Monday, February 27, 2006

Activism and Exceptionalism

A useful note from an old friend, whose anonymity I will respect. Said person left a comment on the post about Bad Dog-morals, and the comment is worth reproducing here in full:

I'm not clear on what it took to get on your lists -- are these supposed to be the five most interesting books you've read in each category? Most influential? Most convincing?

Also, I think you miscategorize Nietzsche because you are conflating two categories into one, and two dimensions into one.

The dimension you say you are trying to get at is the dimension of "exceptionalism." For you, the perspective of believing humans are exceptional leads people to write books trying to define this exceptional sense of morality that they believe humans have, and explicitly or implicitly prescribe the actions that fall under their definition of "right." Rawls falls into this category, as do John Stuart Mills and lots of other classic ethical theorists (I don't remember Nozick, Gauthier, or Frank well enough, but they probably fall in this category as well).

At the other end of this dimension are people who don't believe humans are exceptional and (therefore?) write books explaning the origins of morality in historical terms. Your focus here is on "historical" in the sense of "evolutionary/biological," but to me the non-exceptionalism assumption might well also prompt people to write *cultural* histories of different ethical systems in the sense of an historian or anthropologist.

I think the best part of Nietszche's project is the cultural history of the Judeo-Christian ethical system, which is NOT the kind of thing an exceptionalist would usually be interested in doing. The reason you are tempted to lump him in the second category is because you see him making prescriptions and assume that that makes him an exceptionalist.

But that is where you are conflating two dimensions. The dimension of exceptionalism is separate from the dimension of, for lack of a better term, "activism." It is quite possible and consistent to reject exceptionalism and still make prescriptions in one's writing -- in fact, I dare say, your blogging is an excellent example of this. The goal of impacting others' behavior, including behavior in the realm of what we commonly term morality, through one's writings is not contingent upon the exceptionalism premise.

(NOTE: In a technical (but important) sense, all writings have activist projects -- the goal might be to affect the behavior of the committee making tenure decisions, for instance. But I'm using activism here in a much less inclusive sense of self-conciously attempting to influence the ethical norms of others)

Hence, I think that Axelrod and probably the other books you listed in your first set (I haven't read them) have non-exceptionalist, non-activist projects. Rawls (and probably some of the others in your second set) have exceptionalist, activist projects. But Foucault, me, non-exceptionalists who make policy recommendations, and (under some readings, at least) Nietzsche have non-exceptionalist, activist projects.

To which I say: What would Troester say to this, if he still blogged at all? I'm calling you out, man. I don't know enough deontological Kierkegarrdians to ask anyone else. A leap of faith on human exceptionalism? Or is "activism" a better way of thinking about it, requiring only a plasticity of moral sensibilities?

Or anyone else, for that matter. It just seems to me that this is a question that is amenable to answer, even wrong answers.

Voting Outside the Box

This is really quite disturbing.


The internal logs of at least 40 Sequoia touch-screen voting machines reveal that votes were time and date-stamped as cast two weeks before the election, sometimes in the middle of the night.

Black Box Voting successfully sued former Palm Beach County (FL) Supervisor of Elections Theresa LePore to get the audit records for the 2004 presidential election.

After investing over $7,000 and waiting nine months for the records, Black Box Voting discovered that the voting machine logs contained approximately 100,000 errors. According to voting machine assignment logs, Palm Beach County used 4,313 machines in the Nov. 2004 election. During election day, 1,475 voting system calibrations were performed while the polls were open, providing documentation to substantiate reports from citizens indicating the wrong candidate was selected when they tried to vote.

Another disturbing find was several dozen voting machines with votes for the Nov. 2, 2004 election cast on dates like Oct. 16, 15, 19, 13, 25, 28 2004 and one tape dated in 2010. These machines did not contain any votes date-stamped on Nov. 2, 2004.

You can find the complete set of raw voting machine event logs for Palm Beach County here:
Note that some items were not provided to us and are ommitted from the logs.

The logs rule out the possibility that these were Logic & Accuracy (L&A) test results, and verified that these results did appear in the final totals. In addition to the date discrepancies, most had incorrect polling times, with votes appearing throughout the wee hours of the night. These machines were L&A tested, and the L&A test activities appeared in the logs with the correct date and time.

According to the voting machine assignment log, these machines were not assigned to early voting locations. The number of votes on each machine also corresponds with the numbers typical of polling place machines rather than early voting.

Many of these machines showed unexplained log activity after the L&A test but before Election Day. In addition, many more machines without date anomalies showed this log activity, which revealed someone powering up the machine, opening the program, then powering it down again. In one instance, the date discrepancy appeared when someone accessed the machine two minutes after the L&A test was completed


(Nod to NP, who is always outside one kind of box or another)

UPDATE: Props to ST at Poliblogger, who has been saying for a while that cards are better.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Bad Dog: Morals, Pavlov, and Two Lists

Okay, this is reprehensible. I know pretty much BAGEL about actual science, and what I have read about morality has mostly confused me.

But, continuing on my list mania (it's like crack, I tell you!)....Five books at the intersection of "morality" and science (note that the use of quotes reveals some bias, almost certainly, the nature of which you are welcome to speculate about). And five books that tell a very different story of morals. Not that there is much agreement among books WITHIN categories.

The question comes down to this: When I say, "Bad dog! BAD dog!" because the dog got in the garbage, the dog cowers and runs to the other run. The dog gives every indication of feeling bad. Now, is that the way morals work in humans? Or do we have something else, a developed sense of the moral status of actions, separate from our fear of punishment, or avoidance of shame and shunning?

Note that believing that humans have an innate moral sense is a claim of human exceptionalism in evolution. (Creation would solve the problem, of course, since then humans ARE exceptional, since G*d created them to be exceptional, and to have souls, and a moral sense).

Science and Morals

Alexander, The Biology of Moral Systems
Axelrod, The Evolution of Cooperation*
Dugatkin, Cheating Monkeys and Citizen Bees
Ridley, The Origins of Virtue
Skyrms, The Stage Hunt and the Evolution of Social Structure

*Though I do buy Binmore's counterclaims about TFT specifically. Still, you get credit for failing in a cool and clever way.

Morals and Reason

Frank, Passions within Reason
Gauthier, Morals by Agreement
Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals
Nozick, Philosophical Explanations
Rawls, Theory of Justice

Are the distinctions between those perspectives as clear as I am making them? And do these readings simply reflect an idiosyncratic random sample, leaving out the important works everyone ELSE takes for granted? I restricted myself to books I have actually READ, so that list may not be representative....

I have to admit: I have trouble with the human exceptionalism idea, EXCEPT that reason and living in groups may have endowed us with quantitatively different capacities for cooperation. But we are clearly NOT like eusocial species such as honeybees or ants. In fact, emotions may well exist precisely because we do NOT expect others to be morals, and norms have to be enforced. A flush of adrenaline when I see someone violate rules means I provide the public good of enforcement even when it is individually irrational to do so.

Anyway, I rambled. I really wanted to know about more and better books.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Listing Slightly

Okay, due to popular demand, sure I'll tell you what the actual opinion is here at The End.

That is, what are three BEST books in the last fifteen years in Political Science / Political Economy?

1. Hernando de Soto, THE MYSTERY OF CAPITAL

2. Fareed Zakaria, THE FUTURE OF FREEDOM


So, there.

Happy to hear other nominees in comments....let me know what I got wrong.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Listing Sharply: The Three Most Important....

A fun game on a long car trip is to argue (if there is more than one person in the car) over lists of "The Three Most Important...{fill blank}"

A student asked me a good question recently: "What are the three most important books in Political Science in the last 20 years?"

Now, this doesn't mean "the books I think are best," but rather those that are most influential.

Here is my list. As usual, I distort, you deride. (These are in order of importance, btw).

1. Douglass North, INSTITUTIONS, INSTITUTIONAL CHANGE, AND ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE, 1990, Cambridge (Google hits: 63,600)

2. John Zaller, THE NATURE AND ORIGINS OF MASS OPINION, 1992, Cambridge (Google hits: 28,000)

3. Robert Putnam, BOWLING ALONE, 2000, Simon and Schuster (Google hits: 260,000)

(Google hits calculated using quotes around title, which is pretty restrictive)

Sunday, February 19, 2006

On the dangers of meetings

Since I appear to be stuck on the meetings meme, let me reprise at least an excerpt from some earlier writing about a meeting I enjoyed while at UT-Austin. This is from NEW SENSE, and my three part essay PILGRIM'S EGRESS. Actual facts below: I report, you deride.

...the department decided to take strong action. In other words, it formed a committee. It apparently wasn’t taking the problem all that seriously, though, because the chairman asked me to be on the committee. As a third-year junior person, I had little knowledge and even less power. But it was my first committee assignment, and I was determined to do my best.

Our agenda was simple: how to deal with the complaints that a few students had leveled, verbally, alleging no single incident or valid cause, against two of the instructors in the Government Department. The answer seemed pretty easy to me. We needed to say that these were not real complaints. There was no action that justified interference with the classroom teaching of these faculty.

When it came time for the meeting, though, I was shocked. The committee chair said that there was good news. The department had done a great job of dealing with the complaints of previous years. There had been, in fact, no complaints at all.

This seemed facile. After all, there had been complaints, just not actionable ones. I said I wanted the department to take a stand, not sweep the problem under the table. In retrospect, I was obnoxious, and probably wrong. The distinction between “no complaints,” and “some complaints, but nothing important or specific,” was not exactly at the Watergate level of cover-ups. Still, I could not have predicted what happened next.

The head of the committee was furious. “What sort of complaints?”

I knew the answer to that: “Some of the students have complained that the instructors are ‘too liberal’, and that they make the students uncomfortable. Now, I think…”

He interrupted me: “Have there been complaints that you are too conservative?”

I later realized that he thought he was threatening me, but I wasn’t clever enough to understand. This should show you, though, that the very idea that professors might be afraid for being liberal, inside the administration, is far-fetched. Most department chairs, and mid- and upper-level administrators, lean Left. The others lean so far Left that they have toppled entirely. But what I said next, in my ignorance, made things worse. “Suppose there have been complaints, about me, about being too conservative. Then there still have been complaints, and our committee needs to address them.”

He got very quiet then. He asked me what the complaints were, though we had discussed them in the hallway. Then he asked me, quite formally, what classes and professors the complaints had been addressed to. I played along, and named the courses and the instructors. Then he closed his notebook, looked at the other two committee members, who had not said a word, and announced that the meeting was now over.

This seemed like a funny way to run things, but okay. I went home. When I came in the next morning, I walked by the open door of one of the complained-about professors. The person howled, “SO! YOU DON’T LIKE MY CLASS! WHY DIDN’T YOU HAVE THE COURAGE TO COME TO ME YOURSELF?”

I actually was so dumb I didn’t know what the person meant. “No, I don’t have a problem with your class. What do you…”


What the committee chair had done was to scuttle down the stairs to the main office, and say that I, Michael Munger, was complaining about the class. I tried to explain, but the instructor I had “ratted” on was beyond wanting to hear explanation. This person had thought we were at least casual friends, and here I had complained about the person’s class, in a “secret” meeting, without even letting the instructor know first.

I went back into the hallway and heard a booming voice. “Doing a little red-baiting, are you Munger?” The speaker was a friend, a guy way on the left side of the political world, but a perfectly decent and thoughtful fellow. We had been over to each others’ houses and went to lunch at least twice a week. I tried to explain to him what had happened, but he had already made up his mind. “Munger, this is why we can’t have conservatives in the department. When it comes down to it, you people can’t help yourselves. You have to play the commie card!” I could see that he was laughing at me, and was half-joking.

But he was also half-serious. The academic Left needs to see itself as being outré, oppressed, the “Other” in the society in which it lives. If the Left thought of itself as conventional, and established, two things would happen. First, they would actually be responsible for the problems and inadequacies of American university education, rather than the rebels trying to make things better against overwhelming odds. Second, they would be overcome by unhappiness on a grand scale. Many people on the Left require a sense of “otherness” to be able to survive psychologically. Intellectual laziness and moral bankruptcy are not very attractive. Better to be beaten down and discriminated against by “the man.”

I had to give up, and I did. I apologized to the two instructors whom I had “wronged.” (And, if I had done what they had been told I did, it would have been wrong.) The committee chair was a different matter. The amazing thing was that, by the time I talked to him again, he had convinced himself that his made-up account was true. He took me to lunch and tried to have a fatherly talk, saying that I needed to curb my ideological extremism.


More on Meetings (or is that "moron meetings"?)

A nice discussion by Jim Hu, at BFI,BFTD on meetings.

What should get done in meetings is part of our work as academics, and is therefore has nonzero value - and if meetings really produce nothing, the tips for making them more useful would be pointless. (NOTE FROM THE END: GOOD POINT. LOGIC IS A POWERFUL TOOL. MEA CULPA). But overall the value/time spent ratio is so low that his statement is may be within measurement error...and one could argue that meetings provide large negative net value when the opportunity costs in faculty time are factored in.

The major mistake that we make as faculty, as far as I'm concerned is that we don't understand the purpose of meetings. My postdoc mentor used to tell me: meetings aren't for making decisions; they're for recording decisions that have already been made by building consensus in discussions in each others' offices, in the hallways, and so on. Meetings may also be an acceptable way to share information...if the person presenting the information is prepared to do it.

He is (in part) correcting my earlier claim where I asserted:

Meaning that if you spend all day in meetings, you were doing NOTHING. Sure, you were AT work, and you were not having fun, but you didn't WORK.


My own thoughts: I see the point, and agree that some kinds of meetings are useful. But they are at best an input to work, rather than work itself. Furthermore, if you are an administrator, you recognize that many, many meetings have the following properties:

a. Top level administrator (who sends a confused document, instead of his/her confused self) orders that a group work on a "problem." (HINT: if this group is called a working group, it is going to be bad. If it is called a task force, it is going to bad, and pompous. If it is a blue ribbon committee....well, just bend over, because you are going to get it good and hard)

b. You have been asked to chair the {fill in bogus name here, from list above}. The other members of the {.} are mostly concerned with preventing the task from being carried out at all. They are bright, they are dedicated, and they have infinite time to devote to stopping this {.} dead in its tracks. They don't want to be in the meeting, but they always show up to make sure that nothing gets done.

c. Now, come up with an agenda and write a final report.

When I used to work for the Federal Trade Commission, I was a member of at least two of these "task force from hell" groups. We once spent nearly an hour arguing over the spelling of "entrepreneur." (Not meaning. Spelling.) Some people wanted to use the spelling found in dictionaries. Others wanted to use what they thought was phonetic spelling, because people would understand it better. I had misspelled it "entrepeneur" in a draft of an earlier report, so the second group thought I was with them. But I found the whole dictionary argument pretty persuasive (on spelling, Webster wrote the book), so I switched to that group.

And there were hurt feelings. People weren't sure I could chair the committee, after such an abuse of trust.

Yes, this is absolutely true.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Review of "A Map of the World"

Burning Coal Theater Company, Seby B. Jones Auditorium ,
St. Augustine’s College, in Raleigh
February 9 - 26
Review by Michael Munger

Muhammad Ali was a student of the sweet science, perhaps the greatest boxer in history. But he also has a philosophical bent. He once claimed that "Wars of nations are fought to change maps. But wars of poverty are fought to map change."
The map as a representation of truth is at the center of the Burning Coal Theater Company’s excellent production of David Hare’s “Map of the World.” And Roger Smart’s direction sets the main characters on each other in a way that makes boxing seem tame.

This small production is an example of how theater, when it works, is the most involving and the most interesting of the performing arts.

Any map is a work of fiction; has to be. The attempt to take a complex, multidimensional reality and push it down onto two dimensions necessarily tramples truth. There are famous controversies over the distortions in Eurocentric map projections. In the Mercator projection, Greenland looks to be about 4 times the size of Australia. But the “truth” (and here I’m making little finger quotes in the air) is that the ratio is reversed: Australia is more than three times as large as Greenland.

Does it matter? The standard projection isn’t wrong, exactly, as much as it is an accurate but fictional portrayal. If you look carefully between the lines of latitude, you can see that the scale is distorted, but intentionally so. Our Mercator maps reveal meaning, to be sure. But the meaning revealed is an insight into the mind of the user, not the world itself.

The dialogue in this play is involving, sometimes riveting. I found myself jotting down snippets, because the interchanges among characters work both at the level of exposition and at the level of poetic expression. Neil Shah is excellent as central protagonist, Victor Mehta. It is tempting to think of Victor simply as a conservative, and perhaps he is. But in some ways he is simply a probing, obdurately skeptical mind, impatient with the formulas and formalities of the international aid community. His central message is spoken early, and lightly: “It is hard to help the poor.”

Victor is hard on nearly everyone. He claims, “There is no word in Hindi for eavesdropping. There is no need. All the men speak too loudly.” He calls Marxism “dictatorship’s fashionable décor.” He criticizes another character, Peggy Whitton, for remaining invulnerable behind the “safety of beauty.” And he lambastes the tide of American liberals seeking authenticity in poor countries as “a marriage of the decadent to the primitive.”

But Victor, like all the major characters in the play, grows. There is an uncomfortable sort of self-awareness to these proceedings. The play-within-a-play, invoking the device in Hamlet used to exposit secrets in the real world, is here inverted. The actors playing actors are changed by recounting of the story they thought they already knew.

Victor Mehta’s opponent in the verbal pugilism at the center of the play is Stephen Andrews, played crisply by Brendan Bradley. Andrews concedes some of Mehta’s claims, allowing that the rules governing aid may demean and emiserate those who were supposed to be helped.

But he answers, “Still.”

Still, we must try. Andrews’ challenge to Mehta the public intellectual fits neatly inside the attack on Mehta the private writer. Only hermits are lonlier than writers, and only hermits take more satisfaction in isolation from how others might map the world. Liberals, Andrews points out, really do feel indignation as an end in itself. Still, we have to try.

The problem with Mehta’s conservatism is that it ends up being philosophical skepticism; Mehta claims “That won’t work,” not because he knows it won’t help the poor but because he thinks the poor are beyond help.

But Mehta sees himself as a friend of the poor, or at least someone who understands, in a way that indignant, red-faced foreigners never could. Forcing the South to caper and sing for a share of the wealth of the North means that those who are helped hate their helpers. Forcing developing nations to trade dignity for free rice, some surplus vegetables, and truckloads of used clothing accomplishes nothing but elevating indignation into a cause where “something” was done.

There is a lot going on in this play. The energy of the main characters, and the contributions of the rest of the large cast, leave you breathless. Given the volume of words, and the potential for confusion that the play-within-a-play device always creates, the whole here is surprisingly consistent.

“A Map of the World” is definitely worth seeing, and thinking about, regardless of what you think about the perverse possibilities and noble failures of aid to the developing world. Is continuing the fight for the dream of a new map enough? Or, as Bruce Springsteen asked, “Is a dream a lie, if it don’t come true? Or is it something worse….”

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Sounds Familiar: Pig-breeding Skills

LW from DoL presents a (sanitized) version of a description of the job of Pig Breeder.

Sounds to me like being a grad student takes a lot of the same skills. Metaphorically, of course.

(In case you are confused, that means the senior professors are playing the role of the pigs in my metaphor. Yes, I went there, I sure did)

Monday, February 13, 2006

The Art of Government, and the Government of Art

In general, the art of government consists in taking as much money as possible from one party of the citizens to give to the other. Voltaire (1694–1778), French philosopher, author. Dictionnaire Philosophique, “Money” (1764).

If that is the art of government, how should we think of the government of art?

Should there be a National Endowment for the Arts? Does public funding for “the arts” make sense from a policy perspective? The FY 2004 budget for NEA was about $140 million, a pittance by nearly any standard. We spend that much on....well, almost anything.

What would the Founders of the American system have thought of Federalizing support for the arts. They would have known that in Europe – where Goya was enjoying the patronage of Spain’s Charles III and where Luigi Boccherini was being named court composer in Berlin – government support for the arts was taken for granted. They may well have been aware of the beginning of government patronage of the arts, under Amenemhet I (d. 1970 B.C.), king of Egypt, founder of the XII dynasty that initiated the Middle Kingdom. He centralized the government in a virtually feudal form (the first liberal!). The dynasty enabled the arts and science to flourish.

Well, the question isn’t completely hypothetical. On August 18, 1787, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Charles Pinckney of South Carolina rose to urge that Congress be authorized to “establish seminaries for the promotion of literature and the arts and sciences.” His proposal was immediately voted down. In the words of one delegate, the only legitimate role for government in promoting culture and the arts was the “granting of patents,” meaning that we should protect the rights of artists and authors to make money from their creations.

Now, the framers treasured books and music, but they treasured limited government more. A federally approved artist was a repugnant a notion to them as a federally approved church or newspaper. That is why there is no explicit Constitutional sanction for subsidizing or formally supporting art and cultural organizations. It is why Americans are skeptical about the entangling of art and state. And it is why so many artists have rejected the notion that art depends for its vitality on some Washington agency.

(playwright) Thornton Wilder: “There are no Miltons dying mute here today…[even in small towns] anyone who can play scales is rushed off to Vienna to play music.”

(painter) John Sloan: “It would be fine to have a ministry of arts in this country. Then we would know where the enemy is.”

(writer) William Faulkner, on being asked to visit the Kennedy White House: “Too far to go for supper.”

1951: In a poll of the American Symphony Orchestra League, 91% disapproved of federal subsidies of any kind.

John Kennedy himself: “I do not believe federal funds should support symphony orchestras or opera companies, except when they are sent abroad in cultural exchange programs.”

But, in 1965, Congress created the NEA, a gamble overturning the wisdom of two centuries of separation between government power and artistic expression. The gamble has not paid off. Art in the past 30 years has not been improved; it has become more politicized. The support of the NEA has not inspired artists to reach new heights of expressiveness, truth or beauty. Instead, artists are encouraged to be shallow, understandable, shocking. Government-funded art is art that has sunk to noisome depths of coarseness and banality. Like other government handouts, NEA funding has fostered whining claims of entitlement – and hyperbolic forecasts of doom if the entitlement is reduced or cut off.

The fact is that American art will not dry up and blow away if public funding is reduced, just as it was not inert before the NEA rescue in 1965. The mainstay of American art is not the NEA. It is the tens of thousands of private Americans who voluntarily give $10 billion a year to the arts, a tidal wave of generosity unparalleled anywhere. And it doesn’t end with philanthropy: add to that $10 billion the vast sums that American spend on theater subscriptions and concert music recordings, on ballet tickets and nights at the opera, on literary magazines and jazz festivals, and then add to that the millions of person-hours donated by volunteer ushers and ticket-takers and docents and fund-raisers. The total is staggering, and it makes the NEA seem about as relevant to America’s artistic splendor as a falling apple is to the law of gravity.

Four myths:

1. Funding the arts is cheap, and helps cities attract tourists.

The argument is sometimes made that cultural funding is good for cities and towns. If it is, the cities and towns should decide that they will pay for them. The basic conservative principle is the benefits and funding should be as closely matched as possible, provided that those receiving the benefits have the financial wherewithal to pay. If the benefits are going to downtown developers and restaurants, then these entities should be willing to pay for the subsidies. If the benefits are for the poor, we are better off giving the money, not the art, to those in poverty.

The argument that it doesn’t cost much is a foolish one. Most programs don’t cost much on their own. But when we add up all the costs, the budget (and the deficit) is enormous.

2. Public funding makes art available to everyone, because
ticket prices are lower.

Nonsense. Suppose that it is true that without public funding many arts organizations might cease to exist. This would surely be sad. But the fact is that ticket prices now are calculated to maximize the revenues of the organization, as it is easy to show that lump-sum subsidies don’t change the revenue-maximizing, or profit-maximizing price. Public funding doesn’t affect ticket prices at all, but public funding does affect the viability of dance, opera, or theater companies and spaces for exhibitions. Many suchshows exist just for the wealthy, and exist only because of public subsidy.

The only people that can go to the opera now are the wealthy. The subsidies offered out of the public purse are classic political transfers from the poor and the middle class to wealthy people. Middle class people don’t value the opera, and cannot attend anyway because the ticket prices are too high. (NOTE TO FRED HEINEMANN: Middle class is not $180k! More like $36k) The public access argument has it exactly backwards.

3. Public funds would not be replaced by private donations.

There are two possibilities: this argument is correct, or it is not. I do not believe it is correct. National Public Radio, when its funds were cut, found an outpouring of new donations. The fact that contributions to the arts have been declining over the past decade doesn’t mean much, because there has still been public funding available. If public funding were cut off, there would be a similar outpouring of new contributions and energy from volunteers from arts supporters.

But suppose the argument IS correct: that means that there are not enough people who care about the arts to want to pay the costs of artistic performances and shows. If this is true, it means that a legitimate threat to the existence of opera, theater, or dance companies, and to the viability of spaces for shows of visual arts, won’t bring new contributions. This has to make you want to wonder if arts funding is a business that the Federal government should be in!

Remember, taxes are funds taken by threat of force from some people, and then translated into a wide variety of services and transfers, many of which go right back to the people who paid the taxes. Wealthy people pay a lot of taxes, and they wield a lot of political power. The problem with the arts is that a small group of wealthy, educated people want the rest of the public to pay for their enjoyment. This is an enormous amount of money, per performance, which would be better spent spent on highways, mass transit, school children, the poor, the sick, or the aged. But none of these other programs are directly enjoyed by the wealthy patrons of the arts, so arts funding has a privileged status.

4. Great art is not popular art. We need public funding to
encourage great art.

I am always confused by this argument. The Soviet Union had public funding for the arts, and (to be fair) their performance arts were nonpareil. Russian ballet and dance companies were among the best in the world, ticket prices were low, and there seemed to be a genuine success for public funding, especially in the larger cities.

But there were some problems with the picture. First, the costs were enormous. Because it was impossible (or at least dangerous) to question spending priorities, there was no problem as long as the totalitarian regime persisted. But with democracy has come a lot of questions about whether this is best use of funds.

Second, public funding in the former USSR did not create good new art. The new art in the Soviet Union was awful! It seems to me there are three kinds of art: Great art (which is great), popular art (some of which is great, and some of which is only good), and politically acceptable art (which is awful).

Now, I don’t know how you create great art. I know that popular art will take care of itself, because that is how you make money. I also know how you create awful, but politically acceptable, art: you have public funding whose allocation is supervised byjudges or critics.

Some say that those who can’t do, teach (I would never say that). But, from this perspective, there is an even lower rung on the ladder: what if you can’t teach? Well, you can become an art critic! If you want to say critics have more taste (at least, more than *I* have!) about what is good art I may agree with you. But critics are notorious in their inability to recognize great art. The main job of critics appears to be preventing great artists from being recognized in their own lifetimes. Juries of critics who enforce standards of taste, fad, or political correctness are actually the bane of great art. Soviet artists, or American artists, who consciously try to win public funding are selling out to the forces of political fadism. Artists should be terrified of enforced public taste, whether that taste belongs to the political left, the right, or the dreary center.

Great art of the early 21st century is the art that will make people laugh, cry, or get mad fifty or one hundred years from now. I am absolutely confident that I don’t know (and today’s juries don’t know) what that great art will be. Contemporaries of Van Gogh dismissed his work; for years after his death, Van Gogh was an oddity, a strange man who used colors and textures in a jarring way. If Van Gogh were alive today, would public funding save him? No, he would be imprisoned in a mental institution, taking lithium and doing finger paints, being patronized by his keepers: “Oooh, nice colors, Vincent? But don’t you think you ought to rest? Here, come watch “SURVIVOR: Green Bay” with the rest of the loonies…”

How are we to decide between the market, and the public, as a source of funding for great new art? It is true that Van Gogh sold practically nothing during his lifetime, and that the open market failed to recognize his genius. Those who support public funding for new artists want us to believe the open market is failing now, too. I agree: the open market may fail to recognize greatness, though some great artists do become rich in their own lifetimes. Popular art at least passes the market test: people pay for popular art because they want to, not because government forces them to.

Those who favor public funding want to argue that there are great artists whose works are lost, or never attempted, because the market failed them. I want to know to how many great works of art have been lost because artists have tried to pursue creatively inert, but politically correct, themes in the pursuit of public funding. Public funding, by its very nature, creates new art that is either lifeless and safe, or shocking, but superficial. Unfortunately, then, neither the market nor the public can ensure great art. As is so often the case, the market does really fail, but the situation is not yet so bad that government can’t make it worse.

Could the arts survive without government funding? What a question!! The government doesn’t fund the Van Cliburn competition or the National Book Awards or the MacArthur grants. The government doesn’t organize poetry competitions or produce festivals of plays or commission new string quartets. Public funding does serve a small, vocal group who like to perceive themseleves as rebels, as tellers of truth, whose main job is to confront the public with its own hypocrisy.

The NEA is an experiment that has failed. In 1965, Congress may have that that a federal agency could improve or enliven American art. Now it should know better. I am sure that it makes some in the arts community nuts that more people will read books because of Oprah Winfrey than anything the NEA has done in its 41 years. If the endowment faded away, no one would notice. America’s tens of millions of arts lovers, swept up in the richest, most democratic arts scene the human race has known, would hardly notice it was gone.

Full disclosure:This little screed is substantially adapted from two articles.

Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe, p. A-19, Thursday, July 3, 1997, “Next Week Congress Can Right a Mistake and Drop NEA Funding.”
Munger, Michael, Endeavors, Summer 1996, “Public Funding for the Arts.”

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Work is what we do BETWEEN meetings

I think that everyone who works at a university should have to remind themselves of this, every day: WORK IS WHAT WE DO BETWEEN MEETINGS.

Meaning that if you spend all day in meetings, you were doing NOTHING. Sure, you were AT work, and you were not having fun, but you didn't WORK.

Now, meetings are necessary so that we can get work done. So is defecation. But we don't brag about it afterwards. Why do we brag about meetings? "Man, I was in meetings for six hours today! I am so tired."

There are some rules for meetings that do make sense. Some of this is mine, some is borrowed verbatim from here.

Rules for Useful Meetings

1. Remind yourself mentally at the beginning of two things. Seriously, I want you all to say these things silently to yourselves, before EVERY meeting:
a. I am so wise. It is impossible for me to share all of my wisdom at this meeting. So I am going to keep some of this wisdom to myself, even though the sound of my voice is a blessing that all the world's peoples beg for.
b. Some errors are going to have to pass uncorrected. Other people are so ill-informed, and dumb that they may have opinions that differ from mine. Nonetheless, I am going to allow them to express those views without demanding equal time (at least) to correct those views. In particular, if I say "A," and someone says, "not A", that means we disagree. It is not necessary for me to repeat, "A." It is not true that whoever speaks last, wins.

2. Stand PAT: A meeting has to have: a Purpose, an Agenda, and a Timeframe.

You should be able to define the PURPOSE of the meeting in 1 or 2 sentences at most. "This meeting is to plan the class schedule for spring semester" or "this meeting is to come up with proposals for revising the undergrad curriculum." That way everyone knows why they are there, what needs to be done, and how to know if they are successful.

Set an AGENDA. List the items you are going to review/discuss/inspect. Better if you can give some idea of time, and the person who will speak or begin the discussion.

Set a TIMEFRAME. At the very least set a start and end time, and try to set a duration for each item in the agenda. These should total to the overall meeting timeframe.

3. Don't Wait (I have whined about time before)
Meetings need to start on time. Don't wait for stragglers to show up. When someone arrives late, don't go back and review what has already been covered. That just wastes the time of the people who showed up on time for the meeting. (This one is tough. What do you do if the latester ASKS what already happened. I suggest the cut direct, though I never actually do that). And, of course, don't be late yourself.

4. Keep and send minutes
Someone, other than the meeting organizer, should keep minutes of the meeting. How detailed these are depends on the nature of what is being discussed and the skill of the available note taker. If you set an agenda in the first place, as you should have, the note taker can use that as an outline. The minutes should record who attended, what was discussed, any agreements that were reached, and any action items that were assigned. And then SOON, within a day or two, the minutes of the meeting should be distributed to all who attended, any invitees who did not attend, and anyone else effected by the discussion. Emailing the minutes tells even those not at the meeting of the progress that was made and reminds everyone of their action items. (I try to do this one, but often fail. And I always regret it. So, do as I say, not as I do.)

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A Threat to My Esteem, Apparently. Not.

From the WaPo, on fashion (or, perhaps FASHION)

NEW YORK -- Apparently a significant number of parents have stopped insisting that their sons eat their vegetables, drink their milk and take their Flintstones vitamins. This group of underfed boys is growing up to become models and threatening the self-esteem of men who always cleaned their plates.

Kick sand in their faces if you want. They will keep on coming. And their hair will be perfectly tousled.

Back in the days before metrosexuals, "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" and entire books dedicated to grooming products, the models marching down menswear runways tended to look a bit sheepish and embarrassed to be there. They gave the impression that they had been coerced into participating through some form of blackmail involving tequila shots and police officers with no sense of humor. The men were rakish and slim, but they did not have the look of hunger associated with their female counterparts.

Now the fellas mostly look happy to be on the catwalk, pleased with the opportunity to preen and strut. But too many of them have the underdeveloped physiques of 12-year-olds. Some possess a preternatural boyish demeanor and look to be up past their bedtime.

This was especially striking Friday when menswear designer John Varvatos presented his fall collection. Varvatos has built his reputation on an aesthetic that celebrates grown-up men. His clothes have always suggested a version of masculinity that is both familiar and reassuring, neither exaggerated nor understated. The palette, as in the past, is dominated by pine, mushroom, sage and lapis, with silhouettes that leave room for broad shoulders and strong legs, but also a bit of leeway for the paunchy gentleman who spends more time riding around in a golf cart than walking 18 holes.


"The paunchy gentlemen"? As Ronald Reagan said, "My chairman, I paid for this paunch!" (Okay, no he didn't. He said microphone, but....). But I did pay for this paunch. One pizza, and one Guinness, at a time. It is not so much a paunch as an investment. I don't need pine, mushroom, sage, and lapis (sounds like a recipe, not a palette! Just toss with some angel hair and extra virgin olive oil, which the lapis will turn a nice blue color)

Monday, February 06, 2006

So, I'm a Corvette

Or so they say here.

I'm a Chevrolet Corvette!

You're a classic - powerful, athletic, and competitive. You're all about winning the race and getting the job done. While you have a practical everyday side, you get wild when anyone pushes your pedal. You hate to lose, but you hardly ever do.

I actually usually lose. And if by "classic", you mean old, then yes. I'm like the demographer: demographers never die, but they get broken down by sex and age.

Size Matters

La Professora gets La Shafta.

She wonders if being big makes a difference.

I'm afraid it does.

Humans are apes.

Human men are not very bright apes.

I am 6'1", and I weigh 260. I can bench press about 230, and look kind of mad, even when I am happy. My chest is 48", and my waist is 38". I clearly come from slow, dull-witted northern European muck-slingers and beaters-with-clubs. Short legs, large torso, thick neck. Not pretty, but a silverback.

None of this means I am a bad ass. Michelle could easily kick my ass, with just a little martial arts training (which, for all I know, she already has. Note to self: be nice to Michelle).

An interesting overall question: should women be policemen? (you know what I mean).

Female police are MUCH more likely to be involved in fights or at least resistance from suspects. Large men don't have to fight.

And, this is SEPARATE from whether the woman is in fact able to defend herself effectively. She may be much more able to kick butt than some big, slow guy. The problem is that she HAS to, whereas the big guy just commands by size.

So, it seems to me that women are much better suited to being combat infantry or fighter pilots than they are to being regular street cops.

Of course, it is easy to think of counterarguments, and it is ultimately an empirical question. Flip side might be that male suspects have to try to act bad, and challenge a male cop, whereas a female cop is not so threatening and can take guys into custody without fighting. Overall, there is no "gender of the officer" difference in compliance, it appears. And females probably would not engage in testosterone-induced private punishments like this.

Still, I think men (yes, including me) are apes.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Who's a Caricature Now?

1000 words, and all that (from WaPo):

What I want to know is...what is the question, exactly?

Friday, February 03, 2006

Black and Decker to Testify

Story in the News and Observer this morning, with headline (yes, I'm serious)

"Black and Decker Told to Testify"

The State Board of Elections has directed House Speaker Jim Black and a key ally, former Rep. Michael Decker, to testify next week at an inquiry into possible illegal campaign activity.

Decker, a Forsyth County Republican, helped Black remain in power by switching to the Democratic Party just before the 2003 legislative session. That allowed Black, a Democrat from Mecklenburg County, to enter into a power-sharing agreement with Republican Richard Morgan of Moore County.

During the time of Decker's switch, people in professions that have often aided Black's campaigns with political contributions sent thousands of dollars to Decker's campaign.

The elections board issued several subpoenas this week to people who contributed to Decker's campaign at the time of his party switch. They include optometrists, video poker operators, chiropractors and nurse practitioners.

The board served Black on Thursday with a subpoena to testify; Decker was served Tuesday. The board also served Black's legislative executive assistant, Meredith Swindell, and his campaign treasurer, Virginia Kelly. All four are scheduled to appear Wednesday.

Black and Decker could not be reached for comment. Black said in a statement that he is "fully cooperating with the investigation and would have been happy to appear with or without a subpoena."

So, write your own joke. Here's mine: "Black and Decker turn out to be just tools of the Democratic administration. You know the drill: first it's only a bit, but soon the whole thing turns into a router."

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A Thong in My Heart, and A Bun in the Oven

Cafe Press has Ludwig von Mises thongs for sale (as told on Div-o-Lab).

Right under the thongs? Baby clothes. I'm not saying it's causal, but....first thong, then baby clothes. I'm just sayin'.

I'm not sure this was the kind of Human Action Mises had in mind.