenness" and "being-the-basis-of-a-nullity" substantializations), her writing is a literary glass of cool water on a choking, hot day. I'm reading her essay "Woman's Situation and Character" from The Second Sex.
Here are some passages capturing both some of her key ideas and her bracing style.
Many of the faults for which women are reproached--mediocrity, laziness, frivolity, servility--simply express the fact that their horizon is closed. It is said that woman is sensual, she wallows in immanence; but she has first been shut up in it. The harem slave feels no morbid passion for rose preserves and perfumed baths; she has to kill time.
Her frivolity has the same cause as her "sordid materialism"; she considers little things important for lack of any access to great things, and, furthermore, the futilities that fill her days are often of the most serious practical concern to her.

The truth is that when a woman is engaged in an enterprise worthy of a human being, she is quite able to show herself as active, efficient, taciturn--and as ascetic--as a man.

And finally, if woman is earthly, commonplace, basely utilitarian, it is because she is compelled to devote her existence to cooking and washing diapers--no way to acquire a sense of grandeur! It is her duty to assure the monotonous repetition of life in all its mindless factuality.

Her life is not directed toward ends: she is absorbed in producing or caring for things that are never more than means, such as food, clothing, and shelter. These things are inessential intermediaries between animal life and free existence.

Woman is shut up in a kitchen or in a boudoir, and astonishment is expressed that her horizon is limited. Her wings are clipped, and it is found deplorable that she cannot fly.

Even when things are quiet, she feels anxious; lying half asleep at night her rest is disturbed by the nightmare shapes that reality assumes; and thus for woman condemned to passivity, the inscrutable future is haunted by phantoms of war, revolution, famine, poverty; being unable to act, she worries. [She] flounders in confusion and darkness; she gets used to it because she does nothing; in her imagination all possibilities have equal reality: the train may be derailed, the operation may go wrong, the business may fail. What she is endeavoring to exorcize in her gloomy ruminations is the specter of her own powerlessness.

Her anxiety is the expression of her distrust of the world as given; if it seems threatening, ready to collapse, this is because she is unhappy in it. For most of the time she is not resigned to being resigned; she knows very well that she suffers as she does against her will: she is a woman without having been consulted in the matter.

A free individual blames only himself for his failures, he assumes responsibility for them; but everything happens to women through the agency of others, and therefore these others are responsible for her woes. Her mad despair spurns all remedies.... She knows that her trouble goes deeper than is indicated by the pretexts she advances for it, and she is aware that it will take more than some expedient to deliver her from it. [...] She has been promised compensations, she has been assured that if she would place her fortune in man's hands, it would be returned a hundredfold--and she feels she has been swindled. She puts the whole masculine universe under indictment. Resentment is the reverse side of dependence: when one gives all, one never receives enough in return.

Whenever tears are insufficient to express her revolt, she will make scenes of incoherent violence as to abash a man still more. In some circles a husband may strike his wife actual blows; in others he declines to use violence precisely because he is the stronger and his fist is an effective weapon. But a woman, like a child, indulges in symbolic outbursts: she can throw herself on a man, beating and scratching, but it is only a gesture. Yet above all she is engaged in expressing, through the pantomime of the nervous crisis, the insubordination she is unable to carry out in actuality.

There are many aspects of feminine behavior that should be interpreted as forms of protest. We have seen that a woman often deceives her husband through defiance and not for pleasure; and she may be purposely careless and extravagant because he is methodical and economical. Misogynists who accuse woman of always being late think she lacks a sense of punctuality; but as we have seen, the fact is that she can adjust herself very well to the demands of time. When she is late, she has deliberately planned to be. Some coquettish women think they stimulate the man's desire in this way and make their presence the more highly appreciated; but in making the man wait a few minutes, the woman is above all protesting against that long wait: her life.

Women have no grasp on the world of men because their experience does not teach them to use logic and technique; inversely, masculine apparatus loses its power at the frontiers of the feminine realm. There is a whole region of human experience which the male deliberately chooses to ignore because he fails to think it: this experience woman lives. The engineer, so precise when he is laying out his diagrams, behaves at home like a minor god: a word, and behold, his meal is served, his shirts starched, his children quieted; procreation is an act as swift as the wave of Moses' wand; he sees nothing astounding in these miracles. The concept of a miracle is different from the idea of magic: it presents, in the midst of a world of rational causation, the radical discontinuity of an event without cause, against which the weapons of thought are shattered; whereas magical phenomena are unified by hidden forces the continuity of which can be accepted--without being understood--by a docile mind. The newborn child is miraculous to the paternal minor god, magical for the mother who has experienced its coming to term within her womb. The experience of the man is intelligible but interrupted by blanks; that of the woman is, within its own limits, mysterious and obscure but complete. This obscurity makes her weighty; in his relations with here, the male seems light: he has the lightness of dictators, generals, judges, bureaucrats, codes of law, and abstract principles.

Woman does not entertain the positive belief that the truth is something other than men claim; she recognizes, rather, that there is not any fixed truth. It is not only the changing nature of life that makes her suspicious of the principle of constant identity, nor is it the magic phenomena with which she is surrounded that destroy the notion of causality. It is at the heart of the masculine world itself, it is in herself as belonging to this world that she comes upon the ambiguity of all principle, of all value, of everything that exists. She knows that masculine morality, as it concerns her, is a vast hoax. Man pompously thunders forth his code of virtue and honor; but in secret he invites her to disobey it, and he even counts on this disobedience; without it, all that splendid façade behind which he takes cover would collapse.

He lauds chaste and faithful wives, but he asks his neighbor's wife to commit adultery. We have seen how hypocritically men decree that abortion is criminal, when each year in France a million women are put by men in a position to need abortion; often enough the husband or lover demands this solution; often, too, they assume tacitly that it will be adopted if necessary. They count openly on the woman's willingness to make herself guilty of a crime: her "immorality" is necessary to the harmony of the moral society respected by men.

The most flagrant example of this duplicity is the male's attitude toward prostitution, for it is his demand that creates the supply.

Woman plays the part of those secret agents who are left to the firing squad if they get caught, and are loaded with rewards if they succeed; it is for her to shoulder all man's immorality: not the prostitute only, but all women who serve as sewer to the shining, wholesome edifice where respectable people have their abode.

Woman has been assigned the role of parasite--and every parasite is an exploiter.

Man even demands play-acting: he wants her to be the Other; but all existents remain subjects, try as they will to deny themselves. Man wants woman to be object: she makes herself object; at the very moment when she does that, she is exercising a free activity. Therein is her original treason; the most docile, the most passive, is still a conscious being; and sometimes the fact that in giving herself to him she looks at him and judges him is enough to make him feel duped; she is supposed to be only something offered, no more than prey. He also demands, however, that this "thing" give herself over to him of her own free will: in bed he asks her to feel pleasure; in the home she must sincerely recognize his superiority and his merits. She is, then, to feign independence at the moment of obedience, although at other moments she actively plays the comedy of being passive.

There is a justification, a supreme compensation, which society is ever wont to bestow upon woman: that is, religion. [...] Woman is asked in the name of God not so much to accept her inferiority as to believe that, thanks to Him, she is the equal of the lordly male; even the temptation to revolt is suppressed by the claim that the injustice is overcome. Woman is no longer denied transcendence, since she is to consecrate her immanence to God; the worth of souls is to be weighed only in heaven and not according to their accomplishments on earth. [...] That is why the little girl and the adolescent are much more fervent devotees than their brothers; the eye of God, which transcends the boy's transcendence, humiliates him: under this mighty guardianship he will remain a child forever; it is a more radical castration than that threatened by his father's existence. But the "eternal child," if female, finds her salvation in this eye that transforms her into a sister of the angels.

Although subordinated to the law of men by the will of God Himself, woman none the less finds in Him a mighty refuge from them. [...] The passivity enforced upon woman is sanctified. Telling her beads by the fire, she knows she is nearer heaven than is her husband gadding about at political meetings. There is no need to do anything to save her soul, it is enough to live in obedience. The synthesis of life and spirit is accomplished: a mother not only engenders the flesh, she produces a soul for God; and this is a greater work than penetrating the futile secrets of the atom. With the heavenly Father's connivance, woman can boldly lay claim to the glory of her femininity in defiance of man.

The fact is that woman makes religion a pretext for satisfying her own desires. Is she frigid, masochistic, sadistic? She finds holiness in renouncing the flesh, in playing the martyr, in crushing every living impulse around her. [...] For her part, the woman of easy virtue easily arranges things with God: the assurance of obtaining absolution for her sins tomorrow often helps the pious woman conquer her scruples today. Whether she has chosen asceticism or sensuality, pride or humility, the concern she feels for her salvation leads her to yield to that pleasure which she prefers to all others: namely, being occupied with herself.

It is evident that woman's "character"--her convictions, her values, her wisdom, her morality, her tastes, her behavior--are to be explained by her situation. The fact that transcendence is denied her keeps her as a rule from attaining the loftiest human attitudes: heroism, revolt, disinterestedness, imagination, creation; but even among the males they are none too common.

The office universe which, among other things, Kafka has described, this universe of formalities, of absurd gestures, of purposeless behavior, is essentially masculine. Woman gets her teeth more deeply into reality; for when the office worker has drawn up his figures, or translated boxes of sardines into money, he has nothing in his hands but abstractions. The baby fed and in his cradle, clean linen, the roast, constitute more tangible assets; yet just because, in the concrete pursuit of these aims, she feels their contingence--and accordingly her own--it often happens that woman does not identify herself with them, and she still has something left of herself.

From the depths of her solitude, her isolation, woman gains her sense of the personal bearing of her life. The past, death, the passage of time--of these she has a more intimate experience than does man; she feels deep interest in the adventures of her heart, of her flesh, of her mind, because she knows that this is all she has on earth. And more, from the fact that she is passive, she experiences more passionately, more movingly, the reality in which she is submerged than does the individual absorbed in an ambition or a profession.

But simply from the fact that liberty in woman is still abstract and empty, she can exercise it only in revolt, which is the only road open to those who have no opportunity of doing anything constructive. [...] Resignedness is only abdication and flight, there is no other way out for woman than for her liberation.

This liberation must be collective, and it requires first of all that the economic evolution of woman's condition be accomplished. There have been, however, and there are many women trying to achieve individual salvation by solitary effort. They are attempting to justify their existence in the midst of their immanence--that is, to realize transcendence in immanence. It is this ultimate effort--sometimes ridiculous, often pathetic--of imprisoned woman to transform her prison into a heaven of glory, her servitude into sovereign liberty, that we shall observe in the narcissist, in the woman in love, in the mystic.

Executive Branch Favorability

Assuming Vice President Cheney still belongs to the executive branch of government, he is challenging a record for that branch set by Dan Quayle. While Quayle reached an all-time low of 63% disapproval, Cheney has match President Bush's 59% disapproval in a recent NYTimes/CBS poll. Worse still, Cheney dipped to 13% approval overall, with only 31% of Republicans still drinking the Kool-Aid at this point.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Presidential Favorability

Rasmussen Reports has posted a new chart of presidential ratings for all of the American presidents. Each president has a score for favorable and unfavorable. The poll then breaks those two categories into the following four: very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, very unfavorable.

No big surprises there, but I did notice one interesting comparison.

The two worst unfavorable scores:
Richard Nixon--60%
George W. Bush--59%
Not only is President Bush vying for the most unfavorable, he actually surpasses President Nixon in the "very unfavorable" category:
Richard Nixon:
somewhat unfavorable--35%; very unfavorable--25%
George W. Bush:
somewhat unfavorable--19%; very unfavorable--40%
That 40% is by far the worst in history.

Flat Tax

This post may be the first in a series dedicated to debunking the myth that a flat tax is a good idea. (I say "may be" because I'm not sure how dedicated I really am to this project.) I know this has been done thoroughly elsewhere, but I'd just like to try to explain it to myself in a way that people like me, i.e., people who are willing to think and yet know very little about economics, can understand.

Before I get to that topic, let me make two interrelated observations.

1. The tax code has become less progressive over the past 30 years. [The definition of a "progressive tax" as defined by Greg Mankiw, author of a standard economics textbook and former chairman of President Bush's Council of Economic Advisers, is as follows: "one for which high-income taxpayers pay a larger fraction of their income than do low-income taxpayers."] For the specific data regarding this trend, see Piketty, Thomas and Emmanuel Saez. "Income Inequality In The United States, 1913-1998," Quarterly Journal of Economics, 2003, v118 (1,Feb), 1-39. As Duncan Black summarizes here,
In 1979, the top 0.1 percent of taxpayers earned 2.01 percent of total U.S. income; in 1999, they earned 6.63 percent. This group's share of total income more than tripled, while its share of federal taxes paid only increased by a little more than double. Similarly, in 1979, the richest 5 percent of taxpayers earned 20.83 percent of all income; in 1999, they earned 30.91 percent. This group's share of total earnings increased by about 50 percent, while its share of federal taxes rose only about 21 percent.
2. The following chart (via Mark Thoma) shows the percentage of national debt as a share of our Gross Domestic Product. (See the Whitehouse website here to verify the data.) Notice the red part of the line.

National Debt

Conclusion: The administrations that implement the least progressive tax policy (Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II) produce increases in national debt as a percentage of our GDP. Since a flat tax is the absolute endpoint in abolishing a progressive tax policy, it stands to reason that we could expect an even larger percentage of our GDP dedicated to servicing national debt if we had a flat tax.

What this means: If we opt for a flat tax, we will likely increase our national debt as a percentage of the GDP. If that happens, we will be forced to spend more of our public funds on interest accrued from that debt. Thus, we will have to make major cuts in the other three major areas of federal spending: defense, social security, or health care. (Any other area would be a drop in the bucket by comparison.) Since we are unlikely to make major cuts in these areas, a flat tax will simply be a tax shift to future generations when taxes will inevitably have to be raised.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

A Blog for All Ages


I just found out that my blog is G-rated by checking with Mingle2. So for those protective parents out there who might be worrying about what little Jr. is reading, you can rest assured that this blog is safe. (Go ahead, Jr., toke up. It can't kill you, right?)