Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Just Because We're Not Blogging Doesn't Mean We Aren't Paying Attention 

Read this:

"And as the revealing swimsuit portion of this campaign approaches -- the conventions, the debates, and the inevitable autumn opposition research ramp-up -- who knows what the eyes of reporters will see?" ( Campaign Desk)

"Ask any economist not bought and paid for by the Bush campaign why there is currently a "disconnect" between "objective economic indicators" and "voter perceptions", and the first answer you will get back is that the question is simply badly posed." (Brad DeLong)

"President Bush's job approval rating has fallen to the lowest level of his presidency" (NYT)

In March, Michael Fleischer, a New Jersey businessman, took over [the job of top aide on Iraqi privatization]. Yes, he's Ari Fleischer's brother. Mr. Fleischer told The Chicago Tribune that part of his job was educating Iraqi businessmen: "The only paradigm they know is cronyism. We are teaching them that there is an alternative system with built-in checks and built-in review." (Paul Krugman, NYT)

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Torture as Pornography 

An excellent article by Susan Sontag in the New York Times Magazine:

An erotic life is, for more and more people, that which can be captured in digital photographs and on video. And perhaps the torture is more attractive, as something to record, when it has a sexual component. It is surely revealing, as more Abu Ghraib photographs enter public view, that torture photographs are interleaved with pornographic images of American soldiers having sex with one another. In fact, most of the torture photographs have a sexual theme, as in those showing the coercing of prisoners to perform, or simulate, sexual acts among themselves. ......

Even more appalling, since the pictures were meant to be circulated and seen by many people: it was all fun....

What formerly was segregated as pornography, as the exercise of extreme sadomasochistic longings -- as in Pier Paolo Pasolini's last, near-unwatchable film, ''Salo'' (1975), depicting orgies of torture in the Fascist redoubt in northern Italy at the end of the Mussolini era -- is now being normalized, by some, as high-spirited play or venting. To ''stack naked men'' is like a college fraternity prank, said a caller to Rush Limbaugh and the many millions of Americans who listen to his radio show. Had the caller, one wonders, seen the photographs? No matter. The observation -- or is it the fantasy? -- was on the mark. What may still be capable of shocking some Americans was Limbaugh's response: ''Exactly!'' he exclaimed. ''Exactly my point. This is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation, and we're going to ruin people's lives over it, and we're going to hamper our military effort, and then we are going to really hammer them because they had a good time.'' ''They'' are the American soldiers, the torturers. And Limbaugh went on: ''You know, these people are being fired at every day. I'm talking about people having a good time, these people. You ever heard of emotional release?''

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Gay Saints  

Irish Times: While the pairing of saints, particularly in the early Church, was not unusual, the association of these two men was regarded as particularly close. Severus of Antioch in the sixth century explained that "we should not separate in speech [Serge and Bacchus] who were joined in life". More bluntly, in the definitive 10th century Greek account of their lives, St Serge is openly described as the "sweet companion and lover" of St Bacchus.

..The very idea of a Christian homosexual marriage seems incredible. Yet after a 12-year search of Catholic and Orthodox church archives Yale history professor John Boswell has discovered that a type of Christian homosexual "marriage" did exist as late as the 18th century.

Contrary to myth, Christianity's concept of marriage has not been set in stone since the days of Christ, but has evolved both as a concept and as a ritual. Prof Boswell discovered that in addition to heterosexual marriage ceremonies in ancient church liturgical documents (and clearly separate from other types of non-marital blessings such as blessings of adopted children or land) were ceremonies called, among other titles, the "Office of Same Sex Union" (10th and 11th century Greek) or the "Order for Uniting Two Men" (11th and 12th century).

On the Streets of Washington DC 

As I was walking my dogs last night I passed two strangers in conversation, one who was saying to another, "but that is purely demand-driven, surely."

One of the many things I love about DC is that it must have the highest economist-per-capita ratio of any city on earth.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Gipper, God, and Gays 

By bizarre coincidence, gay pride week in Washington overlaps the state funeral of the man whose administration laughed at people dying from 'the gay plague'.

There's no escape from the 24-hour Reagan hagiography and Republican nostalgia-fest this week. I have to say that it's a little surreal, hearing so much longing for the days when homophobia was still cool, the arms race was hot, bad rock-and-roll reigned, and my share of the national debt was already more than I would make at my first three jobs (well, at least those days are back). What alternate 1980s universe were these folks living in?

I'm pretty happy not to be living in the 1980s anymore. Aside from relief from big hair, Vivianne Tam, mullets, Bon Jovi, and acid washed tapered jeans, I hope we've gotten past the worst of the nutty homophobia of that era. When I came out of the closet at the end of the Reagan-Bush years, it was pretty scary to be gay. My mother worried then that I would be gay bashed and left in a gutter. Now she campaigns for domestic partner health benefits. So many people's attitudes have changed. Now even conservatives like Dan Drezner and P.J. O'Rourke support gay marriage. My straight friends pester me about when my girlfriend and I are going to get married, even when we're going to start having children.

At this pace, the day may actually come when I long again for the days when no one asked me about my personal life because it was too awkward.

On second thought, nah.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

More on Economics Professors' Salaries 

I've blogged about this before, but I like Brad's summary better. Fundamentally, it really is the non-academic prospects that make life so much easier for economics job market candidate.

Brad DeLong: And the reasons that economics professors are among the highest paid in the academy? As I understand the story (perhaps not correctly), there seem to be three important reasons, three important "market forces" pushing up the relative salaries of academic economists:

  1. In the 1970s, when the expansion of American higher education came to a halt, economics departments cut back the sizes of their Ph.D. programs by about 1/3. English and history and sociology and philosophy departments did not--you had to keep the current flow of graduate students in order to teach the undergraduates, after all. Over time, this means that an enormous oversupply of people with Ph.D.'s who are both well-qualified and who want to fill university posts in disciplines like English and history and sociology has built up.
  2. A relatively large number of people with economics Ph.D.s have found employment in the rapidly-expanding business schools of America. Few sociologists, a negligible number of historians, and no English Ph.D.s have found employment in business schools.
  3. A relatively large number of people with economics Ph.D.s have found employment in the government and the para-government: the Treasury, the Office of Management and Budget, the Federal Reserve, the IMF, the World Bank, foreign governments, et cetera.

Supply-and-demand do not determine everything in university pay scales,* but they do have some influence. All three of the factors above have diminished the supply of economists searching for non-business school academic jobs. And when supply goes down, price goes up.

Wall-To-Wall Gipper 

My thoughts exactly:

Wonkette: At this point, however, the strain of keeping the story alive is starting to show.

Fat Data 

The New York Times has an article today on obesity data:

Dr. Jeffrey Friedman, an obesity researcher at Rockefeller University, argues that contrary to popular opinion, national data do not show Americans growing uniformly fatter. Instead, he says, the statistics demonstrate clearly that while the very fat are getting fatter, thinner people have remained pretty much the same.

I recall having being quite surprised, several months ago, during a seminar given by David Cutler to see the changing distribution of weight over time. Although I expected to see that the entire distribution of weight was moving to the right, instead, the left half of the distribution is almost stationary. Instead what you see is that the right half of the distribution is getting fatter and fatter. Odd.

What to conclude from this? I suppose that cars, fast food, and bigger portions aren't making Americans fat, but they are making those already disposed to being heavy, very, very heavy.

Friday, June 04, 2004

More On The Attractions of Graduate School vs. Real Life 

Wolfangel brings up a really good point, about how student loans distort postgraduate plans. Subsidized federal student loans can be deferred interest-free while in graduate school. Thus while in graduate school, not only do you not have to make your student loan payments, if you stay in school long enough, inflation will also chip away at the principle, reducing your total debt. For smart students with undergraduate debt, graduate school is an attractive means of deferring student loan payments until their salary increases, instead of trying to work one's way up the career ladder making $400 a month debt payments in addition to rent and other living expenses.

I myself experienced the mind-boggling fear that accompanies facing a $500 student-loan payment on a typical post-graduate $20,000 salary. Those sort of loan payments don't allow for much time in low-paying 'career building' jobs that build up resumes. Beginning to sink financially, I was searching for better paying work and contemplating moving into my mother's studio apartment to save money when a last minute opening in a Ph.D. program was offered to me. Faced with the option of sharing a bunk with my mother, becoming a pharmaceutical salesman, or going to graduate school, I got a Ph.D.

I don't know how students with big undergraduate student loans transition into careers with low starting salaries. Forebearances are available, but expensive in interest costs. Unsubsidized and private loans quite unforgiving with payment arrangements. As more and more students graduate with high student loan payments, I imagine that student loan payments will become an increasing factor in college major and career choice, as these students opt out of careers where the compensation at the bottom of the ladder is low.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

The Path To Adjuncthood 

Over at Critical Mass, Erin O'Connor is wondering why individuals fully informed about the miserable job prospects for humanities Ph.D.s decide to go to graduate school anyway:

The usual explanations for that seemingly counterintuitive decision tend to revolve around issues of intellectual dedication and real-world escapism: idealists say they are going to grad school anyway because they love the life of the mind and they simply must pursue it by way of graduate work, whether there is a job at the end or not; cynics say that's the logic of someone who is too young, too inexperienced, and too impressed by the faux glamour of the ivory tower to realize that a) intellectual life goes on outside the academy, possibly even at a greater pace than it does inside it; and b) idealism in this as in so many things is not self-sacrificingly noble, but cynically self-serving.

This is a very interesting question. I've also been curious about the thought process of entering Ph.D.s in the humanities. With so many writers and bloggers chronicling the misery of adjuncthood, why would anyone in their right mind set out on that path?

But I don't think it's that complicated, really. Being young is about following your dreams. NYC is full of young people pursuing acting careers. Conservatory students practice endlessly for a chance at one of the few open orchestra slots. My local basketball court is clogged with African-American teenagers practicing dribbling hours a day, dreaming of a chance at the NBA.

A tweed-clad Berkeley professor is to your classic egghead what Britney Spears is to an aspiring teenage pop star. It's not so unreasonable, really, that so many continue to enter graduate school in the humanities in spite of the terrible job market. After all, the market's been terrible since the 1970s, and the crisis keeps rolling along.

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