Friday, June 27, 2008

Brave New World

I just started reading this classic, and I wanted to share this snippet from the intro:

It is probable that all the world's governments will be more or less completely totalitarian even before the harnessing of atomic energy; that they will be totalitarian during and after the harnessing seems almost certain. Only a large-scale popular movement toward decentralization and self-help can arrest the present tendency toward statism. At present there is no sign that such a movement will take place...

A really efficient totalitarian state would be one in which the all-powerful executive of political bosses and their army of managers control a population of slaves who do not have to be coerced, because they love their servitude. To make them love it is the task assigned, in present-day totalitarian states, to ministries of propaganda, newspaper editors and schoolteachers.

This was written in 1946, a year after Hiroshima, at the height of Harry Truman and Josef Stalin; Huxley is understandably pessimistic. How did we escape his prediction of a totalitarian future? The newspaper editors were as cowardly and lazy as he predicted, the schoolteachers retained a near-monopoly on the development of the youth, and the ministries of propaganda were in full swing.

The answer, in my mind, lies in the message that we were trying to send through these outlets. The red scare and the Cold War in general gave these brainwashing institutions more than enough to deal with. In order to portray the Soviets as negatively as possible, we had to portray totalitarianism in a somewhat negative light, and exalt freedom and liberty more than we might have otherwise. I have seen this argument used to explain the shift against immigration; in the 1980s, it was okay for Reagan to grant amnesty to the illegal immigrants - by showing off the great number of people who wanted to come to our glorious nation, we could differentiate ourselves from the Soviets, where people were dying to leave.

I also think that credit should be given to Eisenhower; as of right now he is my favorite president of the 20th century. Electing a man who had as much firsthand experience in the horrors of war is the best way to avoid more wars. (Though I'm not going to claim this for John McCain; he is thirty-plus years removed from war and seems to have forgotten how bad it was - his reaction to the recent Guantanamo ruling proves that.)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Response to Jake's comment

Jake Quinton:
Honestly, in all the hubbub about tax cuts, I didn't stop to think once that those wealthy bastards I love to hate (and aspire to be like) pay for such a large portion of our government.

I still would like tax cuts to be seemingly the most beneficial for those lower quintile (love that term) of the population that is most often faced with the choice of having either milk or lights some months.

But that might just be the socialist in me.

I'm going to respond in post-form, because I just know if I start typing out a long response my computer is going to die without auto-saving. So yeah...

My problem with this is:
1.) the lowest quintile pay .65% of the income tax in America, so income tax cuts won't benefit them too much. (time for a digression) The real place where the poor are hurt are in things like gas taxes and excise taxes; these taxes tend to be regressive, because the poor will spend a greater percentage of their income on these. Especially with things like New York's new cigarette tax, which more than doubles the price of cigarettes. This is done with the full knowledge that it will force the poor, who are more likely to smoke, to have to decide between smoking and eating.

2.) It tends to be the top quintile who produces and distributes things like milk and lights. By punishing them, the government indirectly punishes the people who have to pay for their products. If a research scientist, working to produce cheaper light bulbs, works 35 hours a week at a 50% tax rate, but would work 50 hours a week if the tax rate were 20%, meaning that each additional hour he or she works means marginally more money for him or her, then it's more likely that a cheaper light is produced, which would benefit the poor.

It also drives up the cost of doing businss, as hiring someone who wants to make a certain amount of money costs businesses more, which is passed on to the consumers via higher prices.

So cutting taxes for the rich may not directly benefit the poor by giving them more money, but it benefits them by making their money able to buy more.

I think this may be Reganomics though, now that I look at it. Whoops.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


After listening to one of his speeches on the radio regarding his tax plan, I can safely say that whatever chance I had of voting for Obama is now gone. I hate it when pundits who whine about tax cuts benefiting the wealthy. Well, no shit - One percent of Americans pay for 34.3 percent of the government. Is it really surprising that tax cuts benefit those who pay the most more? He went on to say "I don't mean to embarrass you, but could those of you who make more than 2.8 million stand up?" implying that to make that much money one must have a racket in stealing children's lunch money. He kept complaining that tax cuts rewarded "Wealth" not "Work" as if the two were mutually exclusive. I also liked that he is comfortably above the $2.8 million mark (those making 2.8 million or more would get 1/4 of the tax cuts by McCain), but didn't mention that.

Granted, I'm still as likely to vote for McCain as I am for Ahmadinejad, but all of the initial enthusiasm I had for Obama is gone.

(I would like to note that the spellchecker for Blogger has 'IBM' as the closest match for Obama)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I called it

It turns out the guy who has the blog,Five Thirty-Eight, which I mentioned earlier is Nate Silver, who happens to be involved with Baseball Prospectus, which is a big baseball-statistics think tank that I used to subscribe to. And indeed, he studied economics at the University of Chicago.

Baseball, Politics, and Economics. Whodda thought.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Justice Vs. Power - Chomsky Vs. Foucault, Part 1

Well worth the watch; you can get to part 2 from Youtube.

Foucault on history

From What is Enlightenment? by Michel Foucault: seems to me that this historico-critical attitude must also be an experimental one. I mean that this work done at the limits of ourselves must, on the one hand, open up a realm of historical inquiry and, on the other, put itself to the test of reality, of contemporary reality, both to grasp the points where change is possible and desirable, and to determine the precise form this change should take. This means that the historical ontology of ourselves must turn away from all projects that claim to be global or radical. In fact we know from experience that the claim to escape from the system of contemporary reality so as to produce the overall programs of another society, of another way of thinking, another culture, another vision of the world, has led only to the return of the most dangerous traditions.
I prefer the very specific transformations that have proved to be possible in the last twenty years in a certain number of areas that concern our ways of being and thinking, relations to authority, relations between the sexes, the way in which we perceive insanity or illness; I prefer even these partial transformations that have been made in the correlation of historical analysis and the practical attitude, to the programs for a new man that the worst political systems have repeated throughout the twentieth century.
I shall thus characterize the philosophical ethos appropriate to the critical ontology of ourselves as a historio-practical test of the limits that we may go beyond, and thus as work carried out by ourselves upon ourselves as free beings.

This is a very significant passage; I'm fairly sure I don't grasp the entirety of it, but a few things that jump out at me:

1: History, or at least Foucault's preferred method of history, is the analysis of the fringes of our everyday lives. What we perceive as 'insane' has shifted throughout history, and this perception is indicative of a deeper truth of our society. Sexuality (though perhaps less at the fringes today than in other times), too, is something that exposes much more about society, gender relations, etc, than meets the eye. Hence his works: Madness and Civilization, and The History of Sexuality.

2: He also seems to be saying that history should be done in such a way that the lessons we garner from history must be in some way useful and practical. I might be reading that wrong; either he means that, or he means that the models used for historical inquiry must be somehow applicable to contemporary society? Maybe it's the same thing, or neither.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

This guy must have some econ training

This is a great blog for election buffs and number nerds.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Violence and Movies

I seem to have developed a strong distaste for films that revel in violence. There are movies out there whose main intent is to show the suffering of innocent people. These are basically snuff films without the sex. The root of these films is a hatred for humanity; there is no thought involved, and the moral is: causing pain is good, even if the pain is caused by the 'bad guys.'

This is completely contrary to violence in, say, war movies, in which violence is a means to an end. The end of these gore film is that human life is meaningless, to be destroyed.

The Dreadful English Language

I stumbled upon this brilliant essay by George Orwell: "Politics and the English Language"

The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies "something not desirable." The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Petain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.

Many political words these days tend to be completely meaningless. I would add to this list the word 'people,' and 'society.' Rarely does anyone stop to ask: "which people?" or "who makes up society?" When a politician speaks of doing something for the people, or society, or the common good, what he or she really means is "my people," "my constituents," "my friends," or "my lobbyists." If someone asks you to sacrifice for the common good, be more skeptical than you would be dealing with a used car salesperson. Their intentions are usually darker and the means they are willing to use much more dangerous.

Thursday, June 5, 2008