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This land was made for you and me

I recently listened to an interesting segment by On The Media about the etymology of the word, “occupy”. It brought to mind a thought that has been percolating awhile: Public spaces like parks and streets are not really ‘ours’. We, the people, pay for their creation and maintenance, but we don’t actually own these places in the sense that you or I might own a piece of land. Public property is public only in the sense that it’s owned by the state.

On its face, this seems like a total ‘duh’ statement, but it’s actually kind of strange when you consider something like the Occupy Wall Street protests.

What I find endlessly fascinating about the Occupy movement is that its main action so far has been claiming and occupying public sites like parks and municipal buildings. In a way, it might be more accurate to describe the Occupiers’ actions as reclaiming places that are supposedly open to all of us. The Oakland Occupiers were pointing out, by their very presence, that their City Hall wasn’t a place for everyone. Or at least, not for the unemployed, the homeless, the young, the dark, the marginalized, the poorly dressed, and the non-conforming. They were highlighting the fact that very few of us are actually welcome in our seats of government.

That’s why I find the advice that Occupy protesters dress in business casual to be terribly misguided (and fishy, given some of the sources of this kind of advice). Of course well-dressed people with the appropriate licenses and permits, and the funds to buy these things, are welcome in public places. The lesson: you should look and behave exactly like the people who are oppressing you in order to be taken seriously. Of course.

Besides deploring the fashion sense of protesters, pundits and public officials have expressed concerns about keeping public sites like Zucotti Park orderly, clean, and sanitary—that is, lawful

The obsession with the aesthetics of the Occupy protests (in every respect) perhaps makes sense if you compare the (temporary) situation of protesters to homeless people. It’s a matter of course for the police to harass and evict homeless people who sleep or even just sit in parks, bus shelters, and sidewalks. Neither the Occupiers nor the homeless are using these public sites as, according to the law, they ought to be used. They are breaking the law simply by their presence. Parks are for approved recreational activities during sanctioned hours. Bus shelters are for travelers. Standing or sitting aimlessly on a sidewalk can get you a ticket for ‘loitering’. Living in any of these places is illegal.

If one views these facts through a vaguely Marxist filter (as one does), then the pro-capitalist intention behind these ordinances against misappropriating public spaces becomes clearer. Being obviously unemployed in public places is illegal. Being obviously poor in public places is unlawful. One is reminded of the Anatole France quote:

The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.

Tweak this a bit and the absurdity of official and police actions against the Occupy protests is stark:

The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep in parks in wintry conditions to protest pro-corporate government policies, and to be tear gassed and injured by the police while demonstrating against the undemocratic concentration of power in the economic elite.

The Occupy movement chose its name wisely. The protesters are occupying spaces that are public in name only. Living in Zucotti Park and other spaces supposedly intended for the public’s use—when they are actually spaces reserved for the (visibly) employed and non-impoverished—is a means of reclaiming these spaces for all of the people…not just business men on their lunchbreaks. The continuing occupation of these public sites without official permission is a symbolic rebuke of inegalitarian government policies that favor the few at the expense of the many.

Simply by being in places where they’re not supposed to be, the Occupy protesters are saying, “this land is our land”—a message that politicians, pundits, journalists, and the wealthy have forgotten. The United States of America is not their land; it’s our land.

In which I (again) defend word nerds and language pedants everywhere

I’m going to try and be careful here, because in this respect, I’m privileged and speaking from within the ivory tower.

I get what nom’s saying and, to some extent, agree with her. But I also don’t think proper grammar, spelling, or diction are purely the reserve of elites or that ‘language policing’ is necessarily problematic.

I’ve discussed this before, so I’m just gonna be unbelievably snotty and just quote myself:

…[T]here’s a difference between posting a little graphic that bemoans the fact that many people mix up their/they’re/there and reposting someone’s personal commentary or story in order to nitpick about grammar or spelling. A BIG difference. The latter is definitely an aspect of the ‘tone’ argument and dismissive in a particularly shitty way. The former is not.


BUT, there is a reasonable reason for the language rules that the OP decries: we use language is to communicate. Grammar and spelling rules ease communication. It would be difficult to get ideas across, particularly abstract and subtle ideas, if we were each using idiosyncratic versions of English.

As well, while one can be critical of the ways in which language is used to police the marginalized, one should also be careful not to somehow deprive those same folks of the power of ‘proper’ English:

…Fighting the power is one thing; surviving in the here-and-now is another.

So while I agree that ‘correct’ English has privileged class connotations, as well as a history of imperialism, sexism, ableism, and so on, I don’t think simply criticizing language rules for these sins is enough. Sometimes you have to speak the oppressor’s language in order to get through to them. Personally, I advocate giving marginalized peoples as many tools (including languages) as possible.

I personally endorse a ‘common sense’ use of language. The rules were created to facilitate communication. Rules that don’t make sense anymore due to changing circumstances (e.g. using masculine pronouns as a default) deserve to be forgotten.

But I also think being skeptical of any and all language rules can be problematic too. Systematized written and spoken English is meant to ease communication. As annoying as we can be sometimes, without the ivory tower types ‘policing’ language, we might all be speaking highly specific local dialects…hardly an ideal situation in a world that is growing increasingly interconnected.

How Occupy Wall Street might change the terms of debate over economic policy

An interesting way of connecting the dots between the Wall Street protests, Obama’s agenda for this year, and GOP strategy (all emphasis mine):

The American Jobs Act is Obama’s attempt to expose the House Republican double game. The GOP has taken control of the national agenda, cutting spending and attacking regulatory agencies. […] If economic paralysis has resulted from business fearing Obama’s taxes and regulation — a thesis debunked by Larry Mishel — then surely the Republican offensive would have brought prosperity.

This is the contradiction Obama has sought to tease out with his jobs plan: Republicans are taking credit for the direction of policy, but blaming Democrats for results. Obama hopes to shift the focus of attention in Washington from himself to Congress — they, not he, are blocking further action to alleviate the economic crisis.

The Occupy Wall Street protests, for their part, shine a spotlight on an industry that has attracted mass disgust yet escaped accountability. Almost everybody hates Wall Street, but the anger at Wall Street was deflected to the financial bailout, and thereby (even though it preceded him) to Obama. In a development that may have appeared shocking three years ago, Wall Street has resumed its place of privilege in Washington. Politicians are courting the financial industry, its barons speaking out with pre-crisis confidence. The Republican Party has openly pledged to kill the Dodd–Frank regulations.

The protests, for all this incoherence, restore Wall Street to a central place in the economic narrative. Here is the financial industry, not just as recipient of taxpayer funds but as originator and aggravator of the crisis. The protests may not have an agenda, but they do not need an agenda other than to return political focus onto Wall Street.

The larger role of the protests, should they continue, ought to be to reestablish the terms of the political debate. Historically, liberalism best succeeds when compared against a radical alternative. In the thirties and sixties, fear of extremism and mob violence made business elites eager to accept liberal compromise designed to preserve the system. Since 2009, the question of how to respond to the economy has been framed as a debate between meliorative liberalism and vicious reaction. In this climate, Wall Street has been howling about Obama’s mild verbal scolding of the industry, his plans to impose some measure of regulation upon it, and ever-so-slightly raise the tax levels of the very rich.

The protests can usefully re-center the debate. When Wall Street CEOs are expressing even tepid fear for their personal safety, terms like “class warfare” might start to be reserved for more stringent measures than the return of Clinton-era tax rates.

The Wall Street protesters are basically taking up the same cause that ignited early Tea Partiers—the bailouts of last Fall—but instead of blaming the government and the convenient racial scapegoat (Barack Obama) for our troubles, the OWSers are pointing the finger at the other great power in our country: the finance industry. The Tea Party is essentially owned by the Koch brothers and other big business/small government types (which may be why they so easily emerged as a viable third party). Ensconced in the government they so revile, Tea Partiers are now doing their merry best to tear down the very same regulations and social safety nets that were meant to prevent the events of last Fall from happening.

Given all this, maybe it’s not so surprising that the Occupy Wall Street movement has emerged. Unlike the Tea Party, OWS is not intent on distracting the American public from focusing our anger on the real culprits behind the financial meltdown, nor the wealthy 1% who have done their best in the past few decades to rig the system in their favor.

(Source: New York Magazine)

Help Wanted: Busybodies With Cameras


I’m torn between, “how panopticon of them!” and “it would be pretty great if local U.S. governments paid people here to muckrake.”

NY Times: September 28, 2011

SEOUL — With his debts mounting and his wages barely enough to cover the interest, Im Hyun-seok decided he needed a new job. The mild-mannered former English tutor joined South Korea’s growing ranks of camera-toting bounty hunters.

Known here sarcastically as paparazzi, people like Mr. Im stalk their prey and capture them on film. But it is not celebrities, politicians or even hardened criminals they pursue. Rather, they roam cities secretly videotaping fellow citizens breaking the law, deliver the evidence to government officials and collect the rewards.

“Some people hate us,” said Mr. Im. “But we’re only doing what the law encourages.”

Read More

(Source: The New York Times, via youmightfindyourself)

Wall Street Demonstrations Test Police Trained for Bigger Threats

By Joseph Goldstein

Published: September 26, 2011

When members of the loose protest movement known as Occupy Wall Street began a march from the financial district to Union Square on Saturday, the participants seemed relatively harmless, even as they were breaking the law by marching in the street without a permit.

But to the New York Police Department, the protesters represented something else: a visible example of lawlessness akin to that which had resulted in destruction and violence at other anticapitalist demonstrations, like the Group of 20 economic summit meeting in London in 2009 and the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 1999.


The police’s actions suggested the flip side of a force trained to fight terrorism, in a city whose police commissioner acknowledges the ownership of a gun big enough to take down a plane, but that may appear less nimble in dealing with the likes of the Wall Street protesters…


The Police Department conducts an internal review of its response to every large-scale demonstration, and the protest on Saturday appeared to have resulted in the largest number of arrests since the demonstrations surrounding the Republican National Convention in 2004. The events of Saturday are certain to be examined, especially since so many protesters were recording the events with cameras; videos of the pepper spray episode, for example, offered views from several angles.

Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, defended the use of pepper spray as appropriate and added that it was “used sparingly.”

But Councilman Peter F. Vallone Jr., chairman of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee, said that in the video clips he had seen, the use of pepper spray “didn’t look good,” although Mr. Vallone cautioned that he wanted to know if any interactions had occurred between the officers and the women in the minutes before pepper spray was used. 

“If no prior verbal command was given and disobeyed, then the use of spray in that instance is completely inappropriate,” Mr. Vallone said. On Monday, several Web sites identified the supervising officer who used the pepper spray as Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna, a longtime commander in Manhattan. Like a number of other officers, Inspector Bologna is a defendant in lawsuits claiming wrongful arrests at protests staged during the Republican National Convention in 2004.


According to the Police Department’s patrol guide, officers may use pepper spray under certain conditions, including “when a member reasonably believes it is necessary to effect an arrest of a resisting suspect.” The guide also advises that the spray should “not be used in situations that do not require the use of physical force.”

I find it interesting that—in recent memory, at least—the police only seem to get aggressive with anti-establishment and leftist protests. I can’t recall a single incident in which anti-choice/pro-fetus/life demonstrators who were violently threatening abortion clinic workers and patients were slapped around by the police, pepper-sprayed, or arrested en masse.

I also don’t buy the idea that not having a permit for the protest made the Occupy Wall Street protestors seem as threatening to the NYPD as the anarchists at the G8. The protestors were not dressed like anarchists. They were unarmed, unarmored, and not attacking anyone or damaging any property. The article also mentions that the NYPD had been monitoring online organization for the OWS protest, so they must have had an idea of what flavor of activist they were dealing with….or they are more incompetent than I’d suspected.

Rather, the protestors’ major offense on Sunday was in occupying public space without official sanction. The state gets majorly antsy if people are in places they’re not supposed to be in, e.g. homeless people using public spaces for private activities like sleeping; immigrants who cross the border without visas or passports. A large part of the state’s power consists in monitoring and controlling the movements of its subjects.

(Source: The New York Times)

A ‘Diversity Bake Sale’ Backfires on Campus →


Shawn Lewis, president of the Berkeley College Republicans, said the sale was meant as a satire of affirmative action. Stoops.

NY Times: September 26, 2011

BERKELEY, Calif. — A bake sale sponsored by a Republican student group at the University of California, Berkeley, has incited anger and renewed the debate over affirmative action by asking students to pay different prices for pastry, depending on their race and sex.

Last week, the Berkeley College Republicans announced its “Increase Diversity Bake Sale,” scheduled for Tuesday. On Facebook, the group listed the price for a pastry at $2 for white students, $1.50 for Asian students, $1 for Latinos, 75 cents for African-Americans and 25 cents for Native Americans. Women of all races were promised a 25-cent discount.

“Hope to see you all there! If you don’t come, you’re a racist!” the Facebook event page said. (It has since been taken down and replaced with milder text.)

“We expected people to be upset,” the group’s president, Shawn Lewis, 20, a third-year political science major, said Monday in a telephone interview. “Treating people differently based on the color of their skin is wrong, and we wanted people to be upset about that.”

The bake sale was scheduled to protest a phone bank organized by the Associated Students of the University of California, the campus student government group, where students planned to call Gov. Jerry Brown and urge him to sign a Senate bill that would allow public universities to consider race, gender and ethnicity in admissions decisions. In 1996, voters in the state passed a ballot initiative, known as Proposition 209, prohibiting affirmative action in admissions.

“The bake sale is a misguided attempt by the Berkeley College Republicans to make a political point about their opposition to a particular bill,” said Gibor Basri, the university’s vice chancellor for equity and inclusion and a professor of astronomy. “A lot of students, especially students of color, read it as placing a higher value on white students.”

In response to the bake sale, the Associated Students, which provides money to the Berkeley College Republicans and other political groups for events on campus, called an emergency meeting on Sunday, leaders said. It passed a resolution condemning discriminatory events on campus whether or not they are meant to be satirical.

Not long after the bake sale page went up on Facebook, hundreds of people posted comments expressing outrage over or support for the sale and affirmative action in general.

“Perhaps you should be charging women and Latinas double to better reflect the fact that we’re being paid 78 cents and 59 cents to the white man’s dollar,” wrote Ally Wong.

Others worried more about the pastries. “The educational value of this exercise will be lost when Pocahontas walks away with a truckload of free cupcakes,” wrote Mike Creamer.

The bake sale idea is not original, said Mr. Lewis, the Republican group’s president, noting that the same tactic had been used on other college campuses in the last decade to protest affirmative action.

Event organizers received numerous threats on Facebook, and some of the group’s members changed their names and profile pictures. “This event was not organized by a bunch of white guys,” Mr. Lewis said. “We’re not racists.” The group’s 10-member board of directors includes several Asians and a Latino, he said, and more than half the board members are women.

Student leaders worried that the bake sale would make students uncomfortable and aggravate tensions on campus.

“A number of students have come to me very concerned,” said the student body president, Vishalli Loomba, 20, a fourth-year molecular and cell biology major. “Many feel the differential pricing is offensive and that it makes them feel unwelcome.”

Despite the outcry, organizers said the sale would go forward unless they were threatened with physical violence. Mr. Lewis said Republican groups from nearby colleges — including the University of California, Davis; California State University, Sacramento; and Saint Mary’s College of California — had called to say they were sending carloads of supporters to the bake sale.

The race-based prices will be posted on signs, but organizers said they would not enforce them and would instead allow students to pay whatever they wanted.

Crap, almost got a BINGO!

P.S. I so called it! I knew Shawn Lewis had to be a misguided political science major! Irritatingly, that major is overrun with privileged, clueless, libertarian white boys.

P.P.S. Why besmirch the good name of bake sales with this bullshit anyway? Let my cupcakes go!

A Message To Women From A Man: You Are Not “Crazy” →

You’re so sensitive. You’re so emotional. You’re defensive. You’re overreacting. Calm down. Relax. Stop freaking out! You’re crazy! I was just joking, don’t you have a sense of humor? You’re so dramatic. Just get over it already!


Do you ever hear any of these comments from your spouse, partner, boss, friends, colleagues, or relatives after you have expressed frustration, sadness, or anger about something they have done or said?

When someone says these things to you, it’s not an example of inconsiderate behavior. When your spouse shows up half an hour late to dinner without calling—that’s inconsiderate behavior. A remark intended to shut you down like, “Calm down, you’re overreacting,” after you just addressed someone else’s bad behavior, is emotional manipulation—pure and simple.

And this is the sort of emotional manipulation that feeds an epidemic in our country, an epidemic that defines women as crazy, irrational, overly sensitive, unhinged…


Gaslighting is a term, often used by mental health professionals […] to describe manipulative behavior used to confuse people into thinking their reactions are so far off base that they’re crazy.


Those who engage in gaslighting create a reaction—whether it’s anger, frustration, sadness—in the person they are dealing with. Then, when that person reacts, the gaslighter makes them feel uncomfortable and insecure by behaving as if their feelings aren’t rational or normal.

Read more

My hackles did raise slightly at the title of this piece, but it’s still worth reading. The author seems to be trying to avoid condescension, even if he is interpreting women’s experience for us. And the term, “gaslight” is very useful and totally applicable to my personal experiences as a woman. It’s also something applicable to me as someone with mental health disorders. People (whom I thought were my friends) have successfully convinced me that any friction in our relationship was solely due to my ‘issues’ and thus, my fault….which, of course, made my depression and anxiety even worse. It’s only recently that I’ve been able to look back on those interactions and identify them for the gaslighting bullshit that they were.

The triple consciousness of an ‘other’ person of color

Something I find exasperating is how badly some Americans react to the suggestion that conversation about racism in the U.S. needs to exceed the traditional black-white dichotomy (because U.S. racism itself exceeds the traditional black-white dichotomy).

Saying the racial conversation needs to include more subjects than just White racism against Blacks is sometimes taken to be a call to gloss over Black oppression. And that is just. Not. True. What it actually is is an attempt to deepen and enrich that account. For example, you just can’t fully discuss racist citizenship laws without accounting for slavery and the Reconstruction Amendments and the Chinese Exclusion Acts and the legal treatment of Native American/Amerindian reservations and xenophobia and nativism inspired by 19th century Irish and Southern and Eastern European immigrants. Leave any of that out and you don’t get a complete and nuanced picture of racial and racist laws pertaining to U.S. citizenship. Talking about all of that history doesn’t necessarily downplay any particular piece of it.

Saying the racial conversation needs to include more subjects than just White racism against Blacks is also an acknowledgment that the history of White racism against non-Black people of color is less widely know, less frequently discussed, and more often treated as secondary or side issues…which just compounds the alienation! On one side, you have the establishment denying your oppression because some (‘Asian’ = a huge, diverse group) members of your group have been doing conspicuously well in recent decades…and then other POC are doing the same thing for essentially the same reason? 

It is beyond frustrating when points that exceed the Back/White racial binary—like the lynching of Asian (and Latino) people, immigration and citizenship laws that specifically excluded your nationality from even entering the country, and being a safe target of racist humor even now—are subtly dismissed as being whiny. And that calls for POC solidarity by Asians are viewed as suspect and insincere.

Look, no serious Asian anti-racist activist would ever seek to mitigate or ignore Black oppression. In fact, like most anti-racist resistance movements, we’ve long looked towards Black Americans in defining our own struggles with White power and privilege, but in doing so, we’ve come to realize that our experience is distinct.

For the purposes of anti-racist struggles, Asian anti-racists probably occupy a socio-political space that is closer to that occupied by Latin immigrants due to the transnational, post-colonial nature of both our struggles. Work by Juan Flores and recent Asian/South Asian, Latino and Caribbean critical race theory have informed my own thoughts about these issues. Racism, imperialism, and othering by both Whites and non-Whites are intersecting oppressions that don’t affect ‘just’ Asian people of color in the U.S. (and if you suggest the ideas in the following passage could only apply to Black immigrants, then I know you are beyond hope):

[I]n studying the…the experience of the United States Afro-Latino, one ever feels his threeness: A Latino, A Negro, an American…

To be clear, the use of the catchy term, “triple consciousness” is not intended to trump or one-up African American particularity and struggle but rather only to point to the increased complexities of the “color line” in light of the transnational nature of present-day social experience. For when in The Souls of Black Folks Du Bois so momentously declared the problem of the twentieth century to be the color line, he was not speaking strictly of African Americans but of “the relation of the darker to the lighter races of men in Asia and Africa, in America and the islands of the sea.” He recognized over a hundred years ago that these crucial social differentiations were not national but global in scope.

The experience of Afro-Latin@s in the United States and the emergent realities of the new century impel us, in tune with Du Bois’s critical legacy, to further advance an integral global vision of race, and at the same time to articulate a keener awareness of specificities and internal complexities both within and across the amplified range of groups. Here again, Du Bois’s choice of language is of key interest, for in The Souls of Black Folk, we have the crucial linkage of a class dimension with the heralding of cultural awakening among the oppressed nations and peoples; the word, “folk”, which harbors both a class and racial referent, holds the key to comprehending the new Black and Latin@ diversity and to hailing our elusive yet persistent goal, “the dawn of freedom.”

The Afro-Latin Reader: History and Culture in the United States, Miriam Jiménez-Román & Juan Flores, (2010) p. 15

And that’s my last word on the subject. If you don’t get it by now, no amount of blog posts and Du Bois quotes on the subject will make you get it.

The Republicans’ Latest Ploy to Keep the Economy Lousy through Election Day


Whatever shred of doubt you may have harbored about the determination of congressional Republicans to keep the economy in the dumps through Election Day should now be gone.

Today, in advance of a key meeting of the Federal Reserve Board’s Open Market Committee to decide what to do about the continuing awful economy and high unemployment, top Republicans wrote a letter to Fed Chief Ben Bernanke.

They stated in no uncertain terms the Fed should take no further action to lower long-term interest rates and juice the economy. “We have serious concerns that further intervention by the Federal Reserve could exacerbate current problems or further harm the U.S. economy.”

They didn’t threaten to “treat him pretty ugly” — as Texas Governor Rick Perry told his supporters last month he’d deal with Bernanke if he “printed more money” between now and the election.

But the threat was there. “It is not clear that the recent round of quantitative easing undertaken by the Federal Reserve has facilitiated economic growth or reduced the unemployment rate.”

Translated: You try this, and we rake you over the coals publicly, and make the Fed into an even bigger scapegoat than we’ve already made it.

Top Republicans believe they can block all or most of Obama’s jobs bill. That leaves only the Fed as the last potential player to boost the economy. So the GOP will do what it can to stop the Fed.

After all, as Republican Senate head Mitch McConnell stated, their “number one” goal is to get Obama out of the White House. And that’s more likely to happen if the economy sucks on Election Day.

To say it’s unusual for a political party to try to influence the Fed is an understatement.

When I was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration, it was considered a serious breach of etiquette — not to say potentially economically disastrous — even to comment publicly about the Fed. Everyone understood how important it is to shield the nation’s central bank from politics.

If global investors suspect the Fed is responding to political pressure of any kind, investors will lose confidence in the independence of the Fed and its monetary policies. Even if the pressure is to tighten the money supply and keep interest rates high, it’s still politics. And once politics intrudes, lenders of all stripes worry that it will continue to intrude in all sorts of ways. Lending to the United States becomes a tad riskier. As a result, lenders charge us more.

The Republican letter puts Bernanke and his colleagues in a bind. If they decide against another round of so-called “quantitative easing” to lower long-term rates and boost the economy, they may look like they’re caving to congressional Republicans. If they decide to go ahead notwithstanding, they’re bucking the Republicans and siding with Democrats. Either way, they’re open to the charge they’re playing politics.

Congressional Republicans evidently don’t care. They want Obama out, whatever the cost. Besides, they’ve never met a government institution they don’t mind trashing.


Our Hidden Government Benefits →

By Suzanne Mettler, a professor of government at Cornell. She is the author of “The Submerged State: How Invisible Government Policies Undermine American Democracy.”

A 2008 poll of 1,400 Americans by the Cornell Survey Research Institute found that when people were asked whether they had “ever used a government social program,” 57 percent said they had not. […] It turned out that 94 percent of those who had denied using programs had benefited from at least one; the average respondent had used four.

Americans often fail to recognize government’s role in society, even if they have experienced it in their own lives. That is because so much of what government does today is largely invisible.

Individuals’ political views partly account for their perceptions. In the Cornell poll, a respondent who self-identified as “extremely liberal” was 20 percentage points more likely to acknowledge using a government program than someone who used the same number of programs but was “extremely conservative.” Also, those who believed that the nation spent too much on welfare were less likely to admit that they had used a “government social program,” perhaps because that term had pejorative connotations.

Besides political ideology, the design of policies also influences awareness. The most visible policies are those that require people to interact frequently or intensively with public officials to qualify for benefits, like food stamps, disability payments and subsidized housing. Another set of programs, including Medicare, Pell Grants and Social Security retirement benefits, are also fairly visible, though each contains characteristics that can camouflage government’s role.


In the case of Social Security, checks are sent directly by the government, making it clear why 56 percent of beneficiaries in the Cornell poll acknowledged the use of a social program. But the denial by the remaining 44 percent is also understandable, given that individuals contributed directly from their paychecks to help finance the program. President Franklin D. Roosevelt insisted on this arrangement, knowing the benefits would be understood as an earned right. That way, he said, “no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.”

The final group of policies, what I call the “submerged state,” is largely invisible because its benefits are channeled through the tax code and subsidies to private organizations. These include the home-mortgage-interest deduction and the exemption from taxes on employer-provided health and retirement benefits. Using “submerged” benefits is nearly as common as using more visible policies.


The submerged state obscures the role of government and exaggerates that of the market. It leaves citizens unaware of the source of programs and unable to form meaningful opinions about them.

The bootstraps mentality at the heart of American self-identity is not only a delusion with negative political consequences, but a delusion we’ve perpetuated.

How Whole Foods “Primes” You To Shop

By: Martin Lindstrom
Fast Company, Sept 15, 2011


Let’s take for example Whole Foods, a market chain priding itself on selling the highest quality, freshest, and most environmentally sound produce. No one could argue that their selection of organic food and take-away meals are whole, hearty, and totally delicious. But how much thought have you given to how they’re actually presenting their wares? Have you considered the carefully planning that’s goes into every detail that meets the eye?

In my new book Brandwashed, I explore the many strategies retailers use to encourage us to spend more than we need to—more than we intend to. Without a shadow of doubt, Whole Foods leads the pack in consumer priming.

Let’s pay a visit to Whole Foods’ splendid Columbus Circle store in New York City. As you descend the escalator you enter the realm of a freshly cut flowers. These are what advertisers call “symbolics”—unconscious suggestions. In this case, letting us know that what’s before us is bursting with freshness.

Flowers, as everyone knows, are among the freshest, most perishable objects on earth. Which is why fresh flowers are placed right up front—to “prime” us to think of freshness the moment we enter the store. Consider the opposite—what if we entered the store and were greeted with stacks of canned tuna and plastic flowers? Having been primed at the outset, we continue to carry that association, albeit subconsciously, with us as we shop.

The prices for the flowers, as for all the fresh fruits and vegetables, are scrawled in chalk on fragments of black slate—a tradition of outdoor European marketplaces. It’s as if the farmer pulled up in front of Whole Foods just this morning, unloaded his produce, then hopped back in his flatbed truck to drive back upstate to his country farm. The dashed-off scrawl also suggests the price changes daily, just as it might at a roadside farm stand or local market. But in fact, most of the produce was flown in days ago, its price set at the Whole Foods corporate headquarters in Texas. Not only do the prices stay fixed, but what might look like chalk on the board is actually indelible; the signs have been mass-produced in a factory.

Read More

(Source: Fast Company, via youmightfindyourself)


Aggression Not As Attractive As Men Believe

“Though women greatly preferred a non-aggressive response to an aggressive one, men thought that women would prefer an aggressive response,” the researchers write. “There was a dramatic gap between men’s guesses about the views of women and women’s actual views.”

“Though women greatly preferred a non-aggressive response to an aggressive one, men thought that women would prefer an aggressive response,” the researchers write. “There was a dramatic gap between men’s guesses about the views of women and women’s actual views.”

“Though women greatly preferred a non-aggressive response to an aggressive one, men thought that women would prefer an aggressive response,” the researchers write. “There was a dramatic gap between men’s guesses about the views of women and women’s actual views.”

they talk about other stuff too - how they think other dudes will perceive things, what they would want to do vs. what they think other dudes - but:

“Though women greatly preferred a non-aggressive response to an aggressive one, men thought that women would prefer an aggressive response,” the researchers write. “There was a dramatic gap between men’s guesses about the views of women and women’s actual views.”

I blame the media. Mainstream movies, TV, magazines, etc. all tend to suggest that a) what women say and what we mean are entirely different b) women prefer stereotypically macho men and despise femme (or gentle, nerdy, passive, etc. etc.) men.

Gotta confess that I find these kind of studies to be fairly useless (spare me arguments about funding, research restrictions, the general unenlightenment of the culture at large, etc.). They don’t really tell anyone who’s been paying attention anything new.

Just from observation, it’s clear that men worry the most about what other men think. They’ve been taught that women’s opinions are worthless (e.g. rape culture), so of course they think we prefer macho to ‘sissy’, despite whatever we might actually say or do.

Yet researchers keep conducting these kind of studies and we keep being shocked (shocked!) by the results.

(via ipomoeaj)

How to Write Faster →

The scientifically-tested fun facts abound. Ann Chenoweth and John Hayes (2001) found that sentences are generated in a burst-pause-evaluate, burst-pause-evaluate pattern, with more experienced writers producing longer word bursts. [….] One also finds dreadful confirmation of one’s worst habits: “Binge writing—hypomanic, euphoric marathon sessions to meet unrealistic deadlines—is generally counterproductive and potentially a source of depression and blocking,” sums up the work of Robert Boice. One strategy: Try to limit your working hours, write at a set time each day, and try your best not to emotionally flip out or check email every 20 seconds. This is called “engineering” your environment.


…How does one write faster? Kellogg terms the highest level of writing as “knowledge-crafting.” In that state, the writer’s brain is juggling three things: the actual text, what you plan to say next, and—most crucially—theories of how your imagined readership will interpret what’s being written. A highly skilled writer can simultaneously be a writer, editor, and audience.

Since writing is such a cognitively intense task, the key to becoming faster is to develop strategies to make writing literally less mind-blowing. Growing up, we all become speedier writers when our penmanship becomes automatic and we no longer have to think consciously about subject-verb agreement. It’s obviously a huge help to write about a subject you know well. In that case, the writer doesn’t have to keep all of the facts in her working memory, freeing up more attention for planning and composing.

The modern multitasking style of composing next to an open Internet browser is one solution to limiting writing’s cognitive burden. There are experimental programs that will analyze what you are writing and attempt to retrieve relevant definitions, facts, and documents from the Web in case you need them. Like many writers, I take a lot of notes before I compose a first draft. The research verifies that taking notes makes writing easier­—as long as you don’t look at them while you are writing the draft! Doing so causes a writer to jump into reviewing/evaluating mode instead of getting on with the business of getting words on the screen.


Alas, the cognitive literature offers no easy solutions. The same formula appears: “Self-regulation through daily writing, brief work sessions, realistic deadlines, and maintaining low emotional arousal.”…

Kellogg does offer a few takeaway hints for would-be writers. First, if you haven’t been writing stories since you were a little kid, give yourself a break since you are actually a “late bloomer.” Second, read everything, all the time. That’s the only way to build the general knowledge that you can tuck away in long-term memory, only to one day have it magically surface when you’re searching for just the right turn of phrase. And, lastly, the trickiest part of writing—from a cognitive perspective—is getting outside of yourself, of seeing your writing through the eyes of others.

In which I agree but also disagree about language policing

I felt compelled to comment on this post by madamethursday because I think the subject is interesting (and because I’m probably one of those grammar prigs s/he lambasts).

In my opinion, there’s a difference between posting a little graphic that bemoans the fact that many people mix up their/they’re/there and reposting someone’s personal commentary or story in order to nitpick about grammar or spelling. A BIG difference. The latter is definitely an aspect of the ‘tone’ argument and dismissive in a particularly shitty way. The former is not.

So I agree that going all Grammar Police on people—when it’s not your job to do so—is not only snotty, but a form of derailing.

BUT, there is a reasonable reason for the language rules that the OP decries: we use language is to communicate. Grammar and spelling rules ease communication. It would be difficult to get ideas across, particularly abstract and subtle ideas, if we were each using idiosyncratic versions of English.

An English teacher—a good one, anyway—isn’t trying to make people feel stupid, ashamed, or marginalized by teaching ‘correct’ grammar and spelling. They’re trying to give students the best tools to communicate in particular settings (formal, professional, academic). You have plenty of opportunities outside of formal education to learn slang, Ebonics, regional idioms, tech speak, and other forms of ‘incorrect’ English. You don’t have very many opportunities to learn ‘correct’ English outside of school.

Sure, you can argue that this is oppressive language policing, but the reality is that we live in a world where using ‘correct’ English in particular situations still matters. It is what it is. Fighting the power is one thing; surviving in the here-and-now is another.

So while I agree that ‘correct’ English has privileged class connotations, as well as a history of imperialism, sexism, ableism, and so on, I don’t think simply criticizing language rules for these sins is enough. Sometimes you have to speak the oppressor’s language in order to get through to them. Personally, I advocate giving marginalized peoples as many tools (including languages) as possible.

I also think the OP is vastly overestimating how much control language authorities have on enforcing usage rules these days. The U.S. isn’t France—oftentimes, the editors of Merriam-Websters and the MLA are frantically trying to catch up with a language that’s constantly, rapidly evolving.

The way we speak and write English changes all the time, which is why there are constantly new editions of dictionaries, style guides, and grammar books being published.

Why? Because the language authorities want to stay relevant. The rules they put in place are oftentimes the result of reviewing popular language use. I assure you that they don’t just sit in book-lined studies sipping sherry and pulling definitions and guidelines out of their asses. They’re trying their best to domesticate the unruly shape-shifting beast that is English so that we can use it to till our postmodern fields and harvest our feminist crops…

(Um, ignore that last metaphor.) But yeah—the problem isn’t that ‘proper’ English exists. The problem is people being assholes about it.

Disclaimer: I’m a well-educated U.S. academic and former editor with all the privilege these roles entail. I’m also fairly well-versed in postcolonialism, feminism, etc. and have studied language theory…all of which makes me disinclined to take an extreme position on either side. What’s wrong with moderation?

More commentary on the U.S. credit downgrade

Ezra Klein:

S&P is downgrading their estimation of our political system, not our actual ability to pay our debts….Of course S&P is downgrading our political system. Did you see the nonsense we pulled over the past few months? The Republican Party took the country to the brink of default, and for what? A smaller and less certain deficit-reduction deal than they could have gotten if they had been willing to compromise with the Democrats. And then Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said these default-driven deals would be the norm around Washington from now on. Why shouldn’t S&P downgrade our debt?

Megan McArdle:

Well, frankly, I don’t blame Standard and Poor’s.  And not because we didn’t make deeper cuts—we have lower debt loads and more favorable demographics than countries like France and the UK which still have their AAA.  S&P is apparently telling us exactly what this is about: the frightening breakdown in our political system.  Unless those reports turn out to be wrong, everything else is excuse-making.

Kevin Drum points out why this line of reasoning is bullshit:

…S&P shouldn’t be in the business of commenting on a country’s political spats unless they’ve been going on so long that they’re likely to have a real, concrete impact on the safety of a country’s bonds. And on that score, there’s no serious macroeconomic reason to think America can’t service its debt and there’s no serious political reason to think the Tea Party has anything close to the power to provoke a political meltdown in which we won’t pay our debt.

Look: the United States has been running up big debts for the past couple of years because we’re trying to climb out of an epic recession. That’s perfectly justifiable. And our focus on reining in our long-term debt is, literally, less than a year old. Pretending that our political system is fundamentally broken because we haven’t solved our long-term problems in a few months is staggeringly panicky and ahistorical, and S&P’s obsession with hitting a $4 trillion target for medium-term deficit reduction is economically vacuous. If we still can’t get our act together in four or five years, then fine. We deserve a downgrade. But a few months? That’s crazy. It’s the kind of hair-trigger reaction that belongs on cable shoutfests, not in the boardroom of a sober, 150-year-old financial firm.

Finally, Tyler Cowen points out that while it may be interesting to speculate about why S&P downgraded the U.S.’s credit rating, that’s not what should be concerning us:

[I]f at this point, in response to this news, a commentator attacks the ratings agencies for their previous mistakes and stupid, corrupt behavior, it’s a sign the commentator is trying to muddy the broader issues at stake.  Such commentators may well be correct in their criticisms, but probably they are not facing up to their recent mistakes and seeking to shift the blame.  Watch out for this.

Whatever the facts behind S&P’s decision, it should be a wake-up call to extremist Republicans to fucking step up and handle the country’s business like motherfucking adults:

The Republican Party made a big, big mistake passing up a chance for a “grand bargain” with Obama.  It’s time to be a realist about revenue increases, rather than signaling ideological purity.  And let’s get a better rather than a worse version of revenue increases, combined of course with significant spending cuts and a good, credible long-term fiscal plan, enforced by tough triggers.  A lot of Republican or conservative intellectuals know better on revenue increases, and have said as such, but corruption, intellectual and otherwise, prevented their voices from being heeded in the larger political context.

Ideological purity should never outweigh the good of the nation. Campaigning should never take the place of governing. Demagoguery is not statesmanship.

I hope the GOP pays dearly for this come 2012.