Posts tagged "america"

Yoga Janet would make a point of sitting with me at meals, and we would chat about the Himalayas and New York and politics. She was appalled when a subscription to The New Republic showed up for me at mail call. “You might as well read the Weekly Standard!” she said with disgust.
Piper Kerman, Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison (2010)

Why Does Everyone In Australia Hate Pitbull?

I wrote an article about cool stuff in America like gay marriages and weed and abortion, and someone left this comment on it, for which I am very thankful.

I wrote an article about cool stuff in America like gay marriages and weed and abortion, and someone left this comment on it, for which I am very thankful.

Gould’s novel, Friendship, follows a best-friend pair through a turbulent period of break-ups and bad jobs in their late twenties and early thirties. After Amy and Bev meet as editorial assistants at a New York publishing house, Bev “start[s] making friendship advances toward Amy,” going out of her way to engage her in conversation. One day, she invites her to a concert after work; they start to take their lunch breaks together. One thing leads to another, and while eating sushi and drinking wine on a roof in Brooklyn, they make it official.

Alice Robb, “Grown Women Don’t Need a ‘Best Friend’,” The New Republic, July 10, 2014

In 2014, how on earth do you work on a novel-length piece of writing about people who work in publishing and eat sushi on Brooklyn rooftops without literally boring yourself to death?

Like, I totally disagree with Robb’s dismissal of the value of intense yet platonic non-familial relationships or the lack of artistic consideration of the same, but don’t people also have best friends in Kansas City? Or Columbus? Or Kinshasa? Or do New Yorkers actually really think the world needs a better understanding of the lives of New York editorial assistants?

I’m not asking for a moratorium about books in New York. I love books about New York! But if there isn’t something particularly relevant to New York about the story you’re telling — and, guys, I guarantee friendship wasn’t first devised in a Dumbo loft — then why not set it in any of the thousands of other cities in the world where real existing people also live and work?

On his recent visit to Australia, the American Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz was scathing in his assessment of his homeland.

"Countries that imitate the American model are kidding themselves," he told Fairfax, highlighting the US health care and education sectors as being particular failures.

If Australia were to imitate the United States, it could expect more inequality and worse results, Stiglitz said.

"You have to say that the American market model has failed."

Stiglitz’s words will be welcomed by those who have long suspected that the United States is a harsher, more ruthless, and less egalitarian society than our own.


Clearly, unless we’re talking about small bars or burger spots, “US style” is something Australians have firmly decided we would like to avoid.

But as brutal as America’s societal failures have been — and in some cases, as Stiglitz points out, they have been very harsh indeed — there are many areas in which Australia is far less progressive than its closest ally. We should not feel we need to race America to the bottom when it comes to the minimum wage or access to quality heath care, but that does not justify smug complacency about our own superiority.

Being a bit more American could be good for us

I’m in The Drum today being all yay America n shit.

More than half – 52% — of people surveyed said the former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, who was recently seen calling for President Barack Obama’s impeachment in a Breitbart News column, should just “be quiet.”

Ms. Palin, still a tea party favorite and who maintains an active television and social media presence, scored worse than fellow former pols Jesse Jackson (45%), Dick Cheney (42%) and Newt Gingrich (39%).

Mr. Jackson’s numbers are a bit of a mystery, given that he has not been in the national media much of late. More than half of people surveyed who are 50 years or older – who perhaps remember the civil rights activist when he was more prominent and a potential Democratic presidential nominee – said Mr. Jackson should be quiet. Only 35% of people aged 18-34 said the same.

The Journal/NBC/Annenberg poll was kinder to Bill Clinton (31%) and Al Gore (37%), though about half of Republicans said they would prefer that the 1990s Democratic team in the White House would be quiet.

Poll: Most Americans Want to Hear Less From Palin - Washington Wire - WSJ (via waitingonoblivion)

I mean, I don’t think this poll really means much of anything — you’re asking people about something they probably aren’t thinking about and have no means of effecting anyways, but the Jesse Jackson bit is interesting. Conservatives seem to still like invoking him as a proxy for Black People Who Say Terrible Things — Al Sharpton is another favorite in this realm — so I sorta suspect the poll finding is just that 45 per cent want black people in general to shut up.

Each national culture has a point about which it is most defensive, because on that point it has its own most serious doubts. You can’t provoke most Americans by pointing out that the country has had a very warlike record for a very long time. Many Americans view this heritage as an achievement rather than a failing, and even those who don’t aren’t likely to feel insulted or personally threatened by this critique.

Yet let a foreigner tell an American that the country is “declining,” and there will be a reaction. Denial, assent, an argument that there’s still hope — something. The intensity of the reaction obviously underscores the point that this is one of Americans’ longstanding sources of self-doubt. Other countries — Japan, Germany, England, Russia — have similar points of defensiveness. What is most deeply concerning to a culture (as for most individuals or families) is often the most difficult or infuriating for outsiders to bring up.

James Fallows, China Airborne (2012)

As Jim suggests in his still wonderful 2010 essay, “How America Can Rise Again,” this isn’t a new insecurity for the United States. I connect it to the nation’s exceptionalist roots — Winthrop’s City Upon a Hill; Jefferson’s self-evident truths — which create not just an ideal but also its negative: if America is the world’s last best hope, that means that hope might fail. To consider America to be the world’s one indispensable nation, we must imagine a world in which America has been dispensed with.

I’d add to the fear of decline that America’s other insecurity is the notion that it might not be united. I say, not infrequently, that to discern a country’s deepest anxieties, one must look to its name: Democratic Republics Of Wherever are usually not, and such. And the United States is so insistent on its unity because it fears so deeply that, unlike other nations, which are built on ancient ethnic bonds, its polity, built on ideology, might not be able to endure.

This is why the spectre of extreme partisanship is so important to American political discourse, why George Washington feared party politics, and why every president who comes along promises to mend the electorate’s divides. It’s why region is so important to Americans, and why the national bonds between Northerner and Southerner, or Easterner and Westerner, or between black and white, that appear so obvious to the outsider can seem so fragile to the insider. It’s why the Civil War is always so central to America’s understanding of itself and the way it shapes its future: this is the moment the country came closest to disunity, but was also its most forceful affirmation of its unity.

Jim goes on:

In modern China, one of these always sensitive subjects is the idea of China’s full “equality” or maturity in modern international society, especially to the white Western nations that for centuries have been in economic and political control. (Competition with Japan is a separate and equally tangled political question.) This is the significance of the phrase “Hundred Years of Humiliation” to describe China’s period of subjugation to foreigners and the repeated insistence by Chinese spokesmen on full dignity, equality, and respect in international dealings.

And later, on Chinese concerns of “splittism”:

Chinese people who are familiar with American history point out the many similarities between the current Han attitude and the drive toward Manifest Destiny thinking in the United States from the nineteenth century onward.

As for Australia’s national insecurity, I’m tempted to suggest something about fairness, but that might be too myopic, too concerned with current political disputes, and too ignorant of our underlying paranoias, the sort I can’t easily grapple with because, like all my countrypeople, I’m captive to them. So perhaps the correct answer is the question of whether Australia matters: are we influential, do people care about us, does the world realize that we are as important as we think we are? Or, to ground that question in familiar terms: has the tyranny of distance defeated us?

(I don’t know enough about Japan to guess at what its point of national defensiveness might be.)


Today’s look is patriotic normcore.
(Not smiling because selfies are too complicated for smiling.)

Today’s look is patriotic normcore.

(Not smiling because selfies are too complicated for smiling.)

[T]he Supreme Court has become a frequent refuge for religious conservatives rather than just their reliable bete noir, is itself partially the result of liberal gains in the political and cultural sphere, which have reduced religious traditionalists to making the kind of defensive appeals to liberty and pluralism and minority rights that tend to end up adjudicated in the courts. And such a liberalism would take ownership of its own ascendance and take more responsibility for (and pride in!) its own aggressions, rather than perpetually crying “theocracy” whenever its advance is interrupted.

Ross Douthat, “The Culture War’s Sore Winners,” The New York Times, July 1, 2014

Douthat channels Christian victimhood, which understands freedom of religion as not the freedom of anyone to practice his or her faith, but the ability to impose that faith on an entire society. (He makes reference to  another recent post, in which he’s less candid but refers to conservatives “looking to the courts … for protection" — my emphasis; protection from what?)

According to this outlook, Christianity can only be freely practiced if it is inescapable; if its prayers are conducted within public schools, if its moral proscriptions are written into law, if public money goes toward its festivals and institutions. For religion to be merely a personal practice is for religion to be under attack — and this is a vaunted moderate conservative talking, a reformist. An America that does not exist under the authority of Christian diktat, Douthat says, is one in which Christianity is under assault. He puts pluralism on one side and Christianity on the other, inextricably opposed forces.

Over, at the other blog, I have a post arguing that Hobby Lobby is the Supremes’ worst decision since Bush v Gore:

[A] craft shop can’t have a religion. A corporation can’t have a religion. Belief requires consciousness, and whatever our strides in artificial intelligence, corporations aren’t conscious.

Particularly since Citizens United, liberals have frequently expressed my philosophical objection by mocking the idea that “corporations are people.” Yet, as Matt Yglesias explains here, there is nothing wrong per se with the idea of corporate personhood. “Forming corporations wouldn’t make much sense unless corporations had many of the legal rights of persons, including most notably the right to own property and enter into contracts.” The ability of people to create legal entities that can act as people has been of great benefit to our society.

But corporations should be considered people with rights and responsibilities only to the extent that they pertain to corporate practise. This is why I think Hobby Lobby is worse than Citizens United. Speech is a valid part of corporate activity — think, for instance, of advertising. Religious practice has absolutely nothing to do with corporate activity, and hence it’s completely illogical for a corporation to be considered a person with religious beliefs.

There’s more.

For the best part of a century from 1788 to 1868 a total of 157,000 prisoners were sent from Britain to Australia. Only 25,000 were women. By 1833 male convicts accounted for 80 per cent of the recorded east Australian population. Among convicts the ratio of men to women was 8 to 1. Over time the ratio in the general population settled down to 3 to 1.


In the parts of Australia that had the highest male to female ratios, women were the most likely to get married, the least likely to be in paid work and the least likely to work in high paying occupations.

Grosjean and Khattar’s shocking finding is that those differences persist today. They’ve digitised maps in each of the state libraries to match up the results of Australia’s first censuses with the results of the latest census broken down by postcode.

Women in those postcodes today are less likely to work in high-status high-paid occupations. As they put it: “Historical gender imbalance still explains 5 to 10 per cent of the variation in the glass ceiling effect.”

Peter Martin, “It’s reigning men. How our convict past explains our glass ceiling,” The Age, June 27, 2014

Interestingly, the authors of the paper point out that Australian gender-ratios in the 19th century matched those of the American west, which I’ve always figured was more progressive on gender than other parts of the country. However, that’s mainly in regard to political representation and participation, something it shares in common with Australia. Here’s some info on the current pay gap by US state, but I’d say you’d need much finer data to draw useful conclusions — Nevada, for instance, has the third smallest gap while Wyoming has the largest. (I guess this is me admitting that my five minutes of Googling are vastly inferior to two trained economists’ highly rigorous statistical analysis.) 

Anyways, welcome to prison island. The original Oz.

Oh, one more thing. Here are some out of context quotes from the paper:

Conservative gender attitudes are like the peacock’s tail. Like the male peacock with the big tail, which is so attractive to the female but makes him unable to run away from predators, the man who defends conservative gender roles may still be attractive to the woman but he is not happier as a result.

And, while we’re on tails:

Adopting cultural norms is faster than growing a tail, easier, and cheaper.

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