Hildegarde

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Archive for August, 2012

Moral and Legal

with 6 comments

I wonder why everybody has so much trouble with this.

I don’t agree with Cheryl.  I don’t think it is impossible to separate the moral and the legal when it comes to making law.

In fact, not only is it not impossible, it is desperately necessary.  The law exists to keep the peace.  That’s all it exists for.  It is not a substitute for morality, and it cannot safely be used to enforce morality.

JD and Mique give me arguments–and they are, again, all MORAL arguments, not legal ones.

Nor is it my suggestion that would take us on a path to Peter Singer–it’s Mique’s, JD’s, and the rest.

Consider this: 

First, there is the suggestion that abortion is MORALLY all right if there has been a rape, because in that case the woman is an “innocent victim.”

But the child didn’t commit the rape–why is it morally all right to kill it?  Isn’t the child still innocent?

And if it IS morally all right to kill it, then what else is morally all right–can I kill my rapist’s child by another woman? 

If I can morally murder an innocent person because of an immoral act committed against me by a third party, where does my moral right to kill end? 

When women declare that men who oppose legal abortion are interested in punishing women for having sex, and not in preserving the life of the child, this is the kind of argument they mean. 

The child in this case is just as “innocent” as the woman is.

The issue here is this:  what may a government be allowed to require of its citizens?

If the government may require some of its citizens to put their physical bodies to the use and benefit of other people against the donor’s will, what are its limitations (if any) in making such a demand?

At the very least–if we are to uphold the principle that there must be no double standards–the government should require that men provide the same sort or services to their biological children.  If the men don’t want to, they should be arrest, tied down and forced. 

Any other course of action would be to give the game away–to return LEGAL abortion policy into a regime for punishing women for having sex.

If it’s really the child’s life we care about, then surely both parents, and not just one, should be obligated to provide the use of their bodies to keep the child alive.

But why limit the right of the government to command such services just to  your biological children? 

If we’ve searched the country and there is no other available donor, why shouldn’t you be required, whether you want to or not, to provide the kidney or the bone marrow or whatever is needed?  After all, the child has done nothing to deserve to die.

And no, I don’t think “you don’t have to do anything to kill the child” takes kidney donation, et al, off the table. 

Leave the kid to starve, or let it play unsupervised in a dangerous area, and watch how fast you’ll be charged with negligent homicide. 

It seems to me self-evident that no government should be allowed to have any such power over its citizens.  And, on top of that, it has a number of advantages over the present legal reasoning on abortion:

1) it leaves the moral case against abortion intact, and in no way implies that it is morally acceptable to kill of f people who are disabled or ill.

That is, in fact, what our current legal reasoning on abortion does–it allows abortions when otherwise banned (in, for instance, the second trimester) if the child is likely to be born with birth defects or a congenital illness.

And that is, as well, where Peter Singer’s ideas get their force–because he’s quite right.  There isn’t much difference between aborting before birth or “aborting” after it, and if we can kill the child because it is disabled in the womb, we have no reason to refuse a right to kill the child once it is out of it.

What I’m saying here is that you have no right to kill the child at all.

You only have a right to terminate the pregnancy. 

At the present state of technology, you often  have to do the second to get the first–but technology marches on, and if it becomes possible to keep the child alive outside the womb, then removing the child from the womb will be all you have a right to expect to have no interference with.

2) The second advantage this approach has is that it requires no tortuous readings of the Constitution, no resort to privacy rights or penumbras.

When these arguments have been made on issues of organ donation, etc, they have been made on 13th amendment grounds–that is, as issues of slavery and involunary servitude. 

These are not small things. 

 

Written by janeh

August 28th, 2012 at 11:22 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Explanations Asked

with 7 comments

A month or so ago, I wrote a post that outlined my position on the legality of abortion.

Note–I said the LEGALITY.

The moral issue is entirely different.

I am ONLY talking about whether or not a government has a right to compel a woman to continue a pregnancy against her will.

This is important, because my take on the morality of (most) abortions is much different than my take on their legality.

My take on the LEGALITY is this–law and precedent are clear that no person can be compelled to give the use and benefit of  his physical body (NOT his time, or his money, but his actual blood and skin and bone) to another person against his ( and I should hope also her) will.

If your twelve year old child requires  your bone marrow to survive leukemia, or one of your kidneys to survive childhood diabetes–even if, without it, there is a certainly the child will die, the courts have said you cannot be compelled to provide the body part.

This seems to me to be an exact analogy to abortion–a child in the womb makes use and has the benefit of its mother’s body, the mothers’ blood and skin and bone, through all nine months of pregnancy.

If that mother could not be compelled to provide bone marrow to that child once born, why can she be compelled to provide her digestive system, circulatory system and all the rest to a child in her womb?  Why can she even be compelled to provide the housing?

Somebody commented on that post by saying that the two cases were not similar, and I couldn’t make them similar just by saying so.

And I didn’t respond to that at the time.

I didn’t respond to it because I was just flabbergasted–I can’t find a way in which the two cases are NOT similar? 

In fact, the only thing that is at all dissimilar between the two things is that pregnancy is far more invasive on just about every level.

The commenter said that the two cases couldn’t be similar “just because the mother provided nourishment.”

But in fact the provision of nourishment as a taking of her physical body WOULD make the two cases similar, all on its own.

And in pregnancy, the woman does NOT “just provide nourishment.”

In fact, for many months, the child uses almost all the mother’s body systems, and uses them in such a way that they alter the mother’s body functions as long as she lives.

Sometimes that alteration is minor, and sometimes it is major, but it always occurs. 

So I’ll ask now what I should have asked then:

In what way is pregnancy NOT a case where one human being (the fetus) is making use of the physical body (blood and skin and bone) of another human being (the mother).

And if the child is definitely doing that–and I really can’t see how you can argue otherwise–then why may the mother be compelled to provide the service against her will, when a few short months later she could NOT be compelled to provide bone marrow or a kidney to that same child?

This is what happens when I try to take a day off.

Written by janeh

August 27th, 2012 at 9:53 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Infotainment, Sort Of

with 3 comments

I have a very odd relationship to television.  I spent a lot of my life without it.  From the time I left home to live at school until I married Bill, I never owned one, and only lived with a roommate who owned one for about six months.  And over the course of the years since Bill died, I’ve cancelled out cable service for long periods on at least three occasions, usually because I thought the boys were watching too much of it.

And even when I’ve had television in the house, it’s often been off by decree.  For most of their younger school lives, Greg and Matt were not allowed to watch television at all (even on week-ends) during the term time (except for the news, which I watch), and they were only allowed to watch television during vacations if they could pass a quiz I’d set up for them first.  Every day.

One year, Greg couldn’t get permission to watch television during the summer until he was able to recite the Bill of Rights verbatin, explain them, and identify and give a summary of about 15 SCOTUS cases dealing with them.

If anybody ever came up to one of my children to do one of those surveys about “what Americans know,” they would NOT be among those who think that “from each according to his ability” is in the Bill of Rights, and they would be able to find the US on a globe.

Okay, whatever.  It’s one of those things.

I do watch television beyond the news sometimes, and what I seem to get sucked into are those long miniseries things–Band of Brothers, Boss, Political Animals–that all the mininetworks now seem to be very interested in producing.

My big favorite of these at the moment is a thing called The Newsroom, written and produced by Aaron Sorkin, who did the same for The West Wing.

But, me being me, I don’t watch these things when they’re on.  I almost never even know when they’re on.  I watch them when they hit the FOD, and then I watch episodes in bunches.

A couple of days ago, after I finished work, I ran about four episodes of The Newsroom in succession.  It’s very well done, even though, being by Aaron Sorkin, you can figure out the politics before  you start.  The rumor is that Sorkin researched the way a newsroom operates by investigating the operations of Keith Olbermann’s Countdown, and you can sort of see it.  The main character (Will McAvoy) is played by Jeff Daniels, who sort of looks like Olbermann.  And the snippets we get of actual segments of the show sort of sound like Olbermann.

On the other hand, much as I loved Countdown while it was still on, I wouldn’t call it a news show, and I don’t think MSNBC called it that, either.

I don’t think even Olbermann himself would have called it that.

I am not going to recommend the show–a lot of you are just going to be annoyed by the politics.  Aaron Sorkin is Aaron Sorkin.  I think the term “liberal bubble” was invented just for him. 

For those of you who will not be annoyed by the politics, though–this thing is really, really, really well done.

And in this last set of episodes I watched, it also managed to bring up and interesting issue–something else Sorkin is good at, so good at that I keep wishing he’d develop more scope in his understanding of ideas.

It’s not the issue of news vs entertainment per se that comes up–although of course it does, as a foundation.  But the broad issue so described is about things like the doings of Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan, vs reports on the debt ceiling or the war in Iraq.

And on that level, the issue is easy to figure out.  Yes, what’s happening in the war in Iraq is Real News, and what is happening to Lindsay Lohan really is not.

On The Newsroom, however, what happens is this.  There’s a big story out there which the show is (as one character says) “too highbrow to cover,” and as a result, the show loses fully half its viewers to another station in the same time slot that is covering that story.

My problem is what the story is–it’s the Casey Anthony thing. 

Now, I have no problem at all with people who say that celebrity stories aren’t Real News, because I don’t think they are.  And that impression is getting stronger and stronger as the years go by and more and more of the “celebrities” are people I don’t recognize. 

But is it really the case that something like the Casey Anthony investigation and trial is not Real News?

It would seem to me that crime in general, and murder in particular, is almost the definition of Real News. 

This would be true without reservation in any local context.  One of the most important things the news does is to tell us what is happening to our friends and neighbors, and what is happening in our communities that could affect our lives.

And crime does, in fact, affect our lives.  We make different decisions about what to do and where to go based on whether or not we think the area and the activity is safe.  Crime rates are one of the things our local and state governments need to take into account when they make decisions about laws, about police presence, about lots of things.

Given that, the underlying assumption of the episode must have been that the Casey Anthony case was not Real News because the television program in question had national, rather than local or regional, reach–that is, that crime, and especially sensational crime and murder, is not information important for people to have if they live outside the locality where it occurred.

And in this, I think the show was just wrong.

I do understand the objections to the way in which the Casey Anthony case was covered by most news outlets. 

The approach taken by people like Nancy Grace–it’s her show that gets half of Will McAvoy’s audience when Will won’t cover Casey–

Anyway, I think the approach taken by people like Nancy Grace was in fact to turn the story into entertainment, to not so much report the facts as to make the entire thing into a circus.  See Casey Anthony’s hair in court today?  What does that say about her state of mind?  Look at her face–she shows no remorse at all!  There are rumors coming from reputable sources that say Casey Anthony intended to have an abortion and her parents forced her not to!

This sort of thing is not Real News, and I understand the position of a serious news program not to be involved with it.  In fact, I’ll go farther.  This sort of thing is not only not Real News, it’s destructive. It creates  a climate in which the general assumption is that you can “just tell” if the accused is guilty or not–he cried or he didn’t, he sat stonyfaced and that means he had no emotions.

But there is a difference between that kind of thing and the honest reporting of a story about a murder. 

And it’s not true, any longer, that such stories only concern the localities in which they happen.

This is most clear in the case of serial killers, who can be very mobile and operate in several states.  Ted Bundy, after all, murdered his victims in Washington state, Colorado, Michigan and Florida, to name just some.  That’s a national murder story if there every was one.

But even much more localized cases tell us something about the state of our nation and the characters of our fellow citizens.  They tell us what the pathologies are, and where they are.

They tell us where the fault line are.

We don’t, of course, pay attention to every local murder.  We know the stats on the usual stupid stuff.  The unusual ones, though, raise questions, and they’re questions we should be prepared to answer.

One of the characters on The Newsroom explained the appeal of the Nancy-Grace style reporting of these things as being one where the viewer could watch and tell herself:  that child deserved so much more than that mother gave her; she deserved a mother like ME.

And maybe that is the appeal of that kind of thing.  I tend to be bored by it, mostly because it feels repetitious and trivial.

But it’s one thing to say that the way some stories are reported is wrong.

And it’s another to say that those stories should not be reported at all.

Whatever Sorkin wants, the rest of us don’t turn into the news for economic analysis and policy debates to the exclusion of everything else happening on the planet.

Written by janeh

August 25th, 2012 at 10:43 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Students

with 3 comments

This:

http://www.wilsonquarterly.com/article.cfm?AID=1192#.UDT_mjyypY1.facebook

is in honor of the fact that the term will be starting soon. 

Have fun.

Real post for the day is the one before this.

Written by janeh

August 23rd, 2012 at 7:08 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Unreal

with 4 comments

One of the things I have been trying to do this summer is to find out how to get my younger son–turned 18 this winter–registered to vote.

This is not as simple as it sounds, because Greg was born in London, and because he doesn’t have a driver’s license.  The driver’s license thing I thought was just the problem of being blind for half a year, but now it turns out that he doesn’t want one.  My older son doesn’t have one either, and Bill never did.

Now, what is not a problem, right here, is Greg’s status as a United States citizen.  A child born abroad of a US citizen is himself automatically a US citizen.

That was how the Embassy explained it to us when I was pregnant with Greg, and about a week after he was born I brought his British birth certificate and some other paperwork to Grosvenor Square and Greg got a concilar birth certificate attesting to his status as a US citizen and a US passport to boot.

Think about that for a minute.

The child of a US citizen born abroad is automatically a US citizen.

And Obama’s mother was…what, exactly?

Actually, I know the answer to that riddle.  For a while, US policy was that a child born to a US father abroad was a citizen, but not a child born to a mother. 

The other thing the US Embassy told me was that the SCOTUS had taken care of that.  Which would mean that even if Obama WAS born in Kenya, or the Philipines, or wherever, his mother’s status as a US citizen should legally have made him one.

But I really didn’t intend to write this post about the birthers. 

I’ve got all Greg’s documents together, and his social security card, and we should be able to get him registered well in time for the election. 

But because I’ve been trying to get him registered, I’ve been paying more attention to this stage of the Presidential election than I usually do.

And maybe that’s the only necessary answer.  Maybe I just don’t usually pay attention this early in the cycle.

But I’m paying attention now, and the whole thing seems to me to be…completely unreal.

I don’t mean unreal as in crazy, or surreal, or psychodelic.

I mean unreal as if it weren’t actually happening.

The whole thing just seems–superfluous.  As if nothing was going on, in spite of all the yelling and screaming. 

And I’m not sure why that is. 

Part of it may be that I’ve never taken Romney seriously as a candidate.  He is, it seems to me, the apotheosis of establishment Republicanism, but an apotheosis as abstraction.  There’s no there there, as Gertrude Stein said about something else.

If Romney has convictions–about anything–I haven’t seen it.  It was why I always thought the Republicans should have gone with Santorum.  You may like what he has to say or hate it, but the man has convictions and he sticks to them, even if it means losing primaries and elections.

He is also, I think, what the core of the contemporary Republican Party actually wants.  Because what the Tea Party is, first and foremost, is a protest against exactly what Romney is, no matter on which side of the aisle–the slick, the “sophisticatedly educated,” the guys who give bailouts to their friends who run the banks.

So, for better or worse, I never thought Romney could win the election.  I still don’t.  So the contest seems less than compelling even without the eerie feeling that it just isn’t there.

But part of it is just that everything feels like white noise.  And that’s true even when there’s a real story, rather than another round of they’re lying! no, they’re lying! no, they’re lying! in the plitical ads.

The Todd Akin thing is a case in point.  God only knows, the man is a complete and irredeemable idiot.  And it’s kind of fun to watch Ann Coulter trying to get him chucked out of his race by the sheer power of her own will.  She’s got one hell of a will, too.  She just might manage it.

But unforgivably vile as the thing he said were, the whole episode just feels scripted. Everybody is saying what you’d expect them to say.  The outrage sounds–as most outrage does these days–fake.

Too much of what happens here these days, politically, seems like an attempt to evade reality.

Rather than actually compete, on ideas or even on personalities, what we have is a series of Outrage Moments.  Obama said that if you have a business, you didn’t build it  yourself!  The Republicans are trying to deny women access to birth control!

Neither of these things is, or ever was, true.  Obama’s “you didn’t build that” obviously was meant to refer to things like roads and bridges, not your company.  And refusing to pay for your choices is not the same thing as denying you the right or the ability to make them. 

But that’s what we were yelling about before Todd Akin came along.  And although Akin really did say something that was substantively objectionable, the outrage sounds the same as it did when the bases for it were far less solid.

Greg, in the meantime, is taking this, his first Presidential election, every personally.

Don’t ask him what he thinks, or you’ll be nailed to your seat for hours.

 

Written by janeh

August 23rd, 2012 at 6:48 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Very Early in the Morning

with 5 comments

I usually get up just about an hour from now.  Today,  however, I have been up since 1:30, having gone to bed at ten, because–well, whatever.  I have cats.  Two cats, to be exact.  Tonight, one of them decided I needed to be awake.

Of course, once I was awake, he paid no more attention to me at all, but that’s how that works.

So right now, being completely whacked out, I want to ask a very simple question:  what brings companies to decide to put old movie onto DVD, or not?

There are, out there, two  movies I desperately, desperately want to own:

Take Care of My Little Girl, a postwar Jeanne Crain thing about college sororities and returning veterans.

The Girl He Left Behind a  movie with Natalie Wood in it (in a feather cut, of all things) but before the days of her stardom, about a guy who is completely irresponsible, ends up drafted, and gets turned around.

Now, these are not secretly wonderful, unacknowledged screen gems.  They’re essentially A- to B+ features that I just happen to like a lot.

And I don’t own them–it’s been nearly 30 years since I last saw Take Care of My Little Girl.  I saw The Girl He Left Behind about a month ago because it showed up on TCM or Antenna TV or one of those channels.

But the simple fact is that I want them, and I don’t own them, because they are not available to own in any legitimate way.  You can get pirated copies of Take Care of My Little Girl, but–

Well, let’s face it.  I own hundreds of copyrights.  I don’t buy bootleg DVDs, not only because it’s a form of theft, but because I want other people respecting my right to my own intellectual property.

So all I want to know is this:  why aren’t these movies available for sale on DVD?

I know all the usual answers, but they don’t really hold up.  Yes, of course, more popular movies are more likely to be offered on DVD than less popular ones, but lots and lots of small movies have made the transition and are on offer.

Both Natalie Wood and Jeanne Crain are actresses with followings.  Both of them were released as A films.  Neither of them is smaller or less important than, say, Magnificent Obsession or half a dozen other forgetable movies you can pick up any time you want.

And, quite frankly, either one of them would be wonderful to have right this minute, when I know I’m not getting back to sleep again  until nearly dawn, and I’m far too messed up to read John Locke or watch anything serious.

Even Bach’s Concerto in D Minor is too difficult for me to listen to when I’m this tired, and that’s my favorite piece of music in the world.

This is not, obviously, a Really Serious Problem.  It will not cure unemployment or cancer or the epidemic of cheating by teachers and administrators on standardized tests.

It’s just that–I mean, sheesh.

This is what capitalism is supposed to be–and usually is–good at.

And here I sit, at four o’clock in the morning, totally bereft.

Maybe I’ll go watch Too Big To Fail, a movie that was nominated for 11 Emmys for simplifying the hell out of the nonfiction book of the same name, and making Hank Paulson a hero.

The mind may boggle, but it does not require a lot of linear thought.

Written by janeh

August 22nd, 2012 at 3:53 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Interpretation

with 5 comments

One of those books that have been lying around my house for a while without my being able to get to them is a volume from the Yale University Press of the major works of John Locke.  The first of these is the First Treatise of Government, which is one of those odd things.

I don’t mean the book is itself odd, although it would probably sound odd to most modern readers.  I mean that it exists in the Canon in a kind of limbo.

The Two Treatises of Government were published more or less together and were considered, in their time, to be a whole. 

The Second Treatise of Government is the work that outlines Locke’s political theory, and that is the first expression of the idea of the social contract–a social contract with as many distinct differences with Rousseau’s later one as the American Revolution had with the French.

The First Treatise of Government is something else.  It is Locke’s attempt to systematically disprove the idea that Scripture supports that theory of government we call the “divine right of kings.”

And that’s where the book lands in limbo.  Virtually anybody who makes his way through a halfway decent education in the West will have been asked to read the Second Treatise of Government, but almost nobody will have been asked to read the First.

And you can see why that would be so.  For the past century or so, and into the foreseeable future, the issue of the divine right of kings has been definitively settled.  No developed country on earth considers monarchy to be an acceptable and legitimate form of government, except in extremely attentuated forms.  We can describe the reign of Queen Elizabeth II of England a lot of ways, but “divinely instituted absolute power over her realm” is not one of them.

Still, the work is interesting to read, and for reasons that can sometimes be tangential to Locke’s main point.  For instance–if Queen Victoria wanted some back up for her position that the use of anesthetics in childbirth was not contrary to Scripture, she could have found it here.  The early feminists could have found here an argument against the idea that the Bible granted men power over their wives in perpetuity, too.

What interests me here, however, is that the book progresses in the way that all works of literary criticism and textual interpretation progress, and it therefore has some bearing on the post yesterday, and the replies to it.

So I’ll try to use Locke’s method, and start here.

The first thing concerns the contention that the phrase “Products must be safe and effective” constitutes a law in clear and simple language.

It doesn’t.

As the writers themselves said, the possibilities for interpretation are endless.

No statement for which the possibilities of interpretation are substantial is “clear” in any sense whatsoever.

And what should have been clear was the statement in my post the aim of the kind of legislation I’m asking for is to limit possible interpretations to the smallest number possible. 

“Products must be safe and effective” is not a law written in clear and simple language.  “Mayonaisse must be kept refrigerator at a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit” is.

There is only one reason to write a law like “Products must be safe and effective,” and only one reason why the US Courts would allow it to stand–to give the regulatory agencies scope to write regulations.

But in what I suggested, regulatory agencies would not have the power to issue regulations.  All regulations would have to be passed by Congress.

In such a situation, the Courts would most likely do what they do with other vague legislation–strike it down as impossibly obscure and broad.

And, of course, no method is perfect–I’m not suggesting that this one is.  What I do think it is, is far less liable to being corrupted, and to facilitating corruption.

Corruption begins in interpretation. 

For society to function well, citizens must be able to read their laws, and understand them, and know what they have to do and how they have to behave to avoid committing a crime or a violation.

If they can’t do that, then the law is whatever the latest functionary says it is, and every one of us is liable for arrest and punishment at any time.

That’s a government of men and not of laws.

At the moment, huge whacking hunks of the US system operate in this way.  Did you abuse your child when you denied him television for a week because he  brought home an F in sixth grade math?  It’s up to the social worker’s “best professional judgment.”  Did you discriminate on the basis of race by insisting on an employment test that requires higher level mathematics to pass, which then rejects a larger percentage of black applicants than white ones?  It’s up to the EEOC to decide.  You can’t anticipate what their ruling will be, because it will be based not on facts but on the “best professional judgment” of individuals.

Such a system will, I guarantee you, be corrupt.  It is  not a disaster waiting to happen, but a disaster in progress.  It is the reason why nobody will prosecute the Wall Street bankers and the kid on your block who was carrying a little baggie of marijuana will go to jail for five years.

It is what causes inequality in the only way in which inequality really matters in a political sense.

Interpretation is what causes us to be unequal before the law. 

And yes, of course, I know that some interpretation will always be necessary, and that we will never get rid of it altogether.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be trying to get rid of it altogether, and to get rid of it as far as possible, starting now.

 

Written by janeh

August 20th, 2012 at 8:52 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Another Day, Another Book

with 3 comments

I can’t usually say that.  I’m actually a very slow and deliberate reader most of the time.  I wasn’t when I was younger, but the older I got and the more interested I got in understanding what I was reading–well, there you are.

But before I get to the book of the day, let me backtrack to clean up two things from yesterday.

First,  I seem to have given the misimpression that Betty Friedan was interested in women being academics or intellectuals–and those were certainly on the list, but what she actually wanted was a rigorous liberal education followed by graduate and professional training that would make women lawyers, doctors, architects, engineers, and that sort of thing.

She just assumed–as almost everybody did in that day and age, and as I still do–that rigorous liberal education is both the best way to train the intelligence, and the best introduction to the achievements of Western Civilization.

Second, Robert says, well, we’ve expanded the franchise to all sorts of people, and that must mean that our politics is better now than it was before.

But there are two things going on here.

In the first place, there’s the obvious.  We don’t expand the franchise to make our politics better or more honorable, but because it would be dishonorable not to do so.  The first thing we owe our fellow human beings is our recognition of their full humanity, and that includes the recognition of their full citizenship.

But on top of that, the construction is backwards.  We don’t extend the franchise and then see our politics get worse.  We see our politics get worse and then we extend the franchise. 

In other words, we first perceive that the group charged with the right to rule and decide is corrupt, or stupid, or misusing their power, and then we dilute their power by giving the people they have power over the right to participate in self government.

Slavery is morally wrong, but if slaveholders had in fact been benevolent, it would have been nearly impossible to get rid of it.

And we can see a movement of this type in the decreasing prevalence of an increasing opposition to laws that forbid felons from voting. 

What was once a widespread and unexceptionable practice has become a badge of infamy–not because we feel any more loving towards felons, but because felonies have multiplied so rapidly and populations have become so widely subject to the penalty that we no longer trust that the designation fairly singles out only those people who have done something serious enough to lose their right to vote.

If Andy the Axe Murderer gets to help decide the next election, it won’t be because we think that will make our politics better or our society more honorable.  It will be because that will be the only way we insure that Bobby the Marijuana Smoker won’t have that mandatory minimum five year sentence end all his rights as a citizen.

And here we come to our Book of the Day, which took so little time to read that I’m still a bit astonished by it.

The book is Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy by Christopher Hayes. 

For those of you who don’t know:  Hayes worked for a while as an editor at The Nation, and may still work there for all I know.  He also has a regular show on MSNBC called Up With Chris Hayes, which aired after he’d spent about a year being the Official Substitute Host for Rachel Maddow. 

I first got interested in this book when I read a long article more or less excerpted from it in The Nation. I passed that article around to a couple of people and got the criticisms I was expecting, but the central premise still interests me.

We’ve reached a point where the people who run our central institutions–government, military, corporate, educational, whatever–seem to be capable of nothing but failing at the jobs they were chosen (by a highly competitive process) to do.

Now, in the first place, I find this idea interesting because I agree with it, and I agree with Hayes’s corollary–that this has something to do with the fact that this group of people is now pretty much all the same.

And starting with that, I have, not a book review, but a few notes:

1) I have long complained that the right has a better record of pointing  out that the right has a better record of putting out books accessible to a broad spectrum of readers, so I should probably shut up–but.

This thing is written for an audience with reading skills levels of about sixth grade in a good middle school.  I found it sometimes distractingly “easy,” and always annoyingly so.

But this, I think, is a complaint for myself, and may actually be a plus for some readers.

2) I have to congratulate the man for having actually listened to Tea Party people.  Hayes is–obviously, from his credentials–a man of the Left, more or less, but instead of resorting to the usual hysterical nonsense about how all members of the Tea Party are gun toting half-educated lunatics who are only protesting because they’re so racist they can’t stand a black president in the White House, he actually went and found out who the Tea Party is and what they actually have to say.

And, having done that, he came to the same conclusion I did–which is that in terms of the fundamental analysis of the problem, the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street have a lot in common. 

And what they both have in common, and what Hayes and I have in common, is this–that the perfect symbol of what’s wrong here is TARP. Otherwise known as the bank bail out.

And that brings me to the last note, which is this:

3) You’re humming along being happy that the man has pretty much the same analysis of the situation as you do, and then you hit the last chapter.

That last chapter is enough to make you wonder if Hayes has any imagination at all, never mind a grip on linear thought.

Because what happens in the last chapter is that he reverts entirely to the same tired, failed and completely idiotic “we need redistribution!” ideas that got us into this mess to begin with.

Or, as I responded–and others responded–to Michael a couple of posts ago, it makes no sense to answer the use and abuse of government power by special interests by expanding government power.

If you’re going to make TARP the end of that kind of politics, then what you need is not expanded government, but restricted government.

You need to end the ability of the government to institute a TARP–to forbid it to bail out bankers, and to forbid it to bail out banks that are not part of FICA.  Ever.  Period. 

You need to end government discretion in how bankers and traders and other white collar types are treated when they’ve committed a crime.  We require that low-level drug dealers be prosecuted and we have a whole set of mandatory minimums that say judges don’t get to give such people slaps on the wrist.

We should have something similar for white collar crime.  If Martha Stewart could go to jail not for “insider trading” (she actually got acquitted of that), but for telling her board of directors that she would be acquitted for that (which was against the law, even if it turned out that her prediction was true)–then Dick Fuld, Lloyd Blankstein and the rest of the crew should be spending their time in Danbury as we speak.

If you don’t want corporations using the power of government regulations to stifle their competition, then the answer is not to give government a broader power to regulate, but to restrict that power.

And you do that in ways that should be no brainers–

a) you require that regulations, which are laws, be passed by Congress.

b) you require that laws be short, to the point, and written in a way that can be read by somebody with a high school education. 

The purpose of this is to stop the custom of hiding little  gimme provisions in laws that are so long and complicated that nobody ever notices the giveaway to Archer Daniels Midland on page 456 subclause 394.

The other purpose is to leave as little as possible up to interpretation.

Interpretation is where special interests can use their clout, financial or otherwise, to expand their power.  Say “no deductions for second homes” and you get no deductions for second homes.  Say “no deductions for second homes except under these circumstances,” and bureaucrats and regulators will be open for business to the highest bidders, “interpreting” whose circumstances qualify.

c) you limit what may be regulated.  The fewer areas over which government is allowed to exert power over its citizens, the fewer areas special interests can use to force their will on their fellow citizens. 

And that definitely includes business regulations of all sorts, environmental regulations of all sorts, and the present regime of anti-discrimination law.

The problem with that last one, by the way, isn’t that it should be okay to reject people on the basis of their race or color or sex, but because it represents, at the moment, the ultimate in subjective government of men and not laws. 

If the standard of whether or not something is a violation of a law or regulation is “when the investigator thinks so in her best professional judgment,” then that law or regulation must go.

And finally, let’s institute a tax system that is, in fact, fair.

We could keep the rates we have now, IF–

Deductions were limited to a very few:  the home mortgage deduction on your house, your state and local taxes, the dependent exemptions.

And that’s it.

NOTHING ELSE.

No special treatment for capital gains.  No special deductions for oil and gas leases, or the myriad little bips and bops that let some small group of people deduct their private jets or their aesthetically pleasing cattle raising hobby.

(Note the hobby–real cattle ranchers actually raising cattle for profit would still have legitimate business deductions–although I’d want to reduce the deductions for businesses and to make them less subjective, too.  But right now, I’m only talking about the personal income tax.)

Then, after you’ve done that, raise the exemption level to where it would have been in real dollars if it was still paying out at 1950 rates, which I think doubles those.

And what you would have is the single largest tax rise on wealthy people EVER, and it would be entirely fair, because it would be cleared, and it would be applied to everyone in the same way and without exception. 

And you’d have a lot less influence peddling, because there would be no influence to peddle.  And you’d have a lot fewer special interest power grabs, because there would be a lot less power to grab.

You’re never going to get more equality by trying to reduce the demand for inequality.

You’re only going to get it by reducing the supply.

 

 

Written by janeh

August 19th, 2012 at 11:11 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Betty Friedan and the Life of the Mind

with 2 comments

Okay–the program that runs this blog  just had an update, and now it looks different and kind of odd.

I’ll get used to it, but in the short run, I’m going to be referring to it every once in a while, when it does things I’m not expecting.

But that’s not what I’m talking about here, as the title to this post suggests, so let me get on with it.

I’ve just reread The Feminine Mystique for the first time in what is probably more than a decade.  I do that every once in a while just to see how I feel about the books over time, and sometimes to see if I’ve remembered the books correctly.

And on that second point, this has been one of the odder of my experiences.

First, you must remember that when this book first came out, and I first read it, I loved it down to the ground. 

I loved it in a way I rarely love books that are not fiction.

And it was, for me, one of the first moves I made to shake off all those things my childhood and early adolescence was that I needed so desperately to escape.

So, a few notes:

1) If you haven’t read this lately, you’d be surprised at how old fashioned it is.  This is not the feminism of the Seventies.  It’s a book about women and the Life of the Mind, with the capitals definitely implied.

Its few of a college education is what my view of it was at the time–the liberal arts, with training in the hard sciences, the social sciences and the humanities, not for a specific vocation (which was left to graduate and professional schools), but for the dual purpose of rigorously training the intelligence and introducing students to the great questions of live and the traditions of Western Civilization.

And because of that

2) This is a book aimed not at Everywoman, but specifically at the brightest women out there, the ones who could do a rigorous college course as it used to be defined. 

It was not a book for women whose level of talent fitted them for being cashiers or even typists.

And Friedan’s assumption was that we should direct our resources at our most talented young people, female as well as male. 

It is, in fact, the exact opposite of the assumption now, which is that we can cut “gifted” programs all we want, because those kids will make out fine on their own, but we must aim resources at the marginally intelligent and the academically untalented to see if we can’t bring them up to something like speed.

I admit to being on the side of Friedan’s original thought–pouring our resources into our best performing students got us the Apollo space program, pouring our resources into our worst tends to get us things like the Atlanta test cheating scandal.

It’s important to note,  however, that Friedan neither suggests nor approves anything like the Seventies idea of “affirmative action.”  She doesn’t want women to get breaks, she wants to make the hoops they have to jump through even higher, the standards they have to meet even more stringent.

3) Because this book is what it is, it is aimed specifically at middle and upper middle class women who have had some college education, or whose abilities would have allowed them to get a college education if they hadn’t gotten married at nineteen.

And one of the reasons this book had such a powerful effect on me was that these were the women I knew, the women of my mother’s generation, the schoolgirls of my own, who not only had restricted themselves to the tiny little space of home-and-family, but who were hell bent on restricting every other woman to it.

And who were, by the way, gut wrenchingly, bitterly, angrily miserable.

I do not have a single example of a woman in my mother’s generation who was actually happy as a wife and mother. 

I had two ambitions growing up:  to be an honest to God published writer, and to be nothing at all like my mother.

On that level, I was at something of  a disadvantage–I look like my mother, but I think like my father, and always did.  You’ve never seen two such thoroughly mismatched people (in intellect and temperament), as my mother and myself. 

The first time I noticed that the woman seemed to hate me, I was about seven.  And it only got worse with time.

Personal circumstances notwithstanding,  however, when Friedan talked about the anger, the provinciality, the narrowness, the resentment–there it was, in my own house, and among my mother’s friends, and among those relatives and schoolmates of my own generation who were buying into the whole thing.

And what Betty Friedan told me was that I was right to value the things I valued, and that what I valued was better than what they valued.

And that brings me to

4) One of the constant refrains in the years since the publication of this book, from the left as well as from the right, is that it is wrong for women like me to believe that our choice (education, that life of the mind thing, a career instead of a primary identification as wife-and-mother)–

That it is wrong for women like me to believe that our choice is objectively better than the choice of women who decide to define themselves principally as wives and mothers.

Of course, the women who decide to be primarily wives and mothers are not exhorted not to declare their own choice as superior. 

It is only women like me who must apologize for our lives, and assure all those women who didn’t use their educations that they’ve really made the best and noblest choice, the superior choice, we’re just not good enough to make it ourselves.

And to this I say

5) Why?

If I thought the choice of defining myself first as a wife and mother was the best one, I’d have made that choice.

In fact, I don’t think that choice is the best one–and for women with high levels of education, I think that choice is damned near criminal.

Places at top ranked educational institutions are limited, and the competition for them is tough.  If your intention is to tread water through four years Harvard and then bury yourself in domesticity, never again to read anything serious even in your spare time and never to contribute anything serious to the wider world around you–you should opt for the local community college and let somebody who’s really serious take your place.

And if you’ve got a really good mind and decide to do nothing about it at all, to do the least work possible–no, sorry, there’s cancer to be cured and a thousand other things that need doing, and your choice is not only objectively less good than that of someone who at least tries, but it objectively immoral.

You’ve only got one chance to live this life on earth.  If you’re religious, think of the parable of the three servants whose master gave them each three talents and watched what they did with them.

Your job, in other words, is to use your God or nature given talents to their fullest possible expression.  And if you don’t do that, you’ve wasted what life you’ve had.

6) Before you start ranting and raving about how elitist I am, remember this–

The wives and mothers are NOT being told they must apologize to women like me and assure us that our choice is really the better one.

They can declare their superiority all they want, deride the choices we’ve made, and rail at us for being pretentious, elitist snobs when we try to defend ourselves.

If it’s alright for them to do that, then it’s certainly all right for me to insist that my way is best, without compromise, and without equivocation.

Of course, I do know that real life is not that simple.  Some people choose not to develop their talents.  Others get stuck through circumstances beyond their control.  Others are not capable of developing very far or very much.

But of those of us who have the choice, those who make the choice to fully develop themselves have made the better and more defensible choice.

And in a world of limited resources where we can either put in the time and effort on our best and most talented students or put that same time and effort on our least–

Well, if it has to be one or the other, the better choice is to put those resources into the most talented.

In the long run, that will end up helping everybody.

Written by janeh

August 18th, 2012 at 9:12 am

Posted in Uncategorized

The One True Thing

with 16 comments

So, yesterday, I found this

http://junctrebellion.wordpress.com/2012/08/12/how-the-american-university-was-killed-in-five-easy-steps/
on Facebook, posted to share by Cathy F.
It’s from a blog called The Homeless Adjunct, which I may look into over the next few days.
 
What struck me about it was that, although the author is obviously left wing, his core observation about what has gone wrong in colleges and universities in the United States was the same as mine–and his identification of the machinery that is driving that wrongness is also the same as mine.
 
Ack.  Sometimes, for a writer, I have a very hard time trying to figure out how to put things into words.
 
I want everybody to read that thing.
 
And then I want everybody to look past the superficial–corporations have done this to us!–to the real insight, which is that in the last 40 years or so, colleges and universities have been restructured so that they run like any other bureaucracy anywhere.
 
I think the “bureaucracy” and not “corporations” is the right target, because corporations are actually a subset of bureaucracies. 
The institutional mindset The Homeless Adjunct describes is certainly true of large companies, like General Motors or Bank of America or even Microsoft, but it is also true of the Department of Environmental Protection, your local social services departments, and the Red Cross.
 
Somewhere in the last half  century, all organizations and all the people charged with running those organizations seem to have been homogenized into one particular type.
 
Whether you’re talking to the guy who runs your health insurance company or the woman who runs the local Catholic university, you’re faced with the same personality, the same assumptions about people and operations, and the same loyalty to the continued existence of the institution as an institution, above everything.
It is important to pay attention, here, by what is meant by saying that the only loyalty is to the continued existence of the institution as an institution.
 
In the old days, some people dedicated themselves to maintaining their particular institution as something in particular–to making sure that their Catholic university was authentically Catholic, for instance, or that the Widows and Orphans Refuge treated the people it was trying to help as individuals and not social statistics.
This is not what is happening now.
 
What is happening now is concerted attempts–on the part of virtually all existing institutions and organizations, right and left, for profit and not for profit, it doesn’t matter–to keep the structure of the organization in existence by any means necessary.
 
If the Catholic university can only survive in its brick and mortar, organizational sense by ditching the Pope and providing abortions in the infirmary–then that’s what we do, because it’s the only way for the institution to “survive.”  If the Widows and Orphans Refuge can only survive by shutting down its charitable work with people and dedicating itself to producing tracts on public policy–then that’s what we do, because it’s the only way for the institution to “survive.”
 
Note that “survive” here does not mean “continue to be what it is.”  It means only “continue to be.”
 
One of the most obvious ways in which this operates is in the way institutions now almost universally respond when trouble hits, as trouble always does sometimes.
 
You can see it in the response of the Catholic Church to the priest pedophilia scandal, in the response of Duke University when it turned out the lacrosse players were guilty of nothing, to the response of Penn State in the Sandusky mess and of BP to the oil spill.
 
The first act is deny responsibility and do everything possible to make the mess go away.
 
The second act is to make a formal statement that you “take responsibility” and then do everything possible to make the mess go away.
 
If you can’t avoid taking some consequences, then you do everything you can to make those consequences as close to negligible as possible.
 
We’re all so used to this these days that we don’t remember that there were once other ways for people and institutions to respond. 
 
We forget that actually taking responsibility would mean saying so at once, doing everything in your power to fix the situation, and risking even the survival of the institution rather than to lie or to evade.
 
Nobody does this any more, because to do so would be to risk the possibility that in the aftermath, the institution would have to close up shop and cease to exist. 
 
The people running these places do not see their job as keeping their institutions authentically Catholic, or even authentically General Motors.
 
They see their job as keeping their institutions in existence, period, even if that existence can only be maintained by a total betrayal of what the institution is supposed to be.
 
I’m not trying to say, here, that issues like affirmative action or political correctness are negligible.  They’re not.  And political correctness–an atmosphere in which some ideas are declared anathema and made impossible to express without official punishment–goes to the very heart of what the university is supposed to be.
 
But I do agree with this writer that those issues are, now, secondary. 
 
If we cleaned them all up tomorrow, we would still be left with universities that are not universities, because they have become institutions run by people who care only for their nominal existence, and nothing at all for what they’re supposed to do.

Written by janeh

August 15th, 2012 at 9:15 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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