Blog or Not?

A statistically improbable polymath's views on politics and culture.

Friday, April 30, 2004
The Red and the Blue, Part Two
I'm going to skip over some paragraphs regarding the dividedness of American political life mainly because I can't make fun of them. So here we go again:

When Catholic University political professor John Kenneth White says that Kerry and Bush are navigating for votes in "parallel universes," the universe of Stein is the one in which the president is Republican, the U.S. senators are Republicans, the congressman is Republican, the county commissioner is Republican, the Inspector of Hides and Animals is Republican, the neighbors are Republicans, the friends are Republicans, and the mayor is a Republican named David Wallace, who says of Sugar Land: "When you drive around here, you get the sense that you're in Utopia."

And I thought Hyde Park was ideologically uniform. I can point to three Republicans in my dorm alone!

Brick homes, clean streets, good schools, plentiful churches -- "it's the typical white-picket-fence, 2.1-children atmosphere," Wallace says of Sugar Land. No litter, landscaped boulevards, approved-plant lists, recommended-rose lists, strict zoning, a town square called "Town Square," logos everywhere, and the ever-present smell of just-mown grass

Oddly enough, this does sound like Utopia--the book, I mean. But are they required to switch houses every ten years?

in a voting precinct that went Bush 72 percent, Gore 25 percent -- this is the landscape of Stein, whose path here can be condensed to this:
In 1977, he bought a pair of hedge trimmers for $25. A month later, he went back to the same store and bought a second pair of trimmers, but now they were $30.

Emphasis on the manual labor, I see.

That's when he angrily learned about inflation and began paying attention to politics. Then he learned about the notion of American weakness during the Iranian hostage crisis. Then he learned about responding to a politician's message when Ronald Reagan talked of America's greatness coming from its people rather than government. Then, about the time thousands of people were said to be in danger of losing their jobs because of an endangered species of owl, he decided there are two kinds of Americans, those who live in the world of "emotion and feel good," and those, like him, who live in "the real world." And now his version of the real world is a two-story house in a neighborhood of like-minded people, where he begins every day by turning on his computer.

There's a long bit about which websites Stein visits each day, and it's tedious, so I'm just going to skip ahead to breakfast:

Stein's breakfast is scrambled eggs over congealed grits fried in butter, and coffee that comes not in bean form but already ground and is brewed not through natural brown paper filters but unnatural white ones.

You know, that actually sounds pretty good. I hope he has good health coverage, though.

" 'Melitta plants four trees for every one used in the production of our filter paper,' " he says, reading the side of the box of filters. He puts the box back in the cabinet. "I could care less."

There's a reason Stein said this--to differentiate himself from the "feel-good" liberals out there? To shock the (presumably) liberal reporter? It's not something that one would remark upon in everyday conversation if one really "could care less".

Stein's lunch is a brisket-and-sausage barbecue sandwich

Wait. What kind of brisket? What kind of sausage? I haven't had good barbeque since last summer.

in a restaurant where he wonders what people categorized by pollsters as Blue Americans would think about him. I would guess they would say I am mean-hearted and mean-spirited. They'd probably think I'm for big business at the expense of poor people. They'd think we want to hurt the poor, hurt the environment, do away with the school system. They'd think that we believe everybody should be able to own Uzis or any kind of gun, and that we want to impose God on them," he says, and then says what he thinks of them:

"Some of what they're saying may be found on good intentions, but a closer look will show it's really not going to work. Their solutions come from government rather than from themselves. . . . Every year they take more and more and more money. And when you see some of these programs, and you're paying thousands of dollars into them, at some point resentment begins to build."

He has a point. Maybe "Red Americans" and "Blue Americans" should try to, you know, figure out which government programs work and which don't, and how we can fix those that don't work, and... wait. Congress gets into the way there.

Stein's dinner is hamburgers with American cheese, salad and Tater Tots.
He gas-grills the burgers while the salad is assembled by Patrice, Stein's wife of 23 years and counting. They met when he saw her standing on an apartment balcony and presumed to tell her how to water her plants. Now, three children later, he oversees their business's landscape crews and she manages the office. He hunts on weekends, and she makes gumbo with deer sausage. He drives the truck, she drives the minivan. He takes the La-Z-Boy, she takes the couch.

Look at the Red Stater's division of gender roles! And--did you mention hunting? How declass?!

(Frankly, though, I know of a few rather high-priced restaurants in Chicago that serve deer meat--except they call it by the highfalutin' name of venison.)

And I think I'm going to stop this installment of "The Red and the Blue" here.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004
The Red and the Blue
The Washington Post is obsessed with the whole red-state-blue-state 'phenomenon' (1). But to tell the truth, the whole thing's gotten rather old, especiallly considering that the red state/blue state divided is merely an accounting of class-based taste differences.

And I can hear you now. "What? Class-based? Are you trying to become some type of Marxist here?" Um, no. I'm not talking just about economic class--I'm talking about social class, which is based not only on economic capital but on cultural capital as well. See, the twentieth-century sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (whose Distinction I read for Soc class) believed that most, if not all, expressions of taste were based upon social class--you asserted the tastes you had been brought up in to some extent, and you recognize "good taste" as being upper-class. Even my choice in the title of this blog post is a function of social class--I have the "cultural capital" to both recognize the red-state/blue-state cliché and to know of Stendhal's novel The Red and the Black.

Anyways. There's a Fisking to be done--and in this fisking, I will demonstrate how the news media's perception of "red-statism" is based entirely on class-based taste snobbery.

"For a Conservative, Life is Sweet in Sugar Land, Texas"

This is the home of Britton Stein, who describes George W. Bush as "a man, a man's man, a manly man," and Al Gore as "a ranting and raving little whiny baby."

Forty-nine years old, Stein is a husband, a father, a landscaper and a Republican. He lives in a house that has six guns in the closets and 21 crosses in the main hallway.

Check out the Red State excess! The crassness!

His wife cuts his hair with electric clippers.

Nor does the Red Stater have any idea of what a good haircut is!

His three daughters aren't embarrassed when he kisses them on their cheeks. He loves his family, hamburgers and his dog.

Doesn't everybody?

He believes in God, prays daily and goes to church weekly.

So does a friend of mine in the (San Francisco) Green Party, come to think of it.

He has a jumbo smoker in his back yard and a 40-foot tree he has climbed to hang Christmas lights. He has a pickup truck that he has filled with water for the Fourth of July parade, driving splashing kids around a community where Boy Scouts plant American flags in the yards.

You know, I haven't had any good barbeque in awhile. And that tree sounds pretty cool.

His truck is a Chevy. His beer is Bud Light. His savior is Jesus Christ. His neighbors include Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), the House majority leader, who says of Sugar Land, "I think it is America."

The preceeding four sentences are designed to convince the reader of Stein's lack of sophistication concerning automobiles, beers, messanic figures, and congresspersons. Later in the article we'll learn that Stein is Catholic, which surprised me, because my people don't usually talk about being "saved" the way the Southern Baptists do. I'm guessing that the writer put that bit in just to hammer the Christian thing home.

The fisking will continue shortly--after I finish my history paper.

(1) Did anyone else think "one-state-two-state" in response?

The sweet, sweet sound of geometric regressions
Gapers' Block had me there for a minute. Well, actually five minutes--the five minutes I spent looking up the nonexistent website they list for The Cursors, America's newest mathcore band, then searching for their album I, Pythagoras on, then searching for another reviewed album, Smoke'em If You Got'em, by The Reservoir Tips (sponsored by Parliament Cigarettes)--before I realized it was a hoax. A very cruel hoax. As a math major, I'm always looking for new beats that I can use to finish off yet another problem set--Sylow groups this week, ugh--and really, there haven't been any good math-based songs since 2ge+her's "Calculus". I mean, this album would have been the biggest thing to hit the math department since Proof filmed here.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004
Harvard Aims to Copy University of Chicago
Committee Urges Harvard to Expand the Reach of Its Undergraduate Curriculum

"[S]tudents need more room for broad exploration [....] After 15 months of study, a committee of administrators, professors and students has recommended that the university give students more time to choose their majors and limit the requirements for those majors, encourage students to spend time abroad and increase the number of required science courses."

When I was visiting Harvard I believe they noted that one-quarter of your credits were core requirements, one-half were major-related, and one-fourth were electives. At Chicago it's more like one-third for each category, which makes double majoring--sorry, concentrating--in really disparate subjects doable (I'm a math concentrator considering picking up a history major as well).

""It's always an important event when Harvard College undertakes a review of the curriculum because where Harvard leads others follow," said James O. Freedman, president emeritus of Dartmouth College, and the author of "Liberal Education and the Public Interest" (University of Iowa Press, 2003), which the Harvard committee was required to read."

Um... we're not "following" here. I mean, we were here first. Yeah, all of you laughed at our hard-core Common Core--I'm looking at you, Brown--saying it was a relic of the Edwardian era.

Now the real question is this: Will Brown abandon its famous "anything goes" curriculum? Stay tuned.

Monday, April 26, 2004
Is this the new "Special"?
Newsweek is noting a new trend in pediatric psychology--instead of giving kids with mild to moderate sensory/emotional disorders the label of "Aspberger's Syndrome" or "autism spectrum disorder", doctors are now calling these kids "quirky" or "eccentric" in order to prevent these kids from being even more stigmatized. Unfortunately, prepubescent children have little empathy or tolerance but are quick to pick up on what euphemisms really mean. I predict "quirky" will be used as a schoolyard insult before the end of the decade.

Sunday, April 25, 2004
This is the face of a pro-choicer
I'm not sure when the body and soul unite in the womb. I'm pretty sure it's not before the fourteenth day of gestation, because before that point the zygote can split and create two embryos. I don't believe that so-called "frozen embryos" (which are really zygotes) have souls because they too can still split. I'm guessing that the fetus has a soul when it starts moving, because then it demonstrates some sort of volition. But these are just boundaries.

But I don't want the government to start arresting women and doctors who participate in first-trimester abortions. I don't want the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, which could lead the way to an abolition of the right to privacy--and the right to contraception, to consenting sex between adults, to all those things Rick Santorum hates.

Besides, I must say that I trust the motives of Planned Parenthood more than I do the motives of the "Religious" Right.

(This post was written in support of the March for Women's Lives.)

Saturday, April 24, 2004
It actually is (barely) legal, after all
In the Seminary Co-op Bookstore, procrastinating*, I saw a flyer for Scavhunt emblazoned with "Barely Legal". My mistake.

*I'm in the middle of what I like to call the "essay formation process". It usually involves drinking coffee, staring at books, surfing the Internet, blogging, and random plotting. (Currently I'm wondering if I should start a mail-them-copies-of-Utopia campaign against the Thomas More Law Center. I mean, somebody's got to preserve his good name.)

Friday, April 23, 2004
Up and running
The website for the 2004 ScavHunt is up, and it looks like the main theme is... botanical! There are botanical-esque pictures of butterflies, and the subtitle is "chicagous scavhuntis". I was hoping to see an allusion to it being the eighteenth anniversary of Scavhunt, thus making Scavhunt legal in all 50 states, eligible to vote and be drafted (is Scavhunt male or female? I'm personally partial to hermaphrodite--sorry, intersexed). Something like "Scavhunt 2004: Barely Legal". No, wait--some parts of Scavhunt definitely run into illegal territory, even if you discount the playing of bootleg MP3s during the annual Party on the Quads.

The desire for public service
But there's something more in this call for mandatory national service than just a weird blend of authoritarianism and economic liberalism--there's a genuine thirst to do something to serve our country, a thirst I myself have experienced quite often in the past few years. In fact, I'd argue that if the government gave the members of our generation a chance to voluntarily serve in public service capacities while giving us a decent incentive (as John Kerry has proposed), the response would be overwhelming. George W. Bush had the opportunity to call the nation to collective community action in the wake of 9/11, and he chose instead to tell us to go shopping. This is strong leadership?

Bad in so many dimensions
Ezra Klein and Matthew Yglesias are both trying to advocate mandatory national service on the grounds that it'll bring our country together and it's fairer than our current volunteer army, which disproportionately kills off the poor. Now, I've proposed ideas for voluntary national service to be rewarded by college tuition/free health care for life/other welfare state goodies, but I don't want to make national service at all mandatory. It deeply offends my civil libertarian sensibilities; I believe that a person should have control over their labor and their time. Moreover, I believe that our country was founded on the right to not participate--if you want to live in a cave and prepare for Armageddon, I feel you have the right to do so. (Whether you have the right to complete control over your minor children's lives is an entirely different matter).

And oh, yeah, mandatory public service also violates the Thirteenth Amendment.

(NOTE: If World War Three were to start, I would not oppose a draft if the need for it were evident--if it's a choice between the draft and the destruction of our country. But that's a pretty big "if".)

Wednesday, April 21, 2004
The blogging of Scavhunt
I will be blogging this year's Scavhunt, especially now that they've put wireless access in Ida Noyes Hall. Also blogging Scavhunt will be Colin, who may or may not be my teammate for Scavhunt. And there will probably be even more people blogging Scavhunt.

Eat it, Virginia.

You've got G-Mail
or rather, I've gotten an invitation from the fine folks at Blogger to try G-Mail. I already have two e-mail accounts, thanks--but here's the text of the advertisement (how many people are blogging on this advertisement? So many.):

As an active Blogger user, we would like to invite you to be one of the first to try out Google's new email service, Gmail.

Would you like to give it a whirl? YES / NO [hyperlinked for both options--M.C.]

So why are they inviting bloggers first? Three possibilities come to mind:
1. It's easier to reach the Blogger users, because they all go to the Blogger homepage on a regular basis
2. Bloggers like to talk about stuff, therefore they will start talking about their use of Gmail on their blogs--free advertising!
3. Bloggers probably know more about computers than the average person out there, so they'll help us work out the kinks.

For Option 1, can't they just post it up on their own website? Who doesn't go to Google all the time? Option 2 also sounds spurious--they're Google, they don't need free advertising. Option 3 is the most likely seeming possibility--they've selected a fairly websavvy portion of the population to use as guinea pigs for the ultimate beta test of Gmail.

This is all sheer guesswork. If anyone out there has better, more concrete information, please tell me.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004
I need to post something
Monday, April 19, 2004
Ban on Gay Marriage Prompted by Daddy Abandoning Me
(Via Electablog) USA Today has a feature item about Matt Daniels, the leader of the Alliance for Marriage [for Straight People Only--M.C.] Daniels explains his passion for "protecting the institution of marriage" by explaining that his father had abandoned his family when he was a toddler, and his family suffered dearly. It's a rage against the "path to destroying marriage" and, by extension, the one-parent-of-each-sex family.

But is gay marriage really to blame for men abandoning their families? If a man is an irresponsible schmuck to begin with and can't even honor his responsibilities to his children--while living either together with or separately from their mother--you think he's going to enter into another legal contract binding himself to another person?

I'm not going to debate the relative merits of being raised by a heterosexual couple versus being raised by a same-sex couple--I personally feel that children benefit from having at least one guardian-type of each sex, but I feel that "guardian-types" can include Grandma, who babysits while Dad and Pop are at work; Uncle Bill, who coaches the baseball team and eats dinner at the house three times a week (Cherokee culture, incidentally, has the mother's brother as the main male role model even when the father is present); or in the case of same-sex couples who make arrangements with another person of the opposite sex, the children's other biological parent. And same-sex couples are definitely more stable child-rearing environments than single parenthood--you have backup. Besides, do we have laws stating that if a man or a woman with children is widowed, that person must immediately re-marry? Of course not.

If we want to truly protect the institution of marriage for the sake of the children, we must demand that people enter into marriage with serious intentions. We must demand, in cases of divorce, that non-custodial parents share in the lives of their children, and we should try to ensure at least partial joint custody in as many cases as possible. We must pass laws increasing the penalties for deadbeat dads (and moms), and increase resources to hunt down parents who aren't paying child support. The Federal Marriage Amendment won't do any of this. Instead, it will bar people who are serious about getting married--so serious that they've sued for it--from doing so.

And this is protecting marriage?

Saturday, April 17, 2004
How Many Dinners Did That Cross Cost?
Chris Lawrence has seen his first Very Big Cross, and is dumbfounded, concluding "Say what you will about Southern Baptists, but at least they have the good taste not to inflict something so immensely gaudy on the motoring public." Umm, I think there's a Very Big Cross on I-75 heading south near the Loudon, TN area. I'm not sure which denomination paid for the cross, but it wouldn't surprise me to find out it was paid by Southern Baptists. I'm just wondering how much the cross cost.

Churches are very good at spending money on real estate, yet they keep calling out for more and more donations. Just this Easter, at the end of the Vigil service I was attending, the priest announced that the parish would be able to start construction on their new church. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the church we were currently sitting in--I'm not a big fan of mid-seventies eccesiastical architecture, but it was in great shape. Moreover, my grandmother tells me that it's hardly overcrowded. So why this call for money to build a new church when there's so much suffering in the world? Why not give the money to the parish school, for a scholarship program?

And speaking of scholarship programs... why do the fundamentalist megachurches spend so much money on audio-visual equipment and then start asking the federal government to fund voucher programs? Why can't, or won't, they fund them themselves? And don't give me that "new technology enhances the worship experience" crap. Try incense; I've always found that to enhance the worship experience. And if that's too Catholic for you, reread your Luther preaching the need for more money for crusades which never took place. Perhaps someone should nail the Ninety-Five Theses on a megachurch door--and highlight the parts about indulgences and donations to the poor--just as a reminder.

[WARNING: The following post is centered around intra-blog gossip and Web page design. You've been warned.]

Those of my readers who read TAPped have already noticed the lovely redesign of the website--dark grey background with a scarlet foreground; "West Wing"-esque font, sharp angles, little tab thingys. Very nice. (For more details, the style sheet's here.)

About a week ago, I was posessed--by what, I'm not sure--to visit Instapundit (I haven't visted the Instalinker for ages--it's all 80% other people, anyway) and I found he as well had gotten a new design. (Style sheet here) And it's eerily similar to TAPped.

So I wondered to myself if they had the same designer. Reynolds credits for Instapundit's design--their clientele seems to be a veritable bipartisan blogroll, from Drezner to Calpundit. TAPped, however, is not among their clientele. Naturally, being a print magazine, they would have an in-house design studio, as their masthead shows. But the real interest in the The American Prospect masthead is in the names of the people attached to the magazine--John Kenneth Galbraith's a founding sponsor and Cass Sunstein is a "contributing editor", which I'm guessing mean he writes the occasional piece in between teaching, books, and generally being a public intellectual.

Friday, April 16, 2004
Down on the fief
A while back some Michigan law students were discussing how feudalism could work in a modern-day setting, prompting one to ponder becoming feudal lord (is the word "lord" gender-neutral? can the word "lady" denote the ruler of a fief?) of Michigan Law School.

Since then I've developed the conviction that Hyde Park is, in the most important aspects, pretty much operating under a feudal system:

1. One owner of property--in medieval feudalism, the state/church, in the case of Hyde Park, the University of Chicago. While the University doesn't own all of the land in Hyde Park, it owns at least 50% of it--much of it it rents out to tenants, a la...
2. The fief system--Much of the real estate the University owns isn't part of the University--instead, it's residential (apartment buildings) and commercial (the Hyde Park Shopping Center, the Harper Court Shopping Center).
3. The buildings that aren't owned by the University are often either owned by or rented by professors--the knights of this fair kingdom, I suppose.
4. Which I guess makes the undergraduate students pages, and the graduate students squires. I mean, look at the deference we pay to professors--our tone of supplicance in the word "Professor" is almost identical to a page's "My lord". The administrative staff are stewards, which means they can boss around the "pages" and "squires".
5. But the University still isn't an independent state. No, it's under the dominion of King Richard the Second of the House of Daley, himself under the dominion of Emperor George the Second of the House of Bush. His Imperial Highness was elected, in the style of the Holy Roman Emperors of old, by a small, odd number of electors (in the HRE, 7; the Supreme Court has 9). Two of these electors, Chancellor Scalia and Chancellor Stevens, have sworn fealty to the University of Chicago.

I haven't even covered the architecture (Gothic) yet, the massive private police force (the palace guards?), and the contentious relations with the bergers and peasants of Hyde Park, Kenwood, and Woodlawn. Or the tournaments (Scav Hunt for the pages, Nobel nominating committees, debates, and peer reviews for the knights).

All that's really needed is a moat. Wait, weren't they once thinking of making the Midway into a canal?

Monday, April 12, 2004
It's Not a Googlebomb...
if you're restoring something to its proper place in Google results.




(On a related note:
Davin Reed
Davin Reed
Davin Reed.)

Thursday, April 08, 2004
It's like the past 150 years never happened...
In today's New York Times: U.S. Vows to Retake 2 Southern Cities in Hands of Militants

Well, that's what I thought, anyway.

Saturday, April 03, 2004
The Ministry of Truth Presents...
a rebuttal against the false and unpatriotic allegations against the PATRIOT Act.

And check out the DoJ website--what's up with the massive font for the word "Justice"? The semi-royal blue and gold color scheme? Maybe we should get a MIDI file of "Let the Eagle Soar" up there.

Update: "Resources for the President's Team". Seems to be scorecards for the federal department--heavily influenced by the White House.

Friday, April 02, 2004
Useless Quizilla of the Week
Most of the time I don't publish my results, but I feel like bragging:

Grammar God!
You are a GRAMMAR GOD!

(via Quare)

The trick to doing well on pedantic grammar tests is to think like a nineteenth-century schoolmarm; one must never use the singular "they", the phrase "That's him!", or some other construction of the English language which was considered perfectly proper and correct until some eighteenth-century guys who had studied far too much Latin tried to make the English language "logical". Hence, one must always use a subject pronoun after "is" and never, ever, split infinitives.

Thursday, April 01, 2004
Pink Scare

According to the Chicago Tribune
, Merrillville High School in Merrillville, Indiana, is asking its students not to wear the color pink:

District Supt. Tony Lux distributed a letter to students Wednesday in which he "discouraged" them from wearing pink because of concerns that it has gang and rap music overtones.

Although Lux said dressing in pink could be "suspicious behavior," he emphasized the color wasn't banned.


[Principal] Sperling said he was stumped by the sudden increase in all those pink-clad teenage boys.

"Normally, boys don't wear pink. ... Most parents of boys don't go out and buy them pink shirts," he said. "I'm becoming aware that it's becoming a color this spring."

Okay, what's the underlying reason for this "pink scare"? Is it:
A. The fact that Cam'ron wears pink in one of his music videos (which Merrillville students cite as the reason for pink's new popularity);
B. The fact that pink is traditionally seen as a "girly" color, and therefore high school boys wearing pink is threatening to traditional gender roles (but girls were also stopped for wearing pink);
C. Pink gives the police superintendant a headache;
D. The police superintendant has zero knowledge of fashion (maybe he should go on "Queer Eye");
E. Wait a minute. The story's dated April 1? Is this an April Fool's Joke? (The sad thing is that it seems plausible).


UPDATE: Pandagon is on the case and deconstructs it far better than I could.

Davin Reed
Because we don't have an engineering program.
Because it's the closest thing to homecoming we have.
Because they've made a movie about it.
Because it's the best excuse for failing your Econ midterm.
Because it's spring, and we're all feeling crazy anyways, so may as well use that craziness constructively.
Because your grandchildren will ask you one day about the legendary University of Chicago ScavHunt, and you don't want to disappoint them.
Because you have an excuse to phone Nobel Prize Winners (Scroll down to item 194).
Because everyone's copying us.

The Davin Reed Experience: The Next Great Scav Hunt Team

(SETTING: A History of Medicine class at a prestigious Midwestern university. Mid-afternoon. Topic of discussion, "Is the scientific method independent of history?", prompted by wondering why the challenge to Galenic medicine took place during the Renaissance rather than earlier or later)

STUDENT: "The scientific method's present everywhere. Little kids make hypotheses and then test them out; that's how they learn."

[OTHER STUDENTS debate the point]

PROFESSOR: "Actually, my three-year-old loves to make generalizations about how the world works, and some of them he could test quite easily--but he's just not interested. He's so convinced that he's right."

STUDENT: "Oh. It's just that I read that in my high school psychology textbook."

[Exeunt omnes]