31 January 2005

Which closet?

Recently (the last three years or so), I’ve started to “come out” as
religious and even Christian.  In the circles in which I travel —
academia, Democrats, and the gay community — admitting one’s
Christianity is fairly subversive.  One suffers more social
sanction for admitting faith than for admitting to being queer.  I
had a faculty member once comment to me that none of us really
seriously believes in the things that our parents and grandparents did,
and that these are somehow lost to us.

I don’t, mind you, buy the line that it’s more difficult to come out as a Christian than as queer.  Telling fellow
academics, Democrats, and LGBT people that you’re a person of faith —
that faith — may be more immediately difficult.  But, to place a
rare bit of inner-life commentary here on the blog, coming out the the
closet as queer constitutes the most difficult, gut-wrenching, hurtful,
redemptive, honest set of actions I have ever undertaken.  It’s
only easy now because it was so hard in the past.  As a religious
person, my peers may regard me as fairly touched in the head, but it
has never estranged me from people, invited impersonal hate, or made me
fear for my personal safety.

That said, I’ve seen a couple of good pieces where people talk about
the misconceptions that have become pretty normal over the last few
years, as the “Christian” Right have appropriated the labels of
orthodox Christian belief to mean them and them exclusively.  The first discusses the issue in the context of a book of the ABC, Rowan Williams.  The second requires that you have some sort of Nexis-Lexis access, because it’s from the Peter Steinfels’ NYT column about a month ago,
so it’s already archived (and they think that people will actually pay
for it).  If you can’t get it, and I’m not buried in requests, I
can probably mail my copy to you.

Posted in Politicks on 31 January 2005 at 3:30 pm by Nate

By their fruit you shall know them

I’ve said this before here.  I do what I do professionally — that
is, study how governments react to disease — because it seems to me
the best way that my particular talents can have an effect on the
world.  I have friends who live with HIV, but they can do that —
live — which is more than one can say for tens of millions of the more
than 50 million people infected with the virus.  And the deaths
from the virus in the scourged areas of the world have only just
begun.  Because of the 10-year average incubation period, the
people of the world have just begun to die.  Conservative
estimates put the total number of infected people by 2015 somewhere
between 110 and 150 million infected (and I understand that to mean the
living, not those who have already died).

And most of us — you and me, our government, our churches, synagogues,
mosques, and temples — have done little and less.  Finally, the New York Times acted prophetically and called the government to task for its broken promises.  But who’s calling me to task?  Who’s calling houses of worship to task?  Who’s calling you to task?

Three years ago, President Bush created the Millennium Challenge
Account to give more money to poor countries that are committed to
policies promoting development. Mr. Bush said his government would
donate billions in incremental stages until the program got to a high
of $5 billion a year starting in 2006. While $5 billion is just 0.04
percent of America’s national income, President Bush touted the
proposal as proof that he cares about poverty in Africa and elsewhere.
“I carry this commitment in my soul,” the president said.

For
the third straight year, Mr. Bush has committed a lot less than he
promised. Michael Phillips of The Wall Street Journal reports that the
White House has quietly informed the managers of the Millennium
Challenge Account to expect about $3 billion in the next budget. This
follows a sad pattern. Mr. Bush said he would ask Congress for $1.7
billion in 2004; he asked for $1.3 billion and got $1 billion. He said
he would ask for $3.3 billion in 2005; he asked for $2.5 billion and
got $1.5 billion….

Officials at the Millennium Challenge Account are quick to list the
countries that, through good governance, have qualified for the aid
program. They are not as quick to list the countries that have received
a dime: there aren’t any. Still, Paul Applegarth, chief executive of
the Millennium Challenge Corporation, assured us last week that
President Bush’s program is “really moving at an extraordinarily quick
pace.”

Maybe the administration should tell that to the 300
million Africans who lack safe drinking water, or the 3,000 African
children under the age of 5 who die every day from malaria, or the 1 in
16 African women who die in childbirth, or the 6,000 Africans who die
each day of AIDS. But wait. Maybe the president is planning to deal
with the African AIDS catastrophe through his 2003 proposal to increase
AIDS funds by $10 billion over the following five years?

Not
unless he is planning to finish with a bang, because the White House is
expected to ask Congress for only $1.6 billion more next year. When
added to the amount that AIDS funds increased in 2004 and 2005, that
would leave a whopping more than $6 billion to get out of Congress in
the next two years to meet Mr. Bush’s pledge. Congress and Mr. Bush
will point to the ballooning deficit and say they don’t have the money.
But that was a matter of choice. They chose to spend billions on tax
cuts for the wealthy and the war in Iraq. They can choose to spend it
instead to keep America’s promises.

When my country makes a promise, I’d like to believe that I will see it filled.

We continue to lie to others and to ourselves, and we’re going to run out of people to blame.

Tony Blair has noted that the way we treat Africa and the poorest
countries of the world constitutes a scar on the conscience of the
world.  And his rival and fellow conscience Gordon Brown has noted
that for the first time in history we have the wherewithal to cure
extreme poverty — we have the technical capacity, the organizational
skills, the wealth to do it.  But we lack the will.

By our fruits you shall know us.

(UPDATE: The Chicago Tribune plays apologist for the administration: “For
all the criticism it has received, the Bush
administration’s plan to fight AIDS in the developing world is far more
sweeping than anything else in play. No other country even comes
close.”  So, since the rest of the world isn’t doing anything,
this
means we should not follow through with our commitments?  “Nobody
else is doing anything, so I thought I didn’t have to either.” 
Not an
argument that I’d accept from my students — why accept it from our
government?)

Posted in Politicks on 31 January 2005 at 12:53 am by Nate
29 January 2005

Yes!

Two U2 floor tickets!

With three dates in Boston, everything was sold out in less than ten minutes for each of the dates.

With the advent of the Internet, there’s no “tax” to disincentivize
people from trying to get tickets, like in the days when you had to
wait online at Tower Records….  For my friends’ sake, I wish
there were.

Posted in Day2Day on 29 January 2005 at 10:47 am by Nate
28 January 2005

Do not overstate my analogy here!

Buster the bunny rabbit apparently went too far.

…That was before Education Secretary Margaret Spellings denounced the
program, starring Buster Baxter, a cute animated rabbit who until now
has been known primarily as a close friend of Arthur, the world’s most
famous aardvark. Ms. Spellings said many parents would not want
children exposed to a lesbian life style.

Buster joined another
cartoon character, SpongeBob SquarePants, as a focus of the nation’s
culture wars. SpongeBob was recently attacked by Christian groups for
being pro-homosexual, though SpongeBob’s creator said it was all a
misinterpretation. Buster’s offense was appearing in “Sugartime!,” the
undistributed “Postcards From Buster” show, in which he visits children
living in Vermont whose parents are a lesbian couple. Civil unions are
allowed in Vermont.

We might note that this constitutes one of Secretary Spellings’
first acts in office, since it’s her first week in office. 
Perhaps she could do something more useful, like work on raising
writing standards, so that all of my students can write coherent
paragraphs and essays, truly preparing them to thrive in a competitive
global political economy.

Moreover, it’s not like this show proves susceptible to the typical
charge leveled against PBS, that it’s ideologically biased toward
leftist ideas and causes.

Buster appears briefly onscreen, but mainly narrates these live-action
segments, which show real children and how they live. One episode
featured a family with five children, living in a trailer in Virginia,
all sharing one room. In another, Buster visits a Mormon family in
Utah. He has dropped in on fundamentalist Christians and Muslims as
well as American Indians and Hmong. He has shown the lives of children
who have only one parent, and those who live with grandparents.

Somehow, we think our children will be too fragile to understand
that the world courses with difference and diversity, danger and
excitement, sorrow and joy.  We think that by shielding them,
they’ll be better off.

I don’t
mean to overstate the case here, and I don’t think that there’s much chance of this happening, but….

In 1934, Hitler purged his enforcers, the S.A, by accusing the
leaders of having engaged in homosexual acts with young men. In 1935, Germany enacted the Nuremberg Laws, which among other
things (deprived Jews of German citizenship, limited some forms of
employment, and put into place the infamous yellow stars) limited the
rights of Jews to marry or even have sex with non-Jews.  In 1938, we had Kristallnacht, the night of the broken glass.  In 1942, the Wannsee conference took place, at which the German
government finalized the plans for the implementation and conclusion of
the “Final Solution.”  Seven years from legal moves against the Jews to their
extermination
.  (And many homosexuals were arrested and sent to the
concentration camps, where they had the highest death rate among the
non-Jewish prisoners.)

Vice President Cheney noted the following at Auschwitz yesterday:

Gathered in this place we are reminded that such immense
cruelty did not happen in a far-away, uncivilized corner of the world,
but rather in the very heart of the civilized world. The death camps
were created by men with a high opinion of themselves – some of them
well educated, and possessed of refined manners – but without
conscience.
And where there is no conscience, there is no tolerance
toward others … no defense against evil … and no limit to the
crimes that follow.

The story of the camps reminds us that evil is real, and must be called by its name, and must be confronted. [emphasis added]

Look, I don’t want to overstate any analogies to the Nazi regime —
doing that cheapens my argument and the blood of 14 million people,
including 6 million Jews. Will banning Buster result in the camps?  I don’t think
so.  But the attitude underneath the Buster ban bears more
resemblance than I find comfortable.  Besides queers, with what
other minority can one go as far in condemning in public
discourse?  Who else can be invoked as a sign of the national
moral turpitude?  Whose existence is posited by all sorts of
national leaders as destructive of the foundational social
institutions?  I’m hard-pressed to think of another.  Sounds
a little too much like the “perfidious Jew.”

Most Americans refuse to believe that such things as holocausts,
systems of terror and fear, and willful human destruction via
oppression can occur here.  Our history says otherwise.  The
line between our good humanity and our bad humanity is neither thick
nor bright.  We Americans have an almost unlimited capacity to do
good when we want it, but along with that comes our concurrently great
capacity to do evil.  We’ve done both in the past, and it’s only
great vigilance that will keep us from sliding into evil again.

Posted in Politicks on 28 January 2005 at 10:08 am by Nate
27 January 2005

We’re all a bit suprised, Andrew

From the mouth of Andrew Sullivan, over at TNR.com:

Hillary Rodham Clinton is
absolutely right. I’ve waited many years to write that sentence, but,
hey, if you live long enough. … I’m referring to her superb speech
earlier this week on the politics and morality of abortion. There were
two very simple premises to Clinton’s argument: a) the right to legal
abortion should remain, and b) abortion is always and everywhere a
moral tragedy. It seems to me that if we are to reduce abortions to an
absolute minimum (and who, exactly, opposes that objective?), then
Clinton’s formula is the most practical. Her key sentences: “We can all
recognize that abortion in many ways represents a sad, even tragic
choice to many, many women. … The fact is that the best way to reduce
the number of abortions is to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies
in the first place.”

Echoing her husband’s inspired notion that abortion should be “safe,
legal, and rare,” the senator from New York seemed to give new emphasis
to that last word: “rare.” Hers is, in that respect, a broadly pro-life
position. Not in an absolutist, logically impeccable fashion–which
would require abolishing all forms of legal abortion immediately–but
in a pragmatic, moral sense. In a free society, the ability of a woman
to control what happens to her own body will always and should always
be weighed in the balance against the right of an unborn child to life
itself. And, if she and the Democrats can move the debate away from the
question of abortion’s legality toward abortion’s immorality, then they
stand a chance of winning that debate in the coming years….


In some ways, this does not mean a change of principle. Democrats can
still be, and almost certainly should be, for the right to legal
abortion. But, instead of beginning their conversation with that right,
they should start by acknowledging a wrong. Abortion is always wrong.
How can we keep it legal while doing all we can to reduce its damage?
Call it a pro-life pro-choice position. And argue for it with moral
passion. If you want to win a “values” debate, it helps to advance what
Democrats value. And one of those obvious values is the fewer abortions
the better. Beyond the polarizing rhetoric, a simple message: saving
one precious life at a time.

The moral positions on abortion hardly seem restricted to “pro-life” and “pro-choice.”

Posted in OnTheWeb on 27 January 2005 at 6:27 pm by Nate

A morning cruise of the web

Political Arguments points out that today is the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Few of the major papers in the US or Europe provide notice.

AKMA notes that a blog portal has decided that the only “Christian” bloggers worth mentioning are conservative evangelicals
I’m gonna turn around one of the conventional canards of conservative
evangelicals, who often complain that our society has an anti-Christian
bias (which I find a load of crap).  This little bit seems to
indicate that our society has an anti-liberal Christian bias, at least
insofar as people seem to believe that “Christian” means Republican
white men.

Over at my group blog, Ben links to a report noting that male circumcision associates highly with a lower overall HIV infection rate.  At least in Africa.

@U2 notes that special presales for the U2 fan club have gone horribly awry.

And Crooked TImber points out why more social science education proves ridiculously necessary, as a “social scientist” (and what else can you call anyone who works for AEI) demonstrates either stupidity or mendacity.

Posted in OnTheWeb on 27 January 2005 at 10:51 am by Nate
25 January 2005

Library fight at U of Chicago!

Ah, I love academics.

Now, for those of you who are not among the initiated, the keepers of
the flame of knowledge, the preservers of civilization itself against the barbarian mass of popular culture(ahem!),
you must know that the University of Chicago has a, um, reputation.

It is the MIT of the humanities and social sciences.  Just as MIT
students are known for being kind of strange and unnaturally dedicated
to their work (that is, they supposedly don’t leave their labs for more
than half an hour at a time, under an almost obsessive entrancement
with their work), so goes the reputation of Chicago.  They’re
crazy-intense.  Or so go the stories.

So Andrew opened up a can of worms the other day.  Then there were the responses: musings about being “regulars” at the libraryseveral combative posts on
grads v. undergrads (survey says that neither of these groups are as
important as they’d like to believe), and Andrew (true to form) has decided to simply drink.

I
wish my undergrads were like the ones jumping in on this
discussion.  I have several undergrads whom I have spent much of
my time with them teaching them how to do non-Google research (and
these kids aren’t dumb, either — although they’re no smarter than the
smartest kids at any major university, it’s just that there are more of
them here).  A friend of mine is the head of
instruction in part of the library system here at Harvard, and she has had more than a few undergrads who have spent three years here, but who have never set foot inside the main library.  How is this at all possible?

Library of Congress or the British Library).  We’ve got over 15 million volumes.  The library at Berkeley
was immense, and it actually feels small compared to the mammoth bulk
of what’s available here.  I have only once, in searching for an
obscure volume of poetry, run up against an item that we didn’t
have.  And the space on the inside of Widener have been renovated
recently, so it’s actually quite a pleasant place to work, in the reading rooms and
even in the stacks.  I wish I worked there more often. And it’s
all ours.  Harvard’s pretty snooty about keeping the hoi polloi out.  Berkeley this ain’t.

I think that my students may actually not know how to do
research.  I’ve found that even their Googling skills leave much
to be desired.  Recently, I pointed out to them that they needed
to evaluate their sources more carefully, and I pulled examples from
their papers, recreating their Google searches for them, and showing
them exactly how they arrived at those documents.  Then I showed
them that many of the sites they had used in their papers didn’t
progress past the first page of 10 results.  Then I pointed out
that several of these sites were, on some level, propaganda outlets for
someone with an axe to grind.  Which explains why the claims they
made in their papers didn’t cut it and why this had affected their
grades.

I have this feeling that if they had ever used a library that
wasn’t the undergrad library (which is a pretty standard undergrad
library — basic stuff, nothing really in-depth, nothing in there
that’s not in the main library, and plenty that isn’t), they might have
been more equipped to do real research.

Andrew summarizes:

I think it is fair to say that folks, no matter their academic
identity, who talk on cell phones, or who spend their time in the
reading rooms socializing and seldom venture into the stacks have a
very different relationship with the library than I do. They can do
these things anywhere else, the coffee shops across the street, for
example, but there is only one place where I can geek out of reference
material, smell old dusty leather, and bask in the kind of silence
created only by 10 foot book stacks running 100 feet in both directions.

I’m glad that there are undergrads who are like this.  I just hope to
meet some more of them than I already have.  And I wish that there were
some more grad students who liked this sort of thing.  Some of the most
interesting books I have read were in the Rare Books Room of the awful,
dark, troll-cave-like, Anglo-fascist-architecture Cambridge University Library
Rare Books was severe, austere, a “pencil-only room,” but it had
windows, creaky old books, and some of the oddest people I have ever
seen in a library.  And having been in a number of academic libraries,
I’ve seen some weirdos.  It was comforting and endearing in a strange, Britishly
uncomfortable way.

Love your library, people.  And please keep (or start) using it.

Posted in IvoryTower on 25 January 2005 at 11:05 pm by Nate

95 bucks

Of course, right now I say I won’t pay the $95.  But I know that I will end up paying the 95 bucks, especially since I doubt I’ll get floor admission.

Anyone else think they’re going?  Anyone want to buy tickets with me?

Posted in Day2Day on 25 January 2005 at 10:53 pm by Nate
24 January 2005

Light activity

I’m in the midst of grading, revising a syllabus, dealing with resident
tutor applications, and digging out of our 2+ feet of snow, courtesy of
this weekend’s blizzard.  So there’s a ton on my plate right now,
without actually interacting with news or opinion.

I’m sure that I’ll eventually have a thought or two.

Posted in Day2Day on 24 January 2005 at 3:48 pm by Nate
21 January 2005

Apple lust

I have recently become rather distracted by Apple lust.  That is,
I’d like to get a new computer and I’m ready to go back to Mac. 
All the signs are there: open source and the UNIX core
have made Macs
amenable to the stuff I want to do that I couldn’t a few years back on
a Mac (stats work and such), the interface and the design are so much
prettier and nicer than my Windows box, they just don’t crash, I want
to be able to use some stuff that you can’t get in Windows (NetNewsWire
and iLife especially), and they’re light and slim.  And the new OS
X Tiger comes out soon.  Also, loathe to admit it as I am, the new
Office 2004 for Mac has some sweet features, including the Notebook.

I’ve had my eye on the 15″ G4 PowerBook with the SuperDrive.  But
does anyone know enough about the relative merits of the 15″ vs. the
12″ PB with SuperDrive?  Would I be O.K. with the smaller
one?  Mostly, I’m concerned about going from the 15″ screen I’m on
now back down to a 12″…. But the slightly slower processor and some of the other pieces are also something to think about.

Unfortunately, I do not have $2000 right now (although I might have
some wiggle room in a couple of months).  So for the time being, I
will have to think adulterous thoughts in my heart.  Not quite idle desire, but something like it.

UPDATE:  I got some good suggestions in the comments.  I
should be a bit clearer that I intend to use any new computer to do
statistical work, using either Stata or R
It sounds like the
1.33GHz G4 on a 12″ (with SuperDrive) is adequate.  True? 
‘Cause I can get one with Apple Care (3 year extended warranty) for
$1750.  Or do you all think that the high-end iBook would do it?

Posted in Day2Day on 21 January 2005 at 5:32 pm by Nate