Saturday, September 30, 2006

Uneven playing fields

Much is said in this country of being able to make it on your own. But nobody ever becomes a success soley by their own means. The number one indicator of a person's future economic status is the economic status of their parents. Social mobility or being able to move up in class levels is just another ficticious part of the American Dream mythology that both Deek and I are trying to dissuade you from believing. Every now and then a token is allowed to succeed (Oprah is a good example) just to give the rest of us false hopes that it can be done by anyone.

From even before we are born, social rank plays a huge part in how successful we can be. When our country is in a more socially generous mood, we talk about leveling the playing field or creating equal opportunity, but these are usually half-ass measures that create more bureaucracy and provide little gain (No child left behind) or if there is a successful program (Headstart) it is gutted and restricted to do the least possible good.

So I created this handy little graphic to give you all an idea of how uneven the playing field is just from birth to grade school. You can see how the slope is very steeply inclined for the poor, still inclined for the middle, and it doesn't just even out but gets easier for the wealthy (because for the wealthy there are enough resources to make the playing field not just even, but to give the ball some extra spin in the right direction).

Now imagine these inequities continuing on through college. The slope increases exponetially. If a family cannot afford a few hundred dollars a year in dental care then there is no possible way for it to afford $20,000 in college tuition. College actually becomes even more difficult for the middle class, who lose out on pell grants because of income limits. For the wealthy, admissions to top colleges are easier because colleges are more likely to admit a less capable student with the ability to pay full tuition than a more capable student who requires a scholarship.

I think (or at least I hope) that we can all agree that what class a child is born into is not the child's responsibility but is rather the result of luck. A fetus does not have the ability to schedule prenatal care, a newborn cannot breastfeed itself, and a kindergartner can't pick which school district to live in. Most importantly, leaving all ideas of religion or destiny out of it (because this is social science, not Sunday school) children don't get to pick their parents. Their lot in life is entirely a matter of chance.

There is a point when an individual needs to take responsibility for their own lot in life as an adult, but we generally thrust that responsibility onto to people just when the slope gets steepest (college) after having done little to nothing to give the majority the tools to change their lot. There are a number of changes we could make to even the playing field. We could start with universal healthcare, paid maternity leave so all mothers could breastfeed their children for the recommended period, increased daycare standards and subsidies, making public universities free, providing more tutoring assitance in primary education, etc. But instead we give more tax breaks and increase military spending.

Actually, the tax breaks and military spending make sense if the idea is to keep the playing filed uneven. It gives more money to those who don't need help and it creates an option for those at the bottom that those at the top never take- joining the military for college money.

Friday, September 29, 2006

I am the definition of Royal Bitch

I've been in bitch mode supreme for the last few days (ok maybe more than a few days but do you really want to split hairs with me right now?).

Anyways, I made 2 boys nearly cry when they were trying to be cute. Now I was just being bluntly honest, but usually I have some small amount of tact (for a certain semi-regular commenter here who I know very well and have lost all patience with that does not apply).

But to clear my name of overusing bitchiness- I give you transcripts of conversations one and two:

One: (From a boy who I went out with a few times but haven't talked to in months)

Him: Why don't we talk anymore

Me: Because you are flaky and unreliable

Him: Ouch

Me: Truth hurts. For future reference, dating means making plans and following through on them, endless text messages are just a waste of time.

Two: (From a boy I might have gone out with if he hadn't started with the passive aggressive never let a girl get to sure of herself crap)

Him: You're interesting and kinda pretty

Me: Kinda pretty? Kinda pretty? What kind of backhanded compliment is that? The only girl who would be cool with a compliment like that would have the self esteem of a Jerry Springer guest. No one wants to date someone who only thinks they're "kinda pretty".

Him: Actually I thought you were pretty cute but I didn't want to give you 2 compliments in a row.

WTF? The devil used to think (seriously) that the way to keep a girl was to pull the "don't let them think they could do better than you" shit, insult them more than you compliment them. It doesn't work on me, I have my giant ego to protect me. However, this kind of behavior, the backhanded compliment thing seems to be way more common than one would think. The devil was just the first person to point out to me that is was conscious and not unconscious behavior.

I also sent a nasty letter to the owner of my local grocery store after a clerk shorted me $40 bucks and the assistant manager was being a giant slack-ass. I wrote that I do not do business with companies that 1) have horrible customer service, and 2) steal from their customers. I also tallied up the amount of money I have spent at this particular store in the 3+ years I've lived in this neighborhood (over $14000, by the way) and told them that every one of those dollars would be going to their much swankier competitor 2 miles away. I not only got my $40 bucks back but I also got a gift card and several apologies from the owner.

So if you need a bitch to do some dirty work- I'm for hire. It could be a win-win-lose situation (I win, you win, object de bitchitude loses).

Besides, I work cheap. I work for free if I get to bitch out the torturer in chief and head monkey- President George W Dingleberry.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

You Heard It Here First

To all pertinent authorities and fellow forum members :

I claim that on this day September 28, 2006, that I, Tony Dickey, aka, DeeK­(tm) has invented the following acronym

I.R.aQ.(tm) which from herein to eternity will stand for
International Recruiting al Qaeda.

Please consider this the official "paperwork" that will now make me a target of both Islamo and Christo Fascists.

Thank you for your time and interest,

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Libertarian is just another word for asshat

I saw this little clip today of John Stossel (asshat extraordinary) getting a verbal smackdown on the Scarborough Report. It made me happy, Stossel is an idiot. Even other libertarians think he's a douchebag, according to the guy sitting next to me on my return flight from Cancun, but Stossel is really just spouting the same bull other libertarians spout.

On the surface, the idea of libertarianism sounds good. It's all about liberty, freedom from government restraint and interference. When it comes to social policy, I am down with liberty. I don't think the government should tell you who to sleep with, how to sleep with them, who to love or who to marry. You want to homeschool your kids, or maybe unschool them. Fine with me. You're the one who is going to have to try to get your kids into collage after years of letting them play video games instead of learning how to read (I actually know someone who is doing this- so it's not conjecture). But that's about as far as libertarianism works.

See Libertarians are all about the capitalist ideas of Adam Smith, but I swear to god they have never read Adam Smith or studied the context in which he was writing. The basic premise goes something like this: All governments are corruptible so governments should have as little power as possible. Everything else should be left up to the free market because competition keeps business from being corrupt.

The first part is right, all governments are corruptible. The second part is a load of bullshit. The thing about corrupt governments, at least in democracies, is that the people have the ability to fire the entire government when they are fed up enough. Conversely, unless you have a fat wad of controlling stock, there is no way to fire the board of a corporation.

Second, Smith was writing at a time when trade guilds controlled the markets with an iron grip. You couldn't start a business without guild approval, you couldn't get into a guild without serious cash and some family connections. So the average joe on the street couldn't set up his own fabric weaving business. Smith wanted to eliminate the stranglehold guilds had on the potential merchant class by creating a free market, a market where anyone could get into a line of business and anyone could buy goods from whomever they want. As long as businesses stay relatively small and monopolies are avoided, this can work very well. But not so in the modern world.

The problem comes when one entity becomes so large that it is capable of manipulating the market to eliminate competition (Wal-Mart, Microsoft) or to influence the government (Diebold, Haliburton) or to hide serious problems with it's products (Merck's hiding of problems with the drug Vioxx). In this way the giant corporations of today have become the trade guilds of Adam Smith's time. They eliminate competition and maintain too much control to be seriously considered "libertarian". Let me give you an example, if Merck had been regulated by a more powerful FDA then fewer people would have used it and suffered dangerous complications and death. But because of it's large size, Merck could control what information was released about it's products even though some of the hidden information was necessary for the public good.

Much like pure democracy, where every single person votes on every single aspect of public life, libertarianism only works on a very small scale. In a small town where people could actually meet once a week for a town hall meeting and all decisions about how long to make the red lights last at intersections and what day trash pick up should be could be done by a quick yay or nay vote, pure democracy works. In a small system where no one business is allowed to monopolize others and all businesses have the same restrictions and opportunity, then the quality and price of the product are actual factors of competition and people are free to choose the best good for their needs.

The real basic premise should be something like this: All governments are corruptible, and all businesses are corruptible, so it is up to the people to elect politicians who will monitor businesses for the general welfare of the people and to keep business influence out of politics so the monitoring process is less corruptible. The main point is this- both business and government work for the people. Business gets it's reward for a job well done with our dollars and government gets its reward with our votes. However, neither should be given free range or unrestrained power. It is only through the diffusion of power through individual votes and dollars that corruption is kept to a minimum.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Just seen on PI Soundoff (ROLF)

I think we can replace those "Impeach Bush" signs with "Waterboard Bush" signs. I'm not sure why anyone would object. It's not torture.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Request granted

Deek asked me to comment on his post "It ain't pretty" and I have been meaning to for awhile, but I wanted to make sure that my comments were careful not to distract from his fantastic post. The more I've thought about it, the more I realized I need to just write a whole post as a reply.

First: If you are a "first generation" white male American with a doctoral level education that you didn't pay a dime for and a secure tenured position at a university in a field known for it's discrimination against women- YOU ARE NOT OPPRESSED!YOU ARE THE OPPRESSOR. You are, in fact an asshole for thinking you are oppressed. There is nothing that has been denied to you because of who you are or where you were born and many things that have been given to you because of who you are. You are living the American dream that most people only dream about. Go fuck yourself.

Now that I've gotten that out of the way- a history lesson...

The nature of a complex society is one that requires stratification in order to grow. That means that since the first river city civilizations grew up in Mesopotamia or the Indus River Valley or wherever, someone had to be kept down in order for the society to advance. In ethnically homogeneous places the top and the bottom may be kept apart by birth right. In societies like ancient Greece the minority Spartans used the Laconians as slave labor to supply their food. The Athenians were less inclined to use fellow Greeks, but they had no problem using everybody else. Same is true for the Romans. The French had North Africa, the British had India and we had African Americans. But there was a major shift in thinking required for the African slave trade to occur.

For thousands of years slavery had been an accepted practice in most of the world. Prisoners of war became labor sources for empires. But for the most part, slaves were able to buy their freedom and their children were not automatically born into slavery. Slavery was not such a generational practice.

In Europe prior to the slave trade, there was a feudal system. Serfs were slaves of a type, bound to the land and the master by necessity but able to leave if they were willing to be without protection. Rise of a middle class mercantile system and expansion into new territories created a demand for cheap labor. But for all intents and purposes, Europeans had given up the idea of out and out slavery under the feudal system. They had to find a justification for trading in human flesh, and so you get the image of the ignorant savage needing to be rescued from sin by the white slave traders. Slavery was justified in this way because the Europeans could tell themselves they were pulling these people out of their sinful ignorance and making them Christians in the process of enslaving them. Halleluha! There's your shift in thinking, blacks are savages who benefit from enslavement and because black never goes away, enslavement becomes a permanent state for an entire race.

But the European continent itself didn't have a labor shortage, only the New World did. That's why countries like England were able to end legalized slavery much earlier than Americans, once they lost the colonies there was no need for slaves (besides, they had the Irish to do their agricultural work for them- if you get the chance you should read about the vast amount of food that was available in Ireland during the potato famine but was kept from the starving Irish while they ate grass and dirt to survive).

But the colonies still needed cheap labor. The reason it was called King Cotton is because cotton decimated the linen industry in Europe. Add to that other labor intensive raw goods like sugar and tobacco and rice and the market for agricultural laborers is huge, but unlike now there was no massive influx of migrant farm workers willing to accept low wages for shit jobs. So slaves were brought in.

You may have some romantic notion that the Civil War was fought for philosophical reasons over the enslavement of fellow humans. The truth is actually based in the functions of a capitalist society. As the north industrialized and started selling more finished goods that were more capital intensive than agricultural raw goods from the south, slavery became an impediment to the wage system.

Keeping a slave is a fixed cost. The only fluxuation is in the original buying price, after that there is no competition to keep costs down. You could keep your slaves near starvation but when they dropped dead you would have to buy another slave. Replacement was not cheap. So the price of raw goods stays relatively high because labor costs can't be dropped. Paid workers, on the other hand, had no initial cost and since you were not responsible for their well being you could pay starvation wages without a replacement cost. As long as there was a surplus of labor, you could keep dropping the wages lower and lower making the cost of producing your goods cheaper and cheaper. Capitalism at it's finest (oh sense the irony there or you people don't know me well).

Finally, the Civil War ends and the pool of paid laborers drastically increases with the admittance of blacks into the workforce. Wages for white labor can now drop drastically as whites are "afraid of those coloreds taking their jobs". And it continues today. The rate of unemployment in black men is 35% while the rate for everyone else is about 5%. There must be a pool of desperate unemployed people in order to keep wages low for the next class up. Skin color and the end of slavery provided useful tools for creating that pool of desperate people.

So when Deek says this country was built on the backs of African Americans and that they continue to create the possibility of the American dream for others while it is denied to them- this is the history lesson of how and why he is absolutely right.

But this started out with stratification as a necessary part of society. Sounds depressing, doesn't it? There is good news however. Societal systems are created by humans and anything created by humans can be changed by them. Think about how we change language everyday, or how we adapt our lives to new technologies. If we can accept that in less than one hundred years communication speed went from days by letter to instant by email then we can certainly figure out a more egalitarian way to create a society.

See what happens when I go away for awhile- I write an entire history book in one sitting.

Further proof that your fearless leader is finally on the mend

So I went back to work today after not having worked since July 12th. I have been an absolute hermit for the last month, which means I have cut off the stable boys, everyone of them. It doesn't help that for some odd reason the last month has been married guy stalker season on my telephone. It seems like every guy I dated in the last four years who then got married has decided that calling my house repeatedly at all hours of the day and night is ok. It would be one thing if it was just one boy- but the fact that they are multiples is enough to drive a girl to hide under her covers for a while. (And if you're reading this and wondering if I mean you then I probably do).

But this post is about coming out from under the covers, which means that Your Royal Highness has reinstituted the stable. This time though, I'm sticking with the foreign boys. I figure if I can't afford to travel right now and rack up stamps on my passport, I can rack up countries in a different way. I seem to be a favorite of French engineers at the moment (who knew) and Italian bankers (this is not news- Italians have always thought I was sliced bread). There's also a Romanian photographer, an Australian tech guru and a German of undetermined profession. I've always been a bit of a globalist when it comes to dating (the continents of South America and Asia being dotted with enough of my flags to seem like I am attempting some sort of British empire via lust and coffee dates) and it was time to fill in the European gaps.

I know there should be a political theme to this, but no. I'm just braggin'- goes with the ego the size of Texas thing.

But onto something that is political.

In the years that Junior Dipshit has been preznit I have seen my income decrease by 30% Every. Single. Year. No shit. There is only one upside to my lowly economic status. I don't pay taxes. As a matter of fact, I get money back that I didn't pay in. I also get money for schooling and housing and healthcare, not enough to make me comfortable but enough to keep a roof over the royal compound that is not made out of a giant refrigerator box.

I could feel bad about my government sponging and you could tell me to feel bad about it. However, if I was Donald Trump taking advantage of tax breaks and government subsidies it would be considered good business by the same people who think that making sure a family has food on the table is a crime against all things American.

I don't feel bad, and even worse I consider it my patriotic duty to use as many tax dollars as possible. Every dollar I get is a dollar not being spent in Iraq or Afghanistan. It's a dollar not spent setting illegal wiretaps or promoting false “family values". It's a dollar that is not perpetuating death in Africa by limiting Aids education to abstinence.

And now that Congress has made a deal legitimizing torture as an acceptable practice, it's a dollar not spent justifying torture.

Be a patriot- Collect Welfare!