Tag Archives: politics

“Why I teach Plato to plumbers.”

Once, when I told a guy on a plane that I taught philosophy at a community college, he responded, “So you teach Plato to plumbers?” Yes, indeed. But I also teach Plato to nurses’ aides, soldiers, ex-cons, preschool music teachers, janitors, Sudanese refugees, prospective wind-turbine technicians, and any number of other students who feel like they need a diploma as an entry ticket to our economic carnival. As a result of my work, I’m in a unique position to reflect on the current discussion about the value of the humanities, one that seems to me to have lost its way.

Traditionally, a liberal arts education, in the arts, literature, science, and philosophy, went only to the upper classes, because they (and only they) needed the knowledge and judgment to lead. The lower classes only needed to be good, obedient employees.

Sure, education should teach job skills. But it should also enrich lives. It can and should do both.

Terrific essay. Read every word: Why I Teach Plato to Plumbers: Liberal arts and the humanities aren’t just for the elite.

Nope, this won’t be controversial

New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade’s new book, A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History, lays out the evidence for a genetic basis to race and ethnicity.

The Amazon blurb:

Drawing on startling new evidence from the mapping of the genome, an explosive new account of the genetic basis of race and its role in the human story.

Fewer ideas have been more toxic or harmful than the idea of the biological reality of race, and with it the idea that humans of different races are biologically different from one another. For this understandable reason, the idea has been banished from polite academic conversation. Arguing that race is more than just a social construct can get a scholar run out of town, or at least off campus, on a rail. Human evolution, the consensus view insists, ended in prehistory.

Inconveniently, as Nicholas Wade argues in A Troublesome Inheritance, the consensus view cannot be right. And in fact, we know that populations have changed in the past few thousand years—to be lactose tolerant, for example, and to survive at high altitudes. Race is not a bright-line distinction; by definition it means that the more human populations are kept apart, the more they evolve their own distinct traits under the selective pressure known as Darwinian evolution. For many thousands of years, most human populations stayed where they were and grew distinct, not just in outward appearance but in deeper senses as well.

Wade, the longtime journalist covering genetic advances for The New York Times, draws widely on the work of scientists who have made crucial breakthroughs in establishing the reality of recent human evolution. The most provocative claims in this book involve the genetic basis of human social habits. What we might call middle-class social traits—thrift, docility, nonviolence—have been slowly but surely inculcated genetically within agrarian societies, Wade argues. These “values” obviously had a strong cultural component, but Wade points to evidence that agrarian societies evolved away from hunter-gatherer societies in some crucial respects. Also controversial are his findings regarding the genetic basis of traits we associate with intelligence, such as literacy and numeracy, in certain ethnic populations, including the Chinese and Ashkenazi Jews.

Wade believes deeply in the fundamental equality of all human peoples. He also believes that science is best served by pursuing the truth without fear, and if his mission to arrive at a coherent summa of what the new genetic science does and does not tell us about race and human history leads straight into a minefield, then so be it. This will not be the last word on the subject, but it will begin a powerful and overdue conversation.

I loved Wade’s earlier book, Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors., which traces human development from 50,000 years ago to the beginning of recorded history.

I see the Republicans are revving up the Benghazi machine again

Because that worked so well for them in 2012. 

There are actually legitimate questions about the White House handling of Benghazi. The recent Carney memo is disturbing. But it’s by no means the smoking gun the Republicans think it is. 

And the American people are sick of hearing the Republicans rant about Benghazi. The American people hear about Benghazi and it just sounds like more birther/Muslim/socialist rubbish. 

American needs a party to oppose the Democrats. Instead, we have an embarrassing uncle who gets drunk and says inappropriate things at the Thanksgiving table. 

Update: Boehner to Form Select Committee on Benghazi


“How Piketty’s Bombshell Book Blows Up Libertarian Fantasies”

I haven’t read the Pikkety book, but based on reviews and articles his thesis seems to boil down to this: Throughout much of history, most of the wealth in most societies was locked up in family fortunes. The only way to become wealthy was to be born into it or marry into it. 

That all changed in the West following the Great Depression and in the regulated economies of the mid/late 20th Century. Because we all grew up in that world, we view that as normal. But it’s not — it’s highly unusual.  

And the West is rapidly moving back toward the norm. Forget the 1% – if you want to get rich, you’d better be part of the 0.01 percent that owns most of society’s wealth. And the only way to get into that group is to be born into it, or marry into it. 

The wrong-headed policies promoted by libertarians and their ilk, who hate any form of tax on the rich, such as inheritance taxes, have ensured that big fortunes in America are getting bigger, and they will play a much more prominent role in the direction of our society and economy if we continue on the present path.

What we are headed for, after several decades of free market mania, is superinequality, possibly such as the world has never seen. In this world, more and more wealth will be gained off the backs of the 99 percent, and less and less will be earned through hard work.

Which essentially means freedom for the rich, and no one else.

Of course the US is an oligarchy – we keep electing rich people

Why do the rich and business keep getting their way in public policy, even when their views conflict with what the vast majority of Americans want? One reason is because most of our elected officials are rich. 

Millionaires make up just 3 percent of the country, but they have a majority of the House of Representatives, a filibuster-proof super-majority of the Senate, a 5-4 majority on the Supreme Court, and the Presidency. Working-class Americans in manual-labor and service-industry jobs make up more than half the country since the start of the 20th Century, but only a maximum 2 percent of Congress held blue-collar jobs before getting into politics. 

Alexander Hamilton once argued that working-class Americans see wealthier people as “their natural patron[s] and friend[s]” and that workers know “that however great the confidence they may justly feel in their own good sense, their interests can be more effectually promoted by the merchant than by themselves.” The idea has been with us ever since.

Unfortunately, economic policy just isn’t that simple. Americans from different classes don’talways have the same interests or want the same policies. As pollsters have known for decades – and as Gilens, Page, and others have shown – working-class Americans are more likely to support higher minimum wages, more progressive taxes, and a stronger social safety net. Affluent Americans, on the other hand, are more likely to support hobbling labor unions and giving tax breaks to the wealthy….

People who have always had health insurance, who have no worries about funding their retirements, and who can afford private schools and expensive colleges for their children [decide] policies for the vast majority of Americans who live on shakier economic ground.

Link: Of Course The U.S. Is An ‘Oligarchy’ – We Keep Electing The Rich


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Welcome to the finger-wagging Olympics

Donald Sterling has at least a decade of history discriminating against blacks and Hispanics. But he gets trapped on tape revealing those beliefs to his girlfriend, and suddenly it matters.

What bothers me about this whole Donald Sterling affair isn’t just his racism. I’m bothered that everyone acts as if it’s a huge surprise. Now there’s all this dramatic and very public rending of clothing about whether they should keep their expensive Clippers season tickets. Really? All this other stuff I listed above has been going on for years and this ridiculous conversation with his girlfriend is what puts you over the edge? That’s the smoking gun?

He was discriminating against black and Hispanic families for years, preventing them from getting housing. It was public record. We did nothing. Suddenly he says he doesn’t want his girlfriend posing with Magic Johnson on Instagram and we bring out the torches and rope. Shouldn’t we have all called for his resignation back then?

Shouldn’t we be equally angered by the fact that his private, intimate conversation was taped and then leaked to the media?

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Welcome to the Finger-Wagging Olympics


A gallery of pre-Code 1940s comics: Not all white dudes in long underwear


We've always been here: A gallery of heroes of color from 1949s comics: Pre-Code comics featured badass women, as well as African-Americans, Native Americans and other minorities as superheroes.

More: Buried badasses: The forgotten heroines of pre-Code comics.

Wikipedia: Comics Code Authority:

The Comics Magazine Association of America (CMAA) was formed in September 1954 in response to a widespread public concern over gory and horrific comic-book content. It named New York Magistrate Charles F. Murphy, 44, a specialist in juvenile delinquency, to head the organization and devise a self-policing “code of ethics and standards” for the industry.He established the Comics Code Authority (CCA), basing its code upon the largely unenforced code drafted by the Association of Comics Magazine Publishers in 1948, which in turn had been modeled loosely after the 1930 Hollywood Production Code. This code banned graphic depictions of violence and gore in crime and horror comics, as well as the sexual innuendo of what aficionados refer to as “good girl art”. Fredric Wertham's 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent had rallied opposition to this type of material in comics, arguing that it was harmful to the children who made up a large segment of the comic book audience. The Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency hearings in 1954, which focused specifically on comic books, had many publishers concerned about government regulation, prompting them to form a self-regulatory body instead.

Before the CCA was adopted, some cities already had organized public burnings and bans on comic books. The city councils of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and Houston, Texas, passed ordinances banning crime and horror comics, although an attempt by Los Angeles County, California was deemed unconstitutional by the courts.

Thanks, John Barnes!