Monday, June 3, 2013


I'll start with you, Erick. What makes you dominant and me submissive?

-- Megyn Kelly, to fellow Fox News pundit Erick Erickson

This week everybody was talking about "breadwinner Moms"

A Pew study about ... well, it's hard to say exactly what it's about, as I outline in Category Error -- the problem with that "breadwinner mom" study  ... anyway, it set off a hilariously neanderthal discussion by this all-male panel on Fox Business Channel.

which prompted this on-air butt-kicking by Fox News' Megyn Kelly.

Fox's Greta Van Susteren wasn't directly stereotyped (because her bio doesn't mention any children), but she wasn't buying it either:

Have these men lost their minds? (and these are my colleagues??!! oh brother… maybe I need to have a little chat with them) (next thing they will have a segment to discuss eliminating women’s right to vote?)

But rather than poke fun at Fox-pundit ignorance, I'd rather ask one of my favorite questions: Why are we having this discussion?

I think it's because Pew threw together groups of people whose combination produces a big eye-catching number and a scary graph, but who really don't belong together. Pew then gave its new category a catchy-but-inaccurate name that contributed to the term becoming a stereotype.

The media then had an ignorant, stereotype-driven discussion because what else could it do? Pundits who paid attention to the full diversity of the category and restricted themselves to true statements -- they had nothing interesting to say.

and "court packing"

The D. C. Court of Appeals is the second-most-important American court after the Supreme Court. It had a conservative majority until President Obama finally got a nominee Sri Srinivasan confirmed last month. Now it's 4-4. But there are three other vacancies, and rumor has it that the administration is planning to submit three nominations at once -- a strategy Jonathan Chait calls "obstruct this". If Senate Republicans try to block all three, that would make a clear case for the Senate to end the filibuster on presidential nominations once and for all.

Hilariously, Senator Grassley referred to this possibility as "packing the court" a phrase that points back to an FDR proposal to change the Constitution. Somehow, a president using his constitutional power to nominate candidates to fill vacancies is equivalent to a constitutional amendment.

The longer version of the Republican argument is that the D.C. Appeals Court's workload doesn't justify full staffing. But the Constitution provides a proper way to address that concern: Congress establishes all courts inferior to the Supreme Court and can change their size if it so chooses. But of course, you need a majority to do something like that, and Republicans don't have one. This is one more example of their anti-democracy, rule-from-the-minority tactics.

Dylan Matthews provides everything you need to know about the situation.

and saving the world by making lots of money

Dylan Matthews' Join Wall Street, Save the World started a lot of discussion. The article describes the earn-to-give path, where young people aim for high-paying careers, with the goal of living simply and giving a lot of money to organizations that save lives.

I've got a whole range of short reactions:

  • I'm not going to criticize anybody who is making a serious attempt to save the world.
  • The argument about whether this path is better or worse than choosing a career that helps people directly is misguided. People should do what they're good at and what makes sense to them. Anything else invites frustration and burnout.
  • A related path is the one I'm on: Make money to fund yourself doing something you think needs doing. My two main talents are in mathematics and writing. I saved a lot of the money I made as a mathematician so I could retire early and try to raise the public consciousness through writing.
  • Praiseworthy as it is, charity is no substitute for social justice. Charity mitigates the injustice of the system, but doesn't change the system. Tolstoy's What Then Must We Do? begins with his attempt to use his income as a Russian aristocrat to help the poor of one Moscow neighborhood. But his failures convince him that the underlying structure of the Russian economy is too corrupt for this to work. Our situation is different, but the challenge he raises deserves attention.
  • If you're going to join the corporate power structure to do good, you need to be careful that you don't do more evil in your job than your money can undo. If you make your money writing climate-denial propaganda, I don't care who you give it to.
  • Earn-to-give is a tough path to follow, because of the constant temptation to spend the money on yourself. I'm curious what the young people in the article will do if they have kids; it's very hard to say no to the put-my-kid-on-the-path-to-Harvard temptation, which can eat as much money as you can throw at it.
  • If you're going to pull this off, you'll need a high degree of self-awareness and a well-tuned bullshit detector, because you're always one rationalization away from screwing it all up.

But I wrote about how to route your money around corporations

Not perfectly, of course. The economy is so dominated by corporations that you really can't avoid them if you're going to lead anything like a normal life. But probably you can avoid them a lot better than you do. I list my suggestions in Starve the Corporate Beast.

and you also might be interested in ...

Modern Successinterviewed Noam Chomsky. Some noteworthy observations:

  • He identified himself as an anarchist, and then defined anarchism like this: "It assumes that the burden of proof for anyone in a position of power and authority lies on them.  ... And if they can’t justify that authority and power and control, which is the usual case, then the authority ought to be dismantled and replaced by something more free and just."
  • He differentiates anarchism from libertarianism: "what’s called libertarian in the United States ... permits a very high level of authority and domination but in the hands of private power: so private power should be unleashed to do whatever it likes.  The assumption is that by some kind of magic, concentrated private power will lead to a more free and just society."
  • "commercial advertising is fundamentally an effort to undermine markets.  We should recognize that.  If you’ve taken an economics course, you know that markets are supposed to be based on informed consumers making rational choices.  You take a look at the first ad you see on television and ask yourself … is that it’s purpose?  No it’s not.  It’s to create uninformed consumers making irrational choices.  And these same institutions run political campaigns.  It’s pretty much the same: you have to undermine democracy by trying to get uninformed people to make irrational choices."

We got a wake-up call about genetically modified organisms (a.k.a. Frankenfood) when

the United States government disclosed this week that a strain of genetically engineered wheat that was never approved for sale was found growing in an Oregon field.

The wheat itself is probably no big deal in public-health terms. (Monsanto engineered it to resist its Roundup herbicide, and we're already growing and consuming vast amounts of Roundup-ready corn and soybeans. So most likely it's either harmless or the harm has already been done.)

The disturbing aspect of this story is that Monsanto says it stopped testing this wheat strain in 2004. So how did it wind up in an open field? Where else is it growing? And if that seed escaped the laboratory and got into the wild, what else could escape?

This event raises a worry that even Monsanto, the U.S. government, and other GMOs-are-harmless believers have to take seriously: If laboratory strains can't be controlled, U.S. grain exports in general could become suspect.


The headline says that a majority oppose Obamacare. But if you look deeper, an even bigger majority wants at least Obamacare.

Two Oregon bakeries assert that their Christian values won't let them make wedding cakes for same-sex couples, and that it violates their religious freedom to make them serve that part of the public. But a local news organization had its reporters call in to order cakes for other kinds of celebrations -- for divorces, out-of-wedlock births, and so on. Strangely, Christian values didn't come into play.

Pro Publica puts some context around the IRS scandal.

Joe Muto was a liberal mole inside Fox News.

Bye-bye, Michele Bachman. Humorists of all kinds will miss you.

A convicted felon contradicts the NRA: Illegal guns are not really that easy to get.

Peter Rollins, author of the new book The Idolatry of God, shares his unusual take on Christianity.

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