Monday, March 31, 2008
Sunday, March 30, 2008
Thursday, March 27, 2008
It's an old article but a goodie. Money quotes:
'The record industry needs to refine their business models, because the consumer is the ultimate arbitrator. And the consumer feels music isn't properly priced.' - Walmart SpokesmanCombine this with the fact that Walmart is one of the few vendors that dares to sell PCs which are not preloaded with Windows, and it becomes clear that this particular corporate bogeyman is occasionally quite the friend to consumers.
'While Wal-Mart represents nearly twenty percent of major-label music sales, music represents only about two percent of Wal-Mart's total sales. If they got out of selling music, it would mean nothing to them. This keeps me awake at night.' - Music Executive
'Wal-Mart has no long-term care for an individual artist or marketing plan, unlike the specialty stores, which were a real business partner. At Wal-Mart, we're a commodity and have to fight for shelf space like Colgate fights for shelf space.' - Another Music Executive
Monday, March 24, 2008
Friday, March 21, 2008
Inflation hits the poor the hardest... except that inflation allows debtors to pay back loans with less valuable money in the future, effectively decreasing the cost. I yield to the complaint that adjustable-rate mortgages have eliminated this, but I hope we can all agree that adjustable rates are a bad idea for most people.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
“I suppose people tidy up their houses before parties, too. But the Chinese would appear in a better light if they were not quite so nervous in advance.” William Langewiesche of Vanity Fair hits the nail on the head in his piece on Chinese Olympic preparations. Like a Harvard-Westlake grad trying to impress her Ivy elders with veiled resumé peddling and not-so-subtle gasconade, China is trying too damn hard. I say this both as a westerner and a soon-to-be jaded upperclassman: sweetie, you’re not in the club yet, and behavior like that isn’t gonna speed your admittance.
It’s hardly surprising that in a country where burger joints expect soldierly precision from fry cooks, spitting in the street is checked by government-funded campaigns, and the 11th of every month is Queuing Day (exactly what it sounds like), the people are sick of authority. But they aren’t coping with Green Day CDs and studded pleather accessories (Château de Hot Topic); they’re abandoning their parents.
“This generation is the first to grow up under the one-child policy, rolled out in 1979. They are 'more likely to be spoiled and self-centered,' says demographics expert Cai Feng. 'As adults, children of this generation lack the inclination to support their parents.' Forty-two percent of Chinese families in 2005 consisted of an old couple living alone, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.”
President Jintaio, save us!
“Authorities are trying to educate young Chinese about the need to care for their parents. The Education Ministry has supported a resurgence of Confucian studies, which promote respect for elders. 'It's important to have family education, school education and social education [on this issue],' says Wu Changping, an expert on population and aging at Renmin University. Some government agencies now even grade employees on filial piety when considering promotions.”
Too little, too late for this unfortunate bastard: “Former construction expert Tian Zhendong and his wife felt 'lonely and lost' after their only son immigrated to Canada. …Tian put out an ad titled 'Elderly couple desperately seeking daughter.' 'We're not looking for a maid, but someone to be with us until we're dead,' Tian said. To his surprise, 100 applications poured in. But the couple had to call off their talent search when their son objected [emphasis mine].”
Even I, hailing from the country where new mothers expect “push presents” after a difficult labor (the baby no longer suffices), condemn Mr. Zhendong the Younger as a selfish prick. Congrats on sinking to a new low.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Monday, March 17, 2008
The list of liberal war crimes in the name of diversity just got a little longer. As William Deresciewicz points out in The Nation, shameless pandering to diversity and trendiness is quickly killing the field of literary criticism. He examines faculty openings in American English departments and finds that over half the positions have nothing to do with literature; of the fraction that do, roughly a third "call for particular expertise in literature of one or another identity group. 'Subfields might include transnational, hemispheric, ethnic and queer literatures.' 'Postcolonial emphasis' is 'required.' 'Additional expertise in African-American and/or ethnic American literature highly desirable.'"
But here's the really alarming part:
'More revealing in this connection than the familiar identity-groups laundry list, which at least has intellectual coherence, is the whatever-works grab bag: "Asian American literature, cultural theory, or visual/performance studies"; "literature of the immigrant experience, environmental writing/ecocriticism, literature and technology, and material culture"; "visual culture; cultural studies and theory; writing and writing across the curriculum; ethnicity, gender and sexuality studies." The items on these lists are not just different things--apples and oranges--they're different kinds of things...As American students become more and more obsessed with what's marketable (and as this article in The Academic Life very clearly shows, going into academia sure as hell isn't), those willing to sacrifice themselves to the humanities become rarer and rarer, prompting once-reputable English departments to hock their souls to the devil in desperate attempts to keep the blood flowing. As Deresciewicz points out, "if grade schools behaved like this, every subject would be recess, and lunch would consist of chocolate cake."
There have always been trends in literary criticism, but the major trend now is trendiness itself, trendism, the desperate search for anything sexy. Contemporary lit, global lit, ethnic American lit; creative writing, film, ecocriticism--whatever. There are postings here for positions in science fiction, in fantasy literature, in children's literature, even in something called "digital humanities."'
This goes out to all the econ, poli-sci, and business majors, the would-be anesthesiologists and real estate lawyers, the proto i-bankers and someday sales & marketing managers, but especially, especially to those arrogant philistines scornful of the great masters, dead white men though they may often be: "Most professors I know discourage even their best students from going to graduate school; one actually refuses to talk to them about it. This is a profession that is losing its will to live." Good job. Way to weaken my faith in the free market... and humanity.
Sunday, March 16, 2008
Is this police brutality? You decide:
The officer goes from cool to outraged in about ten seconds, about the same time that the second officer enters the passenger side. Does she take a swipe at him? He accuses her of it, but she denies it. At any rate, people entrusted with the power to use tasers on the general public should be held to a higher standard, and it really seems the whole situation could have been avoided without a taser. It's two bulky men arresting a skinny woman... did he really need to taze her?
Saturday, March 15, 2008
Daniel Akst, in the Wilson Quarterly this past fall, attempts to take up the cross of competition and defend it against its cooperation-preaching detractors. He sums up his argument in four points:
Benjamin R. Barber, in the same issue, does a better job of attacking competition than Akst does defending it, but not by much. At most I’d say he does a good job of pointing out that Americans are competing with the wrong rivals, not that they shouldn’t compete at all. He seems content to illustrate that when people compete, they play dirty; that’s not real competition anyway, so why bother at all? Let’s just hold hands and work together.
- "It used to be worse" – because at least the stakes aren’t life and death anymore
- "Life isn’t as competitive as the media would have us believe" – because the media is reporting from New York and LA, where things actually are that bad, but hey, most of us don’t live there
- "It’s our nature" – which he says “is probably not a great argument for anything”
- "Competition is good for us" – circular much?
While these wet-noodle columns fail to convince, they do raise issues central to conservatism. How do we balance capitalism with community? Competition is incredibly hostile to tradition: at best it drags us out of bigoted, harmful practices, at worst it destroys communities. It pushes us to achieve more, but taxes our time so that we appreciate less. It enshrines efficiency as a cardinal virtue, without telling us why.
To bridge the gap between libertarianism and traditionalism, which is ultimately where the competition-cooperation dichotomy leads us, we have to reexamine with whom we compete. If the man six meters behind us and gaining in the 1500-meter-run is of greater concern than our own record and personal goal, we’ve missed the point of the race. When we allow our immediate opponents to set the benchmark, winning is all we succeed in doing – we fail to accomplish anything. Winning must be a means, not an end.
So to rebut Misters Akst and Barber, I will make a few points of my own:
If you still feel icky about competition, I direct you to Miles Hoffman, Dean of the Petrie School of Music, who deftly examines competition in the arts:
- Not all competitions are worth entering into (in a butter-eating contest, no one wins)
- We must compete not only with the present, but with the past
- Competition is a means, being the end
- We strive to be the ideal (ie perfection), our conception of which is informed by both modernity and tradition
“Psychologically, competition inevitably involves some form of aggression, even sadism, and certainly the will to dominate, to beat the opposition. But the way you “beat” the other guy in music is not just by playing (or singing) faster or more powerfully. It’s also by playing more movingly, more beautifully, more sweetly. And the idea that sweetness and loveliness can somehow be instruments of aggression and domination can seem strange, dissonant, almost immoral.
At the risk of puncturing preconceptions, I have to say that far more often than not, the musicians who win competitions are those who play the most beautifully. It’s really true. It’s also true, however, that there are invariably people who play beautifully who don’t win, which is very disturbing. Can it ever be right to call someone who plays music beautifully a “loser”? Isn’t the very idea of winning and losing a kind of pollutant, best kept well away from a pristine and precious art?
… The best news is that, win or lose, the many hours of pre-competition practice will have brought you to a new level of accomplishment, improving your chances of success on whatever musical path you choose to follow. Right and wrong, good and bad? Take your pick, because in musical competitions, as in competition in general, they’re all there, mixed together.”
Friday, March 14, 2008
Sanctity of the Right to Incur Danger
For all her economic (and legal, and political...) foibles, Russia stands to teach the west a thing or two about society.
For too long have Americans indulged in the frontier fantasy. We would-be cowboys have kidded ourselves into believing that ours is the society where risk-taking is lauded, responsibility accepted and honored, autonomy and individuality held sacred. Yes, Americans sure do talk the talk, and when strolling alongside those nancies in the EU, we seem to walk the walk, too. But step off the Champs-Élysées and down Nevsky Prospekt, and a different persona quickly appears.
Our almost laughably litigious culture is one worrying symptom of the disease. As this piece in the Economist points out, it “makes all players in the public arena… intensely keen to delimit their responsibilities, and within those limits to minimize the risk of liability.” While I will not decry the lawyer-happy selfishness of the majority of plaintiffs (attorneys are the new firearms), it saddens me that this creates an atmosphere in which all parties are reduced to children, and stupid children, at that. Granted, the majority of Americans probably deserve to be perceived as such, but they certainly don’t merit the same level of protection.
Back in the USSR, things are different: “The idea of regulators caring for the public in an accountable way, or of courts where a humble citizen can seek redress, would sound naïve to many Russians.” Yes, Joe America, those vodka-swilling Reds so fascinated by Levi denim and Bentley coupes think you, with your dilatant bureaucracy and yen for hyper-regulation, are naïve. You think you can legislate risk and danger out of existence? Man is more slippery an eel than that.
“In one experiment, a British psychologist, Ian Walker of Bath University, simply got on his bicycle and monitored the behaviour of 2,300 vehicles that overtook him. When he wore a helmet, drivers were much more likely to zoom past him with little room to spare; when he was bare-headed (and indeed when he wore a female wig) the amount of space that motorists left would increase.”
“An experiment in Munich found that the drivers of taxicabs fitted with anti-lock braking systems were involved in no fewer accidents than those without. That is because the former used those superior brakes not to practise prudence but to drive more aggressively.”
“John Adams, a transport expert at University College London, has compiled data from all over the world to show that laws making drivers wear seatbelts do not make roads safer; they move deaths from inside cars to outside them because they encourage bad driving.”
Naïve, indeed, to think that we understand our natures so well as to control them with feeble laws and government mandates, to think that we, or at least those esprits brilliants we elect, can tame the world.To ignore the darkness of man, to shame it, push it aside, to make it illegal, is to play the fool. If this country of ours continues down the paved, fenced-off promenade of self-deception, then it won't be long before I find myself running to the nearest airport, screaming "Fuck this, I'm going to Russia!"
Thursday, March 13, 2008
More federal employees are expected to retire in 2008 than in any previous year, and 2009 could be even worse, according to the Office of Personnel Management. By 2012, more than 50 percent of the current work force, including 90 percent of senior management and a third of all scientists and economists, will be gone—leaving a quarter million jobs in their wake.The Economist:
...the United States is struggling to woo a generation of young people who see a more productive and lucrative future for themselves in the private sector.
The structure of the Russian economy remains skewed towards a few giant companies, mostly forged from Soviet-era assets. Small and medium-sized businesses contribute less than 15% of GDP. The cost of opening a business is higher than in most other countries. Only 5% of firms have been created in the past ten years, according to the World Bank. And start-ups do not seem to push up the productivity of incumbents, a sure sign of weak competition.Young people don't want to work for the government? We're screwed! Young people do want to work for the government? We're screwed!
In even more worrying contrast to the 1990s, polls show that half of young Russians want to work in the government rather than go into business.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Nicola responds to my query:
Conservatives should object to prostitution because it profanes something that should be sacred. When inspected from a purely materialist level, traditional marriage is essentially an extremely inefficient kind of prostitution. But that isn’t the point. Commodifying the body, objectifying the sexual act without the emotional and spiritual content it should carry, breaks down our very notions of humanity. We are possessed of dignity, which is beyond price, and which is doubly important to the feminine. Dignity is so often the only — or, at least, the most effective — way to relate to power from a submissive position, because so long as it’s respected it requires the dominant force to behave differently.
The dignity-based argument fails to account for the many ways that capitalism asks people to do things they do not enjoy for money. Should conservatives oppose labor which is beneath dignity? I fail to see the difference between scrubbing a toilet or picking fruit or washing dishes, jobs which illegal immigrants do in this country for at best a few dollars an hour, and prostitution which pays women with very small skill sets hundreds of dollars an hour? If anything, the manual labor is the more undignified choice of labor. Yours truly supervised operations at a wastewater treatment plant for about 50 cents above minimum wage--including fishing condoms out of filters and holding a drainage pipe for sewage while suspended six feet above a 25-foot-deep vat of shit.
If one wishes to make the dignity argument, it needs to fall on a higher moral authority than Conservatism: it needs religion as a modifier. As a philosophy unto itself conservatism recognizes several things:
Humans are imperfectible: The suggestion that government should try to create policies which make people want what they should want seems utopian and likely to fail. (And, indeed, it has, hasn't it?)
Institutions exist for a reason: There's a reason that prostitution is "the oldest profession," and the Victorian moral crusaders who ignore this are doomed to tilt at windmills. Yes, murder is as old as time... but it violates property rights and is the most blatant form of non-consent. Government is right to protect against the coercion of murder. It is not right to disregard the fact that fences exist for a reason, and prostitution has existed in societies for millenia--if not far, far longer--without the collapse of civilization.
Voluntary communities work, Government doesn't: Religion is good at giving people a life philosophy which can resist the hurt which prostitution can cause, as well as healing and forgiveness. Government is really, really bad at discouraging this behavior, and that's why it has failed to do so at every attempt.
I resist the Burkean attempt to portray Conservatism as a moral philosophy. If you wish to build Christianity or Judaism or Hinduism into Conservatism, that's fine... but the beauty of the philosophy to me is that it's modular. Atheists and agnostics can be conservatives, and they can have a moral framework that is not derived from divine authority but which they get other men to agree upon under law.
We can also disapprove of prostitution--or the "hookup culture" or trans-fats or what have you--but public policy isn't the way to deal with these problems. They require social change and that has to come from communities. Government cannot legislate social change. It should stick to protecting the rights of individuals, and if responsible families and communities do their jobs the demand for prostitution will shrink without interference, and it will do so for the right reason: people changing their behavior, not hiding it for fear of punishment.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
CNN has an article up right now with the headline 1 IN 4 TEEN GIRLS HAS AN STD. Already they've gone for the worried-parent jugular. The accompanying photo? A slender white woman feeling up on a shirtless black man. Prey on subconscious fears much, CNN?
That's not immediately apparent to me. Rush's argument is that prostitution undermines the family and helps organized crime. I suppose the family-based argument has some validity, but it's incomplete: it says nothing about unmarried people without families who could engage in a consensual exchange. ($5,500 an hour indicates that both parties are VERY happy with the deal they're getting. I don't see why government should stand in the way of blocking that commerce.) When using a prostitute causes families to break up, that's a matter between spouses. Government should only get involved when it's crafting policies and has to make a choice between supporting strong families or not considering them.
The argument that it causes organized crime is bunk. The criminality causes the organized crime, so getting rid of its criminality--and allowing these things to be regulated and organized under the rule of law--will get rid of the organized crime aspect. A desire to fight organized crime is no reason to support anti-prostitution laws--it's a reason to abolish them!
I just don't see why this issue has some inherent moral conflict that is necessarily core to conservatism. It may be against the morality of Christianity, but only Russell Kirk would argue that conservatism is necessarily a Christian philosophy. We openly refer to the "Judeo-Christian" traditions of this country, but increasingly Hinduism has proven itself a compatible religion for conservatism. (Something which both Edmund Burke and Hindu-cum-Catholic Bobby Jindal would possibly agree with.) I remain iffy about Islam and Buddhists, but contingent only upon the degree to which either religion can embrace individualism and the imperfectability of man and his earthly institutions.
I'm digressing again, but I'd really appreciate it if a commenter could explain to me how conservatism, as a philosophy, should have a problem with prostitution qua prostitution--NOT the specific case of Governor Spitzer.
UPDATE: I listened to Rush some more and a caller asked why conservatives in the GOP were so fixated on enforcing their morality upon others. It was an awkward and bumpy exchange, but it ended with the caller asking where in the Constitution it permitted prostitution to be regulated, and Rush saying, "That's beside the point, it doesn't matter, there's a huge block of people in this country who want it from their political leaders." I have yet to read a conservative thinker who believes that majority-makes-right. That's why we HAVE a constitution, sir.
The media have spent all day slobbering over mega-scumbag Eliot Spitzer's downfall, although only Reason touched on how sweet the hypocrisy is that Spitzer made his career through investigations like these as New York's Attorney General.
The only thing I have to add? Mrs. Spitzer is way more attractive than Governor Spitzer. (Not to mention a successful attorney, who would probably be wealthier than the Governor if not for his family's millions in real estate investments.) You go get you a better man, girl.
Sunday, March 09, 2008
This afternoon my grandmother asked me who I thought would be the nominees in the presidential election, and I replied that I thought the Democrats would come down to a convention floor fight in August. She then said I was wrong and gave her predictions:
- Clinton vs. Huckabee: McCain will die before the election. He's too old already, the campaign process has been exhausting, and he looks in bad shape.
- The Clintons will have Obama killed, like Vince Foster. She's predicting a plane crash.
- Speaking of which, Vincent Foster was Chelsea Clinton's real father: Bill Clinton confessed his sterility to Juanita Broaddrick in 1978 and could not possibly be the father.
BONUS POINTS: Can commenters list other credible Clinton administration scandals? (To make it more sporting, Travelgate and Filegate fall under Whitewater.)
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
This evening the Dean's office presented its third installment in a series of panel discussions about hate, sparked in response to last semester's graffiti outside of Pierson College. The panel featured your typical liberal/neo-Marxist faculty members talking about identity politics and discrimination, but the discussion took a disturbing turn when one girl in the back asked why our country prohibits physical harm but not emotional harm, particularly the kind created by "hate speech."
Dean Salovey finished the panel response by referencing the Woodward Report, the defining document about how Yale treats conflicts between speech and tolerance at an institutional level. He put the most emphasis on how the Woodward Report says that when mutual respect and friendship have to be weighed against freedom of speech, mutual respect and friendship ought to be sacrificed. He only went as far as calling it "provocative" and "interesting," but made an explicit point of stating that he was not defending the Woodward Report's argument. (Indeed, it was quite telling that he called it an "argument" at all.)
Long after the angry vigils and apologetic panels have faded, the memory that will stick with me is the night that the Dean of Yale College refused to publicly defend the University's policy towards free speech. It is absolutely unacceptable, disturbing behavior by a Yale administrator. I hope other people take notice and try to fight "The Death Camp of Tolerance," both at Yale and in American society, before these freedoms are irretrievably lost.
Monday, March 03, 2008
This past week, President Bush had what should have been reported as perhaps his best week in office.Friday, Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr ordered his Mahdi Army militia to extend its cease-fire for six more months. President Bush was welcomed to Africa as a hero for having done more to combat aids than any other president ever. Remarkably, this past week, after a very public announcement, our US Navy brought down a falling satellite with a modified rocket from a small ship in rough seas. The satellite was falling at a rate of 20,000 mph while the rocket was traveling at about 250,000 mph. This was "shooting a bullet with a bullet" that Al Gore said was "impossible." Ted Koppel said it would be "absolute nonsense." The NY Times said it was "a fantasy...... a pipe dream." Ted Kennedy, perhaps the most vocal naysayer came up with the term "Star Wars" to describe the Strategic Defense Initiative. This was however, an incredible display of American technology which certainly will not be lost on the rest of the world. President Ronald Regan had the vision while President George W Bush had the perseverance to follow through to insure this technology is available for the defense of all of us.President Bush did not cause global warming but he has done more to secure our future than any other president in my lifetime. Why do so many people fail to see what should be so obvious?
Everybody hates "Save the Whales" activists causing mischief on boats, but CNN goes a bit too far with its headline "WHALING SHIP ATTACKED WITH ACID." The "acid" however is butyric acid, which does not burn or corrode and is in fact a fatty acid well-known for giving rotten butter its smell.
So yes, shame on environmentalists for pulling a glorified high school prank on a Japanese ship, but next time CNN should (a) choose more interesting stories, (b) choose less dramatic headlines when those stories are actually mundane, and (c) get a high school sophomore to fact-check some of these articles.
BONUS: A prank created by a lack of science knowledge.
Charles Warner, a member of the revolving door of communists at the Huffington Post, goes there about Barack Obama:
"I closed my eyes and saw an image of Obama, tall, erect and smiling confidently."
Tee-hee-hee. I'd be more mature about his "That'd be swell, Biff!" word choice, except that the post was just a shameless, badly-written partisan hack-job.
Sunday, March 02, 2008
The NY Times laments the stigma attached to free lunches at public schools--and how some students are going hungry rather than being seen with one.
And while I hesitate to scoff at children who are receiving free lunches through no fault of their own, it is frustrating, but not surprising, when these programs are met with ungratefulness. (For the record, school lunches make my Top 10 list of most-worthwhile government programs.)
The interesting question is if the Road from Serfdom is paved with indignity and public humiliation. Should welfare checks be distributed inside of pink Care-Bear balloons? I'd definitely take it if it meant the difference between feeding my family or going hungry (my most-respected use of welfare) but if I'm a twenty-something guy I would much rather get a job.