Blog or Not?

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

Monday, August 30, 2004
Giuliani's Speech
What an asshole.

In contrast, John McCain was the epitome of statesmanship; part of this is probably to do with his friendship with Kerry and another part probably to try to push Bush into actually being a decent guy.

Sunday, August 29, 2004
The New York Times Endorses Mullets. Plus--David Brooks, New Democrat
The New York Times has created a monthly style magazine supplement, "T", which reads like a short version of Vogue with a slightly higher content-to-ad ratio. (It still took me 68 pages to get to actual editorial content--perhaps in line with fashion magazine standards, but rather disconcerting for the Times.)

The magazine does, however, feature an interactive component: Step-by-step hair styling, something I remember most from . Informed of the way to create the new rockabilly-inspired pompadour in vogue (one which the magazine assured me was "the look that scored at Tuleh's fall 2004 show"), I took my brush and a few bobby pins and got to work taking the front part of my hair, twisting it, pushing it forward, and pinning it. Result: An imperial-looking face and front--surrounded by improbably casual hair. The New York Times had given me a mullet.

I pinned up the rest of my hair in a French twist, and the style came together in excellent Gibson Girl/Madame X fashion. But what of the poor women who will keep the rest of their hair down, as the Times suggested? And what will David Brooks have to say about this convergence between Red America and Blue America?

(Speaking of Brooks, wasn't that NYT Magazine column of his almost a precis for a New Democrat economic policy? Eliminate the call for vouchers and the DLC would swoon; put in a few words toughening labor policy and giving more help to the homeless and I'd swear he'd stolen a Barack Obama policy paper.)

Saturday, August 28, 2004
The permutations of gendered language
For the first time I visited Zoe Vanderwolk's Greenpass, a blog that comes highly recommended from Pandagon, and written by a woman besides. I highly encourage all to visit. (Why, yes, I have been reading Victorian etiquette books lately, how did you guess?)

Anyways, I found out that apparently there's a new blog devoted to rebuking liberal bloggers for "sexist" language, Des Femmes. Recent posts chastise Steve Gillard for calling George Bush "a gutless bitch" and a "puss[y]", Atrios for saying that Bush wasn't a "real man" (and therefore not brave), and Digby for describing Tony Blair as "Bush's bitch".

The thing is, I'm not sure that most of those examples actually are sexist. "Bitch" is becoming an epithet hurled at both sexes (still more women then men, though). As for the assertion that the use of the phrase "real man" to constitute bravery automatically makes bravery a gendered attribute--I think we're dealing with an inclusion-exclusion problem here. While bravery is, according to Atrios, one of the essential attributes of "real men", that does not mean that bravery is not an essential attribute of "real women", nor does it imply that anyone who is not a "real man" is automatically female. There's a difference between being male and being a man. Moreover, Bush has tried to fit himself into the "manly man" mold of masculinity (flight suit, "Bring it on"); the fact that he's a coward automatically shows that this act is a lie, and the "man" is nothing more than an immature frat boy.

That being said, I do censure those who use the word "pussy" to mean "coward". I don't believe that a body part which has to stretch to accommodate a head the size of a grapefruit is an appropriate symbol for cowardice.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004
He may be part machine, but...
Dick Cheney proves he's not a total tool by yielding to his love for his daughter and publicly opposing a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Everyone seems to be spinning this story differently, though--ABCNews (the link above) claims that Cheney agreed for the need for the amendment, while claims that Cheney was merely stating that the President dictated administration policy.

Saturday, August 21, 2004
Jeez, and they're not even unionized
It was bad enough when Wal-Mart removed chiropractic coverage from their health insurance plan. Now the company's offering unlicensed physical therapy in nine Colorado stores. Apparently it's meant to piggyback on the success of in-house opticians--but unlike the "exercise trainers" at the back clinics, opticians actually test your vision, give you a custom prescription, and are licensed. Is Wal-Mart too cheap to hire real doctors?

Yes. Yes, they are. Next thing you know they're going to be training the guy from Sporting Goods in how to set broken legs. But on the plus side, you get your plaster cast for only $75.

Thursday, August 19, 2004
A Crazy Theory about A Crazy Candidate*
A commenter at Pandagon points out that Alan Keyes could have run against Barbara Mikulski in his home state of Maryland, but felt the need to run for the Senate in Illinois, a state in which he's spent no great amount of time. Later, I remembered some post connecting Alan Keyes with Allan Bloom... and a crazy theory began to spin.

FACT: At Cornell, Alan Keyes's intellectual mentor was Allan Bloom; he followed him to Paris and to Harvard**. (Via AlterNet) Bloom probably instructed him in the same Straussian philosophy he learned from Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago. Later, Bloom went back to Chicago and taught many generations of Straussians. Additionally, Keyes worked with fellow Straussian and Bloom acolyte Paul Wolfowitz at the State Department during the early eighties.

THEORY: Suppose it's 2004, and Straussians across America are nervous about the meteoric rise of Illinois State Senator Barack Obama. Why? Because he's a lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School--and he's got a chance to become the first UChicagoan President of the United States. Having a liberal represent the University of Chicago on a national level is bad for the Straussians--Allan Bloom had made it seem like the University of Chicago was the last academic bastion of conservatism. Obama and his Hyde Park supporters make it clear that the Straussian home base is in the hands of the enemy. They need to get it back--but how? When the Republican candidacy is vacated, Keyes steps in to win back his mentor's turf--not just the University, but the entire state of Illinois.

*Shamelessly stolen from Mike Murphy's "Crazy Times Demand a Crazy Senator" suggestion for a Keyes lawn sign in the Weekly Standard.

**Those who have read Ravelstein know what kind of stuff Bloom did in Paris. I can't wait for someone to bring this up in debate: "Ambassador Keyes, your mentor, Allan Bloom, was a homosexual. How do you feel about that?"

Hello, my name is Maureen
and I'm a biblioholic.

I'd estimate I've been a biblioholic for, well, most of my life--at least since I was five. In third grade, I'd sneak Baby-Sitters Club books under my desk during spelling tests and read during the breaks between words. When I'm desperate, I'll read practically anything to get my fix--crappy magazines, the "Thrifty Nickel" want ads, fanfic, even (oh! the shame!) the pages from the "Look Inside" feature at Amazon. Sometimes, after I go a few weeks when I've done relatively little reading (just an average of 100 pages/day for school, and an hour or two or three on the Internet per day--really not that much), I go on a book bender. Last bender, about a week ago, I gulped through two novels in about six hours. Granted, one was a reread, and in the other one I skipped some parts, but still. Man, did that wreck my system.

Although I've never gone to the extreme of buying a book in triplicate, I have been known to read entire books while sitting in a bookstore (I'm so cheap, and I feel guilty when I spend money on books when I don't need them); I've checked out books which I own but do not have with me out of the library (hey, I used White Smoke to brush up on my papal politics); I have read The Well of Lost Plots when I should have been writing a paper on the German welfare state. I have unintentionally ignored family and friends while reading, and I have (gasp!) read while on the job.

But is this addiction comparable to alcoholism? I don't think so--while I admit to being rather heavily attached to books, and even fit the Baudian Biblioholic Criteria*, I've never caused anyone any pain through this addiction. I've never neglected family, friends, work or school because of reading, I've never gone into debt for my addiction, and I can resist the call to books when absolutely necessary. [UPDATE: Will Baude points out that harm to others is not a requisite part of alcoholism. This misperception gives alcoholism a stigma which biblioholism doesn't have--even though both drinking and reading are dangerous during driving**. I'd still argue that alcoholism is more likely to cause harm to others than biblioholism, but that's really an argument of probability, not of quality.]

Although it's a telling sign that when I tried to find a "peaceful place" during meditation, I felt restless on a beach, next to a mountain spring, in a prairie--but felt at ease when I placed myself at Harper Memorial Library.

*Excepting the "interfering with social engagements"
**A friend once told me that on long Interstate trips through the plains, her dad would put the car on cruise control and read. I'm not sure what the effect of Books on Tape on driving is, but at least it leaves one's vision free.

Monday, August 16, 2004
We're Number One! We're Number One!
According to the Princeton Review, the University of Chicago has the "best overall academic experience for undergraduates" (Login required; check once they get back online)

In related news, the Physics correspondent reports that a certain institution's number one ranking for "best quality of life" is erroneous. Says the Physics correspondent: "It is heavily affected by #10 :Their Students Never Stop Studying."

Wait, I've Read That Before
As many have previously stated, The Village eerily resembles a certain young adult novel; fewer people have noted that it also rips off Plato's Republic--you've got your noble lie, your council of guardians (as in Plato, both men and women), your restriction on outside influences.

However, 2004's most egregious movie-plot-theft from literature is... the upcoming National Treasure, starring Nicholas Cage as a man trying to protect some sort of Masonic/Egyptian/Christian treasure by stealing the map to it--which happens to be on the back of the original copy of the Declaration of Independence. Clues to the treasure appear on U.S. currency and apparently the Founding Fathers (TM) had something to do with the hiding of the treasure in the New World. It's like the star-spangled version of The Da Vinci Code/Angels & Demons/Foucault's Pendulum!

Sunday, August 15, 2004
Latest Yglesias Column...
at The American Prospect. And it's free. Go read.

Thursday, August 12, 2004
We thought it would be Massachusetts
The state of New Jersey now has an openly gay governor--and contrary to Messieurs Falwell et Robertson, Trenton has not been destroyed by the wrath of God.

All I have to say is to echo Wonkette:

"This was the speech of the year. The most high profile outing, well, ever, and McGreevey handled it with grace and dignity. He sort of makes me want to go gay, too.

We hope that someday it won't mean much to go on national television and announce, "I am a gay American." Someday, we hope that kind of announcement comes at the beginning of someone's political career, not the end."

Who knows--maybe the people of New Jersey will respond similarly and encourage him to serve out the rest of his term.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004
Let the Futility Begin!
Alan Keyes has started his campaign for the Illinois Senate seat by claiming that Barack Obama's position on abortion is akin to support for slavery and trying to worm out of flip-flop charges on the issue of "carpetbag senators" (see Clinton, Hillary Rodham, Keyes's statements on). But in the interest of having an amusing political spectacle in Illinois during the fall, I'm going to start hypothesizing on possible Keyes campaign slogans:

Keyes: Experience--In Running Hopeless Campaigns

Keyes: I've Visited Illinois Before

Okay, let's just go with the least-ordered bumper sticker of the Keyes campaign:

South Side for Keyes

Tuesday, August 03, 2004
Well, we know it's not Apu
Springfield legalizes gay marriage, and someone comes out of the closet. But who? The Guardian suggests Smithers, but notes that Carl and Lenny are possibilities, as well as Moe, Comic Book Guy, Principal Skinner, and Reverend Lovejoy.

Methinks the article writer hasn't seen enough Simpsons: We know that Moe fell for a woman in one episode, so we can fairly safely cross him off the list. Comic Book Guy dreams of Xena, so he's not likely either. Principal Skinner keeps flirting with Edna Krabapple. This leaves Smithers, Carl, Lenny, and the good Reverend. I can't imagine that a closeted minister would come out of the closet just because gay marriage has been made legal, but stranger things have happened. Smithers, of course, is totally in love with Mr. Burns, who is evidently very straight--there's not going to be a marriage between them, unless Smithers can convince him that it's for tax purposes. This leaves Carl and Lenny, whom we rarely see apart--although it could just be because they're Homer's two best buddies.

Besides, Homer becomes a minister over the Internet in this episode--therefore, if there is a gay marriage to be performed, Homer will perform it--thus, the people getting married must either be friends of Homer or be able to pay him a rather hefty fee.

But wait! What if it's a lesbian who comes out? Wait... trying to think of possible Springfield lesbians... I can't. There really aren't any good single female recurring characters.

Suddenly it comes to me--why would Homer need to be the one conducting the ceremony if the mayor legalizes gay marriage? Why couldn't the mayor do it?

That's right. Mayor Quimby's getting married! How sweet.

Monday, August 02, 2004
A Truly Progressive Tax
This is truly bizarre, but Dennis Hastert and I are in agreement on something. Namely, our country has one ugly-ass tax code. However, we're sort of in disagreement about how to make the tax code simple enough to dispense with the IRS or a similar agency. Representitive Hastert wants to implement a flat tax, a national sales tax, or some sort of value-added tax à la Britain. Now, on the surface of it, a flat tax doesn't look too bad--at least it's not regressive--but in order for the government to have the same amount of income, the tax burden for the lower and middle classes would have to be raised. Maybe that'll play in Hastert's 14th District (a bizarre anaglam of far-west Chicago suburbs and northwestern Illinois farmland, including Reagan's hometown of Dixon), but I can't see that it'll play in Peoria. Conversely, if you wanted the tax burden to be lowered for everyone, federal income would drop significantly--is that a good idea during wartime?

A national sales tax or a VAT-arrangement would be even worse--first of all, it would almost certainly be regressive, unless the VAT were structured so that luxury goods (cars over 30K, houses over 200K (depending on locale), general bling) had a higher taxation rate. But can you imagine just how difficult those codes would be to compile? I can almost hear the debate of the Finance Committee:

"But what about hybrid vehicles? Shouldn't they be exempted from the "luxury car" rate?"
"Wait--how do we define "hybrid" vehicle? Does that mean gas-electric, or can that also include cars which run on natural gas and ethanol?"

It's going to get crazy.

There are a few general principles of a tax plan that I believe Hastert and I would agree on:
1. The marginal tax rate should never exceed 50%--why? Because people don't like feeling that they're
2. All income should be taxed at the same rate without discrimination according to payroll, work income above 85K, capital gains income, with maybe some sort of exemption for inheritance (Hastert would probably want no estate tax, I would merely advise that all inheritances below certain levels [differentiating between land/business and liquid assets] be exempt).

Add to that my conviction that as your income decreases, your tax rate should decrease as well. In the language of calculus, we therefore have a variable where the second derivative is positive and the first derivative is less than .5. Since I aim to make this as simple as possible, I'm going to assume that this is a quadratic equation with an artificially imposed vertical asymtotic limit.

In plain English, put all of your income for the year together, minus exemptions, and shove it into a formula of the form ax2 + bx -c, where a, b, and c are constants and x is your taxable income. You've now calculated your tax burden in two minutes, without having to look through pages of the 1040 guide. However, if the result is greater than 50%* of your income, just take your tax burden to be .5x.

As an added bonus, the tax code can now be graphed using a TI-83 calculator.

*Or 33%, or some number which will be debated in Congress. The impact of this number will probably only influence the infamous "one percent", which you probably don't belong to.