Bitter Grace
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Below are the 20 most recent journal entries recorded in amaebi's LiveJournal:

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    Sunday, November 23rd, 2014
    5:07 pm
    It's always about race
    “`I just had an encounter with this director I really respect. I was saying, "Why do you want to work with me?’ and he said, "Because I’m really interested in talking about race." It was like: "So do you think that you’ve not been making work about race? You’ve been making work about whiteness." That’s O.K. Race is always in play, but somehow when I walk into a room, it’s a word that’s used to put me in a corner.

    “`It’s like "Long Days Journey Into Night" is literally about whiteness, ridding yourself of your Irish heritage so you can fit into this WASP society with your summer home. In "A Streetcar Named Desire," one of the first lines is a black woman telling a raunchy joke, and the play is about Blanche’s inability to be in the city where she’s coexisting with many races. "Streetcar" is all about race. So I’m told that I’m writing about race when I feel I’m actually just telling stories about people in the same way as these writers who are heroes to me.'"
    - Branden Jacobs-Jenkins in
    4:58 pm
    More on oil policy in North Dakota
    "Underlying the state’s regulatory posture is the premise that spills are all but inevitable and will increase alongside increases in drilling. But that is not a universally shared perspective.

    “`There’s this idea that spills are just the cost of doing business,' said Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council. `But there’s no technical justification for all these spills. And it’s not acceptable. It’s just not. It just shows how poorly the oil and gas industry is doing its job, and that nobody is making them do it right.'"

    Even supposing the spills were all inevitable, it's not at all clear why oil companies shouldn't bear full liability for them-- why penalize North Dakota landowners?

    Moreover, if indeed more spills result because oil firms are more careless than they need to be, assigning them serious liability would give them an incentive to undergo the costs of taking care.

    But we're only about incentives for those whose low income and wealth give them few options, it seems.
    4:48 pm
    Found poetry
    "So I continued: We try to make the best of our circumstances, converting our shackles into art, I said. Amid all that is ephemeral, we strive for permanence..."

    (Not such a surprising find, in its waycomm: this is a very literary piece.)
    11:03 am
    "We are, perhaps constitutionally, ill prepared whenever we find ourselves in the middle of someone else’s story and more than a little reluctant to admit the ways in which an encounter with that story potentially works changes in us. "

    I'm not convinced that the rest of the paragraph is correct, though the article as a whole is swell. But I wanted to hang onto the quote.
    10:20 am
    Regulatory capture in North Dakota
    Industry regulators need information from the companies they regulate. This is a ready channel for disingenuous corporate managers to use like puppeteers, to manipulate the regulators. Of course, direct suasion can occur as well.

    The phenomenon is called regulatory capture.
    Link to a New York Times story, and a money quote from it.Collapse )

    ETA: And here's another delightful thing: "Why our org Wica Agli originally got involved in the opposition in the first place is because the KXL pipeline would bring the man camps. So, we know that statistically native women are perpetrated against far more than any other ethnicity in this country. One of every 3 native women are sexually assaulted. Eighty-six percent of the perpetrators are non-native. And because of jurisdictional issues, 100% of the time we can't do a damn thing about it! In the small town of Watford city, ND located in the Bakken Oil Fields, the estimated sexual assault is increased by 70%! Seventy percent! In our area TransCanada has proposed to station two man camps of 1,200 men per. That's a total of 2,400 non-native men accessing our reservation and potentially matching Watford City’s sexual assaults. I'll be dammed if I allow that to happen in our community!"
    Saturday, November 22nd, 2014
    8:13 pm
    Labour in the U.S.
    "In today's world, the connection of status to work is different. Until recently, one of the main purposes of status was to create a subject labor force through enslavement and other systems of forced labor. In the twenty-first century, laws are still used to keep certain people working in low-wage, undesirable jobs. But the way status is used to enforce labor has changed. Force became more subtle, and work itself became redefined as a privilege. As twentieth-century economic changes in the United State and abroad made it more and more difficult for people to produce their own subsistence, overt force became less and less necessary as a way of making people work. Now, people work out of need.

    "Along with these structural changes came ideological changes. In today's ideology, wprk is a privilege reserved for those of superior status, rather than a burden imposed on those of inferior status. Of course, those of inferior status still work, and they still do the worst jobs. But the system is upheld by laws tat claim to prevent people of inferior status from working. But the laws are only actually enforced in more desirable sectors of the labor market; thus, people labeled inferior are once again relegated to the worst jobs. Still, it's notable that the late twentieth century was the first time that laws have claimed to try to reserve jobs for the privileged, rather than force them upon the underprivileged.

    "These issues are interrelated in many ways."

    - Aviva Chomsky (2014). Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal. Beacon Press.

    Chomsky does not talk about today's unpaid work, at least so far. I'm not sure whether it's because she's been thoroughly and implicitly taught, as U.S. culture teaches or tries to teach us all, customarily unpaid work required of many of us doesn't count or isn't real. But I think it likelier that she's not talking about that because of potential confusion with the historical background of enslavement of Africans (and attempted enslavement of other non-Euros and no-longer-that-Euros) for work that is widely deemed economic.

    It's certainly bidding fair to be a superb book, though. And it's lovely to see someone writing things that seem to me perfectly obvious, which I've found are treated as utterly outlandish when I say them.
    7:59 pm
    Sleeping sickness and unwanted facial hair
    "Unfortunately, the medications available for people infected with sleeping sickness are almost as dangerous as the disease itself. One drug, eflornithine, was originally developed as a cancer treatment and was later found to work against the West African form of sleeping sickness. Because it was so expensive to manufacture, the drug company took it off the shelves in the 1990s, but it started manufacturing it again a few years ago after pressure from the World Health Organization. Recently, a new and more commercially successful use for the drug has helped to spur its production: it is the active ingredient in a new facial cream used by women to treat unwanted facial hair. With a profitable cosmetic use for the drug, it is now once again available to treat sleeping sickness."
    - Amy Stewart (2011). Wicked Bugs. Algonquin Books.
    7:52 pm
    Democracy and envy
    "It cannot be denied that democratic institutions tend to promote the feeling of envy in the human heart; not so much because they afford to everyone the means of rising to the same level with others as because these means perpetually disappoint the persons who employ them. Democratic institutions awaken and foster a passion for equality which they can never entirely satisfy."
    - Alexis de Tocqueville (1945). Democracy in America, edited by Phillips Bradley. New York. I, 201.
    Tuesday, November 18th, 2014
    11:57 am
    *pant* *pant*
    OMG Isaiah 64 is hard.
    Monday, November 17th, 2014
    7:34 pm
    "The Spanish fly, also known as a blister beetle, uses its poison to repel predators. It also plays a role in reproduction: cantharidin is passed from males to females during mating, and the females use it to protect not just themselves but their eggs as well. In a peculiar way, the poison serves as an aphrodisiac for another species: a fire-colored beetle called Neopyrochroa flabellata that doesn’t produce any cantharidin itself, but actually takes it from blister beetles and uses it to attract a mate. Female of this species will refuse a suitor who doesn’t bring a package of this poison to her so that she can use it to protect her young.
    Some blister beetles do manage to get eaten in spite of their chemical defenses. In 1861 and 1893, there were medical reports of French soldiers stationed in North Africa who experiences priapism after eating frog legs. Scientists have long wondered if Spanish fly could have been involved. Cornell entomologist Thomas Eisner cleared up this medical mystery when he fed the beetles to frogs in the laboratory and then demonstrated that cantharidin was found in te frogs’ tissues at levels high enough to cause these painful and distressing symptoms. It appeared that the frogs would have to be eaten shortly after they had been feeding on blister beetles, which would explain why eating frog leg for dinner remains a low-risk activity."
    - Amy Stewart (2011). Wicked Bugs. Algonquin Books.
    7:32 pm
    All or nothing in political personality
    "Resistance and hostility, finding no moderate outlet in give-and-take, have to be suppressed, and reappear in the form of an internal destructive rage. An enormous hostility to authority, which cannot be admitted to consciousness, calls forth a massive overcompensation which is manifest in the form of extravagant submissiveness to strong power. Among those found by Adorno and his colleagues to have strong ethnic prejudices and pseudo-conservative tendencies, there is a high proportion of persons who have been unable to develop the capacity to criticize justly and in moderation the failings of parents and who are profoundly intolerant of the ambiguities of thought and feeling that one is so likely to find in real-life situations. For pseudo-conservatism is among other things a disorder in relation to authority, characterized by an inability to find other modes for human relationship than those of more or less complete domination or submission. The pseudo-conservative always imagines himself to be dominated and imposed upon because he feels that he is not dominant, and knows of no other way of interpreting his position. He imagines that his own government and his own leaders are engaged in a more or less continuous conspiracy against him because e as come to think of authority only a something that aims to manipulate and deprive him. It is for this reason, among others, that he enjoys seeing outstanding generals, distinguished Secretaries of State, and prominent scholars browbeaten."

    - Richard Hofstadter (1954). "The Pseudo-Conservative Revolt," in The Paranoid Style in American Politics.
    Sunday, November 16th, 2014
    3:32 pm
    Investing in Heaven
    This morning I preached at Georgetown again.

    I skipped using the lectionary's Hebrew Bible text, which was about Deborah calling Barak to do battle against Sisera.

    Lectionary texts I used were 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11, Psalm 123, and Matthew 25: 14-30.

    Sermon, mostly written out, in notes.Collapse )
    Thursday, November 13th, 2014
    8:32 pm
    Fourth grade math club
    Because I lack good sense, I have proposed and have been given permission to wrangle a math club for fourth graders at my son's school. I'll give out a set of math problems mid-month, for students to attempt one, two or three of. Then we'll have a lunchtime club meeting to discuss our approaches, and I'll give out participation, boldness, an elegance prizes, and any others I can think of. :D

    I thought some of y'all might like to see the first set of three problems.
    Problems inside.Collapse )
    12:28 pm
    On dreams
    "He stepped over to a wall of pigeonholes and waved a hand. `These are the dreams of the dead,' he went on. `Acquired before their demise, of course. Highly colorful and entertaining; with surprise endings, as expected from those about to leave us. But, alas, not greatly in demand.

    "`And these, for a little more, are the dreams of an insomniac. Poor fellow, he suffered so much from sleeplessness, they have hardly been touched...."

    "`And now, going to the very top of my line. My special, private reserve, of interest to the most discerning clients of exquisite taste and sensitivities.

    "`Strictly fresh, pristine condition, never dreamed before. I am proud to say these are available only from myself. If you are hesitant about the expense, I must point out: in my experience, one gets what one pays for.'"

    - Lloyd Alexander (2007). The Golden Dream of Carlo Chuchio. New York: Henry Holt, 202-3.
    12:16 pm
    The importance of story
    "In theNights themselves, tales divert, cure, redeem, and save lives. Shahrazad cures Shahrayar of his hatred of women, teaches him to love, and by doing so saves her own life and wins a good man; the Caliph Haroun al-Rashid finds more fulfillment in satisfying his sense of wonder by listening to a story than in his sense of justice or thirst for vengeance; and the king of China spares four lives when he finally hears a story that is stranger than a strange episode from his own life. Even angry demons are humanized and pacified by a good story. And everyone is always ready to oblige, for everyone has a strange story to tell."
    - Husain Haddawy (1990). "Introduction," The Arabian Nights. New York: W.W. Norton, x.

    We are creatures of story. We hunger for it. We feed on it. But we mistake story for "truth"-- for a shape of the world purely external to ourselves. And we forget how the stories we shape or cling to change us. A determination to tell stories about fault and blame makes us sour and, worse yet, backward-looking. Stories in which we grouse infect the world with grumbling. Stories about possibility and creation build new worlds.
    10:01 am
    "Every dissenting movement brings its demand for constitutional changes; and the pseudo-conservative revolt, far from being an exception to this principle, seems to specialize in constitutional revision, at least as a speculative enterprise. The widespread latent hostility toward American institutions takes the form, among other tings, of a flood of proposals to write drastic changes into the body of our fundamental law. In June 1954, Richard Rovere pointed out in a characteristically astute piece that Constitution-amending had become almost a major diversion in the Eighty-third Congress. About a hundred amendments were introduced and referred to committee. Several of these called for the repeal of the income tax. Several embodied formulas of various kinds to limit non-military expenditures to some fixed portion of the national income. One proposed to bar all federal expenditures on `the general welfare'; another to prohibit American troops from serving in any foreign country except on the soil of the potential enemy; another, to redefine treason to embrace not only persons trying to overthrow the government but also those trying to `weaken' it, even by peaceful means. The last proposal might bring the pseudo-conservatives themselves under the ban of treason: for the sum total of these amendments could easily serve to send the whole structure of American society crashing to the ground."

    "As Mr. Rovere points out, it is not unusual for a large number of constitutional amendments to be lying about somewhere in the congressional hoppers. What is unusual is the readiness the Senate has show to give them respectful consideration, and the peculiar populistic arguments some of its leading members have used to justify referring them to the state legislatures."

    -- Richard Hofstadter (1954). "The Pseudo-Conservative Revolt," in The Paranoid Style in American Politics.
    Wednesday, November 12th, 2014
    5:22 pm
    Nouns and verbs
    For quite a while I've been all about gains from specialization, a concept dismissed in conversation that takes self-sufficiency as ultimately desirable. The existence of gains from specialization and trade is, Paul Samuelson said, one of the most profound and unobvious findings of economics-- and was demonstrated beautifully by David Ricardo, about two hundred years ago. It should be well known, and inform the intuition of every educated person, but it isn't and doesn't. Smart and knowledgeable people still assume that if one gains by trade, the partner loses. They don't think twice about it: it is so self-evident and commonsensical to them.

    For quite a while I've been annoyed and enraged by explicit and implicit demands that humans-- especially middle-status humans-- should be very specialized. This is usually done under the head of "passion for a subject." Even when it comes to a subject in which one engages with passion, I maintain that cross-pollination from subjects considered to be separate has advantages. But I also have found it irritating to be assured that multiple interests indicate inadequacy, and the more focused people I've known have not generally been more productive than jerks like me, so far as I could tell.

    Occasionally I thought about this as a contradiction-- valuing specialization in industry, and gains from it, and yet rejecting a model that demands that humans be specialized.

    And just yesterday it occurred to me suddenly and much later than it ought to have, that this is a case of nouns and verbs. Specialization in activity isn't in conflict with allowing multi-dimensional entities. Verbs and nouns are different. And the Ricardian specialization model is at a moment in time-- it's not about investment in the capacity to engage in multiple activities, nor about investment in new modes of doing the same activities, nor about investment in the conception and development of new activities.
    Sunday, November 9th, 2014
    9:59 am
    My mother is 88 years old, which seems very odd.
    Saturday, November 8th, 2014
    2:30 pm
    Absolutism in conversation
    On Saturdays, when I can, I like to participate in a Twitter conversation called #saturdayschool , organized by Rhonda Ragsdale (@profragsdale) of Lone Star College. Professor Ragsdale often invites subject experts to lead or center discussion around a social justice issue. This morning I was pleased to read that discussion would focus on home and land ownership as a social justice issue. Urban folks often forget about the personal, social, and historical significance of land, private property rights on land, and concepts of home, and I was looking forward to it.

    The guest, whom I am choosing not to identify, came in and said that home ownership was of tremendous importance and usefulness, but only if one financed it without borrowing from a financial institution, and only if one constructed one's own home. Lending benefits only banks, sie said, and the Amish finance housing for those in Amish community. So people should find finance for their land purchases and housing construction amid their community, or if they have't a community that will do so, make one. (Also, it costs less to build your own house than to buy one. Since this one may not be as obviously problematic as constructing an Amish community in order to avoid borrowing from the financial sector, I'll note that whether paid or unpaid, labour as value so long as human time has desirable alternative uses, including sleeping. So that even that which decreases monetary cost may not decrease total cost.)

    I am not making any of this up.

    And so the whole thing took me aback.

    More general considerations.Collapse )
    Friday, November 7th, 2014
    5:31 pm
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