August 6, 2012, 7:33 pm
In the arresting words of an Atlantic headline, ”We Now Have Our Smallest Government in 45 Years.” The proportion of government workers in the population is down to where it was in 1968, a decline of about 10 percent from its peak in the year 2000. Since the official end of the Great Recession alone, there are 600,000 fewer folks on government payrolls.
If you’re a fan of Arthur Laffer, whose eponymous curve was the most deceptive geometrical form since the Stars and Bars, and who still enjoys the embrace of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, you ought to rejoice that an immense burden has been lifted off the collective shoulders. If you think that government is a swarm of leeches crying to be chased, this should be wonderful news for the unemployed, not to mention taxpayers whose lifeblood for so many years has been drained into unproductive channels. All the capital…
July 24, 2012, 10:29 am
(via New York Daily News)
He’s dazed. His brow furrows. His blinks are slow in coming. At times his head rolls around. His eyes are vacant. He doesn’t focus—doesn’t appear to, anyway, though at times he seems to be trying to. James E. Holmes appears in court. He looks lost. ”Ordinary” is one word for him. “Unprepossessing” is another. In some moments he seems unfathomably sad. What does he know? What does he think? Does he have any idea where he is, and why?
What does an alleged mass murderer look like? This one looks like this. Nothing extraordinary shows.
There is evil in the story, but none of it is visible. Take away the guns from James E. Holmes and he’s another suffering soul. You could say just another suffering soul.
Take away his guns.
Take away his guns.
July 18, 2012, 1:03 pm
For years, I’ve opposed calls for academic boycotts of Israel. (Here’s one sample and here’s another.) I won’t rehearse all the arguments here. Suffice to say that the life of the mind in universities is irreducibly precious for a deeply challenged civilization that is in so many ways hostile to intellectual life. For all the challenges that universities impose for free thought, all on their own, any decision to restrict academic contacts on any political ground is a case of cutting off a lobe of the brain to spite the face. In a world where many nations impose onerous political conditions on intellectual autonomy, choosing one particular nation’s universities for special opprobrium—especially when discussion in precisely those universities is rambunctious and unimpeded—is flatly wrong.
The State of Israel has just (again) kicked the Palestinians in the head, and demonstrated …
July 13, 2012, 11:47 am
(Photo by Austen Hufford via Flickr/CC)
The subject on which Bill Clinton kept secrets and lied was sex. The subject on which Mitt Romney keeps secrets and lies is money.
There is, first of all, the matter of Romney withholding all his past tax returns but one. Then, in recent days, there is the matter of the degree of responsibility he did or didn’t hold for actions by Bain Capital, which he headed (a fair characterization of a man who was simultaneously Chairman, CEO, and President), between February 1999 and March 2002, when he declared his candidacy for the governorship of Massachusetts. As of this morning, he’s still begging questions from the Boston Globe, including this:
The firm did not respond to Globe questions about why SEC filings show Romney in control of five Bain Capital business…
July 6, 2012, 10:42 am
The foolish and infuriating thing about the American political system is that it is reduced to debating 21st-century problems in an 18th-century vocabulary that has been only modestly modified since then.
The republic was founded by 18th-century minds working with eighteenth-century materials, including eighteenth-century terms and concepts, themselves distilled from the work of earlier minds. They did not yet have 19th- or 20th-century experiences. This is not to find them guilty of anything but human limitation. With the very major exception of slavery, they weren’t especially sinful or stupid. (Of course, it took a bloody civil war to correct that very major exception, as a result of which a series of Constitutional amendments were passed, one of which severely limited the powers of the states forever after—a 19th-century recognition of what was already evident to part of the…
June 26, 2012, 10:32 am
David Brooks, self-hating cosmopolitan, could visit Disneyland and report back that it goes to show that small town virtues are alive.
In the latest installment of his ongoing series on the worthlessness of left-wing cosmopolitanism, the NYT columnist reports today that ”In Europe, the fans are much younger” than in the U.S. In Madrid, they went nuts for Bruce Springsteen. But how could it be that a bunch of Spaniards are screaming themselves hoarse for “Born in the USA”? Madré de Dios! Perhaps it might have something to do with the fact that youth unemployment in Spain is more than 50 percent, and that Springsteen consistently sides with people who live on the wrong side of the tracks, and that he delivers almost four hours a night of nonstop intensity and a power of empathy, solidarity, and universality? But read on. Brooks’s punchline is that the fans of old Europe are cheering…
June 17, 2012, 11:54 am
If I may presume to quote from my last Brainstorm post, journalism is today busy avoiding ideas, and it’s not only ideas about why the universities labor under the burden of bad ideas committed by the economics profession, but ideas about movies and emotions.
Part of what is at least occasionally rewarding about movies is the way they can put ideas to work, can even extract new ideas, or hints of ideas, from apparently hackneyed material, and suggest or invite emotions, not least complex and surprising ones, without announcing them with trumpets. It should be a truism that movies work with images that incarnate emotions, and therefore that it’s interesting to reflect on the ways in which they invite or stretch the moviegoer’s repertories. But in practice, most reviews are content to play with cutesy phrases to ape cutesy sensations.
The last survivors of the dying breed of serious …
June 12, 2012, 1:30 pm
If an unanticipated earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale had just sunk the island of Manhattan, I’d like to think that departments of geology worldwide would be feverishly reexamining their research priorities, curricula, and syllabi. But I have the impression that no such urgency is evident in the profession of economics after most of it resoundingly failed to anticipate the global meltdown of the last decade (and continuing).
Poking around the Web to see who else is interested in this academic default, I came across this February 2012 openDemocracy piece by Philip Mirowski, a historian and philosopher of economics at Notre Dame. Mirowski asks why the economics profession has been so sluggish about reforming itself now that its dismal failure to anticipate the financial meltdown is apparent to everyone but, well, economists. His answers are, in brief: 1. Top economics…
June 5, 2012, 12:28 pm
Wilson (photo at Web site of the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy)
Around 1962, I took James Q. Wilson’s undergraduate course on urban politics and learned a lot about cities, classes, political machines, and reformers. He was an untenured professor just starting out, not yet the prophet of broken windows, long-term incarceration, or genetic determination in human affairs.
Wilson was a fine teacher who demonstrated in lavish detail that corruption had social functions and reformers had human limits. I was fresh to liberal-radical thought, fascinated by human contradiction, and as yet unaware that the perverse consequences of transformative ideals and the futility of reform efforts were themes in which conservatives specialized. The point wasn’t made so crisply until 1993, by Albert O. Hirschman…
June 4, 2012, 10:16 am
I can’t say I understand the lyrics of the recently released video “No Church in the Wild,” but the video pulsates, and what it pulsates to is the allure of riots, riot police, and Molotov cocktails. This is no clunky fringe production by some black bloc kid crashing out of middle school to make a name for himself with a big bang, but an arresting co-production by two of the gargantuan names in hip-hop, Jay-Z and Kanye West, along with Frank Ocean. It’s accrued 3,349,000 views at this writing.
I doubt it’s the lyrics that bring in all those eyeballs. The phrases skitter around like mosquitoes: something about Socrates, something about Jesus, something about lying priests and unbelievers, something about a new religion. There’s cocaine, monogamy, jungle fever. Interpret away, hermeneutics buffs. But the video, directed by Romain Gavras, son of the Greek film director…
May 19, 2012, 10:05 pm
I have no idea whether the three young men in Chicago charged with terrorism-related felonies are guilty as charged. Prosecutors say they are “members” of “the ‘Black Bloc’ group,” which is not so much a group that has members as a shifting population of enragés who take advantage of large demonstrations which they haven’t organized to break things. These are, in general, careless people, like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tom and Daisy, who “smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” Such people exist.
It’s possible that the three being held in Chicago on $1.5 million bond apiece really really intended to throw Molotov cocktails at police stations, police cars, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s house and Barack Obama’s campaign headquarters, and…
May 7, 2012, 5:05 pm
James Madison, rabble-rouser in chief? (Portrait from Wikipedia)
It’s now routine for police to disperse Occupy encampments, to confine demonstrators inside metal fences, corral them in plastic, and sequester them in “free speech zones” far removed from gatherings they want to influence, or denounce, or otherwise communicate with or about. Public spaces are treated as if they belong to the government, to be doled out by the spoonful, and not to the people, even though the First Amendment is quite explicit that what is forbidden is “abridging…the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
In 1791 (originalists, please note), the right to assemble was considered important enough to include in the first, foundational supplement to the…
April 30, 2012, 10:39 am
A gang of dangerous youth obstructing the efficient functioning of the educational apparatus (Flickr Commons)
The ghost of Clark Kerr moans and rattles its chains, reminding us how the University of California, in its majesty, acquired a reputation for disrespect of democratic citizenship almost half a century ago, when it tried to turn the Berkeley campus into a politics-free zone. Now, courtesy of Maryan Monalisa Gharavi at The New Inquiry, comes the following travel alert from the University’s Office of the President, sent to all campuses to alert anyone traveling to cities where big May Day demonstrations are expected May 1 (my boldface, their brass):
Advice: Confirm business appointments for May 1st. Allow additional time for ground transportation near protest sites. Avoid all…
April 16, 2012, 12:00 pm
(Photo by Flickr/CC user DJ-Dwayne)
After the least wintry winter in memory, Tennessee seems to have been brain-fried into cloud-cuckoo land.
On March 19, the legislature in its wisdom mandated climate-change denial in the state’s K-12 science education curriculum. The Assembly voted 70-23 and the Senate, 24-8. The Tennessee law matches a model called, of course, the Environmental Literacy Improvement Act, promoted by ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council to
• Provide a range of perspectives presented in a balanced manner.
• Provide instruction in critical thinking so that students will be able to fairly and objectively evaluate scientific and economic controversies.
• Be presented in language appropriate for education rather than for propagandizing.
April 15, 2012, 9:40 am
When the Michigan legislature returns from recess next week, and votes funds for higher education (far more meager than they used to be, but never mind), it will vote on Section 273a, passed by the House Appropriations Subcommittee, which, according to the Lansing State Journal, reads:
It is the intent of the legislature that a public university that receives funds in section 236 shall not collaborate in any manner with a nonprofit worker center whose documented activities include coercion through protest, demonstration, or organization against a Michigan business.
If this seems a rather precisely targeted prohibition, it is. The Lansing State Journal explains:
During the 2010-11 academic year, a social work graduate student from the University of Michigan who was part of a program to “train committed specialists in community-based work” did a field placement with a Detroit…
April 2, 2012, 5:31 pm
I don’t know about you, but I’m immensely relieved that a 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court has just held that
(a) a person’s right to his or her person is inviolable
(b) “Congress shall make no law respecting…the right of the people freely to assemble, and to petition the government for redress of grievances”
(c) “officials may strip-search people arrested for any offense, however minor, before admitting them to jails even if the officials have no reason to suspect the presence of contraband.”
As you guessed, the correct answer is (c). Glad we’ve gotten that straight now. The author of the decision, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy,
joined by the court’s conservative wing, wrote that courts are in no position to second-guess the judgments of correctional officials who must consider not only the possibility of smuggled weapons and drugs but also public health and information…
March 13, 2012, 4:32 pm
According to the NYT, a report by the inspector general of the Department of Housing and Urban Development concludes:
Managers at major banks ignored widespread errors in the foreclosure process, in some cases instructing employees to adopt make-believe titles and speed documents through the system despite internal objections. … Managers were aware of the problems and did nothing to correct them. The shortcuts were directed by managers in some cases. …“I believe the reports we just released will leave the reader asking one question — how could so many people have participated in this misconduct?” David Montoya, the inspector general of the housing department, said in a statement. “The answer — simple greed.”
As at Wells Fargo, employees at JPMorgan Chase took on titles like “vice president of Chase Home” even though “the titles were given by Chase for…
March 6, 2012, 11:28 pm
Congratulations to Rick Santorum for saying out loud what a lot of other right-wingers believe but haven’t quite had the temerity to say:
I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college, because of their indoctrination mills, absolutely … The indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country…. 62 percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it.
The evidence for said indoctrination is nonexistent, so far as I can make out. Santorum declined to specify where he got the 62 percent figure. In a subsequent NYT op-ed piece, the sociologist Neil Gross roundly refuted Santorum’s general claim:
Contrary to conservative rhetoric, studies show that going to college does not make students substantially more liberal. The political scientist Mack Mariani and the higher education researcher Gordon Hewitt analyzed…
February 18, 2012, 5:35 pm
It’s hard to be piercingly heterodox when heterodoxy is the culture’s orthodoxy—heterodoxy of a certain sort, anyway. Heterodoxy is not inherently instructive, accurate, or interesting. It’s pure reaction. If you tell a small child to be quiet and he yammers more loudly, his rebellion is a form of bondage. It’s hopelessly tethered to what it rejects. It’s wholly predictable and adds no value. It’s provocation whose point is to provoke, but not for any particular reason other than provocation itself. It’s reverse-the-sign heterodoxy—change the plus sign to minus, or vice versa. If conventional opinion condemns al-Qaeda and you defend them because the imperialists attack them, you’re a useless idiot. Much of the worst thinking of the last century has been of this form.
Bill Maher has on occasion made trenchant objections to orthodoxies of the moment, and last fall did herald…
February 12, 2012, 11:38 am
The front page of today’s Times, in one of a series of fine analytical reports that have cropped up in the wake of Occupy Wall Street (but, to be fair, might well have been in the works anyway), points directly to the dishonesty of the You’re-On-Your-Own, Social Darwinist orthodoxy that wholly owns the Republican Party and buffaloes non-Republicans too. The headline: ”Even Critics of Safety Net Increasingly Depend on It.”
This piece is full of illuminations. A few are here:
[T]he poorest households no longer receive a majority of government benefits. A secondary mission has gradually become primary: maintaining the middle class from childhood through retirement. The share of benefits flowing to the least affluent households, the bottom fifth, has declined from 54 percent in 1979 to 36 percent in 2007, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis published last year.