Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Hindu: A Brief History of US Imperialism

A great summary of the problems of US Imperialism -- which abroad has arguably been just as bad under Democrats and Republicans:

The Loneliness of Noam Chomsky

For The Hindu, Arundhati Roy recounts a brief history of US foreign aggression, adventurism, neocolonialism, and cruelty, through the prism of Chomsky's excellent construction (based on a term from influential journalist Walter Lippman's book in 1922) of Manufactured Consent: the sleight of hand that makes us think we really know what's going on in the world, and give our tacit and explicit consent to US policies that we would likely recoil from if we knew the truth of it.

Ask yourself this, in this holiday season: would you really, eyes wide open, happily and merrily trust a government that looked to "save" the Vietnamese while being so gleeful about their demise:
Here's an American pilot talking about the joys of napalm:

We sure are pleased with those backroom boys at Dow. The original product wasn't so hot — if the gooks were quick they could scrape it off. So the boys started adding polystyrene — now it sticks like shit to a blanket. But then if the gooks jumped under water it stopped burning, so they started adding Willie Peter [white phosphorous] so's to make it burn better. It'll even burn under water now. And just one drop is enough, it'll keep on burning right down to the bone so they die anyway from phosphorous poisoning.

So the lucky gooks were annihilated for their own good. Better Dead than Red.

And lest we forget, sadly forget: we've used Napalm, or perhaps more accurately, Napalm II in Iraq. As Marx said, History repeats itself, 1st as tragedy, 2nd as farce: We still have to melt the people to save the people, apparently. And do they thank us for it? Sheesh.

Merry Christmas, and an anti-imperialist New Year...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Grow up!

A nice piece from Herman Daly (a founder of ecological economics) can be found at an exciting blog discovery, here at Growth madness (though the top blogpost right now is about how environmental writers do a fundamental disservice by avoiding the problem of population; it's a statement I don't disagree with, but don't agree with; population is part of the problem but with 4% of the world population consuming 23% of its resources, the actual number of people, especially the vast majority who consume far less yet in general reproduce at higher levels than that 4% -- with that in mind, it seems the 4% and those like it are the most significant element of the problem at present, not just the number of people more generally).

Daly talks about growth & development & what they mean, in language that I pretty near 100% agree with (and have "independently derived" if you will - I haven't read this by him before, but have used pretty similar definitions for growth and development as he does).

And in other, more important news: Antonio Taguba, of the famous (infamous?) Taguba Report (aka the ARTICLE 15-6 INVESTIGATION OF THE 800th MILITARY POLICE BRIGADE) retired this year and is now talking more about what happened. He says there's more that's not being released, and pretty much flatly contradicts the idea that the torture at Abu Ghraib didn't come from higher up -- not earth-shatteringly surprising news, but news that deserves to be told and retold nonetheless. I, for one, had certainly not heard about this:
… descriptions of the sexual humiliation of a father with his son… Iraqi woman detainee baring her breasts… a video of a male American soldier in uniform sodomizing a female detainee… photographs of Arab men wearing women’s panties…

“Sodomizing a female detainee”? That is rape, folks… anal rape. I really wish the media would call these things a little more bluntly. “Sodomize” just sounds so Playboy Channel. “Oohhh… kinky fun fun.”
(from Hell's Handmaiden).

See the links for more on Taguba's revelations and his poor treatment ("You and your report will be investigated,") in return for doing his duty -- making sure the US does its best to live up to its ideals. (Wow, is that an idealistically patriotic sentiment, especially coming from me! But I mean it here...)

The New York Times: General Says Prison Inquiry Led to His Forced Retirement, June 17, 2007

The WaPo: Abu Ghraib Investigator Points to Pentagon

and The New Yorker again: Annals of National Security: The General's Report

We owe Gen. Antonio Taguba a debt that only history will fully realize.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Oooo... Good quote!

From today's Slate's Human Nature column (of which I'm a very begrudging fan):
Human Nature's view: The problem with libertarianism is that the first thing people do with freedom is take away the freedom of others.
(Human Nature is written by Bill Saletan.)

My other favorite quote for the day/week/month/year: Good judgment comes from experience; experience comes from bad judgment."

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Barack Obama -- Meh.

I had a recent conversation with a new friend that in part focused on Barack Obama and whether he really does represent a new kind of politics and/or a step in the right direction.

Being a bit of a radical malcontent, but with strong pragmatist and idealist roots, I conceded that he might be "the real deal" in that he might mean what he says about new politics and blahedy blah. Certainly, a number of my very astute friends believes he's on the level. I, personally, have my doubts, which I have had some trouble enunciating. I also haven't done extensive research on the man yet, so I can't completely rule him out.

In terms of superficial research, however, I seem to recall that he did say he wouldn't rule out bombing Iran, and also that he did rule out supporting gay marriage. It is my impression -- possibly an incorrect one -- that he was somewhat more bullish on gay marriage until Clinton & others advised him to scale it back a bit, and that he took the more "nuanced" stand of being for civil unions. My chief problems with these two positions he took during his Senate campaign run is that: HE WAS RUNNING AGAINST ALAN KEYES!!!! Alan Keyes couldn't have won that election with the help of God Itself. It seems to me that if you can't stake out controversial views in a no-lose election, then you're just not the person for the job as far as I'm concerned.

Slightly, but only slightly, less superficial research, (that is, Wikipedia without my verifying info in the primary sources listed) gives me similar impressions as my previous ones. If anything, they're slightly sourer. My friend CN feels that, though he disagrees with Obama on a number of issues, from reading his books, CN feels like Obama really is thinking them through and weighing them, and has principled, logical reasons for his stances. I'll have to read it, too, but I have my doubts. My thing is, as a news junkie, I feel like I have an above-average bead on what's going on (though perhaps that's just ego on my part). And Obama's positions do not, in my mind, follow logically from his stated beliefs.

Example A: He talks about bombing Iran and Pakistan if necessary, and the dangers posed to us by a nuclear Iran. Uncontroversial, right? Um, well... if you consider that there's no reasonable explanation for why Iran would attack Israel or the US with nuclear weapons, the idea of starting what would be a bloody and costly conflict against them seems, well, stupid. What do I mean? Simply that: Iranian dictators and religious mullahs are no more completely insane shit-for-brains idiots than the leaders of Soviet Russia, present day Pakistan, or India. Mutually assured destruction (charmingly acronymed MAD) worked and works in those examples -- despite some possibly close calls, neither Russia nor the US launched any nuclear weapons at each other during the Cold War, despite various batshit crazy members in each's government. A more recent example is the acquirement of nuclear weapons in Pakistan and India. A number of commentators within and outside of both countries said, essentially, that this was it, MAD wasn't going to work, because what foreigners didn't appreciate is the sheer amount of enmity between the countries, and that MAD be damned, someone was going to say "Fuck it," and start a nuclear conflagration. While that certainly's still theoretically possible, no one's talking about it right now. Why? MAD *did* work.

The Mullahs & Ahmedinejad are similarly not so batshit crazy as to sign their own death warrants with an attack on the US or Israel. Dangerous rhetoric or not, dictators may be reprehensible, but most of them are somewhat savvy in the ways of keeping power, and know that a) if they bomb the US or Israel or Europe, their country, and likely they themselves, are ash; b) if they explicitly threaten to bomb US or Israel, their country is ash; c) if they give nuclear material to terrorists in order that the terrorists bomb the US, Israel, or Europe, their country and ass are still very much grass. From Afghanistan and Iraq, it's perfectly obvious to anyone to see that the US wouldn't wait for the ocular proof to retaliate, and even the whiff of a hint of an allusion that terrorists got nuclear material from Iran would mean, in a word, DEATH for them. (Besides which, some analysts think loose nukes and US & Russian attack readiness are the biggest threats.)

Obama does get into further nuance, but it seems to me that it's hard to imagine a realistic scenario where bombing Iran makes sense. He talks about a nuclear "domino theory" in the region if Iran gets nukes, but bombing Iran would only be worse. In fact, the single BIGGEST thing he could talk about to make us safe is to go back to nuclear disarmament instead of nonproliferation. The difference is, in the prior, ALL countries -- US included -- agree to continuously destroy and decommission their nuclear stocks. If the US, the 800-lb gorilla in our story, agreed to reduce nuclear stocks, other countries (such as Russia) would be able to realistically consider reducing theirs as well. Instead is making sure our nukes are still ready to fly and making new ones from time to time. The LATTER approach, today's nonproliferation focus, simply says "We don't want any more countries to have nukes. Those of you that do, though, um... for shame! But, we won't do anything, you're too dangerous now." Nonproliferation basically tells a country that the only way to be able to defend yourself from US attack & intervention is to finally GET nukes, because once you get them, you're an irrevocable member of the club. Smoke 'em if you got 'em... Not to mention, the hypocrisy of Israel's open secret of their nukes, which are technically treaty and UN violations as grave as it is when "bad countries" do it. What's it called when you have one standard for yourself and friends and another for other people?

Sigh. That wasn't supposed to be so long. My work break's about up. My other examples were going to be Palestine -- where Obama says no one's suffered like the Palestinians, but that when Israel is threatened, we will always stand with Israel, and that Palestinians need to recognize Israel's right to exist -- with no similar demands made that Israel not threaten Palestine or that Israel formally recognize a Palestinian state's right to exist (they've never formally done that as far as I know). 3 times as many Palestinian civilians have died as Israelis; who's the aggressor now? The nuclear power, or the poorest would-be state in the world? And lastly on gay marriage, his retreat to civil unions. My argument is not that these aren't politically wise moves, but rather than if he's running "a new kind of politics," then he should be aware of and promote disarmament instead of nonproliferation or threatening rogue states; he should stand behind tough love for both Palestine AND Israel, rather than just demands of the former and sympathy for the latter; and he should at least admit that civil unions is an intellectually indefensible compromise on gay marriage. "But maybe he really believes marriage is a religious rite and not an actual right?" you say? Well, last I checked a) a number or religions, including individuals and sects within Christianity and Judaism, allow and will perform gay ceremonies, and b) religious freedom was a national right. So if it's a religious issue, and some religions allow it, how does allowing states to ban it represent an intellectually honest path to civil unions, which would be distinct from marriage legally at least in name? And if it's only in name, then isn't that a shell game?

Again -- his positions are reasonable. Civil unions are a famous example of Bill Clintonian triangulation. Keeping the idea of bombing Iran alive is a genuflection to the idea of looking like a tough guy for prez. Being careful not to even fairly criticize Israel -- a necessity for any American pol. But NEW? Hardly. Bill Clinton called his New Kind the 3rd Way. Bush called his Original New Kind compassionate conservatism. Obama calling his New Kind of Politics the New Kind of Politics doesn't make it true this time, either.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The American Apartheid Will Rise Again

Have you heard of The Jena 6? I hadn't, until recently. (TGTDN! Thank Goodness There's Democracy Now!)

I'm running more short on time than usual, but follow the links. You'll think you're in the fucking past -- not just because this happened, but because it isn't being addressed nationally the way it absolutely must and should be.


In other news, another shocking story from the August 1 Democracy Now!, though a wholly different level/kind of shocking. Bottled water apparently, wait for it... isn't all that great! Specifically, several more companies have admitted their bottled water is freaking tap water from public utilities:
"...most people don't know that Pepsi's Aquafina, Coke's Dasani, comes from our public water systems... Nestle owns several dozen brands of bottled water. The bottled water brand they source from our public water systems is called Nestle Pure Life. They also own Poland Spring, Ozarka, Arrowhead. The list goes on. And regionally, it's distributed across the country. And then we also have Coca-Cola, which bottles Dasani water, and, or course, Pepsi with Aquafina." -- Gigi Kellett, Associate Campaigns Director at Corporate Accountability International
I know people have railed at bottled water before, but the thing is, it doesn't seem to have taken. Dennis Miller ranted about it some years ago, people laughed, and that was the end -- pass me the Dasani, please -- yes, the Dasani made of tap water that is essentially a 7000X markup on the original tap water. Yes, that's smart -- that's the efficient genius of capitalism at work. And it's not as if this conspicuous and senseless consumption is benign: "The environmental impact of the country’s obsession with bottled water has been staggering. Each day an estimated 60 million plastic water bottles are thrown away. Most are not recycled. The Pacific Institute has estimated 20 million barrels of oil are used each year to make the plastic for water bottles." (Democracy Now!)

So unless you're in the land of Montezuma or somewhere else without improved sanitation and US water quality, you might want to consider at least buying a Britta and a reusable sports water bottle -- you can get the same water quality at almost 1/7000 the price, AND cut down on "foreign oil dependence", garbage, pollution, ozonation, and bone-headed capitalism.

Go to Corporate Accountability International and for more information on water; see Democracy Now! and, or just Google Jena 6 for more information on that topic.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

I'm so funny!

Apropos of nothing, I had this conversation today and was dazzled by my own smrtniss, er, smartness, er CLEVERNESS:

Me: If Molly punks out, she'll be punking out on herself, and that's not cool.
Andrew: Yeah, that's true, it's not. But we've all done it.
Me (abashedly): Yeah, that's true.
Andrew: But that doesn't mean we can't still make fun of her for it. We can be hypocrites. (laughs)
Me: Yeah! Hypocrisy is AWESOME! (Pause) As long as I'm the one doing it.

Completely unrelatedly, and apropos to nothing especially that last thing, I've been meaning to write down a sort of declaration of principle that's been rattling around in my head for a while and I just wanted to "get it on paper," as it were. In this case, my paper is a self-aggrandizing blog, and I don't really want to get it down just to remember it, but also to be self-congratulatory. Disclaimers aside:

"It is not the purpose of government to require someone be extraordinary in order to survive. Rather, the true purpose of government is to help create and maintain a society where average people have what they need to live extraordinary lives."

I've been working on the exact phrasing for a while for my own edification, but I impressed myself with the sentiment. It's based largely on Nobel Laureate economist Amartya Sen and his analysis of "equalities," such as in "Inequality Reexamined." And of course, I use government here in a context of strengthened/a Strong "small-d" democracy, sensu Prugh, Constanza and Daly's "The Local Politics of Global Sustainability," the book that helped set my entire research agenda and career (such as it is right now) in place.

Monday, August 20, 2007

This Sunday, SUNDAY, SUNDAY!

A message from Amanda Edmonds, ace Executive Director of local (Ypsilanti, Michigan) food security/organic urban gardening/food sovereignty nonprofit Growing Hope (see also post from the Growing Hope Blog):

Friends, Neighbors, Colleagues...

You know you love the Corner Brewery. If you haven't been there, you will love it-- promise. I don't even like beer YET STILL I love the Corner Brewery's beer. And, the Corner is smoke-free! Soooo, this Sunday we're having a fundraising beer tasting for GH and I'd love for you to come and support us, drink good beer, and hang out with other lovers of the Growing Hope... Beer for a good cause is good beer.

Join supporters of Growing Hope and connoisseurs of fine brew at Corner Brewery in Ypsilanti to support Growing Hope on August 26th from 3-5pm. Tickets price is $20 per person, which includes beer tasting (open bar!) for two hours plus appetizers. Tickets will NOT be sold at the door. You can buy tickets online from our website--, down at the bottom of the main page-- or reserve your spot by calling or emailing us. Give a hollar at 734.786.8401 or send an e-mail to and we'll put your name down! And there's more-- if you want to go ahead and get your tickets for Hope's Harvest (Sept 23 at Cobblestone Farm!) you can also get those on our website!

Growing Hope Beer Tasting
Corner Brewery
720 Norris St
Ypsilanti, MI 48198

Sunday, August 26, 2007
$20 (for lots and lots of beer and food!!!)

Bring a friend or seven! If you're a blogger, please post for us!! Pass around to your colleagues and friends and neighborhoods. We've also got a few remaining spots for people to get in free by volunteering to be beer pourers. If you want one of those, drop a line!

See ya Sunday!

Growing Hope is dedicated to helping people improve their lives and communities through gardening. Based in Ypsilanti, Michigan, we work with neighborhoods, schools, community groups, and families to develop and sustain organic community growing spaces; we build on the strengths of individuals and the community to bring the benefits of gardens to all.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A largely "Untranslated" quickie on Genetically Modified Foods

Doing research for redrafting a paper/thesis chapter, I came across at least one recent study where genetically modified foods were fed to animals and then statistically tested to see how the animals reacted vs. a variety of other diets. They in fact used Monsanto's own data, released apparently 2 years ago under lawsuit in Europe (did anyone hear about this? I faintly recall something like that, you'd think it might've resurfaced in the news at some point).

So, the re-analysis found several abnormalities in GM-fed rats, especially in weight (lower in GM-fed rat males, higher in GM-fed rat females), and initial signs of damage to detoxifying organs (kidneys, liver). I read it quickly, it didn't seem that they used a statistical test to screen out the fact that when you do hundreds of stats on something, so number will be significant by chance -- I think there is a repeated measure test one can do. Any road, this is not my forté (stats) and I'll be returned to read this and similar studies more deeply, but this is the type of study we HAVEN'T much conducted on GM foods, on the "If it quacks like a duck" theory. ("If this GM duck quacks like a duck, then we can treat it like a duck, and assume it's safe to eat.") Of course, as I commented in an earlier post, I personally don't think our chemical understanding of proteins et al. is good enough to actually determine such "substantial equivalence," and it would seem reasonable to require animal testing as we do for drugs, what hey? (Drugs, pesticides, cosmetics -- but not food?) Clearly, I think this study needs to be followed up on, in exactly the way people aren't these days: animal studies and similar epidemiology, not dissolving GM food in a tube and analyzing its chemical content, when it's not even clear we'd understand pertinent differences if we found them (i.e. the extreme difficulties in determining protein three dimensional structure, which is at least as important as any other chemical characteristic in determining its effects, if not more so.)

Abstract of the paper for those without academic library access (reprinted here under a fair use assumption):
Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology
© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007
New Analysis of a Rat Feeding Study with a Genetically Modified Maize Reveals Signs of Hepatorenal Toxicity

Gilles-Eric Séralini1, 2 Contact Information, Dominique Cellier1, 3 and Joël Spiroux de Vendomois1
(1) Committee for Independent Information and Research on Genetic Engineering CRIIGEN, Paris, France
(2) Laboratory of Biochemistry, Institute of Biology, University of Caen, Caen, France
(3) Laboratory LITIS, University of Rouen, Mont-Saint-Aignan, France

Contact Information Gilles-Eric Séralini

Received: 18 July 2006 Accepted: 20 November 2006 Published online: 13 March 2007
Abstract Health risk assessment of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) cultivated for food or feed is under debate throughout the world, and very little data have been published on mid- or long-term toxicological studies with mammals. One of these studies performed under the responsibility of Monsanto Company with a transgenic corn MON863 has been subjected to questions from regulatory reviewers in Europe, where it was finally approved in 2005. This necessitated a new assessment of kidney pathological findings, and the results remained controversial. An Appeal Court action in Germany (Münster) allowed public access in June 2005 to all the crude data from this 90-day rat-feeding study. We independently re-analyzed these data. Appropriate statistics were added, such as a multivariate analysis of the growth curves, and for biochemical parameters comparisons between GMO-treated rats and the controls fed with an equivalent normal diet, and separately with six reference diets with different compositions. We observed that after the consumption of MON863, rats showed slight but dose-related significant variations in growth for both sexes, resulting in 3.3% decrease in weight for males and 3.7% increase for females. Chemistry measurements reveal signs of hepatorenal toxicity, marked also by differential sensitivities in males and females. Triglycerides increased by 24–40% in females (either at week 14, dose 11% or at week 5, dose 33%, respectively); urine phosphorus and sodium excretions diminished in males by 31–35% (week 14, dose 33%) for the most important results significantly linked to the treatment in comparison to seven diets tested. Longer experiments are essential in order to indicate the real nature and extent of the possible pathology; with the present data it cannot be concluded that GM corn MON863 is a safe product.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Trifectas: Clarence Thomas and the J Continuum

As loathe as I am to be put into any sort of sentence, group, state, country, or world along with Supreme Court "Justice" Clarence Thomas, this is my third post for today -- a trifecta of non-thesis related work -- and this Slate article uses my favorite word to describe the assholish stylings of Thomas as he pretends, ever so faintly, to have used principles to come up with unprincipled decisions on free speech and integration. Some money shots:
Despite the vast differences between public education then and public education today, Justice Thomas evidently believes the question of whether students have free-speech rights should be answered by conducting an imaginary séance with 18th- and 19th-century Framers and ratifiers, who should be asked: Do you think public-school students have a constitutional right to free speech while in school? This line of inquiry is about as productive as asking an only child: Imagine you have a sister. Now, does she like cheese?...

...he asks how those alive at the relevant time would have applied that language to a set of facts different than we face today. This elevates the expectations of the ratifiers and Framers over the meaning of the text itself. But the meaning of the text—as Justice Thomas surely would agree—must be paramount over the subjective expectations of any individual, whether alive or dead...

For someone lauded as the originalist's originalist, this is a pretty weak showing. For someone looking to advance a conservative political agenda, however, these three cases constitute a sort of trifecta: Curtail voluntary integration and student rights while boosting the rights of corporations. Not a bad couple of weeks... [i]n two of the three most important cases of the past term, Thomas was forced to abandon originalism—his version of it, anyway—in order to reach a politically conservative result. In the other, his originalist reasoning was weak at best.

Go. Read the whole article.

God I hate Clarence Thomas.

That's Right, Irrelevant Exuberance: Slate Writer Calls for Iraq Withdrawl

Philip Carter, Slate writer and correspondent for their "War Stories" column, and himself an Iraqi veteran, is calling for a withdrawal from Iraq. (Indeed, in May he outlined a plan for it.) I don't consider him to be the world's biggest dove, proof 1 of which might be the fact that he served in Iraq. You can object to war on principle and still serve in the Armed Forces, but that hardly qualifies you for pacifist-of-the-year. What I'm saying is, this is yet another call from someone who can hardly be characterized as a crazy left commie pinko effectively pro-terrorist weak-kneed girly man, but someone who a) seems to know what they're talking about and b) would likely support a politico-military "plan for victory" in lieu of withdrawing if, in their opinion, there was one. I've had something like this viewpoint for a while now, but it's nonetheless good to see it gaining steam, some years later than I'd've liked. (And while one may say, "Well, years ago we didn't know it would turn out like this," please see some of the other countries we've reconstructed post-WWII-reconstruction: Haiti (#1 poorest country in our hemisphere, very high intervention by the US for decades), Nicaragua (#2 poorest country in our hemisphere, high intervention, most of it illegal i.e. Iran-Contra), Afghanistan (not doing so hot), Guatemala (ended up helping a prolonged civil war continue with thousands of civilians killed), Greece, Brazil, Grenada, Libya, overthrowing the democratically elected Shah of Iran, and sundry other examples. In other words, there was no real reason to think intervention by the US was going to lead anywhere good in this case either. Go ahead, closely examine the history of US intervention -- results like those we've seen in Haiti, Nicaragua, and Iran are far more common than those for post WWII aid to Germany and Japan.

A distant cousin (but close childhood friend) once said that he wanted to go into the field of history to make sure that the US learned its lessons and never went completely the way of the British Empire through the course of making the same mistakes, for the love of God. He's since gone into a different area -- it doesn't seem like the slack's been taken up on this one, hmm?

US' falls further behind in Gender Equality

Hello, faithful readers, and people who googled this page by mistake.

So, there are numerous ways one could imagine in which the US falls further behind in gender equality. In this case, it's in our running series, "Countries that already have had elected female heads of state." This includes places from Ireland to Liberia to Pakistan to the UK to Jamaica. It does not, sadly, include us, the US.

Today, India has joined the august body of people with female heads of state before the so-called leaders of the free world. (That's us again.)

That still doesn't mean I'm for Hillary Clinton. J-Friend APVS recently pointed out that, despite not having terribly strong identification with Hillary politically, she thought that having a woman as prez of the US (or a black man, an equality concern for a different day) behind the podium every day for 4 or 8 years, standing, sitting, signing there as the so-called leader of the blahdyblah blah would be an extremely potent visual. (I took some liberties with APVS's exact phrasing).

We here at the Continuum agree, but strongly disagreeing with Hillary on matters of policy (or, more precisely, not trusting her to do the few liberal things she's mentioned and trusting the loopholes she's left herself in the rest will get well-used) we're not ready to vote for her. On Iraq, we find her very disappointing, and on everything else, mediocre at best. We -- er, I, sorry for the affectation -- don't trust Obama, for his part, because his resolve hasn't been significantly tested, and I'm still very very disappointed/frightened by his noises during his Senate campaign about rethinking the wisdom of legalizing gay marriage and the possibility of attacking Iran. It's not just that he said these things that I disagree with, but that he said them in a race he almost couldn't possibly lose. NO ONE likes Alan Keyes. Illinois voters seemed more likely to ask Dick "Dick" Cheney out for a drink than Alan "I hate Carpetbaggers like Hillary Clinton" Keyes "Carpetbagger for Senate '04." The man was not popular, and not just because his voice sounds like Jon Stewart doing an impersonation of the doctor guy from the Simpsons after having had his nose broken. If you can't stand up for liberal positions when your insane-oh "my gay child is going to hell, ha ha" conservative opponent is so thoroughly disliked by everyone and has no chance of winning ("Hmm, we can choose a black man or a black man brought in by the Republicans for the sole reason that he's a black man to compete with the other black man"), then I have nooooo faith that you'll make the hard, correct progressive calls I'm looking for when your gonads are really on the line.

So. Yes. India: Woman President. First one. Beat us, by at least a year and a half if not more. (They did already have precisely one woman prime minister -- they're one of those countries with both a PM and a prez -- which is good and all, though Indira Gandhi was not, from all accounts, a nice person -- in the forced sterilization, authoritarian head of state meaning of the phrase "not a nice person".)

Monday, July 09, 2007

Here it comes, walking down the street...!

For some ungodly reason, I can't get Firefox to let me title this post, but:

OUR ARTICLE'S FINALLY BEEN PUBLISHED! After several years of work, and after being accepted over a year ago, and an unexplained 2 week delay in the stated publication date, "Organic agriculture and the global food supply" has finally been published in the journal Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems née The American Journal of Alternative Agriculture.

The editor's said it's already caused a bit of a stir and controversy, before it's even been published, and we've already received a couple of critical missives from both those who I consider complete quack flacks and those who have above-board criticisms. Also, we got favorable mention at a recent Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO, of the United Nations) conference, and in a resulting Associated Press article about elements of the conference, titled "Switch to organic crops could help poor." For general information, our article analyzes as many studies of organic vs. conventional and organic vs. low intensity agriculture as we could find from reputable sources (both peer-reviewed academic studies and works from established agricultural data sources, such as the FAO). We find that organic agriculture indeed can provide enough food to "feed the world" -- now, and into the future. We also find that there's enough organically acceptable nitrogen -- that is, non-synthetic nitrogen sources (chemically synthesizing nitrogen is incredibly resource-intensive) such as green manuring (using plant residues) to provide the required fertilization for organic crops. Things are, of course, enormously more complicated than even our article could go into, but the bottom line is, our research indicates there's not a present scientific basis for saying organic food can't provide enough to sustain the world's population.*

I wonder if this really means I'm going to be thrown into the deep end of a sustained controversy, or if this article will lay quiet among those outside certain circles... many friends of ours have been eagerly awaiting its publication, so they can cite it themselves. If anyone else steps into the fray remains to be seen. However, our corresponding authors say that they've received overwhelmingly positive notices from people who've read the paper -- many of whom we've never met before and have no ties to (i.e. not necessarily biased in our favor), and only a couple of negative notices.

In any case, our article seems destined to stir up a bunch of debate, some scientifically rigorous, much not, I'd expect... There are a lot of oxes to be gored in refuting, even tentatively, the "Organic agriculture won't provide enough food for the present or future" argument.

I'm not sure what this means for me long-term. I'm still a bit of an anomaly -- ok, presently a complete anomaly in my department, and ecologists tend to see themselves, in my opinion, as "pure scientists" who shouldn't get involved in messy politics and hard-to-study humans. So on the one hand, I figure that anyone ever interested in hiring me is going to realize from Day 1 I don't hew to the traditional boundaries; on the other hand, I wonder what potentially being in the middle of a contentious debate where it's even easier than normal to mix legitimate scientific concerns and hogwash will bring in terms of favorable and unfavorable attention from future employers.

Since I'm not even sure what sector my future employers will be in, though, I'm not so concerned as of yet. But curious.

Let the games begin!

*(It's useful to note that we didn't find that organic agriculture can necessarily produce more than "conventional" Green Revolution agriculture. Rather, we found it could provide enough food for everyone. More food than can be eaten is not any kind of necessary boon, so the idea that conventional can produce more than organic becomes much less meaningful when producing "more" means food beyond what is sufficient for a healthy and active life with a variety of satisfying foods available to all. As a colleague once said, "Eat until you're satisficed." Indeed, we Americans certainly don't need to eat more on average than we do now...)

Friday, June 29, 2007

An Inconvenient Idea: Poppies and Cocaine for Food

I'm reading -- skimming -- presently a book called Ecoagriculture by J.A. McNeely and Sara Scherr. Color me deeply unimpressed so far, but it has inspired in me another idea that, of course, makes sense but will, of course, be dismissed or poo-pooed or ignored, either because it goes against the supposedly inexorable logic of capitalism, which governs all space-time, and is thus impractical, or simply because it goes against capitalism and therefore those whose oxes would be gored just wouldn't wanna do it. (Of course, the latter is the cause of the former, but somehow this constitutes immovable realities, around which pragmatic progressives should reshape their dreams.)

What the hell am I talking about? yes, sorry, i'll get on with it.

Ecoagriculture is about feeding the world and the growing human population while saving wild biodiversity. The authors point out the existence of widespread hunger, poverty, especially rural poverty and the poor farmers forced to intensify production and encroach on valuable biodiverse habitats to stay afloat... yadda yadda yadda, all things I agree with. Of course, they somehow (so far) fail to see that a) there's more than enough food being produced today, the problem is distribution, and b) intensification (more food on less land) tends to, economically, draw more people to produce as it gets easier to produce more (yay capitalism!), incurring further price declines of the type what makes being a farmer difficult. (And c) several studies at least have consistently shown it's the rich, large farmers who cause the most damage to conservation-valuable lands... go figure, huh? Why oh why wouldn't people and governments want to go after big business? The mind boggles.)

Jeff & Sara so far seem to be saying we should hurry up and help tropical farmers intensify, and sell tropical products to us so that we pay them enough money that they can then buy grain from us! (You see, thereby saving their biodiversity, because they won't have to bother with growing their own food, they can just sell us coffee and bananas and passion fruit etc.)

So. Can't call them out there, insofar as that this is a pretty traditional view. But wait: let's set a moment and think: if we were designing a system that made sense, and the stakes are really high (widespread hunger: check; rapid biodiversity loss: check), would we figure, instead of carting produce around the world in extremely resource-intensive planes as fuel prices are likely to climb and global warming increases, wouldn't it be better for the Developed Countries to just directly aid the so-called Developing ones, with just normal aid payments to encourage programs that support small farmers, support local agriculture and local markets, and in general look to reduce everyone's ecological footprint as much as possible? Do they have to grow luxury items to sell to us to get money to buy food items from us in turn? Doesn't that seem, I don't know, stupid?

So, what's occurred to me recently is that none of the food & environment-concerned folks (or none that I know of, including me 'till recently) are advocating a turning over of luxury crop land to food land. A coffee plantation, when rustic coffee is grown, can actually provide a lot of food & fiber crops. Pasture systems can become silvo-pastoral (integrated with some amount of forestry) and provide a variety of useful products locally, as well. Why doesn't the US stop paying so fucking much for new clothes we throw away a year from now and instead encourage and support foreign countries in subsidizing the conversion of cotton crops into diversified food & fiber systems for local use? And you know what: if subsidies and price structures were set up such that food prices were a decent living, people growing cocaine and poppies or what have you would probably start growing food. Oh, not today or tomorrow, but if the future is as dire as it may be -- and Sara & Jeff seem to be trying to paint a very dire picture, indeed -- food prices may skyrocket! Then, of course, it would be more profitable to grow food than drugs. But why wait that long, and worry of the effect on consumers? Since farmers only get ~$0.20 on every dollar we spend in food (see handy reports from the U. of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems, especially the work of Marty Heller & Greg Keoleian, a friend and colleague and a former professor of mine, respectively), and advertisers get a whole bunch of the rest... well, you do the math. Should people starve, or food prices go up, or farmers get an unfair price, or... should we market, and eat, locally, making sure the money AND RESOURCES are used well and used in our own communities?

Some factoids from Marty & Greg (not Jeff & Sara):
Marketing of domestically grown and consumed food, including charges for transportation, processing and distribution, cost an estimated $466 billion in 1998[44]. That represents 80% of the $585 billion that consumers spent on foods originating on U.S. farms. Marketing costs rose 54% from 1988 to 1998. Nearly 88% of the $186 billion increase in consumer expenditures for domestically grown food resulted from increases in the marketing costs[47]. The cost of labor composed nearly half of the 1998 marketing bill. The remainder of the marketing cost is balanced between packaging, transportation, energy, advertising, business taxes, net interest, depreciation, rent, and repairs (see Figure 1). The relative cost of marketing different food items is reflected partly in the farm value as a percentage of retail price seen in Table 9. As mentioned earlier, the farm-to-retail price spread has increased every year for the past 30 years. While retail food prices rose 2.4% from 1996 to 1997, farmers received 4.4% less for the food they produced[57]. In 1997, food manufacturers (including the tobacco industry) received an after-tax profit return on stockholder equity of 19.8% (5.6% as a percentage of sales), a culmination of 5 years of increasing profits. Food retailers averaged a 17.3% return on stockholder equity in 1997 (1.6% of sales)[45].

Surely, there are places where resources and costs must be cut and reallocated that would represent wiser choices in a sustainability-challenged world than advocating and increasing silly exportation? (I.e. the luxury food-for-money-for regular food example given here. See also: Nicaragua's Caribbean Coast, where they export bananas and other food to Costa Rica because it fetches better prices there. Then, of course, they have to buy food for themselves, and end up importing some of the same foods from abroad. These are perverse systems, capitalism or no, and I don't think they can survive the harsh gaze of sustainability, ecoagriculture or no...)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Stuart Taylor Jr. Doesn't Suck (for now)

In my last post I was rather worried that Slate "Breakfast Table" column between their senior editor Dahlia Lithwick and legal scholar Walter Dellinger would suffer by the addition of National Journal and Newsweek writer Stuart Taylor Jr., who was brought in as a conservative voice on the rather horribly (imho) decided cases today by the SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) to give an alternate perspective on achieving racial integration.

Lo and behold, I don't entirely disagree with him. (Though at my old job, we usually followed that with "What, so then, do you AGREE with him, because those are the two traditional choices?") He recommends integration based on socio-economic factors which will encompass race to a large extent because race has been a primary axis of socio-economic discrimination in the US in the past (and present). I totally vibe this idea, except it always makes me feel nervous because I never want well-meaning (or otherwise-meaning) people to then be lulled into thinking we can thus remedy all racial inequality. Using economics as a proxy works because of the effects of past racism, and so using it as a rubric to solve present racism can only, I think, go so far. Dellinger does a good job of pointing out the limits of Taylor's opinion, as well as the limits to the SCOTUS opinion, and surprisingly, he helps convince me that the University of Michigan's now-invalidated old method to promoting racial diversity in their undergraduate admissions may actually have been correctly criticized -- in that they required the U to decide who belongs to what race, a very fraught and loaded business that large institutions have not previously been known for their goodness at.

In the end, Dellinger makes the good point that "[Justice Kennedy's] opinion [upholding some theoretical future uses of race in promoting integration] looks good only by comparison with the plurality opinion of the chief justice."

And in an end point I won't get into here, from Karen Brodkin, author of How Jews Became White Folks,
Conventional wisdom has it that the United States has always been an affluent land of opportunity. But the truth is that affluence has been the exception and that real upward mobility has required massive affirmative action programs.
In other words, as I think I often paraphrase her, or remember from a different part of her book: "There is little doubt that Affirmative Action can work to diminish disparities for discriminated classes. Indeed, nothing else ever has."

SCOTUS Plays "Hide-and-Go-Fuck-Yourself"

Sigh. So the Supremes have handed down their decision on the de/segregation case, in Kentucky and in Oregon, finding in essence that race can't be used in methods to address racism. This is rather like the Ari Fleischerian formulation of hoping your own hopes aren't dashed. Good commentary/analysis here and here, which big picture says Justice Kennedy's opinion, being the narrowest, (and, frankly, the closest to a "swing") is the "controlling" -- i.e. precedent-setting -- opinion. His opinion has the excellent formulation the race can be used when addressing past discrimination, but really, that's kind of icky and breaks too many eggs to make the integration omelet. He goes on to say it's ok to use race as a last resort, and if you show there aren't other means, such as zoning school districts etc. to make them racially diverse. (Great pre-commentary from Walter Dellinger on the legacy of Brown v. Topeka and the folly of banning race use in addressing racial discrimination here.) In other words -- you can use proxies for race because then we can continue to pretend that race doesn't matter. Fucking A.

For reference: The two cases were in school districts where they wanted to encourage a breaking up of the pre-existing housing segregation, which of course has been in no small part a result of discriminatory practices dating back to the GI Bill and white flight, and before than even, Jim Crow and forced and legal segregation. Their goal was to make sure every school had some portion of white & minority students, and not a ridiculous skew that didn't reflect overall city demographics one way or the other. Actually, Dellinger (a Duke University Law Professor) summed it up this way:
The idea that the principle of Brown condemns the valiant efforts of, say, the Louisville community to maintain schools attended by both black and white students seems profoundly wrong to me. The Louisville school system (I keep using Louisville, because I know that case better) takes account of the race of students to keep each school integrated. They don't try to replicate the one-third-black percentage of the district as a whole in each school, but they do take race into account where that figure would otherwise fall below 15 percent or above 50 percent. Good people, black and white, in Louisville have refused to give up on the public schools. They know that sharp imbalances in the race of a school population leads to "white flight' from the schools and that using race to keep schools integrated is essential to the viability of public schools.

Of course, they could have a system in which each school almost always reflects the racial proportions of the district's overall population simply by assigning all students by lottery. Each school would usually wind up about one-third black. No system would do that because assignment by lottery would impose enormous costs on families in transportation and deprive them of the great advantages of neighborhood schools. But, as I argued in my last posting, using neighborhood as the sole mechanism for school assignment means that the schools will replicate the housing segregation that defines Louisville as it does many of our metropolitan areas. The carefully planned Louisville system combines neighborhood schools with parental choice and some use of race to ensure an integrated experience and a viable public school system.
So. Yes.

Dellinger & Slate's Dahlia Lithwick have been conducting a dialogue on the SCOTUS' recent decisions (linked to throughout my post). They've added a conservative member to bring a new view, whose response is titled: Don't Despair -- There's a Better Way to Achieve Integration. I'm deathly afraid of reading this. Though, there's some slight possibility he's going to suggest higher education for all, universal improvement in housing and human services, cleaning up the pollution that disproportionately affects minorities and poor whites, and general redistributional justice. And perhaps he'll also bring me a dollar with compound interest for my wisdom teeth from 5 years back or so, and take us all to a magical gumdrop land full of chocolate rivers and strawberry fields.

Every Freakish Ovum Is Sacred

Today's Human Nature in Slate talks more about "Interspecies embryos", where apparently human's & (other) animal's genetic material are mixed. I'm not sure what exactly the scientific upshot of this is, but I'm willing to believe it could lead to all sorts of potential exciting discoveries.

But it's still creepy. At least petri-dish bestiality isn't likely to be any good for a disturbing new porn site.

But creepy as it is to me, that PALES in comparison to what Saletan says the Catholic Church in England and Wales has announced:
Bishops' testimony: 1) "Interspecies embryos" should be treated like human embryos. 2) "At very least, embryos with a preponderance of human genes should be assumed to be embryonic human beings." 3) "It should not be a crime to transfer them … to the body of the woman providing the ovum, in cases where a human ovum has been used to create them. Such a woman is the genetic mother, or partial mother, of the embryo; should she have a change of heart and wish to carry her child to term, she should not be prevented from doing so."

gah Gah GAH!!!! That is an amazing ascending order of craziness. Ok, sure, treat a chimera embryo as human, that's just extending the Catholic pro-life absolutism a little farther... ok, if it has a "preponderance" of human genes, we're now going to go ahead and, I don't know, assume God has ensouled it so it's an embryonic human being which in the pro-life stance has the same rights as a post-embryonic human -- i.e. developed, birthed, breathing, differentiated, extremely multicellular human being, ok, gettin' crazy now... So, are you done? what What WHAT? It shouldn't be a crime to try to gestate the damn thing? I guess the only consolation is what I expect would be the extremely low chances of bringing an interspecies ovum to term. Species that can't interbreed often end up having problems way before birth -- though many of those involve blocking fertilization of the ovum in the first place, so I don't know. ANY CASE, here're my questions: Has any woman actually said, "Please, can you put my cow baby back in my womb now? We're naming her Marilyn Mooooonroe." And, if not, is the Catholic Church really pressing them to do so? ("Really, in this case, think of your cloven-hooved baby as a blessing from God!")

(It does appear that scientists don't expect to use human eggs, but rather animal eggs with human genetic material, but the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales seem to have said "preponderance of human genes" or something of that sort. I think the Cadbury Cow Egg filled with Creamy Human DNA would be even less likely to successfully implant in a human womb, but whatever -- we have, or at least I have, NO IDEA what this would do to the woman in question or what the embryo's development would be like. If, by some extremely small chance, implantation and gestation were to actually get under way, my guess: bad. It really would be horrific if the Bishops of England and Wales were encouraging some of their flock to go through a possibly dangerous and patently ludicrous attempt to bear an experimental chimera just to save one of God's microscopic children. Do we really need some more extra-special complicated ethical questions? Did the Bishops of England and Wales just get bored? I have a movie to suggest, if so.)

Now, see, THIS is why John Kerry lost...

Readers of the J Continuum know I'm not the biggest of John Kerry's fans, but fewer remember I was completely on board with him in the early, pre-primary days. And indeed, even when running, when people said nuance was killing him, I said nuance is good, and necessary, and without bringing nuance into widespread, mainstream political discourse I don't think most other progressive goals are achievable.

But, you know... nuance is different than fucking windy. You ever meet those people who use half hour power point presentation when really, 5 words would do? Or, more surrealy, when one's mortal opponent in a deadly battle to the end is temporarily dazed and you think it best to tap them lightly on the head to check if they're ok? This is what John Kerry did responding to the VP's beyond-risible propositions that a) the VP's office is not part of the Executive branch of government because he's also the (usually non-voting) president of the Senate and therefore some execu-legislato chimera so nyah nyah nyah, and b) ignoring all that, the VP's office was specifically exempted from following the President's Office's orders for the executive branch because the President specifically excluded the VP's office.

What do we call this, ladies and germs?


Senator Kerry, your reaction:
This legalistic response raises more questions than it purports to answer," the senator said in a statement. "I . . . ask again for the Vice President's office to plainly answer the question of whether he considers himself outside the realm of agency scrutiny."


Outside the realm of agency scrutiny? Legalistic response? That's what you have to say about claims that the Vice President is NOT PART OF THE PRESIDENT'S BRANCH OF GOVERNMENT alongside simultaneous claims that THE RULES THE PRESIDENT SETS FOR HIS ADMINISTRATION SHOULDN'T APPLY TO HIS THE SECOND-IN-COMMAND IN HIS ADMINISTRATION? Who with the fuck now?

Sen. Kerry, I think the appropriate response is best summed up with a paraphrase of the great Jon Stewart:

"Stop it! You are hurting America!"

(and just BTW: Is there any way that one can look at these cold, dead eyes and crooked teeth sortieing from a crooked smirk and not feel a shiver going down their back as if they've sensed the presence of true malevolence? (Next time, on the Continum, J becomes a charismatic minister: "The DEVIL, he is REAL, for I have SEEN HIM!"))

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

ABH: Anyone But Hillary

I'm all for our first woman president, but not if I'm, you know, against her stances on things of, ohhh, let's say, some importance to me.
Sen. Clinton Wants Troops in Iraq for at Least 10 Years
By David Swanson

On Monday, Ted Koppel offered a report / commentary on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" which can be found online ( with this headline: "A Duty to Mislead: Politics and the Iraq War," and this introductory text: "Democrats are telling voters that if they are elected, all U.S. troops will be pulled out of Iraq. But as Sen. Hillary Clinton privately told a senor military adviser, she knows there will be some troops there for decades. It's an example of how in some cases, politics can force dishonesty."

Well, someone is trying to force dishonesty. I'm not sure it's politics.

In the audio report, Koppel points out that in a recent debate Senator Hillary Clinton said that her first priority if elected would be to "bring our troops home." She did not say ALL our troops, Koppel points out, and she does not mean ALL our troops. She told the New York Times three months ago that some forces would have to remain. And Koppel adds that he spoke with someone from the Pentagon who briefs Clinton, and that she had told this person that if she is elected and reelected, she expects to have troops in Iraq at the end of her second term. Koppel notes that that's 10 years away. He adds that he thinks she's "right" and that the other Democratic candidates agree with her. When, oh when, he laments, will we get the truth instead of applause lines.

But let's back up a minute here. The question of how long U.S. troops remain in Iraq is not an immutable fact for Clinton and Koppel to get right, as scientists observing the natural world. It's a question to be determined by either the U.S. Congress or the U.S. President or both. Koppel, in fact, has no say in the matter, and I for one am profoundly uninterested in his opinion. Clinton's opinion, on the other hand, is of the highest importance. Koppel is to be applauded for exposing it to the light of day.

Koppel, it appears, however, did not learn his lesson in 2003 at that New Hampshire debate where Congressman Dennis Kucinich received such thunderous applause for taking Koppel to task. Koppel does not have the right to determine which candidates are "real" candidates or to put words in their mouths. Neither Kucinich nor former Senator Mike Gravel intends, if elected, to keep troops in Iraq for a year, much less a decade. In fact, these candidates are trying their hardest to fully end the occupation of Iraq prior to 2008. My distinct impression is that Republican candidate Ron Paul shares this position.

Some of the other Democratic candidates, as well, may not share the Clinton-Koppel position in favor of a decade or more of occupation. In fact, that may be exactly why Koppel has exposed Clinton's position and described it not as a position at all, but as an observation of facts that any serious candidate would recognize. Koppel may be concerned that some of the other Democrats whom Disney (ABC) considers viable do not share Clinton's position. He is instructing them on what position to take if they want to be in the center of the stage and treated respectfully by the media.

Something is, indeed, trying to force dishonesty.

Each candidate needs to be asked, and the answer reported: Will they work now for the complete withdrawal of all troops, mercenaries, and contractors?

In fact, there are a lot of questions they should be asked:

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Previous post has an asterisked paragraph, but no post-script to it -- that's what this is. Just a quick note since the previous post was already getting so god-awful long:

I was talking about interest groups, and how people fear/hate them. I understand this to some extent; no one wants "fringe groups" taking over our national discourse. But how do we define "fringe groups"?

I don't hear much from non-lefties on Lobbyists as a Fringe Group -- after all, they represent a significant portion of US wealth interests, but a very small part of our population.

Everyone agrees on some, like the KKK, libertarians, socialists, etc. (I have to agree that we socialists are fringe-y, though not necessarily in the derogatory "special interest" way normally imputed to the idea), etc. But when those angry about the Rutgers case (yes, I know, done and gone), or even Tawana Brawley (Al Sharpton's eternal albatross) or with revisiting the Emmet Till or Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney, it's often defined as special interests.

Hmm... I don't feel like I'm getting where I want to go... so I'll cut to it. I'm just throwing this out there as an idea, but... especially in cases like Imus, does it not seem that sometimes "Special Intersts" and "Fringe" and "Pressure Groups" are the names assigned to... large minority groups? People decry "Identity Politics" these days, but I don't quite see why... one must be careful to maintain the fact that identities are malleable and multiple, and to accept well-meaning allies of many stripes, but hey, there are identities in the US, and you know what? For many of us, our identification with our country of ancestry was taken forcibly, or with little choice due to economic reasons, not for fun, conquest, riches, or land. For those of us who look a little different, we were told we were different and excluded. I don't think the remedy is to forget all that or forget our multiple identities; nor to let identity-politics-fatigue get in the way of defending our dignity and raising the standards of acceptable discourse. But I digress again -- my actual real interesting point goes back to my industry days. I had several white friends who complained that it was "impossible to get ahead as a white male" in the company, people were always looking for diversity and all. Though, of course, they said it was ok when people were qualified (now there's soft bigotry for you). I told them, look here: in our company, everyone had to take a standardized test to get hired, and there was a cut off, so we knew everyone had passed that and had basic qualifications; secondly, I don't think it was impossible to advance, because, hey, most of our managers were still... white males, and lastly, if they agreed that equality was a laudable goal, and that racial minorities and women had been unfairly excluded in the past, then assuming a zero-sum game at least within hiring and management: WHITE MALES WERE (ARE) GOING TO HAVE TO LOSE POWER. Insofar as white males have exercised unfair amounts of power, they will have to lose some of it for a fair world to exist. This was an idea they hadn't directly confronted before, it seemed, and went to the heart of the problem -- they felt they were losing power.

"GOOD," I pointed out, "Because if you seriously do believe in equality, then to achieve it you're going to have to lose some power in society in order for it to be equal... there's not a way for whites and males to retain all the societal power they've had and even have now AND still achieve equality and parity.

They didn't like that -- liked even less when I pointed out that, as engineers, they would realize that to get to parity in the long-term, in the short-term one must overhire and overrepresent the discriminated against parties, because if you want to get to average (say, 9% of all positions at all levels are Black, 55% are women, etc.), you have to hire/promote at, say 15, or 20%, or 60, 75% in the second cse, if you want to rapidly achieve parity. If you hire only AT the target, then of course, you advance only at the rate of attrition.

A counterargument is that there aren't enough qualified people to hire at higher rates, but that excuse is becoming less true and less acceptable each day. Another is that this amounts to discrimination against the majority -- reverse racism. But it's simply a mathematical fact. I, myself, would like society to address the results of past ills at higher than the rate of attrition. That means -- really, it does -- over hiring, overrepresenting minority groups.

My friends liked that not at all. Understandably so. But it's amazing how many smart people don't realize that you can't achieve equality in a historically inequal society by maintaining the status quo...

A completely untimely note on the Imus “nappy headed hos” comment

--extra bonus note: this is in response to recently relistening to Bill Maher talking to Al Sharpton about Imus’ firing in April. Not timely, but I think it raises interesting points. It occurs to me that the J-readers may or may not already agree with me on this, and not with Bill Maher, but oh well, here it goes.--

Yes, the one with Imus. Yes, the one that happened in April. Yes, that one, that old story. Can I get on with it now?

Thank you.

My thoughts on Imus and the Commercial “Free Speech” industry.

I know the libertarians and anti-politically correct crowd and a mess of well-meaning agonists, liberal and conservative alike, worry about the power of “special interests” and the shutting down of dissident voices and the right to free speech and the right for people to disagree with you and fighting to preserve your right to say something I would spend my life fighting against. Yes yes yes.

But it seems to me the whole thing worked out exactly as it should in a free, capitalist democracy, no? (Ignore here that I don’t believe in the efficacy of free, capitalist democracies as a general rule, though on the other hand, our society is only strictly capitalist by dint of will and ignorance, considering the number of POPULAR social(ist) programs – but I digress) I mean, with Imus, the government didn’t do anything. He wasn’t fined, or kicked off the air by jackbooted FBI toughs. He was fired. From his private job. Where they can hire and fire people at will, for anything not related to their civil rights to be treated fairly regardless of sex, race, age, religion, creed, color, disability or military veteran status. Does this fall under one of those?

What? Race? Er, no… he wasn’t fired because he was white, or even because he was white and made a comment reserved for blacks – a black guy calling the women’s basketball team nappy headed hos probably would’ve been just as screwed, though perhaps while being covered by a more conflicted, divided media. No, he (Imus) was fired for the content of his work – indeed, had he called someone who worked under him a nappy headed ho, it likely would have been legally actionable as racial and sexual discrimination.

So, he was he fired for what he said… isn’t that still unfair? Un-American? Un-free speech-esque?

Well, actually, not really. He was fired because he lost advertisers… who left because of people who were angry and organized around – yes – something he said.

I thought that that was what happened in the so-called marketplace of ideas and a capitalist society, no? The consumers made their displeasure known to a number of companies who advertised with Imus’ home company, and the companies in turn decided that they didn’t want to risk continuing to support a lightning rod for bad consumer vibes, and so his company lost clients and feared losing more and fired him. Is there a step here that’s out of line?

Hearing Bill Maher query Al Sharpton, Maher seems to think something valuable was lost from the discussion, that this runs the risk of impoverishing the marketplace of ideas. He may be right in that it may have a chilling effect on calling college-age women minority athletes childish, inflammatory, and completely unjustified names, or “callin’ people out they names” in general. Is that a loss to our intellectual economy? I know people are afraid of talking about race here in the US in general, but is “nappy-headed ho” on some kind of fine line between productive and unproductive discourse that I don’t see?

I mean, Imus wasn’t a newscaster, he’s not exactly a satirist, and his comments didn’t seem to be making any particular point other than “I’m a cretin.” The basketball players didn’t sue him, they and their allies built a coalition of people who agreed that Imus was a cretin and basically capitalistically petitioned his ouster. They can’t do that? Or they shouldn’t? Ok, where then, I ask a theoretical person queasy about the result of Imus being ousted, did this go off the rails?

I presume we can agree that a) the basketball players, and liberal fuzzy-thinking bleeding-hearts had and have the right to find him & his comments detestable, and him generally yucky and displeasing to the eyes and ears. We can agree that b) the forementioned have the right to express disapproval of his comments. C) They (we) can express disapproval in a specific way by not buying products from those who support Imus’ show through advertising dollars. E) We can organize around this idea and get publicity. F) His corporate overlords can choose to fire him if they want, especially if he may cost them revenue.

Name the part that doesn’t belong in a capitalist democracy? Where is it?

It seems part of the general queasiness that our society has had with organized movements – as if people must obey the homo economicus model of atomized humans, each seeking the most limited forms of self-fulfillment possible and avoiding coalitions that aren’t coldly calculated to advance personal selfish well-being. The fact that neither people nor, really, all “natural” creatures really behave this way seems to be deemed irrelevant. People do form interest groups – should they not?***

Of course, this is tied to the anti-PC industry of “jeez, why should we have to watch what we say?” You don’t (other than some extreme cases like inciting to riot). But why should you have the right to have a major radio show saying what you want to say? If he’d’ve said this to his wife over a plate of vegan spare ribs, there’d’ve been no problem. To his buddies, and his kids. Hell, if he were a small popular local shock jock in Okachobee, Bizztuckas, it might not have made the news or his company might’ve decided to stay with him. But he didn’t, and he doesn’t, and they didn’t. Because people didn’t want to buy what he was selling. Whether or not it was just fringe, pressure groups is debatable – but then, the blame doesn’t lie with them, no matter how fringe – it lies in the fact that Imus’ company didn’t have the courage of their convictions to back Imus rain or shine, hos or nappy-heads. And why should they? Their real convictions are: make money. The fact that they want to avoid controversy is their own how-to-do, and if the libertarians and anti-PCers feel that “pressure groups” wield too much power, bitch to the companies that worry excessively about profits over supporting what comes down to contentless hateful speech. (I might point out that if this had been in a small, local community the opposite as what I just outlined might happen – if a shock jock insulted a local institution, the local Girls’ Basketball or Rotary Club or Knitting Circle or whatever – he might very well be fired without much regret, by causing outrage in a vocal part of the community, not necessarily even a majority of it. This might also be pointed to as a worry for “free speech,” but Imus, or this theoretical dude, can stand on the street and yell all he wants, or send out leaflets, or whatever the fuck. I don’t see how this is my problem or where the problem is in the fact that his self-apparently useless and stupid comments got him thrown out.)

Imus was not making a larger point about a political figure, after all. The girls weren’t even Janet Jackson, much less someone like Janet Reno, about whom people have been able to say whatever they damn well please on a variety of outlets. They (the Rutgers’ women) may have been public figures to some extent, but this is not Larry Flynt making fun of Jerry Falwell – that is, upstart vs. cultural stalwart – this is one the “bad boys” who smokes under the bridge and cracks everyone up in class in high school by kicking around some kids from elementary school. (Not that the basketball players aren’t adults – but rather, as in the analogy, Imus nominally wields disproportionate societal power in comparison to the Rutgers’ women what with his long-running radio show and all).

I’ve yet to hear a libertarian bitch that there aren’t enough communists on the radio. Their argument is “go find some corporate backers and a business plan and you can say what you like.” No money – no talky. Free-marketeers and anti-PCers don’t fret (as a general rule) that little indie bands don’t get national coverage; “if you’re good, you’ll make it,” says they. So why is it that once you get your backers, you’re entitled to keep them? That once you enter the marketplace it’s a violation of free speech if you’re unceremoniously ejected from it by spooked companies? The companies are, after, all, just worried about their bottom line. You don’t like the way capitalism works – start your own hateful broadcasting company, or lobby the government to have a station reserved specifically for dinky irrelevant race- and gender-baiting.

It is the height of mockery that this is a free speech concern when, for example, commercials and campaign infomercials aren’t. I don’t get time to talk about Nader or Kucinich just cuz I want to, he or I’d have to pay for it. I really don’t get time to call white people crackers on the radio just cuz I want to (well, I don’t, but if I did). Who’s crying at my loss of free speech because I can’t spout to millions for my own amusement and that of other cretins? They ain’t – and you know what, speech that is just hateful doesn’t have a specialright to be heard loudly despite the money or lack thereof in it, and certainly doesn’t have rights that grassroots political speech doesn’t have – to be heard nationwide even when it makes a company feel flighty, rightly or not.

Imus can continue to call people whatever he damn well pleases – the fact that he can’t get paid by a media giant to do it anymore (--note: since I wrote this, I think he got another job; c’est la vie) because consumers, at some number, threatened to stop buying what his bosses were selling isn’t a free speech concern at all. And I’ll call anyone a knave, a panderer, an eater of broken meats, a base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited hundred pound filthy worsted-stocking knave who disagrees.

Monday, June 11, 2007

A Warning to the Future Mrs. J-Continuum-Hyphen-Her-Name-Here

I find this article on diamonds/diamond engagement rings pretty convincing (and in line with what I already thought, more or less).

Not that this is a concern of the highest priority for the presently-single J Continuum, but it's an article that resonates personally, and represents an interesting challenge to the present gender status quo. What I've called 3rd Wave Feminism (and I have no idea if it's the academically correct use of the phrase) is the "Right to Be a Sex Object" feminism that seems to have reached its zenith a couple years ago. You know, the Girls Gone Wild version, where (it seems) my generation (or actually, the one a couple years younger than me) have reacted to the perceived anti-male anti-sex anti-sexy bent of feminism/radical feminism and the more real attempt of Baby Boom feminism to achieve equality by becoming like an "Ideal Male Worker" (see again Joan Williams' Unbending Gender) and the concomitant attempts to achieve in the work world through androgyny (see: shoulder pads). Reacting against this, "anything goes" sexuality seems to be the watchword, to be "liberated" by trying to emulate and best media portrayals of sexiness and promiscuity. This is based on the real point of the double standard -- guys sleeping around and flashing are just "boys being boys" and women doing so are sluts -- and, apparently, a serious marketing opportunity -- so there's a logic to it, for sure. But it isn't a very wholistic view of feminism, I'd say, neh?

So anyway, the question of a diamond engagement ring plays into this; is equality worth "giving up" the princess ideal (not in the general sense, but on an individual level)? Can you modify the princess ideal, where a woman partner is made to feel special, to generate equality and still have that specialness? (Short answer: yes. Longer answer: yes, as long as making both people feel special and both getting gifts, taking care of each other, and taking turns pampering each other doesn't ruin the specialness). Of course, this all goes sideways when talking about non-hetero relationships, but I'd not know to speak on that.

Of course, besides the equality considerations of the diamond ring, there's all those blood diamond, not to mention that, in the long term, digging up gems and being buried with them can't be sustainable (unless we start digging up gems that have been buried with people and putting them back on the market). And the whole conspicuous consumption angle. And the shady origins of engagement diamonds in the first place:

Even then, the real blingfest didn't get going until the 1930s, when—dim the lights, strike up the violins, and cue entrance—the De Beers diamond company decided it was time to take action against the American public.

In 1919, De Beers experienced a drop in diamond sales that lasted for two decades. So in the 1930s it turned to the firm N.W. Ayer to devise a national advertising campaign—still relatively rare at the time—to promote its diamonds...

[Legal scholar] Margaret Brinig [notes] crucially, that ring sales began to rise a few years before the De Beers campaign. To be marriageable at the time you needed to be a virgin, but, Brinig points out, a large percentage of women lost their virginity while engaged. So some structure of commitment was necessary to assure betrothed women that men weren't just trying to get them into bed. The "Breach of Promise" action had helped prevent what society feared would be rampant seduce-and-abandon scenarios; in its lieu, the pricey engagement ring would do the same. (Implicitly, it would seem, a woman's virginity was worth the price of a ring, and varied according to the status of her groom-to-be.)

--Meghan O'Rourke, Diamonds are a girl's worst friend, in today's Slate.

(*just for general reference, the J Continuum envisions taking the future Mrs. J Continuum's last name, too, though preferably with both partners' names done in a Latin America, non-hyphenated double last name type of way)

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Pakistan beats us at the democracy game

What? No, not now, silly people. Before.

That is, they "beat" us in a very specific category of democracy, though particularly in this case, it was admittedly a somewhat symbolic blow for democracy. The specific, powerful but seemingly more symbolic than substantial event was the 1988 election of Benazir Bhutto.

This is not a recent event, true, but Ms. Bhutto has been on NPR frequently in recent days, speaking of Pakistani politics and Our Favorite US-Backed Military Dictator, Pervez Musharraf. (Ok, I'm lying, he's not our favorite dictator -- we have so many favorites, who can choose?)

The pertinence of this to the J Continuum is its commentary on our ongoing series, countries that already have had elected female heads of state. Sure, the usual suspects have already done it -- Ireland, the UK, Canada with their knees-bent-running-about-enlightenment, but so have, too, some less usual suspects -- for example, Jamaica, Liberia, and Chile. (I'm no doubt missing bunches, so feel free to enlighten me.) It also plays into the J Continuum's semi-ongoing series, Reasons Portraying Islam as a Backwards Religion and Culture is Annoying Bullshit (so called for the first time here). One entry linked to Muslims condemning the violence of their co-religionists*, as is so often asked of them, then ignored, though I think the responsibility of Muslims to deal with their most radical elements worldwide is often somewhat rather overplayed. (In large part because it seems far from clear that the shared belief in Islam is the most important factor in understanding Islamic extremists. Brief argument: Any variable where 99% of the sample -- all other of the billion or so Muslims in the world -- is an exception is a stupid explanatory variable. That is, since 99%+ Muslims are not violent radicals, Islam is a poor variable to explain extremism, which is what is done when people allege Islam is inherently backwards or violent. That's not to say it's irrelevant -- it's just waaaaay overplayed imho.)

BE THAT AS IT MAY (boy did I go on a rip there), here we have a Muslim country, Pakistan, that elected a female head of state, in 1988. There are some caveats -- it was parliamentary elections, so she wasn't elected directly (though it doesn't seem like the country came to a stop with protests against her or anything); her record as PM implies (at least from Wikipedia it does) that she didn't do much to advance women's causes, she may have run a corrupt government, and that she aided the rising Taliban in Afghanistan, despite the fact that they did believe she should, as a woman, most certainly NOT be head of state. So this is somewhat like what Brazilians seem to have found to be my astounding ambivalence about prominent African-American officials like Condi Rice, Clarence Thomas, and Colin Powell. Yay that there's enough equality achieved that they're there (in high appointed offices in those last cases), but it's not as if those three represented the political interests or ideas of the vast majority of other African-Americans. And in any event, for now, the US still has never had a female head of state, and that's just goddamned shameful.

Anyway, I digress, and we may have either our first black or first woman president along here shortly, which would be a breath of fresh air -- though I still have my doubts on Obama, and Hillary... yeah, my vote is not so much. A story for another day, though.

*Sadly, both the links in this post are broken... =[

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Olmert: Oh... shit. And: another attempt to say something sensible about Israel-Palestine.

Apparently, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud "Lebanon War" Olmert is not doing so well, politically speaking. According to Slate's Today's Papers (quoting from the NYT Olmert's approval rating is lower than that of VP Dick "I'm a Dick" Cheney, whose rating is somewhere in the 20s, though he has gone as low as 19%.

We here at the J Continuum are mainly suprised that Slate didn't use the doughty time-tested phrase, "...Which gives him an approval rating slightly lower that that of [INSERT DISEASE HERE]." Common inserts are The Plague and The Common Flu.

While I have to admit I still find that phrase funny, it's gotten a bit overused. Though the basic ridiculous idea -- that diseases get approval ratings ("21% of those polled approved of the job the Common Flu has been doing this season, while only 19% approved of Mr. Cheney's performance") is still golden. I think my favorite part is my mental image of a press conference where The Common Flu is trying not to be too smirky about beating VP Cheney's approval, and trying to make clear that it knows it "has a lot of work to do to regain the trust of the American people."

Anyway. Olmert, despite the drumming he's taking from this report (establishing, basically, that he effed up the war with Lebanon) is apparently going to appoint people to study the report, rather than resigning. Ah, political theatre. "Yes, yes, you all think I did a horrible job, but let's not jump to the conclusion that I'm doing a horrible job. First, it's important to study the document that says I did a horrible job, then, perhaps, examine the actual effectiveness of me doing my job, and then, perhaps within our lifetimes, I will actually contemplate looking at changing the way I do my job." Oh, er, well, good, keep it up then, I guess.

In a different note, a while back there was a little debate between me and J-Friend Becky on Israel, Palestine, and Apartheid, and though I haven't read Jimmy Carter's book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid", it comes highly recommended by a number of friends and trusted mentors of mine. They think Carter takes a minimalist and highly reasonable tact on the issue; in Carter's comments on the book he emphasizes something I myself got wrong in my debate with Becky and agree with in his formulation; he is not accusing Israel of apartheid within its own (internationally recognized) borders; hence, the book is not called "Israel: Peace not apartheid." However, it is virtually undeniable that Israel is running an apartheid system in Palestine, as apartheid is at least in large part defined by having different sets of rules for different groups of people. Palestinians are not able to exercise their full rights in the terrority they nominally control, and there is indeed, besides the "security fence"-"separation wall"-illegal barrier that cuts many of them off from land they rightfully own, a system of highways and roads where some are for the exclusive use of Israelis. One may argue that Israel's nominal control of Palestine is justifiable for self-protection, but the problem is (as has been stated many times by others before), if they are in control then they are occupiers under international law -- and have a long set of responsibilities to the occupied for law, order, and welfare that they are not completing. If they are NOT or don't wish to be in control, then they cannot, for example, block and guard the Palestinian ports of entry and trade that are not within the internationally recognized borders of Israel, nor withhold aid money from other countries that is owed to Palestine in order to exact concessions -- not unless, of course, rather than independence OR occupation, Israel wishes to declare open war.

To my understanding, those are the 3 internationally defined options (occupation, independent Palestinian control, or open warfare) and the combination of these within Palestine itself seems to me to be unambiguously resulting in apartheid. Carter makes it very clear that within Israel itself, he is impressed, or at least satisfied, that the norms of democracy are upheld as Palestinians and other non-Jews in Israel enjoy full democratic rights and liberty. I'm willing cede to his (and many others, such as Becky's) testimony there; I also agree with his analysis about Palestine proper.

Major states (the US, the UK, France, China, Japan, Israel, etc.) have a long and storied history of ignoring international law, especially in the area of colonial, terroritorial, and occupational rights and obligations. I've heard many times the argument that Israel shouldn't have to cede to the 1967 borders because "never before has a winning state in a war had to return terrority." Whether or not this is a historical accuracy seems to me less important than the implication that might makes right, or even worse, that might makes moral. In Shakespeare's Henry V, a significant theme was whether or not military victory was God's blessing on Henry's family's usurpation of the British throne; he pondered whether such an act (believed to be against God's will) could then be ratified by God through His granting of victory against France. In the end, I recall, he seemed content to think it did -- we sinned by taking down the "rightful" king, but I'm king, and I just won a major battle, so God must be smiling on me and ratifying my thwarting of His Own Will. Which, you know, makes none of the typical kinds of sense. It makes no more sense to me in the context of Israel -- you can transgress against international law if you wish, you'd have, if not good company, lots of it. But that is rather irrelevant to morality, imho, just as the fact that most, if not all, cultures practiced slavery and/or enforced servitude up until the, say, 19th century doesn't mean that is was alright for all of them to do so until the 19th century. The modern era's rules are that land gained through war is not a legitimate path to acquire territory. Should Iran take over Iraq, or Canada the US, or US take over Mexico, I wouldn't think it any more legitimate than Palestine conquering Israel or Israel usurping the '67 borders. So, let us say long live the democratic state of Israel -- and may Israeli apartheid in Palestine exist no longer!

Monday, April 30, 2007

Video Games DO Cause Violence: Slate's Iconoclasm is Convincing for Once

It was with a disproportionately heavy heart that I finally gave in and read the recent Slate article, Don't Shoot: Why video games really are linked to violence by Amanda Schaffer. Not because I'm not willing to believe there is some link -- there is certainly some link in such a complex causal chain as personality and behavior. But Slate tends to preemptorily declare "That's it, the answer is wrapped up" in any number of scientific arguments, most especially their execrable "Economics" articles, often by taking one study and generalizing it to be "the answer" (Steven Landsburg and Tim Harford being the "execrablers" in most cases). So I assumed the game-violence article would be along the line of a different recently published article by Slate I'm refusing to read, "Whose life is worth more, a drug dealer or a prostitute?" (Answer: "What the fuck is wrong with you, what kind of assclown asks that?" If there is an answer that doesn't make me feel bad about the human race, I'm rather sure it won't be written by Tim "Scientist" Harford.)

But in actuality, the article (on violence) convinced me. I feel Michael Moore's "Bowling for Colombine" was unfairly lambasted on a number of levels (though he does make it easy for people by seemingly making a number of lazy incorrect assertions and sensational claims in his movies, I think), as it really was a movie that set out to test a series of ideas, and came up with a counter-intuitive (or at least, unexpected from Michael Moore) conclusion: guns really DON'T kill people, violent culture does. That is, he went through a variety of theses, from video games (nope: Japan has more violent video games and less violent crime) to gun ownership (nope: a variety of countries have more firearm ownership and lower crime) and settled on the violence at the root and promoted by any number of facets of US culture (as reflected, perhaps, in our continued imperialism and relatively blasé attitude towards, for example, the 20 to 50 times more Iraqis that have died than our own troops). It really was quite clever and, to me, well done and convincing (though undermined, most agree, by picking on Charlton Heston at the end, especially since Heston's NRA had more to do with the thesis he discarded, that of gun ownership itself being the problem). The point here is that Moore discarded video games as a prime factor, and prima facie at least, I agreed with him. But Schaffer's article reviews three seemingly-prominent studies (as an academic, I can't really trust them 'till I read them myself) with three different methodologies, bolstering her case from longitudinal, comparative, and experimental perspectives.

Nicely, as well, she bothers to distinguish between types of video games, and (seemingly a-purpose) parallels the useful aspects of video games to the downside of violent video games:
"When video games aren't about violence, their capacity to teach can be a good thing. For patients suffering from arachnophobia, fear of flying, or post-traumatic stress disorder, therapists are beginning to use virtual realities as a desensitization tool. And despite the rap that they're a waste of time, video games may also teach visual attention and spatial skills. (Recently, a study showed that having played three or more hours of video games a week was a better predictor of a laparoscopic surgeon's skills than his or her level of surgical training.) The games also work for conveying information to kids that they will remember. Video games that teach diabetic kids how to take better care of themselves, for instance, were shown to decrease their diabetes-related urgent and emergency visits by 77 percent after six months."
The implication here, which I think Schaffer intentionally includes (though oddly doesn't spend a lot of time playing up) is that these useful effects of games work on the same principles that make violent games harmful -- they decrease arachnophobia via desensitization (parallel: violent games desensitive kids to violence), they teach and emphasize a skill set (hand-eye coordination etc. useful for surgery or, unfortunately, assault and murder), and impart information (how to keep up with your diabetes, or how funny and easy it is to beat someone to death witha baseball bat). And it's worth noting, though Schaffer does not, that the military is increasingly using video games to train soldiers (or so I hear) and there are anectdotes of Iraqi soldeirs, especially younger ones, comparing the killing and blowing-up of people and things to games they've played at home. As Schaffer does point out,
"The connection between violent games and real violence is also fairly intuitive. In playing the games, kids are likely to become desensitized to gory images, which could make them less disturbing and perhaps easier to deal with in real life. The games may also encourage kids (and adults) to rehearse aggressive solutions to conflict, meaning that these thought processes may become more available to them when real-life conflicts arise, Anderson says. Video games also offer immediate feedback and constant small rewards—in the form of points, or access to new levels or weapons. And they tend to tailor tasks to a player's skill level, starting easy and getting harder. That makes them "phenomenal teachers," says Anderson, though "what they teach very much depends on content.'"
Of course, she doesn't go into remedies, which is where the whole thing often goes off the rails, as most agree adults have the right to play whatever the hell game they want, and most agree parents should be the point-guards for what their kids play, not stores or the government. And if parents have neither the time, knowledge, or inclination to keep the kids off Grand Theft Auto, well, where does that leave us... (plus the fact that of course it's not one to one, so how do you choose which kids are "mature" enough to kill drug dealers in video-game-land and which aren't? I've always found it interesting that even though I occasionally like to indulge in playing GTA and its ilk, I often feel a deep, deep discomfort or disgust at even the pretend mayhem I'm causing... which I think is likely a good thing...)

Schaffer has a very reasonable wrap up, saying:
"Given all of this, it makes sense to be specific about which games may be linked to harmful effects and which to neutral or good ones. Better research is also needed to understand whether some kids are more vulnerable to video-game violence, and how exposure interacts with other risk factors for aggression like poverty, psychological disorders, and a history of abuse. Meanwhile, how about a game in which kids, shrinks, and late-night comics size up all these factors and help save the world?

A little trite, but all in all, not a bad place to start.