Saturday, May 12, 2007

Say it Sexy like Ricardo Monteva

Two commercials for your viewing enjoyment

First off, these lions are a hilarious:




Also, I can't believe they got this goofy blonde girl to say this:

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Some Comments on Education

A while back BostonDissentator asked for opinions on education. It was his contention that education is the single most important domestic political issue, and I would not immediately disagree. But for a moment, I'd like to consider an odd, and probably terribly unpopular position on education. I do so not to be overtly contentious, as some accuse me, nor to "spleen" my thoughtful and eloquent colleague, the Boston Dissentator, nor to rouse the indignant spirit of our Southern dispatch, the Virginia Dissentator, nor even really to push any specific policy. Rather, I'll meander tentatively down an intellectual side-alley, not often marked, let alone traveled, in the hopes of shedding some new light on our current thinking about education and maybe say a thing or two about it's role in modern political issues.

It's long been conventional wisdom that education is both the fuel of the economy and the antidote to bigotry, aggression, and fear. I believe a lot of the modern sentiment on education comes from Rousseau's famous quote "man must be forced to be free." Forced through education. This enlightenment belief is readily appropriated by republicans and democrats alike, though usually in divergent ways: The republicans will call for more education to increase national productivity (fuel of the economy) while democrats will tout the intangible benefits of liberal educations (antidote to bigotry). And probably, they are both right. Education increases productivity and acceptance. But is there no end? How productive and accepting can we get? And is there no cost? Why do we crave more and better education, and is there any reason why we shouldn't?

I'd like to offer two diagnosis for why we crave education and then two reasons why education may not be the universal good we often take it for.

Firstly, I think people mistakenly separate political problems into disparate arenas, when really the political world, like the economy, is a complicated interwoven web where everything is related to everything. People siphon-off education as a stand-alone problem and then assume that if they throw enough money at it, they can crack the whole system. Education is an attractive issue to focus on because it's charge is so rewarding: what could be more heart-warming than educating our children? But are we sure that education is really the root of everything. Does improving education improve race relations, or does improving race relations improve education? Does equality of education close the gender gap, or does closing the gender gap produce equality in education? As far as I know, these questions have not been solved conclusively.

Secondly, and this may be the most cynical part of my position, I think the drive for education has been mixed up with the modern American obsession with competition, productivity, and soulless drive for an empty notion of success. A college education is now held up as the necessary achievement of a successful person. And not just any college education. It has to be the best college education. Why? Is college so great that one could not succeed without one. Plenty of very successful people have got along just fine in this world without a college education. Whatsmore, college is not for everyone. The rigid structure of papers and tests can be too much for people. Or the lack of structured time can cause straight-forward minds to flounder. Or maybe someone just doesn't take instruction well and is better left to their own devises. There are any number of reasons college may not be the best place for someone, but it is thoroughly ingrained that children must go to college. I think this a dangerous belief that belies a national obsession with control. Is that too cynical?

Well, maybe it is. Maybe college and education in general is the greatest thing ever and everyone should go. But here are two widely discussed theories for why education might not be the greatest thing ever.

Firstly, from the Economist Michael Spence, we have learned that productive education is theoretically indistinguishable from a useless sorting mechanism. That is, if education did really enhance peoples' human capital (made them smarter) people would end up earning the same income as if they were born with innate ability and degrees and diplomas served merely to divide the productive people from the nonproductive people for employers. The concept is called signaling, and Spence won a Nobel prize for it.

Secondly, there are some sociological theories floating around that suggest the productive value of formal education is not primarily to develop human capital, but rather to teach a common set of practices and values so that the rich can identify their own. Now, I don't want anybody calling me a Marxist for that last sentence. I've never even fired a gun. But I do think that we could definitely be more self-aware in this country about the subtle ways that we perpetuate class divisions, despite our adamant denial of class systems and fervent belief in equal opportunity. I think education may be a particularly insidious form of this classism. I think I will have to make this discussion a separate post.

So there is my most-likely terribly unpopular comments on education. To divest myself of responsibility for them, I'd like to repeat that I am not advocating any policy. And I am most certainly, not, in anyway, against education, or teachers, or anything like that. College was great. Best seven years of my life. I just want to propose that there may be some other ways of thinking about it.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

This is the bluetick coonhound puppy dog I babysat yesterday

When people know you're unemployed, or nonemployed, as in my case (unemployed means you are unsuccessfully looking for work, while nonemployed means you don't even look), you can expect some interesting requests. Your friends have things to do, and they know that you don't. What are you going to say? I'm sorry, I'd like to help you out, but I need to spend six hours at the coffee shop today resteeping tea bags until my Earl Gray is so watered-down the Church of England blushes?

Actually, I might say that. I've had it in for Henry VIII since Anne 0f Cleaves. But it wouldn't help. People with urgent requests are in no mood for Theocratic humor. So it came that Monday night my childhood friend, on the eve of his final Law School examination, beseeched my listless person attend his bluetick coonhound puppy dog, Gale, and I assented.

The particular nature of my friend's predicament dictated a special course of action. The puppy was eight weeks old, having lodged a mere forty eight hours in her new West Village home. I understand hound dogs are a little rambunctious in general, but I think youth and lack of Lower-Manhattan experience combined in my small charge to aggravate an already precarious equilibrium. The dog was fucking nuts. You had to watch it continuously; not only because it might apply its searching teeth to any garment in reach, or micturate, with youthful glee, upon any surface, but also because the little bastard would go for your jugular if you didn't entertain it sufficiently- a disease it likely contracted from the New York cinema patronage upon touchdown at JFK.

The dog could not be trusted outside its recently constructed comfort zone. What's more, little Gale did not even have papers yet, so even if she could be trusted at the boarders, they could not legally take her. And yet, the law exam approached, and my friend could not study for a small, floppy-eared, energetic bluetick coonhound at his leg. I got the call.

The arrangement was this: I would sit on my friend's couch, gently succoring the little dog with DVR and chew toys, while third-year law studied in his bedroom. He told me it would be the greatest favor anyone could ever do for him.

Things passed well enough. I walked the dog once an hour. I fed her twice. I even got her to sleep for a few minutes by showing her an entire season of Entourage. She did chew my jacket a little, but it was law school's jacket, so I figured she owned it anyway. Overall, I'd say we got on pretty well.

So beware, work force refugees. Your friends need favors, and they know how to find you (they call your girlfriend- speaking of which, does anyone know what you call a guitarist with no girlfriend? Homeless). But if you ever pick up the message, you might just find yourself reclining on your friend's leather sofa, watching movies and playing with doggie toys, while an adorable bluetick coonhound nestles in your flank and sings you sweet songs of spring hunts and water holes, thick grass and cool barnyard floors; the happy traditions of another shiftless, wandering breed somehow caught up with everyone else, here in New York city.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

No More Monkey Business


Clearly, and for reasons passing my understanding, evolution remains, 82 years after the Scopes Monkey Trial, a debatable issue in America. A recent Newsweek poll found that nearly half of American don't believe in evolution. This is troubling and, as someone who travels and lives in other countries, it is embarrassing. Having grown up in Massachusetts, however, this issue never really presented itself. The people I grew up around never proselytized their faith or even mentioned it much. So, when I listen to politicians having to qualify or apologize for their belief in evolution, I die a little inside.

In the recent Republican debate, when asked by my man Chris Matthews who did not believe in evolution, three candidates raised their hands. By itself, this was a sad moment, but then John McCain, who thankfully was among those that did not raise their hands, felt the need to explain further -- assuaging those voting Americans that when he goes hiking in the Grand Canyon he can see the face of God. (The Daily Show recently aired this clip. You have to scroll down) Wow, Senator, that's really great, but why did you feel obligated to tell us this useless piece of information? Because, like all political candidates, Senator McCain felt compelled to let us know that he has religious faith in his life. And this bizarre requisite that we have for our leaders is not just a Republican phenomenon. On the most recent episode of Real Time with Bill Maher, Harold Ford also wanted to add a little amendment to his belief in evolution (watch the very end of this clip. Also, Gary Shandling is terrific throughout the episode).

All Americans complain that our politicians' rhetoric rings false, and in my eyes, this is never more apparent than when they speak of their own faith. In my opinion, religious faith and the practice of it should be an entirely private choice. Like blowjobs or love. When Tom Cruise got up on Oprah's couch and professed his love for Katie Holmes, those that watched felt not only a deep, vicarious embarrassment but also a knee-jerk skepticism -- to feel the need to so publicly and shamelessly announce one's love at best diminishes this love and at worst undermines it by overcompensation. The same is true for me when I watch these politicians openly discuss their faith. Both faith and love are by nature precarious sentiments -- for one who truly possesses them, faith and love are internal struggles not external absolutes. Perhaps, it is with this in mind that Tom Cruise's love and a politicians conspicuous faith ring false, and also why I was most troubled by a recent Time Magazine poll which "reported 66 percent of Americans have no doubts God exists". But I digress from my more immediate critique, that these same leaders feel compelled to apologize for their belief in science.

Let's rephrase the belief in evolution question a bit, just to demonstrate how odd these equivocating answers sound:

Moderator - Senator, do you believe in a theory steeped in empirical data, which has been subjected over centuries to rigorous and skeptical testing?

Senator - Yes...but also the other thing.

...Remember, those of your who are running for political office, that it's only nearly half of the electorate who doesn't believe in evolution. You still got the majority who trust in science. So, rather than bow and curtsy to religious fanatics, maybe try to appeal to them with a decent health care package or prove to them that their country won't forget them after they retire. To run for office and speak about personal religious faith, when there are pressing issues afoot, is a waste of breath, a waste of airtime and, in the end -- like with Tom Cruise's couch stomping -- it only serves to undermine and diminish your actual faith. So, Politicians, all I ask is that after you have proudly stated your belief in science, do like our evolutionary ancestor in the photo above, and shut your mouth.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Case of the Mondays: This is What it Sounds Like, When Economists Cry

I don't know about you, but few things cheer me up more than being a neutral observer of a catfight. As long as the incident had nothing to do with me I can sit back and relax and bask in two people going at each other's throats for some reason and take comfort in the fact that there was at least one problem that I enountered during my day that wasn't totally and completely my fault. Feels pretty good to have not screwed up.

Now when the fight is between two quasi-celebrity intellectuals the fight is even more amusing and reassuring that I am not the only one who screws everything up that I come into contact with. To make matters dismal, there are a lot of things that we screw up on a daily basis, like relationships, pasta, Ikea furniture, you name it, we daily run the risk of ruining it, so it's always great to see that, if something had to be ruined, it wasn't ruined by you, and this can be especially comforting if the thing ruined is something relatively important like economics, for example, "sure I left the pizza pie in the oven too long, but at least I didnt' ruin economics!"

So even if you ruined like one econometric equation you will feel like you're doing great in comparison to Steven Levitt, author of (get your) Freakonomics, who according to Noah Sheiber, is ruining economics.

Apparently Scheiber wrote an article in TNR which I can't fully read so I don't really know what it said, but boy was Steven Levitt upset. His response is great because you can totally read it and imagine the guy coming home after a hard day at the office and delivering this angry monologue to his buddies or whoever.

Don't know whether he is really ruining economics or not but his angry rant should be sufficient to get me over my case of the Mondays.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

New Week's Resolution: Pizza Pie

I have decided I am finally going to fulfill my New Year's Resolution from 2006-07 which was to start passing New Week's Resolutions. The idea was that every Sunday, whether spending the day working or studying or hungover or all of the above, I would reflect on the previous week and resolve to do something differently or better during the following week.

Now you might be thinking, "isn't that just like wishing for more wishes?" and to that I would reply "what do you think I do when I blow out birthday candles?"

This week's New Week's Resolution is to start saying "Pizza Pie" instead of "Pizza," and see what kind of reactions I get. For instnce, instead of saying "hey, you wanna order a pizza?" I am going to start saying "hey, you wanna order a pizza pie?" or for example "what am I in the mood for for dinner? Eh, I'm kind of in the mood for a pizza pie," and I am going to basically just do that for a couple of days and see what happens.