Saturday, November 21, 2009

Arts and Letters Biannually

As I've been checking the blog again thanks to some lovely posts by my fellow Huffy-Crewians, I looked just to the left of where the posts go to remember that we're linking to Arts and Letters Daily. I had not checked the site probably in at least two years, not since the last hate fest we had for the site on this blog, so I clicked through to it just to see what they were up to. And just like those people from high school who are woefully the exact same person they were years ago only a little pudgier, AL Daily seems to be in love with the same damn topics. Just among the first few posts we see:

  • Two bits about religion, from a liberally detached sociological perspective
  • Something about Jane Austen (Is there a movie coming out that I don't know about?)
  • A post on Isaiah Berlin
  • And a post on why public officials have to be so woefully politically correct ("like college diversity deans") when dealing with the fact that it was a Muslim who shot all those people at Ft. Hood
  • etc.
Not to get too deep into a critique of the whole liberalism blahblahlbah, but all I can think is that I would absolutely hate to have dinner with these people.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Obiang family of Equatorial Guineau: The bloodstained kleptocracy that keeps on giving

On the 19th it will be three years to the day that Robot introduced us to the ruling Obiang family of Equatorial Guinea. In case you forgot about them (I also mentioned them here a year and a half ago), the NY Times today reminds us that they remain a deeply corrupt, brutal dictatorship, enabled in large part by the U.S. and its addiction to Guinean oil.

Former U.S. ambassador to Guinea John Bennett explains, yet again, Why Robert Mugabe Would Kill To Be Obiang:

“Of course it’s because of oil,” said John Bennett, the United States ambassador to Equatorial Guinea from 1991 to 1994, adding that Washington has turned a blind eye to the Obiangs’ corruption and repression because of its dependence on the country for natural resources. He noted that officials of Zimbabwe are barred from the United States.

“Both countries are severely repressive,” said Mr. Bennett, who is now a senior foreign affairs officer for the State Department in Baghdad [! -- scantron]. “But if Zimbabwe had Equatorial Guinea’s oil, Zimbabwean officials wouldn’t still be blocked from the U.S.”

But wait -- the younger Obiang's brother, Gabriel Mbega Obiang Lima, files this response in the "ironic but not in any remotely funny way" department:

“This is the problem when a country becomes very successful,” said Gabriel Mbega Obiang Lima, the vice minister of mines, energy and industry and another of the president’s sons. “Everyone assumes us guilty until proven innocent.”

U.S. war criminals can no doubt sympathize with that sentiment. The main difference between them and Obiang is that there's zero likelihood they'll ever actually face repercussions.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Death of the Arabber

We think of the nineteenth century United States as a land of steel and railroads.  Walk down any urban street in 1890, however, and you would see horses.  Lots and lots of horses, and lots of horse manure: 3300 tons of shit left on the streets per day in New York City, deposited by more than 12,000 railway horses and thousands more privately used ones.  It seems difficult to understand Progressive era municipal reform--efforts to literally and figuratively "clean up" the cities teaming with immigrants and ruled by ward bosses--without understanding these horses and the sights and smells they left behind.  There have been two books written on the subject in the last three years, which I'm hoping to read sometime soon...

I was reminded just how distant this urban world is from our own when I read in this morning's Baltimore Sun that city health officials are quickly shutting down the urban horse stables used by the Arabber community.  One of the most exotic, nineteenth-century vestige left in Baltimore City, Arabbers sell fruit from horse-drawn carriages.  To the health officials--and to the city's suburban population--these Arabbers are nothing more than animal abusers.  The Sun has been exposing their code violations for years.  This round's violations?
Standing water, mud and unsanitary conditions in the stables.... [R]at infestations, lack of proper bedding for the animals, trash and debris.
Sounds pretty vague and, well, urban-like to me.  The urban horse, once such a common sight, is now on the verge of extinction, the result of a century-long campaign to eliminate it and transform the city into something new.  Push the horses into the hinterland and out of the city. Cleanse the city of its dirty areas.  Clean up the dung.  What would a history of the twentieth-century city look like if we looked at the flight of horses from cities alongside the flight of (white) bodies?

Image of Arabbers from the Maryland Historical Society

Monday, November 09, 2009


I once used a knife in the apartment that Robot and I shared back in the day and apologized to him--I hadn't washed dishes in weeks.

He said, "I don't care. What could be easier washing than a knife?".

I don't remember my response, although I think it may have been less incredulous than warranted because of self-interest. But I've been thinking about this for a few years now and I disagree completely.

The virtue of a knife is its cutting edge, not its sides, and nothing is harder to clean. When you clean it, you have to negotiate the Scylla/Charybdis (is this meme old?) of squeezing the sponge too hard and cutting it, or not actually getting the knife clean. This problem is amplified by the fact that you can't really examine this essential part of the object you're cleaning: hopefully, if you've got a good knife, it's very hard to see.

So the truth is that a glass is easier to clean because you can find the biofilm disgustingness that lies upon it by examining it from the exterior. I now wonder how many of the number of times I was sick while I was living with Robot were caused by his inept cleaning of knives.

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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Jacques Barzun Must Be Getting Nervous Right about Now

Claude Levi-Strauss is now very much not alive. I will always find it sad that he never lived to see how the end of the Dreyfus Affair played out in 1906.

Monday, November 02, 2009

"You have raised up the giant, and we are asleep no more."

In the world of educational policy, there are few near-indisputable claims to be made about what makes a good school, or how to better the outcomes of children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds One of them, however, is that children from poorer backgrounds do far better academically when they attend schools with children from wealthier stations. James S. Coleman's 1966 massive study--commissioned by the Office of Civil Rights--of equal educational opportunities of black and white student, in addition to finding that socioeconomic status was the most determinative factor in student achievement (rather than school or curriculum quality, which somewhat ironically spurred a conservative backlash against Johnson era programs that aimed to uplift poor children through increased federal aid to schools), found that poorer (ie. black) children did markedly better when integrated in school with middle class (ie white) children. 

Forty years later, Coleman's claim about the benefits of economic diversity remain intact.  Earlier this year, the sociologist (and former student of Coleman's) Gerald Grant published a book on the Raleigh, NC school system.  Grant argued that the city's policies of consolidating the city schools with suburban schools, and busing students both ways across town, have almost achieved the county's goal of having no school with greater than 40% of children eligible for free or reduced price lunches.  More importantly, Grant found, in accomplishing economic integration the county has some of the best schools in the country.  A child from a poor background in Raleigh has a far greater chance of succeeding academically than in just about any city in the United States.

As a longtime fan of the 1966 Coleman Report, I was thrilled to learn about the Raleigh case.  But as any student of American social history knows, you can always count on the rhetoric of "neighborhood schools" to disappoint.  

The Wake County school board election last month saw the Raleigh plan take a beating, as the claims of diversity once again lost out to the claims of "community" and "neighborhood."  In other words: Bad news.  

The state's NAACP leader promises to fight any attempts to end Raleigh's commitment to diversity and low-income student achievement.  Here's hoping they win.  Given the Supreme Court's long-string of appalling decisions (the latest one two years ago) regarding the ability of local school districts to carry out the law of the land--you know, that whole Brown v. Board decision--it would be heartbreaking were the courts, or the people for that matter, to strike down Raleigh's bold attempt at achieving educational equality.