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Archive for December 2004

Starve the Beast: Pell Grants

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From the NYT today, two paragraphs down deep in "Students to Bear More of the Cost of College":

Painful though it may be, supporters of the new rules say, trimming
back on awards has its benefits, especially for future students.

and lawmakers on all sides have long agreed that the maximum Pell
Grant, currently set at $4,050 a year, is wholly inadequate given
today’s college costs. But, supporters of the changes say, unless there
is a serious effort to scale back the program, whose costs have been
exceeding lawmakers’ appropriations for it, Congress may never be in a
position to give larger awards to the poorest of students, who need
them the most.

This isn’t a bait and switch, right? I mean, don’t think I’m not thankful that you’re saving Social Security for us, and that I got such a proportionally huge-tax cut like you promised, and it makes me feel better that the War on Terror for Universal Freedom… that the War is almost over, right after Baghdad transitional government Falluja the elections come in January. But would it just be possible to get this in writing – the fact that the current Pell Grant rollback is only a stepping stone to a new and improved Pell Grant system, targetted at those who need it most???

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December 23, 2004 at 9:00 am

Posted in Politics

Wrong Time to Lose the Auto-Pen

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Tough week for Rummy… First this

In a statement first issued to Stars and Stripes, a military newspaper, Rumsfeld said he would begin signing the letters himself. Defense Department officials said Monday that Rumsfeld’s initial use of an automated signature machine, a tool commonly used by public officials for mass mailings, was only to assure that the families received their letters quickly.

..then this:

A guerrilla attack on a dining tent at a U.S. base in Iraq killed 19
American soldiers and three other people on Tuesday in the deadliest
strike on U.S. forces since last year’s war to oust Saddam Hussein.

Wrong time to get your auto-pen taken away, no? I’m sure he’ll soldier through all 19 signatures, though, since, as his Boss says, in full non-sequiturial aploom: "I know Secretary Rumsfeld’s heart."

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December 21, 2004 at 11:30 pm

Posted in Politics

Beijing Pizza Hut

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Salad_barBoing Boing has a post up on something that I saw in Beijing – have never seen anyone else mention it.

Wife and I, paralyzed with hunger in Beijing one day, actually ate at a Pizza Hut. (Actually… we ate at Pizza Hut a few times in China, OK… Leave me only, foodie dorks…)

Seated near the salad bar – not all that different from the salad bars at PH at home – we noticed something rather peculiar. Folks weren’t just calmly slopping their salads together as at home (mom always used to drop the choco pudding on top of it all – what’s up with that?)… No, they were building frigging pyramids of fruit and veg, towers obelisks of pineapple, etc… Thing is, everyone was doing it – just seemed to be part of the PH experience over there… Could help but laugh – folks would work in pairs, one supporting the plate, and the other building. Literally – no overstatement – they’d spend 20 or so minute on the whole thing.

Now I learn the secret – they’re only allowed one trip…

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December 10, 2004 at 11:09 pm

Posted in Places

The Schmitt Hits the Fan

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Excellent paper by Simon Critchley that I found at pas au-dela. The paper’s on the "Crypto-Schmittianism" of the Bush administration. (Short version of what this means: they know that politics is politics (i.e. is war), (here comes the "crypto" part) but they act as if the political is never political…

(My wife tells me that it was probably from a special faculty seminar
in the wake of the election that went on at the Graduate Faculty of the
New School…)

Not a Schmitt expert. But here’s my question – as Schmittianism ever not been crypto, even in Schmitt’s eyes? Was in an advocate of transparency in all of this?

(Funny – after all that’s been said about Schmitt – like Critchley’s paper, for instance – hard for me to call to mind the tone of the actual works. Is The Concept of the Political descriptive or pragmatic? Why does it have the shimmer in my mind of Machiavelli for the Modern Age.)

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December 8, 2004 at 11:42 pm

Posted in Politics

Arbeit Macht Frei

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Link: Steve Gilliard’s News Blog : We pay our slave laborers.

Returning Fallujans will face clampdown
By Anne Barnard, Globe Staff — December 5, 2004

FALLUJAH, Iraq — The US military is drawing up plans to keep insurgents from regaining control of this battle-scarred city, but returning residents may find that the measures make Fallujah look more like a police state than the democracy they have been promised.
    Under the plans, troops would funnel Fallujans to so-called citizen processing centers on the outskirts of the city to compile a database of their identities through DNA testing and retina scans. Residents would receive badges displaying their home addresses that they must wear at all times. Buses would ferry them into the city, where cars, the deadliest tool of suicide bombers, would be banned.
    Marine commanders working in unheated, war-damaged downtown buildings are hammering out the details of their paradoxical task: Bring back the 300,000 residents in time for January elections without letting in insurgents, even though many Fallujans were among the fighters who ruled the city until the US assault drove them out in November, and many others cooperated with fighters out of conviction or fear.
    One idea that has stirred debate among Marine officers would require all men to work, for pay, in military-style battalions. Depending on their skills, they would be assigned jobs in construction, waterworks, or rubble-clearing platoons.
    "You have to say, ‘Here are the rules,’ and you are firm and fair. That radiates stability," said Lieutenant Colonel Dave Bellon, intelligence officer for the First Regimental Combat Team, the Marine regiment that took the western half of Fallujah during the US assault and expects to be based downtown for some time.
    Bellon asserted that previous attempts to win trust from Iraqis suspicious of US intentions had telegraphed weakness by asking, " ‘What are your needs? What are your emotional needs?’ All this Oprah [stuff]," he said. "They want to figure out who the dominant tribe is and say, ‘I’m with you.’ We need to be the benevolent, dominant tribe.
    "They’re never going to like us," he added, echoing other Marine commanders who cautioned against raising hopes that Fallujans would warmly welcome troops when they return to ruined houses and rubble-strewn streets. The goal, Bellon said, is "mutual respect."
    Most Fallujans have not heard about the US plans. But for some people in a city that has long opposed the occupation, any presence of the Americans, and the restrictions they bring, feels threatening.
    "When the insurgents were here, we felt safe," said Ammar Ahmed, 19, a biology student at Anbar University. "At least I could move freely in the city; now I cannot."

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December 6, 2004 at 10:04 am

Posted in Current Affairs

Think I’m Finally Starting to Get It

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Matt Yglesias, linking to a Sullivan post, discusses here the "’secret sin’ theory of politics."

People become social conservatives because they worry that without the
long arm of the state holding them back, they would instantly turn into
degenerates. Or, at least, "red America" is disproportionately
interested in state enforcement of traditional sexual norms because
these are actually the areas most plagued with sex-related social
pathologies. It’s an idea that can be turned around. According to the
"secret sin" theory, people become liberals because they worry that
without the long arm of the state reaching into their pockets, they
would instantly turn into selfish bastards who never lift a finger (or
spare a dime) for the poor. And, indeed, it’s true that the red states
are more charitable than the blue ones.

And then today, this astounding passage in the Times’s How to Sell a Candidate to a Porsche-Driving, Leno-Loving Nascar Fan.

The data also yielded unexpected insights. One of the shows most popular with Republicans, especially Republican women ages 18 to 34, turned out to be "Will & Grace," the sitcom about gay life in New York. As a result, while Mr. Bush was shoring up his conservative credentials by supporting a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage, his advertising team was buying time on a program that celebrates gay culture.
The Bush team broadcast commercials 473 times on "Will & Grace" in markets across the country from Jan. 1 to Nov. 2, according to the Wisconsin project. (The Kerry campaign broadcast commercials 859 times on the show.)

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December 6, 2004 at 9:23 am

Posted in Politics

The New York Times > International > Asia Pacific > China’s Textbooks Twist and Omit History

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Thank God we live in a free country. In China, it seems, they aren’t even honest with themselves about the difference between defensive and offensive wars.

From today’s Times: China’s Textbooks Twist and Omit History.

Most Chinese students finish high school convinced that their country has fought wars only in self-defense, never aggressively or in conquest, despite the People’s Liberation Army’s invasion of Tibet in 1950 and the ill-fated war with Vietnam in 1979, to take two examples.

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December 6, 2004 at 9:06 am

Posted in Politics

Thanks Aaron Brown

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Big let down from Aaron Brown tonight on CNN. Thought he was actually going to grow some guts for a minute, but nope – false alarm.

Here’s why I was momentarily hopeful – the teaser at the top of the show.

BROWN: Tonight we look at truths and untruths and exaggeration coming from teachers to kids on the subject of sex.

Kind of sounds like he mightly be slightly critical of the abstinence folks, right?

Look, there are two main problems with abstinence programs.

First of all, while they may or may not reduce teenage sexual encounters, it is fairly clear that these programs definitely do increase the incidence of unplanned pregnancy and STD transmission for those kids who do have sex. This isn’t all that hard to understand, is it? When you incessantly assert that the birth control pill is a losers bet, and that condomns are so ineffective that you might as well forget them, it’s no wonder that when the adolescent red-staters fall from grace, they fall hard.

Secondly, and perhaps just as importantly – isn’t there are serious question about what effect these scare tactics have of the developing sensibility about sex in general, a sensibility that will stay with these kids forever, in one form or another. Might it not be a little hard to get up for good old conjugal variety when all you’ve been told is that sex is extremely dangerous, a health risk not unlike smoking, and not what the cool kids are doing…

Anyway, Brown folded when he got to the segment, and the talking head Ob-Gyn that they pulled out from under a rock somewhere in Texas. We get, instead of reason, lots of stuff like this:

BROWN: You know, part of the — there are so many, I think, as a
parent, complications in all of this. But can I offer a thought here,
which is that no matter what you guys teach or those guys teach, what I
teach and my wife teach to my kids probably more important than any of

Thanks for the PSA, but that’s not really what we’re talking about, is it Aaron?

(By the way, for some fun, search the transcript for Dr. Texas’s (mis)use of the words "accuracy" and "inaccuracy." Somebody’s a little confused… But not too confused to save our kids from themselves…

Here’s the stupid transcript.

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December 3, 2004 at 12:43 am

Posted in Television

Nicely Played

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Chris Matthews kinda made Falwell’s head explode a little bit on his show recently. OK, good. Now just repeat this move eleven thousand times and maybe we’ll make some progress…

From Slate: Cable News Cretinism – Jerry Falwell’s straight story. By Dana Stevens.

Matthews: Did you choose to be heterosexual?

Falwell: I did.

Matthews: You thought about it and that was your choice?

Falwell: Well, put it this way, I was taught as a child that that’s the right way to be.

Matthews: But did you feel an attraction toward women?
Falwell: Oh, of course.

Matthews: But when people are born and they find themselves having an attraction to somebody from the same sex, do you think that’s a choice?

Falwell: I think you can experiment with any perversity and develop an appetite for it, just like you can food. […] I don’t think anybody is born a bank robber […]

Matthews: How old were you when you chose to be heterosexual?
Falwell: Oh, I don’t remember that.

Matthews: Well you must, because you say it’s a big decision.
Falwell: Well, I – I started dating when I was about thirteen.
Matthews: And you had to decide between boys and girls. And you chose girls.

Falwell: Well, I never had to decide, I never thought … (laughter)

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December 2, 2004 at 11:23 pm

Posted in Television

Quick Question – Bitterish

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Is there any public figure who more tellingly exudes that particular brand of stupidity cultivated in the greater New York area than Bernie Kerik?

(Not that the New York brand is any worse than that of any other area of our great nation – quite the opposite. But you know what I’m talking about… I’ve been changing the channel for years now whenever his balding, drawling orb appears on the screen, and now we get to see him in front of the amazing technicolor terror forecast board).

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December 2, 2004 at 11:15 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Cost of Living

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OK – as pop culture goes, it’s a pretty high end addiction. I like to watch Location Location Location on BBC America. Set the DVR to tape it, freak out just a little when it’s a repeat (happens more and more often – though tonight I had a great one from Glasgow to watch…)

Home for Thanksgiving, discovered mom to be a huge fan of the American version of the show, HGTV’s House Hunters.

I’ve seen mom’s show before, and found it just as unbearable watching it with her (while my wife and dad couch snoozed in the other room in from of some sort of Seinfeld retrospective…) as I had in the past.

Of course, it’s in large part my NYC urban snobbery. Can’t bear the friggin McMansions, faceless, hideous. Whereas Location, Location, Location generally features hip apartments (like) and crumbling country houses (like not so much).

But it’s more than that – the gaping difference between the shows is that the British version tells you the prices of the apartments / what the lookers are wanting to spend, whereas the American version leaves out that crucial bit of information. (Often, Househunters even leaves out the city, ahem, sprawling suburban wasteland where we’re looking…)

Since I’m firm in the believe that television always brings us exactly what we want (OK – that "we" is a little bit troublesome, but bear with me), what does it say about the trans-atlantic gap that "we" will tolerate a house-buying show with no prices.

Or is it more awful? The wild disparity between red state and blue state home prices would alternately gross out half the viewership or make the other half keel over in bedazzled laughter… Is that the problem? The Oklahoma housewife seeing the $900,000 1 bedroom in Chelsea and/or the Brooklyn bourgeois bohemian viewing the $75,000 3 bedroom ranch in Missouri?

Something to think about anyway…

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December 2, 2004 at 12:50 am

Posted in Television

“As democracy is perfected”

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Another great one from William Gibson‘s blog.

How seldom, in our study of literature, do we come across evidence of a genuine prescience.

"…the larger the mob, the harder the test. In small areas, before small electorates, the first-rate man occasionally fights his way through, carrying even the mob with him by force of his personality. But when the field is nationwide…the force of personality cannot so readily make itself felt, then all the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre… The presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people… On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a moron."
–H.L. Mencken, writing in The Baltimore Evening Sun, July 26, 1920

Me again: How many of us have had the chilling feeling of late that things aren’t so much falling apart as perfecting themselves?

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December 1, 2004 at 10:26 pm

Posted in Politics

Guardian Weekly

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I’ve been trying to cut down on the magazine / newspaper subscriptions of late. Motive: cost-cutting, focusing in on the work I’m supposed to be doing, the usurpation of blog-reading-time upon print-reading-time, and most importantly, a general effort to reduce the intellectual clutter around the house. Unread materials – whether books or ephemerals – make me feel wasteful and lazy.

But, try as I might, I’ve sent my credit card number in to the Guardian Weekly. Including the extra credits for a monthly translation of Le Monde Diplomatique.

With a little dilligence, could have read it on-line, right? And there are perhaps more important things to do with my time than page through this tabloid every Saturday afternoon.

What turned me around? Think it might have been a single factoid in the "We Haven’t Heard From You Yet" materials they sent day after day:

Apparently, Nelson Mandela had a subscription during his years on Robben Island.

Who the hell am I not to take out a subscription?

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December 1, 2004 at 1:05 am

Posted in Personal

Kinsey (The End of Sex)

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In the car today, was treated to a fantastic interview of Bill Condon, director of the new film about Kinsey, on Terry Gross’s show on NPR. Sounds like a true fellow traveller, this Condon. Kept twisting the knife about Kinsey’s atheism, for instance…

(You can listen to it here: NPR : The Man Behind ‘Kinsey’: Filmmaker Bill Condon.)

But all this Kinsey stuff got me thinking: if Kinsey had gotten his way, liberated humankind from the shackles of religious superstition and cultural prohibition on sex, what would "sex" have been like? Can "sex," and the interest that it holds for us, be separated out from repression? Can good clean fun be fun?  (C.f. the end of the first volume and the start of the second of Foucault’s History of Sexuality, of course…)

(This is one of the central questions that I take on in my work on literature – except it doesn’t have to be sex… Is "interest" inextricably linked to inequality? What sort of art would we have in a perfected world? What sort of literary plots after the "end of history"? Might seem like questions of purely historical import at this point, after the failure of the modernist utopias, but I’m not so sure… Not so sure that we’re not, right here and right now, verging on some sort of bizarre and unexpected tipping point, saturation, terminal equilibrium of interest a la the "heat death" that kept the late Victorians up at night…)

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December 1, 2004 at 12:49 am

Posted in Culture