28 February 2009

- Andrew Sullivan Thinks Taxes Are Punishment -

Key quote
I came from a modest background in another country and arrived in the US with barely a cent of my own money. I've worked hard and earned the American dream - and now have to work for the government for well over half the year (a government that still persecutes me for being an HIV-survivor). Obama will take more of my money - and much, much more in the future. Liberalism believes in punishing hard-working successful people in this manner - and the more you succeed, the more they will punish you.

Me, I always thought taxes were a responsibility. Thinking of taxes as punishment is just weird, and it distracts you from evaluating whether those taxes are being spent responsibly.

- Product Placement -

Gail Collins on how advertising is beginning to infiltrate the content on TV:
Lines we never even bothered to think of as lines are being crossed. Last summer in Las Vegas, the anchors on the local Fox station started delivering the news with two prominently placed cups of McDonald’s iced coffee in front of them. A spokesperson called it a “nontraditional revenue source.”It’s only a matter of time before TV reporters conclude interviews with disaster victims by asking if they wouldn’t like a refreshing glass of V-8.

As Collins notes, this stuff has been going on in the movies for a good long time, and when we run around happily emblazoned with corporate advertising on t-shirts, hats and so forth, it's hard to get see the downfall of modern civilization in the display of two cups of McDonald's iced coffee. And really would offering a glass of V-8 be so much more tacky than asking the disaster victims how they felt...

24 February 2009

- Or You May Go Splat! -

Andrew Sullivan writes:
I will be candid and say my own fear is that the stimulus, although cushioning the worst, may also extend the pain by softening the landing. Sometimes, you get a bigger bounce from a hard landing.

Assuming the hard landing doesn't kill you.

18 February 2009

- Making the Grade -

The NY Times has an article on grade expectations. Key student quote:
If someone goes to every class and reads every chapter in the book and does everything the teacher asks of them and more, then they should be getting an A like their effort deserves. If your maximum effort can only be average in a teacher’s mind, then something is wrong.

To which I respond: perhaps you possess only average talent in the topic at hand. I think this is one of the great challenges we face: we as a culture apparently believe that people should be able to excel (rather than simply succeed) through hard work alone. It's a nice idea, with egalitarian roots, and work can in fact get you a long way (all the way to competence and success!), but I wonder if we do in fact want to conflate competency and excellence. For if we fail to make the distinction, merit has no place, and without merit, the choice among the competent is merely political: whoever has the influence (usually the money) will get the nod.

Our culture does have a realm where we make this distinction effortlessly, namely, athletics: everyone who has participated in sports knows that you can work your butt off, do everything the coach tells you to, and yet never be anything more than a mediocre performer. We might extend this analogy to the classroom, taking the teacher to be either a personal trainer or a coach. The teacher has two two primary responsibilities: (a) to facilitate your acquisition of knowledge and the development of your native talent in the area of the course content; and (b) to grade performance with respect to the standards of the discipline (competency) and with respect to your peers. As in sports, there will always be cases where native talent wins out over hard work.

The comparison to athletics is apt in another sense: as in sports, you have to do the work if you want to improve; the coach can tell you what to do, but he or she can't do the work for you.

17 February 2009

- Thrill Ride on Principle -

In both California and Kansas, the GOP seems willing to run the state off a cliff. I'm really fascinated by the politics of this and who is going to end up taking the blame. Of course, it's easy for me to be fascinated (rather than appalled) since I don't live in those states....

14 February 2009

- Rich Analogy -

I liked the analogy Frank Rich makes in this quote:
This G.O.P., a largely white Southern male party with talking points instead of ideas and talking heads instead of leaders, is not unlike those “zombie banks” that we’re being asked to bail out. It is in too much denial to acknowledge its own insolvency and toxic assets. Given the mess the country is in, it would be helpful to have an adult opposition that could pull its weight, but that’s not the hand America has been dealt.

04 February 2009

- Is Cheney Relevant? -

Sullivan on Cheney:
He hunkers down to play the Dolchstoss card, preparing to blame the next terror attack on the Obama administration's disavowal of his torture program. It seems to me that regardless of the merits or demerits of his view, it's a remarkable violation of civil norms for a vice-president just out of power to assault his successors and all-but declare them indifferent to public safety. It's deeply divisive, deeply partisan and utterly self-serving. In other words: as cheap as one would expect. And part of what ails conservatism. Yes, they seem to be rooting for failure at home and abroad, because it would help vindicate their own appalling record on both fronts.

Think of Cheney and Limbaugh as the two centers of gravity for the current GOP. A deeply unserious and deeply disturbing pincer movement against the democratic mandate of the new president.

My question: does anybody listen to Cheney any more? Even if something does happen, would any one give Cheney any credence now that he has no power? Personally, I doubt it. The problem: Cheney takes himself far too seriously. Limbaugh, on the other hand, is much more worrisome—even as he is also, as Andrew nicely puts it, "deeply unserious," which is also why he continues to have the power and leverage to matter.

02 February 2009

- Google Books -

Speaking of Google Books: I actually love the service, even if for many books not all of the pages are available. It was a definite boon when I was tracking down quotations for my latest project. I could just type in a representative portion of the quotation, and, voilà, in about 80% of the cases, the quotation would pop up. No need to run to the library; no need to run to my study!

Yes, of course, I should have kept notes as to where the quotations came from in the first place. But the nature of the project was such that at first it was not going to use citation by page number. Only later was it decided that we would in fact use regular citations, and that meant tracking down page numbers for something like 300 notes. I think Google Books cut the amount of time by at least a factor of 10.

- On Being the Road -

Google wants to be it:
Eben Moglen, a law professor at Columbia and a free-culture advocate, puts it this way: if the fight over digitization of books is like horse-and-buggy makers against car manufacturers, Google wants to be the road.

09 December 2008

- Selling the Seat -

Talk about being brazen, and, well, not very smart.

Not exactly what the Democrats need at the moment...