August 31, 2005

Relativism's self-limitation   {Comments: 2}

This report (via Taegan Goddard, but in many other places as well) isn't very satisfying for those who are uncomfortable seeing creationism in schools. The finding that stuck out at me was that a majority of Americans could stomach seeing creationism taught alongside evolution, despite the fact that only a minority of Americans believe in creationism. The paradox here is that those who (rationally enough) reject creationism are equally at odds with science because their (dominant American) belief system is completely relativistic: even if they don't for a second believe God created the world in 6 days and downtime, they're too enlightened to reject others' worldviews outright. And unfortunately, this characteristic makes those who oppose creationism or other religiously-justified nonsense far less rhetorically/politically nimble, even though they have the big scientific artillery on their side.

Calling it what it is   {Comments: 6}

Of course there are the outrageous captions on these photos, via Metafilter and Steve and probably many others. I have a hard time seeing taking food from a grocery store in post-apocalyptic New Orleans as looting, no matter who's doing it. This caption incident aside, it almost seems as if the looting has been brought into existence by the media's obsession with it. There's a sick obsession here, maybe on the part of those who are finding a minute in this city-ending nightmare to steal televisions and dollhouses and shoes, but maybe the sickness is with a voyeuristic American public more concerned that people are getting something for nothing than anything else.

This passage from the New York Times editorial was more subtly disquieting, but still makes me uncomfortable:

People who think of that graceful city and the rest of the Mississippi Delta as tourist destinations must have been reminded, watching the rescue operations, that the real residents of this area are in the main poor and black. The only resources most of them will have to fall back on will need to come from the federal government.
What does being black have to do with having no resources to fall back on? Or for that matter, what does being poor have to do with it, when the whole city is in shambles? One gets the impression the writer of this editorial saw pictures of black Americans, equated this with poverty, and decided that was what justified federal intervention. They're right that the government needs to intervene, but the logic is unnecessarily twisted by guilty condescension.

MORE: In way of clarification/explanation, I find this piece (and most of those quoted in it) completely different. It looks squarely at the reasons why most of the people left in the city are black and quarrels with those issues, which is perfectly reasonable and appropriate.

August 30, 2005

War and poverty   {Comments: 0}

The poverty rate apparently increased slightly from 2003 to 2004, which might provide fuel for those who think the economy is in worse shape than the statistics suggest -- although they'll have to deal with Mollie Orshansky's accidental definition of poverty first. Much more interesting is the revelation all the way down in paragraph sixteen that income inequality was near all-time highs in 2004.

It turns out that the all-time highs for income inequality were right before WW1 -- once the war began, income taxes went through the roof, particularly in the higher brackets, and things flattened out (and of course the New Deal and the WW2 war effort flattened things out even further). Just yesterday there was this article measuring the dollar cost of the current war effort against that of WW1, even though the government has found completely different ways to pay for them. Does this mean the broad societal consequences of these expensive wars will be avoided? And if so, considering that one of those consequences was more income equality, is that a good thing?

August 23, 2005

Inevitably legal?   {Comments: 2}

I don't usually find myself disagreeing with Tom (of BTD) on IP/IT issues, but I'm a little puzzled by his suggestion here that legalizing the monitoring of electronic transmissions is a relatively small issue in the face of the surveillance that's already going on:

I'm not keen to let US law enforcement collect this information without oversight, but I'd be much more worried about it if IT department geeks the world over weren't already legally empowered to snoop through our electronic correspondence for personal details, company gossip or (gasp) unofficial uses of the business's precious internet resources.
To me the distinction is huge, mainly because allowing this monitoring to take place legally would make it fair game for prosecution purposes. "IT department geeks the world over" might be scary, but at least they don't have the power to arrest you or send you off to Gitmo, and anyway they have some reasonable interest in how company resources are being deployed. I'm probably as much of a cynic as Tom when it comes to the enforceability of privacy protections, but that doesn't mean I think we should give this kind of information legal force in courtrooms. I'm really disappointed to see Canada considering something like this.
No comment   {Comments: 1}

I forgot to mention: the comments were out for a while, but they are now fixed -- I don't expect a lot of people were commenting here while I was off doing other things, but if you tried to comment and couldn't, sorry!

August 22, 2005

Social destruction   {Comments: 4}

OK, I'm back. The last month has been crazy, with all kinds of familial obligations, a change of address, an injury, a couple of minor obsessions (of which blogging clearly wasn't one), a seemingly catastrophic computer issue that turned out not to be, and the short-lived acquisition of some barely grammatical (but still serviceable) Italian. I've also been prepping for the Chicago marathon. I suppose all this is behind the unprecedented (at least since Feb 2003) failure to blog around here, but there's also just the fact that it seems to get harder to start writing again the longer I go without writing.

Anyway, I'll be back with more soon about Head Start, which has been on my mind lately because of my job, but for now let me just link to this post on the demise of theory, which ties it to the 20th century avant garde (subsequently arguing that, as with the avant garde, some theory will essentially go mainstream while the rest just vanishes). I don't have much to say about this comparison, but I found the article depressing because the whole argument is predicated on the notion that the avant garde is passe, which I find incomprehensible and somewhat disorienting. Maybe the avant garde is too central to my conception of art in the first place, but I don't see how the contemporary formulation of art as oriented toward experience, and in particular political experience, does anything for art or for experience. It's as if art is moving toward a sort of made for TV movie paradigm, because our experiences have to be validated. Isn't that kind of boring? Maybe you can tell I've been reading Andre Breton.