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... =[