From the monthly archives:

January 2014

Shoes: The Only Band That Really Matters. Part I

by Belle Waring on January 18, 2014

No, IRL it’s The Clash. Nonetheless, power pop–it’s so wonderful! What’s the best part? The pop? It…sort of better be the pop because I like the Raspberries and, let’s be frank, the amount of “power” involved is limited. If I had to pick one power pop song that was my favorite ever, I would–I would first declare all Big Star songs off limits so they wouldn’t occupy all the top spots, but it would be “Jesus Christ”, and, well, it should oughta be The Flamin’Groovies'”Shake Some Action,” right?

But screw it, and forget the thing I implied .04 seconds ago in writing this post, because it’s really by Zion, Illnois’ finest, Shoes:

Oh but Belle, what is this mysterious power pop of which you speak? Is it a bunch of lame white bands from the late 70s and early 80s? No. It is a bunch of lame completely awesome white bands from the late 70s and early 80s. (There were some black power pop-style musicians I know nothing about, prolly. Tell me about them, edumacated readers.) Yeah, Americans liked the Beatles, but it took them years to get even the most basic grasp on the thing, during which they sounded like Badfinger, and then new wave started happening, which pushed people into a different confused direction. With the result that, amazing things happened, as above. See also:
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I just heard Ari Shapiro on NPR report on an effort in Britain to “modernize” the aristocracy by allowing women of the nobility to inherit the titles and estates of their fathers. Most titles currently preclude that. No one on the show mentioned the most obvious step to modernity, which would be to abolish the titled aristocracy altogether.

There was a time when the battle against sexism and the battle against the aristocracy were thought to be one and the same. No more. As Lady Liza Campbell, one of the aggrieved heiresses-in-waiting, told Shapiro: [click to continue…]

I hear that the chicks have it easy on online dating sites. They say the dicks flow like the waters of the Nile, carrying all away before them. Also the pictures of the dicks. I am led to believe that they are very easily obtained. Men who want dick pics use Grindr and that’s apparently working out great for them. But what about straight guys? What? About them? One brave redditor decided to test his theory, by using science. Which is real.

Last night I was bored and was talking with a friend on skype about her experiences with online dating. I was joking with her that “girls have it easy on dating sites” etc. etc. ….I decided that I would set up a fake profile. Set it up as a gender-swapped version of me essentially see what would happen. So I did the username, and I was up. Before I could even fill out my profile at all, I already had a message in my inbox from a guy. It wasn’t a mean message, but I found it odd that I would get a message already. So I sent him a friendly hello back and kind of joked that I hadn’t even finished my profile, how could he be interested, but I felt good because I thought I was right that “girls have it easy”

Do go on. Wait, no, I’ll summarize. Dudes started messaging him right away (he notes here that his female friend is only average in attractiveness and is fine with his saying so.) They said things that were not immediately sexual, but weird. Then when he said no or responded neutrally, they said unpleasantly sexual things. They repeatedly proposed NSA sex, like maybe in the next hour? and some skyping, maybe? Webcam action?
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Freedom Isn’t Free

by Belle Waring on January 13, 2014

ETA: It has occurred to me only just now that this post would have better had it been titled “America: rRuck Yeah!

You have probably already read about the horrible chemical spill in West Virginia last Thursday, which the New York Times has a stunner headline: Critics Say Chemical Spill Highlights Lax West Virginia Regulations. Oh, really? (You can read lots of good posts on this and previous environmental and labor disputes at Lawyers, Guns and Money–you can start looking at Erik Loomis’ posts as he also has great series along the lines of ‘this day in labor history’.)

300,000 were left with poisoned drinking water (coming out of the tap!) after specialty chemical-producer Freedom Industries spilled some 5,000 gallons of 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol into the Kanawha Valley’s water treatment intake near Charleston. The water remains clear although poisonous, but smells helpfully like licorice. Also, boiling it doesn’t help.

Obviously this logo is but a minor blot on the company’s record vs. its actual malfeasance but uh…it’s a crime against good design, since my daughters looked at it and asked, “what’s rReedom Industries?” Also really looks as if it should have the smoking twin towers photoshopped into the background, and perhaps a big glistening tear into the eagle’s eye, and it would be a good blog header for Pamela Geller. Hey, remember her? (She doesn’t follow good trigger safety at all, I totally just learned this. But she’s a teetotaler also, so.)

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The Repubs won’t Douthat

by John Q on January 13, 2014

Ross Douthat is something of a punchline in these [arts parts . But, as I’ve argued here, he’s just about the last member of the once-numerous class of committed Republican intellectuals, all the rest having either defected to the left (Bartlett, Frum, Lind, Ornstein, Sullivan and many others) or descended into hackery (Reynolds, Brooks, the whole of the AEI/Heritage/CEI thinktank network[^1]). And, every now and then he writes something that raises important issues, at the cost of pointing up how hopeless his own program for Republican reform has become.

In this piece responding to the election of Bill De Blasio, Douthat tries to make a case that the Democratic Party won’t be able to take even the minimal steps needed to address the problem growing inequality (in both outcomes and opportunity). He starts with the obvious point that Obama came to office with a tax policy that could not possibly make a serious dent in the problem (repealing the Bush tax cuts for those with incomes over $250k) and proceeded to weaken it still further.

By itself this is pretty unimpressive. The fact that Obama is not a wild-eyed socialist, or even a traditional US liberal, but rather a moderate conservative may be a revelation in some Republican circles, but it is scarcely news to the rest of us.

Douthat’s more substantive claim is that the weakness of Obama’s tax policy is not a reflection of Obama’s own preferences but is dictated by the demands of the Democratic Party base. In Douthat’s telling, the base is dominated by socially liberal high-income earners who are absolutely resistant to any increase the taxes they pay.

This is a caricature, but most caricatures have some validity. As I’ve argued here, most people in the top 20 per cent of the income distribution, but outside the top 1 per cent, have done reasonably well in terms of income growth over the past thirty years, but have not, unlike the 1 per cent, been able to insulate themselves from the degradation of public services and the consequences of growing inequality.

Although only a minority of this group votes for the Democrats, their wealth and propensity to vote make them an important constituency. To have a plausible chance of political success, the Democrats need to convince at least some of this group that the benefits of living in a better society outweigh the costs of higher taxes.

But it’s important not to overstate this. Even if a more progressive tax program cost the Democrats some votes at the top of the income distribution, they could more than offset that by attracting middle and working class voters away from the Republicans, or simply by motivating them to vote.

It’s true, as Douthat says, that there is plenty of resistance to this program within the Democratic Party. But the once-overwhelming dominance of Wall Street and its advocates has been greatly weakened, notably because the financial lobby overwhelmingly supported Romney and shared his contempt for ‘the 47 per cent’. Unlike the situation in 2008, Wall Street is now clearly aligned with the Repubs.

And this is where the failure of Douthat’s own program (and the weaker versions proposed by other ‘reformers’ such as Levin and Ponnuru) becomes obvious. Douthat wants the Republican party to beat the Dems to the punch by offering an economic program that appeals to middle and working class voters. It’s patently obvious, however, that there is zero support for this program in any of the leading factions of the Republican Party, either among the leadership or in the activist base. There isn’t a single program benefitting the working class, from Social Security to the Earned Income Tax Credit to unemployment benefits to food stamps that can command the support of more than a handful of Republicans in Congress, and those few are likely to be driven out before long.

It seems clear, reading between the lines, that Douthat has already recognised this. As the NYT official Republican columnist, he faces some pretty big costs if he jumps ship (not to mention his tribal affiliation with conservative Catholicism). Still, I can’t see how he can go on pretending much longer.

[^1]: Some of these were always hacks, but we didn’t notice so much back in the day.

Love Is Gonna Let Me Down. Not Reggae, Though

by Belle Waring on January 10, 2014

One time I made a mix that was Belle’s Saddest Mix Ever. This was to go with my brother Ben’s Saddest Mix Ever. The were not disjunct. This song by Toots and the Maytals was on both:

Everytime I see your face
Something moves within my heart
And it thrills me to my soul
And tells me that
Love is gonna let me down…

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HHhH, by Laurent Binet

I came to Laurent Binet’s book about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich late; it was published in 2012 in English, and attracted largely positive attention then. It takes up the true story of a British-aided 1942 mission by the BeneÅ¡ government-in-exile to kill Heydrich, then Hitler’s satrap in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia as well as SS-leader Heinrich Himmler’s number two (Binet’s book says the title comes from the phrase, Himmler’s Hirn heisst Heydrich: Himmler’s brain is called Heydrich). Binet manages remarkably to make the book both a well told thriller and an extended mediation on the writer’s relation to history and the fiction he is making of it.

Together with some other British-trained Czechoslovak commandos on other missions, two assassins – Jan KubiÅ¡ and Jozef Gabčík; a Czech and a Slovak – parachuted from a Halifax into a field near Prague, made contact with the resistance, and eventually ambushed and waylaid Heydrich’s Mercedes. Gabčík faced down the car with a Sten gun, which jammed and failed to fire. KubiÅ¡ charged from the rear with a grenade, which went off near the car’s rear wheel, driving fragments of the vehicle into Heydrich’s body. The assassins fled. Heydrich tried to shoot Gabčík, then collapsed. Taken to a hospital, Heydrich received good treatment but afterward died of an infection. Hitler and the Nazi high command gave him a martyr’s funeral. On the strength of a spurious connection, the Germans destroyed the city of Lidice, killing its inhabitants, razing it to the ground, and salting the earth. They also named an expanded program for carrying out the Final Solution (of which Heydrich had been a principal engineer) “Aktion Reinhard”. With the help of a parachutist who decided to betray his fellows, the Germans discovered KubiÅ¡ and Gabčík, together with a number of their colleagues, holed up in a Church and, over many blundering and violent hours, eventually smoked, flooded, and blasted them out of hiding; the commandos died rather than suffer capture.

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This Is Only a Test

by Belle Waring on January 9, 2014


What if I linked to my favorite song by everybody’s favorite Australian punk band, and merely pointed out that Ross “I Would Do Anything For Love But I Won’t” Douthat is only 8 1/2 days away from misusing found alien technology, not to better the world, because he’s a selfish monster, but to better his own life by becoming infinity percent cooler?


And look, he put out some great music, in his defense, right?


But that’s not at all what Culture tech is for and I can tell you, without spoilering the 21st Century at all, that both I myself and way MOAR KNIFE MISSLES get involved, so, it all evens out.

Are you going to go on and on about The Saints like a bunch of little bitches, or what? Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Oh, wait, now I’ve like entangled myself in my own quantum wossnames, haven’t I? COMMENT IN THE NEW THREAD. If you’re going to go on and on about something do it in an interesting fashion. Don’t feed boring trolls poorly-prepared victuals. Make the trolls earn their meagre fare. Then, eventually, you may reward them with fun-size Milky Way or something. God.

UPDATE: I failed. Because I could have written the post in a comprehensible way. But I did not. OR WAS I FAILED?!
1. Look, people have been going on about whether the Jim Crow South was maybe, possibly, kinda racist for like 425 comments down there in John’s thread. IT WAS. Also, DON’T FEED LOW CALIBER-TROLLS. “But Belle, Mao Cheng Ji started it!” STFU bitch.
2. People were not enough with the loving Breakwater’s “Say You Love Me Girl,” from below. Let’s grant they just don’t like that kind of thing, which was why they didn’t like it. OK GRANTED. Why didn’t they love Shuggie Otis more? Was it…racism? Oh, no, actually. Probably it was just liking this one other kind of music that they do like. Which is fine an all but…
3. As inestimable non-trollish commenter Michael Sullivan pointed out, if this had been a male poster reminiscing about some post-punk stuff he might well have gotten 100 comments in an hour. So, was it–sexism? No, actually, people just don’t appreciate good music sometimes. So then I was listening to The Saints. And then I noticed, damn, Ross “I Would Do Anything For Love But I Won’t” Douthat looks just like that one dude in The Saints! So I suggested an humorous vignette in which Meatloaf (not “Mr. Meatloaf”; the New York Times regrets the error; like many Indonesians, Meatloaf only uses one name) was transported back in time using the technology of Iain M. Banks’ Culture. But would that have been satisfactory? No, so I had to specify that I subsequently hunted him down and killed him with knife missiles which, if you haven’t read the books, are EXACTLY WHAT THEY SAY ON THE TIN. Then people expressed variously, bafflement (here, sorry) and the objection that The Saints, being a seminal punk band, can hardly be post-punk can they, missy? (EXPECT KNIFE MISSILES.)
I don’t know why you people make everything so difficult.

Belle’s Record Collection, Um, II: The Reddingsing

by Belle Waring on January 8, 2014

I bought this album by The Reddings for .99. I could tell it was going to be amazing because of the Platonic solids–it’s Back to Basics! Also, that one dude doesn’t have any glass in his glasses=WIN.

The Reddings/Back to Basics

The Reddings/Back to Basics

But then I couldn’t listen to it till now. So I didn’t know how awesome. OMG! It’s all the deep cuts I wanted! And two of the dudes are Otis Reddings’ sons. Not to be confused with Shuggie Otis (son of Johnny Otis) and his superlative Information Inspiration. Oh damn I have to play that now in case you don’t know this song. It contains the line “here’s a pencil pad/I’m gonna spread some information.” I don’t know why, but this fills me with a deep, deep feeling of satisficing the criteria of a good life. John totally agrees (N.B. may not actually agree.)

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Dwarf Fortress: A Marxist Analysis

by Henry Farrell on January 7, 2014

bq. It is telling in this regard that previous versions of the game used to have an internal monetary economy, with dwarves receiving payment for labor and buying commodities collectively produced in turn. But contradictions occurred between the dwarves’ collective possession of the means of production and the commodified basis for such an economy, and it became unworkable within the game. The game’s designers have abandoned it, and its only remnant is the ability to produce coinage, fulfilling no real purpose. (Indeed, this right of monarchs only achieves true significance beyond questions of prestige in the mercantilist period of absolutism, arguably.) Trade exists, of course, as it does in all feudal societies. This takes the classically feudal form of long distance trade undertaken in dedicated seasons with definite trading partners, the trades themselves taking place at the equivalents of the yearly fair-sites of high medieval France and Italy.

With additional Durkheim and Bloch too! (via David Auerbach on Twitter)

Update: “It’s catching”:

Some Desperate Glory

by John Holbo on January 5, 2014

Amazing. Bill Kristol is hoping that, after a full century of unwillingness to go to war, because Wilfred Owen, this might be the year we consider – maybe! – going to some war. For the glory of it! Wouldn’t a war be glorious? If we could only have one? “Play up, play up, and play the game!” For the game is glorious!

Why have we been so unthinkingly unwilling to consider going to war for an entire century? Doesn’t that seem like a long time to go without a war?

Couldn’t we have just one?

Philadelphia Story

by John Q on January 5, 2014

I’m in bitterly cold Philadelphia at the moment attending the meetings of the American Economic Association (and a bunch of related societies). I was at a very interesting session on long-run discounting, which had a panel of six with (as is common) one woman[^1]. Looking around the room, I realised that the panel was actually balanced (inside econometric joke) when compared with the audience, which was about 90 per cent male.

I don’t think that the academic economics profession is quite as male-dominated as that. Some casual discussions suggested a couple of hypotheses:

(i) There were some parallel sessions on gender issues for which the audience was mostly female (not surprising, but kind of ambivalent)

(ii) Men were more likely to attend the sessions while female colleagues were more likely to be on the hiring teams. For those unfamiliar with this exercise, a large part of academic conferences consists of academics sitting in hotel rooms for days on end while a string of recent PhDs give a 15 minute pitch on a piece of research (their ‘job market paper’) followed by a ritual Q&A (a plausible but depressing story)

I get the impression that academic philosophy is even worse than economics, but that most other disciplines are better. Any thoughts?

[^1]: Maureen Cropper, who’s been doing great work in this field as long as I can remember

David Brooks really does seem to be getting weirder. Or is it just me?

What sort of individuals and behaviors do our governments want to encourage? I’d say that in healthy societies government wants to subtly tip the scale to favor temperate, prudent, self-governing citizenship. In those societies, government subtly encourages the highest pleasures, like enjoying the arts or being in nature, and discourages lesser pleasures, like being stoned.

Suppose the government started applying this Brooksian litmus test to products it pre-clears for sale on the market. ‘Yes, it’s a new sort of iPhone, I see. But does it encourage enjoyment of nature? Will it subtly make its users more temperate and prudent? If so, how so?’

Suppose you couldn’t legally sell something without making a showing, in a government office, that it fosters appreciation of the higher things in life.

Would it be legal to build suburbs? Would consumerism be permissible? What about capitalism? [click to continue…]

Holy Off-Model Batmans, Batman!

by John Holbo on January 3, 2014

I took the girls to Mint, the Singapore Museum of Toys. This place is just amazing! The girls got to be photographed in front of a 6-foot tall Tetsujin 28! ‘Nuff said. Plus:

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The Great Oil Fallacy (repost)

by John Q on January 1, 2014

Traditionally, in Australia at least, January is, or was, the time for reruns on TV. Keeping that tradition alive, I thought I would rerun some posts on topics that never seem to lose the interest of commenters. Interestingly, the discussion seems to change quite a bit from one posting to the next, though it rarely reaches a conclusion. Anyway, here’s one from last year, linking to a piece I published in The National Interest:

Update Probably worth reading the TNI article before commenting, as lots of points commonly made in comments are anticipated there.

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