May 01, 2016
Regardless of who leads it, the professional-class liberalism I have been describing in these pages seems to be forever traveling on a quest for some place of greater righteousness. It is always engaged in a search for some subject of overwhelming, noncontroversial goodness with which it can identify itself and under whose umbrella of virtue it can put across its self-interested class program.You can find another extract from Listen, Liberal!, Thomas Frank's recent book on the DPUSA's transformation from a party of the working majority to that of moneyed technocrats, here, and his recent Guardian piece on Bill Clinton's crime bill also refers. Or you could just buy and read the book like I did, you cheap bastids.
You can find dozens of examples of this kind of liberal-class virtue-quest if you try, but instead of listing them, let me go straight to the point: This is not politics. It’s an imitation of politics. It feels political, yes: it’s highly moralistic, it sets up an easy melodrama of good versus bad, it allows you to make all kinds of judgments about people you disagree with, but ultimately it’s a diversion, a way of putting across a policy program while avoiding any sincere discussion of the policies in question. The virtue-quest is an exciting moral crusade that seems to be extremely important but at the conclusion of which you discover you’ve got little to show for it besides NAFTA, bank deregulation, and a prison spree.
This book is about Democrats, but of course Republicans do it too. The culture wars unfold in precisely the same way as the liberal virtue-quest: they are an exciting ersatz politics that seem to be really important but at the conclusion of which voters discover they’ve got little to show for it all besides more free-trade agreements, more bank deregulation, and a different prison spree.
The other great diplomatic initiative during Hillary Clinton’s years as secretary of state was to recast the United States as the world’s defender of women and girls....
Like so many of the administration’s high-minded initiatives, this one turned out to be pretty mundane: the Hillary Doctrine was concerned largely with innovation, with foundations and private companies who would partner with us to do things like “improve maternal and child health,” “close the global gender gap in cellular phone ownership,” “persuade men and boys to value their sisters and their daughters,” and “make sure that every girl in the world has a chance to live up to her own dreams and aspirations.”
Above all, the Hillary Doctrine was about entrepreneurs. It was women-in-business whose “potential” Hillary Clinton wished to “unleash”; it was their “dreams and innovations” that she longed to see turned into “successful businesses that generate income for themselves and their families.”
Among other things, the Hillary Doctrine helps us understand what Hillary really thinks about the all-important issue of income inequality. Women entrepreneurs as the solution for economic backwardness is not a new idea, after all. It comes directly from the microfinance movement, the poverty-fighting strategy that has been pushed by the World Bank since the 1990s, and Hillary’s idea brings with it an entire economic philosophy...
It was all so simple. While national leaders busied themselves with the macro-matters of privatizing and deregulating, microlending would bring the science of markets down to the individual. Merely by providing impoverished individuals with a tiny loan of fifty or a hundred dollars, it was thought, you could put them on the road to entrepreneurial self-sufficiency, you could make entire countries prosper, you could bring about economic development itself.
What was most attractive about microlending was what it was not, what it made unnecessary: any sort of collective action by poor people, coming together in governments or unions. The international development community now knew that such institutions had no real role in human prosperity. Instead, we were to understand poverty in the familiar terms of entrepreneurship and individual merit, as though the hard work of millions of single, unconnected people, plus cellphones, bank accounts, and a little capital, were what was required to remedy the third world’s vast problems. Millions of people would sell one another baskets they had made or coal they had dug out of the trash heap, and suddenly they were entrepreneurs, on their way to the top. The key to development was not doing something to limit the grasp of Western banks, in other words; it was extending Western banking methods to encompass every last individual on earth.
These ... sentiments ... suffer from one big problem: microlending doesn’t work. As strategies for ending poverty go, microlending appears to be among the worst that has ever been tried, just one step up from doing nothing to help the poor at all... It doesn’t empower women...; it makes them into debtors. It encourages people to take up small, futile enterprises that have no chance of growing or employing others...
There’s a second reason the liberal class loves microfinance, and it’s extremely simple: microlending is profitable. Lending to the poor, as every subprime mortgage originator knows, can be a lucrative business. Mixed with international feminist self-righteousness, it is also a bulletproof business, immune to criticism. The million-dollar paydays it has brought certain microlenders are the wages of virtue. This combination is the real reason the international goodness community believes that empowering poor women by lending to them at usurious interest rates is a fine thing all around.
The image is from here as re-tviited by Nick Mamatas. Oh, and great minds sorta think alike.
April 19, 2016
This new fad for calling anything you don't like "Marxist" reminds me of something.
I'm sure it's just a coincidence.
April 07, 2016
In much of the pre-modern world, ritual sacrifice was framed as necessary for the good of the society at large — the only way to guarantee, say, a plentiful harvest or success in war.What's being investigated here is apparently called the social control hypothesis. In the past, whenever I contemplated addle-pated statements about the necessity of accepting moral relativism* when considering the extremes of human ethical diversity, such as the ritual human sacrifices of pre-Columbian Meso-American empires, I wondered why no-one ever considered that said ethical norms may not have been norms for the majority of the people in those societies at all, but merely behaviours embraced by a political elite and then imposed on everyone else for coercive purposes. (Which shows how little I know of the field, as this is apparently a commonplace explanation.) This would be something to bear in mind when faced with an argument that there are no universal moral norms (such as "murdering people is bad") at all: that a diversion from such universal, or widely held, ethical positions may not ever have occurred in any particular society as a whole, but was just notable among the psychopaths in charge.
But the priests and rulers who sanctioned such killings may have had another motive, a new study suggests. An analysis of more than seven dozen Austronesian cultures revealed that the practice of human sacrifices tended to make societies increasingly less egalitarian and eventually gave rise to strict, inherited class systems. In other words, ritual killings helped keep the powerful in power and everyone else in check.
Lots of sociologists have theorized about this connection, the researchers say, but there haven’t been many rigorous scientific studies of how it came about...
[T]he link between the sacrifices and social hierarchies seemed to transcend [cultural] differences. The victims were almost always of low social status, and the more stratified the culture was, the more prevalent ritual killings were likely to be.
The [research] illustrated that ritual killings tended to precede social hierarchies, and once stratification occurred, they served to reinforce it. It was very difficult for a culture to return to egalitarianism after class differences had set in.
*Not to be confused with cultural relativism, although every one does. All societies - "cultures" - are equally capable of atrocity, and arguing any is better invariably requires an embrace of actual moral relativism: when we do exactly the same bad thing as that other group it is actually good, or at least excusable. In fact, there are no good or bad "cultures", societies, nations, tribes, peoples or people; there are only good or bad acts. And I lean (with a concerted effort of optimism) to the position that absent the mental pathologies promulgated by ruling hierarchies, certain basic ethical positions would remain broadly held.
March 29, 2016
For the last 40 years, we’ve been preparing for this generation without a future. We’ve weaned and fed them on the idea that life doesn’t get better, that there are no plans to be made, no futures to be had. So that when that reality actually hits, when they inherit the world they’ve now inherited, they’ve been readied for the nothing that lies ahead...
Strangely, this is the generation that is now making the Bernie Sanders moment. Which, whatever else it may be, is a bid on the promise that the future can be better. Radically better. For the millennials, this is not a promise born from any economic experience. It is a purely political promise, distilled from the last decade and a half of failed protest against neoliberalism and austerity, and some strange phantom of socialism conjured from who knows where.
Progress is an idea that has died a thousand deaths, none more permanent, it seemed, than the one it suffered at the hands of There Is No Alternative. Yet here it is, brought back to life by a generation that has the least reason to believe in it.
February 04, 2016
Such nettlesome facts count for little, though: the media tells the paint-by-numbers story of the establishment’s certain redemption in the polls because it’s the story that the media was built to tell. And Iowa is, in its twisted way, the perfect showcase for this tale because the Iowa caucus process is the most obdurately undemocratic balloting ritual this side of the Florida pageant of hanging chads and disfranchised African Americans. To tease any sort of abiding civic-republican moral from the seamy conduct of the caucuses requires some truly epic lurches into wish-fulfillment fantasy.Chris Lehmann in The Baffler.
... That Iowa City caucus, like many in the eastern half of the state, went overwhelmingly to Sanders, but his commanding margin there didn’t translate into correspondingly fulsome gains in the delegate column. That’s because the caucus voters aren’t voting for candidates at all so much as for recondite formulas by which party bosses eventually allot delegates to a major party convention. ... This is all to say nothing of the outlandish ways in which caucus votes are weighted to favor past trends in a precinct’s voter participation — as if that had any bearing on anything — and the eventual nomination-rigging practice known as super-delegate apportionment.
On the Republican side, shenanigans likewise abounded. When Ben Carson announced he was leaving the state ahead of any final tabulation of returns, Cruz apparatchiks pounced to circulate the unfounded rumor that Carson had bagged his presidential run altogether. Suppressing turnout for your rivals, and opportunistically poaching their supporters in the caucus cattle call — it’s all just more of democracy’s rich pageant.
As thuggishness like this transpires, media onlookers typically wander off to play with shiny new things...
February 01, 2016
Game of Thrones — the French Baby Boys' Names Edition
Lucas has great stamina: he came to power in 2002, and still was top dog in 2011. But he is less successful at cashing in on his dominance. His reign is punctuated by two interregnums.
Two years into his shaky first tenure, threatened by Théo, it is Enzo who almost wipes Lucas off the map in 2004.
Slowly rebuilding in the southeast, Lucas enters into a strategic alliance with Nathan, who dominates the northeast, to defeat Enzo. Lucas returns to power in 2008, but notices too late that Nathan has ideas beyond the station allotted to him.
January 05, 2016
Mongolian for something.
November 30, 2015
In 2008, Nebraska decriminalized child abandonment. The move was part of a "safe haven" law designed to address increased rates of infanticide in the state. Like other safe-haven laws, parents in Nebraska who felt unprepared to care for their babies could drop them off in a designated location without fear of arrest and prosecution. But legislators made a major logistical error: They failed to implement an age limitation for dropped-off children.Jessica Valenti in The Atlantic
Within just weeks of the law passing, parents started dropping off their kids. But here's the rub: None of them were infants. A couple of months in, 36 children had been left in state hospitals and police stations. Twenty-two of the children were over 13 years old. A 51-year-old grandmother dropped off a 12-year-old boy. One father dropped off his entire family -- nine children from ages one to 17. Others drove from neighboring states to drop off their children once they heard that they could abandon them without repercussion.
On November 21, 2008, the last day that the safe haven law was in effect for children of all ages, a mother from Yolo County, California, drove over 1,200 miles to the Kimball County Hospital in Nebraska where she left her 14-year-old son.
November 17, 2015
I love the bait-and-switch of this angry opinion piece in The Age: lure in the crypto-bigots with what appears to be the start of a standard "I condemn your failure to condemn" rant at "lefties" and Muslims, nailed in place with a nostalgic flourish of that idiotic neologism "Islamo-fascist", and then, before they know it, hammer them with a strident recounting of the relevant history and geopolitics, the imperialist meddling, support for ethno-national colonialism, and actual succouring of said "Islamo-fascism" when acceptably cosy to Western interests, that got us into this appalling blood-midden in the first place.
It is dangerous for so-called "lefties" to shy away from calling it what it is. Islamo-Fascism... it is also time for the mainstream Muslim world to be much more visible and active in opposing these violent extremists within their communities...Gosh. It's just a pity he didn't find time to mention Erdogan.
...delusional triumphalism of Western capitalism ...US and its allies armed, trained and supported Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda ...Taliban today continues to be trained, financed and supported by forces within the Pakistan security and military establishment ...humiliation of Palestinian people ...Israel was also happy to secretly fund and encourage the terrorist organisation, Hamas ...invasion and destruction of Iraq ...the West's eagerness to destroy the largely secular Gaddafi regime ...West's support for violent opposition to the Assad regime ... financial, ideological/religious and military support from the West's key allies in the Middle East, the brutal Islamo-Fascist regimes of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
November 03, 2015
Hey, remember how last year the government was allowed to block release of papers about the invasion of East Timor because it might upset our neighbours at a time of "significant tensions between the governments of Australia and Indonesia"? Well, apparently we're doing this now:
Note, as usual, the careful phrasing: "in support of the newly federated state of Malaysia" is as polite about timing as it is about avoiding mention of the British empire.
The associated poster about the Malayan Emergency refers to Australia fighting "alongside British forces against communist terrorists in Malaya." Remember the good old days, when just saying "communists" would have been sufficient?
November 02, 2015
Fairfax's resident crypto-bigot, noted hydrologist Paul Sheehan, emits his weekly mephitis:
For several years, the Canadian author Mark Steyn has been starkly pessimistic* about Europe. He recently travelled to Europe to see what the immigration influx looked like. He began in Sweden, the most generous country to immigrants in Europe, and had barely arrived when he had an encounter, described on his website on September 29:Oh, I don't know, Mark; he could have kicked you in the nads, you narcissistic, entitled, hatemongering pillock.
"I was looking forward to sitting back and enjoying the peace and quiet of Scandinavian First Class. But, just as I took my seat and settled in, a gaggle of 'refugees' swarmed in, young bearded men and a smaller number of covered women, the lads shooing away those first-class ticket holders not as nimble in securing their seats...
"They seemed to take it for granted that asylum in Europe should come with complimentary first-class travel ... The conductor gave a shrug, the great universal shorthand for there's-nothing-I-can do."
It apparently didn't occur to Steyn that the scare quotes around refugees rather draws attention to the possibility that said allegedly pushy Mussulmen could have been Swedish citizens, or, you know, tourists.
* This would be a tactfully uninformative description of Steyn's ongoing concern that the effete Eurotrash are being outbred by the swarthy interlopers in their midst. Sheehan's talent for decorous omission is always impressive - almost as impressive as his expertise as an impresario for charlatans - although here he does not surpass his career best: "He [Jeremiah Wright] has preached that the US Government invented AIDS as a weapon to use against blacks, among other slanders." [My ital.] "Other slanders", you'll recall, included allegations that the US government was involved in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba, had lied about the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and had dropped nuclear weapons on a couple of cities in Japan at some point.
October 31, 2015
... don't ever change.