Archive for November, 2013
Yesterday was yesterday, meaning Thanksgiving, meaning a day when I’d had way too much to eat for the day before 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
I even took a nap, which is virtually unheard of. If I’m not majorly ill–and I’m not, at the moment–naps tend to be an overall negative for me. I have my body rigorously trained into a work-and-sleep schedule that works very well for me, and naps tend just to mess that up so that I have several days of virtually no sleep until the schedule settles back again.
This time, I seem to have gotten away with it, so I’m going to keep my fingers crossed. But I only allowed myself an hour, and when I woke up and came downstairs again, I was still fairly out of it. It made looking pitiful and getting Gregor to put away the leftovers a lot more effective.
While I was sitting around looking pitiful enough to get all my work done without expending any personal effort, I came across a blog post by somebody whose name I no longer remember, concerning people who were required to work during the Thanksgiving holiday.
It was a very good blog post and I wish I did remember who wrote it, because I would like to post it here. It was good because it was not the same old screed about Evil Greedy Corporations who were trying to turn us in to materialistic zombies with no ties to family and friends.
The message instead was that we should not be crying anathema against the shoppers, or the stores and their owners, or the people who work on holidays. We don’t know the circumstances. Some of the workers might be grateful for the extra hours and therefore the extra pay. Some shoppers might desperately need the deals on offer to give their families a happy Christmas, or might have jobs that leave them no other time to shop.
One of the people posting comments even pointed out that some stores make pretty much all their profit from the Christmas season, and if they don’t take advantage of the whole Black Friday weekend thing, they could easily end the year in the red.
That is, after all, why it’s called Black Friday.
Most of the comments, though, were the usually–the Greedy Evil Corporations out to destroy all our lives, the hoodwinked public so thoroughly brainwashed by advertising that they weren’t making real choices at all, the right wing onslaught demanding unfettered free market capitalism that’s destroying the country, etc, etc. etc.
I will was tired, because if I wasn’t, I’d have commented myself–to point out that I’d checked all the major news outlets, and the only one that was headlining the “stores open on Thanksgiving” story and deploring the fact in news piece and editorial was…Fox.
Small episodes of irony aside, though, I’m not really sure how I feel about stores opening on Thanksgiving.
I asked my students about that last week and got a mixed bag. Of the students who were being required to work on Thanksgiving Day, two thirds of them were indignant. The other third wanted the money and were happy to get it.
The more I think about this, though, the more complicated it gets.
There is, for instance, the fact that some people are required to work on Thanksgiving (and other holidays) because the world needs to keep turning.
There are the obvious–nurses, doctors, fire and police personnel, prison personnel, and all of that–but people at places like communications companies and cable stations and newspapers. We expect out phones to be working on holidays and our local news to be broadcasting news and weather and our cable stations to have football games running all through the day.
My point here, I think, is that in spite of all the sturm and drang about this horrible new thing of having to work on the holidays–sturm and drang for both left and right–it has always been the case that a large number of people worked on the holidays, whatever the holidays are.
And that not all these people were essential safety and emergency personnel.
And that none of us really wants them to stop. We want football games on Thanksgiving day and Christmas day and all the rest of it.
Maybe we shouldn’t. But we do.
But the other thing that struck me–and didn’t come up in the comments–has to do with what happens to people who are not celebrating the holiday for one reason or the other.
This might be because they have some principled reason for not celebrating–a lot of atheists/humanists make a point of not celebrating Christmas–or it may be because they are far from home or without family and have no one to celebrate with.
When the subject has been Christmas instead of Thanksgiving, I have had complaints from atheist and Humanist friends about the fact that “everything” is closed and that they are forced into observing the holiday whether they want to or not.
As a matter of fact, of course, “everything” is not closed. A Humanist group here in Connecticut meets every Christmas day to have lunch at a Chinese restaurant. My guess is that the Chinese people running the restaurant don’t celebrate Christmas either.
Then there are the people who are celebrating the holiday, but end up with a less than life threatening but still significant emergency.
There was, for instance, the Thanksgiving–13 months after Bill died–when I accidentally put the turkey down the garbage disposal.
Not the whole turkey, just one leg. Because I was trying to wash it.
You don’t want to ask.
Our little local chain IGA grocery opens on Thanksgiving from 7 to noon, and thank God, or we would have had nothing to eat but vegetables and pumpkin pie.
It seems to me, in other words, that there are lots of reasons why stores might want to stay open on holidays and why people might want to patronize them and why workers might want to work in them.
At the same time, I am still a little uncomfortable with the whole thing, and more uncomfortable with “you have to work on THANKSGIVING whether you want to or not” than I would be with Christmas.
I think I responded to reports of workers in stores being forced to work on Thanksgiving with the not-completely-conscious assumption that it was just one more example of the de-historicization (is that a word?) of everything.
That what I was seeing was just more evidence that we no long understand anything about who we are, and where we came from, and what got us here–that we don’t understand, any more, why Thanksgiving is important.
I think the de-historicization is real enough, but I also think it was odd that I didn’t start worrying about the working on American holidays thing until we got to Thanksgiving store openings.
Thanksgiving is important, but on the subject of national identity, the 4th of July is far more important, and almost everybody is open for that.
I still wish I could think of something we could do that would mark out national-identity holidays in particular (and possibly all national holidays) as exceptions to the general rule of everything.
The closest I could come to that was the sort of old-time labor law that required that workers who were forced to take such duty should be paid extra for the inconvience.
A friend of mine from college, who was from an observant Jewish family and positively wanted to work on Christmas day–used to make triple time and a half as a fill-in operator for the old AT&T monopoly.
In the meantime, I find myself enormously grateful that nothing in the work I do requires me to go out into the world on Thanksgiving week-end.
I went out on Black Friday once before I knew what it was, and I’ll never do it again.
Before you could talk me into that again, I’d have to be looking for life-saving medicines for a child. I’m not sure I’d do it for life saving medicines for myself.
Happy Thanksgiving week end.
Stay out of the stores if you can. It’s crazy out there.
The first one is just behind this.
is truly wonderful, except that it’s so awful.
So, it’s Thanksgiving here in the States, and because it is Thanksgiving, I am having one of those scattershot days. I got the chestnuts roasted and chopped last night, so I don’t have to do that, but in a few minutes I’m going to have to go chop other things, stuff a turkey worry about stuff to go with the turkey, and consider pumpkin pie.
My mother made the best pumpkin pie I’ve ever had, but her recipe has been lost for years not, and I do not bake.
Cook, yes. I love to cook. But baking reminds me of chemistry, and I didn’t like that the first time around.
Back in 1968.
I was reminded, yesterday, of how long it’s been since I took a formal course in mathematics of any kind–that was 1971.
But here’s the thing. There is one of those round robin things going on on FB at the moment, and out own Mike Fisher has invited me in.
The exercise goes like this: without thinking about it, list the ten books that have really stayed with you over the years.
There’s a lot of other stuff involved in it, tagging people and things that don’t really matter here, but I’m going to reproduce the list I came up with this morning on the spur of the moment, and then I’m going to comment a bit on the entire exercise.
The list goes as follows:
1) Carolyn Keene. The Ghost of Blackwood Hall.
2) W. Somerset Maugham. The Razor’s Edge.
3) Daphne du Maurier. Rebecca.
4) Ernest Hemingway. A Moveable Feast.
5) Ayn Rand. Atlas Shrugged.
6) Alice Hoffman. Seventh Heaven.
7) Betty Friedan. The Feminist Mystique.
8) Jose Saramago. The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis.
9) Henry James. The Portrait of a Lady.
10) Shari Benstock. Women of the Left Bank.
Now, a couple of things about this list that might be significant.
The first is that, with two exceptions, everything on it is fiction.
And both the exceptions are feminist tracts.
I read very little fiction these days, and haven’t now for a very long time. You can see that from the reading lists posted every month here.
What these things seem to be, largely, are books that gave me the sense of a different world out there somewhere that I could escape to when I finally got the time.
We have that fight here all the time, so let me try to be more explicit. What I was looking for then was mostly a “sense ofl life,” as some people call it–a way people were, in themselves and with each other, that was very different from the way the people were around me.
This sense that there was another world and another way of living was very important to me. It’s probably the only way I got through childhood and adolescence without killing myself or someone else.
At the end of the long tunnel that was my growing up, many of these books promised me another life in another place, another life in a place where the things people thought were good and important were the things I thought were good or important.
I was not particularly political at the time. It wasn’t politics that was at issue.
Both Betty Friedan and Ayn Rand are on this list for the same reason: I read both of them for the first time in the same year, and both of them told me that I was right to hold out against conforming to what everybody else wanted me to conform to, that intelligence and ambition and competitiveness and intellectualism were good things (even in a woman!) that I was right to pursue.
And I still respond to that message, even now, when I sometimes feel I am drowing in a double-barrelled explosion of willful stupidity.
And no, you don’t get to tell me that that’s all the fault of religious people or the right wingers or whatever. I can give you examples on every single side.
But the third thing is maybe more important in terms of making the list–as soon as I’d written down these ten things, I realized that there was an 11th, Alix Kates Shulman’s Burning Questions which should have been on it, too.
And maybe, when I get over to FB, I’ll add it. Because it came into my head almost as soon as the Benstock did, and there wasn’t much in the way of being able to choose between them.
I was looking around on the Internet this morning before class, and I found this
That’s a post at The Nation’s online site about the woman who wrote the Poverty Matters article discussed in the last post.
It’s an interesting article–and, once more, it’s about somebody who has almost nothing at all of that “even trying is completely hopeless” attitude.
One of the things I think would be helpful in these discussions would be making a distinction between “poor” and “not making much if any money at the moment.” The two things are not the same.
But I’ll insist on my original point. The attitudes and thought and behavior patterns ascribed to “the poor” in the original article are an insult to the poor.
And I know a fair number of poor people who would be willing to tell you that.
I got an e mail this week from somebody alarmed that I hadn’t posted in a fortnight. I’ve been trying to post things on and off since then, just to show that I’m alive.
But I also just handed in the book for next year–the one I was complaining about having so much trouble with–and it’s getting to the end of the term, and it’s Thanksgiving with Christmas coming after, and I’ve been a little messed up.
I thought about posting this morning, and then I didn’t, and then I was going to let it go, and then this link showed up not once, but several times, on my FB news feed:
It’s an interesting article, for several reasons.
The first is the fact that it seems to me that both the woman who wrote it and the people who posted it assume that this frame of mind is something nobody else has considered before.
What it is, instead, is EXACTLY what most people who are not poor think poor people are like, and EXACTLY the way not poor people think poor people think.
It is, in fact, an almost breathtakingly stereotypical vision of the inner lives of “the poor.”
The students I teach are almost all squarely in the ranks of “the poor,” some of them from poverty so desperate it’s barely believable.
And yet most of them also represent the negation of just this kind of thinking. They may live around and in the sort of determinist negation that this article portrays, but at the same time they are at war with it every day.
And some few of them–not many, but some–get themselves out and on their way.
This is not to deny that there are some people for whom this sort of thinking represents an acceptance of reality–people who are mentally or physically disabled, or very old or very sick or both.
And that thing about giving in to the impulse to do something nice for yourself that you can’t really afford is probably damn near universal.
Doing that sometimes–especially if you’re in a situation of long term stress or deprivation–is a human necessity.
But there is a difference between doing that every once in a while (when we had no money and Bill was dying and the medical bills were beginning to look like the national debt, I used to go buy $5 iced coffee every couple of weeks just to let off steam), and doing that consistently and in areas where the downside is enormous.
Yes, it’s really awful to live through a period when you feel unloved and worthless, and where there doesn’t seem to be any way out of the tunnel, but most people don’t just lie down and play dead.
I know they don’t. I see them walk into my classroom every single day. They’re most handicapped if most of the people around them think like this, and the percentages of those from that kind of environment who make it out are smallest–but some of them do make it out. I’m going to the police academy graduation of one of them at the end of the term.
The second interesting thing about this to me is that the people who posted it seem to expect that it will generate sympathy, or make people who are not sympathetic feel some kind of shame.
It is, as I’ve said, absolutely stereotypical. This is what I’m talking about when I talk about passivity.
And for anybody who doesn’t start out looking for a way to continue to believe that “the poor” are helpless and can’t do anything for themselves, what this will do is make them absolutely furious.
And the fury will not necessarily be the result of rich, arrogant douchbaggery.
Okay, I love that word. I picked it up from a silly movie, but it’s a lot of fun.
Like I said, the fury will not necessarily be the result of heartless, self absorbed assholes chantering on about things they know nothing about.
The fury will come longest and hardest from those people who have been in the same situation and gotten themselves out. If you want to hear people bad mouth “the poor,” come listen to those of my students who were born and brought up in it. They are harder on “the poor” than any fat cat Republican from Yale could be if they worked on it 24/7 for a decade.
But there’s something else going on here–no person who actually thought like this would ever end up in one of my classrooms, because just to get into such a classroom requires more long range thought, and determination, and rejection of economic determinism than this article exhibits.
My students have aunts and uncles and mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and cousins who think like this, but they don’t.
But if such a person with this mental framework did end up in my classroom, the simple fact of the matter would be that there would be no way to help him. Or her.
This is not what poverty looks like. This is what failure looks like.
This particular habit of thought is characteristic not of “the poor” but of all people everywhere who set themselves up to fail. They exist in all strata of society.
If they’re lucky, they have families who help them out and keep them from ending up on the street. If they’re not, they could have started out with good schools and well off parents and they’ll still end up on the street.
If poor people were really like this–as a class, as a complete entity–then the people who say we should not help them would have a point.
But as far as I can see, they’re not like this, not most of them.
And even this writer isn’t like this, because no matter what else she’s done, she’s also written the article and she’s also started the blog.
Go here. It’s the theory I usually see explaining Islamism and Islamic terrorism. But this is about us.
This is a busy day, but I had a minute, and I found this:
There were elections in the United States last night, what are called “off year” elections, meaning races in a year when there is no presidential contest.
I am usually pretty up on elections. They interest me in a lot of ways, and not only elections for President.
Last night, though, I was less than usually engaged. It was, after all, an off-off-year election cycle. No federal offices were on the line at all except possibly in places where somebody had died and there had to be a special election.
In my own state, the races were all local. They chose new mayors in New Britain and New Haven. My town voted for school board.
School board elections can be very dramatic in some places, but not where I live. We tend to agree on the big issues (like creationism and evolution, and saluting the flag, and that sort of thing), and to hunker down over who’s going to go toe to toe with Hartford over mandatory pension contributions or how many teachers’ aides we really need.
This kind of thing can get very heated, but let’s face it. It’s also local. If you care passionately whether we should have a piano teacher twice a week at the elementary school, you live here.
Part of the reason for the lack of my usual interest last night was the fact that so many of the races I might have been interested in were billed as sure things way in advance.
I don’t know anybody who expected anybody but Christie to win in New Jersey, although apparently the double digit blow out was something of a surprise.
The New York City mayoralty race wasn’t even that interesting. It was billed as a blow out for de Blasio, and it was a blow out for de Blasio.
The only event of interest turned out to be the Virginia governor’s race, which had also been billed as a blow out, this time for the Democratic candidate, Terry McAuliffe.
It ended up being so close that people are wandering around shocked as hell this morning that the Republicans aren’t calling for a recount. And the race would have almost certainly gone to the Republican if there had not been a Libertarian Party candidate in the race.
And this in spite of the fact that McAuliffe outspent Cucchinelli almost exponentially, and the national Republicans had pulled most of their money out a month before the voting happened.
If I was a Republican this morning, I’d be kicking myself for not giving Ken Cucchinelli the kind of support the party gave McDonald in years past.
But if I was a Democrat, I’d be terrified.
The blogs are full of the exit polling this morning, and what the exit polling makes clear is that almost everybody who voted against McAuliffe–and that was more than half the voters–did so because they were opposed to Obamacare.
Anger in the media isn’t the same thing as anger in the country, so I’ve been listening to the snap, crackle and pop of the Obamacare outrage with half a year.
But it’s more and more clear that the “you can keep your plan” thing is Obama’s “read my lips” moment, and that if it had come before the 2012 elections, he would not have won that race.
And in the meantime, the spin from the Democrats is that 1) the plans that are being cancelled are just bad plans that nobody would ever want and 2) the Obamacare replacement plans are much better and provide better coverage and more coverage and 3) it’s not really about people having choice, it’s about are we going to let insurance companies sell “substandard” plans.
In other words, the Democrats seem to be incapable of dealing with what is actually the problem here.
So let me try:
1) “substandard” plans are only “substandard” by the definition of the ACA–and what the ACA calls “substandard” may be what I call absolutely great.
In fact, I guarantee it will be, since any plan that forces me to contribute to “mental health” services is substandard by every definition of the word I have.
2) It is not true that every Obamacare replacement plan means lower deductibles and lower out of pocket costs than the “substandard” plan it replaces.
In fact, of the 30 or so of us who have been talking about this lately–mystery writers tend to be freelance and to buy their own insurance–NOBODY has yet been offered a plan with lower deductibles and lower out of pocket costs.
Everyone who has actually managed to get a look at plans at all has seen nothing but higher deductibles, higher out of pocket costs, and higher premiums.
Of course, most of us have not been able to see any plans, so maybe that will straighten out.
But I’m not sanguine, and neither is anybody else.
3) The parts of the ACA that had to do with things like whether an insurance company would be allowed to cancel your policy if you got seriously sick are beside the point.
Yes, all of those things are very nice, but none of them required a 2000 page bill to get implemented.
Most states have afforded those protections to group plans for decades. In Connecticut, before the ACA, every insurance company operating in the state was required to offer at least one guaranteed-issue (no turning you down for pre existing conditions) group-of-one plan for the self employed.
Meaning that, unlike a regular individual plan, they couldn’t cancel on you and the contract didn’t run out every year so that they’d have a chance not to renew.
And the premiums were part of a structure that kept them from getting ridiculous.
And we managed to do all that without massively overhauling everybody’s plan, requiring people to buy lots of insurance they didn’t want (mental health benefits!)
Those plans, by the way, are gone. And not because the insurance companies are being bad. They’re gone because Obamacare requires them to be gone.
To be replaced by higher premiums and “mental health” benefits.
4) Circulating the stories of one person or another who was mistaken about her individual plan and found Obamacare better doesn’t negate the vastly more numerous stories about people who are getting screwed. They’re really getting screwed.
5) Stop, already, with that thing about “plans were grandfathered in unless they changed.”
The grandfathered in thing was a bait and switch. Kathleen Sebelius, who seems to believe she’s inherited the divine right of kings, defined “changed” so narrowly that virtually no plan qualified.
And it is Sebelius, not Congress, who determines what is in this law.
The law contained a provision requiring Congressional staffers to buy insurance on the exchanges just like everybody else.
This was NOT a place where the law said “the secretary will decide.”
But, no permission to decide or not, Sebilius…just changed it.
And that, I think, pretty much does away with even the pretense of representative government. Our elected leaders can pass any law they want, but the regulatory agencies get to ignore it at will and substitute their own decisions.
6) The next tsunami on the horizon is going to be the problem of doctors, a fair number of whom are already refusing to sign on with plans offered through the exchanges.
This is partially an issue of money (they don’t think they’ll be paid enough) and partially an issue of regulations about things like record keeping, staffing, and compliance burdens that seem to be designed to drive doctors out of private practice and into hospital employment or larger and more bureaucratized practices.
The reason that’s going to be a tsunami is that it’s going to start to hit when the employer mandate does.
Which is in 2014.
Which is an election year.
I suppose they could delay the employer mandate yet again.
But it would definitely look peculiar.
I’ve just had something very odd happen with the dashboard for this blog. Most of the time, when something like this happens, it is because I have Done Something to annoy the WordPress program. Some of the time it is because the WordPress program has updated.
I really hate things updating.
But it’s into November, and I need to post the October book list.
It’s kind of an embarrassing list.
I started the first book on it on October 1.
I finished it on October 20.
And in that, there is a tale. Or maybe a rant.
So, the list is:
63) Steven Pinker. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.
64) Wilkie Collins. The Moonstone.
You may be thinking, as you look at this, that it took me 20 days to read the Pinker because it was a difficult book, but I think that the reason is almost the opposite.
I’ve read much longer books of much greater difficulty just this year. And I’ve read Pinker books that are just as long and far more difficult and done it in far less time.
I think that part of the problem with this one is that, although it started off to be very interesting, it ended up being…fuzzy and mushy and I don’t know what.
He starts out with something that is, indeed a fact–that your chances of dying a death by violence, in war or crime or anything else, are far smaller now than they were even 300 years ago. And that the trend, in Western countries, has been steadily downward for generations except for a few blips.
And those blips were not the Holocaust or the Second World War.
All that’s fine, I suppose, except that all his attempts to explain why this has been the case turn out to be either just-so stories or exercises in not recognizing the downsides of some of the trends he’s celebrating.
For me, the biggest one was his gushing about the “feminization” of society. I agree with him that feminization has occurred, but I don’t agree that this is all sweetness and light and good news caused by women’s wonderful tendency to be relationship oriented instead of competitive.
In fact, for me, the “feminization” of society is a great harm. It means increased scrutiny of even the most private choices and decisions in life, a nearly fanatical drive to regulate behavior in an effort to keep everybody “safe,” and a crushing and suffocating pressure to enforce and police conformity.
Pinker probably doesn’t know it, but this is the character of most highly feminized institutions–girls’ schools and women’s colleges, for instance. It’s not an accident of history that mean girl cliques are mean girl cliques, or that it’s Mrs. Grundy and not Mr.
Take a look at messes like the Salem witch trials and what you will find is women, even when they are not allowed an official role, driving the entire thing forward.
Take it from somebody who spent her entire childhood being told she had a mind like a man, and then got kicked out of her consciousness raising group for being a “male-identified” woman.
I think that what happened with my reading of this book is that I got more and more reluctant to do it. I found magazines to read, things to write, essays to scan and even correcting to do.
I wasn’t even fighting with the thing. I can, and do, read books I get really mad at, but that usually speeds up my reading time.
Get me mad enough, and I read every word at a pace faster than speed reading.
This book did not make me angry. It didn’t even get me annoyed. It just sort of fuzzed out my brain. It was almost all generalities, and what wasn’t was references to “social science” research whose protocols sounded a bit…not what you wanted to make decisions on.
What’s more, Pinker constantly did that thing, depressingly common in “social science,” where uncomfortable realities are left unsaid and sort of scooted past, in the hopes that nobody will notice.
Pinker goes on for a long time talking about how racial discrimination and even actual racism has receded over however many years. And I can attest to that from my own experience.
But then, he talks about affirmative action and says that, no matter how much time we spend arguing it, we won’t ever really get rid of it, because we know that if we got rid of it there’d be practically no people of color in academia and the professions.
But, for God’s sake–if that IS the case, then one of two things must be true.
Either racism HASN’T receded, or the racists were right and there are not just small incremental differences in intellectual ability by race, but VAST ones.
Pick one. Don’t pretend the implication isn’t there in what you’ve said.
If you want to read something by Pinker, read The Blank Slate, which is an excellent book with something new to say.
The other book is one of the earliest known detective novels in English. That’s Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone, part detective novel, part Victorian domestic drama, part Boy’s Own Adventure, complete with enormous jewels, opium, sinister Indians, all that kind of thing.
But there’s something else that really bugged me.
The book opens up with an account of how the diamond called The Moonstone was acquired by the man who eventually bequeaths it to our heroine.
The story is not only a first rate piece of nastiness, but it is portrayed as having been considered nastiness even by the man’s own comrades and relatives. So clearly considered, in fact, that those relatives refuse ever to speak to or encounter the man again.
Then the man dies, leaves the diamond in his will to his niece, and the niece and her relatives and friends are followed by three Indian men looked to get the diamond back and return it to the shrine it was taken from.
And, at that point, the detecting starts, and NOBODY brings up the obvious fact that the Indians are not trying to steal the diamond, they’re only trying to get it back from the people who stole it from them.
Shouldn’t this make SOME difference to the way in which the authorities investigate the Indians?
The muddle gets even worse when, at the very end, the Moonstone is returned to its shrine and Collins treats that as just and right.
I suppose it’s another problem of–PICK one, for God’s sake.
It’s a fun book, and I’ve got The Woman in White around here somewhere.
There is work.