A Little Something to Fight the Poison

Friday, August 15, 2003
So Eric's plea for news from the GWN (consult Strange Brew for meaning of that acronym) did not go unheeded. The lights were on in my part of Toronto (Queens Quay and Spadina), as well as at the hospital, as of the middle of Thursday night.

Can't say that the blackout was too eventful, which is probably a good thing. Outside the hospital windows, we watched the inevitable traffic snarl up University Avenue, with passersby bravely standing in as traffic cops at virtually every intersection.

This being Canada, the bars were still open and the beer was flowing -- might as well sell the stuff before it gets lukewarm. A couple of us looked for food and drink on College Street. We happened upon a to-remain-nameless establishment which drew attention to itself with a cry of "Ice cold beer! To go!". Yes, with Toronto plunged into darkness, the city's finest probably had more pressing matters than handing out public drunkeness citations.

Outside of the downtown core, Toronto is made up of a grid of major arteries -- with residential areas lying right behind them. This point was certainly driven home as we walked past each cross-street to College, looked to our right and stared into absolute pitch blackness. With that in mind, I got my female companions home and walked down Spadina towards the lake. Between Queen and King, a DJ had hooked her gear up to a generator and was spinning to a growing crowd. And with the public drinking and toking, it practically seemed like a Canadian Summer of Love redux.

Probably the oddest sight were the TTC's old streetcars, all of which had ground to a halt as the juice was cut. Each was guarded by its driver, yet looked every bit like a fallen mechanical beast. It was as if, all over the city, the comet had hit and the dinosaurs couldn't do shit. You almost wanted to pet them and feed them water out of a doggie bowl.

And yes, the stars were suddenly much more populous, except down by the water -- where the reflected light from the downtown office towers (all powered by generators) obscured the light show.

There are still areas all over town that don't have power -- as of this morning, I know that the strip between High Park and Ossington, bounded by Bloor and College, was dark, as well as parts of North York -- but they're hoping to get two-thirds of Ontario back on the grid by tonight.
FAIR.™ BALANCED.™ TRADEMARKED™: So maybe I lied about that trademarked bit. I don't have a big enough legal department to make it worth it. And maybe about that Fair and Balanced™ part too--it takes help to be Balanced™.*

On second thought, perhaps none of us in blogtopia(© skippy 2002) should be so hard on Fox News™. I mean, if my livelihood depended on helping to fluff for an unnecessary war and defecating on the American journalistic tradition, I might be a little oversensitive too.

Happy Fair and Balanced Day!

*Hint, hint Manu. Or anyone else who feels like contributing--seriously, it's tough to be Fair and Balanced™ when you're blogging alone becuase it's so easy to Overbalance and to become sadly Unfair, so if you're interested in contributing or joining forces or some other thing, please email me!
COMPARE AND CONTRAST--THE RELIGION GAP: If you're looking for reasons as to why the rest of the developed world is scared of America, besides its monstrously ginormous defense spending, think religion. Reporter Nic Kristof (for his regular NYT column) and Canadian polling czar Michael Adams (for The Globe and Mail) each have columns on the split between the U.S. and the rest of the world's developed countries (ROTWDC). So it's well-established in poll after poll that more Americans take their religion more seriously anywhere than in the ROTWDC--there's a double digit gap in the percentages of regular church attendance and whether religion is "important." But Kristof and Adams note that there's other important movements going on as well.

Kristof writes that in America, religious belief is also become more charismatic and less intellectual, leading to a split not only between America and the ROTWDC, but also within America itself between fundies and liberals (whether religious or not):
Americans believe, 58 percent to 40 percent, that it is necessary to believe in God to be moral. In contrast, other developed countries overwhelmingly believe that it is not necessary. In France, only 13 percent agree with the U.S. view. [Kristof's polls are here]

The faith in the Virgin Birth reflects the way American Christianity is becoming less intellectual and more mystical over time. The percentage of Americans who believe in the Virgin Birth actually rose five points in the latest poll.

My grandfather was fairly typical of his generation: A devout and active Presbyterian elder, he nonetheless believed firmly in evolution and regarded the Virgin Birth as a pious legend. Those kinds of mainline Christians are vanishing, replaced by evangelicals. Since 1960, the number of Pentecostalists has increased fourfold, while the number of Episcopalians has dropped almost in half.

The result is a gulf not only between America and the rest of the industrialized world, but a growing split at home as well. One of the most poisonous divides is the one between intellectual and religious America.
Adams points to another trend that I had thought was mostly a stereotype: American patriarchalism, as compared to Canadian and European* gender egalitarianism. Stunning comparative stat of the day:
Canadians have brought their questioning of traditional authority right into the home and are far less likely than Americans to agree with the statement: "The father of the family must be master in his own home." A 1992 Environics poll found that 26 per cent of Canadians believed that "father must be master" (down from 42 per cent in 1983). That same year, 42 per cent of Americans told us dad should be on top.

Since then, the gap has widened: down to 18 per cent in Canada in 2000, and up to 49 per cent in the U.S. in that year. As Canadians become ever less deferential to patriarchal authority, Americans are becoming more and more willing to see if dad says it's okay to watch The Simpsons.

Quebeckers are the North Americans least likely to think that father should be master (15 per cent). In more conservative Alberta, the figure is 21 per cent, the highest in Canada. In the United States, the proportion supporting traditional patriarchy ranges from a low of 29 per cent in liberal New England, to a high of 71 per cent in the Deep South[!]. Religiosity and deference to patriarchal authority reinforce each other.
Mapping that last geographical stat onto the now-proverbial red state/blue state divide backs up Kristof's more impressionistic argument about the widening division between fundies and liberals. As far as divisions go, things seems to be getting worse, not better. I've never been a big fan of Sam Huntington's clash-tastic thesis--but wouldn't it be funny if it was right, except the civilizations didn't correspond to the lines separating nations and regime-types, but instead lay within them? (Not really, I guess, except from the purely cosmic "I told you so," point of view)

This probably isn't helping things, but I should note that the patriachy thing is seriously a deal-breaker for me, and probably many other liberals. Maybe not a civil war-type deal breaker, but c'mon now: "The father must be master of his own house"? To me, that's sounds about as enlightened as supporting a penal system that involves drawing and quartering.

*As in the U.S., this no doubt varies regionally. Using my patented technique of stringing together reports and anecdotes I've heard, I'm guessing that this characterization applies better as you move north and west in Europe, with the Scandinavian countries topping the charts in gender equality.
Thursday, August 14, 2003
WHOA! NO LIGHTS IN T.O. Nor a big chunk of the eastern seaboard, or so I've heard. The Globe and Mail was able to keep updating their website during this humongous blackout, though, and their article on the reactions of the citizens of "Toronto the Good" is heartwarming:
With streetlights, crosswalks, subways, streetcars, elevators, computers and office lights immobilized, a mass of humanity took to the overheated streets of the city's downtown core during rush hour yesterday. But they weren't looting and pillaging, as one young woman said, "this is Toronto, after all."

In what could have been a disastrous situation, ordinary Torontonians, some of them still dressed in business suits and ties, got out of their cars or parked their bikes, moved into the centre of intersections, and began directing traffic.

"He's jumped right into the fray and made this corner manageable," said Barbara Lowe, who was visiting Toronto from Dublin, Ireland, and was gaping at a middle-aged man in a mauve shirt and tie directing traffic at the corner of Front and University Streets. "I am absolutely taken with his attitude. Look at this guy, he just got out of his car and got everything moving again."
See, the depths of human nature have a constructive side too: if everyone decided to unleash their inner kid's urge to play policeman instead of "get free stuff," things can work!

Oh, if anyone who's around Toronto (or anywhere else that got nailed by the blackout) is reading this, please say hello in my comments or send me an email to let me know what's going on and that you're OK.

MORE: My parents tell me it's pitch black Toronto and that they saw stars for the first time in tcity ever. And that gas stations were out and people had to abandon cars that were out of fuel and walk home. But it looks like they're already starting to get power back in NYC, and at least Toronto's suburbs. So no extended crisis, which is good.

I didn't previously mention that I was considering a spontaneous trip to NYC this morning, but decided against it. Guess I missed a little adventure or inconvenience, or both...
Wednesday, August 13, 2003
QUICK PONTIFICATION on Fairness and Balance™.

When I came into grad school, one of my big interests was the moral/political philosophy of intellectual property rights (warning: you know there's gonna be a mess of [probably loosely used] jargon coming). Economic and legal research on IP is a huge industry now--if they didn't have a rule, you could probably fill up the majority of your courses at Yale Law doing IP. But not a lot of people study it from the airy-fairy moral philosophy standpoint that I wanted to take.

If I actually had done the project that I had originally intended last year, I would have had some harsh philosphical words for those Fox people (I bet they're relieved!). I could spill a lot of pixels on this right now, but suffice it to say that whatever normative grounds we can muster for owning concrete property, they are much harder to bring to bear for intellectual property. Instead of arguing this point in detail, I'll just use an example involving goats. If you own a goat and I steal it, you can no longer do whatever it was you wanted to do with the goat before I stole it. But if I illegally copy a drawing of a goat you've published and then fax it to my business associate in China who reprints them and sells them cheaply to his compatriot goat afficiondoes, it's hard to point to what you've lost, especially if you had no idea that there was a Chinese market for low-cost reproductions of goat drawings. Indeed, on many standard libertarian theories justifying the morality of a free or minimally regulated market, I have in fact earned something with my entrepreneurship by exploiting a market of which you were ignorant. In this case, government intervention would create the kind of obvious deadweight loss that libertarians hate so much.

Anyway, goat hypotheticals aside, perhaps the thing that annoys me most is that Westerners, especially Americans, often make normative claims about IP that seem to assume that their conception of IP is the only morally justifiable one. "Reverse engineering by third world generic drug companies is theft!" they scream. Well, no, not if they didn't sign an agreement with you not to reverse engineer. Maybe they have a different and more efficient regime of promoting innovation.

The truth is that it's almost impossible to justify the nearly "maximalist" conception of intellectual property that the West tends toward (i.e. someone who owns a piece of IP has exclusive control over all of its property incidents, just like for most pieces of real property) on deontological moral grounds. The best shot you would have for this justification is to go to utilitarianism--and, lo and behold, that's the kind of justification that the U.S. Constitution provides for giving Congress the power to issue patents: " To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts..."

And I'd argue that on most conceptions, trademarks wouldn't even be viewed as a form of property at all. Even on the Western conception, the argument for treating trademarks as a piece of property is pretty dodgy, from a normative point of view--they have the shortest terms and their domain is the most restricted. In fact, I think you could make a pretty good argument that the most defensible normative way to view trademark violations is as cases of fraud. If we go back and look at the primary basis for issuing trademarks, it wasn't to give their owners a resource with which they could promote "brand loyalty"--if this were the main justification, then the state's granting and enforcement resembles a pretty pure case of state-empowered rent-seeking (your cue to be outraged, libertarians and social choicers!). The most defensible justification for granting trademarks is to efficiently protect customers from fraud--to make it easy for them to figure out what they're buying and who's selling it to them.

And if there was ever a clearer case of fraud than Fox News labelling itself "Fair and Balanced," then I missed out on that particular Amway Party.

That was a cheap and easy way to end this obscure post, but probably classier than if I had just said "go look up the definition of 'satire' in the dictionary, ya big windbags."
Tuesday, August 12, 2003
THE PROBLEM WITH JOURNALISM TODAY is that it lack Fairness and Balance™.

Help Al Franken, Atrios, and Blah3 restore Fairness and Balance™ to blogtopia(© skippy 2002)!
Monday, August 11, 2003
OBLIGATORY CALIFORNIA RECALL POST: The current weirdness of the crazy coast gets the next couple 100 of words or so and no more. The flake-to-meat ratio is too high for me to bother.

1) As far as its democratic legitimacy goes, the question for me turns on whether Davis actually broke a norm of fairness and honesty during last year's campaign. If it can be reasonably shown that he decieved the electorate on the state's fiscal numbers during the campaign, then it seems in line with the democratic principles to nullify the election. Otherwise, this is a perversion of democracy and the intention of the recall provision. I note that, if the Republicans are wrong on this one, then they will have succeeding in unnecessarily destroying another democratic procedural tool through overpoliticization in the same way in which they destroyed the independent counsel statute, which actually did serve a useful purpose, before Starr got his claws into it. I should add that I have no idea if Davis is actually in the wrong or not; I really don't care enough to investigate. I think some movie actors are pretty cool and I'd consider living in San Francisco, but for the most part, those people out there seem really weird, man. I'm going to keep my distance!

2) I can't think of a more vivid example of a Walzerian "improper boundary crossing"* than a certain "large and in charge" accented "actor" converting his name recognition into a governorship. OK, at least not since Bloomberg won the mayorial election in NYC. I do have to admit that whereas I can't think of a single concrete socially useful thing Gray Davis has done, I can point to at least one definite way in which the big Austrian has concretely contributed to the social good. Namely, he has blessed us all with the ability to enliven any dreary social situation by resolving to communicate as extensively as possible using bad Ah-nuld one-liners:
"Where are you going"
"I'll be baack"

"What happened to Dave?"
"I let him gooo"

"Hey, the toaster's broken"
"Toaster, you are nothing but a boyscout compared to me,"

And so on.
*As argued in Michael Walzer's Spheres of Justice, whereby justice (a.k.a. "complex equality") is defined as a set of arrangements that prevents people who have accumulated goods gained from their advantages in one sphere from infringing on the pattern of distribution of goods proper to another, unrelated sphere (in which people with a different of talents or capacities would be dominant without this infringement). The paradigmatic example is the bribe.

3) My favourite quote on this whole deal is from an AP article confirming that the CA Supreme Court had tossed out all of the challenges to the recall:
Gerald Uelmen, a Santa Clara School of Law scholar who closely follows the court, said the justices were reluctant to impede the rough-and-tumble of democracy.

"They believe the courts should kind of stand back and let the people go at it," Uelmen said. "They're saying they don't want to take any steps that would interfere with this process or delay it."

ALSO IN THE CATEGORY OF 'NO ONE GIVES A DAMN': Senator Joe Biden declared that he won't be running for president. No offense to all three of you Biden supporters, but while he does some good work, he would have added nothing to the campaign, except for maybe a marginal improvement on Lieberman, and whatever foreign policy respectability he has is more than counter-balanced by his significant negatives. RAVE Act anyone? Ick. Even his home state is pretty useless, and not just in terms of electoral votes--can anyone provide me with definitive proof that Delaware still exists?

Anyway, here's the official declaration:
"At this moment, my instincts tell me that the best way for me to work to enhance America's national security and to fight for economic security for the middle class is to remain in the United States Senate. They also tell me that my presidential chances had all of the potential of dried-out banana slug. I didn't really hear them at first, but this morning my instincts gave up biting the back of my rear end and started working on the flat part of my forehead instead, and I decided that maybe it was time to listen to them," Biden said in a statement.

I'M SINCERELY TOUCHED by Sisyphus' and Jeff Cooper's inquisitive snark. Yes, I'm alive. Or at least in no more of a torpor than your average summertime grad student. I'm honestly surprised that anyone cared--my habits have been so bad that for awhile there, I didn't even consider myself worthy (such as it is) of the name of a blogger. But I suppose this Monday is as good as any to restart my jottings. That, and the fact that I don't really want to be a just like everyone else and run for governor of California.

And no, Julia, it wasn't the monkfish. Next time I order that, though, I'm bringing a drillbit...