Saturday, January 22, 2011

Kindling Irony

One of the really nifty things about Kindle is the endless number, or so it seems, of free books. Some of them, like Joseph Crosby Lincoln's Cap'n Eri, I've never heard of and, to be honest, it's not clear that I am better off for having altered that state of affairs.  Today's downloads included free Smith's Wealth of Nations and Theory of Moral Sentiments while Marx's Capital cost 89 pennies. 

Friday, January 21, 2011

Now This is Art

Top Chef provides a weekly Eric Ripert review of each episode with jazz noodling in the background. It's better than the original and as good as this.

As I Was Saying

An alert reader, while demanding anonymity, alertly alerts me to this fine blog post
Being a mild-tempered person, I'm surprised to find myself in a state of almost constant rage at the extent to which public discourse has been overtaken by the language of commerce: that disgusting phrase "UK plc", the way that words like passenger, pupil, citizen are replaced by "client" and "customer", the constant reiteration of the notion that business is "the real world" (with the implication that the business of government - running schools, hospitals, armies, rescuing abused children, locking up criminals - is mere froth). I was alarmed to notice, in yesterday's Financial Times, the new Westfield shopping centre at Stratford referred to as the "gateway" to the 2012 Olympic Games: evidently, the plan is that visitors' dominant impression of the London Olympics will be of a great shopping opportunity. 
To which I say: Amen.

More Nonexistant Conversations, Even Though Words Are Exchanged

Just the other day, I mentioned that progressive analysts of all things military felt as if the neo-Liberal, Conservative, and Warmongerosphers weren't paying any attention to the progressive critique of, you know, war.  Well it seems that a LTC Flynn, who was partially responsibly for destroying the village in order to save it, sort of responded here; however, as the progressive response to the response makes clear the LTC leaves undiscussed the real, or more central, objection to the destruction of a village for its own protection argument.

The Word You're Looking for is Regulation

Because, all evidence to the contrary, I am optimistic that just around the corner there's a rainbow in the sky, so let's etc, some more from Matt Yglesias this time on AOL selling a service no one needs as reported by Ken Auletta in the New Yorker
I think this sort of issue deserves more attention in part because as the economic pie grows bigger and bigger, the number of hours in the day doesn’t grow. So in many cases the opportunity cost of taking the time to really check things out is rising. That means more and more often it’ll be the case for consumers to be rationally ignorant about what exactly they’re doing, and it’ll more and more make sense for firms to exploit that.
Regulations?  Like those protecting consumers from fraudulent locksmiths?  Or no?  Too progressive? it's like he doesn't pay attention to what neo-Liberalism is.

A Truly Progressive Solution

Unlike some people's pretend concerns for make believe problems, real progressive focus on historical success and solutions that work:

Or more bikes and less blather.

Video via. Bikes and liberation via, which I used for my second favorite 19th century lecture: Women on Bicycles.


From the Bureau of Labor Statistics:
Dental hygienists held about 174,100 jobs in 2008. Because multiple job holding is common in this field, the number of jobs exceeds the number of hygienists.
And the
[e]mployment of dental hygienists is expected to grow 36 percent through 2018, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. This projected growth ranks dental hygienists among the fastest growing occupations, in response to increasing demand for dental care and more use of hygienists.
And the prospects look good because
[o]lder dentists, who have been less likely to employ dental hygienists, are leaving the occupation and will be replaced by recent graduates, who are more likely to employ one or more hygienists. In addition, as dentists' workloads increase, they are expected to hire more hygienists to perform preventive dental care, such as cleaning, so that they may devote their own time to more complex procedures.
And the
[m]edian annual wages of dental hygienists were $66,570 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $55,220 and $78,990. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $44,180, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $91,470.
If only there were more competition the oppressed d.h.s' wages would rise and the "consumers'," which is to say patients but if we think about the world without the filter of economized language the neo-Liberal project of dehumanizing society collapses, costs would lower because, to repeat myself, more equals more which means lower because, shut up that's why.

The Problem With Anti-Empiricism

Matt Yglesias argues that
if dental hygenists were allowed to work on their own, not only would this be good for hygenists (a lower-wage and female-dominated profession, and thus a progressive thing to do) it would almost certainly make it cheaper and/or more convenient to get your teeth cleaned.
A few facts, Alaskan d.h.s make 96k per year, those Washington state make 90k, d.h.s in Michigan, with the "highest concentration" of d.h.s in the land, make 59k. Nice wages, I would say.

We have an imaginary problem, low paid women enslaved by the evil dental monopoly, to which he offers the neo-Liberal solution of deregulation and increased competition because increased competition  will

Mak[e access to dental services] as cheap and convenient as possible for people to avoid [dental diseases, which] does a lot to raise living standards. Obviously in part that can be read as a good reason to pay for poor people’s dental bills. But at the end of the day, making these services affordable really does require us to find ways to make delivery cheaper.
According to the neo-Liberal tooth fairy you increase competition and decrease cost because this increases wages or shorter: more equals less which than equals more. This kind of argument makes clear why Yglesias hates empiricism; his ideology only works if you get to make stuff up.

Oh, and yes it does read as good reason to pay for poor peoples' dental bills not, however, via neo-Liberal tooth fairyism but rather by expanding health care through increasing wages by strengthening unions or mandating living wages, the nationalization of health care or other related progressive response to the needs of humanity in the social situation.
Years ago Tom Waits sang this

because this is what the world looks stripped of fallacies

Blood Libel Yet Again

This kind of bizarre, hateful, conspiracy-mongering is one reason to resist the Palin inspired movement to misunderstand the blood libel:
The Jews, who long ago mastered the scientifically-founded and historically-proven methods of genocide against peoples they don’t like, have begun to use them against the Kyrgyz. After successfully wiping out entire peoples, [the Jews] succeeded in becoming the masters of their land and all their riches. For example: having destroyed the Native Americans, they turned themselves into the American people[.]

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Other Conversations Not Taking Place

Recently, Robert Farley complained about the dearth of "progressive" theories and theorists of issues military. This contra-factual claim led me to this guy, which led me to this post from this post, which contains these pictures of a green and pleasant land:

made barren and peaceful:

by the neo-Liberal consensus, and from the last post which makes the point that a "progressive" doctrine of all things military is, much like a progressive doctrine of all things, civil, social, and economic are, to insist that we stop killing folks for no good reason and think about people as something 
more than material goods maximizing automatons. If we destroy their homes and then rebuild one with, say, with more room and running water, then not only should be grateful (the imperialist mindset), but will be grateful (the COIN mindset). If we occupy their country and destroy their local institutions, but somehow marginally raise their standard of living, they will thank us for it. It is both a morally bankrupt approach and delusional.[1]
Which is all another way of saying, to those centrist neo-Liberals adamant in their refusal to speak the hippies to their left, you're doing it wrong.

[1] By the way, want to know what a COIN success story looks like? Well, the second picture but in more details see here (subscription needed).  Shorter: kill everybody and use the army to sit on the few that you might have missed. Happy New Year.

Insider Out and Outsiders In

Josh Marshall justifying his site's repeated discussions of one of the least important politicians in America:
This is actually a real blind spot for liberals in general -- the idea that things that are crazy or tawdry or just outrageous are really best ignored. Don't give them more attention. You're just giving them what they want. Or maybe it's not so practical and utilitarian. Maybe, they say, it's just beneath us. Focus on the important stuff.
So he pays attention to Palin because despite her marginal status, limited following, and lack of all importance, she is a force among a minority of doodlebugs.

Jon Chait, for similar reason, no doubt, spends a lot of time discussion Sarah Palin. However, he proudly remarks on his ability to ignore/punch hippies:
I'll cop to a couple things. First, I'm not a left-winger. I don't agree with the left about very much. If you're looking for genuine left-wing thought, this is not the blog for you.

Second, I don't spend a whole lot of time discussing left-wing thought because my interest in ideas is primarily, though not completely, in proportion to their influence on American politics. There's room for bringing in ideas that have little or no impact at the moment, but I don't do much of that.
Leaving aside that his opponents to the left aren't hippies, Chait's point is that that leftish ideas play no important role in American political life, sort of like how the neo-Liberal war mongers insisted that millions, if not more, of citizens protesting the decision to invade Iraq didn't really matter because of Socialism and puppets; whereas the least popular politician in America who has no ideas matters because, after all, the lack of media spot lights cannot kill marginal ideas.

Matthew Yglesias on ignoring the left:
I recognize that many people disagree with [my] agenda, and that many of those who disagree with it think of themselves as “to the left” of my view. But I simply deny that there are positions that are more genuinely egalitarian than my own. I really and sincerely believe that liberalism is the best way to advance the interests of the underprivileged and to make the world a better place. I offer “further left” people the (unreturned) courtesy of not questioning the sincerity of their belief that they have some better solutions, but I think they’re mistaken. 
And on neo-Liberalism, which
 is one of these terms that was invented by its critics so I hesitate to embrace it though I recognize that the shoe fits to a considerable extent. I’d say it’s liberalism, a view recognizably derived from the thinking of JS Mill and Pigou and Keynes and Maury “Freedom Plus Groceries” Maverick and all the rest.
Last point first.  If Yglesias doesn't know what neo-Liberalism means, he is unfit to discuss the current political scene in these United States, long may her best medicine be laughter.  If he wants to know, here's a good place to start; if that is too long, here's an interview.

Second to last point second.  "really and sincerely believe" based on what?  Real and sincere belief? When considering the basis for his real and sincere beliefs consider his war on barbers. We have had, I repeat, over 30 years of neo-Liberal policies and they have had the exact opposite result of that predicted. The long development of a liberal democratic and capitalist system that pre-dated the last worst crisis of capitalism have already shown that 19th century Liberalism was insufficient. Here is a discussion of the development and failures of Liberalism from a position more egalitarian and to Yglesias' left.

Some folks deny that there is a problem or more precisely that folk denies that being ignored by Yglesias is a problem.  There is a larger point here and it has to do with 1848.  The then Liberals refused to forge a tactical or strategic alliance with the then Radicals and the then Conservative and the then Reactionaries were able to recover, reload, and put down the revolutions through military aid. While the Liberals did get a sort of watered down version of constitutionalism they ceded political leadership back to the Conservatives and Reactionaries and were on the way to being a party that represented ever fewer citizens.

My point is for all you "centrist" neo-Liberals out there, your allies lie on the left and it makes sense to make compromises with them. The Conservatives aren't going to give even yet half a loaf.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Missing the Point

I mentioned that there has been a bit of a kerfuffle concerning the neo-Liberal, but  somehow left, paying no attention to the left left.  In a post over to Rortybomb, someone short hands the criticism as
[c]ontra Freddie, If you want left economics writing great stuff that is relevant to the current discussion there’s plenty to choose from; I’d recommend adding his blog to your rss feeder.
What Freddie actually argued is that no one from the neo-Liberal alleged left pays any attention to arguments from their left. Both Yglesias and Jon Chait agreed. This is a very important point and question.  The answers, I thought, were revealing and I hope to have something more to say directly.  So all six of you can wait with baited breath.


Matt Yglesias:
For my part, I’m continually baffled by the degree to which thought-leaders and politicians on the center-left think it’s credible and/or political useful to present our agenda as wholly un-ideological and “pragmatic,” somehow emerging magically through empirical study.
In the current The New Yorker Atul Gawande  reports (subscription needed) on a successful attempt to moderate health care cost that arose from and rests on a theory derived from careful study of the actual per patient costs, which is to say hard work interpreting the facts in the light of how the world actually works led to improved health care at a lower cost..  He is cautiously optimistic about the new method and is clear that the it magically arose from empirical study. The solution, by the way, is to find the most expensive patients and give them more health care because, it turns out, the most expensive patients often take really crappy care of themselves and inundating them with trusted health care providers, social workers, and compassionate nags leads to measurable improvement in their health, well being and a decline in the costs of taking care of them.

My point is this, for someone who is more or less ignorant of the facts of the matter retreat to ideologically driven argument makes sense as an ideology allows the construction of an easy argument or solution to complicated problems. Ideology, the last refuge of the intellectually lazy.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Sarah Palin Stubbornly Ignorant or Ignorantly Stubborn

Recently Sarah Palin misused the phrase blood libel and, quite rightly, 7 people castigated her for this kind of ignorant abuse of history and rhetoric, while many thousands of her supporters worried about pograms against her eminence.  Yesterday, Palin doubled down and argued that
[b]lood libel obviously means being falsely accused of having blood on your hands. In this case, that's exactly what was going on[.]
What's great about this is not one word of her defense of her misuse of language is true and its lack of truth and accuracy arise from abject ignorance of history which ignorance then serves as evidence for the misuse of language.  She, in other words, doesn't know enough to know that she doesn't know enough  and because of this deep and abiding ignorance she concludes that she must be right because the words "blood libel" mean neither more or less than what she, in her deep and abiding ignorance, thinks they mean.

And just think, she could have been the vice president of these United States, long may she wave.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Point

Some guy I've never heard of explains in detail why Yglesias et alia are a menace to society, without resort to that sort of heated rhetoric. Inter alia Matt Yglesias replies to the critique:
But one point that I agree with here, is that while I’ll cop to being a “neoliberal” I don’t acknowledge that I have critics to the “left” of me.
He then lists a long list of things that critics to the left of him cannot critique, I guess. Most of the things listed are outcome based, redistribute wealth, improve k-12 education outcomes, etc, without providing his preferred methods.  Others, break the "illegitimate" and anti-competitive licensing regimes, are policy specific.

All are open to left or socialist critiques. The fact that he fails to acknowledge this fact, if I can be factitious for a moment, is all you need know about Yglesias.  Consider that his preferred method of reforming k-12 is to attack unions and insist on market-based solutions even though he has no clue how education operates.  How, one wonders, does he plan on redistributing wealth?  Tax transfer payments?  Wouldn't a more left-leaning solution be the equalization of rates of pay through increased union participation in the nation's economic life?

It would be one thing to say I reject criticism from the left because . . . (One assumes the because would be because he is a Reaganite neo-Liberal convinced of the unique genius of the unfettered market or, put another way, he is totally ignorant of the actual history of markets and modern capitalism.) He might, in fact would, do well to consider the critiques of those to his left on his basic ideological assumptions, and he would do well to engage in the facts and arguments he would find there as a way of shoring up neo-Liberalism's weak empirical underpinnings.