Creative Destruction

January 31, 2007

Does the Internet Push Down Wages for Freelance Writers?

Filed under: Economics,Navel Gazing — Robert @ 9:25 pm

Yes and no.

The freelance writing business is in both a boom and a bust. It’s in a boom because the bottomless mouth of the Internet means a lot of work out there wanting to get done – a joyous prospect for the impecunious freelancer. It’s in a bust because the wages offered for this work are pretty low. (And even with the very low rates, there are complaints of high costs by Web content buyers.)  Overseas competition has put a downward pressure on domestic wages.

On the other hand, the volumes available mean that the writer who can generate content quickly and competently in volume now has a major advantage over the finicky artist. (Even more of an advantage than they used to have.) Increasingly, it’s possible to make a decent living by just working hard at a keyboard. So while per-word rates might be lower, per-week paychecks go up. Some writers would rather work 50 hours and make $500 than work 10 hours and make $200. So the content boom is good for the production writers.

The artists, of course, suffer, but they enjoy that, so it’s all right.

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One Reason Why “Ugly Betty” Is Awesome

Filed under: Popular Culture — Robert @ 4:07 pm

Two words: No Villains

Every story needs conflict; it’s part of the basic template. (Post-modern whingers who would rather throw out the outmoded concept of “story” in favor of some abstract, emotionless, intellectualized word-sneeze, please go away.) That conflict can come from a number of different places; I recall the classic list taught in my English classes was “man vs. man”, “man vs. self”, “man vs. nature”. “Man” in that formulation can actually be any entity or group with which the reader/viewer can reasonably form an emotional/identifying bond. The reader is interested in, roots for, identifies with the protagonist; the reader feels the conflict.

In “Ugly Betty”, however, the creators have taken a daring step – while there are people on the show who behave badly or wrongly, and thus serve as dramatic foils to protagonist Betty, those people aren’t the show’s villains. The villain – the real source of the conflicts – is society’s expectations.

The creators fully accept that the dramatic foils – the non-villains – are fully-fleshed human beings. They act badly because they think they’re doing the right thing, or because they think it’s the only way to get what they want – they are not evil for evil’s sake. What’s more, the creators have taken the considerable risk of aggressively and explicitly showing the psychology and life events that underly the foils’ behavior.

The recent story arc centering around Wilhelmina, Mode’s ur-bitch Creative Director, is a case in point. I already liked the show, and I liked it about five times more after this arc’s completion. The arc starts out with just a few snippets – Wilhelmina is fixing up her office and getting things ready for a special male visitor. I’m not sure if it was deliberate, or just the result of my own sloppy viewing, but the impression was definite that this was a beau coming to call. But when the guy actually shows up, we see that it isn’t a boyfriend – it’s her father, coming to pay her a visit. And it’s established that he’s a prick with just one line (of about three that he delivers): “Still just the Creative Director?” He’s a prick because his daughter – who is obviously totally committed to impressing and pleasing her daddy – has done a tremendous job of climbing the corporate ladder, and it isn’t good enough for him. The viewer is left with a definite heart pang for Willie.

Some shows would give us that, but no more. However, the creators then had Wilhelmina meet and fall for a Texan businessman who visits Mode to explore advertising for his discount women’s fashion stores. He’s a relaxed, casual and caring guy who treats her with respect and kindness – and her hard shell starts to melt. It becomes obvious: she’s hard and cruel not because she needs to be in order to succeed in her career (that just takes brains and work) but because she’s been hurt so many times by people for whom she wasn’t good enough. For Texas Business Guy, she’s good enough the way she is, and he makes it plain – and she starts to relax and enjoy her life. (Until the inevitable sitcom denouement, when TBG’s estranged wife calls him and offers to reconcile, and he goes back to her.) Betrayed and hurt, she resumes her old ways. The viewer is left with a profound sympathy for Wilhelmina, and sorrow for the love that she was denied by her father.

That’s a ballsy move on the part of the show. She’s still the dramatic foil – she’s still the witch queen ruining Betty’s life. But the viewer is denied the emotionally comfortable “she’s such a bitch” dismissal of her humanity, and when we see her acting that way, we know why. The dramatic foil herself is a protagonist in her own life drama, and she has the same conflict as the show’s main character – the world doesn’t think she’s good enough. And it still works – we still root for Betty, still want Wilhelmina to be stymied in her Evil Plans ™ – but we understand that Willie is a person too.

And that makes the dramatic conflict much more effective, because it’s much more real.

How I got here

Filed under: Feminist Issues,Personal Ramblings — Daran @ 8:49 am

In a comment, to my recent post David Byron said:

I’m not interested in how you got to this specific web page. I would be more interested in how people became attuned to the discrimination against men that goes on since that is what is unusual about people here.In particular I wonder how many have had a Child of the Glacier style experience, vs those who didn’t see any anti-male discrimination until they got hit with it like a brick as an adult (eg divorce). How many were aware of these issues and formulated them out of their own mind vs how many had to read about them from someone else to become aware.

I’m personally curious about how people found the two blogs I started. I’m also aware that there’s been little substantive blogging on FCB recently, on my part because of all the stuff I’ve been doing setting it up. So that post was intended to be nothing more than a bit of light entertainment pending something more substantial.

He asks a good question, though, and his own reply is worth reading. My earliest recollection of consciously observing (and objecting to) a gender norm dates to about the same age, I guess, as Adams was. That would put it in the early seventies. I noticed, (and remember complaining about to my parents), that bad things almost never happened to women in the action/adventure films I watched on TV. They never got killed on the battlefield or in the wild western shoot-out. They didn’t fall into pits of boiling lava, nor did they ever get eaten by dinosaurs. They might get captured by the baddies, but the baddies never did anything actually bad to them, and they always got rescued anyway. Men, by contrast, got casually wasted in their scores.

Even younger – six or seven I guess, I remember being very apprehensive of being put into a class with a male teacher. It wasn’t that any man had done anything bad to me, but that I simply had never been in the charge of any man except my Dad, and of course, he was away at work most of the day. Up until then, all my carers other than him had been female.

Other early childhood memories which may or may not have had a gender element were that I always felt in the shadow of my older sister, who was always physically bigger, more capable, more socially successful, and seemingly favoured by my parents. How much of that was gender, and how much was age and how much was my being Aspie is hard to tell.

I have a vague memory of wanting to do something girly, and meeting with the disapproval of my father, though I don’t remember what it was I wanted to do, or how he expressed that disapproval.

I also remember feeling totally unprotected in the face of the schoolyard bullying I was suffering, that nobody would take it seriously. (Of course, nobody had taken it seriously, that I was aware of. All they had done was pass the buck explicitly back to me.) I didn’t connect it to gender, though, but to childhood. I felt that, as a child, I wasn’t important enough to protect.

Like Hugh, I could never flirt as a teen or even a young adult. It wasn’t until my late 20’s that I ever flirted, and it was a real ‘Gosh, I can do this’ moment. Even now, I daren’t initiate.

Also in my late twenties/early thirties I had my first encounter with feminist hostility toward male-survivors I describe some of these incidents in this post, and in a couple of the comments.

What I never did, as Adams appears to have done at a very early age, is join the dots. Instead I swallowed the script as it has been fed to me: Women were the disfavoured sex; it was men who are violent toward women, not the other way about (my personal experiences of violence by women notwithstanding); men received favourable treatment in court. Etc. It wan’t until I found usenet in 1999 that I first encountered rightwing antifeminists/MRAs, the kind that David calls Chauvinists. What an eye-opener that was!

My first reaction was that their behaviour was appalling, and their purported facts seemed absurd. My second reaction when I tried to defend feminism from them, was that they were well prepared for the argument, and I wasn’t. I had to wise-up and educate myself. Some of their alleged facts stood up. Other’s turned out to be garbage, but many feminist claims fared no better. After a while, feminists and antifeminists came to look more and more like mirror images of each other, and I realised that I could not in good faith defend feminism while excoriating the Chauvinist antifems for their misogyny.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

(Crossposted between Creative Destruction, DaRain Man, and Feminist Critics. In order to shamelessly promote my new blogavoid turning Creative Destruction into just another feminist blog comments are closed there. Comments are open at Feminist Critics.)

January 30, 2007

Making Fun of John Edwards Just Got 50,000 Times More Fun

Filed under: Blogosphere,Election 2008,Politics and Elections — Robert @ 9:01 pm

Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon has taken over the blog campaign for John Edwards. Congratulations to Amanda, and wheee, this will be fun.

January 29, 2007

How did you get here?

Filed under: Blogosphere,Navel Gazing,Personal Ramblings — Daran @ 12:52 pm

(Crossposted between all three blogs I write for.)

It all started for me with a link from The Register to Seth Finkelstein’s Infothought blog. I found him to be an interesting, somewhat out-of-the-box thinker, so began reading him regularly. Sometime later Lis Riba popped up to ask his advice on getting a high Google Rating for one of her pages. And so she became my second regular read in the blogosphere. High on her blogroll was Alas a Blog. (I knew there was a reason for giving your blog a name beginning with ‘A’.) Unable always to comment as freely as I would like there, I began to comment on Creative Destruction. Shortly thereafter, a messenger arrived at my door bearing a handwritten missive enscribed upon the finest vellum, and laid upon a silken pillow, exhorting me to become a blogger here. (It was either that, or Amp sent me an email, I don’t recall which.)

At that time, WordPress automatically gave you blog if you created an account with them, and obviously I needed an account to blog at CD, and so the blog that was to become DaRain Man was born. I started substantive blogging there after being evicted from Alas during a little flamewar, and I realised that I needed an independent platform of my own. Later when Aegis/HughRistik accepted my offer to co-blog, it was clear that our joint enterprise was going to outgrow the ‘personal blog’ concept. We decided go for a dedicated URL and hosted environment right from the start, rather than go through the agony of changing addresses later, when we were established. Hence Feminist Critics was born.

That’s my story, but how did you get here?

January 27, 2007

Study: Skin Tone A Factor In Salary

Filed under: Economics,Immigration,Race and Racism — Robert @ 1:04 pm

A Vanderbilt University study sez that skin tone appears to be operative as an independent factor in salaries received by immigrant workers.

The study compared 2,087 immigrants to the United States, and the author claims that ”On average, being one shade lighter has about the same effect as having an additional year of education.” The differences between the lightest and darkest skinned immigrants of similar backgrounds was between 8 and 15 percent.

Discuss.

January 25, 2007

Lack of Commentary on State of the Union

Filed under: Blogosphere,Current Events,Politics — Brutus @ 11:48 pm

Creative Destruction seems to have gone a hiatus the last few days, though there has been plenty to discuss. For instance, Pres. Bush gave is 2007 State of the Union Address two nights ago (transcript here), and we’ve had nary a post or comment. I’m unqualified to comment, as I didn’t watch or listen. The most sensible thing I heard in the days leading up to it was that since we’ve been lied to so consistently the past few years, why tune in and be subjected to more lies?

I wonder sometimes whether good citizenship requires a baseline attention to things like the SOTU. My opinions even without paying attention are predictably negative, and there are plenty of other, better informed commentaries on the SOTU to be found throughout the blogosphere that take a similarly dour view. It’s no surprise, of course, considering Bush’s current approval rating.

The two principal notes the commentaries sound are that Bush doesn’t even bother to pretend to care what Congress or the citizenry think, he’s gonna do what he’s gonna do, and that he lacks the traditional Republican antipathy toward big government. (Shades of Reagan, there.) He’s seemed like a man on a mission (from god?) since he took office, but I doubt that history will judge him very kindly. There was some question in the early months after 9/11 whether he had crystallized the moment correctly and gotten that focal point in American history and policy right by formulating and prosecuting the War of Terror. It’s nearly impossible to know for sure, considering the general lack of terror events since then by which to judge, but even if we’ve been spared further bloodshed these few years since by spilling others’ blood and behaving badly, I wonder if it’s been worth the cost.

Doomsday Creeping Closer

Filed under: Current Events,Popular Culture,Science — Brutus @ 11:24 pm

The University of Chicago publishes the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS), which was created in the years just after World War II — 1947 to be precise. Among its other activities, it assesses the risk of annihilation from nuclear war with its most famous piece of rhetoric: the Doomsday Clock, which charts the threat by adjusting the minute hand of the clock figuratively a few minutes toward or back from midnight, which represents a “time’s up” mark. (Oddly, the graphical representations I’ve seen are usually timelines or xy coordinate graphs, not actual clockfaces.) The Doomsday Clock was back in the news a few days ago, when the minute hand was adjusted from 7 minutes to 5 minutes until midnight.

doomsday

What’s interesting about this latest adjustment is that global warming has apparently overtaken nuclear weapons as the greatest threat to civilization. I’ve insisted for years that global warming operates on a geological time scale, making it nearly impossible to predict or observe from within the bubble of our much smaller human timescale, but the phrase is nonetheless used to describe the climate change (warming trend) we are currently experiencing, which occurs on an observable timescale. This is probably the case because climate change is a global effect, even if the warming/cooling trends take thousands of years to fully observe (at least in the past). Warming due to climate change will probably take some years yet to manifest fully — 30 to 50 seem to be typical estimates — and its full fury, or its effect on humankind, will take a bit longer than that as the ecosystem continues its collapse in stages. But there appears to be little doubt that it’s going to happen.

What’s especially curious to me is that it was predicted and warned against long ago, as early as the late 19th century, in fact, when petroleum and other fossil fuels were just beginning to be used in industrial quantities. The mainstream media, in its collective wisdom, has only just recently determined, however, that the story bears telling, as the issue has now reached a level of undeniability and consensus that the public has gotten interested (but not yet motivated to act). I saw one top story of 2006 that says global warming has finally been demonstrated. A little late to the party, I think.

January 24, 2007

On Behalf Of Every Republican In America…

Filed under: Politics and Elections — Robert @ 4:51 pm

Awwww. Come on, French-looking person. We’ll be nice this time, we promise.

HIV in Africa: An Economist Chimes In

Filed under: Economics,Health Care,Science — Robert @ 1:05 pm

Interesting. Very interesting. If we want to help Africa with AIDS, we should help with herpes and foster capitalism.

January 23, 2007

Is the Vatican a Rogue State?

Filed under: Criminal Justice,Ethics — Brutus @ 3:38 pm

This link to a story in Spiegel International Online offers this juicy first paragraph:

The Vatican’s attorney general Nicola Picardi released the astounding statistic at the start of 2007: The tiny nation’s justice department in 2006 had to contend with 341 civil and 486 criminal cases. In a population of 492, that measures out to 1.5 cases per person — twenty times the corresponding rate in Italy.

How ironic is it that Vatican City has the highest per capita crime rate? Apparently, a lot of it is the result of pilgrims, tourists, and visitors to St. Peter’s Cathedral. And besides, Vatical City is completely surrounded by Italy, which has developed a reputation in recent years for brazen pickpocketing and victimization of visitors.

Lazy Minds Ponder Stupid People Pondering Public Policy

Filed under: Blogosphere — Off Colfax @ 3:17 am

Duncan Black picks up a long blog train, starting at VOLPAC via Instapundit via LGM, (There’s a Kevin Bacon joke in there somewhere.) where he just cannot resist a reflexive knee-jerk response to any form of military action being performed under the current presidency. To wit, with his response in his italics:

Should the United States send troops to stop the genocide in Darfur?

Dunno, you signing up?

Pavlov would be just so proud of his student these days. When it takes just two minutes of googling to find a gaggle of liberal bloggers wanting action, such as this guy for a start, a Democratic presidential candidate who negotiated a cease-fire in the region, and utter and complete violations of said cease-fire by the Sudanese government not 8 hours before I write this…

Honestly, dude. Control your automatic dismissal for whatever a prominent Republican says for long enough to see that this is not a “conservative vs. liberal”, “neo-con vs. progressive” debate topic but a very real disaster that we could set to its long put-off rest.

So instead of engaging the autonomic process that his brain has become over the last 6 years, Duncan Black, closely followed by his ditto-head commenters (Yes. That’s an insult.), don’t take anything into account other than “Frist said it. It must be bad. New wanker of the day! LOL PWNZ!”

So I’m going to step in and say what teh Atrios should’ve said.

Should the United States send troops to stop the genocide in Darfur?

Why the hell are you asking us this, oh mighty former Senate Majority Leader? If this has been a such a major concern of yours for so long, why didn’t you stop merrily applauding the President’s every move in Iraq for all these years? Why didn’t you make the slightest motion to send a battalion or so of Marines into western Sudan where they could have done some good? Why did you wait until after you were no longer in office to bring this into the public arena? Are you just looking for cheap hits off of your political antagonists? You had the last three years to do something about this, and instead blew it off while publicly patting your own back about Iraq so hard that you had to put in your own house-call for a sprained shoulder and now you expect us to think that this is one of the most pressing things on your mind?

See how easy that is? And all of them with a seriously interrogative tone, as well. (Admittedly, they tend to be rhetorical tones as well.) Instead, he goes for the cheap shot of “Dunno, you signing up?”

Weak. Oh so very weak. It’s hard to believe that this continues to represent the fourth largest liberal blog, only beaten in the ecosystem rankings by Daily Kos, Talking Points Memo, and The Huffington Post. And the only one of those that’s worth reading for the insights is TPM.

Mindboggling how weak the prominent left-o-sphere is these days.

January 22, 2007

Good Things You Should Go Look At

Filed under: Blogosphere,Link Farms — Robert @ 4:50 pm

It’s become a theme in my life: if I am swamped by deadlines and simply cannot. afford. to. take. time. to. slack. off. – that’s when I will find web sites that were designed by God to suck the time out of my day.

So, rather than suffer alone, let me slag your productivity as well. Go visit these sites:

The Comics Curmudgeon – a cranky person goes MST3K on the comics page.

Wondermark – words fail.

Flash Element TD – a game/puzzle. Blow up the Creeps before they get you.

The Yak Shaving Archive – a collection of tips gar-on-teed to make your life more efficient. Thus making time for Flash Element TD and the Comics Curmudgeon!

A very British Corruption Scandal

Filed under: Politics — Daran @ 11:42 am

Honours probe police hacked No10 computers

Detectives in the cash-for-honours inquiry were forced to “hack” into Downing Street computers in the search for evidence, The Sunday Telegraph has discovered.

Hardly “routine enquiries”.

What nobody seems to be saying, is that if we did away with these archaic honours, we wouldn’t have these problems. (Yeah, I know, they’d find some other way of rewarding the loyal.)

Really Serious Question

Filed under: Personal Ramblings — Off Colfax @ 4:00 am

I believe I’ve mentioned to everyone [EDIT: At least everyone over at Left Off Colfax.] my severe and paralyzing fear of heights and/or falling.

What would be the interest out there in an event called “Throw Off Colfax From A Plane”? Any?

Because for this group, I’d do it. While I still have a bit of time until the registration deadline, I’d want to know if I have people willing to back me up (If only to pray that the ‘chute doesn’t open!) before I sign the dotted line.

And yes. I’m going into a panic attack just thinking about doing it.

January 21, 2007

Another Thing to Worry About

Filed under: Content-lite,Health Care — Daran @ 5:19 am

We’re all doomed.

January 19, 2007

Announcement: Feminist Crititics

Filed under: Blogosphere,Blogroll,Feminist Issues — Daran @ 2:20 pm

Feminist Critics:

Feminist Critics is a single issue, single viewpoint blog. The issue is gender and gender politics. The viewpoint is what we call “Feminist Critical”, that is to say we look at feminism and other positions and belief systems about gender from a critical point of view. If we come across as broadly opposed to feminism, then this is because we find that it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Currently there are three co-bloggers – Daran and HughRistik, who are the founders and toysoldier who joined shortly after the blog was started. We intend to invite other contributors who views and approach to discussion is concordant with ours. We may invite guest bloggers with different viewpoints to be the salt in our stew.

We believe that ideas and belief-systems benefit from critical and in some cases adversarial discussion. That includes ours, so we want to encourage intelligent, courteous, evidence-based discussion and debate in the comments from a variety of viewpoint. In particular, we wish to attract feminists to defend their position. And if we’re unable to persuade them of the error of their ways, we want to feel that we have gained from the experience anyway, and for them to feel that they have gained from it….

January 18, 2007

Winning The Unwinnable

Filed under: Current Events,Politics,War — Off Colfax @ 4:06 pm

John Cole, the Republican blogger who has disassociated himself from today’s GOP, points towards this post (Specifically, the comment thread attached to the post.) by the (in)famous Jeff Goldstein. While John takes apart the commenters with amazing speed and clarity (Except for one, but I’ll get to it later.), I find myself more puzzled by the root post. Now, I haven’t done a lot of posts on Operation Iraqi Debacle just yet, so it’s well past time for a traditional long-winded diatribe on the subject.

(FULL DISCLOSURE: I have, in recent memory, bought Jeff Goldstein exactly two beers. The first was a thank-you message for giving me my first trackback from a major-tier blogger. The second was in commiseration for, and my support for, his difficulties with a certain Oregonian blogger who now has a warrant for her arrest, not to mention all those names Duncan Black had been calling him. The third, coming up on February 16, will be to toast “Justice.” Or maybe simply Sláinte, ’cause Jeff does like the Guinness. I’ve just learned that Jeff Goldstein is not going to be there. And people call ME a cut-and-run surrender monkey.)

That being said, he does bring up a single set of good points, with his own distinguishing simile tacked on to the end.

To wit: that it was “unclear” that Saddam Hussein still had weapons of mass destruction is moot: the fact is, he wouldn’t let us know either way. And what we did know for sure was this: the weapons he had at one point have never been accounted for, his regime was involved in talks with al Qaeda, he was backing terrorist bombings in the middle east, he had tried before to assassinate a US President, and, if given the chance, he would have aided international terrorists against the West in any way he could find, even as he took Oil for food money to build his palaces and re-constitute his weapons programs in anticipation of a lifting of sanctions. So being right about weapons of mass destruction is like being right, in hindsight, about not having paused to slide on a jimmy: it’s only a good move if nobody gets pregnant, or picks up some nasty infection.

True. true. Maybe true. True. True. And, yet again, true. (The part about the jimmy is always true.)

Yet this part of the next graf down reads exactly like you can mentally exchange the name Campos with any given detractor of the Iraq debacle.

I will happily point out that his last point—“that the whole project was likely to end in disaster”—uses the past tense, suggesting that [Paul] Campos has already declared defeat, and, even more maddeningly, seems to be reveling in it. Or, to be more kind to professor Campos, is smugly satisfied that he “predicted” that defeat, though he is not too keen on waiting for the fat lady to sing, it appears.

To be blunt, most of us that are/were against this Iraqi adventure felt that it would not end well. While it is true that some few are using that prescient standpoint to advance their own media spotlight, such as Campos and Cindy Sheehan and every single one of the early Democratic contenders for 2008 as examples, the rest of us on the left side of Blogville Elementary Playground are simply pointing and saying “See? Told you so.” While that may not be the best way of getting a point across, the resulting roar of indignation from the other side drowns out the one major point that we detractors have, which falls on the heels of those words: What could you do better? What can be fixed? What can be changed?

From the outset, as I noted over a year ago, the alleged “Iraq War” was like a Washingtonian three-card Monte game; we’ll act like it’s a war, even though we won’t specifically declare war.

Then the media stories roll in about insufficient equipment, malfunctioning equipment, FUBAR’d rules of engagement, corporate kickbacks, corporations not fulfilling their commitments as listed in their kickback contracts, the hiring of the equivalent of mercenary groups where every man jack makes more than a Marine colonel, the Abu Ghraib scandal, the stop-loss exercises. There are a veritable Who’s-Who of Charlie-Foxtrots out there to select from. (Look it up if you don’t know it.) Whenever something bad, and worse than bad, came out about the execution of the Iraq invasion, those who called it a war were quickest to blame… the media outlets that reported the information.

So tell me honestly. With all these developments coming down the pike at a rapid clip, how else are we supposed to look at it? It’s not the media’s fault that they report the stories. It’s not the soldiers’ fault that they have a cruddy job, not to mention insufficient equipment and boots on the ground to do the job they have. And yet who gets the blame? From the supporters, it’s the fault of the media for only reporting what has gone wrong instead of what has gone right, such as the toppling of the Ba’athist regime, building schools, secure Kurdistan, et cetera. (John Cole also links to this post by Hot Air’s Bryan, who lists a bunch of positive things that the media has, whether due to it being against the “Bleeds = Leads” mantra or some other reason, not reported widely.) From the more violent detractors, it’s the soldier’s fault, for (a paraphrase) they signed on to be Myrmidons, ruthless crushers of humanity, et cetera.

The military has a slang term already available for both of these outlooks: experiencing a Rectal Cranial Inversion.

The full truth is that we sent our boys and girls off to do battle, and our leadership stayed home and had business as usual. And that, as notes the Flannel Avenger, was the Achilles’ heel of the Republican Congress. The congresscritters went on securing their own power structures, being more concerned with political gains than doing their jobs. (Minor apology to Mr. Ray, however. Iraq was a part of the GOP losses in November, but it was a regrettable symptom rather than the cause.) Hearings that lasted 2 hours and performed to an empty room. Earmarks that spiraled out of control. Amendments that defeat the purpose of a bill rather than support it. Amendments that cause a perfectly good and necessary bill to die off because the authors couldn’t even vote for their own bill anymore. The Republican Congress showed us, by their actions rather than their words, that they didn’t take the invasion seriously, that it was just another political tool to bend into a shape of their choosing rather than a real-world disaster in the making.

But that was then. This is now. A new Congress is in, led by Democrats. And what is the magic bullet?

To withdraw funding and force the Pentagon to pull everyone home. If Pelosi & Co. could come up with a scenario more likely to spawn the “cut-and-run” accusation favored by the right, it would have to be a true thing of beauty. Not only does this kill off any chance that the still-unstable Iraqi government could stay on its feet, it sends a dour message to the boys and girls in uniform who would have to feel like kids who come home from summer camp to find that their parents had gotten divorced. “Hi kids. Guess what? You live with someone else now. Oh, and you don’t get your allowance anymore, either.” For can you guess what would be the first casualty of reduced funding? Late or non-existent payroll. It wouldn’t be ammunition that suffers, as that’s mostly in theater already and you can fire on full-auto less often. It wouldn’t be fuel, as that’s mostly in theater already, whether what we brought or what’s being distilled on site. It wouldn’t be Kellogg Brown Root, as they have binding contracts for certain services. Instead, it’d be the same kids that went where they were ordered to go by Congress and the President. Simply slashing the funding to zero wouldn’t do a single bit of good for those who wear the boots. Indeed, how are those kids supposed to get home without even enough money for transportation?

Talk about a morale killer.

And then there’s this gem by Nawoods:

The enemy’s tactic for achieving stratigic victory is to not fight in the traditional sense. Rather they plan operations designed to grab headlines in the western media in the hopes we become demoralized, convince oursleves all is lost, and head for home.

Essentially, what we have here is a complaint that the insurgents aren’t fighting like real men. They aren’t battling for strategic ground. They don’t have a hill to take. They don’t have a river to cross. That’s because that we’re fighting in what the normal folks in the military call FISH: Fighting In Someone’s House. The insurgents don’t have to take and hold land. They just have to deny someone else that ability temporarily. Or back off for a little bit, wait for the US forces to move on, and then return to their former attack runs. Or, just as likely, throw a rock at someone, walk around the corner, and be a suddenly upstanding citizen again. This isn’t a traditional war, and our military leadership and supporters continue to make the mistake of expecting one. (See: Battle of Fallujah) So to Nawoods: You are experiencing a Rectal Cranial Inversion. Please remove head from bottom immediately. Thank you.

So what do we do to win the unwinnable?

For one thing, the “surge” plan is doomed to fail unless and until they scrape up every single bit of necessary and required materiel from stateside and ship it over to the sandbox with all overdue haste. It won’t make a bit of difference to send in another fifty thousand, hundred thousand, two hundred thousand pairs of boots, plus the people to stand in them, if they don’t have the gear they need. This is a must, period, ad infinitum, ad astra, ad nauseum.

Second, all talk of preemptively cutting funding must cease. Instead, we should actually stop diverting funds from the troops stationed in Iraq in the first place. We’re putting more and more money into the Iraqi infrastructure than we are into the actual needs of the people fighting. This, as they say, is a Bad Idea. Fund them right, feed them right, equip them right. You want to show your support of the troops? Then do it where it counts. No more “I support my troops so I’m pulling them back home” garbage.

Third, one hard and vicious timetable. From all available reports, the Iraqi government doesn’t seem to be able to step up and take the ball. If this is a question of them being incompetent and unable to lead, then the incompetent must be replaced. (Preferably by someone who is not chosen for their political friends, but by displayed competence levels.) If this is a question of them dragging their feet and hoping that the Americans won’t leave, acting like a kid going to the dentist for fear of that great big needle… The shot will hurt a lot less than the drill. And they will get drilled if they aren’t as ready as they think they are.

Fourth, an engaged Congress. This very moment, the idiots I helped elect into leadership positions are becoming more and more concentrated on gaining political leverage, scoring points against the loyal opposition, and leveling a few legislative booms on their enemies. Sound familiar? Exactly. It’s what I just got done saying was one of the causes of the Republican downfall. No more business as usual under the Dome. Do your bloody jobs right by the kids who swore an oath to serve, protect, and defend the Constitution of these United States, just the same as you did.

Like it or not, this is our ball to run now. Don’t like it? Tough. We wanted it.

Don’t you dare drop it.

[Crossposted from Left Off Colfax]

January 16, 2007

Capitalism in Action

Filed under: Economics,Politics — Brutus @ 3:42 pm

I’ve been struggling to get my head around some issues that have cropped up in past posts relating to how free market capitalism delivers the best of all possible opportunies for regular folks to improve their lot. Well, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has the dirt on income inequality, or if you prefer, income concentration. Here’s a graph showing the trend since the first Gilded Age:

income concentration

The complexities of the capitalist system are invariably too complex to chalk up this graph to one or two factors, such as the tranformation of the progressive tax system into a regressive one, the abandonment of a regultated, Keynesian economic policy in favor of laissez faire capitalism, and the abandoment of the Bretton Woods treaty. However, the results speak pretty clearly: if you’re already super rich, you’re in a considerably favored position to enhance your already monstrously large share of the pie. (Short version: it takes money to make money.)

Whereas some market fundamentalists insist that this result is just, proper, and entirely to the benefit of everyone — especially since acquisition of large piles of capital supposedly stimulates investment and creates jobs down the line for less well-heeled folks — I interpret it more as a morally bankrupt system operating without any sense of social justice.

If that interpretation doesn’t come out of the simple fact shown above, New York Magazine has an article called American Roulette by Kurt Andersen that provides opinion and context on top of some interesting further data. The metaphor adopted in the article is that we are now in a sort of “casino economy,” where the odds are rigged in favor of the house (read: the rich) and the losses suffered by the poor become, literally, the gains of the rich. The data that supports that contention includes a wage gap (CEO to average worker) an order of magnitiude larger than it was in the seventies; a drop in median income over the past five years, which according to a NY Times citation is “the first sustained period of economic growth since World War II that fails to offer a prolonged increase in real wages for most workers”; and an increased likelihood (1/6 today vs. 1/14 in 1970) of family income dropping by half. In effect, the few blazing success stories provide the faint hope shared by the masses of hitting it big, not unlike casino or lottery gambling. 

An interesting byproduct — a harbinger of things to come, perhaps — of the prolonged shift of capital upwards is that Tesco, a large retailer operating in the United Kingdom, has announced plans to build employee housing. Why, you might ask? It’s because Tesco’s staff can’t afford to live where they work, and the company has been suffering from high employee turnover as a result. Makes me wonder when Wal-Mart will similarly branch into real estate. It’s undoubtedly too early to adopt the unfair characterization of the company town, but considering how budding central economies have devolved into that practice before, it’s worth being vigilant.

Speaking of Wal-Mart, that corporation has implemented new employee scheduling software, which promises to streamline or optimise certain labor practices for the employer while having some fully anticipatable and deleterious effects on employees. For example, Wal-Mart is able to track hours to cap employees below full-time status (to deny benefits) and is able to use the software to place employees “on call” to meet customer surges or send employees home during lull periods. Not everyone thinks this flexible scheduling is necessarily a bad thing. Naturally, someone will find in it some benefit to some nonrepresentative employee.

It used to be that Socialism and/or Communism offered the Holy Grail of a worker’s paradise. Free market capitalism has replaced the siren’s call of those defunct ideologies but has yet to deliver fully on the promise. But that’s the subject of a longer, more involved post on market fundamentalism I’m still mulling.

Racism in the Electoral College: Not So Much

Filed under: Blogosphere,Debate,Race and Racism,Statistical Method — Robert @ 2:25 am

Rachel of Alas has a post about structural racism up for MLK Day. In the discussion section of that post, we get into it hot and heavy about the Electoral College and how it is, per Rachel, a “very good example of structural racism”. Why? Because more white people live in the small states, which are proportionally “whiter” than the rest of the country. In Rachel’s words, “It proves that whites votes count for more.”

Not really. Aside from the obvious logical flaw of assigning a weight based on skin color when it is in fact based on a geographic distinction (a black man who lives in Wyoming gets the same overweighted vote in the Electoral College as a white man), the numbers do not, in fact, support Rachel’s position. In the spirit of the “blue states give less” and “red states are dumber” statistical simplifications that go around the Web every time there’s an election (I’ve posted one or two myself), in a follow-up post she comes up with two tables purporting to show that all the small states are heavily white, and all the big states are less white, and thus the Electoral College deprecates the black vote enormously. (The actual quote from the first post is via a source who she cites approvingly, stating that “The Electoral College negates the votes of almost half of all people of color.”)

Again, it turns out, not really. In fact, not only not really – it’s pretty much a wash. Here is an exhaustive table of the states which have votes in the Electoral College. The first six columns are self-explanatory. “EV Weight” is an inverted factors showing the significance of a single person’s vote in that state, compared to the hypothetical “fair” number of people who should get 1 electoral vote if everything was even-steven. Numbers lower than one indicate that a person voting in that state has more than their “fair share” of input into the Electoral College; the winner here is Wyoming, at 0.31. The worst-off state is Texas, at 1.24. The “EV Over/Undercount” column indicates how many EC votes the state would gain or lose if everything were perfectly proportional (and if we could have fractional EC votes). The “White” and “Nonwhite Over/Undercount” columns indicate how many of those over or undervotes would be distributed among the racial balance of the state; if a state “should” have 10 more EC votes and is 80% white, then 8 of those votes are credited to the white column, and 2 to the non-white.

The point of all this was to come up with a picture of how the distribution of Electoral College votes would change if everything were proportional to population. That final number is damning for Rachel’s view of a world where the Electoral College is a huge structurally racist institutions: 4.80 electoral votes would shift, relative to population. That’s about 0.89% of the EC vote total. Check out the figures for yourself below the break.

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January 15, 2007

What he did over the break.

Filed under: Art,Content-lite,Humor — Daran @ 3:14 pm

What did you do over the break?

Haha, I really don’t care because there is NO way it was even close to as cool as this.

Presented For Your (Dis)Approval

Filed under: Content-lite — Off Colfax @ 2:44 am

Just to break things up with a bit of humor.

You know how some movies have opposites. I Know What You Did Last Summer has Scream. The Breakfast Club has Heathers. Gone With The Wind has Showgirls.

I think I just found the opposite for Happy Feet.

Peruse at your leisure. Just watch out for spit-takes.

January 14, 2007

Who Wants a Slice of Pie?

Filed under: Blog Status,Debate — Brutus @ 12:50 pm

Ampersand wrote, in the comments to Tweaking Amanda:

Of course, none of this represents official “Creative Destruction” policy — this is all just in my opinion. I’d like it if the other CD members — or at least, those of us who are still active on CD in some capacity — could discuss what we want CD to be. (Perhaps we should move this discussion to a private post?)

I will add a few thoughts.

First thing first: simmer down, now. The meta-argument (arguing about the way we argue) is long past counter-productive. Whoever said what or did what or failed or shone is at this point sorta lost in the twisted rubber bands of logical wrangling and is hardly any longer worth sorting out. If I may be so bold, let’s wipe the slate clean for now and go forward with what we want, rather than fixating on past wrongs. There will be plenty of time for further wrongs.

Let me be clear about a couple things to readers and commenters who aren’t posters to Creative Destruction (CD). There are no fixed rules to be broken, no moderators approving and disapproving posts or comments, no tally of deleted comments and insults slung. However, those 4-5 of us still posting here have agreed that we want discussions and arguments to remain as respectful as possible, even in disagreement. One can go anywhere in the blogosphere and read others’ rants and threats and incoherence. As human beings, we may not always be above that fray, but at CD, we try to restrain ourselves from exhibiting our asshole natures.

Yeah, self-restraint. That’s the ticket. If I slip up and the gloves come off a bit, that doesn’t mean that everything is thereafter fair game. I expect someone will hit back, but it’s precisely then that I realize I need more restraint. If the thread has already been lost, then I don’t participate anymore.

Whatever Robert’s mistakes may have been (or will be), he pulled back and refused to go further. DavidByron continues to fan the flames, now arguing with everyone. There is no winning, as there is nothing to win. Not even an apology, sorry. So we can move forward, or we can stay mired in argument. Very few comments are ever deleted (other than spam), but they can certainly be ignored.

January 12, 2007

Semi-Open Thread: Where Did You Come From?

Filed under: Navel Gazing — Robert @ 5:09 pm

Dianne suggests an open thread to discuss where people’s political orientation and beliefs came from. So, here it is. Please feel free to tell us your origin story (“Bitten by a radioactive spider from Richard Nixon’s basement…”) whether you are a contributor, a regular commenter, or just some random freak off the street. I’m calling this a semi-open thread because I would like to limit the discussion to people’s histories and perspectives; if you want to argue with Dianne about why she’s wrong to be a hippie communist, do it somewhere else, please.

Tweaking Amanda

Filed under: Blogosphere,Current Events,Iraq — Robert @ 3:51 am

Amanda is in full end-of-democracy/imperial president/fascism on the march mode about Bush’s decision to start hitting Iranians who are supporting the insurgency in Iraq. Although her rhetoric is intemperate and her grasp of the issues on the table is, shall we say, less than comprehensive, I find myself smiling with warm recognition.

You see, the last time we were fighting wars in the Middle East, I was Amanda. Well, I didn’t have the whole vaginal apparatus thing going on, but I was her age. I was hanging in the same types of hip and liberal social circles. And I was a blame-America-first lefty. During the first Gulf War, I traded bitter denunciations of the fascist Bush machine with my other lefty friends. We talked about how democracy was dead, and the imperial evil was everywhere. We talked about Canada, and Sweden, the way Jews in the 1920s talked about the promise of Israel. We prayed for impeachment, and were sure that the independent counsel was going to find something – anything – on the warmongers and oil thieves who were corrupting the White House.

In fact, at the time, I was in a band. Not just any band – a progressive indie anti-war band. I sang, well, and fronted, badly. Here are the lyrics that I can remember from our best anti-war song. It was addressed to President Bush (Bush the First, as we certainly would have called him if we could see the future):

Driving down to war on a desert highway
People in your way cannot defy you
something something something

(Chorus, starts whispered, ends shouted:
No blood for oil, no blood for oil,
No blood for oil, No Blood For Oil!)

No, really. I swear to God, that’s what we sang. Well, what I sang. The guys behind me mainly just tried to remember how to play their instruments, except for our lead guitar player who was actually really good.

We also had a song about worms who came out after it rained.

Anyway, I’m feeling all warm and fuzzy about this. If history repeats itself, then in about ten to fifteen years Amanda’s going to get married, return to the church of her forefathers, start saying things like “the church of my forefathers” without a trace of irony, pop out some kids, and vote Republican. I can’t wait.

(Of course, by then I’ll probably be a hippie again. C’est la vie.)

January 11, 2007

Carter Center Board Resigns En Masse

Filed under: Current Events,International Politics,Politics — Robert @ 2:33 pm

14 members of an advisory board for the Carter Center have resigned en masse, personally addressing former President Carter and telling him “you have clearly abandoned your historic role of broker in favor of becoming an advocate for one side” in his recent book on the situation in Israel.

This follows on the heels of the high-profile resignation of Kenneth Stein, a longtime Carter adviser, for similar reasons.

The Empire Is The Good Guys, Revisited

Filed under: Content-lite,Geekery,Humor — Robert @ 1:59 pm

(Originally posted on my old blog in June of 2005…presented for your amusement, with some minor edits for style and clarity.)

I just rewatched “Return of the Jedi” with Andrew, and in the course of the interactions with the Ewoks, I realized that the entire Ewok plotline reveals the moral rottenness at the heart of the Rebellion.

Let’s start from the beginning: what is the relationship between the Empire and the Ewoks before the movie begins? I submit that the internal evidence of the film makes it clear that they were peacefully coexisting. Several elements contribute to this conclusion, which is admittedly based on limited data, but which seems entirely uncontradicted by any available evidence:
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January 9, 2007

E-vote systems certifier de-certified

Filed under: Election 2006 — Daran @ 12:52 pm

My bold:

The leading certifier of US electronic voting systems, Colorado outfit Ciber, Inc., is no longer permitted to issue certifications, after federal investigators discovered appallingly haphazard testing regimes, the New York Times reports.

Ciber, which certifies the majority of US election devices, was unable to document how it supposedly tested the machines for accuracy and security. Due to the oddities of US elections regulations, no government agency is assigned this role; rather, device manufacturers pay whoever they wish to rubber-stamp their kit.

The US federal Election Assistance Commission began oversight only in July 2006, and immediately found problems with Ciber’s records, but did not act until recently, presumably in fear that the November election results would be brought into question. Ciber has been barred from issuing certifications until it can demonstrate proper quality controls and documentation of its “work”.

The company says it’s on the mend, however, and assures investors that it will win federal accreditation this month. Voters may be less optimistic. While Ciber may not be allowed to certify machines until the Commission is satisfied with its recordkeeping, nothing is yet being done to re-examine the machines it “passed” without adequate controls.

[…]

And yet there is no popular outcry against the lack of accountability and transparency in the e-voting racket. It’s interesting to note that the public is clearly less concerned with the integrity of its election equipment than it is with a one-armed bandit in a Vegas hotel. ®

Democracy is wasted on the Americans.

January 8, 2007

Rocky Mountain Blogger Bash 6.0

Filed under: Blogosphere,Current Events — Robert @ 9:43 pm

February 16, 2007. Time (evening to whenever) and place (somewhere in Denver’s environs) to be announced. For further details/announcements, look here.

Gosh, have we been doing this for six years? Well, not ME “we”; I’ve only gone for the past couple of years. How time does fly.

Everyone is invited, even Amp. We will buy you beer and/or soda and refrain from mocking you if you drop in, Amp – well, OK, that whole mockery thing is a lie. We will totally mock you. But there are other witty lefties around so you wouldn’t stand alone.

RMBB 6.0

Sublimated Hostility

Filed under: International Politics,Popular Culture,War — Brutus @ 5:38 pm

At the Indian-Pakistani Wagah border, a strange example of pageantry has evolved where the border guards put on a chest-thumping, foot-stamping display of sublimated hostility. Personnel appear to be chosen specifically for their impressive height, which is amplified to great effect by the headdresses on their helmets. Michael Palin has a brief YouTube review of the festivities:  

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a7HPP_QduWI 
(tried to embed the link but it didn’t display properly)

It’s wishful thinking, of course, to wonder what the world would be like if we could act out our disputes and hostilities ritually the way these guards do. It’s a nice daydream, though.

The significant number of people on hand to witness the boarder closing each day and the bleachers erected on at least one side of the boarder indicate that this has become an institution and a tourist destination.

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