Friday, October 20

This is what partisans are supposed to like?

I've played with that Applebee's America quiz I mention below, and this is what Republicans are supposed to favor:
  1. Saving for a rainy day over buying a lottery ticket
  2. Dr. Pepper over Sprite or Pepsi
  3. Audi over Saab
  4. US News & World Report over TV Guide
  5. A superstore like Wal-Mart or large supermarket such as Kroger over Whole Foods or similar organic grocer
  6. Bourbon or Scotch over gin or vodka
  7. Ozarka or local brand over Evian or Dannon
  8. Coors over Bud
  9. A Monster Truck Show over a Pro Wrestling Match
  10. An auction site, like eBay over a dating site, like
  11. The Discovery Channel over Court TV
  12. X Games or college football over U. S. Open Tennis or Major League Soccer
And Democrats? Supposedly they prefer things the other way around.

Do liberals really not grasp the need to find optimal tradeoffs?

Steven Pinker says of George Lakoff's new book:
Whose Freedom? shows no trace of the empirical lessons of the past three decades, such as the economic and humanitarian disaster of massively planned economies, or the impending failure of social insurance programs that ignore demographic arithmetic. Lakoff is contemptuous of the idea that social policy requires thinking in terms of trade-offs. His policy on terrorism is that "we do not defend our freedoms by giving up our freedoms." His response to pollution is to endorse the statement that "you are not morally free to pollute." One doesn't have to be a Republican to see this as jejune nonsense. Most of us are happy to give up our freedom to carry box cutters on airplanes, and as the progressive economist Robert Frank has put it (alluding to the costs of cleanups), "there is an optimal amount of pollution in the environment, just as there is an optimal amount of dirt in your house."

What about the conservative conception of freedom? Here Snidely Whiplash pauses long enough from beating his children to explain it to us. As transmitted by Lakoff, the conservative conception includes "the freedom to hunt--regardless of whether I am hunting an endangered species." It acknowledges the need for "a free press, because business depends on many kinds of accurate information." Religious freedom implies "the freedom ... to put the Ten Commandments in every courthouse." Conservatives get their morality from strict obedience to their Protestant ministers, and this morality includes the belief that "pursuing self-interest is being moral," that abortion should be illegal because a woman pregnant out of wedlock has acted immorally and should be punished by having to bear the child, and that everyone "who is poor just hasn't had the discipline to use the free market to become prosperous," including "people impoverished by disaster, who, if they had been disciplined enough, would be okay and who have only themselves to blame if they're not."

The problem is that the misrepresentations are harmful both intellectually and tactically, and will backfire with all of this book's potential audiences. Any of Lakoff's allies on the left who think that their opponents are the imbeciles whom he describes will have their clocks cleaned in their first debate with a Young Republican. Lakoff's book will be red meat for his foes on the right, who can hold up his distortions as proof of liberals' insularity and incomprehension. And the people in the center, the ones he really wants to reach, will be turned off by his relentless self-congratulation, his unconcealed condescension, and his shameless caricaturing of beliefs with which they might have a modicum of sympathy.

Worst of all, by delineating such a narrow ideological province as "progressivism," Lakoff is ceding vast swaths of territory to the other side. If you think that recent history has taught us anything that requires amending orthodox '60s liberalism, if you think that free markets and free trade bring any economic benefits at all (while agreeing that they have side effects that must be mitigated), if you think that democratic governance requires finding optimal tradeoffs in dilemmas such as pollution, terrorism, crime, taxes, and welfare, then you are a "conservative." It is surprising that Lakoff is not a hero to more Republicans.

Thursday, October 19

Shamelessly copied from Doug Henwood

Wal-Mart may be expanding in the People's Republic of China, but here in capitalist America the low-price retailer has become the Democratic Party's favorite pinata. The media like to portray this as a populist uprising against heartless big business. But what they don't bother to disclose is that this entire get-Wal-Mart campaign is a political operation led and funded by organized labor.

We've done a little digging into the two most prominent anti-Wal-Mart groups, and they might as well operate out of AFL-CIO headquarters. An outfit called Wal-Mart Watch was created by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), probably the most powerful union in America after the National Education Association. Wal-Mart Watch is backed by Five Stones, a 501(c)3 organization that received $2,775,000 in 2005 from the SEIU, or 56% of its $5 million budget. According to financial records, SEIU also gave Five Stones $1 million in 2004 to launch the anti-Wal-Mart group, and SEIU president Andy Stern is the Wal-Mart Watch chairman.

A second group, Wake Up Wal-Mart, is more or less a subsidiary of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW). Wake Up Wal-Mart refuses to divulge its funding sources, but here is what we do know: The group was founded by the UFCW, is housed at UFCW headquarters, and its campaign director's $135,000 salary is paid by the UFCW.

Wake Up Wal-Mart also has close ties to the Democratic Party. Its union-funded campaign director is Paul Blank, who was political director of Howard Dean's failed Presidential campaign. The group sponsored a 19 state, 35-day bus tour across the U.S. earlier this year, staging anti-Wal-Mart rallies. Nearly every major Democratic Presidential hopeful has joined in the Wal-Mart-bashing, including Senators Joe Biden and Evan Bayh, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, and trial lawyer-turned-man-of the-people John Edwards. They all seem to believe they have to take this line to pass union muster for 2008.

Even Hillary Rodham Clinton has joined in the political fun. Never mind that she served six years on the Wal-Mart board during her time in Beltway exile as an Arkansas lawyer and, according to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, was paid $18,000 per year plus $1,500 for every meeting near the end of her tenure. Most recently, Mrs. Clinton returned a $5,000 campaign contribution from Wal-Mart to protest its allegedly inadequate health care benefits. Maybe someone should ask her if she's returned her director's pay, with interest.

Most of the local protests against Wal-Mart are organized through the left-wing activist group ACORN, an acronym for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now. ACORN is the group that put the squeeze on the Chicago City Council to pass an ordinance this summer to require Wal-Mart, Target and other big-box stores to pay a minimum $10 an hour wage and $3 an hour in benefits by 2010. (Democratic Mayor Richard Daley vetoed the bill.) ACORN also pretends it is a locally organized and funded voice of the downtrodden masses. But guess where ACORN gets much of its money? Last year the SEIU chipped in $2,125,229 and the UFCW $165,692.

Then there are the anti-Wal-Mart "think tanks," if that's the right word for these political shops — notably, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) and the University of California at Berkeley Labor Center. The job of these two outfits is to publish papers backing the economic claims of Wal-Mart critics. The UC Berkeley group recently asserted that Wal-Mart "reduces total take-home pay for retail workers."

The UC Berkeley Labor Center has received at least $43,550 from SEIU. The Economic Policy Institute received $100,000 from the SEIU and $40,000 from the UFCW in 2005 and has published several anti-Wal-Mart studies, particularly on the benefits of the Chicago ordinance. By the way, Andy Stern also sits on the EPI board. He's a busy guy.

Now, we're not predisposed to be pro- or anti-Wal-Mart. We've criticized Wal-Mart lobbying on policy grounds — for example, when the company supported a minimum wage increase to court some nice publicity while also knowing this would harm any lower-priced competitors. However, it is simply fallacious to argue that Wal-Mart has harmed low-income families.

More than one study has shown that the real "Wal-Mart effect" has been to increase the purchasing power of working families by lowering prices for groceries, prescription drugs, electronic equipment and many other products that have become modern household necessities. One study, by the economic consulting firm Global Insight, calculates that Wal-Mart saves American households an average of $2,300 a year through lower prices, or a $263 billion reduction in the cost of living. That compares with $33 billion savings for low-income families from the federal food stamp program.

Alas, what's good for working families isn't always good news for unions and their bosses. They hate Wal-Mart because its blue-coated workforce is strictly non-union — a policy that dates back to the day founder Sam Walton opened his first store. Today the company employs 1.3 million American workers, and its recent push into groceries has made life miserable for Safeway and other grocery chains organized by the service workers or the UFCW.

Wal-Mart pays an average of $10 an hour, which is more than many of its unionized competitors offer. And typically when a new Wal-Mart store opens in a poor area, it receives thousands of job applications for a few hundred openings. So Wal-Mart's retail jobs of $7 to $12 an hour, which the unions deride as "poverty wages," are actually in high demand.

But as we say, this campaign isn't about "working families," or any of the other rhapsody-for-the-common-man union slogans. If Wal-Mart were suddenly unionized, Big Labor's membership would double overnight and union leaders would collect an estimated $300 million in additional dues each year to sway more politicians. Short of that, their goal is to keep Wal-Mart out of cities so their union shops have less competition. That's what the war against Wal-Mart is truly about.
I found that when I was looking for Shopping For A Nobel By JOHN TIERNEY 17 October 2006 The New York Times:
I don't want to begrudge the Nobel Peace Prize won last week by the Grameen Bank and its founder, Muhammad Yunus. They deserve it. The Grameen Bank has done more than the World Bank to help the poor, and Yunus has done more than Jimmy Carter or Bono or any philanthropist.

But has he done more good than someone who never got the prize: Sam Walton? Has any organization in the world lifted more people out of poverty than Wal-Mart?

The Grameen Bank is both an inspiration and a lesson in limits. Compared with other development programs, it's remarkable for its large scale. Since it was started three decades ago in Bangladesh, it has expanded to more than 2,000 branches. Its micro-loans, typically less than $150, have helped millions of villagers start small businesses, like peddling incense or handicrafts at the local market, or selling milk and eggs.

The economist William Easterly, who was afraid Bono was going to get this year's Nobel, calls the bank's prize "a victory for the one-step-at-a-time homegrown bottom-up approach" to development. That approach is a welcome contrast to the grandiose foreign-aid schemes that do more harm than good, as Easterly documents in his book, "The White Man's Burden."

But there's a limit to how much money villagers can make selling eggs to one another -- a thatched ceiling, as Michael Strong calls it. Strong, the head of Flow, a nonprofit group promoting entrepreneurship abroad, is a fan of the Grameen Bank, but he figures that villagers can lift themselves out of poverty much faster by getting a job in a factory.

The best way for third world villagers to tap "the vast pipeline of wealth from the developed world," he argued in a recent article, is to sell their products to the world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart. Strong challenged anyone to name an organization that is doing more to alleviate third world poverty than Wal-Mart.

So far he's gotten a lot of angry responses from Wal-Mart's critics, but nobody has come up with a convincing nomination for a more effective antipoverty organization. And certainly none that saves money for Americans at the same time it's helping foreigners.

Making toys or shoes for Wal-Mart in a Chinese or Latin American factory may sound like hell to American college students -- and some factories should treat their workers much better, as Strong readily concedes. But there are good reasons that villagers will move hundreds of miles for a job.

Most "sweatshop" jobs -- even ones paying just $2 per day -- provide enough to lift a worker above the poverty level, and often far above it, according to a study of 10 Asian and Latin American countries by Benjamin Powell and David Skarbek. In Honduras, the economists note, the average apparel worker makes $13 a day, while nearly half the population makes less than $2 a day.

In America, the economic debate on Wal-Mart mostly concerns its effect on American workers. The best evidence is that, while Wal-Mart's competition might (or might not) depress the wages of some workers, on balance Americans come out well ahead because they save so much money by shopping there.

Some critics, particularly ones allied with American labor unions, argue that the consumer savings don't justify the social dislocations caused by Wal-Mart's relentless cost-cutting. They'd rather see Wal-Mart and other retailers paying higher wages to their employees, and selling more products made by Americans instead of foreigners.

But this argument makes moral sense only if your overriding concern is saving the jobs and protecting the salaries of American workers who are already far better off than most of the planet's population. If you're committed to Bono's vision of "making poverty history," shouldn't you take a less parochial view? Shouldn't you be more worried about villagers overseas subsisting on a dollar a day?

Some of them prefer to keep farming or to run small local businesses, and they're lucky to get loans from the Grameen Bank and its many emulators. But other villagers would prefer to make more money by working in a factory. If you want to help them, remember the new social justice slogan proposed by Strong: "Act locally, think globally: Shop Wal-Mart."

Wednesday, October 18

It doesn't work for me

A lot of these questions I'd have to answer with "neither":

At a picnic with friends, you open a cooler full of soft drinks and reach for the:
Dr. Pepper
Sprite or Pepsi
Neither. I don't like soft drinks.

You’ve won the jackpot on a game show and have a choice between two kinds of vehicles. You select the:
I don't know. I'd have to check to see which one has the features at the cost I wanted.

You’re at a cocktail party, and the only choices are gin, bourbon, scotch and vodka. Which liquor do you choose?
Bourbon or Scotch
Gin or vodka
Neither. I don't drink.

If we opened your refrigerator, it is more likely that we would find which brand of bottled water:
Ozarka or local brand
Evian or Dannon
Neither. I'm not fool enough to drink branded water.

You’re at happy hour and there is a special on domestic beer. Which do you choose?
Neither. I don't drink.

Which special event would you be more inclined to attend?
Monster Truck Show
Pro Wrestling Match
Neither. I'd prefer doing nothing.

If we checked your Internet history, it would more likely show that you had visited:
An auction site, like eBay
A dating site, like
Neither. I like surfing the net, but I don't buy that much and I'm married.

Between the following sporting events, which would you more likely watch?
X Games or college football
U. S. Open Tennis or Major League Soccer
Neither. I don't like sports.


Monday, October 16

I should have waited

I'm happy with my new watch, but it looks like the online stores are selling similar models more cheaply.

Sunday, October 15


Last November I never got around to posting this:

For the past couple of weeks we've gone hiking in Ferne Clyffe State Park. Years ago we went on the smaller trails and saw the trickle at the end of the Big Rocky Hollow Trail. The Shawnee Trail Guide mentions Burden Falls and Jackson Falls as more impressive.
Last week we covered the Happy Hollow Horse Trail on foot; it took a little over three hours. Next time we're going to see if we can find the foot of Cave Falls near Goreville. More info on the Shawnee National Forest.

What ordinary people want in art

  • signs of a special talent
  • lots of evident labor
  • nonabject materials
  • realism
  • noble (or at least not ignoble) content
  • political correctness
According to Mary Kelly, of the UCLA School of Arts and Architecture, in an art symposium On the Ugly speaks of the ugly:
The minimal definition is that the ugly is an object in the wrong place and that it is not merely a question of taste
and seems to suggest that the abject is
work that uses bodily fluids or refers to bodily processes or deals with things that might seem base or horrific
The Tate cites Julia Kristeva:
...the abject consists of those elements, particularly of the body, that transgress and threaten our sense of cleanliness and propriety. Kristeva herself commented 'refuse and corpses show me what I permanently thrust aside in order to live'. In practice the abject covers all the bodily functions, or aspects of the body, that are deemed impure or inappropriate for public display or discussion. The abject has a strong feminist context, in that female bodily functions in particular are 'abjected' by a patriarchal social order.
So I guess abject materials are things related to "female bodily functions in particular". Hmm, I'm guessing that many people would object to materials related to male bodily functions as well. And it's not just the materials; it's the subject as well. I don't believe most people would like what Kelly calls "the ugly", either, or Kristeva's "refuse and corpses". I suspect that part of the problem is that artists are pushed to be creative, and some feel that the social order has an agenda to conceal these things, while many average people want to see art that is pleasant, and don't want to be reminded of things like filth, disease, and death.


This year we've done more hiking; we walked a little way on Ferne Clyffe's Big Rocky Hollow Trail again, and there were lots of spider webs. Then we did the northern part of the Trail of Tears getting a little lost on one of the loops. It's nice but a little monotonous: either walking along ridges or into ravines. Then over successive weekends we started on sections of what we thought was Giant City's Red Cedar trail, and at one point we each brought a bamboo pole cut from the grove in back of my house, so in addition to the walking sticks we each have, we also had a pole that I thought we could use to clear away the spider webs. Instead they turned out to be great for walking, especially when descending or ascending steep places. After having shared a large part of the trail with horses, who I was surprised to discover are often shy around pedestrians, we realized that we had been taking the horse trail and not the Red Cedar trail, and so we started doing the latter in sections. Last weekend we walked the southern section, back & forth, which was a total of nearly eight miles. There's a little more variety than what we found at the Trail of Tears. Now my wife's legs hurt, so we're resting.

Someone's afraid of tort reform

A vote of confidence: Stewart has the law on his side in Southern Illinois. He's also unlikely to be in favor of tort reform:
[Bruce Stewart's] campaign sure seems to be heavily wed to the litigation machine of Madison and St. Clair. In fact, the largest source of campaign financial support for Stewart (as reported to the State Board of Elections) is the Metro East -- 46.4% of his support.

And does this surprise you: 74.5% of Stewart's support comes from attorneys, mostly personal injury lawyers...

Stewart is.... conveniently forgetting that while [Stephen] McGlynn may not have trial court experience, he DOES have Appellate Court experience and, of course, that's what this election is all about.

If Bruce Stewart really is cut from a different bolt of cloth than the personal injury lawyers who dominate Madison and St. Clair courts and politics, he should renounce them. He should refuse to take money from them and he should return what he has received -- not just the money he's returned to Tom Lakin and his law firm but to all the Metro East trial lawyers..

Saturday, October 14

I, too, was a victim of white male Eurocentric western culture

"Like other victims, I became fixated on material things. There was actually time, before graduate school, when I considered getting a job."

After the conference, Grok vowed to eliminate the trappings of western culture in his own life. First to go were his personal computer, his BMW sedan, his fashionable Back Bay apartment, and his expensive wardrobe. They were replaced by a typewriter, a bicycle, a phone-free studio apartment and secondhand clothes.

To his chagrin, Grok eventually realized that the even the low-tech alternative technologies were also contaminated by western culture. "The wheels on the bicycle, for example," notes Grok. "Only western civilization would be as arrogant to speak of 'perfect' circles."

Grok says that each of his attempts to replace western technology brought more frustration. "Last year, when I was lying over a heating grate in my cardboard box, I realized I was merely a pawn of western industrialists. Like the developing world, I had been seduced and entrapped by their addictive steam and cardboard technology."

Thursday, October 12

Not much freedom in that party, either

Quoting Jane Galt
...who does the average American fear more--the FBI or the IRS? The local zoning board, or the NSA? What does he fear more: the ten commandments on the wall of his child's school, or having the new addition to the house disallowed by the zoning board, the EPA, or the Americans with Disabilities act? On what does he spend more time: preparing his taxes, earning the money to pay for them, and arguing with the various tax authorities about what he owes . . . or checking for roving wiretaps?
And then she added,
My understanding is that many of the abuses of the WOT result from expanding the Clinton's innovations in the execrable War on Drugs to terror suspects. It was, after all, the Clinton administration that sent tanks and SWAT teams in to deal with what were, at least allegedly, child custody disputes. Likewise, the innovations pushed by Democrats to shake more tax revenue out of the rich . . . like retroactive prosecution, special opaque courts for tax cases, spying on people's cash flows, asset seizure laws, and so forth . . . strike me as major civil liberties violations by any standard, which have trickled down the food chain quite rapidly. Democrats are pushing card check, which strikes me as a license for union organisers to terrorise uncooperative workers. They favour "hate crimes" legislation, which is the closest thing to a thought crime our society has.

Wednesday, October 11

It's been all downhill

When the younger Bush was elected in 2000, Republicans gained unified control of the White House, the House and, for most of the last six years, the Senate.

Yet what majority control produced was lavish farm subsidies; the Medicare drug bill, which is the biggest entitlement expansion since the Great Society; enormous funding increases for Cabinet departments Republicans once pledged to eliminate; highway bills larded with bridges to nowhere; and a galaxy of special spending earmarks for individual lawmakers' pet projects -- along with an invasion of Iraq.

"Starting with George W. Bush, it's been all downhill," said William Niskanen, chairman of the libertarian Cato Institute and a former Reagan official. "The growth of federal spending has been the highest since Lyndon Johnson, this is the first Republican war in over a century in which the ground combat lasted more than a few days, we've had an erosion of our civil liberties ... it's really a very sad story."