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Five hard truths that probably will not be mentioned in the debates

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At TomDispatch Mattea Kramer has an interesting article:

Five big things will decide what this country looks like next year and in the 20 years to follow, but here’s a guarantee for you: you’re not going to hear about them in the upcoming presidential debates. Yes, there will be questions and answers focused on deficits, taxes, Medicare, the Pentagon, and education, to which you already more or less know the responses each candidate will offer.  What you won’t get from either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama is a little genuine tough talk about the actual state of reality in these United States of ours.  And yet, on those five subjects, a little reality would go a long way, while too little reality (as in the debates to come) is a surefire recipe for American decline.

So here’s a brief guide to what you won’t hear this Wednesday or in the other presidential and vice-presidential debates later in the month.  Think of these as five hard truths that will determine the future of this country.

1. Immediate deficit reduction will wipe out any hope of economic recovery: These days, it’s fashionable for any candidate to talk about how quickly he’ll reduce the federal budget deficit, which will total around $1.2 trillion in fiscal 2012.  And you’re going to hear talk about the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan and more like it on Wednesday.  But the hard truth of the matter is that deep deficit reduction anytime soon will be a genuine disaster.  Think of it this way: If you woke up tomorrow and learned that Washington had solved the deficit crisis and you’d lost your job, would you celebrate? Of course not. And yet, any move to immediately reduce the deficit does increase the likelihood that you will lose your job.

When the government cuts spending, it lays off workers and cancels orders for all sorts of goods and services that would generate income for companies in the private sector. Those companies, in turn, lay off workers, and the negative effects ripple through the economy. This isn’t atomic science.  It’s pretty basic stuff, even if it’s evidently not suitable material for a presidential debate.  The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service predicted in a September report, for example, that any significant spending cuts in the near-term would contribute to an economic contraction. In other words, slashing deficits right now will send us ever deeper into the Great Recession from which, at best, we’ve scarcely emerged.

Champions of immediate deficit reduction are likely to point out that unsustainable deficits aren’t good for the economy. And that’s true — in the long run. Washington must indeed plan for smaller deficits in the future. That will, however, be a lot easier to accomplish when the economy is healthier, since government spending declines when fewer people qualify for assistance, and tax revenues expand when the jobless go back to work. So it makes sense to fix the economy first. The necessity for near-term recovery spending paired with long-term deficit reduction gets drowned out when candidates pack punchy slogans into flashes of primetime TV.

2. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2012 at 3:59 pm

Posted in Election, Government

Term limits for marriages?

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Interesting idea: term-limited (but renewable) marriage contracts. As pointed out in the articles, contracts are already common in marriages (pre-nuptial agreements), so the idea is around. Matt Richtel recounts his findings as he explored the idea with various marriage experts:

IT makes little sense to explore a new era of family values based around Hollywood couplings. Or, worse yet, around mere rumors of the way movie stars conduct their marital affairs.

But might there be seeds of something worth considering in one such rumor, that Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes signed a five-year marriage contract?

It’s a dim data point but not an isolated one, suggesting people are rethinking marriage, at least around the edges. Prenuptial agreements, a different sort of contract, are on the rise, as is vowless cohabitation. The ages at which people marry have hit record highs, 28.7 years for men and 26.5 for women. And gay marriage has provoked widespread conversation about the institution’s meaning and place.

Last year, several lawmakers in Mexico City proposed the creation of short-term, renewable marriage contracts with terms as brief as two years. The idea was to own up to the reality that marriages fail about half the time.

Is marriage headed for an overhaul? A fundamental rethinking? Is it due for one?

When the Mexican legislators proposed their idea, which was not passed, the archdiocese there called it “absurd” and said it was anathema to the nature of marriage. I decided to put the questions to a different group: the people who study marriage and divorce. I was motivated not just by trend lines but, as a child of divorce, by ghosts.

I asked whether society should consider something like a 20-year marriage contract, my own modest proposal that, as in the one from Mexico, acknowledges the harsh truth that nearly half of marriages in the United States end in divorce and many others are miserable. The rough idea: two people, two decades, enough time to have and raise children if that’s your thing; a new status quo, a ceremony with a shelf life, till awhile do us part.

But despite having proposed it, whimsically, as a journalistic expedition, I found myself surprised and even unnerved by the extent to which some experts I spoke with say there is a need to rethink an institution that so often fails.

“We’re remarkably not innovative about marriage even though almost all the environmental conditions, writ large, have changed,” said Pepper Schwartz, a sociology professor at the University of Washington and author of books on love, sex and marriage. “We haven’t scrutinized it. We’ve been picking at it like a scab, and it’s not going to heal that way.”

The kinds of things that are changing: we’re living longer; we live apart from families and are less inclined to religion, both marriage support systems; technology makes it easier than ever flirt or cheat and fuels instant gratification (“I will absolutely invest in this marriage after I watch this cat video”).

Over all, divorce rates . . .

Continue reading. This should be of particular interest to the Red States in the Bible Belt, which have the highest divorce rates in the country, divorce apparently being include in their righteous defense of “traditional” marriage (which, I have to point out, is totally unlike many Old Testament marriages: polygamy seemed relatively common).

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2012 at 2:48 pm

Posted in Daily life, Law

Dorothy Dongegan plays piano with the Cab Calloway Orchestra

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And, man!, can she play! Via 30sJazz.com. The YouTube comment:

From Sensations Of 1945.

Dorothy Donegan (April 6, 1922 — May 19, 1998) was an American classically trained jazz pianist primarily known for performing in the stride piano and boogie-woogie style. She also played bop, swing jazz, and classical music. Obituaries for her argued that her flamboyant personality, tendency to mix unrelated genres in the same concert, and willingness to do lounge music may have caused her to be undervalued in jazz circles.

Donegan was born and grew up in Chicago, Illinois and began studying classical piano at age six. In her early years, she studied at the Chicago Musical College and by age eight her potential was recognized. In the 1940s she became Art Tatum’s protégée and in 1942 she made her recording debut. She appeared in Sensations of 1945 with Cab Calloway, Gene Rodgers and W. C. Fields and was known for her work in Chicago nightclubs. She began a trio in 1945, but then returned to solo work. She expressed some interest in returning to classical music after this.

Her first six albums would prove to be obscure when compared to her success at live performance. It was not until the 1980s that her work gained notice in the recorded jazz world, including an appearance at the 1987 Montreux Jazz Festival, and her live albums from 1991 perhaps gained her the most acclaim. Even at that point, she remained best known for concerts and live performances. At these she would draw crowds with her eclectic mixture of styles and her personality. She died of cancer in 1998 in Los Angeles, California.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2012 at 9:16 am

Posted in Jazz, Video

A coherent argument against wearing bicycle helmets

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Very interesting piece by Elisabeth Rosenthal in the NY Times:

ONE spectacular Sunday in Paris last month, I decided to skip museums and shopping to partake of something even more captivating for an environment reporter: Vélib, arguably the most successful bike-sharing program in the world. In their short lives, Europe’s bike-sharing systems have delivered myriad benefits, notably reducing traffic and its carbon emissions. A number of American cities — including New York, where a bike-sharing program is to open next year — want to replicate that success.

So I bought a day pass online for about $2, entered my login information at one of the hundreds of docking stations that are scattered every few blocks around the city and selected one of Vélib’s nearly 20,000 stodgy gray bikes, with their basic gears, upright handlebars and practical baskets.

Then I did something extraordinary, something I’ve not done in a quarter-century of regular bike riding in the United States: I rode off without a helmet.

I rode all day at a modest clip, on both sides of the Seine, in the Latin Quarter, past the Louvre and along the Champs-Élysées, feeling exhilarated, not fearful. And I had tons of bareheaded bicycling company amid the Parisian traffic. One common denominator of successful bike programs around the world — from Paris to Barcelona to Guangzhou — is that almost no one wears a helmet, and there is no pressure to do so.

In the United States the notion that bike helmets promote health and safety by preventing head injuries is taken as pretty near God’s truth. Un-helmeted cyclists are regarded as irresponsible, like people who smoke. Cities are aggressive in helmet promotion.

But many European health experts have taken a very different view: Yes, there are studies that show that if you fall off a bicycle at a certain speed and hit your head, a helmet can reduce your risk of serious head injury. But such falls off bikes are rare — exceedingly so in mature urban cycling systems.

On the other hand, many researchers say, if you force or pressure people to wear helmets, you discourage them from riding bicycles. That means more obesity, heart disease and diabetes. And — Catch-22 — a result is fewer ordinary cyclists on the road, which makes it harder to develop a safe bicycling network. The safest biking cities are places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, where middle-aged commuters are mainstay riders and the fraction of adults in helmets is minuscule. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2012 at 7:20 am

Posted in Daily life, Health

An American Indian responds to Scott Brown

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Very interesting op-ed by David Treuer in the NY Times:

JUST over a week ago, a handful of Senator Scott P. Brown’s supporters gathered in Boston to protest his opponent, Elizabeth Warren. The crowd — making Indian war whoops and tomahawk chops — was ridiculing what Mr. Brown, Republican of Massachusetts, called the “offense” of Ms. Warren’s claim that she has Cherokee and Delaware ancestry.

To mock real Indians by chanting like Hollywood Indians in order to protest someone you claim is not Indian at all gets very confusing. Even more so because early Americans spent centuries killing Indians, and then decades trying to drive any distinctive Indianness out of the ones who survived. Perhaps we’ve come a long way if Americans are now going around accusing people who don’t look or act Indian enough of appropriating that identity for personal gain. But in fact, the appropriation of Indian virtues is one of the country’s oldest traditions.

Indians — who we are and what we mean — have always been part of how America defined itself. Indians on the East Coast were largely (but never completely) deracinated, and tribes like the Delaware were either killed or relocated farther west. At the same time, their Indianness was extracted as a set of virtues: honor, stoicism, dignity, freedom. Once, in college, an African-American student shook his head when I told him that I was Indian and he said he was jealous. Why? I asked. Because you lived life on your own terms and would rather have died than become a slave. That sentiment — totally at odds with the reality in which many tribes were indeed enslaved and a few owned slaves themselves — seemed a very wistful expression of what being an Indian meant.

In any case, the mythic Indian virtues of dignity and freedom adhere less to real Indians than they do to the very nation that deposed them. Just think of how much the ultimate American, the cowboy, has in common with the Indian: a life lived beyond the law but in accordance with a higher set of laws like self-sufficiency, honor, toughness, a painful past, a fondness for whiskey and always that long, lingering look over his shoulder at a way of life quickly disappearing. Contrary to the view held by a lot of Indian people, America hasn’t forgotten us. It has always been obsessed with us and has appropriated, without recourse to reality or our own input, the qualities with which we are associated.

BEGINNING in the late 19th century, assimilation of the remaining American Indian population was official federal policy. This was around the time that the American frontier was considered closed: the West Coast had been reached and there were no more lands or peoples to conquer. And yet Indians still held on to much of our land and our identity. So at the behest of the federal government, thousands of Indian children were removed from their homes and sent to boarding schools. Indian languages and native religions were suppressed. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2012 at 7:08 am

Posted in Election, Government

Tagged with

Why conservatives seem stupid to onlookers: They oppose their own ideas

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This is clearly explained in a NY Times column on the Affordable Care Act written by J.D. Kleinke of the American Enterprise Institute (a conservative think tank):

IF Mitt Romney’s pivots on President’s Obama’s health care reform act have accelerated to a blur — from repealing on Day 1, to preserving this or that piece, to punting the decision to the states — it is for an odd reason buried beneath two and a half years of Republican political condemnations: the architecture of the Affordable Care Act is based on conservative, not liberal, ideas about individual responsibility and the power of market forces.

This fundamental ideological paradox, drowned out by partisan shouting since before the plan’s passage in 2010, explains why Obamacare has only lukewarm support from many liberals, who wanted a real, not imagined, “government takeover of health care.” It explains why Republicans have been unable since its passage to come up with anything better. And it explains why the law is nearly identical in design to the legislation Mr. Romney passed in Massachusetts while governor.

The core drivers of the health care act are market principles formulated by conservative economists, designed to correct structural flaws in our health insurance system — principles originally embraced by Republicans as a market alternative to the Clinton plan in the early 1990s. The president’s program extends the current health care system — mostly employer-based coverage, administered by commercial health insurers, with care delivered by fee-for-service doctors and hospitals — by removing the biggest obstacles to that system’s functioning like a competitive marketplace.

Chief among these obstacles are market limitations imposed by the problematic nature of health insurance, which requires that younger, healthier people subsidize older, sicker ones. Because such participation is often expensive and always voluntary, millions have simply opted out, a risky bet emboldened by the 24/7 presence of the heavily subsidized emergency room down the street. The health care law forcibly repatriates these gamblers, along with those who cannot afford to participate in a market that ultimately cross-subsidizes their medical misfortunes anyway, when they get sick and show up in that E.R. And it outlaws discrimination against those who want to participate but cannot because of their medical histories. Put aside the considerable legislative detritus of the act, and its aim is clear: to rationalize a dysfunctional health insurance marketplace.

This explains why the health insurance industry has been quietly supporting the plan all along. It levels the playing field and expands the potential market by tens of millions of new customers.

The rationalization and extension of the current market is financed by the other linchpin of the law: the mandate that we all carry health insurance, an ideaforged not by liberal social engineers at the Brookings Institution but by conservative economists at the Heritage Foundation. The individual mandate recognizes that millions of Americans who could buy health insurance choose not to, because it requires trading away today’s wants for tomorrow’s needs. The mandate is about personal responsibility — a hallmark of conservative thought.

IN the partisan war sparked by the 2008 election, Republicans conveniently forgot that this was something many of them had supported for years. The only thing wrong with the mandate? Mr. Obama also thought it was a good idea.

The same goes for health insurance exchanges, another idea formulated by conservatives and supported by Republican governors and legislators across the country for years. An exchange is as pro-market a mechanism as they come: free up buyers and sellers, standardize the products, add pricing transparency, and watch what happens. Market Economics 101.

In the shouting match over the health care law, most have somehow missed another of its obvious virtues: it enshrines accountability — yes, another conservative idea. Under today’s system, . . .

Continue reading. It’s an interesting piece, for sure. I don’t know that I agree with all of it: for example, I don’t see “accountability” as particularly Republican (or Democratic, for that matter), but rather a logical, moral, and ethical idea vigorously fought by those who would be impacted by accountability: people eager to escape responsibility for the consequences of their decisions and actions. It’s not party-specific. Still, the column is good food for thought, should Republicans read it. Too bad no comments are appended to the piece.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2012 at 6:20 am

Gender progress (and the lack of same)

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Very interesting essay in the NY Times by Stephanie Coontz:

SCROLL through the titles and subtitles of recent books, and you will read that women have become “The Richer Sex,” that “The Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys,” and that we may even be seeing “The End of Men.” Several of the authors of these books posit that we are on the verge of a “new majority of female breadwinners,” where middle-class wives lord over their husbands while demoralized single men take refuge in perpetual adolescence.

How is it, then, that men still control the most important industries, especially technology, occupy most of the positions on the lists of the richest Americans, and continue to make more money than women who have similar skills and education? And why do women make up only 17 percent of Congress?

These books and the cultural anxiety they represent reflect, but exaggerate, a transformation in the distribution of power over the past half-century. Fifty years ago, every male American was entitled to what the sociologist R. W. Connell called a “patriarchal dividend” — a lifelong affirmative-action program for men.

The size of that dividend varied according to race and class, but all men could count on women’s being excluded from the most desirable jobs and promotions in their line of work, so the average male high school graduate earned more than the average female college graduate working the same hours. At home, the patriarchal dividend gave husbands the right to decide where the family would live and to make unilateral financial decisions. Male privilege even trumped female consent to sex, so marital rape was not a crime.

The curtailment of such male entitlements and the expansion of women’s legal and economic rights have transformed American life, but they have hardly produced a matriarchy. Indeed, in many arenas the progress of women has actually stalled over the past 15 years.

Let’s begin by determining which is “the richer sex.”

Women’s real wages have been rising for decades, while the real wages of most men have stagnated or fallen. But women’s wages started from a much lower base, artificially held down by discrimination. Despite their relative improvement, women’s average earnings are still lower than men’s and women remain  more likely to be poor.

Today women make up almost 40 percent of full-time workers in management. But the median wages of female managers are just 73 percent of what male managers earn. And although women have significantly increased their representation among high earners in America over the past half-century, only 4 percent of the C.E.O.’s in Fortune’s top 1,000 companies are female.

What we are seeing is a convergence in economic fortunes, not female ascendance. Between 2010 and 2011, . .

Continue reading. Later in the essay:

ONE thing standing in the way of further progress for many men is the same obstacle that held women back for so long: overinvestment in their gender identity instead of their individual personhood. Men are now experiencing a set of limits — externally enforced as well as self-imposed — strikingly similar to the ones Betty Friedan set out to combat in 1963, when she identified a “feminine mystique” that constrained women’s self-image and options.

Although men don’t face the same discriminatory laws as women did 50 years ago, they do face an equally restrictive gender mystique.

Just as the feminine mystique discouraged women in the 1950s and 1960s from improving their education or job prospects, on the assumption that a man would always provide for them, the masculine mystique encourages men to neglect their own self-improvement on the assumption that sooner or later their “manliness” will be rewarded.

According to a 2011 poll by the Pew Research Center, 77 percent of Americans now believe that a college education is necessary for a woman to get ahead in life today, but only 68 percent think that is true for men. And just as the feminine mystique exposed girls to ridicule and harassment if they excelled at “unladylike” activities like math or sports, the masculine mystique leads to bullying and ostracism of boys who engage in “girlie” activities like studying hard and behaving well in school. One result is that men account for only 2 percent of kindergarten and preschool teachers, 3 percent of dental assistants and 9 percent of registered nurses.

The masculine mystique is institutionalized in . . .

I’ve read that among inner-city African-Americans, a devotion to study, reading, and education is derided as “acting white”: an example of counter-productive racial identity. So perhaps over-identification with any group can work against the fulfillment of one’s human potential because one tries to fit the square peg of oneself into the round hole of the group stereotype, which always is a simplification (and thus distortion) of reality.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 September 2012 at 6:00 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

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