The Fantasy Blog Stock Market

I just came across a profile page for this blog on a website called Blogshares: “The fantasy blog stock market.” On the About page, the website is described thusly:

“BlogShares is a fantasy stock market where weblogs are the companies. Players invest fictional dollars in a wide spectrum of blogs. Blogs are valued by both incoming and outgoing links, and can add value to other blogs by linking to them. Prices increase or decrease based on trading and the underlying value of the blog. No actual ownership of blogs is transferred: BlogShares is purely a fictional marketplace for entertainment purposes only.”

My blog’s fantasy valuation is B$12,826.16 and the market share 0.00002 %. I’m not sure if that is good or bad, but it is mildly amusing.

I’ve always wondered what the real-world market value of my blog. At least, I now have a number to put on the fantasy market value. Sadly, I don’t get any of these fantasy profits. Someone else added my blog to the fantasy blog stock market, and I’m not even sure how to buy fantasy shares in my own blog or how any of it works.

Poking Beehives

“I yam what I yam and tha’s all what I yam.”
~ Popeye the Sailor Man

There are two sides of my personality. Let me first put them into political terms, just for the fun of it.

One aspect is what I call my pansy liberalism. It can be quite radical even. I have been called a classical liberal because I take Enlightenment values seriously, but this gets filtered through an alternative hippy mentality.

This because I was raised in pansy liberal Unity Church (New Thought “Positive Thinking” Christianity). And in the formative years of young adulthood, I used to live with a bunch of Deadheads and potheads. I’ve been in drum circles and Hare Krishna chanting circles. I’ve been in anti-war protests and seen hippy chicks dance half naked around a bonfire.

I genuinely believe in compassion and understanding, of freedom and equality. It’s my naive utopian fantasy that win/win scenarios are actually possible and should be more common. I have a faith that humans are fundamentally good and that human potential is vast. So, why can’t we all just get along?

The other aspect is my politically incorrect libertarianism. It is mostly an impulse for freedom of thought and action, but it can be ornery and antagonistic at times. It can lead to skepticism and agnosticism or else curiosity and wonder.

I don’t want to be told what to do, what to say and not to say. Sometimes the more I’m told what not to do the more I want to do it. Get me curious about something and there is no holding me back.

This is my my hardcore intellectuality. This is a different offshoot of classical liberalism. Part of me wants to put truth before all else, even before compassion and sympathy. I see humans as having the capacity for reason, and I’m committed to demanding it of myself as much as of others. More fundamentally, it is just an urge to understand, to question and contemplate, to make sense of a crazy world.

My pansy liberalism is the sensitive side of my personality. I was a quiet child who easily had my feelings hurt. I spent a lot of time alone, but would enjoy the company of a close friend or the family cat.

I loved being outdoors. Nature was a refuge, an escape from responsibilities and the authorities that demanded that I be responsible. In nature, there were no parents or teachers. I quickly learned that animals, plants, and trees didn’t judge. A wooded lot hid me from the larger society of people, including most other kids.

On the other side, I was just plain curious about the world around me. I was always exploring the woods and wandering down creeks. This would cause me to poke sticks down holes, to climb trees, to turn over rock after rock just to see what was underneath.

I was a dirty, scabby little boy. And I loved picking at my scabs, maybe for the same reason I loved turning over rocks. I couldn’t leave things alone. This is why, when my mom warned me not to put anything into outlets, I soon after shoved a paperclip into an outlet. Live and learn. Experience always makes for the best lessons. Otherwise, how do you know what people say is true? And besides, how are you supposed to have fun when you always follow the rules?

I wasn’t a rebellious brat or troublemaker. I just felt compelled to do my own thing in my own way. I didn’t want to stand out and I didn’t want to get in trouble, but the way my mind operated didn’t always perfectly conform to the world of either adults or peers.

All of this is my personality. It wasn’t a choice I made at some point. As long as I can remember, I’ve always been this way. My politics naturally flows from my inherent sensibilities and tendencies. I don’t know why I’m like this, but I’ve come to accept it as best I can.

Still, it makes relationships challenging for me at times. I feel a desire to poke at things. My mind won’t stop running and my curiosity is never sated. I know that this annoys some people. I don’t always play well with others. I end up questioning everything and I don’t always heed intellectual caution. If someone reacts strangely or vehemently, my interest increases a thousand fold. If someone tells me to shut up, it gets my hackles up and I’m even less likely to do as told.

I have a talent for irritating people across the political spectrum, including friends and family. If I haven’t irritated you yet, then we must not have known each other long enough. Just give it time and I’ll find a way to provoke you and be provoked by you.

I think too much, I talk too much, I write too much, I question too much. I rarely can leave well enough alone, even though I don’t want to be mean or annoying. Too often I end up apologizing for aggravating conflict and getting myself into misunderstandings, but at least I usually apologize. I mean well, and I hope that counts for something.

I like to poke at beehives. Sometimes I find honey and sometimes I get stung. It’s the nature of bees to sting, just as it is my nature to poke.

American Celebration of War

I came across a claim that Mister Rogers (Fred Rogers) and Captain Kangaroo (Bob Keeshan) were war buddies.

Something about the story given made me suspicious. It fit too neatly into what uber-patriotic military supporters would like to believe. It seemed highly unlikely. I looked it up and it indeed turned out to be false. They never fought together. In fact, Keeshan never saw any military action and Rogers never served in the military.

What is the point of making up such falsehoods? I just don’t get it. Why does everything have to be made into yet more war propaganda? Come on, at least leave Mister Rogers alone. Why make such a well-loved children’s icon into a symbol of war?

All of this came up because people were posting stuff on Facebook as it was Memorial Day. This brings up a larger issue of how Memorial Day became a celebration of American patriotism and a celebration of all things related to American war and to American military power and greatness. There are various origins of the holiday, but all go back to the Civil War.

It officially began with an order given by Maj. Gen. John A. Logan. The celebration involved, among other activities, strewing flowers on both the graves of Union soldiers and Confederate soldiers. The history of the Civil War puts the celebration in context. That era of conflict was the greatest threat and undermining to American patriotism that this country has ever experienced. The first Memorial Day was in honor of Americans killing and being killed by other Americans. It wasn’t just self-sacrifice of soldiers for their country, but also the self-sacrifice of the entire country in a war that split apart the American population, that split apart communities and families.

However, many earlier celebrations happened. The earliest of them all involved former slaves in South Carolina. They went to a mass grave of Union soldiers in a Confederate prison camp. They did individual reburials and then held a massive parade of thousands. For these former slaves, what they were celebrating was freedom and the sacrifice of those who had ended slavery. But the enemies of freedom in this case were also Americans, just as the former slaves were Americans. The fight for freedom that Memorial Day represents was a struggle within American society against those who wanted mass oppression to continue.

The best way to celebrate Memorial Day would be to honor the conflict that continues to exist in American society and to fight for greater freedom for all Americans. This struggle is far from over.

As an additional thought, I was reminded of the origins of Mother’s Day. It also began with the Civil War. The meaning of Mother’s Day isn’t about some apolitical celebration of motherhood. I’m a big fan of mothers as far as that go, but it is a shame that the holiday has become so superficial. The motivation behind the first Mother’s Day was to protest the carnage of the Civil War. It was a declaration of peace and demand for pacifism. It was an honoring of the mother’s who lost their sons to pointless bloodshed.

Why does everything get obscured that doesn’t contribute to simplistic patriotic propaganda? And why does everything have to serve the American war mentality or else be neutered of its criticism of the same?

The United States was founded on a violent revolution. But it wasn’t fought for patriotism. If those early colonists had cared about patriotism, they would have remained loyal British subjects.

When Memorial Day comes around, I always feel confused about what I’m supposed to be celebrating or honoring. I’m not a pacifist. The military sometimes is necessary. Some wars are started for worthy reasons and achieve worthy ends. Even so, what was so honorable about all the soldiers sent to their death in Iraq, a war that killed even larger numbers of innocent civilians? Those soldiers, sadly, didn’t die fighting for the freedom of Americans. When was the last time that American soldiers fought for anything as noble of a cause as freeing slaves?

Maybe we should spend holidays such as Memorial Day and Mother’s Day contemplating the continued violence and oppression in our own society.

Random Views On Anglo-American History, Culture, And Politics

“British researchers Iona and Peter Opie spent their lives documenting the games that children play when they are out of doors and out of the purview of parents and teachers. “If the present-day schoolchild was wafted back to any previous century,” said the Opies, “he would probably find himself more at home with the games being played than with any other social custom.” They found English, Scottish, and Welsh schoolchildren still playing games that date back to Roman times.”

Harris, Judith Rich (2011-10-25). The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do (p. 188). Free Press. Kindle Edition.

“For better or worse, the heirs of the rationalist rather than the sentimentalist Enlightenment now dominate both philosophy and social science. Enlightenment sentimentalism has long been underappreciated by comparison with Enlightenment rationalism—as the very notion of the eighteenth century as “the age of reason” will attest. Even philosophers today who are well aware of the centrality of moral sentimentalism to eighteenth-century intellectual life tend to define the Enlightenment in purely rationalist terms. John Rawls, for example, defines “Enlightenment liberalism” as a “comprehensive liberal and often secular doctrine founded on reason,” one capable of supporting political morality through a direct appeal to the rational faculties alone.6 Normative theorists and social scientists who are now rediscovering the importance of emotion in our moral and political lives have thus often been led to believe that they are refuting the philosophy of the Enlightenment, rather than lending support to one popular eighteenth-century view of reflective autonomy over another.”

Frazer, Michael L. (2010-07-21). The Enlightenment of Sympathy: Justice and the Moral Sentiments in the Eighteenth Century and Today (Kindle Locations 136-144). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

“Evidently Scotland and France in the eighteenth century were very different from each other, with the former, far more closely than the latter, respecting the ideals of religious and political toleration. But the two countries had this much in common, that they were main players in the European Enlightenment. As this book develops we shall see not only that they shared a host of intellectual interests and concerns, but also that they were in discussion and debate with each other throughout the century of Enlightenment. In preparation for a discussion of the relations between the two countries and cultures, I shall first focus on the fact that these close relations have a long history, and especially on the fact that for many centuries Scots have engaged in several crucial sorts of cultural activity in France. One small indication of the depth of these activities is the fact that by about 1600, at least seventeen Scots were rectors of the University of Paris. There may well have been far more.

“About the time of this David [sc. David I of Scotland] lived Richard of St Victor, a Scot by birth, a religious of the Augustinian order, and he was second to no one of the theologians of his generation; for both in that theology of the schools where distinction is gained as wrestler meets wrestler on the battlefield of letters and in that other where each man lets down his solitary pitcher, he was illustrious.”

“There is rich symbolism in the fact that the earliest known person to have been active in the Scottish philosophical tradition spent a large part of his life in France. He is Richard of St Victor (d. 1173), whose Latin name, which tells us his country of birth, is Ricardus de Sancto Victore Scotus.”

Broadie, Alexander (2012-11-05). Agreeable Connexions: Scottish Enlightenment Links with France (Kindle Locations 189-202). Birlinn. Kindle Edition.

“Scots and Irish left the British Isles in such numbers that three-quarters of that descent now live elsewhere. The effects of this migration within Britain-the voluntary and involuntary exodus of religious dissenters, political radicals, and discontented Celts-bolstered English influence and reinforced the United Kingdom’s internal balance of antirevolutionary sentiment and commercial preoccupation. We can only guess the probable politics of late nineteenth- and twentieth-century parliaments had Britain retained its high Irish and Scottish population ratios. Much less Conservative, certainly. Meanwhile, receiving much of this dispersal made the United States a notably different English-speaking, great world power: more democratic in its politics, more egalitarian in its culture, and more revivalist rather than traditionalist in worship. The new republic became a mecca for discontented populations from Catholic as well as Protestant Europe, a role that nineteenth- and twentieth-century Britain could never have played. [ . . . ]

“The English pursued a policy of internal colonialism toward Wales, Scotland, and Ireland alike. In each case, London ordered a political union consummated to submerge the Celtic people and culture in question [ . . . ]

“Through all of these devices and circumstances-colonial charters for Protestant dissenters; occasional periods of Irish, Welsh, and Scottish ethnic persecution or flight; gathering of Europe’s Protestant refugees; German recruitment; relentless transportation of felons, debtors, military prisoners, and vagabonds; and a private “emigrant agent” business that ranged from serious recruitment to kidnapping-Britain turned a late entry in New World colonizing into the largest and fastest-growing clump of European settlement in the Western Hemisphere, with remarkably dual success. We have seen how this exodus made the population and culture of the British Isles less Celtic and more English, less revolutionary and antisocial and more deferential. It also positioned the fledgling United States of i82o, with a very different population, and already set on a very different track, to become the preponderant demographic and political force in the new world.”

Kevin Phillips. The Cousins’ Wars: Religion, Politics, Civil Warfare, And The Triumph Of Anglo-America (p. xxiii-586). Kindle Edition.

“Americans. Grateful, joyful, almost delirious were they as a people in 1783-intoxicated with newly won independence, ecstatic that the colonial yoke of Britain had been thrown off, and delirious with hopes for the future. They set out to establish the world’s first land of liberty, where men, women, and children would be governed not by the capricious decrees of governors and justices, but rather by laws. Laws, enacted by assemblies representing all the people, would enforce the principles most beautifully stated in the Declaration of Independence “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Indeed, governments “are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed” to “secure these rights.”

“High purposes. Lofty aims. Welcome promises. Written into poetry and song were these great principles. Recorded in paintings and books were these sweet ideals. Drama, oratory, sermons bristled with liberty, freedom, and equality for one and all. Merchants, captains, planters, yeomen, artificers, and stevedores shared the spirit, lauded this new land of liberty.

“And yet, by 1800, less than a quarter century from the time Americans declared these exalted ideals to the world, they had almost to a person rejected the very principles and ideals of their Revolution. By 1800 not only did most Americans not seek to perpetuate, expound, and practice the principles of the Revolution, they had entered into a process of attempting to supplant the values of the Revolution either with a political process that sucked all meaning out of those principles or with an alternative social and political philosophy that promised liberty-not through greater doses of freedom, but through a careful and meaningful structuring and ordering of the world. So disillusioned were they with the unfulfilled promises of liberty, they underwent a transformation that affected every segment of American society.

So thorough was this transmutation that fledgling attempts to make every American a citizen, to provide equal rights to all, to abolish slavery, and to incorporate women, African Americans, and new immigrants into American society were abandoned. Not only were these once-sacred goals deserted, the words used to describe these goals were also transformed and given new meanings. Liberty itself, once freedom from oppression, came to mean independence within a prescribed system. Freedom, once the absence of restraint, came to mean choice among defined options. Equality mutated from a philosophical description of a condition of nature to a notion of equal opportunity within one’s class or social condition. The vaunted rights of man devolved from a set of natural rights provided by God to a slate of prescribed rights established by men.

“And so went all of the precious symbols of the American Revolution until every word reflected a new meaning and value. Democracy came to connote a right to vote, not a fair division of property or equality of rights and treatment. Party came to describe an electoral machine, no longer a divisive faction subverting government. The republic itself stopped being a government by the people and became instead a government prescribed by a constitution devised precisely to keep the people from governing. But the most telling revision of all was the special new meaning reserved for revolution itself: chaos.

“By 1798 the deed was done. By 1800 what can only be called the American Counterrevolution had reached full tide. Hardly a step had been missed in the transformation from one set of values to another, from one set of aspirations to another, and from one set of rules for human interaction to quite another. So subtle was the shift that almost no one at the time recognized or understood what had taken place. Americans only knew, if they were among the original friends of liberty, that they were no longer welcome in American society; they knew that if they continued to preach the old gospel of liberty, they might be in danger of life and limb.

“If they happened to be proponents of revolution, they soon met threats, taunts, and challenges to settle scores on the field of honor. If they happened to be African Americans, they came to suffer a fate almost equal to imprisonment or death. If slaves, they saw virtually all systems of emancipation-manumission, purchase of freedom, and legislative emancipation or curtailments of enslavement-dry up. If free blacks, they saw in every state and territory of the nation a steady evaporation of rights and the erection of barriers prohibiting individual movement from state to state, as well as an aggressive expansion of inducements either to migrate back to Africa or to be colonized there. If women, they saw in every state and territory the banishment of invitations to seek independence and the issuance of commands to accept, practice, and teach domestic service as matrons of society.

“The abolition of liberty in America far preceded the abolition of slavery; the eradication of freedom much predated the rise of a new individualism that gave personal sovereignty to pursue adventure and wealth with little restraint to a relatively small class of white American men; the abandonment of the idea of natural equality among humans-intellectual or spiritual-far antedated any discussions of universal male suffrage; and all the glorious notions that there was a basic set of rights that should be enjoyed by all men (and, presumably, women) were canceled except for those few Americans-again, mainly white men, who clung to those rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights.”

Larry E. Tise. American Counterrevolution: A Retreat from Liberty, 1783-1800 (Kindle Locations 426-456). Kindle Edition.

“Amongst others that came with him, there was one Mr. Thomas Morton, who, it should seem, had some small adventure of his own or other men’s amongst them, but had little respect, and was slighted by the meanest servants they kept. They having continued some time in New England, and not finding things to answer their expectation, nor profit to arise as they looked for, the said Captain Wollaston takes a great part of the servants and transports them to Virginia, and disposed of them there, and writes back to one Mr. Rasdale, one of his chief partners, (and accounted then merchant,) to bring another part of them to Virginia, likewise intending to put them off there as he had done the rest; and he, with the consent of the said Rasdale, appointed one whose name was Filcher, to be his Lieutenant, and to govern the remainder of the plantation until he or Rasdale should take further order thereabout.

“But the aforesaid Morton, (having more craft than honesty,) having been a petty-fogger35 at Furnival’s Inn, he, in the other’s absence, watches an opportunity, (commons being put hard among them,) and got some strong drink and other junkets, and made them a feast, and after they were merry, he began to tell them he would give them good counsel. `You see,’ he says, `that many of your fellows are carried to Virginia, and if you stay still until Rasdale’s return, you will also be carried away and sold for slaves with the rest. Therefore I would advise you to thrust out Lieutenant Filcher, and I having a part in the plantation, will receive you as my partners, and consociates, so you may be free from service, and we will converse, plant, trade and live together as equals (or to the like effect).’

“This counsel was easily followed; so they took opportunity, and thrust Lieutenant Filcher out of doors, and would not suffer him to come any more amongst them, but forced him to seek bread to eat and other necessaries amongst his neighbors, till he would get passage for England. (See the sad effect of want of good government.)

“After this they fell to great licentiousness of life, in all prophane- ness, and the said Morton became lord of misrule, and maintained (as it were) a school of Atheism, and after they had got some goods into their hands, and got much by trading with the Indians, they spent it as vainly, in quaffing and drinking both wine and strong liquors in great excess, (as some have reported,) ten pounds worth in a morning, setting up a May pole, drinking and dancing about like so many fairies, or furies rather, yea and worse practices, as if they had anew revived and celebrated the feast of the Roman goddess Flora, or the beastly practices of the mad Bacchanalians.”

Thomas Jefferson describing Thomas Morton’s having wrongly and unlawfully saved some men from the fate of slavery
Letter to John Adams, Monticello, December 28, 1812
Bruce Braden. “Ye Will Say I Am No Christian”: The Thomas Jefferson/John Adams Correspondence on Religion, Morals, and Values (Kindle Locations 356-371). Kindle Edition.

“There appears to be such a mixture of real sensibility and fondly cherished romance in your composition, that the present crisis carries you out of yourself; and since you could not be one of the grand movers, the next best thing that dazzled your imagination was to be a conspicuous opposer. Full of yourself, you make as much noise to convince the world that you despise the revolution, as Rousseau did to persuade his contemporaries to let him live in obscurity.

“Reading your Reflections warily over, it has continually and forcibly struck me, that had you been a Frenchman, you would have been, in spite of your respect for rank and antiquity, a violent revolutionist; and deceived, as you now probably are, by the passions that cloud your reason, have termed your romantic enthusiasm an enlightened love of your country, a benevolent respect for the rights of men. Your imagination would have taken fire, and have found arguments, full as ingenious as those you now offer , to prove that the constitution, of which so few pillars remained , that constitution which time had almost obliterated, was not a model sufficiently noble to deserve close adherence. And, for the English constitution, you might not have had such a profound veneration as you have lately acquired; nay, it is not impossible that you might have entertained the same opinion of the English Parliament, that you professed to have during the American war.

“Another observation which, by frequently occurring, has almost grown into a conviction , is simply this, that had the English in general reprobated the French revolution, you would have stood forth alone, and been the avowed Goliath of liberty. But, not liking to see so many brothers near the throne of fame, you have turned the current of your passions , and consequently of your reasoning, an-other way. Had Dr Price’s sermon not lighted some sparks very like envy in your bosom, I shrewdly suspect that he would have been treated with more candour; nor is it charitable to suppose that any thing but personal pique and hurt vanity could have dictated such bitter sarcasms and reiterated expressions of contempt as occur in your Reflections.

“But without fixed principles even goodness of heart is no security from inconsistency, and mild affectionate sensibility only renders a man more ingeniously cruel, when the pangs of hurt vanity are mistaken for virtuous indignation, and the gall of bitterness for the milk of Christian charity.”

Mary Wollstonecraft writing about Edmund Burke’s response to the French Revolution
Wollstonecraft, Mary; Janet Todd (1999-08-19). A Vindication of the Rights of Men; A Vindication of the Rights of Woman; An Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution: WITH “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” (Oxford World’s Classics) (Kindle Locations 1268-1286). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Freedom to Play and Child Development

What is the role of play for child development? Play seems so insignificant or even potentially dangerous for our goal-oriented, safety-minded society. But research seems to point to the complete opposite conclusion and the larger implications need to be taken seriously:

“On the basis of such research, Sandseter[1] wrote, in a 2011 article in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, “We may observe an increased neuroticism or psychopathology in society if children are hindered from partaking in age adequate risky play.” She wrote this as if it were a prediction for the future, but I’ve reviewed data—in Free to Learn and elsewhere[5]–indicating that this future is here already and has been for awhile.

“Briefly, the evidence is this. Over the past 60 years we have witnessed, in our culture, a continuous, gradual, but ultimately dramatic decline in children’s opportunities to play freely, without adult control, and especially in their opportunities to play in risky ways. Over the same 60 years we have also witnessed a continuous, gradual, but ultimately dramatic increase in all sorts of childhood mental disorders, especially emotional disorders.

“Look back at that list of six categories of risky play. In the 1950s, even young children regularly played in all of these ways, and adults expected and permitted such play (even if they weren’t always happy about it). Now parents who allowed such play would likely be accused of negligence, by their neighbors if not by state authorities.”

Armed Americans Are the Greatest Threat to Americans

Americans are more likely to be killed by other Americans with guns than by all of our enemies across all of history combined.

That is a mind-blowing fact. It puts the issue in perspective. It also makes one wonder what people mean by guns making them feel ‘safe’. It certainly doesn’t make Americans on the other side of that gun safe. Nor does it make for a safer society, as compared to other countries.

This can be taken as a direct criticism of guns or not. I take it as a criticism of our gun-obsessed and violence-obsessed culture. There are other countries with as or higher rates of gun ownership and yet lower rates of gun homicide. Likewise, other countries don’t necessarily have less crime, just less crime that leads to homicide. It’s bad enough being robbed or raped, but being killed afterward is far worse.

In America, life is cheap.

Italians, Homelessness, and Kinship

“Why Do Most Italian Youths Live With Their Parents?”

“While Italian parents seem to be happier when they live with their children, the opposite seems to be true for parents in the U.S., U.K., and Germany”

This seems directly related to something else I came across a while back. Southern Europeans have lower rates of homeless people. 

The reason is because in those countries the families of the unemployed will take them in. This isn’t the case in Northern Europe where there are a lot more homeless people and, in this, the United States seems more similar to Northern Europe.

This is a type of social capital, this sense of family responsibility. Kin take care of their own. Northern Europe and the United States prefer instead to have a stronger welfare state to take care of people who are in need.

How many American conservatives who complain about welfare will take all of their family members in if they are unemployed or sick or whatever else? Probably not many. If social problems aren’t solved privately, government is left to take care of it.

Big Government Subsidizing Low Tax Red States

Here is an issue I’ve known about for years. The mapping of the data really gets me thinking, despite my have thought about it many times before.

New Study Confirms Red States Take More From The Federal Government Than Blue States

States in green or closer to green on the map above are less dependent on the federal government. States in red or closer to red on the map above are more dependent on the federal government.

So, what does this map show? It’s how much states receive in federal funding in ratio to how much they give in federal taxes. This isn’t new data, but the paper it is based on is a new assessment of the data.

I don’t want to write a long piece about this. It just is mind-blowing the difference between rhetoric and reality. States that preach small government and low taxes manage to implement such policies by being subsidized by the other states.

Many things could be said about this. One can point out the divide between blue and red states. Or one could point out the divide, in the Eastern half of the country, between the historical Civil War boundary, especially the stark contrast seen with the South. But I just don’t know. There are all kinds of factors to be considered.

I look at this map and it makes me wonder about what it means. It throws a wrench into the entire works of the mainstream frame of big versus small government. A deeper discussion about the data would be worthwhile, I’m sure. And, for damn sure, I’d like to see more and better public debate about it all across the media.

Consumerism, Poverty, and Economic Mobility

There is an article from the New York Times that points to a distinction made before. It is “Changed Life of the Poor: Better Off, but Far Behind” by Annie Lowrey. The author also includes a nifty graph that starkly portrays the data, which should definitely check out.

She begins with an observation that many on the right have brought up to question that poverty is a real issue.

“Is a family with a car in the driveway, a flat-screen television and a computer with an Internet connection poor?

“Americans — even many of the poorest — enjoy a level of material abundance unthinkable just a generation or two ago. That indisputable economic fact has become a subject of bitter political debate this year, half a century after President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a war on poverty.”

In a consumerist society, wealth is defined as access to consumer products. Is that actual wealth in any meaningful sense?

“Indeed, despite improved living standards, the poor have fallen further behind the middle class and the affluent in both income and consumption. The same global economic trends that have helped drive down the price of most goods also have limited the well-paying industrial jobs once available to a huge swath of working Americans. And the cost of many services crucial to escaping poverty — including education, health care and child care — has soared.”

From the perspective of the poor, consumer products don’t likely make them feel all that wealthy. The poor are struggling today, just as they did in the past.

“For many working poor families, the most apt description of their finances and lifestyle might be fragile. Even with a steady paycheck, keeping the bills paid becomes a high-wire act and saving an impossibility.”

Not just struggling, but living on the edge. They aren’t faced with mere poverty. They also have to fear life getting much worse, such as losing their homes and not being able to keep food on the table.

“Two broad trends account for much of the change in poor families’ consumption over the past generation: federal programs and falling prices.”

More federal programs to make being poor relatively less desperate and uncomfortable. And more access to cheap consumer crap from Walmart.

“Many crucial services, though, remain out of reach for poor families. The costs of a college education and health care have soared. Ms. Hagen-Noey, for instance, does not treat her hepatitis and other medical problems, as she does not qualify for Medicaid and cannot pay for her own insurance or care.

“Child care also remains only a small sliver of the consumption of poor families because it is simply too expensive. In many cases, it depresses the earnings of women who have no choice but to give up hours working to stay at home.

““The average annual cost for infant care in the U.S. is $6,000 or $7,000 a year,” said Professor Ziliak of the University of Kentucky. “When you look at the average income of many single mothers, that is going to end up being a quarter of it. That’s huge. That is just out of reach for many folks.””

What isn’t available to the poor is opportunity to be anything other than poor. Economic mobility has decreased these past decades. Poor people in the past were worse off in many ways, but they also had more opportunities in many ways for economic mobility (cheap housing and college education, high paying jobs with good benefits, etc). Most poor people don’t want to be poor, don’t want to rely on federal programs, and don’t want cheap consumer crap from Walmart as the only appeasement for a life of misery and desperation.

“And many poor families barely make it from paycheck to paycheck. For evidence, economists point to the fact that children living in families with food stamps eat more calories at the beginning of the month than the end of it.

“Economists pointed out that many low-income families struggled to use even the assets they had: keeping gas in the car, paying for cable and keeping the electricity on. Many families rely on expensive credit. And even if those families sold their assets, often it would only provide them with a small buffer, too. “

Owning a car was once a luxury. Now a car is a necessity and a burden. Traveling further distances to work and shopping has become more common, for the small local factory and corner store have become rare. Meanwhile, public transportation hasn’t grown with the need for it. Poor people need vehicles, even when they can barely afford to pay for gas and repairs.

Sometimes the forced choice is between a tank of gas and buying groceries. But if there isn’t a tank of gas, a person can’t get to work and might lose their job. So, basic necessities such as food get sacrificed. Skipping meals isn’t healthy, but it won’t kill you right away. People can survive on very few calories, when they have to, although most people would like more than mere survival.

“In the end, many mainstream economists argue, the lives of the poor must be looked at in light of the nation’s overall wealth and economic advancement.

““If you handpick services and goods where there has been dramatic technological progress, then the fact that poor people can consume these items in 2014 and even rich people couldn’t consume them in 1954 is hardly a meaningful distinction,” said Gary Burtless, an economist at the Brookings Institution. “That’s not telling you who is rich and who is poor, not in the way that Adam Smith and most everyone else since him thinks about poverty.””

There is the rub.

Many things have become cheaper. But the most important things have become more expensive, specifically the very things that help people get out of poverty. It costs more to not be poor than it once did.

Race Realism, Social Constructs, and Genetics

Denisovans, Neandertals, Archaics as Human Races – Anthropology 1.11

by Jason Antrosio, from Living Anthropologically

Current studies show genetically significant interbreeding with Neandertals, Denisovans, and possibly other archaics did occur. Milford Wolpoff’s idea that Neandertals should be considered a subspecies or race of humans seems closer to the truth (How Neandertals inform human variation, 2009). Neandertals are distinctive, so distinctive that many would say they were a separate species. Denisovans seem to be in a similar position. These are what races would really look like, not like the relatively minor differences observed in contemporary humans (see section Race Reconciled Re-Debunks Race).

Race and Consequence: “Reality” and Social Constructs
by Cory Harris, from Torso and Oblong

Students definitely do usually interpret the traditional anthropological critique of race as “oh, anthropologists say race doesn’t exist, so it’s not important.” And while that’s clearly not what I’m arguing in class, it’s painstakingly difficult to clearly articulate the nuance.

This problem reminds me of an excellent, concise post by Jeremy Trombley, which I’ll quote in its entirety here:

We have to get past the idea that things that are socially constructed are somehow not real. I encountered it again today in something I was reading. “X is socially constructed” or “X are social constructs” as if to say they areonly or just social constructs – as if to say X is not real. But social constructs are real – that’s what makes them so powerful. Race, Class, Gender – these are all social constructs, but it is because they are socially constructed that they have tremendous effects on the lives of people who live in a particular society.

In fact, the only thing that saying something is socially constructed does is to indicate that it could have been (or could be) constructed differently – that it is historically and politically contingent. This is a first step (though maybe not a necessary step) towards creating the possibility for change, but it is not the change itself. Social constructions are powerful, deeply embedded structures, and change takes time and work. We’ve spent the last 30 years showing how socially constructed everything is – that was the easy part – now it’s time to get to work on making change.

In Gravlee’s article, he maintains the spirit of the critique of race as a social construct, but embraces race as a “real” concept–real in the sense of having real consequences, and he argues to “take seriously the claim that race is a cultural construct that profoundly shapes life chances” (2009:48).

I completely agree and think is is a critical goal in teaching about anthropology and race to undergraduates. Despite Gravlee’s clear elucidation of the relationship between social contexts and biological outcomes, I feel that many of my students implicitly continue to think that any reality to race can be reduced to gene pools (Gravlee 2009:51). In the end, I think many come away thinking anthropologists are a bit full of shit–”race is a ‘social construct,’ so it’s not real, but I see the reality of race all around me.”

Racial Realism
from Rational Wiki

Human genetics doesn’t work like race realists think it does.

Race realists spend a great deal of time and effort pointing out genetic differences between geographically separated populations in gene clustering research and insisting this is evidence for “races”.

In gene clustering research a set of populations is typically determined via subjective descriptors in ethnicity, language and geographics and people can be reliably identified as members of these groups. However, this way of categorizing people depends fundamentally on the quantity and method used to create the aforementioned framework of ancestral populations. Depending on what you subjectively chose to be aforementioned populations people may or may not end up in the same group. This is completely different from the problem of “races”, which presupposes that there is just one objectively and biologically demarcatable set of populations among all humans.

As Jonathan Marks points out

What is unclear is what this has to do with ‘race’ as that term has been used through much in the twentieth century – the mere fact that we can find groups to be different and can reliably allot people to them is trivial. Again, the point of the theory of race was to discover large clusters of people that are principally homogeneous within and heterogeneous between, contrasting groups.[4]

The idea of large clusters of people that are principally homogeneous within and heterogeneous in-between in terms of genetic similarity — the latter being necessary to speak of distinct “races” — has no scientific basis and in fact there is evidence against it. Witherspoon et al concluded in their 2007 paper “Genetic Similarities Within and Between Human Populations”:

The fact that, given enough genetic data, individuals can be correctly assigned to their populations of origin is compatible with the observation that most human genetic variation is found within populations, not between them. It is also compatible with our finding that, even when the most distinct populations are considered and hundreds of loci are used, individuals are frequently more similar to members of other populations than to members of their own population.[5]

Once “intermediate” populations — people living between two greater geographical extremes — are included, you find genetic continuity, not discontinuities. Racial realists’ proposed race-labeled genetic clusters all exclude “intermediate” populations; sampling and including such populations destroys any illusory genetic discontinuity.[6]

Icelanders and Ashkenazim constitute genetic clusters; “Asians”, “Europeans” and particularly “Negroes” do not.

why both sides are wrong in the race debate
by Kenan Malik, from Pandaemonium

An individual can have a number of social identities some of which may be important to the research at hand, and some of which are irrelevant. An individual donating DNA might be simultaneously a resident of a particular Indian village in Arizona, a member of the Hopi tribe, a descendant of a Laguna tribal family, a Native American, and someone of Spanish ancestry, as well as an American citizen. Each of these identities, Morris and Foster observe, tells a different social story about the individual and leads to a different scientific perspective on genetic variation. Researchers, in other words, should not assume a priori that the world is naturally divided into a set of ‘races’. Rather, depending on the particular questions they are asking they have to decide which of the socially-given populations are most useful to sample.

The importance occasionally of group differences in medicine does not reveal the reality of race. Indeed, what we popularly call races are generally least suited to genetic research. That is because the degree of biological relatedness in Continental groups is barely greater than in a randomly chosen group of people. That is what we mean when we say that just 4 per cent of total human variation exists between the major Continental groups. Races are, however, socially significant and a major way by which we divide up our societies. It may make social sense, therefore, for researchers and clinicians to use race as the basis by which they divide up the population.

race, science and the politics of identity
by Kenan Malik, from Pandaemonium

The contemporary idea of diversity, as the cultural analyst Brady Dunkee neatly puts it, acts as a ‘double entendre’. As a valued liberal standpoint, it gives race realism a political legitimacy. As an expression of genetic variation, it gives political arguments scientific legitimacy. Diversity, Dunkee writes, ‘kills two authority birds with one stone and extends the already flexible term “population” to substitute in another way for race’.

Today’s race realism is not simply the resurrection of Victorian racial science. The idea of race clearly means something very different today than it did 100 or 150 years ago. It is intimately bound up with contemporary notions of identity and belongingness and is an expression not so much of reactionary claims about inferiority and superiority as of the liberal impulse to embrace diversity and difference. But that makes the concept of race no more scientifically plausible or politically amenable than it did in the era of Cuvier, Broca and Morton.

More Mothers than Mitochondrial Eve – Anthropology 1.12
by Jason Antrosio, from Living Anthropologically

Anthropologists may have hoped the out-of-Africa hypothesis with a Mitochondrial Eve in Africa would bring much-needed attention to sub-Saharan Africa, as a celebrated cradle of humanity. It did not. Instead, people began to imply that leaving Africa was a good thing. “I call this ‘Out-of-Africa: Thank God!’ to point to the presumption that hominids became human in the process of leaving Africa–a slight that seems always unintentional, yet is surprisingly common. . . . Leaving Africa has become a troubling focus of a great deal of research and popular celebration” (Proctor 2003:225-226).

In 2011 New York Times reporter Nicholas Wade raised this slight to an insult, writing about “when and how modern humans escaped from their ancestral homeland” (Tools Suggest Earlier Human Exit From Africa). Modern humans did not escape! There were migrations out of Africa, within Africa, and people also migrated back into Africa.

Extreme versions of Mitochondrial Eve and the replacement hypothesis are gone. It is time to recapture the complexities of anthropological models. It is time to go back to Wolpoff’s statement from the 1988 Newsweek article: “we have a long history of people constantly mixing with one another and cooperating with one another and evolving into one great family.”

Race Reconciled Re-Debunks Race – Anthropology 1.6
by Jason Antrosio, from Living Anthropologically

Sub-Saharan Africa has the greatest genetic diversity. This is not a surprise, since Sub-Saharan Africa is where almost all human evolution occurred. For most of human history, it was also the region with the largest human population. What may be more surprising is “that the diversity in non-Sub-Saharan African populations is essentially a subset of the diversity found in Sub-Saharan African populations” (Long et al. 2009:23).

Genetic classifications of races outside of Sub-Saharan Africa are simply subsets of Sub-Saharan African diversity. Moreover, and perhaps most strangely, “a classification that takes into account evolutionary relationships and the nested pattern of diversity would require that Sub-Saharan Africans are not a race because the most exclusive group that includes all Sub-Saharan African populations also includes every non-Sub-Saharan African population” (Long et al. 2009:32). In the end, the authors “agree entirely with Lewontin that classical race taxonomy is a poor reflection of human diversity” (Long et al. 2009:32). They disagree with Lewontin over whether this is intrinsic to human genetics–rather, it is a product of evolutionary history and migration.

This evolutionary history is explained in the article The global pattern of gene identity variation reveals a history of long-range migrations, bottlenecks, and local mate exchange: Implications for biological race. Once again, sophisticated techniques reveal a “nested pattern of genetic structure that is inconsistent with the existence of independently evolving biological races” (Hunley et al. 2009:35). The authors confirm greater genetic variation within Sub-Saharan Africa, and all other humans are a sub-set of this variation. Taxonomic classifications of race cannot account for observed genetic diversity. The authors take this further, challenging medical research that uses visible race-markers as a proxy for genetic structure:

Our findings confirm that broad ethnic categories employed in medical genetic research might not adequately take into account the complex geographic pattern of genetic structure in the species, but for the same reason, neither may continental ancestry. This is because our results also indicate that substantial, potentially medically important genetic differences may exist between populations within regions. (Hunley et al. 2009:45)

Race and medicine: the BiDil trial
by John Hawks, from the john hawks weblog

Blacks have good reason to be suspicious of studies like this, and not only for a historical reason. Race is a miserable substitute for the knowledge of alleles and genotypes in a study like this one. Compared to other populations in the world, Africans are more genetically variable, which means predicting effects for a drug for the entire population based on the average of study subjects is probably a mistake. The problem is worse when applied to African-Americans, which share much of the genetic diversity of Africans, but also include a relatively high proportion of alleles that are common in Europeans — a proportion that varies greatly from individual to individual. And the socioeconomic and cultural differences between many black and white Americans also may affect the response to drugs and other medical treatments. In short, if doctors had better information than race alone, they had better be using it.

How race becomes biology: Embodiment of social inequality
Clarence C. Gravlee

The current debate over racial inequalities in health is arguably the most important venue for advancing both scientific and public understanding of race, racism, and human biological variation. In the United States and elsewhere, there are well-defined inequalities between racially defined groups for a range of biological outcomes—cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, certain cancers, low birth weight, preterm delivery, and others. Among biomedical researchers, these patterns are often taken as evidence of fundamental genetic differences between alleged races. However, a growing body of evidence establishes the primacy of social inequalities in the origin and persistence of racial health disparities. Here, I summarize this evidence and argue that the debate over racial inequalities in health presents an opportunity to refine the critique of race in three ways: 1) to reiterate why the race concept is inconsistent with patterns of global human genetic diversity; 2) to refocus attention on the complex, environmental influences on human biology at multiple levels of analysis and across the lifecourse; and 3) to revise the claim that race is a cultural construct and expand research on the sociocultural reality of race and racism. Drawing on recent developments in neighboring disciplines, I present a model for explaining how racial inequality becomes embodied—literally—in the biological well-being of racialized groups and individuals. This model requires a shift in the way we articulate the critique of race as bad biology.

Human DNA sequences: More variation and less race
Jeffrey C. Long, Jie Li, and Meghan E. Healy

The results are clear and somewhat surprising. We see that populations differ in the amount of diversity that they harbor. The pattern of DNA diversity is one of nested subsets, such that the diversity in non-Sub-Saharan African populations is essentially a subset of the diversity found in Sub-Saharan African populations. The actual pattern of DNA diversity creates some unsettling problems for using race as meaningful genetic categories. For example, the pattern of DNA diversity implies that some populations belong to more than one race (e.g., Europeans), whereas other populations do not belong to any race at all (e.g., Sub-Saharan Africans). As Frank Livingstone noted long ago, the Linnean classification system cannot accommodate this pattern because within the system a population cannot belong to more than one named group within a taxonomic level.

Race is a Social Construction – Anthropology on Race and Genetics
by Jason Antrosio, from Living Anthropologically

It is important to spell out what that means, and what people were after with the “race is a social construction” phrase. I am going to go out on an optimistic limb here and say that some recent posts on popular genetic-sorting blogs–Gene Expression andDienekes–demonstrate these bloggers

  1. acknowledge the genetic clustering data exhibits much more complexity and tells a much more complex story of human movement and mixing than is popularly understood; and
  2. therefore acknowledge that the lived experience of racial classification can be much more real than the kinds of genetic clustering they are outlining; so that
  3. correctly understood they are at least tacitly acknowledging that indeed “race is a social construction.”

Now before any of these bloggers or the people who inhabit their comment streams jump in and crush me, I want to make clear that this is an optimistic reading of some recent posts; that these comments apply to the main bloggers and not necessarily the commenters; and that since I am not a regular reader of these blogs, this may not be a new development even as I am reading a difference in tone.