Tuesday, December 31, 2002

THE MARRIAGE MOVEMENT, which I should definitely check in on more often, has been running a series of posts examining fatherhood and fatherlessness and marital discord in movies. Really interesting stuff--just click the main site and scroll as desired. But be sure not to miss this amazing advertisement. If I saw it on a bus shelter, it'd stop me cold.
RACE VII: OLIGARCH GUEST STARS!: The Old Oligarch has a good, solid, basic post about why Kwanzaa is lame. I agree entirely.
LOTS OF GOOD STUFF AT OXBLOG. But then, what else is new?
RACE FAKE POSTSCRIPT: Rob Dakin writes, "If almost everybody acted, almost all the time, AS IF there could be a dangerous, mankilling, rogue unicorn around the next corner, then the mere fact that unicorns are 'fake' would be almost (but not quite) irrelevant. So, race does exist. It's just that once you try to define what any given person's race IS, it becomes like trying to catch his shadow..."

I reply, "Argh! I try for a catchy post title, and sow confusion in my wake! What you've just said is what I was trying to say, thanks. There's a feminist slogan that goes something like, I think, 'Gender is real but not true,' i.e. people's gendered expectations of the world have real effects, but that doesn't mean humans are inherently gendered. Obviously I think that's false w/r/t gender, but it's a good way of thinking about race."

What I should have added: Also, it's obviously pretty important that there aren't any carnivorous unicorns. Similarly, the ways in which people fail to fit our racial boxes--the ways in which race is untrue/fake--are at least as important as the real-life effects that our racial expectations have on those around us.
RACE VI: AFFIRMATIVE ACTION, A.K.A. NOT THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO TALK ABOUT: That's the most important thing about affirmative action: It isn't the most important thing. It may not operate very well even on the basic level of getting black people jobs (scroll, scroll, scroll like the wind! to the last paragraph); but even if it does do that, it manifestly isn't going to be the way that most black people who succeed do so, and it somewhat less manifestly doesn't do very much at all in reducing racism, and thus, really, it is not the most important thing to talk about when we're talking about race and racism in the US.

Nonetheless, there it is, this big obvious target-issue that everyone talks about because whether you like it or hate it, it's easy to see. It's a named policy (really a spectrum of policies, but whatever), and it's something that people have already done, thus it's easier to defend/attack it than to talk about new projects or new understandings of your own. So here I am, talking about it, even though, like I said, it is neither super-helpful nor super-horrible. I think its harms outweigh its benefits, blah blah blah, but again, the most important thing to keep in mind is how marginal affirmative action is in the greater scheme of things.

What's wrong with it? Well, isn't this one kind of obvious? Even most people who support affirmative action view it as a necessary evil (or, at least, necessary thing-with-lots-and-lots-of-obvious-problems). Affirmative action calls for us to judge people as racial group members rather than as individuals. This is the reason that so many people who oppose it oppose it so passionately--they're prompted not by racism, but by a deep belief in the colorblind ideal. That's why the pro- and con- forces tend to talk past each other--anti-aff. action people talk about the colorblind ideal, judging people not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Pro-aff. action people get irritated and say, "Yes, of course, content of character, but." There are a few different places to take the pro-AA argument after the "but": "But because there are lots of racists out there, we're not judging people by the content of their character unless we assume that they've suffered/benefited from racial discrimination, thus extra points for the discriminated-against and fewer points for the discriminated-for"; "But since many people won't judge us by the content of our characters, those who want a roughly just, character-content-based eventual outcome will have to make up for the racists by fighting fire with fire"; etc.

There's a parallel dispute about the nature of "colorblindness"--people who support it generally mean the notion that people should be judged as individuals rather than as members of a race, while people who oppose the language of colorblindness generally think that people should be judged as individuals who are also and importantly members of a race and who suffer/benefit from discrimination on that basis.

The difference between the two sides is really a difference in emphasis--but that difference has major real-world consequences. I don't think most people who passionately support immediate implementation of the colorblind ideal would deny that there are still white racists out there; and I don't think most people who passionately support affirmative action would deny that people should be judged as individuals. But the difference in emphasis matters.

Affirmative action, postponing the colorblind ideal until somewhere in the future (but never with a firm deadline, of course), is a problem because of what it emphasizes and the ways it conditions us to respond to people. It emphasizes race, obviously, over and against individual achievement. (This is true even in the defenses of AA I outlined above--blacks' and Hispanics' achievements are treated as measures of greater talent than equal or comparable achievements by whites, solely on the basis of race. In other words, we assume Kristin Walsh's Harvard degree means less because her path was smoothed by racism, whereas Jamal Jones's Harvard degree means more; and this is assumed whether or not we know Kristin and Jamal's particular, individual backgrounds, challenges, etc.)

Affirmative action, unlike the early civil rights movement ("I Am a Man"), does not emphasize the "view people as individuals" side of the coin. It instead emphasizes the "...who belong to historically discriminated against/for groups" side. That leads us to treat one another as group representatives rather than as complex individuals with particular, intriguing, divergent family and personal histories. This really doesn't seem very different to me from the "numinous Negro" mentality I described here.

Affirmative action keeps us stuck in the racial framework that my last post argued was increasingly irrelevant. It doesn't track prejudice especially well--for example, a lot of people are much less prejudiced against Caribbean or African immigrants as employees than they are against native-born black Americans, yet all three groups are considered "black" for AA purposes. It hardens our racial categories and confirms us in our bad habit of treating race like it's real.

AA also turns blacks and (to a much lesser extent, because they generally seem less personally and culturally invested in AA and in "racial" identity) Hispanics into interest groups with turf to protect... like farmers. There's a difference in how one approaches the world if one speaks in terms of "At last, we're getting the respect we deserve!" as vs. "At least we're getting the things we deserve"--even if both respect and things are deserved. This is probably my weakest point against AA, or the one that's hardest for me to defend, but I do think that it's psychologically accurate.

AA emphasizes the ways black people are dependent on the majority. Instead of winning out on their own, black people who fight for AA are fighting for a helping hand, an extra boost, training wheels. Now, again, this is a matter of emphasis--obviously in a lot of important respects minorities' lives are entangled with the lives of the majority, whether the minority is lawyers, Laotians, or lesbians. But I think you can see how this particular emphasis is problematic.

And, as everybody and his mom has argued, AA sets up a victimization contest--you get bennies if you can prove that you're oppressed. This is a recipe for a resentful, suspicious, self-interested, and racially hostile polity.

The most striking thing for me--and this is an impression, not an argument, but I think it's true--is that defenses of AA lack a spirit of hope. I was thinking the other day about the people who went on the Freedom Rides, who sat at the lunch counters, who stood on the Mall while King spoke, in their heady youth. And the thing that comes through so strongly when those people talk about their experiences in the 1960s is the sense of hope, of possibility--a new era was breaking through, people really felt like things were changing for the better. This is precisely what I don't hear in defenses of affirmative action, which tend to sound wearied, hanging on by the fingernails, exasperated, or disillusioned to find that, thirty years later, we're still at this particular point on the long road of American race obsession. Now, defenses of AA also tend to sound practical, even grimly realist (not necessarily realistic, but realist, in the foreign-policy-type sense), rather than idealistic. But there's gotta be a way to combine practicality and hope.

That's what I'm going to write about tomorrow. It's fitting to start the new year on a note of hope.
RACE V: RACE IS FAKE: A reader writes (among other stuff, of which more later) that I should examine the notion, "What if [race] doesn't exist? Cuz it doesn't, ya know."

Here's what I sent him in reply:

Right--I agree with the basic point you're making here...--and I hinted that I would get at the totally bizarre, shifting, and socially-constructed nature of race eventually. But for the moment I'm using the standard-issue categories because I'm talking about how people are perceived, and that perception does, of course, affect our lives and our relations w/one another. For an obvious example, there really is black American culture, even though there are also native-born dark-skinned Americans who actually come from West Indian backgrounds, or Ghanaian, or various mixes, etc. Right now I'm talking about the ways in which "race" does tell you something, and is a thing that can be discussed; later I'll get to the places where race slips out from under you, since I think those are really interesting and increasingly important.

....Just thought it might be useful to clear that up, in case people think I think that "race" is more real than it is. After all, as my correspondent pointed out, different cultures divide up humanity into racial in-groups and out-groups quite differently (viz. this article I linked to earlier, about South American immigrants)--the difference between who's considered "black" in the US, Britain, and Brazil is one of the more striking contemporary examples. And I do realize it's a major weakness of my posts so far, that I keep talking in this standardized and unrealistic language of "black vs. white," but I hope that when this series of posts is finished, the whole will be greater than the sum of the parts, and my more nuanced view will emerge. In the meanwhile, please pardon our dust, etc.
AMARTYA SEN, SUPERSTAR: Yes, the Nobel-winning economist has been offered a role in a Bollywood movie. This is true. Via Natalie Solent. Here's a Sen essay, the only one I've read so far--cogent look at development plans that focus on population control rather than more direct ways of making people less hideously poor.
THE YEAR'S WORST BOOK TITLE and much more. Via The Corner. Not a laff riot, but several good giggles.

Monday, December 30, 2002

why can't I see my own blog?

can YOU see my blog?


THERE it is! thanks, Blogger! (say thank you to the nice Blogger, honey)
GOOD BASIC POST ON WMDs from CalPundit. He also writes about "Ozma, the Transsexual of Oz," but I wonder how his case for Baum's feminism can be squared with the disastrous (if I'm recalling the book correctly) results of Jinjur's army of women?
DEBUNKING THE GLOBAL VILLAGE: Julian Sanchez takes a whack at a big pinata:

"The spam purports to describe what the composition of a 'global village' would be like if we compressed the world's population into a hundred person town.

80 would live in substandard housing
25 would live in substandard housing
Source: Habitat for Humanity International, 'Why Habitat is Needed.' ..."

Fun! Cheering! Spamalicious!
RACE IV: MILWAUKEE. There was a ton of interesting stuff in the article InstaPundit linked about how Northern cities are now more segregated than Southern or Western ones. Here's the article (link requires registration); here are the best bits:

"In Milwaukee, where 37% of the city's 600,000 residents are African American, the disparities between the races are among the greatest in the nation. The inequities are glaring in nearly every social index: income, child poverty, education, even access to home mortgage loans.

"Blacks in metropolitan Milwaukee earn just 49 cents for every dollar that whites earn, far below the national average of 64 cents to the dollar.

"As a result, 44% of the city's black children live in families scrambling to subsist on incomes below the poverty line. Only 10% of white children are equally poor.

"Even middle-income African American families face inequities: They are denied home loans three times as often as middle-income whites, the biggest racial gap in America.

"Milwaukee is home to three-quarters of Wisconsin's African American residents, so the racial disparities statewide show up starkly in this sprawling city of smokestacks and steeples.

"The state does extremely well, for instance, in graduation rates for white students. But just 41% of black students finish high school — the lowest rate in the country....

"...The latest statistic comes from a new Census Bureau report that names the Milwaukee metropolitan region the most segregated in the nation, based on an analysis of where blacks and whites live and how isolated each race is from the other. ...

"...This city on the glittering shore of Lake Michigan ranks high in every measure of housing segregation, at or near the top of lists dominated by Northern cities: Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, St. Louis, Newark, N.J. ...

"...In contrast, several Southern and Western cities with substantial African American populations have drawn note for their integration — among them, the Raleigh-Durham region of North Carolina; Tampa, Fla.; Norfolk, Va.; Augusta, Ga.; and in California, San Diego and Riverside. ...

"To take another index of segregation: Blacks in Riverside or San Diego are more than twice as likely as blacks in Milwaukee to be exposed to whites. ...

"'My kids go to school with some colored kids, but people in my generation don't accept them as much,' agreed Cheryl Fabian, 39. Although she has lived in Milwaukee all her life, Fabian, who is white, has ventured to the northern side just a few times, to drop off toys for needy children at Christmas.

"To explain the stubborn legacy of segregation in the Midwest and Northeast, demographers cast back to the 1920s and 1930s, when African Americans began moving in large numbers to the great hubs of the industrial age — Northern cities such as Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee.

"Factory foremen welcomed their labor. But real estate agents refused to sell them homes outside a few designated blocks. As late as the 1950s, even the federal government offered home loans only in neighborhoods without any 'incompatible racial or social groups.'

"In Milwaukee, blacks were crammed into the oldest neighborhoods in the central city, into the narrow row homes that even then were beginning to sag with rot. The segregation was ruthlessly enforced. Several suburbs passed laws banning blacks from walking the streets at night.

"During that era of legal discrimination, most blacks in the South lived in rural areas. It was not until the late 1980s that an extraordinary boom in the Southern economy — coupled with the collapse of many Rust Belt industries — began to lure blacks by the millions to Southern cities. Reversing the 'Great Migration' of the 1930s, African Americans flocked to such newly vibrant hubs as Atlanta, Dallas and Charlotte, N.C.

"'That rapid growth makes it easier to integrate because it creates new residential developments that don't have reputations as black or white neighborhoods,' said Logan, the sociologist.

"Indeed, just 15% of black newcomers in the South choose to settle in central cities. Overwhelmingly, they opt for the suburbs, integrating them as they move in and creating a strongly multiracial middle class, according to William H. Frey, a demographer at the University of Michigan.

"But as the South has surged, the Midwest has stagnated. Blacks in the Rust Belt are falling further and further behind. ...

"...Upper-middle-income blacks live in neighborhoods where, on average, one in five families falls below the poverty line. Whites with similar incomes live in neighborhoods where just 4% of residents are poor, according to Logan, who studies segregation at the University of New York in Albany." [Of course, segregation by class has its bad points too...--Ed.]

"...An ambitious school-choice program lets students attend class anywhere in the city, or even in any suburb with open seats. Some families deliberately choose schools on the opposite side of the city to expose their children to diversity, making the elementary schools more integrated here than in a dozen other cities.

"In the suburb of Menomonee Falls, village president Joe Greco responds that his community, although 97% white, has 'done our part' for diversity by offering affordable housing, including a trailer park and modest ranch homes priced at about $120,000.

"'The housing is here. I don't know what more we can do,' Greco said. 'We don't get into social engineering.'

"Back in central Milwaukee, however, engineering has its appeal. A new organization called Young Professionals of Milwaukee recently gathered more than 300 men and women of all races to talk frankly about their city's reputation. Each agreed to make at least one lunch date a month with someone of a different background.

"'We're hoping lots of little conversations will add up to big change,' said one of the group's leaders, Jeff Sherman, who is white. 'That may be overly optimistic. But at least it's a start.'" [Does anyone else think this effort sounds well-meaning, but totally painful???--Ed.]
RACE III: EX-RACISTS. In the post below, I mentioned that I believe that there are lots of white racists in the US because I've met a bunch of white racists here. However, I should note something else: Almost all of these racists were quite elderly, or else they were still racist but a lot less so than they used to be, or both. Except for the stupid time that I stupidly went and counterprotested the stupid KKK (it only encourages them, and was a totally ugly scene, and did I mention stupid?), I really don't run across young people who think blacks are inferior/troublemakers/lazy/etc. Then again, I'm pretty seriously not looking to find these people. Anyway, that's a hopeful sign.

It's important, while we're talking about racism, to look at why people stop being racist. This article is James Kilpatrick's heartfelt explanation of his own shift in worldview (via Regions of Mind).

As far as I can tell, the things that make people start viewing black people as equals (and yes, I do realize that I'm talking almost completely in a black/white framework today, which is increasingly inaccurate--but that increasing inaccuracy is a subject for its own post, and for the moment I'll stick with the traditional American-dilemma-style framing of the question) are, in no particular order: a) seeing how bad it is. I bet Bull Connor siccing dogs on protestors did a lot for the civil rights movement. Ditto the photos of whites screaming at black girls going to school. Ditto the famous Norman Rockwell painting of the young black girl walking calmly past as tomatoes are hurled at her.

b) heroes, whether public figures or people you know personally. This is just one of the five hundred reasons that the "don't act white," "don't be a token" pressure in some black communities is totally crippling: Heroes are inspiring. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speeches; Condoleezza Rice's press conferences; Tiger Woods's cool; Oprah Winfrey's... well, I don't really know what Oprah brings to the party, but apparently I'm an outlier here. Heroes, whether they're celebrities or people from your hometown, can startle us and make us reconsider some of our preconceptions. (This is one reason the gay community tries so hard to get closeted stars to come out, of course.)

c) success and progress. Seeing black people (or members of any other group against which you're prejudiced) build businesses, create safe neighborhoods, write novels, and generally remove all the excuses for hating them. Now, new excuses will spring up to replace the old--but at least some people will see the bad faith that prompts this continual reshuffling of rationalizations.

d) religion. As Virginia Postrel pointed out somewhere in her forest of hidden permalinks, "One thing a lot of critics just don't get is that, with a few notable exceptions like the BJU administration (as opposed to the students), the South-based Christian right is not a racist movement. Billy Graham won that debate. Bob Jones lost it. (To see what contemporary evangelical Christianity looks like, check out these photos from Graham's recent Dallas mission.) The Christian right has a lot of nasty qualities, but race hatred isn't one of them.

"As David Frum noted on Friday, 'As the Republican right has become more and more explicitly religious, it has become more and more influenced by modern Christianity¹s stern condemnation of racial prejudice as a sin. My own guess is that the kind of talk Lott engaged in is much more likely to be acceptable at a Connecticut country club than it would be at the suburban evangelical churches in which the Republican base is found.'"

I'd love to say that d) is the biggest factor, but actually I think it goes something like b, a, d, c.
RACE II: THAT EMPLOYMENT STUDY. Earlier this month, the New York Times reported on a careful study of racial discrimination in hiring practices in Boston and Chicago. Here's the study in PDF. The researchers found significant discrimination: White "applicants" (there were no real applicants--I'll explain this momentarily) had a 10.08% chance of getting called in for an interview after sending in a resume, whereas black "applicants" had a 6.70% chance. That may not sound like much, but it cashes out to a 50% difference. To put it more plainly, most applicants don't get called back for most of the jobs they apply for. In order to get one callback, the average white applicant would have to send out 10 resumes, whereas the average black applicant would have to send out fifteen. Nine percent of employers favored whites, whereas 3.7% favored blacks. Having a higher skill range also helped white applicants much more than it helped black applicants--thus there's less pressure from the market (in these two cities) for black job-seekers to improve their skills, since better skills are proportionately less likely to result in better jobs. Again, black job-seekers had to put in more effort for less payoff. Even living in a "nice" neighborhood was more helpful for white applicants than for black applicants.

The left side of the blogosphere had quite a bit to say about this study--here's J. Bradford Delong; here's Armed Liberal; here's CalPundit; Ted Barlow and (I think) Ampersand also linked it.

Here are some links to discussions of the study from the conservative or libertarian wings:

[chirp chirp]

Oh wait, now that I've started poking around, I found two, but both are, in my opinion, almost totally unhelpful. (For example, why assume that employers are, reasonably, sketched about black applicants because the black applicants might sue under EEOC rules, but not note that employers might just as reasonably be worried that white applicants would engage in racial harassment? We know that most people do neither; why is the first worry judged significant, neutral, a non-racist concern one might have, whereas the second is not even considered? Similarly, why is "I bet his A's in college don't mean much because he's black and his professors probably gave him an easy time" any more "reasonable" or uninflected with racism than "I bet his A's in college mean a lot, since he probably faced racial discrimination"? [What about "I bet his A's in college mean a lot, since he probably faced teasing from peers who thought he was 'acting white'"??] Neither judgment seems to me to be a particularly helpful way of sorting potential employees. But to assume that the former rather than the latter is the natural assumption is just odd.) I do think there are other explanations than racism for some of this data; for some of it, too, there's a complex interplay between stereotype and reality that I'll get to in a minute; but it's hard to believe that the whole discrepancy can be explained away without any reference to racism. And "explaining away," rather than explaining, is what those two links seem to me to be doing.

Now, it may be that I just haven't run across better discussions. It may well be that once I've put this post up, I'll get tons of emails from bloggers of the right, saying, "Hey, man, I was on this study like ugly on an ape!" And I certainly don't hold people accountable for not blogging about something that they might not have seen... might have seen but didn't have time for... etc. (I mean, I'm joining this party pretty late myself.) Nonetheless, there's a lot of interesting stuff going on with this study, and it would be cool to see other people take a look at it from a right-leaning perspective. If it is being ignored because it doesn't fit with the fairly Pollyannaish view of race relations that many conservatives hold, that's a shame, because both what the study reveals and what it doesn't and can't reveal are intriguing and don't play to any one side's expectations or stereotypes.

Oh, and before we begin, I should note that I'm pretty firmly convinced that there are a lot of white racists in this country. This is largely because I've met a bunch of them. I don't, however, think that white racists are the biggest problem facing black people trying to get ahead, or even in the top five, although I do think white racists exacerbate some of the top five problems. More on this tomorrow.

Anyway, here's the study's basic setup: Researchers created a slew of fake resumes, sorted into two skill levels (determined by things like how much education the "applicant" had received). They then sent resumes in response to 1300 classified ads. For each ad, they sent in four resumes: two high-skill, two low-skill. The resumes were randomly matched with (fake) local addresses, and also randomly matched with names. The names are the key thing. The researchers had two lists of first names and two lists of last names, which, when matched, would produce a total name that most people would read as "white" or "black." For example, "Jamal Jones" was a possible black name; "Brendan Baker" was a possible white name. The names were first selected based on both the popularity of the names, and the unlikelihood that the names crossed racial boundaries--in other words, Jamal was picked because it's really popular with black families and not at all popular with white families, and vice versa for Brendan. Then the names were winnowed by running them by a focus group that was asked to guess whether the names were "white" or "black"; names that were overwhelmingly given to black children rather than white, but not perceived as "black," were discarded. (The study gives Maurice and Jerome as examples.) So by the time the names are placed on the resumes, the researchers could be pretty confident that the black names would be perceived as black and the white names as white. Each job received, as I said, four resumes: a low-skill white resume, a low-skill black resume, a high-skill white resume, and a high-skill black resume. Then the researchers waited to find out who would get called for an interview.

The researchers describe the ways their study improves on previous studies--for example, previous hiring-discrimination studies used an "audition" model, where a white actor and a black actor would actually go in for interviews for the same job. (The actors would usually be matched to have similar heights and so forth.) But this is sub-optimal not just because people, unlike resumes, can't be mix-and-matched or standardized--no matter how hard you try to match the pairs, sometimes the black guy will just be more attractive, more personable, or more in tune with the employer's mindset--but also because the actors knew they were in a study, so there was a strong danger that they would (consciously or subconsciously) skew their performances to produce the results they believed were most likely.

The fact that the "black" names were chosen because they were distinctively black (i.e. they had to be not just popular among black families but unpopular among white families) may have introduced some other kinds of skew into the data, however. The black women's names are disproportionately "non-traditional" or "unusual" (among non-blacks; obviously they're "usual" among black city folk or they wouldn't have been picked), and people generally do discriminate in favor of traditional, solid-seeming names. (Which will no doubt be a great disappointment to the parents here.) Several of the black men's names sound Arab/Muslim--Hakim, Kareem, Rasheed, and maybe Jamal, thus four out of nine--and the study was conducted after 9/11, so we may be seeing several different kinds of assumptions at play.

Non-black employers may also assume that black applicants with "unusual" names are more likely to come from the ghetto. (That's an even bigger guess on my part than the previous two things.) Within races, the researchers did check whether some names were more likely to be given by mothers who hadn't completed high school, but there weren't any correlations between the diploma rate and the callback rate--in other words, Ebony got more callbacks than Lakisha, but the mother of the average actual Lakisha was not less educated than the mother of the average Ebony. If you follow me. It's neat that the study takes that into account, but what we really want to know is whether the average Lakisha's mom is less educated than the mother of the average black girl named Lisa's mom (i.e. are poorer families more likely to give distinctively black names), and whether the average employer thinks "Lakisha" is not just a black name, but a ghetto name. The researchers tried to show that the discrimination was not about class; they noted that black applicants from middle-class neighborhoods still had a harder time finding jobs. But I think they may be assuming an overly-rational employer, one who knows which neighborhood the fake addresses come from, is more swayed by address than by the unusual name, can accurately assess the frequency of a name, and so on.

The white names have some weird quirks as well. Six of the nine white last names are... Irish. (All the last names: Baker, Kelly, McCarthy, Murphy, O'Brien, Ryan, Sullivan, and Walsh.) Given that Boston showed more discrimination than Chicago, does this mean simply that Boston is more pro-Irish than Chicago, rather than that Boston is more anti-black?

Two interesting things that we can't know from this study: 1) Which races discriminate most against blacks, and by how much? What proportion of black employers discriminates in favor of blacks, and what proportion (if any) against? (It's in no way unthinkable that black employers would discriminate against black applicants--black cab drivers often bypass black men trying to hail cabs, etc.)

2) Who else would get discriminated against? If Kristen Walsh and Chava Rosenstein try for the same jobs, how often will Kristen get a callback as vs. Chava? Kristen vs. Chava vs. Lakisha? How much discrimination is considered a huge problem--would your view of the study change if you found that Ebony (one of the less-discriminated-against black names) was discriminated against only as much as Chava, or Yahyin? (I'd be pretty shocked if any other race was as discriminated against as the most-discriminated-against black names, with the possible exceptions of Arabs and, in areas near reservations, Native Americans. Aisha, Keisha, Tamika, Lakisha, and Tanisha all did worse than the lowest-callback-rate white women's names. But Ebony, Latoya, Latonya, and Kenya received callbacks only slightly less often than the average white women's names.)

The other big interesting thing we can't learn from this study, of course, is why the callback gap appears. I've outlined some partial explanations, but I don't think they explain the whole gap. (I'm not a social scientist, so take this all with a grain of salt, of course.) A chunk more of the gap is explained, I suspect, by the very existence of ghettos--black names are associated with poverty, poor schooling, and violence. This is one of the problems of being a minority: Members of the majority may only know the minority from the evening news, and what gets on the evening news is rarely good. This association likely persists even when the actual resume in front of the employer shows a college degree or a fairly high skill level.

There's a good quick explanation of the process in this article (link requires registration), which InstaPundit linked and which I'll talk more about in a moment: "Parsing the statistics, it can be hard to untangle cause from effect, hard to know whether to blame the segregation on poverty, or the poverty on segregation. Demographer Roderick Harrison, who studies these issues at Howard University in Washington, D.C., suspects that blame is due all around.

"'When you have these disparities' in income, education and housing, 'it feeds the stereotypes: Black people equal poverty, crime, welfare — all the things that whites moved out to the suburbs to escape,' Harrison said. 'That increases white resistance and fear to having even middle-class blacks move into the suburbs.'

"And that increases segregation — which in turn widens the gulf between black and white, by keeping African Americans from better schools and jobs in the suburbs."

That sounds right to me. Note that the equation of "black people" and "poverty, crime, welfare" is still racist--it judges an entire race based on the actions of a few. It assumes, even in the face of specific evidence to the contrary, that individual black people will be gangbangers or illiterates or whatever. It's pretty messed up to judge a resume based more on the name at the top than on the credentials in the middle. But part of the tangled problem here is that you have to address both things at once--both the discrimination and the half-rational assumptions that underly it. You have to say, "Judge applicants as individuals, question your snap racial judgments, pay attention and check to see whether the resume actually fits the stereotype you have"--and you also have to reduce the poverty, and the crime, and the welfare rate. Just repeating, "Don't assume," isn't going to work. We can argue about to what extent reducing racism will help clear up the other problems in poor black communities. I think it's pretty obvious that it would help; it certainly couldn't hurt. I also think it's pretty clear that reducing other problems in poor black communities will make racism seem less "reasonable," less natural, and thus it will become less prevalent.

I'm going to blog more tomorrow about solutions, now that I've sketched out some parts of the problems. I strongly agree with CalPundit's statement that improving education is key. I'm going to offer a bunch of things that I think will help a) reduce racism and b) improve conditions for the black people most likely to be discriminated against.

I'm also going to blog about my reasons for opposing affirmative action. Here's something to chew on while you wonder what I'm going to say about that--it's a result of the callback study that really surprised me: Employers that claim to be "equal opportunity employers," and "federal contractors, who are more severely constrained by affirmative action laws," do not discriminate less than other employers. Repeat, (federally-contracting) affirmative-action employers do not discriminate less. Bizarre.
RACE, PART ONE: WHERE I'M CALLING FROM. I said I'd be writing a lot about race in America. I'll be trying to look at it from a bunch of different angles, and it seems like it would be helpful to give people some idea of my own background, since it's pretty obvious that it's shaped my view of this stuff.

When I was really young, I thought the majority of Americans were black--I basically thought the whole country had the racial makeup of my neighborhood, which at the time was about 70% black. (I think it's less now.) I've talked a bit about my Afrocentric elementary school before. I have no truck with Kwanzaa, but the school generally presented Afrocentrism as a way to knit black children into a fabric of morality and realistically complex patriotism. In looking back, I see Afrocentrism as practiced there as a mostly positive force, not a divisive one. We all looked up to black heroes, but there was no sense that their heroism could only be emulated by black people; there was no sense that white people were Bad. There was a sense that injustice was a frequent occurrence in American history... but that's just true, and it never seemed to clash with the aspiration of "liberty and justice for all" that we recited every morning. (Well, OK, I didn't--I can't remember if I didn't say the Pledge at all, or if I just went silent for "under God"; I think I sometimes did one and sometimes the other--and neither did the Jehovah's Witness girl. But you get the point.) In many ways the emphasis on black history and the struggle for racial equality emphasized to us the ways in which right action requires self-sacrifice: It's hard to hear of Harriet Tubman's life, or Fannie Lou Hamer's, and not want to put oneself at risk to attain justice. There were definitely some racial tensions at the school--one girl was teased (by black kids--the school was somewhere above 90% black, I think) because her father was black and her mother white. It wasn't a paradise. But given the fact that children tease about anything, I remember the racial teasing as being pretty minimal, and no more malicious than any of the rest of it.

There's not too much else to tell, really--you get the basic picture. The only thing to add is that in high school, partly because of the history of the particular school I attended (the first integrated school in DC, but by that time it was pricey, overwhelmingly white, and obsessively unhappy about those facts) and partly because of the particular segment of punk stuff in which I moved, I got to see how stupid and paralyzing liberal white guilt can really be. (Firsthand. Blah.) White guilt often begins as manners, which are good--manners require you to pay attention to the people you interact with, treat them well, and be aware of problems they may be dealing with that you are not dealing with. All well and good. But because there is no way to be sufficiently non-racist (colorblindness is not even close to good enough--more on that later), LWG quickly spirals into self-obsessed, self-lacerating uselessness. Zines full of pages and pages of white girls engaging in Self-Critique, "calling themselves" on their racism, sometimes exaggerating it, sometimes wallowing in their own rottenness, but always talking about themselves (uh, ourselves), and never about, you know, actual black people. Especially not as individuals. Black people were symbols--what Richard Brookhiser, I think, called the "Numinous Negro." Black people, in the abstract, were also highly useful as clubs with which to beat other liberal-white-guilty punks--racism was the most useful charge to use against white guys and girls because it could never be disproven. If you denied it, that showed that you weren't sufficiently self-aware. (Yes, I am reminded of the Frist pencils/Barry "scandals," why do you ask?) Black people in real reality tended to be significantly less useful, thus it's perhaps not surprising that they were more popular in absentia. Real black people tended not to act in satisfyingly symbolic fashion. They tended, in fact, to dislike being numinous. The whole show was full of taboos, unsayables. It was beyond lame, and I think it was harmful for everyone involved. (Click here for a brief discussion of what harm I think it did--look under "learned weakness.")

So that's where I'm calling from. I don't think either the elementary-school or the high-school racial atmosphere are what we should be striving for, though the elementary-school one was a hundred times healthier and closer to the ideal.
SYNNERS: After I completed the Re-read Angela Carter Project, I turned to another book I hadn't picked up in ages--Pat Cadigan's Synners. A while back, when I was first starting to blog, I'd re-read her Mindplayers, which is terrific (my review is here if you scroll down). I had a vague recollection that I'd tried to revisit Synners but had given up pretty quickly. So I thought maybe I should dip my beak in again.

No. Sadly, Synners has pretty much all of the tics and lapses I dislike most in science fiction. There's an overwhelming desire to be "cool"--I think I liked her in high school, but the constantly-cussing, dreadlocked, one-note (angry/undisciplined/mother figure for this guy Mark--you'd think that would be three notes, but it isn't) character of Gina really bored me this time around. The focus is on the Technology of the Future rather than on the characters, whose loves and needs and misunderstandings are squeezed into the interstices of the plot, and therefore have no choice but to become caricatured.

There's also that bizarre romanticism about the Internet that crops up in so many early-'90s SF books (Synners is from 1991)--everybody had to write a book about "something alive in the Net." The Net itself is a character! Ooh! I wonder if this trope (eh, maybe it's not cool enough to be a trope) is the result of the belief that any complex order must be the result of specific design, rather than spontaneous interactions among complex entities according to general rules? Cue Hayek, Postrel. The idea that the thing "alive in the Net" was just us, millions of random people blogging about their cats or publishing the list of corporate donors to the Pelosi campaign or firing passionate love-emails, wasn't good enough, wasn't sexy enough for those who fell prey to the specific-design fallacy. (Maybe it's also a result of misappropriating the theory, which I don't pretend to understand, that mind is an emergent property of matter? Thus if you get a lot of really complex and mind-seeming matter together, eventually you get mind? But that sounds to me a lot like the idea that if you get a lot of meat together, eventually you get maggots.)

I also learned from Synners that: corporations are evil but government is irrelevant; in the future, slang will rhyme (PLEASE SAVE ME FROM THIS FUTURE--I mean, can anyone write "scam-jam" or "Jack Hack" without wanting to cry?); and the teens of the future will still be insufferable.

There were some aspects of Synners I liked. Cadigan gestures toward the way in which gradual changes sneak up on us, and when we finally notice what's been going on, the point of no return is several miles back. Novelists sometimes write as if the world moves in punctuated equilibrium--calm broken by catastrophe--which I guess it sometimes does, but more often than not the catastrophe builds slowly over years and years, sinking into the fabric of everyday life like a dye, and it's not until the thing is really indelibly set that you realize it's poison. Cadigan has some showy catastrophes, for sure, but the book also shows this slower kind of corruption. Appropriate for the "age of sacred terror," of which the 9/11 attacks were not the beginning. (Can't endorse the book I linked to there, but the title works.)

I think my favorite character is the aging salaryman who gave up his artistic dreams and submerges himself in video fantasies to get through the working day. However, he's always getting punched and hit in the head and so forth, which seems like a pretty crude way of suggesting that he offers self-sacrificing love.
I'm in the blogwatch it's the one across the hall
If you don't answer I'll just ring it off the wall...

The Agitator: Garry Trudeau comes over to the Dark Side. Fukuyama slammed again: "In sum, we have two positions here. Position (A) advocates military restraint and the resumption of economic activity with Iraq. Fukuyama calls this 'isolationist.' Position (B) advocates bombing the hell out of Iraq, and continuing the ban on doing business with them. This, apparently, is 'robust international engagement.'" And Charles Taylor + Al Qaeda. Oh, and a good quick slap at USDA dietary recommendations.

Jane Galt: Lighthouses and economics and government provision of services--good stuff. Plus, she shows how inappropriate her username really is with this post on welfare. I'm not sure if we agree--she's outlining a framework for evaluating where the danger areas for private charity and government welfare lie, rather than discussing which approach works best when, or what policy conclusions should be drawn from the framework, and I get the sense that I would weight the balance more heavily toward private charity than she would--but her analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of government and private provision for the poor is really clear-sighted. More on this later, maybe next week.

Jesse Walker has year's-best movie lists for... 1972, 1982, and 1992. But not 2002. Interesting stuff, though I really, really disagree about "Frenzy." In fact, Walker's capsule summary of the movie captures exactly what I dislike about it! "Hitch's most modern movie -- this is the second-to-last film he made, and the first with any nudity or genuinely graphic violence -- is also remarkably traditional, a straightforward thriller starring one of his most familiar characters: the innocent man wrongly accused." The way that I would put this is: "crude."

Light of Reason: Two intriguing posts about Objectivism and aesthetics: here, in which Arthur sketches an approach to art that doesn't fit my image of Randian dogmatism, and here, in which he makes abundantly clear how I got that image in the first place. I'll be writing more on this later too.

Noli Irritare Leones: For the feast of the Holy Innocents, a post on child soldiers. Lots of links, check it out.

EDITED TO ADD: I can't believe I forgot about the Old Oligarch's big, fierce post on Wiccans, the winter solstice, and what Christianity does and doesn't do to pagan holidays.

Unqualified Offerings: In the middle of a very "I have heard the bloggers singing, each to each... I do not think that they will sing to me"-type post about various disputes between and about various left-wing bloggers, UO has a few paragraphs about political parties that appeal to louts and loutishness. Those paragraphs are much worth your time. The rest is not so much my thing. I guess I'll just say that I approve strongly of lots of extremist positions, but that's different from using ranting rhetoric. The point is to try to get other people to be extremists too, guys, and that's easier if you're not yelling at them. IMO.

EDITED TO ADD: The Yale Free Press Blog is back! I assume this is because of winter break. I hope that the blog will fall into disuse, or at least less-use, during the semester, not because I want less YFP blog but because during the semester one has, you know, real people to talk to. "The shortest, gladdest years of life" as they say.

Via Electrolite I found Real Live Preacher, the blog of, you got it, a real live preacher. Definitely worth a look.

And The Agitator is right--this Gene Weingarten piece about his father is moving.
"'You are very superstitious and very drunk,' said Marianne austerely, determined to put an end to this. 'I am only in your bed by accident, anyway. It's your good fortune if this accident happens to serve you as a focus for your moral guilt.'"
--Angela Carter, Heroes and Villains (which is not as good as it was in high school, sigh)

Friday, December 27, 2002

SLEEP. I took what was supposed to be a half-hour nap, but turned into a good three hours. Will be offline this weekend but will return to blogging Monday... no, really. Remember, it's still Christmas!

Thursday, December 26, 2002

The soldier asked my name and did I come here very often
Well I thought that he was asking me to dance
In my blogwatch coat and hat and him in his red bonnet
We'd have made a lovely couple but we never had the chance...

Someone is back.

From Matthew Yglesias I plucked this interesting if intro-level look at South American immigrants' run-ins with the US's very different racial classifications and tribalisms; and from Amygdala I snared CAPTCHA, tests that tell you if you're a computer or not. (I did fine on the first one I took, but on one of the other tests I turned out to be a computer. I can't believe it--I failed a Turing test.)

And Glenn Reynolds's FoxNews column on the African music and movie industries is super-interesting.
THE DESIRE FOR GENDER. My JWR column for this week--basically a tighter, more "pointful" version of this post.

Monday, December 23, 2002

NO MORE BLOGGING UNTIL AFTER CHRISTMAS. On Thursday or maybe Friday, you'll get all (or, uh, at least some of) the fun stuff I promised below under "Coming Attractions."
I SAW MOMMY KISSING THE BISHOP OF MYRA: Posts supporting my anti-Santa-myth position from Zorak and Cacciaguida. Zorak also offers advice on how parents who have already told their kids that Santa is for reals might break the news without disillusioning them or making them think that Christianity is all a bunch of fluffy nonsense.

And here's an email exchange in which I make my case:

KairosMan: Two objections to your Santa post. (Okay, comments, since you didn't quite draw a conclusion--but it was close.)

The first is, admittedly, self-referential, but it is valid on purely pragmatic grounds, even if it fails a logic test. Do you want to be the parent who ruins an (apparently) harmless myth for all the children? If I told my son when he was two that there's no such thing as Santa, the first thing he would have done is gone to all the kids in his day care (yeah, we did day care; that's a different problem) and told them the Truth, in very solemn tones. All the warnings in the world would not have been enough. Soon enough, some angry weightlifting Dad would have waited for me in the parking lot to kick my ass. By inductive reasoning I declare the myth to be harmless. Further, to declare to a child that all the *other* parents are lying to their children might do more harm to that
child's perception of truth than going along until the child begins to figure it out for himself.

The second is not self-referential. Is there a connection between your Objectivist stage and the willingness of parents to prevent you from experiencing a sense of wonder at Random Winter Day time? Does the training in accepting the less-than-rational that is Santa Claus hinder or harm that ability long-term? I suspect the answer varies from one person to another, but that for most a belief in Santa Claus allows parents to "dumb down" to a
child's level faith in a miraculous giver of gifts, without having to dumb down Jesus quite so much. As a parent, I have often left sophisticated concepts about Christ alone, while able to make simpler versions of those concepts accessible when we talk about Santa. (And, no, I have never explicitly compared Jesus to Santa, and have downplayed the direct analogy when the Lad has done so.)

Neither of these is fully compelling, but we all, ultimately, make parenting choices inductively, because when we try to make them deductively, we invariably wind up with those piles of neuroses colloquially known as "children of therapists."

Me: Well, I definitely agree re inductive vs. deductive parenting, and I see your point about telling all the other kids, but
a) I never had an Objectivist phase. All the Rand-stuff on the website is because my best friend is an ex-Objectivist, as are several of my other close friends. But I always thought Rand was wrong. This is interesting in Santa-context b/c actually I was a fairly superstitious child, for good (abiding belief that the world is imbued with
"meaning"/story/purpose) and ill (superstition is anti-Christian and magic-y [human will uber alles]), despite no Santa.

b) I also didn't tell all the other kids about it. Now probably this is just because I didn't know much about Santa--I'm honestly REALLY surprised at how big an issue this seems to be for parents. (I mean, I know it's not a HUGE issue, but it was really not on my radar screen at all as a child.) So I frankly have no clue which of my classmates, if any, believed in the big red guy. But it does suggest that with at least some kids and some contexts, your problem won't apply.

I dunno. At a gut level, I love all the Christmassyness, "and it shook when he laughed like a bowl full of jelly" and so on, but when kids start actually BELIEVING in Santa, and cry when he's exposed as a fake (he's not! he's a SAINT! But can a kid adequately appreciate that a saint is cool enough when he's just been disillusioned?)--anyway, when Santa becomes a Big Deal, I find it... creepy. Eerie. Stephen King-like. Like there's this big grownup conspiracy not to tell kids the truth--for no reason. Now, I'm sure that if I'd actually been told about Santa I would see it as mostly-harmless, a basic rite of passage type thing, fun while it lasted, etc. But as it is, Santa creeps me out.

Wow, now I feel like the weird one! Ah well. We'll see what happens when I have kids.

The KairosReply: I wondered about the Objectivist thing, but it would have been a great argument, so I stuck it in. Bummer. :-)

I was speaking about my child only, in regards to spreading the word. He is a compulsive repeater of truth, and at age 3 regularly narced on himself when I picked him up from school. He would tell me about things that even the teacher hadn't noticed. Needless to say, we have encouraged this tendency, and would have had to undermine it in order to keep the Santa secret.

Plus, purely for entertainment value, is the fact that the oldest sibling is allowed the privilege of telling the younger ones that THERE'S NO SUCH THING AS SANTA. As I was the victim of my sister in this regard, I resent it extremely, of course, but all it did for me was confirm that she's a big fat stinkhead, while preserving my parents as very, very cool for having bought all these "extra" presents all these years, in the name of teaching me about unconditional love and generosity. (Though maybe I'm retrospectively amending part of my perception.)
And after all this, won't you give me a smile?

The Agitator: Points out a site on globalization for the people. "What I like about the site is that it sings the praises of free trade, free commerce, and human freedom, but not in overly polemical rhetoric. Rather, it tells the story of globalization through positive examples, through reasoned argument, and most powerfully, through the voices of the third-world people who have benefited from it. It also provides direct links to cool websites like this one, which import handmade goods from third world countries -- giving the worlds' poorest peoples instant access to western markets."

Ampersand: Venezuelicious. Including this very useful list of Venezuela news sources. And the INS sends a woman back to Afghanistan: "Life in Afghanistan for a woman is hard enough; but for a woman who has no close male relatives in Afghanistan, and who hasn't lived in Afghanistan for half her lifetime, it's impossible. As Ms. Budri says, 'that's going to be the end of my life.'" And two posts about the INS roundups in California--lots of good points. And, uh, lots of other stuff too, go read.

Body and Soul: Must-read post about charity without love. Or maybe "just" without thought--without any attempt to imagine oneself in another person's situation. No, really, when I said "must-read," that's what I meant; I'll wait here 'til you're done. This is something that everyone who does any sort of charitable work--which should be pretty much everyone--should read, especially but not only if you have never needed material aid yourself. (I say "but not only" because, well, people forget, or decide not to remember.) (EDITED because I'm not sure how much public exposure Jeanne wanted her post to get.)

Junius: How could I forget "Class Struggle, the game"? I think I still have the ad for that game--complete with Ronald Reagan arm-wrestling Karl Marx--taped to the bookshelf in my childhood bedroom.

Oxblog: Radio Free Iran update. EDITED TO ADD: Here's a dissenting view.

St. Blog's Cookbook: What it sounds like.

Sursum Corda: Toddler theology: “Joseph, do you know why Jesus died on the cross?”


“Uh…to take away our sins.”

“What are sins?”

“Well…uh…well there is a lot of meanness in the world and God wanted to take the meanness away, so he—“

“But I don’t want God to take the meanness away because I want to be a pirate.”

And: textbook follies (right, left, and none-of-the-above), via Amy Welborn; how to be a philosopher (#10 is especially funny), via Matthew Yglesias.
BERNARD HERRMAN IS GREAT. I just thought you should know.
"At the same time, non-custodial fathers with disposable income were setting a standard that no father-in-residence could meet. Even the most dutiful full-time father almost never whisks the children off for exciting weekend adventures--certainly not every, or every other, weekend. Vacations aren't exotic surprises but are tediously planned and discussed in advance. Allowances may appear regularly, but surprise checks do not. Presents arrive on the holidays when they are expected but rarely between; the occasionaly extras a residential father produces are chance novelties, not major items.

"In sum, he is predictable. He never even has mystery houseguests for breakfast. Wheedle as they will, the children can never get him to give his permission when he knows that Mother has refused hers. Affectionate though he admittedly may be, he is thinking more about rearing the children than about impressing them.

"Miss Manners thinks that to be quite enough of a job, and believes that it should entitle him to be restored to his previous status as a figure of respect. She doesn't feel that she has to restore his claim of infallibility for him to garner that respect."

--Judith Martin, Miss Manners' Guide to Domestic Tranquility

Friday, December 20, 2002

UNEASY PREFERENCES: Really interesting piece from The American Prospect on affirmative action. It's missing a positive program though--it's all critique--and thus it can't recapture the hope and inspiration that imbued the King era. I do believe that hope can be regained, and I'll be writing more about that next week.
COMING ATTRACTIONS: Next week you'll get: jurisprudence mail with replies; lots and lots of thoughts on race and racism and stuff; more on aesthetics and reason; maybe some thoughts on life-as-story, ethics, and Nietzsche. For now, all you get are scraps, sorry--I'm having a much too harried Advent, I'm lame.

Thursday, December 19, 2002

ANGELA CARTER UPDATES: When last I blogged about the fun feminist fabulist, I was re-reading Love, one of her earlier novels. I've now finished Love and Shadow Dance (which I think was her debut) and am now almost halfway through The Magic Toyshop, which I think was one of my two favorites in high school (along with Heroes and Villains; I thought The Fantastic Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman was a more important book than those two, but "favorite" doesn't necessarily correspond to "best"). Here are some thoughts on how Carter's books have changed since high school--by which I mean, of course, how I've changed.

1) I now notice that her metaphors go on way too long and her language frequently skids from "lush" into "histrionic." This is especially a problem in The Magic Toyshop, but all three books I've re-read so far have a melodramatic, sturm und drang, adolescent fever to them. (Here's a metaphor-overkill example from TMT: "They all had more tea. Jonathon took no interest in the room or the company. He sat with his eyes fixed on great breakers rolling on a coral atoll somewhere in the immense Pacific. A bottle swept up to his feet and rolled in a rock pool. He smashed it open. There was a message in it. He read it with surprise. It prompted a question. From a long way away, he asked, 'When shall we see our uncle?'" Sentences three through 8 1/2 are metaphor. Eh.) On the other hand, she also has some great lines, especially in Love, but I don't have the energy to dig them up. Maybe later.

2) In these three books, which are all among her earlier works, she isn't really writing any female characters that I now (post-adolescence) find at all attractive. Her younger women are a) lost, self-destructive, opaque and unpredictable waifs (Annabel, Ghislaine) or b) your basic self-important, Freudian teen (Melanie). Her older women are either wrecks or pathetic women who crave the children they'll never bear. Although Carter nails the patronizing pity of well-off women for disadvantaged men--she's ferocious in her depictions of condescension--she herself tends to condescendingly pity women who want children. Now, post-teenhood, post-reading Maggie Gallagher, I find this inability to empathetically imagine motherhood really troubling. I seem to recall that the only women who really break this mold in a believable, compelling way are the sisters in Carter's last book, Wise Children--I can't remember if they have or wanted children, though. (Wise Children is probably Carter's best book, although I'm reserving judgment on that until I re-read Heroes and Villains.)

3) By contrast, Carter's feline, masculine, dangerous men are still really attractive, even though Carter is bracingly aware of the grim damage that can be done by men seeking to fulfill their masculinity by being "dangerous" or "unpredictable."

4) The afterword to Love , written 18 years after Carter initially wrote the book, is much less satisfying and convincing than the ending. In the afterword, Carter tries to imagine placid, politically aware futures for her smashed-up characters: This one is a pacifist feminist protester on Greenham Common, that one manages a club in New York, etc. It manages to be more depressing than the uber-depressing finale of the original novel, simply because it feels so deflated--it's descended from the first things, love and hate and family and desire and despair, to politics.
"In the end, we found that transsexuals, the most feminine men on Earth, had scores that were indistinguishable from straight or gay men." Very interesting stuff from Ted Barlow.

EDITED TO ADD: A Missouri-born and -bred friend pointed out that I may be jumping the gun here, since "Chapter 1" of Jeanne D'Arc's indictment involves fairly complex Missouri politics (opposing a specific strategy for desegregating schools is not the same as praising segregation), and although "Chapter 2" looks supersketchy and 1950s-literacy-test-like I really don't know enough about it to link to it as if I understood what was going on. So, consider this your invitation to look into this stuff and figure out what you think. This gives some fairly basic reasons to be skeptical of Ashcroft's record on race though.
VAMPIRES, MAGES, AND MEANING: Super-interesting conversation about the attractive and repellent aspects of "story," higher purpose, or theme in role-playing games, via Ampersand. There are big obvious theological questions here that might make the discussion interesting even to people who don't give a rat's about dice and such. I'll probably post more on this tomorrow night--sorry for all the light blogging, it'll pick up very soon, though not this weekend.
'TIS THE SEASON...FOR BAD CHARITIES?: My JWR column on choosing a charity. Apologies for the messy links.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

RADIO SILENCE. Must-read post on the silencing of Radio Free Iran. (It's got a different name, but whatever.)
And when they've blogged you and they've watched you and wasted all your money
And made your parents cry,
I will be there... oh, believe me...

Cacciaguida celebrates the twentieth anniversary of his reception into the Catholic Church.

Jane Galt: Republicans, race, vouchers; is the murder rate really the not-getting-to-hospitals-fast rate? Good stuff, and, of course, be sure to read the comments.

Julian Sanchez: Very interesting post on Saddam, Bush, rationality, and rhetoric. Don't be put off by the game theory stuff--it starts simplistic but gets very intriguing. Be sure to check the comments box as well.

Junius: Quick, fun swipe at politically correct board games.

Oxblog: How's Afghanistan going?

Unqualified Offerings: A brief history of the future. I don't know what I think about this yet, but it's very much worth your time.

And unsuccessful movie taglines, via the Agitator.
FAITH AND REASON MAIL: Initial posts here and here. You can get Arthur Silber's response to the aesthetics post here.

Roger Donway: I have always found it useful to realize that "faith" translates the Greek word "pistis." Most people who have studied ancient Greek were taught to translate "pistis" as 'trust." And that is how I understand it to be used in the New Testament. The Apostles were calling on people to have trust in their testimony regarding the Good News.

This approach also makes sense of the concept "preambles to faith." Obviously, before you trust (have faith in) what someone (an apostle, a Church) tells you, you must establish that your source is trust-worthy, and that knowledge must rest on some basis other than the source's own assurance. In his splendid little book The Belief of Catholics, Msgr. Ronald Knox lists six such preambles to faith, facts that an individual must determine for himself--by philosophy or history.

I shall be very interested in hearing your further thoughts on faith after you reread Fides et Ratio, for I hope to write on this subject next year.

Jim Ycotto: Re your blog answer to this comment:

1) I'll answer his third question first: "...And, to put one of the related questions more bluntly: doesn't it bother you that you can't defend your belief in God on rational grounds? If not, why not?"


Many years ago someone asked this question along similar lines. I don't see why any believer should be
"bothered" to defend belief in God along "rational" grounds. Just what is so special about rationalism? It is one of the most flawed modes of human thinking around. Among its many flaws:

(a) arrogantly presuming to understand phenomena or make decisions based on logical reasoning while ignoring the accumulated experience of past generations,

(b) the rationalist himself cannot present a certain justification for rationality (his appeal to authority is ultimately an appeal to just another theory--so what makes it superior to other theories?). Why are we supposed to accept what a rationalist argues--just because he makes an argument in favor of another theory among several other competing "isms"? In other words, where is HIS justification that is supposed to impress the rest of us? He demands "proof" from people of faith--well then where is his certain "proof" of the efficacy or certainty of his theories? One may well ask "Isn't the rationalist bothered by his inability show certain proof of his theories?" Bertram Russell sure was. See here for example.

(c) Rationalism rejects "irrationalist" behavior like religion and embraces atheism or non religion. Very well, let them defend the practitioners of atheism and non-religion. Such practitioners with rational calculation, have produced as many if not more human disasters than religion--from the cynical (but politically successful) mass murder of Josef Stalin and other "scientific socialists" and their atheist ilk, to social engineers in the areas of crime, race and the environment. Just as rationalists demand that religion justify every disaster associated with it--so in turn let the rationalist defend the atheist and non religious "helpers of humanity"--Messrs Mao, Stalin and the killing fields of Pol Pot. It is time we stop indulging its proponents and demand the same certainity and proof that they demand of people of faith.

The above critique of rationalim is "lite" stuff. A 2 minute Google search turned up a ton of devasting rebuttals and critiques -- and most of those are on non-religious grounds. If rationalists cannot even pull their own weight with certainty in the philosophical world, what gives them the right to demand anything from people of faith? Let them prove their own case first with certainity before presuming to lecture others. While we try to inform and instruct
no beleivers, Jesus himself spoke pretty bluntly in the gospels to those who questioned his faith. We are under no obligation to bow to the demands of those who cannot even prove their own theories.

Varous scriptures as to the tension between faith and "reason" are well known. Nothing elaborate is required
as far as I am concerned. No Papal bulls need to be quoted although I do not fault anyone who wants to do so. There are of course dozens of other scriptures addressing the issue, but Paul in Hebrews is worth quoting: "Now faith is the substantiating of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen..." .

Well, there's a lot going on up there. Let me just make a couple quick points:
1) I distinguish between reason and rationalism. Rationalism is the belief that logic + sense perception are the only valid tools for understanding the world. I think rationalism runs into a lot of problems, though I'm not sure they're the same problems Mr. Ycotto sees. However, "reason" is a more flexible word, covering syllogistic reasoning, "reasoned discourse" (which of course can include allusion, metaphor, and similar moves of the kind Richard Rorty calls "re-description"), and everything else we mean when we ask someone to give us a reason why he believes X and we should too.

I responded to Arthur Silber's question as if he were asking me, "Why should I be a Christian? On what experiences, premises, and philosophical conclusions do you base your belief? In other words, what reasons do you have for your faith?" If that question can't be answered, then there can't be any communication between atheists and Christians. (Well, maybe there can be poetry--but I'm even pretty skeptical of that. There couldn't be literary criticism!) Fortunately, I think that through the usual philosophical combination of re-description and logic, people can be surprised into accepting a different, and reasonable, view of the world--a view in which certain questions are important, and certain answers plausible or even obvious. And when they do that, I think they will find that Christianity is true. I think this, of course, because this is what happened to me.

2) I don't think there's much point in the "who killed more of whom?" argument. It's just too tangled and weird. Atheists have been in power less; did all the people who claimed to be Christians really believe in God?; what is a religion?; etc. etc. etc.

Then, after all that, Aaron Pease catches me using my terms sloppily: I stumbled upon your blog through Mickey Kaus and noted your assertion that aesthetic judgments cannot be made through reason. I wholeheartedly disagree.

I think that, first, you must distinguish between logical reasoning and discursive or interpretive reasoning--not every reasoned conversation must adhere to strict logic. For example, art often relies on maintaining an appearance at least of contradiction or paradox, which are anathema logically. (e.g., Scobie in Graham Greene's The Heart of the Matter and the priest's reaction to Scobie's fate) However, we can discuss rationally what that parodox is, and how he is ensnared by it and why or why not his solution to the situation deepens the paradox or resoleves it) And with regards to paintings and sculpture, these types of art are based on principles of order, balance, symmetry, etc., (or refutation of such) which are, quite simply, things that can only be identified through the use of reason.

Just because T.S. Eliot believes that Hamlet fails as an artistic work because it does not meet his requirements of the "Objective Correlative" is not an occasion to shrug one's shoulders when thinking about art, but is an opportunity to analyze the principle of the objective correlative and see if it is a valid way to critique literature in general, and Hamlet in particular.

I am not trying to eliminate the "subjective" in art, as matters of taste will also differ, but it seems to me that we cannot attribute art solely to the realm of the "non-rational". While the effect of a work of art may be "supra rational", we can always use our powers of reasons to determine why it has the effect that it has, such as the combination of elements in its composition and how they work together to achieve the desired effect. Such conclusions may or may not be authoritative, but that doesn't mean they are not rational.

Read Jacques Maritain's Creative Intuition and the Art of Poetry for an interesting discussion of art and the creative impulse. He is a Thomist, but I think that is an aid to his understanding of things, rather than a detriment.

My reply: Oh, see, I totally agree with the paragraph about the supra-rational, and I think I agree with the rest as well. But isn't there a difference between saying, "Discussion of art requires the use of reason," and, "An understanding of aesthetics can be derived rationalistically, via logic + sense perception"? Maybe not and I'm missing something here. I think I may--among other things--be conflating "aesthetics cannot be derived rationalistically" and "art cannot be based on logic + sense perception alone," although I still think both are true.

I may have expressed myself poorly or come across wrong b/c I was refuting a specifically Objectivist take on art (which non-Objectivists have also applied to their own preferred philosophies): that aesthetics can be derived from "reason" (logic + sense perception) alone. In other words, I can tell you what is and is not great art a priori, probably with reference to what I value, and that great art will be in accordance with the conclusions of syllogistic reasoning. Disagreeing with THOSE bizarre claims doesn't mean retreating into "we can't say anything
about art! It's just something you FEEL!"-land. I can definitely talk about what makes Hamlet (or The Long Goodbye!) great. I can even talk about what makes certain works of music, or statues, great--although that discussion will probably blur the lines between criticism, poetry, and philosophy even more than they're blurred already! (Part of the problem with the Objectivist aesthetic stance, perhaps, is the reluctance to admit that sure, poetry has an element of philosophy in it; but philosophy ALSO has an element of poetry in it. There's a tendency among Randians to colonize everything for Reason--construed, like I said, as logic + sense perception--which tends to leave me thinking, You know, if I'd wanted to write a treatise, I'd've written a treatise, not a poem.)

Anyway, thanks very much for your helpful note. I still don't think I've fleshed out my stance esp. well, and so I will definitely revisit this question. But probably not this week!
ISRAEL AND PALESTINE MAIL: Also without replies. Here's the initial post.

Mike Daley: The statement [by a Jordanian ambassador a few decades ago]: 'There was no situation similar to this in the East, particularly with the civilization where for centuries the majority of Jews lived happily and productively and to which they contributed in every way, namely, the Arab civilization,' leapt out at me. My enduring thought was I imagine the Southern US aristocracy of the mid-19th Century had somewhat the same description for their African-American residents/slaves.

I don't know why, but virtually all of the history of the Islamic/Arab world is fictionalized by the Islamists themselves. There seems to be no credible and/or widely disseminated histories written by Western Liberal thinkers/academics, ever.

How else to explain the Muslim's brutal occupation of Western Europe for 800 years coming to be thought of as a "Golden Age". Or the centuries long Islamic occupation of Eastern Europe where, among other atrocities, children were taken from their families and sent to Turkey where they were enslaved and brainwashed to eventually end up as a feared Janissary, the Ottoman Empires elite attack force.

Michael Yaeger: Israelis' self-understanding is, I think, different than it was at the time the stuff I gave you was written. It is less zionist, more "vanilla" liberal-democratic. (Not that it isn't still zionist, just less so.) Witness the moves of the Israeli Supreme Court to extend citizenship, and generally make the place more liberal, less nationalist.

Also, the religious community is larger and more powerful than it was at the founding of the modern state.

So the Israeli self-conception is changing, I think. I have no idea if this is good or bad in general, but it may be good for the client state thing.

More concretely, it is true that the Israeli economy has become less socialist, and they now have some real industry. (E.g., software.) If they can get some peace for a while (hah!) I'm confident they will become less dependent on U.S. aid.

[Eve wrote:] "My goal is simply to point out that for Jews living in America, this exilic and spiritual understanding of Israel is necessarily going to persist, even among Jews who also support those other Jews who live in
and fight for the state of Israel."

Right on. In fact, I think it persists to some extent in Israel itself (though to what extent I have no idea). For example, people still yell "next year in Jerusalem!" after the Israeli national anthem, "Hatikva." Of course, this now has a more defiant tone; something like "we'll still be here next year too."

In any event, even if I'm wrong about the anthem, I think Israelis still feel in exile in the sense that they are an outpost of liberal democracy in a repressive, autocratic region. So Jews may not be at home in the West, but in some ways they don't feel very at home in the Middle East, either.

Zack Ajmal: I just finished reading Benny Morris's "Righteous Victims" which I highly recommend. It's a detailed, balanced history of the conflict detailing all the atrocities, stupidities, etc. of all sides in the conflict. It starts in 1881 I think and covers the end of the Barak government. The website http://www.mideastweb.org has this to say about the book:

"A balanced and readable history of Israeli-Palestinian relations, from which partisans of either side will draw their own conclusions, and those who seek truth will find that it is complicated and illusive. Morris documents the subjugation and humiliation of Jews under Islam, the miserable state of Palestine under Turkish rule, the plans by Zionists to force Arab immigration, the Nazi associations of the Mufti, the perfidy of the British against both sides, the flight and expulsion of Palestinian Arabs, and the history of each war. If you are going to read one book about the Israel-Palestine conflict, read this one."

Benny Morris also has another book "The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949" specifically about the refugee problem created during the 1948 war and founding of Israel. I believe he concluded that there was no one reason for the fleeing Arabs. Some were expelled by Haganah/IDF or the extremist groups, a lot more left because of the fear of war, and some left on the call of their leaders. As usual the truth is much more complex than either side is willing to acknowledge. I should mention that this book looks only at the refugee problem and its causes and hence neglects the big picture. Therefore, it is probably harsh on the Zionists/Israel. The book I mentioned before has the requisite background. However, "Righteous Victims" has only 70 pages on the 1948 war and only 7 pages directly addressing the refugee issue.

Kevin J. Maroney: You wrote: "The essays, perhaps unsurprisingly, didn't really clear up whether the Arabs fled in anticipation of getting their land stolen, or simply because they didn't want to live in a Jewish state, or what. If people have reading recommendations on that I'd be interested."

The short answer is, "they fled because they feared for their lives".

A longer answer is that during the Israeli War of Independence, various Zionist forces including the Stern Gang and Irgun strongly encouraged the Arabs to flee before the advancing Israeli armies. This message was
particularly strong after the Dair Yassin massacre, in which an entire Arab village along the Jerusalem road was killed. There are surviving accounts of Stern Gang broadcasts warning Arabs that the "Jews have the nuclear
bomb" and would use it on any Arabs who didn't flee.

There's a common myth that the Arabs fled from the areas they fled on orders of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in the expectation that the Arabs would quickly reconquer the lands held by the Israelis, but I believe there's no strong evidence that such orders were given and no evidence at all that they were obeyed.

The seminal work in this field is Benny Morris's The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949.

Matthew Hogan: Some of the information you got on Israel appeared to be one sided ( I didn't notice any Arab perspectives referred to in the packet) though still accurate to an extent (the point about 19th century nationalism is very true). The big problem was the one about Palestinian Arabs inside Israel/occupied territories being from elsewhere.


That was a basically settled peasant society for the past centuries that was not mobile. People did come in and out and there were Bedouin but most were peasants who had settled like most other places in the Middle East.
There was nothing spectacularly abnormal or migratory about Palestine's Arab population, even after Jewish settlement began. THe rate of growth is the natural rate.

Egotistically, I would recommend my own article in the academic journal the Historian -- the background and concluding sections -- which deal with a massacre by extremists in the course of the 1948 departure of the British that helped spark the refugee situation and is broadly agreed to have been a major spark for the refugee and war situations.

The cause of Palestinian displacement was not that much different than the Kosovar refugees in 1999, a general forced displacement. Remember Israel was founded by East European nationalists and East European nationalists have had a strain of heavy beliefs in homogeneity and forced relocation of outside communities.

The following article from Le Monde Diplomatique is shorter and better and covers the issue of Palestinian Arab displacement in summary, as mine is a military history/analysis with political background.

Use your own critical judgment, but the viewpoint in the latter article (actually both, Ronald Radosh praised my conclusion) is increasingly mainstream.
MAIL WITHOUT REPLIES (or with short replies): Mail with substantive replies comes later. Sorry I've taken forever on this. In reverse chronological order, starting with the oldest and moving to the newest. Christian soldiers; cloning; home ec; promise-making; what is a Christian?; science fiction and war; media bias; manners; and VX gas.

Paul Donnelly: I think you miss the point -- a soldier has made a LEGAL commitment. Thus he (or she) is required to follow all LEGAL orders, and takes a huge LEGAL risk when and if she decides that some order is not legal. But when soldiers refused to obey Lt. Calley's orders at My Lai, they were not breaking the law. I missed the original proposition -- but I can't think of any 'immoral' orders that aren't also illegal, and so you're confusing the primary obligation: soldiers take an Oath, you know. "What is an Oath, but words we speak to God?"

Thus, when you pose it as necessarily a moral question after the fact, you miss the point of the legal obligations a soldier has voluntarily accepted in the first place, which carry their own moral weight. Kipling pointed out in his marvelous short story, "The Drums of Fore and Aft", that the ideal soldier thinks for himself, which is good. (He wrote this 120 years before our "Army of One" stuff.) But first, he added, a soldier goes through a period where he thinks OF himself, which is disaster.

The primary legal obligation which a soldier accepts is the chain of command. It flows one way -- down. R(Remarkably similar to Roman Catholicism's vision, ain't it?) Superiors by definition have better information and more authority than those lower down. THAT is why it is morally wrong -- in principle -- for a junior officer, much less a non-commissioned officer or an enlisted soldier (sailor, air crew, marine) to disobey lawful orders. It places the entire military at risk -- it's known as "mutiny".

For Catholics, mutiny is the moral equivalent of heresy.

I couldn't come up with an example of an immoral order that an American soldier might be given that would not also be illegal. The hypotheticals I can think of, viz., Muslim soldiers who might refuse to fight against Muslims
(not likely -- we've already had two instances of dutiful valor by American Muslim soldiers against predominantly Muslim enemies), are mutiny -- which is presumptively IMMORAL, precisely because it requires breaking a solemn Oath that religious soldiers conclude with: "So help me, God."

LOL -- this is an Americanist idea, you know.

Well, Americanist/anti-Vatican stuff aside (since I am unsure a) what "this" in the last sentence even refers to, and b) what "Americanism" entails), I don't remember the whole Christian-soldiers discussion super well, but I was specifically asking about what happens when soldiers are given immoral, My Lai-style orders.

Robert Wenson: Much of Mark Solomon's letter is beyond my competence to address; but his arguments against the continuity of the self are pretty weak. Not that I have any strong arguments for it; I think it is a self-evident truth. Dr. Johnson once answered an arguer against free will with the words, "Sir, we know our wills are free and there's an end to it." Well, I know I'm the same person I was 10, 20, 30, and 40 years ago, and there's an end to it.

Mr. Solomon argues that, (a) because the cells in my body die and are reproduced every month or so, I cannot reasonably say I am the same person I was last month; and (b) because my opinions or personality may drastically change, I cannot say I am the same person I was before the change.

(I will leave aside the argument that a person is not merely a body, but a soul-body complex, partly because I don't know if Mr. Solomon accepts the concept of the soul, but mostly because I'm not familiar enough with the details to employ it usefully).

To answer (a): Mr. Solomon's actual words were, "every cell in your body dies and is replaced by a new cell according to the dictates of your genetic code." My genetic code is continuous. I have the same genetic code as I did last month, 40 years ago, and from the moment of my conception. To the extent that one emphasizes the importance of DNA in our physical nature, one has to accept that our physical nature is continuous. Also, nerve cells are not replaced. If one of my brain cells goes, it's gone. I have the same brain cells that I did 40 years ago. To the extent that one emphasizes the importance of the nervous system in our physical nature, one has to accept that our physical nature is continuous.

To answer (b): Again to quote Mr. Solomon, "your attitudes, beliefs, and personality may change so drastically that you will scarcely recognize your younger self a few years down the road ('I can't believe I did that, wow, I was crazy back then, etc')." I appeal to personal experience: when I look back on my past attitudes, beliefs, or aspects of my personality that have changed, generally one of the effects is shame. Now, I do not feel this when I look at anyone else who has the same attitudes, beliefs, or aspects of personality that I used to; exasperation or resignation (depending on my mood), yes, but not shame. There must be some continuity for me to feel, and say, "I am ashamed of what I was." Mr. Solomon's words also reveal that the very structure of our language inescapably assumes continuity: he says "your cells", "your personality", "your self" (!), "I was crazy back then". I know of no language that includes a distinction between the present person and the past person. Either personality is continuous, or all humanity is and has always been so deeply subject to an illusion that it has embedded itself in our very speech.

Finally, a couple of anelephantinopurgetic* arguments: (1) We take it for granted that parents will care for their children from birth to adulthood; yet, if personhood changes from month to month, what's to stop my wife and me from throwing our daughters into an orphanage? They're not the same persons that were born to us. (2) We sentence criminals to long prison terms; yet, if personhood changes from month to month, after a month or so the prisoner is not the man who was sentenced (in fact, given the pace of criminal justice these days, he is not even the man who committed the crime). Not being the same man, he is being punished for a crime he did not commit.

Hope you find the above interesting.

Robert Wenson

* "Un-ivory-tower" (from the Greek), i.e., arguments that appeal to "reality" or "the way things are". From what little I know of philosophy (and it's d--ned little), you can't just say that you're appealing to reality, because reality is so murky a concept; so I had to come up with a technical term for what I was doing.

John Brewer: Cornell has a College of Human Ecology, which until the '60's was the College of Home Economics (note that they didn't have to change the initials). My maternal grandmother got her bachelor's degree in Home Ec there back circa 1934. This is less weird than it might seem at first glance, because Cornell has always rejected the general Ivy League tendency to look askance at "Applied" anything -- they've got an Ag School, a Hotel School, "ILR" (I think that's "Industrial & Labor Relations -- something New Deal / Five Year Plan like that) etc. Plus they've had female undergraduates since way back before 1900 without ever completely shunting them off into a separate school (a la Radcliffe, Barnard, Pembroke etc.).

Rob Dakin: Thanks for posting the Arendt thing. It has given rise to these thoughts:
It has always amazed me how casually people are able to break promises. Or, perhaps, they don't consider a statement a 'promise' unless it is explicitly labeled as one when it is made. I have always felt absolutely obligated, if I tell someone that I'll meet them at 5 PM, to be there at 5 PM (not 5:20), or to inform them in advance, if it's not going to be possible. If I tell somebody that I intend to mail him a book, I do it: I feel absolutely obligated to do it. I always understood what was meant by the Indians in movies who crossed their arms on their chests and said "I have spoken" when they had completed a speech at the pow-wow: my word is my bond. I don't think that this is ever trivialized by the circumstances.

As for the past, I can only assume that by 'forgiveness' it is meant that we should find a way to forgive ourselves for the messes we have made and the transgressions we have committed. Forgiving others is relatively easy, compared to letting go of past actions for which we condemn ourselves. There is no doubt in my mind that a bad conscience makes a positive future impossible.

Dakin again: Here's a thought: a Christian is a person who thanks God not for the beauty of the dawn, but for the cross and the nails and the crown of thorns. A Christian is a loser whom the world is kicking the living s--t out of. Simone Weil thought this was good. Nietzsche thought this was bad. Was either of them correct?

Sandra Meisel: ARMED & DANGEROUS does a great injustice to David Drake, whom I know well and with whom I edited two anthologies. He's a Vietnam vet who's been trying to exorcise his own devils for thirty years by showing how war damages people. The blogger has somehow mistaken this for "pornography of violence."

Try Drake's REDLINERS about the redemption of a group of gravely traumatized soldiers to see what I mean. One would never, never get the idea that war is glorious from reading Drake. You might from Pournelle.

Pournelle I wish I hadn't met but he's a conservative Republican (who once worked for Mayor Yorty of LA). He served in Korea and was wounded there. He did a version of the Byzantine Nika riots (don't remember the title)
which the blogger is deploring. Drake did his as COUNTING THE COST. Drake's is more brutal but makes no pretence that anything good was accomplished.

Heinlein I saw but never met personally. His Libertarian ideas grate on my mind like fingernails on a blackboard. If you're not tough and smart Heinlein has no use for you.

[Postscript:] Dave probably writes more authentically about the realities of war than anybody else in SF. The badly damaged veteran is a recurring figure, even in his fantasy stories. For somebody who wasn't a bit authentic and shied away from direct representation of combat, see Gordon R. Dickson, whose research assistant and literary critic I was for 25 years.

Mitchell Freedman: Media bias exists, just not the way you think it does.

NY Times' bias is one of elitism. Cultural elite, political elite and economic elite. What does this mean in practice? Cultural elite: The NY Times likes clergy who oppose the death penalty; they don't like it when they oppose abortion or gays. The NY Times likes the hypocrisy of the Church on sex abuse cases as the editors/publishers are, ahem, secular elitists for the most part.

Political elite. The NY Times doesn't like clean elections laws (public financing), but thinks some soft money limits are appropriate (kind of like "moderate" Republicans). They like "fair play" and such, which means they like "commissions" instead of hearing from everyday people.

Economic elite. God, does the NY Times hate unions and love the NAFTA, GATT/WTO consensus in Washington, DC. Tom Friedman and Paul Krugman have written vicious screeds against anti-globalization demonstrators and unionists. Not very "liberal" of them. And the NY Times no-name editorialists have long been against most minimum wage price increases for reasons that make Milton Friedman proud.

And as George Seldes and Upton Sinclair could have told you years ago, and it still exists, reporters don't control how an article is ultimately printed, what its title is and where it's placed.

The media bias exists and it does favor corporate advertisers' interests. And when it doesn't, it is rare. The sad part is the often deliberate (though not in your case, which is why I write to you) mislabeling of "liberal" without explaining what "liberal" really means. One is more correct to call it "corporate bias" than "liberal bias," as even
culturally conservative friends of mine admit as well.

And Rob Dakin: I see Fox News (which I watch, even though I disapprove--check THAT out!), as an example of the "build it and they will come" syndrome. Despite the protestations of conservatives, the mainstream media have always been center-to-right in their orientation. At least this has been true from the vantage point of any person truly on the left. Chris Hitchens has been one of the few in that position (true left) who has been able to get on TV regularly in order to make that point. Prior to Fox News, however, there has not been on television a network that (almost) openly propagandizes for the right OR for the left. I think that no fair-minded individual who watches Fox News network consistently would deny that the network brazenly cheerleads for Republicans and conservative positions. Brit Hume is easily, EASILY the most biased anchor on television. To say that the success of Fox News is due to the fact that people choose to watch it, is not to say that you can't have success by appealing to both the lowest common denominator of the public, and to the baser instincts of that targeted demographic. Success, as measured by quantity, does not imply high quality, particularly in the moral realm. The world being such as it is, it may even imply the opposite.

Well, I don't watch Fox News hardly at all--or any TV news--it grates, especially now that they all do the "crawl" at the bottom of the screen. So I can't speak to that part. I should clarify, though, that I wasn't trying to imply that Fox is good because people like it. I was just trying to point out that people do have other choices, so if you try to explain the Democrats' midterm electoral problems by saying, "The Right controls the media--look at Fox!", then you still have to explain why people watch Fox when they have other options. That's all.

Roy Sheetz: One way to look at the hierarchy of manners is with a personalist bias. Manners for social conversation ensure that we do not presume to force intimacies on others in an inappropriate situation as though they were just targets for invective practice or canvasses for our word-painting: "The Wonderfulness of Me and My Stuff: A continuing series." Where the manners are themselves no longer appropriate is in situations of intimacy,
although there is etiquette for those situations too, but less formulaic. Thanks for bringing one of my favorite philosophers to the fore.

BTW, her response of the fixed and icy stare with rigid smile hissing "Thank you so much, you are nice to say so!" is the best response to the gratuitous insult that has ever been devised. The broken tape loop repitition of
"No thank you we have other plans" is also good for the importunate boor who WILL have you attend their social event.

Sean Kinsell: If you've been reading the Miss Manners books that you describe, may I encourage you (if no one has already) to start reading all her stuff from Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior on? She very frequently gives attention to the differences between manners and morals, even if she doesn't, as you say, address the lives of the saints directly. The newer books are more topical, but, perhaps because the older ones are relics of my childhood, they seem to me to get at more of the Through the Looking Glass quality of navigating through human nature. She also has a wonderful way of advising people how they can properly channel properly felt spite--I don't remember which book it's in, but her advice to the cheated-on woman about how to make her husband and best friend feel miserable about the affair they're having is immortal.

KairosPerson: I have to say, I've been pretty much on board with getting rid of Saddam for a while now, not least because I think it was an obligation last time around (even as a 21-year old college student, I was predicting "Don't exceed the UN Mandate!" was going to bite us on the ass) and I think the case for Justice for 1991 depended in large part on undoing the evil (getting rid of saddam).

And I don't have a large problem with pre-emption, at least as a theory. AND I find the reports of Saddam's
involvement in the 1993 World Trade Center attack credible, as well as the Czech persistence in stating that Atta did in fact meet with an Iraqi intel guy a year before 9/11. Every time Safire or someone else quotes unnamed sources denying it, someone from the Czech government goes on the record to say, "It happened." This is not the
behavior of people in doubt about the truth.

But, I think this VX gas story smells a little fishy. 1) If Saddam wants to give chemicals, he should give some that are a little more widely held, like Sarin. VX winding up in the NY Subway system is a neon roadmap to Baghdad (if you'll pardon the overwrought metaphor). North Korea might have it, too, but they appear to be trying to force us back into negotiating with them, not trying to persuade us to annihilate them.

2) The timing is mightily convenient.

3) This administration knows how to play and read the papers, and the story has all the earmarks of something done to influence public opinion, but still retain some deniability. Only one source on the record, giving lots of winks and nods, but very few facts. 9 off-the-record sources saying "We get a lot of crappy reports, but this one didn't look crappy." No one important has actually said the transfer occurred, but the headline and lead make it clear that Very Important People think it did.

Now, it may well have happened, and these guys may well be doing their duty as they see it. But Tom Ridge
hasn't secretly ordered a couple million gas masks for storage on subway cars (yea, I know VX works through
the skin too; it's figurative) and then leaked it to the press. We're still at Code Mauve (or whatever) on the Incomprehensible Threat Index, and so far as we have heard, local law enforcement aren't cranking up the overtime hours of Transit police. These are all things you would expect to happen if the government really believed al-Qaeda had the ability to get rid of a few thousand or tens of thousand subway riders.

I'm not pretending, by the way, the article didn't make me glad I'll be done commuting for good in a few weeks, or that the prevailing winds blow from my apartment to downtown Boston, rather than the reverse. The amygdala is a fickle mistress. But my reason says this story is out there to sway the 75% anti-war types, not because it represents the administration's belief about what happened in Turkey a few weeks ago.