Dumb and dumber

30 11 2011

Complete and utter blog theft from Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber, but so nicely done, I couldn’t pass it up:

Gedankenexperiment

by Henry on November 29, 2011

Let’s imagine that we lived in an alternative universe where some of the more noxious nineteenth century pseudo-science regarding ‘inverts’ and same-sex attraction had survived into the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Let us further stipulate that the editor of a nominally liberal opinion magazine had published one purported effort to ‘prove’ via statistics that same-sex attraction was a form of communicable psychosis, which invariably resulted in national degeneracy when it was allowed to persist. One of this essay’s co-authors had chased sissies in his youth, but claimed he had not realized that this was homophobic; he also had occasion to observe the lack of real men on the streets of Paris, and to deplore the resulting sapping of virility in the French national character. His efforts, and the efforts of fellow researchers (all of the latter funded by and/or directly involved with the Institute for the Suppression of Homosexual Filth) succeeded in creating a significant public controversy. Some public commentators embraced the same-sex-attraction-as-psychosis argument because they were, themselves, homophobes, others more plausibly because they were incompetent, or because they enjoyed being contrarians, or both. This, despite the fact that the statistical arguments on which these extreme claims depended were demonstrably incompetent.

Now, let us suppose that the same editor who helped release this tide of noxious homophobia in the first place still played a significant role in American public debate, and still refused to recognize that he might, actually, be wrong on the facts.  . . .

I wonder, if we lived in such a world, what Andrew Sullivan would think of that editor?

(Go read the whole thing—and definitely click through the embedded links.)

A fine response to Sully’s inability not only to wipe the shit from his shoes, but even to admit he stepped in it.

There are, of course, substantive responses to Mr. Sullivan’s flogging the pc-egalitarianism-is-killing-research-into-racial-differences-in-IQ-and-I-am-brave-for-pointing-the-way-to-truth-justice-and-the-American-way line he periodically burps up, even while admitting that “I certainly don’t have profound knowledge of the deep research of experts in the field.”

Or, you know, any knowledge, beyond that of an editor publishing the execrable Murray-Herrnstein “bell curve” thesis that blacks are dumber than whites (even as he complains that “No one is arguing that ‘that black people are dumber than white,’ “—oh yes, Mr. Andrew,  these two ‘no ones’ did exactly that).

Anyway, here’s the entire stupid thread thus far (original, response, responseresponse, response), as well as smart rebuttals by TNC here and here (read especially the comments for links to research from people who do have “profound knowledge” of the field).

In any case anyone is listening, yes, I believe that intelligence has a biological substrate, that evidence points to a multifactorial construction of intelligence, and that as a general matter there are genetic differences across populations, differences worth studying.

But that’s a damn sight away from sloppily heated declamations on race and IQ, refusal to consider the definitional (and thus methodological) problems with the terms “race” and “intelligence”, or, for that matter, on the role of “truth” in the research enterprise.

Pfft. Platonists.





Where is the tenderness

28 11 2011

I felt such longing.

What to do with such a feeling, especially since it had been so long since I longed for anything? And why the longing, especially in response to the last, short scene of an uneven television show?

Perhaps it was the tenderness of the moment, made all the more poignant by the unexpectedness of it all.

I don’t expect tenderness, don’t expect longing.

No, I have been frozen in fear of my financial burdens, overcome with debts I cannot and am not paying, triaging my money for rent, first, and everything else, second. My two temporary jobs ease me somewhat, but I can’t remember the last time I felt anything other than anxiety.

So this longing, this unexpected desire for, I don’t know, unexpected tenderness, was all the sweeter for revealing that there is still something more to me, something more to this life.





Dese bones gonna rise again (redux)

25 11 2011

I was opposed to Brennan and Booth having a romantic relationship.

Yes, they had chemistry and affection, but, dangnabbit, I’d like to see a good working relationship between two people who have chemistry and affection simply remain a good working relationship.

Colleagues: cool; friends, fantastic. But lovers? Isn’t that a bit. . . lame?

Why does a spark always have to flare out into romance? Sure, Diane and Sam were always going to get together on Cheers, but that was the set-up from the outset. And, okay, some might argue that Booth and Brennan’s bedding was built into the base of Bones—but not me!

No: I liked that they became friends, confidantes, but I always thought they were linked through the work. I wanted the relationship to remain cemented in the work. I didn’t want the series to degrade into a I love B. soap opera, about a mismatched pair of misfits maundering into true love.

Please.

(As an aside, this was why I found ER less and less compelling over the years. Yes, it was a nighttime soap, but the drama coursed through the patients, the medicine; once the work was sidelined, it was just a nighttime soap, nothing more.)

The sixth season gave me plenty of reason to despair of this show: the writing was flat, the eccentricities of the interns were flattened, storylines were forced, and the work was an afterthought. Still, even mediocre Bones was better than most t.v., so while I wasn’t sure if I would continue to follow the show, I thought I should at least check out a few episodes of the new season.

Cue the music and sunrise: It’s good again! Third or fourth season good! The scriptwriters have resharpened their metaphoric pens, the dialogue pops, the humor is back, and I even rejoiced in Daisy’s mega-annoyingness. (She was toned down last season, which made her boring and annoying; amped back up, she’s amusing and annoying.) Most importantly, they started the new season with Brennan and Booth already mid-adjustment to her pregnancy and their romance: instead of having to sit through all the cloying new relationship nonsense, we get them (back) in their comfortable repartee, with the romance serving as an irritant rather than a soporific.

I still would have liked them to have remained spark-y friends, but at least the spark is back.





Thanksgiving for every wrong move

24 11 2011

A repeat post from last Thanksgiving:

It’d take about 20 minutes before our dresses would be off.

My cousin A. and I, having been forced to wear something nice (and constricting) for Thanksgiving, would head into the den and whip off our dresses so that we could play—hard. While our mothers might have sighed over the sight of us scampering about in our slips and tights, at least they didn’t have to worry about stains and tears to the good clothes.

All of us kids would head upstairs, carefully closing the door behind us—the better to keep the adults at bay—before tiptoeing through our grandma’s bedroom to reach the closet door.

This was a great closet, mainly because it was less a closet than a long, dark, narrow passageway into the other bedroom. Who had a closet like this? It wasn’t a secret, but it felt like one.

The real treasure, however, was the attic, which we were of course and repeatedly warned against entering. Come on: you tell kids ‘don’t you go messing around in the attic’ enough times and of course that’s exactly what we’re going to do. It was dark and drafty and a little bit dangerous (all those nails poking through the rough wood) and had just the right ratio of stuff to space: a great play space.

There was an old Victrola in the attic, and while I don’t remember if this was Thanksgiving or not, one year my brother and A.’s brother somehow got that thing cranked up and going; we all fled as sound came out of it, giddy and afraid we broke it.

No, we did not dare tell the adults.

Another favorite was to grab a blanket and ride it down the (carpeted) stairs. The door ended right at the last step—no space or landing—so every time you bumped down the steps you’d slam into the door. This would the lead the adults to ask What are you kids doing up there?

Nothing!

You’re not sliding down the stairs, are you?

No!

At some point my dad and uncles would grab a couple of glass jugs and head over to the nearest bar for beer, although it seemed to take them quite awhile to go just the few blocks and back. But they’d always return, in good cheer and carrying the soon-to-be-emptied jugs.

Finally, it would be time to eat: Adults at the fancy cherrywood table lengthened just for this day, the kids either at a card table set up near there or in the den. The den was best: We had our own bowls of food, and could take as much or as little as we wanted, but, really, we could laugh and mess around and not have to worry about ‘behaving’ or ‘keeping it down’.

We’d all crash out for a bit in my grandma’s small front room, my aunts and uncles smoking and us kids waiting until the cherrywood table was made small again and the adults gave permission for us to take over the (much larger) dining room. The blanket came back into play, usually in some manner of us rolling ourselves in it and trying to chase one another around. If one of the adults was sufficiently, ah, loosened up, he or she would join us, and perhaps we could get them to slide down the stairs, too—only this time, with the door open.

T.v. would be watched—there was usually some holiday movie on—and pie eaten. Other cousins who had eaten elsewhere might stop by, either for pie or beer, and we’d hang out until the traditional holiday walk.

Honestly, I don’t remember if this is something we did for Thanksgiving or Christmas or both (I think at least Thanksgiving), but we’d all bundle up and head out into the south Sheboygan neighborhood, a knotted string along shovelled walks. When we’d hit the highway the adults would call us close, then we’d climb the stairs to the bridge over the lanes. We got a nice shot of the lights of the neighborhood, and we’d wave at the oncoming cars.

And then we’d spit.

No, we weren’t (well, we weren’t supposed to be) aiming at cars. It was just our thing: We’d spit off the bridge.

So happy Thanksgiving, everyone. And may you get the chance where you are to spit off a bridge.





Our boy Newt: Professor-in-chief

21 11 2011

Because being president wouldn’t take that much time:

By the way, I think I will probably teach a course when I’m president. I think I will probably try to do something that outlines for the whole country what we’re going to try to accomplish, and offer it online sort of like the University of Phoenix or Kaplan. So that way if the country wants, they can sign up. It would be free. Although given the news media’s assumptions about me, oh he’ll probably charge $100 a piece so I can get rich. No! It’ll be free. But the idea would be, why wouldn’t you want a president in the age of social media to methodically in an organized way share with you what they’re going to try to accomplish, so that those people who want to understand it can understand it.

When he’s president. Uh huh.

h/t: Think Progress





Replace unionized labor with child labor

20 11 2011

Our boy Newt, GOP flavor of the moment:

“You say to somebody, you shouldn’t go to work before you’re what, 14, 16 years of age, fine. You’re totally poor. You’re in a school that is failing with a teacher that is failing. I’ve tried for years to have a very simple model,” he said. “Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they’d begin the process of rising.”

You can see why pundits praise his intellect.

(Via Politico)





Courtesy. Professionalism. Respect.

15 11 2011

Don Emmert/AFP/Getty Images





Help me, I think I’m falling

10 11 2011

D. was kind.

Her younger sister, J., was glamorous and a little forbidding, but D. was warm and she asked questions and listened to the answers, and even my teenaged snot-self could see that it was not a bad thing that my older cousin was soft and caring. We both loved animals, could always talk about animals.

I didn’t see her much: the occasional Sundays and my grandma’s, and, later, she and her husband would always at least stop by for the holidays; I’d sometimes see her at her job at the mall. Always, again, still warm, still kind. A little sad, maybe, but not crushingly so. She had a weakness for the weak, so it made sense that her kindness could also make her sad.

And it has again, or so I’d guess. I just found out that her house had been condemned, and that she was taken into custody for hoarding. Forty cats, 5? 7? dogs, a number of birds. The place smelled so bad passersby complained to the police. My parents told me so many of the cats were sick, emaciated; they probably had to be put down.

It was on the news, my mom said. It was really upsetting, to see those cats like that. She worked at a vet’s office, and these cats had ear infections, eye infections—she couldn’t get them treated? But then again, that was probably where the problem began, she reasoned. People probably brought in animals they wanted to get rid of and D. took them in.

And it got to be too much, I nodded. She wanted to save them, thought she could save them, and when she couldn’t take care of them she wasn’t able to ask for help.

I feel so bad for those animals; I feel so bad for D.

I hope they all get help.





Recovery cat

7 11 2011

My first thought was: floodpants!

But then I wondered if this wasn’t more wearing-gloves-with-jacket-sleeves-pushed-up.

(I woulda said “Michael Jackson”, but there was no white glove.)





It’s all about the peace, baby

6 11 2011

I love the move The Peacemaker.

Not as a guilty pleasure, not ironically, not contrari-wise. And no, not (just) because of this guy:

Devoe, Tom Devoe.

Or my general attraction to tormented Eastern Europeans:

Marcel Iureş , as Dušan Gavrić , the man who'd bring the Bosnian war to the US

Nope. I love The Peacemaker because it takes bureaucracy seriously.

Seriously.

Now, no, this is not a documentary and all the usual suspensions of belief—getting information at the last minute, getting out of the car/truck/church just before it goes up in flames/falls off a bridge/explodes—apply, as do the usual tropes of the roguish operative who clashes with the beautiful and smarter-than-he-is woman. It’s a combo spy-action flick, not Godard.

But unlike so many spy-action flicks, the hero and heroine (a likably brittle Nicole Kidman as Dr. Julia Kelly) work for and more importantly within agencies. She’s a part of the Executive Office of the President, thrown into the interim position as adviser to the president on nuclear issues; he’s a lieutenant colonel in the US Army Special Forces, and while both rely upon their wits and experience as they try to prevent 9 Russian nukes from ending up on the open market, their authority is clearly drawn from the positions they hold within their respective agencies.

Kelly discovers that the alleged accidental nuclear explosion was deliberate by looking at spy satellite photos provided by the NSA. Devoe gets information on the corrupt Russian officer from his contacts within government. They fly to Europe on a jet filled with staffers, and Devoe acts on the information he and Kelly find by calling the army and setting up a special op (which he commands, natch).

And then the crucial scene, at the launch site of the special op: three choppers would have to cross Russian air space in order to intercept the nuke-loaded truck before it enters Iran and almost certainly disappears. They can’t do it, however, without authorization. Devoe pushes, says, hey, at least let us get in the air, “it’s only jet fuel”:

Up he goes, to the border, and. . . waits. He waits! He doesn’t do the I’m-a-motherfucking-warrior-god and order the crews across, but sits on the border, however impatiently, waiting for authorization.

Which he gets, of course. Duh. (Around the 6-6:45 minute mark)

Kelly and her team trace payments to an address in Sarajevo, wherein IFOR (the NATO-led Implementation Force operating in the former Yugoslavia)—not some punk kid or homemaker-slash-freedom-fighter freelancer or burned-out ex-spy roused to one last sacrificial act—find Gavrić’s tape explaining his final act.

On the flight back to New York, the team notes that, again, they need authorization to shut down the airports. Once in New York, the military works with the city police to block off traffic (too successfully, as it happens). The team works with airport security to track Yugoslavian passengers, realizing they missed their man when an airport official notes that official delegations do not go through customs. At the hotel where Gavrić is staying, a State Department official cautions that internationally-agreed-upon protocols mean they can’t just barge into delegates’ rooms.

(The hotel scene also provides the biggest groaner of the film: Really, you have a man with a backpack nuke staying there, and you don’t think to cover all entrances and exits—including all elevators?!)

The Department of Energy tracks radiation concentrations, and a special agency (NES?) team is tasked to deal with they nuke. They get stuck in traffic, of course, so it’s up to our heroine to defuse the nuke.

Which she does, just in the nick of time. Of course.

Okay, so not a great movie, and one with more than a few flaws. But it’s grounded movie, one which tries, not always successfully, to remain tethered to political and bureaucratic realities.

And physical realities: In an early scene, Kelly is swimming when summoned to the White House by an officer. The next scene shows her at the office with her hair still wet. Not a big deal, I know, but one which rings truer than a scene in which an adviser to the president takes the time to dry and style her hair before responding to a nuclear emergency.

This is too much for what is, really, just a diverting B-movie, isn’t it? Maybe I am too overcome by Clooney and those tormented Eastern Europeans, and maybe I adore Armin Mueller-Stahl (as a scene-stealing Russian office) just a little too much. And yes, I do have a weakness for nuke movies.

But I also believe in the necessity of government and thus, by extension, of the necessity of the bureaucracy. I get all of the complaints against both—I’ve made more than of few, myself—but if you want government to work then you need agencies within the government to work. You need bureaucracy.

It’s nice to see a movie which gets that.








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