November 22, 2014

At the Constraints of November Café...


... this tablescape expresses the smallness of my perspective over the past week.

ADDED: Go Badgers.

FBI sting leads to the arrest of 2 men "described as reputed members of a militant group called the New Black Panther Party" suspected of buying explosives...

... which they were said to be planning to use in the protests that are expected to follow the announcement of the grand jury's decision in Ferguson, Missouri. 

"A two-year investigation by the Republican-controlled House Intelligence Committee has found that the CIA and the military acted properly..."

"... in responding to the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, and asserted no wrongdoing by Obama administration appointees."
Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.


8 posts before dawn.

It's one of those mornings! And, strangely enough, I got plenty of sleep last night. If "last" is the right word. The night is just ending.

IN THE COMMENTS: David invites us to commemorate the JFK assassination, and I reject the invitation.

What's wrong with this picture?

"If you’re not British, Labour politician Emily Thornberry’s resignation for posting a tweet of a house, some flags and a van may seem baffling. Here’s why it happened."

"Almost every time I’ve talked to a reporter has gone this way: they had already decided the narrative beforehand."

"I’m never being asked for information — I’m being used for quotes to back up their predetermined story, regardless of whether it’s true. (Consider this when you read the news.) Misquotes usually aren’t mistakes — they’re edited, consciously or not, to say what the reporter needs them to say."

Writes Marco Ament, with a vivid example of a NYT reporter working on a story about hipsters moving to Hastings on Hudson. The story became "Creating Hipsturbia." And Ament says: "The article, which was mostly bullshit, is slowly making itself more true. And our town is doing very well from it."

The town made the news ≈ the news made the town.

Hazing and hunting on the Supreme Court.

"They hazed me, this is true," Elena Kagan said. They made her head of cafeteria committee:
"It's not a very good cafeteria, so this is really just the opportunity they have to kind of haze you all the time. Like, 'Argh, you know, Elena, this food isn't very good.' "
And it's her job, as the Justice with the least seniority to take note and open the door when someone knocks:
"I take notes as the Junior Justice … and answer the door when there's a knock. Literally, if there's a knock on the door and I don't hear it, there will not be a single other person who will move. They'll all just stare at me. You might ask, Who comes to the door? Well, it's knock, knock, 'Justice X forgot his glasses.' And knock, knock, 'Justice Y forgot her coffee.' There I am hopping up and down. That's a form of hazing, right?"
Kagan also describes going hunting with Justice Scalia several times a year:
"I do like it... I'm a competitive person. You know, you put a gun in my hand and say the object is to shoot something, I'm like, 'All right! Let's do it!'"

There's some evidence that birth control pills mute a woman's natural urge toward a man who is "objectively good-looking... by evolutionary standards."

They took 2 sets of women who were on birth control pills when they chose their male partners. Group 1 had objectively good-looking men, and Group 2 had objectively not-so-good-looking men. They stopped the birth control pills, and supposedly the women in Group 2 became less attracted to the men, but the women in Group 1 did not.

If this is true... then what? My thoughts flowed in this order:

1. So this is the real force behind the push for birth control — to serve the interests of unattractive men.

2. Do these men realize the stake they have in getting and keeping women on the pill or are they bellyaching that women are getting a benefit and men are not?

3. Should women want to take the pill so they can enlarge the group of potential sexual partners or should they want to stay off the pill so their natural urges remain intact?

4. Attractiveness in the evolutionary sense is a bit irrelevant under the conditions of the modern world, so it might be personally advantageous to strip this distraction away from the process of mate-selection.

5. It's horrible to use pills to change something so fundamental to one's being, and yet people take all sorts of pills that restructure their mind.

6. Natural hormones restructure your mind over time. Would my thoughts have flowed out in this order if I were 40 or 30 or 20? 

How Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush talked about illegal immigration in April 1980.

Via Reason, this is from the debate before the Texas primary, answering a question from an audience member about whether "the children of illegal aliens should be allowed to attend Texas public schools free":

Transcript at the link. I was struck — perhaps because I'm also in the middle of reading "41: A Portrait of My Father" — by Bush's spontaneous and a bit awkward expression of empathy:
... we're creating a whole society of really honorable, decent, family-loving people that are in violation of the law.... If they're living here, I don't want to see...six- and eight-year-old kids being made, one, totally uneducated, and made to feel like they're living outside the law.... These are good people, strong people. Part of my family is Mexican.
This education issue doesn't come up anymore, because —2 years after that debate — the Supreme Court determined that it violated Equal Protection to exclude these children from school. Reagan's contribution ignores the school question and stresses the need for work permits:
Rather than talking about putting up a fence, why don't we work out some recognition of our mutual problems? Make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit, and then, while they're working and earning here, they'd pay taxes here. And when they want to go back, they can go back. They can cross. Open the borders both ways.

"To the extent that large-scale use of prosecutorial discretion is ever appropriate, it is surely so..."

"... in the case of helping people whose only violation of the law is fleeing poverty and oppression under terrible Third World governments. Few other offenders have such a compelling moral justification for breaking the law. I strongly support the legalization of marijuana and the abolition of the War on Drugs more generally. But illegal immigrants violating the law to escape Third World conditions are considerably more deserving of our compassion than college students violating it to experiment with marijuana or other illegal drugs. If exemption from prosecution is acceptable for the latter, it should be permitted for the former too."

Writes Ilya Somin in "Obama, immigration, and the rule of law."

"Do you not see that so long as society says a woman is incompetent to be a lawyer, minister, or doctor, but has ample ability to be a teacher, that every man of you who chooses this profession tacitly acknowledges that he has no more brains than a woman?"

A quote from 1853 (from Susan B. Anthony) that appears in a NYRB piece by Jonathan Zimmerman titled "Why Is American Teaching So Bad?"

Here's the second-to-last paragraph:
Indeed, the biggest insult to the intelligence of American teachers is the idea that their intelligence doesn’t matter. “The teaching of A, B, C, and the multiplication table has no quality of sacredness in it,” Horace Mann said in 1839. Instead of focusing on students’ mental skills, Mann urged, teachers should promote “good-will towards men” and “reverence to God.” Teachers need to be good, more than they need to be smart; their job is to nurture souls, not minds. So Garret Keizer’s first supervisor worried that he might have too many grades of A on his college transcript to succeed as a high school teacher, and Elizabeth Green concludes her otherwise skeptical book with the much-heard platitude that teachers need to “love” their students.
Garret Keizer is the author of "Getting Schooled: The Reeducation of an American Teacher," and Elizabeth Green is the author of "Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach It to Everyone)."

November 21, 2014

"A hospital in eastern China offers fathers-to-be a chance to experience the pain of childbirth using pads that induce an electric shock."

"Free sessions are held twice a week at Aima maternity hospital in Shandong province, and about 100 men have signed up. Pads attached to a device are placed above the abdomen, giving electric shocks that induce pain."

"The Mystery of Why This Dangerous Sand Dune Swallowed a Boy.

"When a boy suddenly disappeared into a sand dune, a scientist embarked on a quest to find out where he went."

Title and subtitle of an article in Smithsonian Magazine. It's an interesting story, even though I don't think the dune "swallowed" the boy. According to his friend, the only other person who saw what happened, the boy saw a hole in the sand and climbed down into it.
When the fathers turned around, there was no sign of Nathan—just a round, 12-inch-diameter hole in the sand. Keith, tall and beanpole thin, lay across the sand and reached into the hole.

“I’m scared,” came the boy’s voice from somewhere in the darkness....

The men dug furiously, confident they’d soon feel Nathan’s hand or head. But within minutes, sand was sloughing into the hole from every direction.

"We must reclaim and retake feminism from our fellow idiotic women."

Said Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
"... I condemn whole-heartedly the trivial bullshit it is to go after a man who makes a scientific breakthrough and all that we as women — organized women — do is to fret about his shirt?"
Was #shirtstorm organized?

ADDED: I have a few problems with Hirsi Ali's statement: 1. She portrays the various individual reactions to Matt Taylor's shirt as the work of an organized collective, but that's not so. 2. There's nothing wrong with taking a shot at a small problem even though there are larger problems. 3. The women who choose to do the kind of culture critique that was aimed at the shirt are not idiots, nor is fretting about the shirt all they do. 4. Those who decided to go after the women who went after Matt Taylor were themselves guilty of taking something small and inflating it beyond all proportion. That said, I do agree that much of feminism seen on the web these days is predictable, safe writing that feels as though it came from a college course on feminism.

"Undercutting the president’s staff at a time of transition to a new majority is pretty outrageous."

"For Krone to do this and there’s no retribution? Unbelievable."

Said William M. Daley, Obama's former chief of staff, commenting on Harry Reid's top aide, David Krone, in the NYT article "Reid Unapologetic as Aide Steps on Toes, Including Obama’s."
Mr. Krone said he was simply protecting Mr. Reid. A few days before the midterm elections, he said, he was hearing from reporters that the White House was blaming the legislative strategy devised by him and Mr. Reid for the party’s lousy electoral prospects. “I’m going to go meet with these reporters,” Mr. Krone recalled telling Mr. Reid. “And he’s, like, ‘O.K.’ ”....

Wall Is Over.

"For years, Prague's Lennon Wall was a vibrant rainbow in the city, attracting artists and tourists alike with its prismatic graffiti. But on November 17, the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution that peacefully ousted Communism from Czechoslovakia, Prague residents woke up to a very different Lennon Wall than the one they had known since 1980—a completely white space, with years of artwork painted over save for bold black text proclaiming, 'Wall Is Over!'"

And then what happened?

And here's the official video for the John Lennon song "War Is Over":

"You're looking at them? Well, they're looking at you."

#57 in a set of 57 drawings — with captions — by women of their own breasts.

Explanation of the project (in New York Magazine) here. From the comments: "Should do this for guys and their dongs."

Mattel apologizes for its book "Barbie I Can Be A Computer Engineer."

"The portrayal of Barbie in this specific story doesn’t reflect the brand’s vision for what Barbie stands for."

What was so terrible? Pamela Ribon unleashed the critique here.
Despite having ruined her own laptop, her sister’s laptop, and the library’s computers, not to mention Steven and Brian’s afternoon, she takes full credit for her game design– only to get extra credit and decide she’s an awesome computer engineer! “I did it all by myself!”

A few thoughts on reading the transcript of the President's immigration speech.

1. What, if anything, is really changing? Here's the deal:
If you’ve been in America for more than five years; if you have children who are American citizens or legal residents; if you register, pass a criminal background check, and you’re willing to pay your fair share of taxes – you’ll be able to apply to stay in this country temporarily...
You have to register and the protection from deportation is only temporary? Who even wants this deal? The alternative is to continue as before, knowing that the government lacks the resources and will to deport you as long as you don't commit a crime other than the violation of immigration law. We, the citizens of the United States of America, are urged to picture this as "living in the shadows." But that "shadows" rhetoric — which appears 4 times in the speech — is aimed at us citizens. And I'm trying to think of a comparably dramatic replacement for "if you register." The word "register" appears in the speech once. Isn't there something ominous and oppressive about a government registry?

2. Overstated reactions to Obama's announcement of his pragmatic continuation of immigration enforcement make his opponents look extreme, and I think that was the idea. Didn't his party lose the elections earlier this month because the GOP had managed to mute its immoderate voices? The Democratic Party needs the Tea Party/Ted Cruz element to speak up, and Obama's speech built a nice stage upon which they can strut, declaim, and chew scenery.

3. Obama got to sound elevated and aspirational: "[O]ur tradition of welcoming immigrants... [has] kept us youthful, dynamic, and entrepreneurial... And whether our forebears were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in, and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like..."

4. The speech is studded with conservative themes — not rewarding bad behavior, requiring people to take responsibility, keeping families together: Give people who want to "play by the rules" a way to "embrace... responsibilities."

5. On mentioning law, Obama proceeds to a double sleight of hand. Obama presents his independent action as a last resort, a temporary fix, while he waits on needed congressional action:
But until that happens, there are actions I have the legal authority to take as President – the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican Presidents before me.
Almost immediately after that statement, he intones the big generality "we are... a nation of laws," but that does not come in the context of explaining how he himself is following law that binds him. It's about the problem that "Undocumented workers broke our immigration laws, and I believe that they must be held accountable – especially those who may be dangerous." See the 2 moves in that sleight of hand? First, he shifted away from presidential power to the law that the "undocumented workers" are violating, and second, he broke that group in two, separating the whole law-violating category into those who are only violating immigration law and those who are "dangerous" for some other reason. The next bit is:
That’s why, over the past six years, deportations of criminals are up 80 percent. And that’s why we’re going to keep focusing enforcement resources on actual threats to our security. Felons, not families. Criminals, not children. Gang members, not a mother who’s working hard to provide for her kids. We’ll prioritize, just like law enforcement does every day. 
So, those law-violating people who are not "dangerous" are completely good people who deserve our compassion. How does that fit with the idea that "they must be held accountable"? We're supposed to lose track of who's supposed to be held accountable and think that only the dangerous subgroup needs to be held to account.

6. Does the President ever return to the topic of his legal authority? No, but he does seem to refer back to the (nonexistent!) place in the speech that maybe listeners will blame themselves for forgetting:
The actions I’m taking are not only lawful, they’re the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican President and every single Democratic President for the past half century. 
Now, there is a legal argument for presidential power that is premised on "a systematic, unbroken, executive practice, long pursued to the knowledge of the Congress and never before questioned, engaged in by Presidents who have also sworn to uphold the Constitution." (That's a quote — from the famous steel seizure case — that I discussed here a few days ago). But Obama doesn't say he's using that argument. He doesn't say "The actions I’m taking are lawful because they’re the kinds of actions taken by every single Republican President and every single Democratic President for the past half century." He says "not only" are his actions lawful, but they are also the kinds of actions that other Presidents have taken. The past practice of other Presidents comes as a reason to be persuaded that it's a good, practical, not immoderate policy.

7. Do past presidential actions establish either the legal authority or the good politics and policy of the President's proposed actions? I don't know! Obama only states a conclusion that there are all these other examples of the same kind of thing, but to assess any legal/political argument he might intend to be making, we'd need to study each example and make a sound judgment about whether it's parallel to what Obama is doing now. Let's say you buy into the proposition in that quote (in point #6) from the steel seizure case. That quote is from Felix Frankfurter's concurring opinion, and he took the trouble to examine past actions and decided that — other than 3 things FDR did in 1941 — they were not comparable.

8. Obama seems to claim a power to do what must be done even in a nonemergency.
And to those Members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed, I have one answer: Pass a bill.
First, we — and he — should always question a government official's authority, and it's absurd to accept the idea that Congress's only way to object to the abuse of power is through the passage of a law. Second, Obama's claim of power doesn't include the premise that we are in a position where it is necessary for action to be taken. He just wants "to make our immigration system work better"! That doesn't sound like an emergency, just a policy tweaking. And, as I said in point #1, I don't see how what he's doing changes things that much, not enough to be characterized as a fix to get us through an emergency until Congress gets its gears in motion. If I'm wrong, and Obama is doing a lot, creating a substantial new policy, that weakens his argument for legal power. But if I'm right, and he's not doing much, then what's all the prime-time to-do about? For an answer to that question, please refer to point #2.

9. He acknowledges the objections of some Americans, then insults them: "... I understand the disagreements held by many of you at home," but this is "about who we are as a country." You people are not who we are.

10. Religion! "Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger – we were strangers once, too." What scripture is that? I assume it's Matthew 25:35-40.