Archive for December 2012
Louis Michael Seidman, a professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University, writes in a NY Times op-ed:
Our obsession with the Constitution has saddled us with a dysfunctional political system, kept us from debating the merits of divisive issues and inflamed our public discourse. Instead of arguing about what is to be done, we argue about what James Madison might have wanted done 225 years ago.
As someone who has taught constitutional law for almost 40 years, I am ashamed it took me so long to see how bizarre all this is. Imagine that after careful study a government official — say, the president or one of the party leaders in Congress — reaches a considered judgment that a particular course of action is best for the country. Suddenly, someone bursts into the room with new information: a group of white propertied men who have been dead for two centuries, knew nothing of our present situation, acted illegally under existing law and thought it was fine to own slaves might have disagreed with this course of action. Is it even remotely rational that the official should change his or her mind because of this divination?
The Constitution, by limiting the power of federal government, prevents the majority from oppressing the minority.
Forty years ago, liberals still vividly remembered the McCarthy hearings when a conservative-controlled government used its powers against the left. Nixon was the President 40 years ago, and no liberal would want to give more power to a government controlled by Nixon. Yet at the same time, the Supreme Court was somehow liberal and using the Constitution as an excuse to do stuff that liberals approved of. Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. So the Constitution seemed like a good deal for liberals 40 years ago.
But we skip ahead 40 years, and now liberals dominate the government bureaucracy. (How many government workers in Washington DC voted for Romney in the last election? Not very many.) It’s not likely that there will be another Republican president in the foreseeable future. Exit polls show that Romney’s support primarily came from whites, and Seidman surely knows that whites will be a declining percentage of the electorate in every election going forward as the nation becomes more diverse.
Without a Constitution to get in the way, liberals could finally make the nation a better place. Obama, who is a Nobel Peace Prize winner, could remain president for many more decades. Disenfranchised undocumented immigrants can finally be given the citizenship they are entitled to. Evil people such as racists and homophobes can be sentenced to mental institutions for their deviant thoughts. We can finally do something to stop global warming. Obstructionist Republicans will just use the Constitution to get in the way of all these good things.
In April 2009, the New York Times reported:
Although [36-year-old Heather Eisenlord is] not yet sure exactly what she’ll be doing on her trip, she has some ideas. She would like to teach English to monks in Sri Lanka and possibly help bring solar power to remote parts of the Himalayas. She’ll probably hit 10 to 15 destinations around the world, most likely practicing not-for-profit law wherever she can be helpful.
The best part of all: Skadden is paying her about $80,000 to do it.
I have no idea if any monks learned English, or if any gasoline generators in the Himalayas were replaced with solar cells, but I do know that Ms. Eisenlord is now a “Human Rights Program Director” at the International Senior Lawyers Project:
Heather joined ISLP in May 2011 to lead ISLP’s human rights program unit. Her background includes seven years of practice at leading U.S. law firms as well as providing legal support onsite to both an anti-human trafficking NGO in Cambodia and a community-based organization in Uganda that provides quality schooling and other support to children and young people in the Kabale District. Heather received her J.D. from the George Washington University Law School and earned a B.A. in Political Theory and Constitutional Democracy from Michigan State University. She also participated in a program on post-Soviet legal transition at Moscow State University.
Ms. Eisenlord perfectly captures the sort of person David Brooks was writing about in his book Bobos in Paradise. What could be more bourgeois than working at Skadden Arps, one of the world’s most prestigious law firms? Yet she is also a bohemian free spirit who jets around the world (using up a lot of jet fuel) teaching English to impoverished monks and spreading the virtues of green energy.
Front page NY Times article (at least on the website and iPad app) about how Maxim is the most popular magazine in the military.
“They’ve got hot chicks, guns, cars, trucks, a little bit of everything,” said Christopher May, a 38-year-old master sergeant in the Marines based at Camp Pendleton in California. …
On a recent December day in Crawfordsville, 20 miles west of Memphis, as he sat at a barracks table littered with Maxim magazines and cleaned his .45-caliber Remington pistol, he said that Maxim was “the most common magazine hanging around” during his eight deployments.
It should be pointed out that it would NOT be good for one’s professional white-collar career to have a Maxim magazine in your work area.
Once upon a time, enlisted men read higher class literature:
Robert Benton, the screenwriter who worked as Esquire’s art director until he was drafted in 1954, said that when he was stationed in El Paso, he read Esquire and The New Yorker. He also luxuriated in literature and didn’t face the need for escapism that soldiers who serve in combat seek out.
“I remember sitting in the first eight weeks of basic training, sitting in a badly dug foxhole and the mounds outside of El Paso, reading ‘Tender Is the Night.’ I remember thinking, ‘The Army is not so bad,’ ” Mr. Benton said. “My enemy was tedium.”
Yes, serving in the military has most surely dropped in class since the 1950s.
This is a very touchy subject. No member of the upper middle class, or perhaps you’d want to call it the bobo class, would ever want their own children serving in the military where they might pick up these career-killing reading habits (and that’s on top of the chance of being killed), but it’s considered to be in bad taste to publicly advocate that military service might be a bad idea.
Who would you rather have for a next door neighbor?
A. Someone who is lawful evil?
B. Someone who is chaotic good?
AND THE ANSWER IS
Son is a hardcore d&d geek so I asked him. He says it’s really, really complicated but chaotic good is better. So can you tell us more about your d&d past?
This is highlighted because it’s the wrong answer, but it had me confused when I was a teenager. What was Gary Gygax thinking putting this philosophical “alignment” stuff into a game played by people who were mostly too young to get it? And because most of the players were, themselves, lawful in temperament (even though they probably didn’t realize it at the time), they dutifully followed the rules and insisted that every character have an alignment.
The answer to the question is that a lawful evil person would make a better neighbor because lawful people live quiet lives and keep their property well maintained. They have high conscientiousness and high future-time orientation.
A chaotic good person wouldn’t mug you or steal from you, but they throw loud parties, and during one of those parties one of their chaotic neutral friends might urinate on your lawn.
If you haven’t yet, read the first post of this series.
The first chapter of David Brooks’ book Bobos in Paradise is titled “The Rise of the Educated Class. While it begins with a humorous analysis of New York Times wedding announcements, instead of telling us about bobos, most of the chapter is devoted to explaining the history of elite colleges in the 20th century and the decline of the WASP establishment.
According to David Brooks, prior to the 1950s, the people who attended elite colleges were nearly entirely from the WASP establishment. Colleges had quotas to prevent too many Jews and other non-establishment WASPs from being admitted. But the faculty at the elite colleges in the 1950s didn’t approve of the elitist approach to admissions and moved the colleges to admit based on academic merit and SAT scores. (We seem to be going in the opposite direction today, with the elite colleges putting less emphasis on test scores on more on “well-rounded” students, but that’s my observation and not something Brooks wrote about.)
The result was a radical change in who was running the country. The country is still run by graduates of elite colleges, but the background of those graduates is a lot different today and no longer dominated by establishment WASPs.
As late as 1976, the labor market economist Richard Freeman could write a book called The Overeducated American, arguing that higher education didn’t seem to be paying off in the marketplace. But the information age kicked in, and the rewards for education grew and grew. In 1980, according to labor market specialist Kevin Murphy of the University of Chicago, college graduates earned roughly 35 percent more than high school graduates. But by the mid-1990s, college graduates were earning 70 percent more than high school graduates, and those with college degrees were earning 90 percent more. The wage value of a college degree had doubled in 15 years.
This excerpt is important for understanding a key element of Brooks’ viewpoint, but it’s also seriously flawed. As Brooks would have you believe it, college is a magic ticket to an upper middle class salary and lifestyle.
This depends a lot on what college you are talking about. A degree from Harvard, even a degree in something which doesn’t seem to have direct value in the market place such as English Literature, does indeed seem correlate with a six-figure career tracks, but that’s one super-elite school. Even at the bottom of the Ivy League, there are graduates who don’t find their way into those good jobs, and that was even true before the NASDAQ crash of 2000 and the even bigger economic crash of 2008. It’s significant that this book was published in March of 2000, the same month as the NASDAQ crash, so it seems to me that Brooks was influenced by the heady days of the last year of the tech bubble.
When Brooks is analyzing the New York Times wedding announcements, he mentions all of the elite schools like Stanford, Harvard and Princeton, so why is he talking about the average college graduate? The average college graduate went to a directional state school; that’s a school like Eastern Kentucky University where no one is a bobo.
The deepest thought I got from this chapter is that the faculty of elite colleges are dominated by liberals. The liberal ethos is absorbed by the students, and because these students graduate and become the new elite who are running the country, the result is that the country is being run by an elite that has been strongly influenced by the anti-rich liberal ethos. And thus they become bobos, who engage in conspicuous consumption, but do so in a manner that demonstrates liberal values like helping the environment and, ironically, rejecting crass materialism.
This chapter also made me think about the Occupy Wall Street movement. The members of the movement absorbed the idea that by going to college, they were therefore entitled to a career that not only gives them a decent salary but also gives them self-actualization. “Self-actualization” is a word I’ve used a lot, and Brooks also uses in the book. The upper-middle-class ethos is that a career is not just for making money, but also for self-actualization. There’s an exception for jobs that make a LOT of money like investment banking (my observation, not Brooks’). The kids at Occupy Wall Street therefore didn’t see going back to school to learn something practical and in-demand like nursing as a valid option, because nursing isn’t a career that gives you self-actualization.
I paid $30 to WordPress for the “Custom Design” upgrade so I could edit the CSS and make the ugly Garamond italic block quotes go away. Now they are the same size Verdana as the main body text. I also got rid of the quote symbols automatically surrounding the block quotes.
Does anyone else have any other suggestions for improving the blog format?
This blog theme, Chateau, was designed by Ignacio Ricci. I have no clue why he thought it was a good idea to have huge Garamond italic block quotes. Or automatically surround the quotes with quote symbols—the whole point of the block quote, I thought, is so you don’t have to use quote symbols.
Besides that, I think he designed a nice upper-middle-class theme, although I’m not sure that he looks very upper middle class in his photo.
In return for making this theme and not even making any money from it, I am going to give an endorsement to his creative design company. So if you need someone to design a website for you, you should get in contact with those guys from Argentina.
A Chinese genomics research institute, BGI, is doing a gene-trait association study of g. BGI is “one of the largest genomics institutes in the world.”
What is g? From their website:
No one knows precisely what intelligence is, and even experts disagree as to how it should be defined. However, it has been known for over a century that performance on different cognitive tests is positively correlated: for example, someone who is good at math puzzles is also more likely to have an above average vocabulary. Given a battery of tests and their correlation matrix, one can use probability theory to define a single parameter that, in a sense, optimally compresses the information from administering them all.
In practice, a wide range of intuitively sensible test batteries and functions of their score vectors yield very similar estimates of this parameter. As a result, psychologists consider these functions of test batteries to all be reasonable estimators of a parameter called the General Factor of Intelligence, or g for short.
And what is this study going to do? From their research proposal:
We will pursue a series of case-control studies, in which allele frequencies are compared between a group of “normal” individuals (controls) and a group selected for exceptional intelligence (cases).
This means that in the near future, we may know the exact alleles associated with higher intelligence! (Although it should be pointed out that, according to many liberal scientists in the West, intelligence doesn’t even exist, or if it does exist it’s not genetic.)
I predict that the two most important technologies of the future will be robotics and genetics, and that Japan and China, respectively, will lead in those technologies. While the liberal elites in the United States are throwing government money at “green energy” companies like Solyndra that go bankrupt, we see that the Chinese are researching the genetics technologies of the future.
Bobos in Paradise, by David Brooks, was published in the year 2000. Strangely, until now I’ve never read it. I think that I shrugged it off because it had the feel of Paul Fussell lite. (As you should know, Paul Fussell was the University of Pennsylvania English professor who wrote the book Class, and who sadly died earlier this year.)
These Bobos define our age. They are the new establishment. Their hybrid culture is the atmosphere we all breathe. Their status codes now govern our social life. Their moral codes give structure to our personal lives.
Boy did that sound pretentious the first time I read it! But in retrospect, perhaps David Brooks was right? I am pretty sure that Brooks is writing about the same class described in Christian Lander’s blog which he began in 2008 and unfortunately no long updates. (But Lander got paid a lot of money to write a book which was a rehash of his blog posts.) This also seems to be the evolution of the “class X” which Fussell described rather poorly in his last chapter, or perhaps class X has merged with the upper-middle class.
So it seems really essential that I should read David Brooks’ book to see if I might learn anything new about this very important class which does indeed define our culture because they control the New York Times and all other respectable media. Rush Limbaugh is, perhaps, not a bobo, but no one takes him seriously.
Let me say first, I’m a member of this class, as I suspect, are most readers of this book. We’re not so bad. All societies have elites, and our educated elite is a lot more enlightened than some of the older elites, which were based on blood or wealth or military valor. Wherever we educated elites settle, we make life more interesting, diverse, and edifying.
I think that this sickeningly lovely tribute to the bobo class turned me off initially to reading the rest of the book. Clearly the book can’t have anything like the biting comedy of Fusell’s Class if it starts out in love with bobos.
One thing I do know is that David Brook’s attempt to coin a new word, bobo, a shortening of bourgeois bohemian, didn’t stick. I hardly ever see the term bobo used anywhere. “Bobo” is more likely to refer to Mike Bobo who is the offensive coordinator of the University of Georgia football team, or a French restaurant in Greenwich Village.
Stay tuned for a chapter-by-chapter review of Bobos in Paradise.
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Technologically, I am going to be reading this book on the Sony Reader app for the iPad. If you, too, have some sort of tablet or reader device, you can be reading along with me in minutes, perhaps even seconds. You’re probably better off going with Kindle because Amazon charges less money for the same books, but I had $41 of credit at the Sony store left over from a $50 gift certificate I received a while back.
If you are frugal, you can save a lot of money by buying a used dead tree book from one of those Amazon used booksellers, but then you’ll have to wait for your book to get snail-mailed. I am pretty sure a bobo would buy the e-book.
* * *
Chucho writes in a comment:
I recently read “Class” and was wowed by its insights and humor until the final chapter. I think at the time it was written, the early 80s, the boomers were still pretty young and didn’t completely dominate US culture they way they would by the time Brooks’ book was written. What I think Fussell failed to anticipate was that the consumer, status-driven ethos that he thought “Class X” abjured would instead merge with that class’s bohemian, arts-centric taste and lifestyle. Fussell’s “Class X” was a marginal phenomenon of the previous generation (people like the Beats), but for the Boomers (a much richer cohort) a larger segment of the population was able to become “artists” or at least pretend they were. It’s almost laughable to read the “Class X” chapter because he essentially describes Bobo/SWPL/hipster taste but somehow thinks that these people are immune to status competition, when in fact those groups are precisely defined by their relentless drive to refine their tastes and lifestyles vs. the dreaded ‘middle class’. But what is more anxiously middle class today than driving a hybrid, shopping at a farmer’s market, listening to NPR, etc?
Would you like to convince people of the truth of some unpopular belief? (Not that the Lion of the Blogosphere believes anything unpopular, this is purely hypothetical.) Trying to use logic to convince people of your truth will not work, because people don’t think logically, they think emotionally. People will believe or do anything as long as other people like themselves believe it or do it.
In a recent Wall Street Journal column we discover:
In a study conducted with the U.K.’s tax-collecting service, Martin saw an increase in the return rate after enclosing messages such as, “nine out of ten people in Britain pay their tax on time,” on tax forms. The return rate increased even more when the information was more specific, referring to the number of people who filed tax returns on time within their town or postal code.
So suppose you write in a blog comment that rosé is the superior wine (which is a pretty unpopular belief). When someone then disagrees, you might try to respond with facts and reasoning:
There was an understanding, as early as the time of the Ancient Greeks and Roman winemakers, that harder pressing and lettings the juice “sit” for a period with the skins would make darker, more heartier wines but the resulting wines were often considered too harsh and less desirable.
But no one is going to pay attention, because they know that rosé is only consumed by the kind of people who live in Staten Island.
It would be much better to post another comment with a sock puppet who writes :
I agree with you, and in fact a lot of the people here in the Hamptons secretly drink rosé wine when no one is looking because it tastes so much better.
This creates powerfully convincing social proof that trumps calls to reason or facts.
According to a NY Times article published yesterday and written by Jessica Silver-Greenberg (who graduated from Princeton in 2004), the latest trend in dating is asking one’s date what his or her credit score is.
[The credit score] is so widely used that it has also become a bigger factor in dating decisions, sometimes eclipsing more traditional priorities like a good job, shared interests and physical chemistry. That’s according to interviews with more than 50 daters across the country, all under the age of 40.
Is this for real? It has the feel of one of those NY Times articles where the author asks a few of her friends for some anecdotes and then pretends that it’s some big trend that she uncovered.