Archive for July 2012

Don’t (Diss) Party Like It’s 1999….

July 31, 2012

The other day I posted on Mann and Ornstein’s It’s Even Worse Than It Looks. I’m just about through that book, and I’ll do a direct follow-up in a day or so.  But here I want to take issue for a moment with a really powerful work that I finished reading on Saturday, Chris Hedges’ and  Joe Sacco’s Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt.

That’s a riveting book, an important one, and I commend it to you all.  You can’t read it without being radicalized, in a good way.  Hedges and Sacco travel to the most destroyed, exploited, misery-infused places in the United States and document both wrecked lives and those lived in opposition to the various arrangements of power that have extracted the last scrap of cash out of their communities.  If ever there were a document that drove home the need for a true transformation in the relationship of our government to private capital, this is it.

There’s a corollary to the stories Hedges and Sacco deliver:  in their telling it becomes clear that the government we have is complicit with the particular individuals and/or corporations that have wrought and continue to wreak havoc on the people they encounter.  And so, near the end of his text, Hedges writes this:

We must stop being afraid.  We have to turn our backs for good on the Democrats, no matter what ghoulish candidate the Republicans offer up for President. All the public disputes between candidates in the election cycle are a carnival act.  On the issues that matter there is no disagreement among the Republicans and the Democrats.

Bullshit.  Pure and deadly dangerous nonsense.

Tell that to Caleb Medley.  The status quo will most likely — and the Republican health care plan would definitely leave him, his wife and his newborn daughter in debt peonage for the rest of their lives. Obamacare, though it leaves much yet to be done, would not.  That matters deeply at least to the ~30 million Americans who now lack health coverage, but will get it, if and only if Obama wins re-election

Tell that to any woman who believes that they have agency over their own bodies (and all the men who agree with them, of course), who have to confront rulings like this one.  This matters really to all Americans, I would say, but surely at least to that (slightly) larger half that possess two Xs.

Tell it to all those who got stiffed by their credit card company, and actually are going to get some payback, thank you very much — thanks to something only a Democratic President and Congress would have approved, and the GOP is still actively trying to kill.  That one case alone translates into stolen money returned to two million Americans, which is nothing to sneeze at, and which would not occur under a Republican regime.

And there’s more, of course, all issues that matter in for-real, tangible ways to lots and lots of people.  No arbitrarily begun and ended list of accomplishments or crucial acts of opposition can capture the full impact of the choice to be made here.

Sure, it’s true, monied interests buy stakes in both parties.  But it is also true that not all those with resources are the same, and a party that depends on the Kochs and the Adelson’s of the world is demonstrably worse than one that doesn’t.  What’s more: one that is capable of appointing judges who, for example, know that Citizens United was a crock — not to mention health care reform and all the other quite remarkable list of Obama legislative victories — is not the lesser of two evils but is rather an unequivocal (if not unmixed) good.

And anyway — if we are in our defiant moral certainty must reject the Democrats as being insufficiently less evil than the GOP, what do Hedges and Sacco think we should do to advance the cause of of all those who so clearly need real change?  Hedges again:

We have to defy all formal systems of power.  We have to create monastic enclaves where we can retain and nurture the values being rapidly destroyed by the wider corporate culture and build the mechanisms of self-sufficient that will allow us to survive.

I’ve not edited either of the two passages quoted above.  In the text, they form a single paragraph, running from the bottom of page 266 through the top of 267.  So really that’s it:  in the face of all the ills of the American present he and Sacco have so powerfully documented, and facing the potential catastrophes of its near-future, Hedges would have us head for the hills, pace our cloisters and tend our gardens, secure in the purity of a life lived in seclusion, day following day according to whatever rule to which we submit.

To hell with society; to hell with the very fellow citizens whose awful circumstances Hedges and Sacco have spent 260 pages making real for their readers.  Let it all go down while we seek a “survival” that seems to me to be merely acquiescing in loss.

Don’t get me wrong.  Almost all the way through Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt is a hugely courageous book, and I have no doubt of the bravery, moral and physical, of its two authors — in excess of mine, I have no doubt.  In fact, most of the last thoughts of the book belie what Hedges has written here. For example, he sees in the Occupy movement a real possibility for useful action.

But here, this call to inaction is to me worse than an error.  This election counts.  The differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are real.  There are consequential differences in the America and the world my son will inhabit that will come down to what happens on November 6 — and of course, what happens after, what we do to inside and outside the conventional power apparatus to force the change whose necessity Hedges and Sacco make crystal clear.

Do not party, or Party, as if it were 1999.  It’s 2012, and there is a decision to be made.

Images:  Elihu Vedder, Corrupt Legislation, mural in the lobby to the main reading room, Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Bldg. 1896.

Edmund Körner, In the Convent Library, c. 1910

Friends Can’t Let Friends Vote Republican

July 29, 2012

I believe I mentioned before that I’m celebrating my release from academic administration by trying to read a library.  I’ve been focusing on recent books, and I’m on a mini-run of political books.  In that context I’ve recently finished Chris Hayes Twilight of the Elites — I have some nitpicks, but much more admiration, and I hope to blog about it soon; Christopher Hedges and Joe Sacco’s Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt — again some disagreement, but a must read nontheless.

Along the way I’ve been looking at some books calculated to raise my blood pressure in other ways — Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion — which I found to be not really worth bothering to argue with (such an embarassing display of poor historiography)! I’ve also  been dipping into Charles Murray’s Coming Apart, which combines an insight he shares with Hayes and a commitment to a prior conclusion that drives his core argument spectacularly off target.*  Still, it’s useful to get some sense of how the other side thinks and argues.

I do hope — I’d say plan, but I’ve learned how regularly day job stuff rises to intervene — to blog about at least some of these down the road. But I’ve just started the next book in the programme, Thomas E. Man and Norman J. Ornstein’s It’s Even Worse Than It Looks. 

Right away — in the introduction — I came across a paragraph that sums up, in the most economical form yet, what’s really at stake 100 days from now.  So let me turn this post over to them, and let y’all draw the obvious inference about what to do between now and November 6:

The second [of two sources of dysfunction in current American politics] is the fact that, however awkward it may be for the traditional press and nonpartisan analysts to acknowledge, one of the two major parties, the Republican Party, has become an insurgent outlier — ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence, and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy  of its political opposition.  When one party moves this far from the center of American politics, it is extremely difficult to enact policies responsive to the country’s most pressing challenges.

I’d quibble with only a couple of words there.

I’d say the party has moved fromright of American politics over the last decade.  It took off from  the center in 1980 or so.  And “extremely difficult?”  Try, on the evidence that Mann and Ornstein go on to present in their first chapter (as far as I’ve gotten), “impossible.”

As I say.  Quibbles.  As a matter of sense, this is right on — made the more potent given who writes it: not a DFH like yours truly, but truly seasoned, deeply centrist, long term observers of the institutions of American politics.

More to the point:  there is no such thing as a good Republican candidate anymore, at any level.  Your city councilmember, your state rep., your congressional representative as individuals could be reasonable, smart, caring, trying to reform this failed party from within.  Mitt Romney himself may seem to the more credulous among our media elite to be a more thoughtful and moderate man than he is a candidate. (If you are truly credulous, or simply a hack, you may even bet on Romney’s “secret plan” to fix the economy.)

None of that matters.  “Good” Republicans are mere useful idiots, providing scraps of cover for the radical authoritarians wielding the real power.  The party is committed to public policy stance that is destructive, both of American prospects and those of folks all around the world.  They must be driven so far from the political arena as to be destroyed, until whatever emerges from its wreckage, even if it persists in operating under the label “Republican” is utterly transformed from the catastrophic clown show we now watch in horror.

Factio Grandaeva Delenda Est.

Oh — and one last thing.   There are, I know, lots of flaws one can point to in the Obama administration.  There are plenty of warts on the Congressional Democratic caucus.  But the two parties are not the same and the consequences of getting it wrong this time are simply huge.  The politics of purity may be satisfying, but this time around such delicate sensibilities are a luxury we simply cannot afford.

And a very cheerful Sunday to you too.

*That would be — in cartoon form — his understanding of the way elites and the rest of (white) us now exist in geographical and social isolation, joined to his libertarian mandated conclusion that the obstacle to lower class advance is a cultural rather than a political or economic issue.  And while from within the assumptions of his project I can follow his argument as to why he focuses solely on white America, reading of Hedges and Sacco, for one example, makes it clear how doing is part of what allows Murray to ignore the ways in which can’t account for the economic and social outcomes he seeks to explain

Image: Thomas Cole: The Course of Empire: Desolation, 1836.

The Real Problem: England Is Not The Right Height.

July 26, 2012

Thanks to Joshua Keating, posting over at Foreign Policy, we learn what Romney really, truly thinks of his current hosts (h/t Atrios):

England [sic] is just a small island. Its roads and houses are small. With few exceptions, it doesn’t make things that people in the rest of the world want to buy. And if it hadn’t been separated from the continent by water, it almost certainly would have been lost to Hitler’s ambitions. Yet only two lifetimes ago, Britain ruled the largest and wealthiest empire in the history of humankind. Britain controlled a quarter of the earth’s land and a quarter of the earth’s population.

That’s from his increasingly ironically titled book, No Apology.

Well, (a), Suck On This, Mr. Mitt:

Top that with some steroidally swollen MacMansion in Malibu, you unctuous, climbing, nouveau slime-doggy*

And (b): Mitt shouldn’t worry about apologizing to foreigners for America; if what we’ve seen just in a few hours is any guide, he’ll have a months long (at least) backlog of personal sorries to deliver by next Tuesday.

Oddly, I think I’ve got to start reading Mitt’s golden prose soon.  I’ll tell you all why after I’m done with it….

Bonus Romney allegorical image:

*”Slime-doggy” is an insult directed at Arnie in some otherwise long forgotten episode of L.A. Law. I have for years longed to fling it at just the right target.  I feel….satisfied.

Update:  Via the Guardian’s live blog of Mitt gaffes I learn (first) that John Podhoretz, of all people, has started to pile on:

Romney in London. Come on. We needed this. It’s a little comic relief. Kind of like Mr. Bean, only he’s an American.

As the Guardian has it that would be would-be-President Bean to you proles…not exactly the image sought at the first dance of a candidate’s foreign policy debutantant ball.

And then there’s the genially oafish Tory Boris Johnson at the torch lighting ceremony, taking the piss out of Mitt in front of a live audience of zillions and a broadcast viewership of gazillions:

I hear there’s a guy called Mitt Romney who wants to know whether we’re ready. Are we ready?

Some guy.

That’s gotta hurt.

Images:  Jones’ Views of the Seats, Mansions, Castles Etc. of Noblemen and Gentlemen, View of Blenheim Palace, 1829.

Jan Prost, Death and the Miser, before 1529.

Some Advice For Mr. Romney

July 25, 2012

Because we are a full service blog, and more, because we are a generous and giving community, it seems only fitting to offer our cyborg brother W. M. Romney some useful counsel on his travels abroad.

Because we are snark-filled sacks of vitriolic sloth, we outsource this task to Oliver Burkman over at the Grauniad‘s shop:

First things first: the statistical probability is that any given member of the public you meet while in Britain will be British. This should make things considerably easier when it comes to your penchant for guessing randomly, and frequently wrongly, the nationalities of people you encounter. (“His favourite guess for nationality is French-Canadian.”) At the Olympic Games opening ceremony, by contrast, you’re likely to encounter many more non-British people. Small-talk topics to avoid with them include: a) whether or not they share an Anglo-Saxon heritage; and b) claiming to be familiar with the culture of their small island nation because you have several hundred million dollars in a bank account there.

There’s more at the link.  Enjoy.

Oh — and I suppose this qualifies for what all you perhaps insufficiently Anglo-Saxon types would call an open thread.

Toodle-oo.

Update: A bonus video to help our  Mitt as attempts to penetrate the mysteries of Anglitude:

Image:  Zhang Lu,  A Traveler Contemplates a Waterfall, between 1500 and 1525.

Q: Iz Tom Friedman Learning?

July 25, 2012

A:  No.

When last we checked in on the moustache of wisdom, we learned the real reason we should start a war with Iraq.

One would have thought that would be the end of Tom Friedman as someone anyone could take seriously.  Hell, it should have been the start of the time people spat on the sidewalk as he passed them by.

But, of course, because we have been so well and benevolently led by our elites, Tom of the Married Fortune and Unmerited Influence continues to opine about the sacrifice and loss others should undertake in the service of his worldview.

Exhibit A:

And Iraq was such a bitter experience for America that we prefer never to speak of it again. But Iraq is relevant here. The only reason Iraq has any chance for a decent outcome today is because America was on the ground with tens of thousands of troops to act as that well-armed midwife, reasonably trusted and certainly feared by all sides, to manage Iraq’s transition to more consensual politics. My gut tells me that Syria will require the same to have the same chance.

 

A little fisking seems in order.

And Iraq was such a bitter experience for America that we prefer never to speak of it again.

You don’t.  We do.  Why? 

Because adults (and lots of children, in fact) understand that the best way to avoid repeating colossal f*ck ups is to try to understand what went wrong.  You know, talk about how we got into that war (lookin’ at you, little Tommie) how we planned for the post-combat phase (lookin’ at you George W. Bush and all your feckless minions) understanding the full weight of the losses incurred both by the US and the Iraqis we sought to liberate from oppression (in the best but certainly not an exclusive reading of our mission).  It would be useful to have some real inquiry into what fighting that war on those justifications did to the US, both in terms of human and material loss, and in terms of the damage done to our polity and society.  We used to be able to say that torture was everywhere and always illegal. Not anymore, bro…..Hell you get the idea.

Tom Friedman has an obvious motive to cry silence on the Iraq war; otherwise, his unblemished record of wrong — and of abject moral failure — would continue to get trotted out for a look-see.  As here.

The only reason Iraq has any chance for a decent outcome today is because America was on the ground with tens of thousands of troops.

Counterfactual not in evidence. “The only reason?”  Could sanctions have worked?  Could a Libya style involvement have been possible.  What about creating an independent Kurdistan in the north and starting from there?  I’m not saying any of these things would work, or even were plausibly good ideas at the time — but the “only reason” trope exists only to crush the possibility of argument over a claim that can’t be tested.  Gutless reasoning in other words.

And then there is the carefully worded phrase “any chance for a decent outcome.”

Begs the question, don’t it? How much of a chance do you need for a war of choice to have been justified on any interest calculation?  And what are those chances anyway?  From Friedman’s own employer:

BAGHDAD — Al Qaeda in Iraq carried out one of the most coordinated and baldly sectarian series of attacks in years on Monday, aiming for Shiite targets with car bombs, checkpoint ambushes, and assaults on a military base and police officers in their homes in an offensive that its leadership appeared to equate with the Sunni-led uprising in neighboring Syria.

The offensive, coming in the early days of Ramadan, the monthlong religious rite of fasting by day and feasting by night, was without precedent over the past few years, at least in the sheer number of attacks, spread over so many locations in a third of Iraq’s 18 provinces, from north to south.

It raised new concerns about the government’s ability to contain the violence, six months after the last American troops left the country following more than eight years of occupation and civil war that upended Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led minority power base and empowered Iraq’s long-repressed Shiite majority.

“I think Al Qaeda in Iraq made a big joke of the government and the Iraqi security forces,” said Khalid Fadel, a military analyst and former instructor at the Iraqi Military College. “They were so clear that they were going to launch attacks during Ramadan, and the government said that they have information of about 30 terrorist groups entering the country, but still the security forces are unable to prevent the attacks.”

Look.  Maybe Friedman is right for once, though nothing in past performance suggests that I should count on anything but the triumph of hope over experience.  It would indeed be great if all that price paid in Iraq by all parties did create a foundation for peaceful social and public life in that country. (Though again, it’s important to remember Friedman’s classic mission creep.  Success is here defined not as t meeting our own pre-conflict objectives, the ambition to assert a Pax Americana in the Middle East and in the prevention of terrorist attacks, but rather by our i serving some grand missionary role to bring democracy to the great unwashed.)  But  in the face of the ongoing civil strife In Iraq, it’s simple counterfactual folly to argue that the US intervention in Iraq can be held up as successful.

Onwards!…and a little detour.

Check out this phrase:

America was on the ground with tens of thousands of troops to act as that well-armed midwife

It’s possible to be a bad writer and a good thinker, though that’s a trick that’s harder than it looks.  But it continues to amaze me just how brutal an abuser of the English language is Tom Friedman.  Think of  all the richness of imagery and allusion of which the language is capable, and wonder at the epithet “that well armed midwife.”  It’s going to take some time before I can get the image of the US as a woman bending over the baby Jesus’s birthing table (see above), M-16 at her hip.  Shakespeare wept!

Wait! There’s more.  Friedman characterizes the US in Iraq as

reasonably trusted and certainly feared by all sides

WTF?  Were we ever trusted by any side?  This is just wishful rewriting of the actual skein of conflict in Iraq.  Pure nonsense.  This is Friedman telling himself what he wants — really has — to believe in  order not to see an imbecile with blood on his hands everytime he looks in a mirror.

And now to Fisk’s end:

My gut tells me that Syria will require the same to have the same chance.

Your gut?  Your F*cking Gut! Jesus, Mary and the mule, dude, only connect the dots for once in your life!

Your gut…

…is the least reliable organ of sense since Tatiana beheld Bottom.

No one — and I mean absolutely no human being with a capacity for reason above that of a ficus — cares about your indigestion.  If you don’t have anything better to base your opinion on, Shut. The. Hell. Up.

To be fair to a man who still sports the least convincing porn ‘stache in public life, Friedman in this column does admit that American intervention in Syria isn’t going to happen.  He concees, several paragraphs below the one dissected above that Iraq is not IRL a satisfactorily emerging democracy.  And he even recognizes that the situation in Syria is beyond our control, and unlikely to meet our desires.

But such moments of hungover clarity don’t count for much with me in a column so soaked with nostalgia for the time when the Friedmans of our governing class could tell the world to “suck on this,” and the US would send in the troops  in the service of middle-aged men’s fantasies.

Channeling my inner Brad DeLong:  why oh why can’t we have a better press corps?

Image:  Lorenzo Lotto, The Birth of Jesus, 1527-28.

Michiel Jansz van Mierevelt, The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Willem van der Meer, 1617.

 

 

Anatomy of a Zombie Lie…

July 23, 2012

Within less than a day of the Aurora shootings, a BJ reader sent me word of the absolutely predictable gun-nut push to claim that guns prevent more crime/save more lives than gun-use takes.

We’ve seen plenty of that in the days since, with the blame-the-victim, where-are-our-John-Waynes trope getting its usual airing, as it always does after such tragedies.

I wrote on this topic after the Gabrielle Giffords tragedy referencing some of the actual research that shows, over and over again that more guns = more gun tragedy.  Go check it out if you want to be further depressed by the American gun-fetish eternal return of the same pathology.

Here I just want to deal with one zombie lie — the one my BJ correspondent passed on to me:

Guns used 2.5 million times a year in self-defense. Law-abiding citizens use guns to defend themselves against criminals as many as 2.5 million times every year — or about 6,850 times a day. This means that each year, firearms are used more than 80 times more often to protect the lives of honest citizens than to take lives.

That’s from a “factsheet” produced by Gun Owners of America.  GOA helpfully footnotes the two sentences above, claiming independent scholarly support for the claim, which, they assert, is backed up by official federal government research:

Even the Clinton Justice Department (through the National Institute of Justice) found there were as many as 1.5 million defensive users of firearms every year. See National Institute of Justice, “Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms,” Research in Brief (May 1997).

And your guns shall set you free, I guess.

But wait just a minute.

One of the things we do at the MIT Graduate Program in Science Writing in which I have the honor to teach is to make sure that our students develop a nose for funny numbers.  Your olfactory neurons should be firing pretty hard right now.  2.5 million instances of gun defense? 1 for every 12 120 or so US citizens, infants at the breast, gaffers spooning their soup and all and sundry in between?Almost 7,000 a day, and nary a mention on the nightly news? No blog of “Real American Heroes” or some such?

But what the hell.  It’s documented, right?

Right – by a study from 1994, confirmed, allegedly, by a US government-sponsored analysis in 1997.  So let’s do something radical. Let’s read the referenced material.  Here’s the relevant passage from “Guns in America…[pdf]:”

Private citizens sometimes use their guns to scare off trespassers and fend off assaults. Such defensive gun uses (DGUs) are sometimes invoked as a measure of the public benefits of private gun ownership. On the basis of National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) data, one would conclude that defensive uses are rare indeed, about 108,000 per year. But other surveys yield far higher estimates of the number of DGUs. Most notable has been a much publicized estimate of 2.5 million DGUs, based on data from a 1994 telephone survey conducted by Florida State University professors Gary Kleck and Mark Gertz. [the study the GOA "factsheet" references in its claim]  The 2.5 million figure has been picked up by the press and now appears regularly in newspaper articles, letters to the editor, editorials, and even Congressional Research Service briefs for public policymakers.

The NSPOF survey is quite similar to the Kleck and Gertz instrument and provides a basis for replicating their estimate. Each of the respondents in the NSPOF was asked the question, “Within the past 12 months, have you yourself used a gun, even if it was not fired, to protect yourself or someone else, or for the protection of property at home, work, or elsewhere?” Answers in the affirmative were followed with “How many different times did you use a gun, even if it was not fired, to protect yourself or property in the past 12 months?” Negative answers to the first DGU question were followed by “Have you ever used a gun to defend yourself or someone else?” (emphasis in original). Each respondent who answered yes to either of these DGU questions was asked a sequence of 30 additional questions concerning the most recent defensive gun use in which the respondent was involved, including the respondent’s actions with the gun, the location and other circumstances of the incident, and the respondent’s relationship to the perpetrator.

Forty-five respondents reported a defensive gun use in 1994 against a person (exhibit 7). Given the sampling weights, these respondents constitute 1.6 percent of the sample and represent 3.1 million adults. Almost half of these respondents reported multiple DGUs during 1994, which provides the basis for estimating the 1994 DGU incidence at 23 million. This surprising figure is caused in part by a few respondents reporting large numbers of defensive gun uses during the year; for example, one woman reported 52! [That's once a week, for those of you keeping score at  home. Even if you're living in a truly bad neighborhood, that's impressively bad luck as far as being targetted by crime goes.--ed.]

A somewhat more conservative NSPOF estimate is shown in the column of exhibit 7 that reflects the application of the criteria used by Kleck and Gertz to identify “genuine” defensive gun uses. Respondents were excluded on the basis of the most recent DGU description for any of the following reasons: the respondent did not see a perpetrator; the respondent could not state a specific crime that was involved in the incident; or the respondent did not actually display the gun or mention it to the perpetrator.

Applying those restrictions leaves 19 NSPOF respondents (0.8 percent of the sample), representing 1.5 million defensive users. This estimate is directly comparable to the well-known estimate of Kleck and Gertz, shown in the last column of exhibit 7. While the NSPOF estimate is smaller, it is statistically plausible that the difference is due to sampling error. Inclusion of multiple DGUs reported by half of the 19 NSPOF respondents increases the estimate to 4.7 million DGUs.

Some troubling comparisons. If the DGU numbers are in the right ballpark, millions of attempted assaults, thefts, and break-ins were foiled by armed citizens during the 12- month period. According to these results, guns are used far more often to defend against crime than to perpetrate crime. (Firearms were used by perpetrators in 1.07 million incidents of violent crime in 1994, according to NCVS data.)

Thus, it is of considerable interest and importance to check the reasonableness of the NSPOF estimates before embracing them. Because respondents were asked to describe only their most recent defensive gun use, our comparisons are conservative, as they assume only one defensive gun use per defender. The results still suggest that DGU estimates are far too high.

For example, in only a small fraction of rape and robbery attempts do victims use guns in self-defense. It does not make sense, then, that the NSPOF estimate of the number of rapes in which a woman defended herself with a gun was more than the total number of rapes estimated from NCVS (exhibit 8). For other crimes listed in exhibit 8, the results are almost as absurd: the NSPOF estimate of DGU robberies is 36 percent of all NCVS-estimated robberies, while the NSPOF estimate of DGU assaults is 19 percent of all aggravated assaults. If those percentages were close to accurate, crime would be a risky business indeed!

NSPOF estimates also suggest that 130,000 criminals are wounded or killed by civilian gun defenders. That number also appears completely out of line with other, more reliable statistics on the number of gunshot cases.

The evidence of bias in the DGU estimates is even stronger when one recalls that the DGU estimates are calculated using only the most recently reported DGU incidents of NSPOF respondents; as noted, about half of the respondents who reported a DGU indicated two or more in the preceding year. Although there are no details on the circumstances of those additional DGUs, presumably they are similar to the most recent case and provide evidence for additional millions of violent crimes foiled and perpetrators shot.

…..

The key explanation for the difference between the 108,000 NCVS estimate for the annual number of DGUs and the several million from the surveys discussed earlier is that NCVS avoids the false-positive problem by limiting DGU questions to persons who first reported that they were crime victims. Most NCVS respondents never have a chance to answer the DGU question, falsely or otherwise.

[All bold emphases added by yours truly.]

Sorry for such a long block quote, but there is method to my tl;dr madness.  There is a figure out there that has been enshrined as “fact.” Guns prevent crimes — and in such great numbers as to outweigh any tragedy.  13 dead and 48 wounded?  Sad, but merely sacrifices to the greater good of an armed society…

Except, of course, it isn’t true.  The lie persists because the liars rely (soundly, it appears) on the certainty that almost no one will go back through the literature and see if anything they say is actually, you know, true.  The very piece of government research GOA cites as support explicitly and at length debunks the core claim.  But no matter. Who reads fifteen year old reports anyway?

You do, if you’ve stuck it this far.  Lots of other folks — including media makers — have not, at least as suggested by the persistence of this zombie lit.

And so we permit zombies to continue to suck our brains out, as such lies become public policy fact.  Such failure — the failure of folks within the gun community to speak honestly, and the disastrous failure of the media to report the story clearly and accurately — costs lives.  People die.  Kids die, old folks die, time and again real people, not mere tallies on a false record of those lost against those saved…ripped from their families, their loved ones, their own selves.  We can do better, but we choose not to.

Just to drive that last claim home  let me point you to one study from those cited in my Giffords post referenced above:

PHILADELPHIA – In a first-of its-kind study, epidemiologists at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that, on average, guns did not protect those who possessed them from being shot in an assault. The study estimated that people with a gun were 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not possessing a gun.

I’m not a gun-ownership absolutist.  I don’t think we could (politically) or should remove guns from every hand and every home.  But, as Bernard wrote this morning, there’s a lot of room between such a ban and where we are now — and I’d move a long way through that space of possibility.

Which we can’t, as long as the media permit the gun nuts to lie with impunity. I’ve written before about imposing a strict insurance scheme on gun ownership, and I still think that’s a step that could be made possible over time.  But not that nor any other useful idea while we permit the argument to be hijacked by stuff its partisans know to be so, but isn’t.

Images:  Eugene Delacroix, Liberty Leading the People, 1830

Francisco de Goya, Friar Pedro Shoots El Maragato as His Horse Runs Off, 1806

Annals of Stupidity (Sex in America Edition)

July 22, 2012

Via the Guardian, we learn of the latest act of stupidity in America’s war on sex:

The International Aids conference, held in the US for the first time in 22 years next week, is a chance for the country to celebrate its contribution to HIV and Aids prevention. Yet in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Washington DC, state police forces are stopping, searching and arresting sex workers – and using condoms found on them as evidence to support prostitution charges, undermining decades of HIV and Aids harm reduction work in the process.

Via the Human Rights Watch report that forms the basis of the Guardian piece we learn this:

Police use of condoms as evidence of prostitution has the same effect everywhere: despite millions of dollars spent on promoting and distributing condoms as an effective method of HIV prevention, groups most at risk of infection—sex workers, transgender women, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth—are afraid to carry them and therefore engage in sex without protection as a result of police harassment. Outreach workers and businesses are unable to distribute condoms freely and without fear of harassment as well.

Carrying guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition around town? No problem.  A couple of dozen condoms? Call out the guards!

File this under WASF.

PS:  If you want to read a clear-headed account of sex-work, HIV, and appropriate public health responses, see my friend Elizabeth Pisani’s excellent The Wisdom of Whores. (Go to the right hand column of the website.)  As Elizabeth regularly notes, condoms are hardly a perfect barrier to STD infection, HIV in particular, not least because in real life it turns out to be hard to persuade oneself/one’s partner to use them as needed every time they are needed. That said, condoms from an essential component of a sex-worker’s ability to take direct action on her or his own behalf as she or he goes about a working day (or night).  Creating barriers to their use is both stupid as a public health measure and an unacceptable — I would say, un-American — infringement on an individual’s right and duty to take care of oneself.

Bonus: Video via Elizabeth’s site from condom maker DKT’s home video collection:

<div align=”center”> </div>

(Translation of the caption at the end:  “With a year’s supply of free condoms, any place is the right place.”)

Image:  Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, The ladies in the brothel dining-room, 1893

Why We Fight (Kind of Meta)

July 21, 2012

Attention Conservation notice [w. apologies to Cosma Shalizi, from whom the phrase is stolen]What follows is what in the newspaper business used to be called a thumbsucker  — in this case, yet another way to see the GOP as not just wrong, but so steeped in an error of principle, of worldview, as to be irredeemable.  It’s got a nice anecdote in it, lifted from someone else, but there’s no need to read on if you don’t like such stuff.  Which last is, of course, a PGO of its own.  See:  I’m fractally unnecessary.

______________

I don’t recall an election in which two such strikingly opposite visions not just of the United States, but of human nature, so clearly set the stakes.  Let me get to part of what I see by some indirection:

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, with (thanks to the exceptional luxury of a sabbatical) much more to come.  I’ve started out by trying to catch up on some of the political books I’ve missed recently — and I’ll probably have some thoughts to share about Christopher Hayes’ Twilight of the Elites before long.  I just finished Michael Sandel’s What Money Can’t Buy too, though I found it perfectly interesting, but less compelling than Hayes’ book for a number f reasons.  Still that’s a philosopher’s take on the same problem explored in the book that prompts this post, Virginia Sweet’s God’s Hotel.  

Sweet’s work is a memoir of her doubled journey as a doctor at the last surviving American big city alms house, San Francisco’s Laguna Honda Hospital, and as a scholar trying to understand Hildegard von Bingen’s spiritual and practical approach to her form of medicine.  Sweet’s book has been enthusiastically received, and I can see why, though it didn’t move me in quite the same way it seems to have for some others.  It’s Sweet’s lack of struggle that gets me, I guess; there’s no doubt in my mind she did sweat and suffer over her 20 years caring for the poor, but in recollection the life  unfolds with an easy rhythm, no matter how tumultuous the world around her might be.

That said, though, the core message of the book is that there is a profound difference between health care and medicine, and that we ignore the virtues of the art and practice of medicine at our great cost.  As one of  her reviewers notes, this is a subversive thought:  Medicine is a craft, performed one-on-one, slowly…

…while health care is a commodity, something that can be abstracted and, in a sense, mass-produced:

Sweet doesn’t romanticize much, and she never suggests that she, her patients or anyone should trade modern medicine and its quantifying tools for Hildegard’s actual practice.  But she makes the point a good historian of ideas should: one studies the past not to recreate it, but to understand what its thoughts meant to its thinkers — and then what meaning those same insights may have in the radically different time and place in which the historian lives.  Use Hildegard as a tool to probe what the consequences may be if we commit ourselves to life within Mitt Romney’s vision of America.

In that frame, here’s just a brief passage, in which Sweet describes her even-tempered reaction to the consequences of an infestation of her hospital by the kind of consultants that Romney’s parent firm Bain produces:

Above all, the [consultants'] report said, they’d been amazed by the anachronistic presence of a head nurse on every one of the hospital’s thirty-eight wards.  As far as they could tell, this head nurse did nothing but sit most of the day in  her chair in the nursing station.  She answered the phone, to be sure, and kept the charts tidy; now and again she when out and inspected a patient with one of her nurses.  Also, she made coffee, kept the TV room and lounge neat, organized patients’ birthed parties and in general, did whatever needed to be done. It was a pleasant job [the consultants] observed, helpful, no doubt, but one hundred years after Frederic Taylor’s description of scientific management, and in a time of tightening health-care budgets, such a use of a skilled RN was excessive.  They’d even seen one head  nurse whose only task was knitting.  That’s right, a head nurse who, as far as they could tell, spent all day in her chair at the head of her ward, doing nothing but knitting blankets and booties for her patients.

So their main recommendation was to change the nursing structure at Laguna Honda.  The job of head nurse should be eliminated.  Instead, a new nose manager position should be created, where each nurse manager would be responsible for two wards instead of one.  She would no longer answer the phones, tidy the charts, or help out with patient care.  Rather she would manage the staff…

It was a lesson in the inefficiency of efficiency.  And the best way to explain is to tell you about the head nurse who knit….[hers] was a little-old-lady-ward, with thirty-six little old ladies — white-haired, tiny and old — and sure enough almost everyone one was wrapped in or had on her bed a hand-knit blanket; white and green, white and red, white and yellow.  And there was the head nurse sitting in her chair at the nursing station, answering the phone, fussing with the charts, observing her charges, and knitting one of the few blankets remaining to be done.

I’ve thought a lot about those blankets since the disappearance of the head nurses and their well – run neighborhoods of wards.  About what the blankets meant and what they signified.  And here’s the thing: The blankets made me sit up and take notice.  Made me pay attention. Marked out that head nurse as especially attentive, especially present, especially caring.  It put me and everyone else on notice.

It’s not that the ladies for whom they were knitted appreciated them or even noticed them. Who did notice was — everyone else. Visiting family noticed.  Looking down the center aisle, they saw two rows of little white-haired ladies — their mothers, great-aunts, and sisters — each lady bundled up in a bright, many-colored hand -knit blanket. They also saw that each had makeup on, and her hair done and her nails polished by the nurses who knew that, down at the end of the ward, was the head nurse, knitting. The Russian ambulance drivers noticed, when they rushed onto the ward to pick up one of the ladies…Even the doctors noticed.  The blankets put us all on notice that this was a head nurse who cared.

…those blankets signified even more than attention and caring. The click of that head nurse’s knitting needles was the meditative click of — nothing more to be done.  Although it had seemed to [the consultants] that the head nurse  did nothing except knit, that nothing was, as the Tao says, what the Superior Man does when everything that was supposed to be done has been done.

We did get used to the new system eventually.  The remaining staff learned to answer the phones, tidy the charts, talk to families, help the doctors, survey the ward and support one another at the same tim they were looking on the computer or filling out the forms that the new nurse managers created.  But the new system had a cost.  It was stressful. After the head nurses were cut in half, there were more illnesses and more sick days among the staff; there were more injuries more disabilities, and earlier retirements. Among the patients there war emore falls, more bedsores, more fights, and more tears.  And this, in the broader scheme of things — even economics — is not efficient.

…The [consultants'] report  taught me not only the lesson of the inefficiency of efficiency.  It also taught me the lesson of the efficiency of inefficiency.

Because it wasn’t just the tasks of the head nurse that fell by the wayside with [the] recommendations. It wasn’t even their watchful re-creation of neighborhoods within the village of the hospital.  It was the time they had, the unassigned time, that not only belonged to them but spread itself to all the staff — doctors included. That unassigned time, as inefficient as it seemed to be… turned out to be one of the secret ingredients of Laguna Honda.  With the elimination of the head nurses, so economical on paper, some of that extra time was also eliminated, and with it, some of the mental space to focus and care.  There was, I discovered, a connection between inefficiency and good care…

I don’t want to romanticize here, any more than Sweet does through her long narrative.  To channel my inner Freud, sometimes the old ways of doing stuff really are outmoded.  No one who has recently spent four years in academic administration needs to be reminded of that.

But Sweet’s point is one I’ve been thinking of more and more as each Bain vulture capitalism story makes its way in and out of the Look! Shiny! media narrative.  Sweet mentions that the consultants who got rid of half of the head nurses shifted $2 million in the budget.  They collected $200,000 for their recommendation — an agreed 10% bounty on all “savings” their study produced. They correctly determined an individual inefficiency, and missed, in Sweet’s account, the systemic advantages of what seemed to their analytical framework, their faith, to be an obviously flawed system.

And so it goes throughout the current GOP worldview.  We know that the private sector is the GOP solution to (putative) problems in the public schools [paywall] by selecting the right measurement criteria.  Bobby Jindal can determine the cost of libraries, but not the cost in money or possibility of their loss. The number wins; the uncertain future weighs for nought.  The usual catchphrase for all this is privatizing profit and socializing risk — which is what the GOP seeks for social capital as much as the financial kind.  Hence the stakes of this coming election.

But beyond that pretty familiar notion, what came to front-of-mind as I read Sweet’s story was the reminder, if any were needed that the basic worldview of the two sides in this election are not the same, for all the overlap of interest and elite corruption and all that the circular firing squads of the left can (sometimes accurately) describe. I said this was meta, and it is, and I should probably let y’all get back to your Saturdays.  But behind the consultant’s technical apparatus is a vision of a world of individual action and reaction. Cut here, save the money, Profit!

Taken to the level of politics and national elections, it’s a vision (sic!) of a country best understood as an assemblage of 300 million individuals. Hence, among the adherents of this view, the furor over the suggestion that business folk had any help building their businesses.

If you think that such a view of the lack of connection between one person’s endeavor and the next is the way to educate a population, receive health care in a timely and useful fashion, to innovate, then the GOP is for you.  If you think we live in society in which individuals  gain freedom of opportunity and access to experience supported by the links between the lives of all those 300 million — if you inhabit reality, that is — then we need to destroy the current GOP root and branch, now and for the forseeable future.

Put another way:  we need to recall that I didn’t build this blog…without the internet, without its readers, without…you get the idea. ;)

And that’s enough meandering.  I’ve just finished my next, post-Sweet book in this orgy of reading, Elaine Pagels, Revelations. Interesting, culminating in a very good explanation of what from my perspective I read as the reason Isaac Newton so excoriated what he saw as the theft of Christ’s church by Athanasius, his imperial patrons and his allies.  Not sure what to grab next.  No matter.  What a joy it is to read and read and read…

Images: Jan Steen, The Sick Woman, ​ before 1679.

Max Liebermann, The Canning Factory, ​1879.

 

Dunbar Loved Shooting Skeet: Boring Republican Edition

July 18, 2012

I know DougJ hates (most) process stories, and so do I, usually. Doug calls out one claim in particular, the suggestion that how a campaign operates offers much or any insight into how the candidate would govern.

Again, I think there is some force there.  Being President is not actually a managerial job; if that duty falls to anyone in the White House (as opposed to the departments and other units of the Executive Branch) that’s the job of a the chief of staff.  Bill Clinton couldn’t manage his way out of…well, I’m not going to supply a noun there, I think.  But the government he headed was remarkable effective.  Bush the younger headed (and did not run) a pretty damn good campaign in 2000 — and his administration was crap, leaving aside the policy differences I and pretty much everyone reading this may have.

But even so, at least some of the time the decisions a candidate takes during his campaign and the impact of those choices on how things run does provide some information that is of real use in imagining the presidency to emerge from one side’s victory or the others.  Tell me that Obama’s discipline vs. McCain’s flailing at the point of the Lehman collapse didn’t offer some real insight.  You can talk Palin all you want, and the fact that the electoral environment for McCain in the ruins of Bush’s presidency was incredibly hostile, but the crazed “suspension” of his campaign was a real blow to his chances.

So with all that as prelude, consider this NYT story on Mitt Romney’s VP search.

Amateur pundit fail disclaimer: Let me remind  you that the political navel gazing below is worth precisely what you paid for it.  It is exactly the kind of musing that both DougJ rightfully sneers at.  You have been warned.

OK…back to your regularly scheduled programming:

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I read this as one of the most subtly devastating indictments of Romney as a potential president I can recall reading. Consider this, high in the piece:

Mr. Romney’s possible running mates, who have handed over reams of documents to the campaign, have probably opened themselves to  a greater level of scrutiny than the candidate himself, especially on the thorny question of taxes. Mr. Romney has said he will disclose federal tax returns covering two years by Election Day, far fewer than the 23 years’ worth that he handed over to Senator John McCain as a possible vice-presidential pick in 2008.

Heh indeed, one might say.

Then, there’s this:

Friends and advisers say that after assessing basic qualifications and personal chemistry, Mr. Romney has been guided by a simple principle: do no harm to the ticket.

It’s not so much that trying to avoid hiring the next Sarah Palin is a terrible idea (the context for that concluding sentence), but as a glimpse of the thought-process of a man who would lead, I read a clear hint of someone deciding out of fear, not confidence.

And how about this:

Determined to avoid the frustrations and tensions of the past, Mr. Romney’s team is taking steps to ensure that the eventual running mate — and his or her staff — functions as a true extension of the campaign, not as an autonomous political operation.

Again, on the face of it, this is an obvious thought.  But the choice is once more framed as a negative — “I don’t want no rogue, get me a lapdog.”  That’s a crap message to project to the American people about the person Romney’s campaign alleges has, if needed, the stuff to be the Leader of the Free World.

Then there’s the stuff that reinforces what is slowly becoming another theme in the coverage of this campaign, that Mitt Romney delegates poorly, micromanages, gets deep into the weeds of decisions in ways that constrain his organization’s ability to act swiftly, nimbly:

Many hands are involved, but the research is done by separate teams, so that only Ms. Myers and Mr. Romney have access to the full picture at all times.

Mr. Romney has taken a hands-on role. He checks in with Ms. Myers roughly every other day to discuss his thinking. And the candidate, a Harvard-trained lawyer, reviews some of the background information himself.

At the end of every day, confidential materials (tax returns, investment records and real estate documents) are returned to a vault at the Romney campaign headquarters in Boston.*

Read those short grafs again.  Tell me what you see there.  For me, I get a picture of compartmentalization, organizational secrecy, no chance for anyone within the organization to cross-fertilize thinking, and, most important, one in which all the lines of information and power are absolutely retained by one man only.

That may work in business (though it very often does not).  It may be easier to get away with in finance than in any actual operating enterprise. But one thing is for sure — this is a what the boss from hell looks like…

…which is to say it’s not a profile of a [successful] President.

Then there’s the Romney operation’s approach to the real job they have for the Veepster unit:

 Aides have begun discussing how to deploy Mr. Romney’s running mate on the trail and at fund-raisers. Campaign officials envision having the candidate headline a combination of $30,000-per-couple dinners in big cities and smaller events in second-tier locations, to gauge which proves more lucrative.

Ah, yes.  RomneyBot 2000 will assess the performance of its wholly-owned subsidiary, the better to assign an appropriate functional matrix to that operation.  Now it’s hardly a new thought that Vice Presidential candidates are supposed to take some of the fund-raising grind off the back of their headliner, but I have to think the NYT folks know exactly how unpresidential that sounds.  Good for them.

Finally, there’s the matter of where all this meticulous preparation and organizational engineering gets team RMoney:

In a recent interview with CBS News, his wife offered a slightly deeper insight into their thinking.

“I think it’s going to take someone else that’s going to be there with Mitt,” she said, “with the same personality type that, that will enjoy spending time with them and also competent, capable and willing to serve this country.”

So, after all that, in the Romneyverse the first and most important criterion for a Vice Presidential candidate be that he (almost certainly “he”) be of the right sort (right height?) to hang with the fellow at the top of the ticket.

Which is why, as the Times reports, the campaign has ended up with TPaw and Portman at the top of the short list, Paul Ryan (oh please..) and Bobby Jindal as less likely choices, and Condi Rice still getting courtesy mentions because, the Times suggests, Ann Romney thinks well of her.

What a pallid set of options!  And worse — yet entirely predictably, given its nature:  look at how Romney’s process (appears) to have landed him with a selection universe that does not allow him to shore up any meaningful weakness in his own candidacy.

For example: not enough has yet been made of how incredibly weak are Romney’s foreign policy and national security chops.  I know that such concerns are way down the list for most of the electorate — but still, not for all, and not for a critical subset of elite “independents.”  Romney has zero experience in either of those areas, and we are, after all, still at war in Afghanistan, dealing with a truly dangerous conflict in Syria, concerned about Iran and so on — not to mention the tricky policy issues of how to deal with China’s emergence and so on.  Big stuff. Stuff that matters to both lives and the global (and American) economy.  And Romney has a resume in which the closest he comes to international affairs is outsourcing Olympic tailoring to Burma/Myanmar.

Obama, recall, was similarly poorly prepared for the international side of his job.  So who does he hire?  Joe Biden, long time head/ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  Someone who could indeed have drawn invidious comparisons with the man who selected him — older, very experienced, all that.  But Obama had the confidence to pick someone who could enhance his candidacy, rather than merely echo it.

Romney’s pursuit of mini-me’s?  Makes him look cautious, predictable, small.

*Note yet further evidence of the absurdity of the idea that the sole stockholder, chairman of the board, president and CEO of Bain Capital was somehow utterly uninvolved with his firm’s decisions for three years.

 Images:  Francisco de Goya, They Sing for the Composer, 1796-97.

Diego Velasquez, Portrait of Philip IV, 1656.

Unreal Americans

July 17, 2012

Just to pile on the Sununu meltdown– as one must, in this case:

John Sununu does us all a favor.  He comes ever closer to the moment when some prominent Republican just up and says it.  Not Ni-Clang! exactly — but the underlying conviction that lies behind that word.

As everyone reading this no doubt knows by now, Mr. Sununu, former governor of one of the whitest states in the union, former chief of staff to Bush the First and now one of Mitt Romney’s official surrogates, said this today (via TPM):

John Sununu, the former governor of New Hampshire and a leading Romney surrogate, told reporters that Obama’s recent defense of public infrastructure shows he “doesn’t understand how America works.”

“I wish this president would learn how to be an American,” Sununu said later.

I’m white.  Have been all my life.  Haven’t had to put up with the daily tests that attend being nonwhite in America.  So I’m not going to go on long about this.  But I can tell you that you don’t need to be African-American to ask yourself what you are hearing when John Sununu tells you that Barack Obama, President of the United States, born here, educated here, married here, raising two kids here, the whole run — doesn’t know how to be an American.

I think I can guess:  hell — I don’t need to guess.  As I said, I’m a white guy, but I hear Sununu loud and clear, and what I pick up is a prominent Republican saying pretty damn clearly that African Americans aren’t real Americans.  They need to learn how to pass…

One could say that I’m being overly particular here.  To Republicans, as we’ve seen over several administrations now, Democrats aren’t real Americans.  When on occasion some Democrat manages to dupe the electorate into sending someone with a “D” after their name into high office, that’s simply an error to be corrected, by restricting the franchise to the right people — real Americans — if need be.

But just because a result is over-determined, that doesn’t mean that the most grotesque explanation isn’t true.  As here, IMHO.

Is John Sununu — surrogate to Republican presidential nominee-presumptive Mitt Romney — a racist?

A simple yes or no is not quite the right way to respond to that form of the question.  Rather ask:  Did John Sununu just say some racist shit, dog whistling to that portion of the electorate that responds to such filth?

I stand within a tradition that weighs works, not any inner manifestation of piety.  By that standard?

Now the question answers itself.

Image:  Jan Steen, A Class with a Sleeping Schoolmaster, 1672.

 


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