Saturday, April 19, 2014

Review: "Reconstructing Amelia" by Kimberly McCreight

From the Amazon.com promotional blurb:
"In Reconstructing Amelia, the stunning debut novel from Kimberly McCreight, Kate's in the middle of the biggest meeting of her career when she gets the telephone call from Grace Hall, her daughter’s exclusive private school in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Amelia has been suspended, effective immediately, and Kate must come get her daughter—now. But Kate’s stress over leaving work quickly turns to panic when she arrives at the school and finds it surrounded by police officers, fire trucks, and an ambulance. By then it’s already too late for Amelia. And for Kate.  
An academic overachiever despondent over getting caught cheating has jumped to her death. At least that’s the story Grace Hall tells Kate. And clouded as she is by her guilt and grief, it is the one she forces herself to believe. Until she gets an anonymous text: She didn’t jump."
Overview:

Superficially, at least, Reconstructing Amelia shares much in common with Gillian Flynn's Girl Gone: As the book opens, something bad has happened to a female protagonist who leads a complicated life. Another protagonist attempts to discover what happened. 

The narration involves two points of view: that of the protagonist who knows the whole story, and that of the protagonist who doesn't. Eventually this knowledge gap is narrowed. There is a surprise ending. 

There was a final sentence in the promotional blurb that I omitted above: "Reconstructing Amelia is about secret first loves, old friendships, and an all-girls club steeped in tradition. But, most of all, it’s the story of how far a mother will go to vindicate the memory of a daughter whose life she couldn’t save."

As the above would suggest, the publisher of Reconstructing Amelia seems to have targeted the book at a female audience; but this is by no means "chick lit". I'm a very politically incorrect, unapologetically heterosexual 45-year-old male, and I found this book to be a compulsive page-turner. While the viewpoint is overwhelmingly female, the action is also unrelenting. Fans of Joseph Finder and Nelson DeMille will enjoy this book.

Narration: About 45% of the story is told from the flashback perspective of Amelia, the 15-year-old suicide victim who is dead in the opening chapter. 

I find that by my age, stories with adolescent protagonists can seldom grip me: Either I'm just not able to take that world seriously anymore--or the writing of such books is obviously slanted toward a young adult audience. 

Not so here. McCreight lends a deadly realism to the the hidden world of digital-age private high school students. Although this story is set in an exclusive Manhattan private school in the present time, the conflicts involving cliques, crushes, and adolescent awkwardness are universal. McCreight uses these childhood slings and arrows to lay the groundwork for the book's darkest moments and more outlandish plot elements.

Plot: As I said, Reconstructing Amelia is a fast-moving novel. There were only one or two plot turns that stretched my credibility. (And these were mostly forgivable  in the big scheme of things.) 

The plot is also more complex than that of Girl Gone (to which so many reviewers have compared it). At least one of the book's final outcomes is predictable by the time the reader has completed 75% of the novel. But several others are almost impossible to guess until the very end.

Characters: The book's two main protagonists (Kate Baron and her daughter Amelia) are multifaceted characters who are simultaneously flawed and sympathetic. The villains (and there are many) are also multidimensional. The bad people in this book aren't mindlessly bad; they are driven by authentic human desires--love, jealousy, and (since so much of Reconstructing Amelia is about adolescents) the desire to fit in.

Female readers often complain that male authors stereotype female characters. Female novelists, likewise, have a tendency to stereotype male characters along certain lines. 

McCreight mostly avoids the worst of these. This book is thankfully free of the hackneyed male-hero-as-tall-dark-and-handsome-soap-opera-hunk.

(Note: My intention here is not to overplay the gender aspects of this book--but rather to encourage potentially skeptical male readers to give it a try.)

Ideas: Readers will be divided regarding whether or not Reconstructing Amelia is a simple thriller, or a book that is intended to Say Something Significant about Teenage Bullying. I think it's mostly just a thriller; but there's nothing wrong with that.

Overall rating: 4/5 stars: Reconstructing Amelia is commercial fiction, but of the more intelligent variety. This book will keep you turning the pages until the end. 




Friday, April 18, 2014

Anne Applebaum on Western realism about Russia

Anne Applebaum, author of Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe: 1945-1956, explores Western misperceptions of Russia as a "flawed Western country". 

"Russian politics has never been all about us. In truth, we’ve had very little influence on Russian internal politics since 1991, even when we’ve understood them. The most important changes — the massive transfer of oil and gas from the state to the oligarchs, the return to power of men formed by the KGB, the elimination of a free press and political opposition — took place against our advice. The most important military decisions — the invasions of Chechnya and Georgia — met with our protests. Though many appear to believe otherwise, the invasion of Crimea was not primarily intended to provoke the West, either. As one astute Russian commentator noted, the most important lines in Putin’s annexation speech this week were largely overlooked: his reference to the fifth columnists and the Western-funded Russian “traitors” who will now have to be silenced. Putin invaded Crimea because Putin needs a war. In a time of slower growth, and with a more restive middle class, he may need some more wars, too. This time, it’s really not about us."
This is the opposite of the Thomas Friedman school of international relations. Contrary to the hopes of many in the 1990s, culture still matters; and Russia's culture is very different from that of the West.


Can charisma be taught?


“Charm hacker” Olivia FoxCabane claims she can make anyone more likable--for a price. But can charisma really be taught?

Superficially, yes. But introversion, in my experience, is an innate set of preferences that never really goes away. 

I'm an introvert by nature. I know how to "turn myself on" when I need be more extroverted for a specific purpose. (I used to work in sales, after all.) But that ability doesn't change my preferences

I still prefer an evening with a book to a party--even though I can attend parties when I have to. 

Latin and logical reasoning


Need a good, Latin-based word for “logical reasoning”? Try this one: ratiocination.

This comes from the Latin verb ratiocinare "to calculate, deliberate".

There is also and English verb form of ratiocination: ratiocinate: “to think or argue logically and methodically; reason”


Usage examples:

“For the inhibition of the process of ratiocination leaves the mind in a state to carry out the one idea which has been placed in it.” –William Breathes “His ratiocination on this subject is, however, purely speculative, and does not touch the ordinary obligations of men considered as social or patriotic duties.” –John Owen Evenings with the Skeptics, Or, Free Discussion on Free Thinkers, Volume 1

The word that gives prostitutes a bad name


Meretrix is a Latin word for prostitute. The adjective meretricious is based on a similar Latin term, meretricius, “of or pertaining to prostitutes”.

As is often the case, though, the Modern English usage of this Latin loanword is far from the original meaning. Meretricious primarily means, “based on pretense, deception, or insincerity”.


Usage examples:

meretricious claims
a meretricious argumenta meretricious documenta meretricious statement


Plain packaging of tobacco products is a useful means of combating the meretricious marketing of the Mad Men of the tobacco industry. –International IP and the Public Interest


This author from Esquire.com really likes the word meretricious—though he doesn't seem to like Republicans much.

“Nobody can deny that the Republicans have done a fine job spending millions of dollars on meretricious advertising to scare people into hating a law that those same people simultaneously love piecemeal. Nobody can deny that the Republicans have done a fine job spending millions of dollars on meretricious politics in order to define the entire ACA by its shoddy launch -- which was, I keep pointing out, almost nine months ago. Nobody can deny that they are staking their entire midterm election strategy on saddling the Democrats with a law that is working, relying on the perception that their meretricious advertising and meretricious politicking have created to convince people is not. Well done, consultants and ad people. Have another round on me.”

Meretricious can also mean “flashy” or “gaudy”, as in meretricious ornaments.
 “Sanders evokes the meretricious flashiness of the prototypical motor dealer in a manner that I do not think has ever been eclipsed in all the cinematic and televisual depictions of car dealers.” –Spear’s Magazine

Sigma Phi Epsilon leaves Ole Miss--for now

According to CNN:


The Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity has closed its chapter at the University of Mississippi after three of its members were suspected of tying a noose around the neck of a campus statue of civil rights icon James Meredith. 

Meredith was the first black student admitted to Ole Miss, which is in Oxford.
 
"The decision is not a result of any individual incident, but a response to newly discovered, ongoing behavior that includes incidents of hazing, underage drinking, alcohol abuse, and failure to comply with the university and fraternity's codes of conduct," the fraternity said in a statement Thursday. 

"Though the incident involving the James Meredith statue several months ago did not directly result in the chapter's closure, it did mark the beginning of an intensified period of review."
Two observations here: 

First of all, there is an extreme imbalance in the way we evaluate crimes with a racial component. On one hand, instances of violent black-on-white crime--like the beating of a Detroit truck driver by a black mob--receive barely any scrutiny. On the other hand, a noose placed around an inanimate statue becomes a major national incident, accompanied by predictable hand-wringing about racial intolerance. (The media is only interested racial intolerance when the intolerant parties happen to be white.)

On the other hand, it sounds like the problems with this fraternity don't begin and end with this "prank"--which while overblown by the media, was nonetheless inappropriate. While I don't know the full details, the CNN article suggests that the statue incident was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. (The article also suggests that the fraternity may return to the University of Mississippi at a later time--and with a different crowd.)

Finally, I have to admit that I've never been a fan of the fraternity/sorority system. These organizations do seem to bring out the worst in people--as does almost any setting that subordinates individual judgment to group norms. The pack gravitates toward the lowest common denominator of human behavior.

While other folks are free to do as they wish, I've never been a "joiner" myself. But I reemphasize that this my preference--and your preference might be different.

  

Thursday, April 17, 2014

John Scalzi, "white male privilege", and original sin


John Scalzi has been thinking and writing about white male privilege again, this time with a special emphasis on the male part of that equation:
"I’ve been talking about sexism recently — my own and others — and I have to say I’ve found it increasingly exasperating to see the massively defensive response of “not all men are sexist” that inevitably follows. One, because it’s wrong (more on that in a bit), and two, because the more I see it, the more it’s obvious that it’s a derail, as in, “Holy shit any discussion of sexism makes me uncomfortable so I want to make it clear I am not sexist so I’ll just demand recognition that not all men are sexist so I can be lumped in with those men who are not sexist and I can be okay with myself.”  
(I also note a fair correlation between the men who demand acknowledgment that men are not all sexist and the men who show some general hostility either to women or to the idea that they are being actively sexist through their own words or actions. But then, I don’t really find this correlation all that surprising.)

John acknowledges that not everyone agrees with his pontifications--but alleges that those who disagree with him only disagree because they are hostile toward women. 

According to John Scalzi, a man does not actually have to engage in sexist actions, speech, or even thoughts in order to fall under the Scalzi Approved Definition of Sexism. A man may be involuntarily guilty of what Scalzi calls "ambient discrimination [sexism]":

"This is the discrimination that is given to you, by society in general, by the particular groups you participate with in our general society, and by immediate influences (i.e., family, friends, teachers and authority figures). Your own ambient mix of discriminatory things will vary due to all of the above, as you drill down from the general to the specifics of your own life."

When combined with his earlier essay about "straight white male privilege", one can see that what John is actually articulating here is a secular concept of original sin. Males (especially white males) are guilty by default--regardless of their individual conduct, ideas, or associations. 

And since John (and other proponents of the cult of white male guilt) cannot define this "privilege", it is impossible for white males to atone for it.  A white male's only possible hope of reprieve is to remain constantly penitent for sins that will never be defined for him in any specific way. 

When John does attempt an actual definition, his logic breaks down quickly:

"So: I am sexist in that I have a raft of general assumptions and expectations about women and men that I got just from living in the world that I do; some things seem “girly” and “womanly” to me while some other things seem “boyish” and “manly.”
So, in other words: The acknowledgement of any gender difference is now "sexism". Do your "expectations" include the notion that your son will prefer toy trucks to Barbie dolls? Well, you're a sexist. Did you fail to encourage your daughter to try out for the Navy Seals? Well, you're hampered by your raft of general assumptions and expectations about gender. 

This is not a call for equal opportunity, but for revolutionary gender sameness--for the forced elimination of all social and biological human differences. The ultimate goal here is not "equal opportunity", but a drab, androgynous society reminiscent of Mao's China during the Cultural Revolution. 

It is worth noting that this type of gender egalitarianism is sexist in its own right. Its usual aim is to move traditional female modes of behavior toward male norms, rather than the other way around. While the leftist prescription for revolutionary gender sameness begins by attacking males, the destruction of the feminine is one of its eventual goals. 

What is the endgame here? At a personal level, John Scalzi has cultivated a sycophantic audience that eats this stuff up. At a larger, ideological level, the motives are more sinister. 

For example, suppose that instead of writing his previous two pieces about "white male privilege", John Scalzi had written something like the following: 

"Well, you know: The culture has changed a lot in the past two generations regarding the equality of the sexes.  

Women--and men--are free to pursue any career they choose, except for a minuscule number where physical limitations are a legitimate issue. (There are no male wet nurses, or female linebackers in the NFL.) 

We've got female CEOs like Marissa Mayer, Sheryl Sandberg, and Mary Barra. Both of the two major political parties have embraced female political candidates, so gender equality is pretty much a bipartisan concern in politics.  

Every university, government agency, and major corporation is staffed with diversity officers, and hosts in-house organizations dedicated to female advancement.  

Sure, there will always be individual males, and females, who have sexist ideas. There will always be anecdotal cases of both male and female favoritism. For example, only men have to sign up for Selective Service. We don't live in a perfect world, after all. 

But overall, equal opportunity is the norm."

That would have been a reasonable, balanced assessment. But that would deny the Left the permanent state of class warfare that underlies all of its goals and assumptions. 

Never forget that at its core, the cult of political correctness is a Hobbesian war of all against all. Class struggle, whether based on economic class, gender differences, or race, requires an oppression narrative. Someone must play the role of perpetual victim, and someone else must be the victimizer. That is the way it works. In this version of reality, there are no individuals, only members of victim groups and oppressor groups. 

Political correctness requires class enemies, in other words. In this case--those evil straight white males. 

Ruben Navarette: the race card in the immigration debate

Writing on CNN in an op-ed piece entitled, "Racism isn't just a GOP problem", Ruben Navarette attempts to twist the illegal immigration debate into yet another racial debate:

"There are two groups of Republicans: Those who pander to nativists by encouraging anti-Latino prejudice and exploiting the fear and anxiety that come from changing demographics, and those who tolerate the first group. 
Both groups are spoiling the Grand Old Party. And they're making life too easy for Democrats, who -- while never particularly good at addressing the needs and concerns of Latino voters -- have lately excelled in the neglect department. The more Latinos are antagonized by Republicans, the more they get ignored by Democrats."

As most readers will know, early 21st-century America is obsessed with race, and its secular religion of anti-racism

In such a climate, it is possible to obscure the truth behind a wide range of issues by branding one's opponents as "racist", and then claiming to speak for the "anti-racist" position.

Navarette attempts a similar strategy in the initial paragraphs of the aforementioned essay: Republicans are racists; they don't like brown-skinned people who speak Spanish. But wait a minute--Democrats are racist, too! They don't spend enough time and effort pandering to brown-skinned people who speak Spanish.

A few relevant facts for Mr. Navarette and his readers:

1.) First of all, group-identity politics (of which Mr. Navarette is a well known practitioner) are destroying the sense of unity that Americans had only a few generations ago. Neither party should craft political policies that are intended to pander to any specific identity group. We spend too much time categorizing ourselves as hyphenated Americans.

2.) Attitudes about race and illegal/legal immigration don't follow clear-cut racial lines, and they never have. Many members of the 19th century's Know-Nothing Party--a rabidly anti-immigrant party--were also passionate abolitionists. The African-American leader Booker T. Washington encouraged the U.S. government to limit immigration, as the early 20th century's influx of low-wage labor from southern Europe hurt African-Americans who were struggling on the lower tiers of the wage scale.

3.) Today as well, the arguments against unfettered immigration and amnesty are primarily economic. Given the size of our welfare state, we simply cannot afford to absorb the estimated 20% of the Mexican population who would like to leave that country. And as was the case in Booker T. Washington's day, large influxes of cheap labor lower the wages of the working class--which includes a disproportionate percentage of African-Americans. The main beneficiaries of mass immigration are the corporate elites, and latte liberals who would like to hire gardeners and domestic servants at lower wages.

4.) The ultimate responsibility for the poor conditions in Mexico lies with the government in Mexico City--not the government in Washington D.C. Instead of trying to figure out how we can efficiently transfer 20% of the Mexican populace to the U.S., suppose we focus on advising/helping/encouraging the Mexican government to get its house in order? That would solve a lot of problems for everyone.


As you can see, the race card has little to no place in this debate. But don't confuse a left-leaning CNN editorialist with the realities of history and economics. 

From Scalzi & Co.: How *not* to argue online

No one likes to have their views criticized. However, if you write politically oriented blog posts on the Internet, then sooner or later, someone is going to disagree with you. 

Damien Walter and John Scalzi didn't appreciate that I had the temerity to disagree with them in a recent blog post. Here is how they responded via Twitter:

It all started--as these things often do--not with Scalzi himself, but with a Scalzi sycophant. Ms. Salomé Jones sounded the alarm:



Well...Not bad. This isn't exactly a counterargument, but it isn't a frothing, curse-filled ad hominem attack, either. As the Scalzi-following crowd goes, this is actually above average.

Then John Scalzi joins in: "I tend to think of him [me] in the same category as Vox Day, but of even less consequence, if such is possible."



In the Scalzi (and Scalzi following) universe, this is the equivalent of the "just like Hitler" argument. Anyone who disagrees with John Scalzi is "just like Vox Day" (i.e., "just like Hitler").

Vox Day is a noted critic of John Scalzi. He is also a far-right blogger, and the source of some admittedly problematic statements. 

But Vox Day is far from the only critic of John Scalzi. Dr. Helen Smith also took issue with one of John's political correctness pandering pieces from a few years ago. Dr. Helen, like me, is a moderate, centrist conservative. 

Poke around the Internet, and you'll find plenty of moderate conservatives (and a few independently minded liberals) who have taken issue with John Scalzi's behavior.

I say "behavior", because the real problem isn't Scalzi's viewpoints. His actual ideas consist mostly of boilerplate political correctness-speak, usually dressed up in a superficially clever gimmick of some sort. John Scalzi is far, far from being the most left-leaning blogger on the Internet.

The problem is that John Scalzi, having cultivated an online personality cult of sorts, is completely incapable of civilly addressing anyone who disagrees with him. 

Now Damien Walter chimes in: "If I exerted a lot of time and attention, I might be able to persuade that guy he’d be happier without the hate....Happily, I have better things to do with my time ;)"




This is a rough variant of the "just like Hitler" argument--which is to say, there is no argument. In my original blog post, I challenged some of the sweeping assertions in Mr. Walter's op-ed piece at The Guardian: "Science fiction needs to reflect that the future is queer." 

The unspoken implication here is that the "hate" I feel is for gay people--an unusual assertion given my praise for Clive Barker, an openly gay author. An unusual assertion given my praise for books that contain gay characters. My issue is with the specific arguments in Mr. Walter's essay--not with anyone or anything else. 

(I don't even have an issue with Damien Walter, necessarily--I was unfamiliar with him before I read the aforementioned op-ed piece.) 

But I can live with this much. I did specifically call Mr. Walter out, and for him to basically say, "Aw, he's a hater, but he's not worth my time!" isn't the end of the world. And once again, a standard modus operandi among this crowd.

Then things got a bit creepy. Salomé Jones, having now developed something akin to an obsession with me, decided to contact me by email--sort of:


"I sent Mr. Trimnell an email that said, simply, your comment box is broken. hehe."






Well, Ms. Jones, you might like to know that I received your message, and I was very impressed. Rest assured that you have proven yourself to be a formidable debater, and I will steer clear of you in the future. 





So, what have we learned today?

1.) That which is posted on the Internet is fair game for criticism. If you have a difficulty handling criticism in a civil manner, don't post on the Internet.

2.) If you choose to respond to criticism, you will make yourself look better if you actually present a counterargument--even if you ultimately fail to convince your opponents. On the other hand, if you respond with spittle-filled ad hominem attacks and/or repetitive, meaningless snark, you'll come across as immature and/or intellectually unprepared.

3.) Sending strangers of the opposite sex cryptic, stalker-like messages is generally not a good way to engage in debate. It is, however, a sure-fire way to be creepy.  


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Commercial interlude: Try the first 69 chapters of Blood Flats




“Meth, murder, and the mafia---a vast tapestry of a southern gothic crime novel with a Dickensian cast of characters.”

Available for the first time on Amazon Kindle.

***Lee McCabe is home from Iraq, but home has changed.***

Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran and recently discharged U.S. marine Lee McCabe never imagined the dangers awaiting him in Hawkins County, Kentucky. While Lee has been in the Middle East, a network of violent methamphetamine traffickers have established a foothold in the county, corrupting, intimidating, or murdering anyone who stands in their way.

***Charged with murder and marked for death***

Lee quickly discovers that his neighbor, Tim Fitzsimmons is a meth dealer. When Fitzsimmons and his girlfriend are killed in a drug-related hit, Lee attempts to intervene. The law and the community blame Lee for the murder. The meth traffickers target Lee for death, knowing him to be a witness to the crime.

***Enemies motivated by passion, greed, and desperation ***

Sheriff Steven Phelps has his own personal reasons for hating Lee: Twenty-five years ago, Lee’s now deceased mother had a youthful affair with the sheriff. The sheriff planned to marry her--until she jilted him to be with the man who became Lee’s father. Phelps is torn by his duty to justice, and his obsession with the doomed love of his adolescence.

Lester Finn is a classics-quoting, self-aggrandizing local hoodlum and meth dealer. He is caught between the law and the Chicago-based mafia, which wants a greater share of the southern methamphetamine trade. From his bar, the Boar’s Head, Lester controls a sordid regional enterprise that consists of gambling, drug trafficking, and prostitution. Lester is torn by his grudging respect for Lee---and his need to see the ex-marine dead.

Paulie Sarzo is a Chicago mobster, a rising star in the Coscollino crime family. He despises Kentucky, Lee McCabe, and most of all, Lester Finn. But Paulie has an important mission to accomplish in Hawkins County: If he fails to eliminate Lee, he risks the ultimate punishment for failure in la cosa nostra.


***A journey toward death or redemption***

Dawn Hardin is a former golden girl, honor student, and premed whose life has fallen into a downward spiral of meth addiction and prostitution. Dawn had a tumultuous relationship with Lee before he went to Iraq. Now she tries to help him wage war against the mafia, even as she struggles with her own inner demons, and a family that wants to deny her existence.


The Hunter is a mysterious figure who compels Lee to go on the offensive against the forces pursuing him. But will the Hunter offer any concrete assistance, or only advice?


Brett St. Croix is a journalist who offers to tell Lee’s version of events. But Lee suspects that St. Croix has a contrary, private agenda of his own.


Ben Chamberlain lost his wife to a meth-related murder. Will he assist Lee; or will Ben’s desire for revenge destroy them both?


***A battle in Blood Flats***

Pursued from all directions, Lee embarks on a cross-country journey toward the town of Blood Flats. There he faces a showdown---in which he must pit his wits and determination against the ruthlessness and superior resources of his enemies on both sides of the law.



Read the first 69 chapters here at One Word a Day with Ed Trimnell

Get the Kindle version at Amazon.com 
Get the paperback version at Amazon.com


DailyKos and the leftist obsession with race

Hunter of the DailyKos attempts to say something profound about race and Fox News, and fails miserably:


So Fox News "serious" news person Brit Hume talked this last Sunday on his let's-call-it "news" network that for President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, "race has been a shield and a sword." He said this on a lily-white Fox News panel containing the likes of lily-white George Will and lily-white Chris Wallace, and that Fox News held a conversation between people like Brit Hume and George Will and Chris Wallace to talk about how mean black people were being is pretty much all you need to know about Fox News.
  
Hmm. I've gotta admit, having an all-white Fox News panel complaining that black people are using their race against good conservative white folks does seem a little kinda bit racist. Especially, and this is key, when your movement has made a habit of saying the same thing about nearly every non-white American with a career in politics that you haven't liked over the last 40 years. The problem wasn't that your point was too daring for America to stomach, the problem was your point was so predictable that folks have the script memorized at this point.
  
Oh, I can think of worse things. Maybe not for a lily-white news pundit seeking to say silly things while still keeping his serious person credentials, a fellow who probably will not be shot for carrying Skittles into a middle class neighborhood or getting patted down by the police for buying something a little too expensive in the wrong posh New York storefront, but for much of the rest of non-Fox-News America, I can think of worse things.

To begin with, Fox News does have black/Hispanic commentators. But even if the network were "lilly white"--so what? 


Whatever happened to the idea that arguments and evidence are to stand or fall on their own merits?


Or is racial parity now required on any panel that discusses racial issues? And does this mean that every statement from the NAACP should be ruled invalid because white people are underrepresented among its ranks? 

What would this paragon of Daily Kos wisdom have to say about New Black Panther thugs engaging in voter intimidation to aid the election the election of Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012? 

This was certainly a case of racial intimidation--and it wasn't "lilly white". But it was, in the words of the all-knowing Hunter, "a little kinda bit racist".

Feminists want to control other women

A parable on ideological feminism...from France:


"The arrival of the American website Seeking Arrangement, which pairs up young women with rich businessmen has caused a fair amount of consternation in France and even led to calls for it to be banned.
  
The launch of the French site, which went live in February, has been the talk of the French media this week. “Riches businessmen cherchent “French sugar babies” (Rich businessmen look for French sugar babies) was the headline in Le Monde. In Le Figaro the headline read "Étudiante «sugar baby» recherche riche «sugar daddy» pour amour tarifé (Student 'sugar baby seeks rich 'sugar daddy' for love at a fee").
  
Officially Seeking Arrangement says it is aimed at pairing up those seeking “mutually beneficial relationships”, which in reality means loaded men and the more hard-up young women, who often tend to be students in need of financial support.
  
“Why can’t modern men and women not just be honest about what we want and what we have to offer,” asks the site.
  
But in a country like France, where all talk of money and earnings is seen as taboo, one might have expected the website to be given the cold shoulder. But it seems the French are falling for it like everywhere else.
  
The site which has already been launched in several other countries seems to be proving popular, with Le Figaro reporting that 40,000 French “sugar babies” have already signed up.  
“It’s simple. I need money for my studies, which are long (PhD in progress),” wrote one female subscriber. Le Monde newspaper quotes one young French woman, Cecile, who claims to benefit to the tune of up to €4,000 a month from “sugar daddies” she meets through the site.

Certainly this sort of thing wouldn't be for everyone. But if 40,000 French women say oui, whose place is it to say non?

Well--someone is saying non, and it isn't those control-freak, sex-intolerant Christians. 

It's those, control-freak, sex-intolerant feminists:


Some French organizations accusing Seeking Arrangement of promoting “disguised prostitution”.
  
“Seeking Arrangement takes advantage of the financial misery of students. The site hides violence against women in beautiful wrapping paper,” said Anne-Cecile Mailfert, a spokeswoman for feminist group Osez le Feminisme (Feminists Dare). 
 A landmark bill that aims to punish clients of prostitutes with hefty fines is currently snaking its way through the French parliament.
  
Osez Le Feminisme, keen supporters of the legislation, want lawmakers to crack down on sites like Seeking Arrangement.
  
“We hope lawmakers will look at websites when they discuss the adoption of the law criminalizing the purchasing of sexual acts,” said Mailfert.
  
Angela Jacob Bermudo, a spokeswoman for the French Seeking Arrangement site rejected the accusations and told The Local the site was proving popular in France.
A common ploy in situations like this is for feminists to control the sexuality of other women by making generic and unsubstantiated claims of abuse and exploitation. 

Their assumption, apparently, is that the 40,000 women who've signed up for Seeking Arrangements aren't smart enough to manage their own affairs. They require the services of mannish, hirsute feminists to manage their affairs for them

Gee thanks, they must be collectively saying. But who asked you to do that? And why don't you simply mind your own business?

Remember, folks: Political correctness is always about the control of others: their income, their speech, or in this case--their sexuality.



Guaranteed minimum income an alternative to the welfare state?

At CNN.com, David Wheeler joins a host of misguided pundits arguing for the implementation of a guaranteed minimum income. This is basically a sustenance payment that the government would issue to everyone--regardless of income. 

It is worth noting that fuzzy-headed liberals aren't the only backers of such a scheme. So-called conservatives have also come out in favor of the idea, including most recently, an ex-Reagan/Bush 41 staffer, Bruce Bartlett.

Bartlett and Wheeler lay out some superficially impressive arguments: Although technically still a transfer payment, a guaranteed minimum income would be "progressive in both directions". In other words, the wealthy entrepreneur would receive the same amount as the inner-city welfare mom. If the existing welfare state were eliminated, a guaranteed minimum income could replace a system that is presently dysfunctional, expensive, and corrupt. And finally, a guaranteed minimum income would stimulate consumer demand.

These arguments all work in a vacuum. Then one has to consider them in the real world. Does anyone really believe that liberals would agree to dismantling TANF, Medicaid, the food stamps program--not to mention the transfer payment subsidies that have been expanded under Obamacare?

What we would get, in reality, would be a guaranteed minimum income system in addition to the current welfare state. 

The astute observer will also discern that a version of this is already in place: it's called Social Security. Social Security, like the hypothetical guaranteed minimum income, is progressive in both directions. The only difference is that Social Security has age requirements.

And Social Security, in case you haven't heard, is teetering on the brink of insolvency. Why is anyone naive enough to think that a universal guaranteed minimum income system would be more financially sound?

A system of guaranteed minimum income would almost certainly be inflationary, and it would require higher taxes. (Again, I don't for one minute buy into the fantasy that our other welfare state programs would go away.)

This doesn't mean that public policy should be blind to the needs and challenges of America's middle and working classes. David Wheeler does open his op-ed piece by acknowledging a very real problem:


"First, the bad news: Even if the economy improves, middle-class career paths will continue to disappear as globalization and technological innovation render more jobs obsolete."
Technological innovation, contrary to Wheeler's analysis, almost always creates replacement jobs. (The classic example here are the auto factories that were built when all the buggy makers were put out of business by the invention of the car.)

Globalization is another issue. For at least twenty years we have told ourselves that the end of American manufacturing is "inevitable", as if globalization were some immutable law of nature. It is not.

The government cannot (and should not) guarantee everyone an income. A level playing field, an opportunity, is another matter, though.

Instead of entertaining fanciful schemes like a guaranteed minimum income for 317 million Americans (plus 11 million illegal aliens, one can assume), policymakers should focus on what works: manufacturing, and the jobs that manufacturing brings. It is all fine and good to tell people to "work at McDonald's"; but you can't build an economy of upward mobility on hamburger flipping jobs. 

Unfettered globalization and free trade have resulted in millions of middle-class jobs--in China, India, and elsewhere in the developing world. Contrary to what you might have heard, globalization is not a guaranteed win-win proposition. There are guaranteed losers, in fact--mostly workers in developed nations like the U.S.

Perhaps what is "obsolete" are not the jobs of Americans--but the assumptions underlying the cult of the global economy. 

Call me crazy, but a trade policy based on rational self-interest and the promotion of U.S. manufacturing jobs seems to make a lot more sense than the idea of the government guaranteeing each one of us a five-figure annual income.