From "Mandate" to "A Country Divided"

A post apropos of Inauguration Day.

Last month, Hendrik Hertzbergpointed outthat after the 2004 election, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal congratulated George W. Bush for "what by any measure is a decisive mandate for a second term."  This past election, the Journal's board described Obama as "eking out a second term."  In 2004, the Journal was quick to say, "Just because an election is close doesn't mean it isn't decisive."  In 2012, the Journal intoned gravely about a country "divided" and "polarized."  Apparently, when your side wins narrowly, the results are a "decisive" vindication of how right you are, but when the other side wins narrowly (but still by more than you did the last time around), it still doesn't mean you're wrong.  I especially liked how the Journal commented on how Obama was able to win re-election "even as he lost independents and won only 40% of the overall white…

Don't Mess With Texas: Football and Faith

I wrote this piece a while ago but didn't post it b/c it's rather incomplete.  I'm posting it now despite its incompleteness as I tidy up in the new year:

It being football season, I pretty much am listening to sports radio all the time these days.  Earlier this week, the talk show hosts mentioned a dust-up at Kountze ISD, where the superintendent forbade the cheerleaders from displaying Biblically, and specifically Christian-inspired messages, on paper banners through which the football team ran through before each game.  One cheerleader said, "We're fighting for God's word.  We're not fighting for our rights or anything, we're fighting for God."  I'm pretty sure that even as a prepubescent, I would have found that distinction less than fully compelling.  But let's not pick on cheerleaders.

One parent said in a different segment, "I don't see a problem with it, I don't understand.  If you don't like it, don't look.&qu…

The Thing about Surveys

Everyone knows that there are lies, damned lies, and then there are statistics.  Nowhere is this more obvious than when interpreting survey results.

In a March essay on America's political polarization in The New Republic, Bill Galston noted:
above and beyond their ideological disagreements, conservatives and liberals have come to understand the practice of politics differently. In a survey taken right after the Republican sweep in the 2010 midterm elections, 47 percent of American said that it was more important to compromise in order to get things done, versus 27 percent who thought it was more important for leaders to stick to their beliefs even if little got done. Liberal Democrats weighed in on the side of compromise, 58 to 16, moderate Democrats by 64 to 17. But conservative Republicans (the overwhelming majority of their party) favored sticking to their beliefs by 45 to 26. Ten months later, after the debt ceiling fiasco, an outright majority of adults favored compromise, i…

"The half-life of love is forever."

Junot Diaz is coming to Houston next week to read from his latest collection of short stories.  Several weeks ago, his short story "The Cheater's Guide to Love" was published in The New Yorker, with the line, "The half-life of love is forever."  In an interview, Diaz said that he wanted to write a story about "those heartbreaks that never seem to leave us—that stay in us like radiation—those heartbreaks where getting over it becomes an epic battle with ourselves."  Of course, there are different ways of battling oneself.  One could say that the very struggle to overcome heartbreak is a battle with oneself.  But more interesting are those situations when we are ourselves are in some way the cause of our own heartbreak.

There is a long tradition in ethics which holds that men's lives are directed towards the good.  What Diaz raises is the possibility that a life could become so broken that such direction becomes impossible, and that this brokennes…

Drake, Aristotle, Two French Films, and The Question of Nihilism

"Looking for the right way to do the wrong things"  --Drake, "Lord Knows"

"[V]irtue aims at the median.  I am referring to moral virtue ... We can experience fear, confidence, desire, anger, pity, and generally any kind of pleasure and pain either too much or too little, and in either case not properly.  But to experience all this at the right time, toward the right objects, toward the right people, for the right reason, and in the right manner--that is the median and the best course, the course that is a mark of virtue.


Not every action nor every emotion admits of a mean.  There are some actions and emotions whose very names connote baseness, e.g., spite, shamelessness, envy; and among actions, adultery, theft, and murder.... In cases of this sort, let us say adultery, rightness and wrongness do not depend on committing it with the right woman at the right time and in the right manner, but the mere fact of committing such action at all is to do wrong.&…

Trading Up

Several months ago, Simon Rich wrote a humor piece for The New Yorker in which he imagined that boyfriends are traded like ball players.  The male protagonist of the story is feeling pretty bummed about being traded to a new owner by his ex-grirlfriend when he arrives at his new owner's/girlfriend's apartment.  But when his new owner tells him that she engineered the deal because she thought he'd be a "good deal," his spirits lift.  Rich ends the piece thusly: "He wrapped his arms around her, laughing with relief.  There was nothing like joining a new team; there was nothing like Opening Day."  Which prompted me to write in the margin: "the excitement of the new, of possibility; of being desired."  And every time I think about our need or desire for another person's desire, I think of Kojeve.  And that invariably leads me to revisiting old haunts and setting out on new vistas.

Begin with our desire to be desired.  What is it that we wish t…

Wal-Mart v. Dukes

Yeah, so I've been a little lax in my blogging.  Anyway, in the past Supreme Court term, the Court decided that the nationwide class of female employees who filed an anti-discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart did not constitute a certifiable class.  Dahlia Lithwick at Slate had the most entertaining line about it: "Wal-Mart, the nation's largest private employer, seems to have figured out that the key to low-cost discrimination lies in discriminating on a massive scale."  I express no opinion on the merits of the lawsuit, except to note that, while one may be sympathetic to Lithwick's outrage, the fact of the matter is that employers are generally given the benefit of the doubt in employer discrimination cases.  Viewed in the context of employment law as a whole, the ruling is not as outrageous as it might first appear.  Again, this is not to say it was correctly (or incorrectly) decided.