Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Micro-Blog Roundup: Wall Street Time!

Recently four of my favorite Albuquerque-based blogs posted commentaries on the wall street crash.

iMinister: Calling the treasury secretary on his shit

Kittens for Jesus: Evan looks through the actual legislation and unmasks lovecraftian horrors! Fortunately, he has a partisan picture with which to cheer partisans.

Burque Babble: Scot Key is snarky. What, you expected something else? The snark is, as always, premium grade.

Jfleck: John puts it all in perspective, and as added bonus, he does it by quoting the Secretary General of the UN

Enjoy! I'd throw my own opinion around, but I'm just hoping that we don't have another repeat of crash/decade long depression/world war.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Economics Question

Today in microeconomics, my teacher said "economics can be extraordinarily unfair, but it is remarkably efficient." She followed this by saying that many government programs "aimed at creating fairness, by necessity, create inefficiency".

So, my readers, all twelve of you - Are economic efficiency and fairness necessarily opposed? Are they opposite ends of the same spectrum?

Your thoughts in the comments section, please. I'm intrigued to get other minds looking at this.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Reconciling Worldviews

I've had a lot of frustration this week (and will undoubtedly still have this frustration for weeks to come) with political perspectives that I see as dangerous and alien. So it's comforting to have psychologists looking at morality and coming up with conclusions. Here's the article, which I recommend in full. Below are my two favorite parts so far.
They want more prayer and spanking in schools, and less sex education and access to abortion? I didn't think those steps would reduce AIDS and teen pregnancy, but I could see why the religious right wanted to "thicken up" the moral climate of schools and discourage the view that children should be as free as possible to act on their desires. Conservatives think that welfare programs and feminism increase rates of single motherhood and weaken the traditional social structures that compel men to support their own children? Hmm, that may be true, even if there are also many good effects of liberating women from dependence on men. I had escaped from my prior partisan mindset (reject first, ask rhetorical questions later), and began to think about liberal and conservative policies as manifestations of deeply conflicting but equally heartfelt visions of the good society.
[M]orality is not just about how we treat each other (as most liberals think); it is also about binding groups together, supporting essential institutions, and living in a sanctified and noble way. When Republicans say that Democrats "just don't get it," this is the "it" to which they refer. Conservative positions on gays, guns, god, and immigration must be understood as means to achieve one kind of morally ordered society. When Democrats try to explain away these positions using pop psychology they err, they alienate, and they earn the label "elitist." But how can Democrats learn to see—let alone respect—a moral order they regard as narrow-minded, racist, and dumb? (Ed - emphasis in bold is mine).
I'm not yet done with the article, but it is challenging in interesting ways, stretching the tolerance of an open mind. If you're ready to considers others views as valid, give it a shot.

Edit: I've finished reading the article, and I'll have commentary up later. Right now the thing worth mentioning is pair of quotes:
"Religion and political leadership are so intertwined across eras and cultures because they are about the same thing: performing the miracle of converting unrelated individuals into a group."
The Democrats would lose their souls if they ever abandoned their commitment to social justice, but social justice is about getting fair relationships among the parts of the nation. This often divisive struggle among the parts must be balanced by a clear and oft-repeated commitment to guarding the precious coherence of the whole.
The key moral underpinning of politics on the left is, I think, reemerging after a several decades of hibernation under utopian secular notions. I think this change (which the author of the article sees as needed) is happening, and I think it's a good thing.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

More on White Privilege

When last I posted here, my post was little more than a glorified cut-and-paste of someone else's thoughts. I'm comfortable with that, because the someone in question is Tim Wise, and he's far more competent than I am at understanding white privilege.

The article of his I quoted (in it's entirety) was focused on white privilege as it concerns the presidential election. The article is good and poignant, but it assumes some basic understanding of the mechanics of privilege. That's tricky stuff, so his follow-up is an incredibly helpful rundown of what white privilege is. His whole post can be found here.

In addition, there are two points worth highlighting:
That's the point: privilege is the flipside of discrimination. If people of color face discrimination, in housing, employment and elsewhere, then the rest of us are receiving a de facto subsidy, a privilege, an advantage in those realms of daily life. There can be no down without an up, in other words.
The above is white privilege in three sentences, which I don't think I've seen done anywhere as effectively or concise.

The below is the requisite call to action:
One way is by fighting for a society in which those privileges will no longer exist, and in which we will be able to stand on our own two feet, without the artificial crutch of racial advantage to prop us up. We need to commit to fighting for racial equity and challenging injustice at every turn, not only because it harms others, but because it diminishes us as well (even as it pays dividends), and because it squanders the promise of fairness and equity to which we claim to adhere as Americans.

It's about responsibility, not guilt.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Someone Else's Words

I've a lot I've been meaning to say about Sarah Palin, an awful lot really, but as you can probably guess from my last post, I'm more content to point towards others who are saying what I have to say, but better-phrased.

Here, however, I'm not content to just point you in the right direction. Below is the entire text of a post by Tim Wise. His blog deserves the traffic for this, but what he has to say is important enough to be plastered more or less everywhere. (Added bonus: it tackles both White Privilege and Sarah Palin!)

For those who still can't grasp the concept of white privilege, or who are constantly looking for some easy-to-understand examples of it, perhaps this list will help.

  • White privilege is when you can get pregnant at seventeen like Bristol Palin and everyone is quick to insist that your life and that of your family is a personal matter, and that no one has a right to judge you or your parents, because "every family has challenges," even as black and Latino families with similar "challenges" are regularly typified as irresponsible, pathological and arbiters of social decay.
  • White privilege is when you can call yourself a "fuckin' redneck," like Bristol Palin's boyfriend does, and talk about how if anyone messes with you, you'll "kick their fuckin' ass," and talk about how you like to "shoot shit" for fun, and still be viewed as a responsible, all-American boy (and a great son-in-law to be) rather than a thug.
  • White privilege is when you can attend four different colleges in six years like Sarah Palin did (one of which you basically failed out of, then returned to after making up some coursework at a community college), and no one questions your intelligence or commitment to achievement, whereas a person of color who did this would be viewed as unfit for college, and probably someone who only got in in the first place because of affirmative action.
  • White privilege is when you can claim that being mayor of a town smaller than most medium-sized colleges, and then Governor of a state with about the same number of people as the lower fifth of the island of Manhattan, makes you ready to potentially be president, and people don't all piss on themselves with laughter, while being a black U.S. Senator, two-term state Senator, and constitutional law scholar, means you're "untested."
  • White privilege is being able to say that you support the words "under God" in the pledge of allegiance because "if it was good enough for the founding fathers, it's good enough for me," and not be immediately disqualified from holding office--since, after all, the pledge was written in the late 1800s and the "under God" part wasn't added until the 1950s--while believing that reading accused criminals and terrorists their rights (because, ya know, the Constitution, which you used to teach at a prestigious law school requires it), is a dangerous and silly idea only supported by mushy liberals.
  • White privilege is being able to be a gun enthusiast and not make people immediately scared of you. White privilege is being able to have a husband who was a member of an extremist political party that wants your state to secede from the Union, and whose motto was "Alaska first," and no one questions your patriotism or that of your family, while if you're black and your spouse merely fails to come to a 9/11 memorial so she can be home with her kids on the first day of school, people immediately think she's being disrespectful.
  • White privilege is being able to make fun of community organizers and the work they do--like, among other things, fight for the right of women to vote, or for civil rights, or the 8-hour workday, or an end to child labor--and people think you're being pithy and tough, but if you merely question the experience of a small town mayor and 18-month governor with no foreign policy expertise beyond a class she took in college--you're somehow being mean, or even sexist.
  • White privilege is being able to convince white women who don't even agree with you on any substantive issue to vote for you and your running mate anyway, because all of a sudden your presence on the ticket has inspired confidence in these same white women, and made them give your party a "second look."
  • White privilege is being able to fire people who didn't support your political campaigns and not be accused of abusing your power or being a typical politician who engages in favoritism, while being black and merely knowing some folks from the old-line political machines in Chicago means you must be corrupt.
  • White privilege is being able to attend churches over the years whose pastors say that people who voted for John Kerry or merely criticize George W. Bush are going to hell, and that the U.S. is an explicitly Christian nation and the job of Christians is to bring Christian theological principles into government, and who bring in speakers who say the conflict in the Middle East is God's punishment on Jews for rejecting Jesus, and everyone can still think you're just a good church-going Christian, but if you're black and friends with a black pastor who has noted (as have Colin Powell and the U.S. Department of Defense) that terrorist attacks are often the result of U.S. foreign policy and who talks about the history of racism and its effect on black people, you're an extremist who probably hates America.
  • White privilege is not knowing what the Bush Doctrine is when asked by a reporter, and then people get angry at the reporter for asking you such a "trick question," while being black and merely refusing to give one-word answers to the queries of Bill O'Reilly means you're dodging the question, or trying to seem overly intellectual and nuanced.
  • White privilege is being able to claim your experience as a POW has anything at all to do with your fitness for president, while being black and experiencing racism is, as Sarah Palin has referred to it a "light" burden.
  • And finally, white privilege is the only thing that could possibly allow someone to become president when he has voted with George W. Bush 90 percent of the time, even as unemployment is skyrocketing, people are losing their homes, inflation is rising, and the U.S. is increasingly isolated from world opinion, just because white voters aren't sure about that whole "change" thing. Ya know, it's just too vague and ill-defined, unlike, say, four more years of the same, which is very concrete and certain.

White privilege is, in short, the problem.

Also, here's another short bit, in video format, that I can't help but recommend.

Petty Politics

Today, in the midst of homework for my War on Terror class, I found four distractions, all related to Sarah Palin.

Here's something light.

And here's something heavy.

Edit: and here's something mid-range.

Edit: and here's something that is genuinely important.


Friday, September 12, 2008


I've said this before, but it's an important statement: I was raised in the UU faith. Generations of my family down the maternal line have been raised UU, or Universalist before that. It makes me a minority in the faith, and it makes part of my experience unusual. But I do share a commonality with a lot of people, and that is having experienced childhood as a Unitarian Universalist.

This childhood involves an interesting religious education program, where several conceptions of religion are examined, and where a broad diversity of religious perspectives are discussed. We are a religion that respects the wide range of personal revelations and spiritual journeys, but growing up in that setting, there is very little native for us to hold on to.

The 7 UU principles are as close as Unitarians are willing to get to creed, to catechism, and to unifying article of faith. They are a loose catch-all, seven statements that are aimed at representing a unified general outlook, while still being removed from the terror of doctrine. The principles are agreed to by congregations, not members. The principles are accompanied by a list of sources UUs use to inform their religious practice. And, growing up UU, they are all I had on the playground to defend my faith as a legitimate religion.

I know this is perhaps antithetical to the ideal UU RE experience, but while I left sunday mornings with a sense of community, it was only on the days we talked about our faith's own heritage and own values that the experience amounted to something religious. It's selfish, certainly, but this is an integral part of community, of collective identity. Starting UU, I've no need to say what I'm not - I needed something to say what I am.

So I'm a fan of the principles. They're a handy reference, one of the things I can point to when people say "Oh, they're just a community, not really a church", and I've even used them as a context for imagining a presidential campaign. It isn't an exact statement of my values (I'm far too nit-picky for that), but it's a very handy reference point or starting line. It's no surprise that I'm also a fan of the freedom offered by rules - with some lines drawn, I can exercise my freedom to act. Not to say that all constraints are good, but going from none to a few (say, 7) isn't crippling; I find it empowering, really.

And yes, I'm well aware and grateful for the non-creedal nature of our faith. That the principles are agreed to by congregations strengthens them, in my mind. That the principles come at the front of a hymnal and not a bible is a strength. We don't have a set text, we don't have a lot of fixed meaning, and we don't have a monolithic, dogmatic church. What we have is a loose framework, a context within which religious and spiritual experience can be discerned, and which allows for some sense of universal human rights.

This brings me to the latest debate in the UU blogosphere. This page (warning: PDF) is an attempted revision of the covenant the congregations of the UUA share. If you're Unitarian, it's worth reading, and it is definitely worth some serious thought. I rarely disagree with Christine Robinson, who has her impressions here and here and here, but when I do the disagreement is at the least interesting. While I don't agree with all she says (this post itself is very much a response to the first post of hers I linked to), her thoughts about misappropriation are spot-on.

Christine also links to, and expresses approval of, Daniel Harper's counter-proposal. While I can't say I'm fond of the expanded principles expressed in the PDF, I'm awfully attached to the straightforwardness expressed in the principles as they stand. His language for misappropriation is much better than that of the proposal, and his last few principles are very skillfully worded. The call to action in the following is particulalry impressive:
That we shall promote openness, fairness, and honesty in in our own communities and in all human interactions, living out the highest democratic principles to the end that we shall resist authoritarianism wherever it springs up;

But his principles lack the core phrase that I think any statement of UU princples need. "That every person is worthy of love", as a statement of principle, just doesn't have the profound force of "The inherent worth and dignity of every person". That language itself is strong enough to open the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which in itself is an impressive document in terms of freedoms allowed by providing a framework. It's an oddity, this Unitarian quibble over religious language, but if we know anything, it is that words have meaning. We have to be exceedingly prudent in our selection of the revised Principles and Purposes. We should be mindful of the fact that, while many UUs have been burnt out on creeds and doctrines, there are many still who can take comfort in and have their feelings of religiosity strengthened by meaningful principles.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

9/11/2008 - Political Elasticity

As is habit, here's an obligatory 9/11 blog post.

John Fleck has been blogging lately about elasticity, about how people are changing behaviors responding to the high price of gas. What's interesting is the range of successful options - biking is easy for short commutes (high elasticity). Public transportation is becoming more popular, meaning that the buses in Albuquerque are carrying more riders than ever, and that the demand is great than can currently be met (fairly high elasticity). People are looking at trains instead of flying for travel, and the rail system in this nation cannot possibly keep up for at least a year or two (low elasticity). Other people are looking at natural gas, given how cheap it is, and wondering why we don't have cars than can use it as fuel; others are just wondering why people aren't, all of a sudden, driving more fuel efficient cars. Specialized car production to meet this crisis is slow, lagging behind demand. For cars to adapt will take several years, and new fuels will take longer (low, very low elasticity). That's elasticity as it concerns travel and fuel costs among consumers in the US.

The elasticity that concerns 9/11 is with policy advisors. Condoleeza Rice is the latest in a long line of presidential cabinet members who grew up and academically came of age as Russia experts - the Cold War has produced professionals who are longer lived than their knowledge set. The best minds in US foreign policy for decades have been specialists on Russia.

Seven years after 9/11, I'm taking Arabic, History of Islam, and a class called "War on Terror". Those classes are bursting - they had to offer a new section of Arabic, and in a school that prides itself on small class size they cannot trim the numbers in these classrooms down below 25. Two years ago, when I took "Middle Eastern Culture and Civilization" at community college in New Mexico, the class was small, maybe 15 students. This sudden rush, this explosion of interest, is the political elasticity. Seven years after the fact we have responded to the crisis, and the crises that have emerged since then.

Here's hoping our knowledge is needed before this is all over.

Edit 9/11/2008: I've a more personal post about the day, and my reaction to it, up on livejournal.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Progeny or Progidy

I'll be back blogging more regularly when I'm in New Orleans again (don't worry, I will be soon). In the meanwhile, I am proud to offer to you a brand-spanking new blog. This blog is in the great tradition of Albuquerque-snark (a la Burque Babble), and with the same love of current events (though not the love of journalistic standards) that fuels AHS Foliage.

I present to you, Kittens for Jesus. The author is young, smart, and disagrees with me interestingly while still being firmly on the left. Start at the beginning, and you shouldn't be disappointed.