Saturday, August 31, 2013

Pride and Cruelty

The word 'cruelty' is often used as though it is synonymous with 'sadism.'  As though the only cruel people in the world were those who drowned cats for fun when they were kids and then graduated to doing even worse to their fellow human beings as adults.  The word cruel conjures up, for me, the lurid proceedings of police dramas (Luther is pretty good, but man, it's uncomfortable sometimes) and true crime stories; it's a word for serial killers and the psychopathic enforcers of drug gangs.  Certainly it seems to imply that someone is getting pleasure from someone's pain and death.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Dystopias are for Teenagers

I recently re-read Vasily Grossman's masterpiece, Life and Fate, which is about the Great Patriotic war and the respective horrors of Nazism and Stalinism, and about the effect that those authoritarian regimes had on all they touchedt.  It is a great novel, a self-conscious 20th century answer to War and Peace that can stand the comparison and not seem merely pretentious.  I published a brief review earlier this year

Reading it confirmed in my mind something I've thought before -- that whatever it's virtues, dystopian fiction is not the best tool to help us understand what life is like under authoritarianism.  If you want to find out about life under Stalin, read something by an actual Soviet, not by an English idealist who'd never set foot in the USSR.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Corporate Social Responsibility Doesn't Exist, Which is Why Government Regulation Should

This is a good summary of the problems of worker pay, wage stagnation and corporate versus societal responsibility.  It pretty much sums up my feelings on corporate America, which I'd like to expand.

Beginning in with Henry Ford and continuing through the New Deal and the 50's and 60's America has had a deal with its corporations.  We'd let them do what they wanted and they'd take care of their workers -- Unions would become domesticated, and even non-union workers would get nearly union-like benefits and tenure.  We built healthcare around employment, we built retirement around employment, all assuming that a) people would continue working at the Ford plant for their entire lives and b) a private equity firm would not buy the Ford plant for pennies and sell it for scrap.

This grand bargain between corporate America and the public was always a bum deal -- it gave us Love Canal, among other things.  But we were happy with it as long as companies held up their end of the bargain -- fairly stable employment, good benefits, high wages.

Then in the 80's the suits reneged on their half of the deal -- 'you don't really need that low deductible insurance plan, or that fixed-benefit retirment plan, do you?'  And then, of course, came the real kicker 'well you know our real responsibility is to our shareholders, not to you, our employees' and then the layoffs start.

But you know what?  The Corporations are right.  Their job is to make money.  We were the fools for ever thinking differently.  It's not so simple, of course.  Wall Street types will lay people off til the cows come home and then scream 'job creators' whenever you request that, since they've been making out like bandits, they give back more to the common pot.  So when that happens we just need to take what they say about profits and shareholder value and run with it.  They won't take care of people and they won't take care of the planet, so it's our job to do it for them (on their dime).  They will take as much as they can.  Our job is to stop them.  This is the way it is.  We are free of illusions, at least.

A note on ethics, why-do-I-bother edition

I should not comment on anything that Ross Douthat ever writes.  It's not a good practice to grant page views to misogynists with delusions of Thomistic philosophical chops.  But sometimes I can't help myself, because Douthat is typical of a sort of intellectual* conservative that dresses up religious dogma and prejudice in the clothing of concern about social cohesian and mores.

I nearly found myself agreeing with Douthat on the subject of almost as odious Stephen Pinker.  I agree that 'science' does not dictate any moral values (is versus ought, etc).  But then I thought about what Douthat had written, and I realized he was wrong (even if Pinker was as well) and that all was right with the world once again.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Segregation in My American City

There's been a bunch of maps showing the ethnic geography of America America and it's cities lately.  This one is the latest.  And this makes me think about my own city, and its own history of segregation.

3 weeks ago my wife and I and I bought a mattress from a lovely local place. I got to talking with the owner about living in the historic district. Back in the 90's, like 20(!) years ago, she had lived on our old street, College Avenue, on the same block I did from 2008 to 2011. I had known that at one time the many of the houses on the street had been owned by African-Americas. I learned from her that when she lived there there were still some older people (they all sounded like retirees), mostly black, living on the block. By the time I moved in the street was nothing but white folks and vacant houses (like 3 vacant properties on my block, which isn't terrible but still kind of jarring).

Friday, August 16, 2013

A Waistcoat Manifesto Pt 1

Waistcoats* have been in and out of fashion a number of times since they were first discarded in the 1940's (much like hats).  They have been brought back as a novelty, and then discarded again when the tides of fashion turn.  Me, however, I am a waistcoat-wearing man.  If I'm waring a tie I feel naked without one.  I'll wear them whether or not they're in fashion, partly because I think following your personal sense of style is always fashionable, partly because I can't imagine doing anything else.

Being the sort of person who overthinks things, I have given a lot of thought about waistcoats.  Why they are an important part of a fully dressed man's wardrobe, and how they can best be incorporated into an ensemble.