Poet Laureates and Elitism

I couldn’t decide if I was going to blog about the fact that our governor named someone who’s entire poetry resume consisted of two self-published volumes to be the state poet laureate.   Sure, it’s small potatoes but it is indicative of McCrory’s overall cluelessness.  Apparently, there was nothing “written on the walls” for McCrory to consult:

“We were not aware of the traditional process that was in place, it wasn’t written down anywhere on the walls,” McCrory said, surprising reporters who told him it was online last week.

Might I suggest that next time something is not written down, the governor and his staff might consult google or bing.  There, they would quickly discover that the position of laureate is expected to have some eminence and esteem.  Nothing against the poor women who has already resigned.  Alas, the governor was far more concerned with knee-jerk anti-elitism:

“One of my objectives is to open up the availability of all appointments to people that typically aren’t inside the organized groups,” McCrory said. “We’ve got to open up opportunities for people that aren’t always a part of the standard or even elite groups that have been in place for a long time. And it’s good to welcome new voices and new ideas.”

Those stupid elitists!!  Like college professors who think they know more than other people on an topic just because they’ve devoted their life to studying it.  Raleigh’s Scott Huler has a brilliant response:

You have to give Gov. Pat McCrory credit: He’s doing everything he can to stamp out elitism in our state. Given how many years we’ve spent having people do jobs they were educated and trained for – ending up with nothing but one of the fastest-growing economies and best places to live in the nation – it seems like a worthy experiment.

His most recent attack on the “elite” came when he appointed to the position of poet laureate someone who apparently has never published a poem she didn’t pay for. He said one of his goals is to “open up opportunities for people that aren’t always a part of the standard or even elite groups that have been in place for a long time.”

And you can’t disagree; he has demonstrated that time and again since his inauguration. Sure, you can point out that a good thing for inexperienced poets to do is practice writing poems, but that would be like suggesting that inexperienced, say, actors should, oh, I don’t know, practice acting. When of course commonsensical anti-elitism says that what you should do is give them Academy Awards rather than keep giving the prizes to the same old Meryl Streeps and Daniel Day-Lewises who have been clogging up the ranks for so long.

Same, obviously, with physics and chemistry. McCrory has shown himself world class at ignoring scientists on topics like climate change, but that just shows what a maverick iconoclast he is. Do you want all these so-called scientists to keep getting all the Nobel Prizes and Fulbrights? Pshaw. We should be giving them to people who like to think they have something to say about those subjects. Waiting until people have in some way proven themselves is exactly the opposite of good old-fashioned American anti-elitism.

Right indeed.  I think Huler quite nicely makes the point that this self-evidently foolish choice of a poet laureate speaks to a larger, anti-intellectual “anti-elitism” that characterizes McCrory’s approach and does a huge dis-service to the state.

Super-Mega Quick hits

Sure, I’m at the beach, but quick hits will not be denied!  (In fact, it’s extra long as a direct result)  There’s a ton, but I didn’t feel like breaking them up this week.  Sorry.  Enjoy…

1) Krugman on conservative delusions about inflation.  It really is pretty amazing how these continue.

2) Challenges universities face from a professor’s point of view.

3) Loved this essay in the Atlantic on how all the mothers in animated movies are dead.  Or at least essentially out of the picture.  A notable exception– The Incredibles, one of the best animated films in the past decade (and a favorite of all the Greene kids and parents).

4) Nice Brenday Nyhan in the Upshot.  When beliefs and facts collide, beliefs win.  Though, not for me and my enlightened and scientifically-minded readers :-).

5) Apparently, this is the year of 42 year old women.  It just so happens I’m married to one.

6) Kristof on just one more sad story of wronful imprisonment.  I’m going to be reading this guy’s book.

7) Three psychological findings I wish I’d known in high school.  Indeed.

8) I so loved classic rock when I was a teenager.  I thought I was much too cool for the rock of the times.  Of course, now that’s “classic rock” too.  538 with a look by the numbers.

9) Nice Economist piece on the myth of the omnipotent presidency and the damage that the myth does.

10) Yahoo Tech presents 15 entertaining novelty twitter accounts.  Some of these really are awesome.

11) Fascinating story on the last days of Diane Rehm’s husband and how we starved/dehydrated himself to death (he had advanced Parkinson’s).

12) Back before youtube there was jibjab.  This land is your land was a revelation.

13) Okay, turns out that whole how to/not to praise children thing really is getting complicated.  Still, I think it is clear that it is a good idea not to over-praise nor praise excessively for innate abilities.

14) Nice Salon piece on how NC”s new Republican-led voter disenfranchisement laws really are the most evil in the country.

15) I was fascinated by this Atlantic piece on how the “crossover” has taken over the new car market.  I had no idea.  Of course, my cars are from 1998 and 2000.  Really interesting on the history of cars versus minivans versus SUV’s, etc.

16) When I first read about the Kentucky State Senator and the temperature on Mars, I figured he couldn’t really be that dumb.  Turns out he’s not.  But still pretty damn stupid.  I’m sorry, Democratic state legislators just don’t come this dumb.

17) Pope Francis, radical environmentalist.

18) There was going to be a Seinfeld episodes about guns, but the cast nixed it when they were already rehearsing.

19) It is just too easy to be declared a suspicious person by the US Government.  With all sorts of bad consequences.

20) How coffee fueled the Civil War.  My sense is that stimulant drugs have fueled soldiers whenever and wherever they have been available.

21) You all know about my love for apples.  Turns out, I’ve really got to get my wife to start eating more.

More Hobby Lobby

1) A new post from Kevin Drum that explains that the decision really isn’t about abortion, but actually birth control:

That was then, this is now:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday confirmed that its decision a day earlier extending religious rights to closely held corporations applies broadly to the contraceptive coverage requirement in the new health care law, not just the handful of methods the justices considered in their ruling….Tuesday’s orders apply to companies owned by Catholics who oppose all contraception. Cases involving Colorado-based Hercules Industries Inc., Illinois-based Korte & Luitjohan Contractors Inc. and Indiana-based Grote Industries Inc. were awaiting action pending resolution of the Hobby Lobby case.

Nonetheless, the court has now ruled that a religious objection to contraceptives is indeed at the same level as a religious objection to abortion. In other words, just about anything Catholics consider a sinfor Catholics is justification for opting out of federal regulations. I wonder if the court plans to apply this to things that other religions consider sinful?

Uhhh, yeah.  I suspect not.  A coincidence that all five members of the majority are practicing Catholics?  I think not.

Politically, this is good news for Democrats.  There may be some confusion as to whether IUD’s etc. are actually abortifacients (they are not), but to allow a company to say all forms of birth control are immoral and fight for that as your political value?  That’s a loser.  Americans– Catholics just as much as anybody else when it comes to actual practice– love their birth control.  Of course, the losers are women who need affordable, high quality birth control.

2) Five myths of the case debunked (I linked it about the abortifacient issue).

3) I love Yglesias for giving some pushback on the corporations are people angle.  In some important ways, we really do need to treat corporations like people:

The basic functions of a corporation — including contracts and property ownership — would be useless unless corporations enjoyed basic constitutional protections. If corporations didn’t hold the same due process rights as human beings, the idea of firms holding property and entering into contracts would be worthless.

By the same token, the idea that corporations have a right to free speech is essential to preserving the values of the First Amendment. It’s imperative that not only do Fox News’ anchors have the right to criticize the Obama administration, but that Fox News as a corporate entity has that right. Otherwise, censors could effectively silence critics by heavily fining hostile broadcasters and publishers even while leaving the human critics unmolested. Similarly, NARAL Pro Choice America and the National Organization for Women are themselves corporations. It’s critical to the democratic process that they are able to criticize Supreme Court decisions, lobby congress, and otherwise act as constitutional persons.

4) That said, even if John Oliver isn’t quite 100% right on the law here, he’s dead right on the satire.

He also did a heck of a job as Vanity Smurf in Smurfs 2, which I saw yesterday (“hey, what the heck, that’s John Oliver”, I thought to myself).

5) And from the pure rant department, this is kinda awesome:

Your boss doesn’t get to dictate what you do with your paycheck, whether it’s buying groceries, donating it all to orphans, or splurging it on hookers and blow.

Your boss might take issue with you buying pork because he’s Jewish, donating it to orphans because she thinks they’re godless, or on the hookers and blow because that’s not very Christian of you. However, your bosses would be ridiculed for thinking they have the right to tail you to make sure you’re spending YOUR money in accordance with their faith, right? There’s not much difference here. Set aside that the insurance is not directly offered by Hobby Lobby, or that they could pay taxes/penalties instead of lawyers and legal fees by kicking everyone onto the exchange, thereby taking away their supposed moral conundrum. Spoiler alert: HEALTH BENEFITS ARE COMPENSATION FOR YOUR LABOR. Why would you think for one second that your boss gets to dictate what you do with your compensation?

6) And never hurts to mention that this asinine system of health insurance is an historical quick that makes no sense.  And if it was up to Democrats, we would surely do away with it.

The Wildlings Army

Non Game of Thrones fans can just stop here, but heck, I figure most of my readers probably are GOT fans.  Anyway, one thing about this past week’s episode really annoyed me.  The whole idea that the Wildling Army numbered 100,000.  I’m not going to complain about dragons, Valererian Steel, or what have you, but damn it, this is just entirely realistic.  George RR Martin has said that the setting is largely based on medieval England and one thing that sure has hell did not exist in medieval times was 100,000 man armies.  Furthermore, if we know anything about the Wildlings they live in an incredibly resource-poor area– look at that awful weather and all that damn snow and ice.  Surely, a vast majority of the adults need to be working in some form of food production just to keep anybody fed.  In order to have the specialization of a huge army you need to have enough productive resources to feed that army even though the army is busy fighting instead of producing food.  Just no way is that happening north of the wall.  I did this mini-rant for a friend, who said, “but Steve, it’s fiction.”  Yeah, sure, but one of the reasons it is such great fiction is that Martin really looks to the complexities of actual life (dragons, etc.,) aside to guide his fiction.  He clearly dropped the ball here.

Quick hits part II

Late.  But as promised.

1) Great Linda Greenhouse column on the politicization of the Supreme Court.

The problem is not only that the court is too often divided but that it’s too often simply wrong: wrong in the battles it picks, wrong in setting an agenda that mimics a Republican Party platform, wrong in refusing to give the political system breathing room to make fundamental choices of self-governance.

2) I’ve been really intrigued by Give Directly since learning about them on Planet Money (I think).  I’ve been meaning to make a decent-sized charitable donation lately (some found money I want to put to good use) and I think these guys might be in the lead.  Nice explanation from Vox.

3) As discussed, conservatives always respond with doom and gloom as to how cutting emissions will ruin the economy.  Turns out a number of states have already made major carbon emissions cuts and seen solid economic growth at the same time.  But perhaps we should just listen to Fox news instead of evidence.

4) This new book on race by Nicholas Lehman is just odd.  Impressive takedown from political scientists extraordinaire, Andrew Gelman.

5) Thomas Mann takes political scientists to task for pretending the growing asymmetry is equally the fault of both parties.  Not guilty!  Mostly, though, a great summary of all the evidence that this is undoubtedly mostly a Republican phenomenon.

6) Tim Noah on how government privatization hurts the middle class.

7) I read the comics 2-4 days per week and when I do, Pearls Before Swine is a favorite.  Alas, I missed the days where Calvin and Hobbes’ Bill Watterson took over (and yes, that is easily the greatest comic strip ever).  I’m really curious if I would have realized this was Watterson’s distinctive style.  Now, I just know.  Great story.

8) The political friendship of Jackie Robinson and Richard Nixon.

9) We basically wouldn’t have the Common Core without Bill Gates.  To which I say, hooray for Bill Gates.  It’s not perfect, but it’s a damn sight better than the status quo ante.

10) I actually think tonight’s Game of Thrones was the most boring in the series.  Lots of action sure, but I suspect I am far from alone in just not really caring about this plotline compared to the others.

12 Years a Slave

Finally saw the movie this past weekend.  I thought this was a terrific movie, but in many ways, a horrible viewing experience.  It felt like the equivalent of just being pummeled, but emotionally, rather than physically.  It’s not like I haven’t consumed books, movies, TV, etc., before about the awfulness of slavery, but wow, this just brought it home like nothing else I’ve experienced.  Your mileage may vary, but this movie hit me as hard as any and has totally stuck with me in a way few movies do.


I know you don’t come here for my take on Disney movies, but after finally seeing Frozen this past week, I had to comment on something that really bugs me.  Major spoiler, so if you haven’t seen the movie and you care, stop here.’

I was aware of the problem because I read this Atlantic piece back when the movie first came out, and I spent the whole movie looking for even the slightest sign that Prince Hans was actually a villain.  Sure, foreshadowing can be too heavy sometimes, but give us something.  The abscence of any sign altogether that Hans would turn out to be a villain struck me as just bad writing.  I don’t mind the twist, I mind that it seemed totally out of character to what we knew of Hans up until that point.  Here’s Gina Dalfonzo:

Before the shattering reveal takes place, the audience has already enjoyed more than an hour of Hans’s niceness. He’s kind to people and animals; he saves Anna’s sister, Elsa, from being killed; he even offers free winter cloaks and soup to the poor.

It seems strange, then, to argue in this context, “Don’t give your heart to someone you don’t know,” when we as an audience get to know Hans better than almost any other Disney prince before him. He isn’t just a handsomely vague presence who dances divinely, like Cinderella’s prince, or a prince who only shows up at the beginning and end of the movie, like Snow White’s prince.

Hans even comes across as a nice, normal person when no one’s watching him, gazing with frank and friendly interest after Anna as though he really likes her, rather than obviously seeing her as a stepping-stone to the throne. Hans has personality, and, more importantly, character—or so it appears…

But Hans’s revelation feels so abrupt that it seems more like a poor writing choice than like a clever concealment of the truth.

On the whole, I actually really liked the movie.  All the more a shame to have such a bad writing choice.  But, on the other hand:

Why I love Game of Thrones

I’ve never read the books (I must admit to being put off by such long novels), but I do love the HBO show.  And I really loved this interview with George RR Martin, which really impressed me with his approach to thinking about big issues and how to incorporate them into his novels (I may just have to read them some day).  I really liked this part:

One of the things I wanted to explore with Jaime, and with so many of the characters, is the whole issue of redemption. When can we be redeemed? Is redemption even possible? I don’t have an answer. But when do we forgive people? You see it all around in our society, in constant debates. Should we forgive Michael Vick? I have friends who are dog-lovers who will never forgive Michael Vick. Michael Vick has served years in prison; he’s apologized. Has he apologized sufficiently? Woody Allen: Is Woody Allen someone that we should laud, or someone that we should despise? Or Roman Polanski, Paula Deen. Our society is full of people who have fallen in one way or another, and what do we do with these people? How many good acts make up for a bad act? If you’re a Nazi war criminal and then spend the next 40 years doing good deeds and feeding the hungry, does that make up for being a concentration-camp guard? I don’t know the answer, but these are questions worth thinking about. I want there to be a possibility of redemption for us, because we all do terrible things. We should be able to be forgiven. Because if there is no possibility of redemption, what’s the answer then? 

Exactly.  I love books and TV that wrestle with these questions.  I love moral ambiguity and the idea that bad people do good things and good people do bad things and where the hell do you draw the line.  Anyway, great, thoughtful interview– read it.

Worst book ever?

Probably not, but it is pretty clear to anybody that was actually paying attention at the time of the Duke Lacrosse case that William Cohan’s The Price of Silence is some pretty egregious historical revisionism.  Most prominently, it is a defense of Mike Nifong, the prosecutor whom all evidence indicates repeatedly lied to the public and the defense team.  This whole crazy case would have never gone anywhere if not for Nifong’s breathtaking malfeasance and abuse of his prosecutorial powers.  Anyway, I’ve heard a number of interviews with Cohan and it’s depressing (but not surprising) that such a shoddy work of journalism is getting plenty of national attention.

The N&O’s Joe Neff, who covered the case at the time, has a nice column outlining some of the many failings of the book.  E.g.,

These would be pathetic mistakes for a daily newspaper story. For an author spending months or years on a book, it’s a revealing choice to avoid interviews that contradict the revisionist narrative: that Nifong is the victim.

Cohan declares the charge that Nifong withheld exculpatory evidence a “red herring.” Let’s review that. Nifong repeatedly told judges he had produced all the DNA evidence. He hadn’t: He and a lab director conspired not to report rape kit test results showing that the accuser had DNA from four unknown men. The tests were sensitive enough to register a wisp of DNA from the lab director, and yet the rape kit produced not a single particle of DNA from those accused of a brutal gang rape.

For Cohan to suggest that witholding excuplatory evidence is simply a “red herring” is truly amazing.  As if this is just some minor mistake on Nifong’s part.  Once I heard Cohan say that, it was pretty clear this whole endeavor is utterly lacking in credibility.

Quick hits

1) I loved seeing “Sue” the T. Rex in Chicago a few years ago.  Here’s the story of how Smithsonian was blindsided on how expensive she would be and was massively outbid.

2) Here’s a school system that thinks making a fellow student “uncomfortable” (in this case by twirling a pencil) should lead to a suspension and psychiatric evaluation.

3) I was prepared to think Jezebel was over-reacting, but these ads are truly horrible.

4) The reason that acceptance rates at top colleges are down is because too many kids are applying to way too many schools.  And you get this:

Bruce Poch, a former admissions dean at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., said he saw “the opposite of a virtuous cycle at work” in admissions. “Kids see that the admit rates are brutal and dropping, and it looks more like a crapshoot,” he said. “So they send more apps, which forces the colleges to lower their admit rates, which spurs the kids next year to send even more apps.”

5) The marijuana legalization opponents predicted a major crime way if marijuana became legal.  Not at all surprisingly, they are wrong.

6) Not just unemployment, but labor force participation rate is a real problem these days.

7) All those constant Lumosity pitches are not based on a lot of actual science, but here’s some evidence that brain-training really works.  Time to start playing the N-back game?  (I’ve actually been thinking this might really benefit my son with ADHD).

8) The best evidence Obamacare is working.  Drum on how you’ll never actually hear even a modest admission of that from conservative sources.

9) I love looking at American health care in a comparative perspective.  A really good article on how the German system works and what we can learn from them.

10) Tell white people they will be a minority and they become more conservative.  Yikes.  Jamelle Bouie on how this means the whole country could end up like Mississippi (double-yikes!)

11) American’s are hopelessly resigned to the fact that we can’t make meaningful changes in campaign finance.  And I’m one of them.  Larry Lessig says we need to get past this.  He’s right, of course.  But I’m just too skeptical of real change.

12) Vox explains the oil curse.  Simple but compelling.

13) I started reading this column about the recent Ebola outbreak and thinking about the book I read last summer by David Quammen about zoonotic diseases.  Then I noticed the column was by Quammen.

14) Listened to a fascinating Fresh Air interview about a new book detailing how Michael Rockefeller (of those Rockefellers) was likely killed and eaten by cannibals.  And here’s a Slate piece on the book.  Pretty amazing and compelling stuff.

15) Been reading for a while about how caffeine can improve your athletic performance.  Here’s a nice how-to guide from Vox.  (Before our 5-mile doughnut run, I actually gave my 14-year old son some caffeine– something he otherwise never has).

16) Totally deserves it’s own post, but since I haven’t gotten around to it yet… Here’s how a recent study find tens of thousands “suspicious votes” in NC.  But history very strongly suggests that when they are examined more closely, only a very small handful will be the result of malfeasance.  Not surprisingly, Republicans are simply pretending otherwise.

17) I’ve long known Jim Demint is a moron.  He argued this week that “big government” had nothing to do with ending slavery.  Jamelle Bouie’s takedown.  Adam Gopnik’s is even better:

This is, in plain English, so ignorant that, as I say, there has been no shortage of corrections. A debate about whether big government freed the slaves is pretty much the only debate that a liberal is guaranteed to win. The Civil War was the original big-government overreach: it came from Washington, D.C.; it involved raising new taxes (in fact, it is the origin of a number of taxes); it confiscated rifles from rebels; it did special favors for minorities (in this case, the special favor of recognizing them as human beings and setting them free from lifelong bondage); and, in the end, it imposed a bureaucracy on an unwilling population (that is, it imposed the Union Army on the South). Many things can be said about the Civil War, but not that it was done with the benign neglect of the federales. The moral point was argued for decades, as it is with most issues in a democracy. But that big government freed the slaves is as sure a fact as any in history.


Time is a flat circle

I love this little parody soooo much (as a college basketball fan, I see these AT&T ads all the time) and y’all know how I feel about True Detective:

Colbert and the power of satire

If you haven’t followed the recent controversy over Stephen Colbert, this article pretty much summarizes the whole thing.  In a segment about the name of the Washington Redskins, Colbert said he was creating “The Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”  To belabor the obvious, the point of this joke is to suggest that the name “Redskins” is just as offensive as this so obviously offensive name.  Context got lost on twitter and a bunch of people hugely over-reacted.

Colbert struck back with another great segment, but the original “hashtag activist” (naturally) just doubled-down and insisted she was right:

Park said that intent did not matter. “Well-intentioned racial humor doesn’t actually do anything to end racism or the Redskins mascot,” she told the New Yorker. “That sort of racial humor just makes people who hide under the title of progressivism more comfortable.”

Nope.  Simply not true.  I’ll be blunt here– Park is a moron.  This isn’t funny because it gives me (a liberal) permission to laugh at Asians.  This is funny because it makes fun of people defending a presumably racist nickname (though Redskins really isn’t is bad as Ching Chong Ding Dong when you examine the history).  This is not “well-intentioned racial humor.”  This is satire.  And if Park doubts the ability of satire to have any meaningful impact, she might want to google Jonathan Swift among others.


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