Saturday, January 07, 2006

The cool tile floor was just lying there...

One vodka martini....and the cool tile floor was just lying there.

A very fine story, introducing HDG. My wife has on occasion played HDG. It happens to everyone, now and again. At least women usually only act really dumb if they are drunk. Guys do it just out of habit.

From the Eels: Elizabeth on the Bathroom Floor

Laying on the bathroom floor
Kitty licks my cheek once more
And i could try
But waking up is harder when you wanna die

Friday, January 06, 2006

Chubby Chaser

So, my friend and I drive down to the Southern meetings, in ColdLanta.

Arrive about 11:30 pm, pretty quiet, go into the lobby at the Buckhead Intercontinental. Nice hotel, nice part of town, all that.

Desk clerk, calls up the reservation (it's in my friend's name; I am bunking with him, as I didn't think I was going to these meetings, until I realized that my colleague Paula McClain was giving her Prez address, and I really wanted to be here for that).

Desk clerk, looking at reservation, glances up at friend and me (we were laughing and talking). Desk clerk, increasingly agitated, looking down, looking up at us.

Desk clerk: "I'm so sorry. We are almost full, and don't have many rooms. The only room we have has two beds!"

Questions:
1. What does it mean to "look gay"? I have never noticed any correlation between looks and sexual orientation. I mean, sure, there is the stereotype, but I have never found that to be very accurate as a classification model. Type I and Type II error.
2. What things have to be true, in the clerk's mind, for his default assumption to be that two guys traveling together are gay?
3. I told my friend (I won't give his name, but his initials are Scott de Marchi) that he must look like a chubby chaser. (I am not thin, and he is). He had not heard the term. Is it that rare? Is it offensive? (I do not consider it to be offensive, but I may just be misinformed) (See example in context)

Neither Scott nor I were in the least offended or upset at the assumptions of the desk clerk, but I did find it surprising....

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Controlling Legal Authority

There is no controlling legal authority that says this was in violation of law."
-- Al Gore, seven times (in one form or another),
White House news conference, March 3, 1997

That has been called, with intentional irony, “Al Gore’s money quote.” Mr. Gore was answering questions about using phones in the White House to solicit campaign contributions. People laughed at the obvious attempt to confect Clintonian word-pretzels to defend something we all know is wrong. And it must be wrong, because it’s against the law. And it was against the law, right?

Maybe. And maybe not. It’s hard to tell, even for candidates. American election law is ruled by a building code mentality: you can’t tell if you have violated the law until the inspector visits. The McCain-Feingold reform, or Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA; for information on the Act, click here ), is only the most recent incarnation of the building code approach. But it is also the most dangerous, because it damages both the competitiveness and the openness of our political system. After BCRA, our campaign finance scheme does two things, both bad: (1) It maximizes the impact of narrow, often one-issue, interests, and (2) It raises a nearly impenetrable financial force field of protection around incumbents

Here is what the controlling legal authority does tell us: there are two kinds of money (even though it’s all dollars, in the end). Soft money is unregulated money, the kind that people might contribute to parties, local organizations, or private groups. Almost any institution that might advocate for broad political agendas and responsible, accountable political discourse depends on soft money contributions. Hard money is donations allowed under the Campaign Finance Act of 1971, as amended repeatedly (in 1974 in response to Watergate, 1976 in response to the Supreme Court decision in Buckley v. Valeo, in 1979, and so on) by the U.S. Congress. (For more on campaign finance law and background)

The most recent set of amendments, contained in the BCRA and passed in 2002, focused on stamping out those nasty unregulated soft money contributions and doubling the allowance on hard money contributions. Now BCRA supporters claimed (and, presumably if inexplicably, genuinely believed) that these amendment made special interests more accountable. But BCRA left a hole in the wall of protection: according to 116 Stat. 82, Sec. 203(c)2, organizations defined in section 527 of the Internal Revenue Code 0f 1986 are exempt from the provisions of BCRA.

And through this hole have poured in a growing flood of uncontrolled contributions. Now, organizations referred to as “527s” have come to dominate the headlines, with groups like “Moveon.org” or “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth” having a greater impact on the 2004 presidential campaign than any other independent groups in U.S. history. Total spending by 527s in the 2004 election cycle totaled nearly $400 million; the money was used to buy attack ads in hundreds of television markets, with no clear accountability or even ability to identify the source of the spending.
The irony is that candidates and party representatives, hamstrung by the law and desperate to understand its Byzantine provisions and requirements, have to spend more time than ever before meeting disclosure and reporting requirements, and figuring out whether there any “controlling legal authority.” They have no idea if they are breaking the law or not. They have to wait for the building inspector.

How did this mess happen?
Surprisingly, the answer is fairly simple. McCain-Feingold / BCRA is based on a dodgy, Progressive-era assumption. That assumption is this: the key to good democratic government is the total exclusion of all taints of interest, or money. So average citizens, local party organizations, and private groups of all kinds that have an identifiable affiliation or interest are squeezed out. Yet organized 527s with vague, untraceable names like “America Coming Together,” “Safer Together 04,” or “Americans for Better Government” can cry havoc, and let slip the weasels of war.

Truthfully, there is little Constitutional basis for barring self-interested political activity. The First Amendment could have read like this: "Congress shall make no law...restricting freedom of speech, unless the speech is self-interested, in which case Congress can do what it wants, especially if it protects incumbents."
But that is not what the First Amendment says, because we cannot hope to outlaw self-interest. Trouble arises when privately funded and supported organizations, or even just wealthy individuals are denied their crucial role as the antidote to narrow, particular organized interests.

As James Madison pointed out,
It could never be more truly said [that the] remedy…was worse than the disease. Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.

Madison's celebrated solution is to control the effects of faction, or specialized interests, through a system where debate is enlarged and refined. Enlargement was to be achieved in a federal republic, in which regional factions could be checked by others, and no one faction is likely to be encompassing enough to dominate the nation unless it also represents the interests of the nation. Refinement of the desires of the public was to be achieved by "passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country."

Smith and Jones: A Parable of Protected Power
Consider a mythical example. Ms. Jones dislikes the policies of Representative Smith, the incumbent from her Congressional district. Jones challenges Rep. Smith, but needs some source of contributions to have a chance. When powerful local interests hear she might be running, they begin to court her.
But local interests have narrow aims: one wants new defense contracts, another wants to develop a "brown fields" site, and a third wants to build a museum honoring retired local baseball hero George “Razor” Lynch, the famed bean ball pitcher. The groups ask Ms. Jones if she supports these "initiatives," but of course she doesn’t. She has national goals, and believes that Rep. Smith is not representing the district well in Washington. But when she answers no, the local groups go back to contributing to Rep. Smith, since Ms. Jones has no chance to win. They don't try to bribe her, but they quite reasonably (from their perspective) don't want to make contributions to someone that doesn't share their narrow (from a national perspective) interests.
Ms. Jones goes to her local party organization, and to other organizations that in the past have been able to use soft money at least for get-out-the-vote activities. But they are broke, hamstrung by campaign finance designed to limit the influence of special interests. What should our candidate do? What must she do? There are only two alternatives: (1) give up, and accept the legally protected invulnerability of the incumbent, Mr. Smith; or (2) go back to those special interests that want to contribute hard money, and collect enough funds from all these different interests that she can cobble together a campaign.

Unintended Consequences
In short, the desire to limit the power of special interests by regulating "soft" money has had the opposite effect. No other system of private financing could have more room for domination by organized interests, because narrow interests have moved in to occupy the vacuum created by BCRA. A narrow building code mentality, forgetting that only more competition, not less freedom, can control factions, has crippled the competitiveness of our political system. We need to look to private organizations with encompassing, enlarging visions of governance; instead, we have allowed, and even encouraged, each Senator and member of Congress to build a secure private fiefdom based on corrupt local interests.
The very idea that a controlling legal authority can restrict and direct the activities of faction violates the principles of institutional architecture described in the Federalist Papers and embodied in the Constitution.

We need to rebuild the architecture of democracy by eliminating the hundreds of complex regulations that stifle debate and confuse participants themselves about what the law is. We, the people, need to control our own impulses to use legal authority like the BCRA to control competition. The fact is that competition among strong and financially independent private sources of influence is our only hope for a vibrant and responsive democracy.

Greg Mankiw's List

I have been looking for this since I read it in the WSJ. They don't put things up unless you subscribe to the eJournal, and I hate "subscription" entries in blogs. My subscription doesn't help you....

Anyway, former CEA honcho Greg Mankiw has a list of resolutions for politicians. Very nicely done.

Excerpt:
#7: This year I will be modest about what government can do. I know that economic prosperity comes not from government programs but from entrepreneurial inspiration. Adam Smith was right when he said, "Little else is required to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice." As a government official, I am not going to promise more than I can deliver. I am going to focus my attention on these three goals--peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice--and I am going to trust the creativity of the American people to do the rest.

ATSRTWT....

(and a nod to JC at JLI)

Dangerous Minds

Not a bad way to preoccupy your mind on a run through the woods....Or maybe in the shower, or sitting in traffic.

The Edge Annual Question — 2006

WHAT IS YOUR DANGEROUS IDEA?

The history of science is replete with discoveries that were considered socially, morally, or emotionally dangerous in their time; the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions are the most obvious. What is your dangerous idea? An idea you think about (not necessarily one you originated) that is dangerous not because it is assumed to be false, but because it might be true?


The coolest suggestion I have seen is "race." Social construct, sure. Yet....something more. And we all use it. Check this Times of London story.

(Nod to JM, with thanks)

ATSRTWT Update

I had not checked on my attempt at innovation in a while.

It's going okay, but not exactly taking off.

ATSRTWT, by which I meant "As They Say, Read The Whole Thing", was a suggestion I made for bloggers some time ago.

And some people do use it.

Seems handy to me. We often excerpt something, then link to the longer article or post if the reader wants to go there. Useful to have a universal signifier.

Google shows that there are close to 200 instances in current web pages.

An alternative would be "Read The Whole Thing", of course. And it does appear that RTWT is winning, both on formal and numerical grounds. Sigh.

My argument for ATSRTWT is that you can pronounce it: AtSirTwit. 3 syllables. RTWT has 5 syllables, even if you pronounce the third letter "dubya". But of course it does have seven letters to type, and who cares how you pronounce RTWT?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Mungowit's Law: Everyone's Unpublished Work is Brilliant

Let me recommend, either for academic newbies or for those who mentor them, the (relatively) new IHS on-line publication "Scaling the Ivory Tower" (to go straight to the PDF just click here)

Dave Schmidtz was the main (re)writer, but I wrote three sections also. It turned out well, overall, and has some entertaining parts. David S is really a master at thinking about this stuff.

My favorite part is #10 in the section, "Ten Truths About Scholarly Writing." That's where I state what I (modestly) hope will come to be referred to as "Munger's Law" for all eternity. Here's the law: everyone's unwritten work is brilliant.

The full statement goes like this:

Everyone's unwritten work is brilliant
Everyone's written but unfinished work is excellent
Everyone's finished but unpublished work is good, but they won't show it to you
Everyone's published work is...well, most people don't HAVE published work. They are too busy talking about how brilliant their unwritten work is.

Here is my reasoning, from p. 23 in SCALING THE IVORY TOWER (sorry, there are no internal bookmarks in the PDF):

Everyone’s unwritten work is brilliant. And the more unwritten it is, the more
brilliant it is. You will meet a lot of very glib, intimidating people in graduate
school. They are at their most dangerous holding a beer in one hand and a
cigarette in the other, in some bar or at the table in some apartment. They have all
the answers. They can tell you just what they will write about and how great it
will be. Years pass, and they still have the same pat, 200 word answer to “What
are you working on?” It never changes, because they are not actually working on
anything. You, on the other hand, actually are working on something, and it
keeps evolving. You aren’t sure you like the section you just finished, and you
are not sure what will happen next. When someone asks you the dreaded, “What
are you working on?” you stumble a bit, because it is hard to explain. The smug
guy with the beer and the cigarette? Because he is a poseur, and never actually
writes anything, he can practice his pat little answer endlessly, through hundreds
of beers and thousands of cigarettes. Don’t be fooled: you are the winner here.
Michael Munger, "Ten Truths About Scholarly Writing", p. 23 in IHS, SCALING THE IVORY TOWER, David Schmidz, et al, 2005.

100 things

I hate to link this, because it's so trite.

But there is some excellent trivia here. Excellent.

Bizarre PC, and an Equal Time Challenge from The End

List of "America’s Most Bizarre and Politically Correct College Courses"

Here are the top five:

Princeton University’s The Cultural Production of Early Modern Women examines “prostitutes,” “cross-dressing,” and “same-sex eroticism” in 16th - and 17th - century England, France, Italy and Spain (emphasis added).

The Unbearable Whiteness of Barbie: Race and Popular Culture in the United States at Occidental College in California explores ways “which scientific racism has been put to use in the making of Barbie [and] to an interpretation of the film The Matrix as a Marxist critique of capitalism.”

At The Johns Hopkins University, students in the Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ancient Egypt class view slideshows of women in ancient Egypt “vomiting on each other,” “having intercourse,” and “fixing their hair.”

Like something out of a Hugh Hefner film, Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania offers the class Lesbian Novels Since World War II.

Alfred University’s Nip, Tuck, Perm, Pierce, and Tattoo: Adventures with Embodied Culture, mostly made up of women, encourages students to think about the meaning behind “teeth whitening, tanning, shaving, and hair dyeing.” Special projects include visiting a tattoo-and-piercing studio and watching Arnold Schwarzenegger’s bodybuilding film, Pumping Iron.

ATSRTWT.

Here's my question/challenge: I am happy to give equal time, for what it's worth. Can anyone suggest an analogous "Dirty Dozen," or for that matter "Top Three" for a "Most Bizarre and Conservatively Slanted College Courses?" I won't moderate or edit; just suggest them in comments and I'll list them in a future post. You can take credit, or do it anonymously. We are all about equal time here at The End.

(nod to Betsy, who linked Dr. Sanity, who had this great list)

Quirky, and I like quirky

A blog I hadn't seen before.

Very quirky. You are only likely to enjoy it if you are an academic, as it is pretty focused on academia.

But pissed-off yet self-aware academics do make for some great reading.

For example: this is one of the most disturbing videos, at a superficial level, that I can imagine. Setting is that the people talking, in funny voices, have awful diseases of the larnyx. Host appears not to have prepared self for this, and cannot control himself. A cross between Monty Python and a reality show about cancer. You can't help laughing a little at the host's discomfiture, but....well, it's disturbing. Vegreville just passes it along, then does a little more background poking. Ick.

Then there's this. I bet Scott de Marchi, my colleague, does the same thing.

And that is what I mean by quirky. Long live Vegreville.

Monday, January 02, 2006

The "You Couldn't Make This Up" Article of 2005

I thought long and hard about it.

And read a lot.

But the "You Couldn't Make This Up" article of 2005 was this one.

It's "Woman of Mass Destruction," By Maureen Dowd, in the New York Times, Saturday 22 October.

A absolutely savage butt-whuppin', delivered by one complete nutjob news diva to another. Giant egos in news and politics have been around since...well, forever, since men were involved, and giant egos are pretty much our specialty.

But it is really quite special when the high heels, long nails and voices-of-higher-pitch take over. Perhaps women are finally achieving equality, if one woman can just haul off and cold cock another woman like this on the editorial page of the Grey Lady. Fantastic.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

My Favorite Posts on M.E.

At the start of the new year, and re-starting as a (moderately) frequent blogger, I thought back to my favorite posts. I haven't blogged since May 2005, of course, so some of these are old. But here they are, my own top five faves.

1. Bumped by still photos, and a guy with no mike
2. Not a dime's worth of difference
3. U.S. Cellular Field, and the White Sox
4. Your man in St. Louis
5. Performance art saga (yes, this is cheating. i really mean the other three linked posts...)

Dick Clark: The End

Yikes. As my DoL pal LW notes, Dick Clark has finally gotten old. "New Year's Stroke Victim Eve" was not rockin' on ABC last night.

I tried to watch for a few minutes, but it was horrible. This is perhaps a little harsh, but not entirely wrong. (UPDATE: okay, not just harsh, but outrageous. "Retarded" is just wrong)

Dick C. sounded like Diane Rehm. And, yes, I fully realize what an insult that is. (Check the picture; had to be taken 30 years ago, easy, even it says 2004).

UPDATE: Chris L notes, in comments below, that Dick Clark on ABC was not nearly as painful as Stuart Scott on ESPN. I'm not sure I agree. Sure, straight up, Stu was much worse, like fingernails on a blackboard. But watching Dick made me think of his miraculous career, and longevity. (A satirical view) I'm old, but I have been watching/not watching Dick Clark on NY'sE for as long as I can remember. To see the mighty laid low was what made this painful for me. Stu, on ESPN, came across as a clown. But clown is what he is, what he does. BOO-yeh.

A counter-argument, from the NYT story on NY'sE coverage:

"A lot of stroke survivors, particularly celebrities, are very cautious about making their returns," said James Baranski, the executive director of the National Stroke Association, a nonprofit health-care organization. "For any stroke survivor to be able to see the progress that Dick Clark has made over the past year was remarkable. He did a marvelous job representing stroke survivors and their hope for recovery."

Well...okay. The main thing that having Dick Clark represent stroke survivors accomplished was having lots of viewers turn the channel. My dad had a stroke. He was brave, too, made a lot of progress coming back. Watching Dick Clark reminded me of how my dad was in the last six months of his life, not the first 84.5 years. I would rather remember the good part.