26 January 2008

Quotes from recent reading: Robert Jackson, Nate Shaw

Struggles to coerce uniformity of sentiment in support of some end thought essentially to their time and country have been waged by many good, as well as by evil, men. ...Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.

Justice Robert Jackson, writing for the U.S. Supreme Court
--West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943)

The Court found that the underlying issue was not any claimed conflict between liberty of conscience and the state's ability to survive in time of crisis. The issue was not weak versus strong government, but, rather, seeing the strength of America in "individual freedom of mind" rather than in "officially disciplined uniformity for which history indicates a disappointing and disastrous end." Enforced conformity, far from teaching the value of liberty, would "strangle the free mind at its source and teach youth to discount important principles of our government as mere platitudes."

Jordan Lorence and Harvey A. Silverglate
--FIRE's Guide to First-Year Orientation and Thought Reform on Campus

As a whole, if children got book learnin enough they'd jump off of this country; they don't want to plow, don't want no part of no sort of field work. That's the way it runs here. The biggest majority runs off to some place where they can get a public job.
And I never did forget none of his treatments toward me. You forever remember the wrongs done to you as long as you live. But it's just like forgivin if you just go on in this world and don't worry about it.
So my daddy married Maggie Reed and him and her was the father and mother of thirteen children - my old daddy was a rooster, he was a humdinger.
My grandmother and other people that I knowed grew up in slavery time, they wasn't satisfied with their feredom. They felt like motherless children - they wasn't satisfied but they had to live under the impression that they were. Had to act in a way just as though everything was all right. But they would open up every once in a while and talk about slavery time - they didn't know nothin about no freedom then, didn't know what it was but they wanted it. And when they got it they knew that what they got wasn't what they wanted, it wasn't freedom, really. Had to do whatever the white man directed em to do, couldn't voice their heart's desire. That was the way of life that I was born and raised into.
Of course, years ago I heard that President Lincoln freed the colored people; but it didn't amount to a hill of beans.
He was imprisoned in slavery for fifteen years - slavery were equal or worser than prison, but both of em bad and the poor colored man knows more about them two subjects than anybody.
And when I got to be a little old boy, when I got big enough to catch on to what people said, and even to the words of the old people, and the Bible, it was instilled in me many a time: the bottom rail will come to the top someday. I taken that to mean a change in the later years, durin of my lifetime maybe. I believe, if that day come, the poor generation on earth will banish away their toils and snares. But won't nobody do it for them but themselves.
I was big enough and old enough to abominate what I seed.
He wasn't a slave but he lived like one. Because he had to take what the white people gived to get along. That much of slavery ways was still hangin on. According to slave days you wasn't allowed the privilege to seek knowledge without the white man, master man, allowin you. And that was the rule durin of my daddy's lifetime and through my life, to be sure.
They claimed they had a note against him and they took all he had. In those days, it was out of the knowledge of the colored man to understand that if you gived a man a note on everything you had, exactly how you was subject to the laws. Because the colored man wasn't educated in the laws for his use; they was a great, dark secret to him.

Nate Shaw
--Theodore Rosengarten (ed), All God's Dangers: The Life of Nate Shaw

21 January 2008

Robert Frank on inequality in America

I've recently started exploring the ideas of liberal economists - those economists who advise and formulate policy for Democratic candidates. I've downloaded a few fantastic lectures by Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor under President Clinton. And I recently read a book on inequality by Robert Frank, professor of economics at Cornell. The book - Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class - is one of the most interesting policy essays I've read in a long time. I highly recommend it.

His basic argument is this: since 1979, the trend in America has been for an enormous increase in the incomes of those in the top 1%-5% of earners and a much, much smaller increase in the incomes of everyone else. Flush with cash, the top earners have been spending wildly on "positional goods" - goods that display status and wealth, that demonstrate that one is a "player," someone to be reckoned with. Meanwhile, the near-rich emulate the spending patterns of the rich, and so on down the income ladder. This is the "expenditure cascade."

The problem is that the farther down the income ladder one goes, the less capable individuals are of affording to participate in these "positional arms races," as Frank calls them. Individuals in the middle are forced to keep up by spending large portions of their income on positional goods - which include things like housing and education - while increasingly neglecting unseen, nonpositional goods like saving money and buying insurance.

The primary motive for status-spending isn't envy, he argues; rather, middle-class families feel forced to spend heavily on positional goods in order to feel accepted and be recognized as successful. People take out jumbo mortgages to buy oversized houses they can't afford not because they necessarily believe that more house leads to more happiness, but because they want to send their children to the best schools and have them grow up in "safe" neighborhoods - the sort of neighborhoods where housing prices are often beyond their ability to comfortably pay.

Frank cites research showing that higher income inequality is associated with lower societal happiness, more health problems, and higher rates of crime, homicide, suicide, and depression. He lambasts the Bush tax cuts, which disproportionately rewarded individuals at the top of the income scale, and argues for making income taxes more progressive or switching to a progressive consumption tax. This would involve making savings tax-exempt: taxable income in a given year would equal a family's earnings minus its savings.

"Do we want to spend our money on better teachers, better roads, and enhanced national security? Or do we want to spend it on more expensive watches, more elaborate gas grills, and bigger mansions? Tired slogans about government waste won't help us make this decision more intelligently."

Click here to check out the book on Amazon.com.

Quotes from Hamsun, Du Bois, and Salomon

-Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!

Honest and earnest criticism from those whose interests are most nearly touched - criticism of writers by readers, of government by those governed, of leaders by those led - this is the soul of democracy and the safeguard of modern society.
In fact the burden belongs to the nation, and the hands of none of us are clean if we bend not our energies to righting these wrongs.
The opposition to Negro education in the South was at first bitter, and showed itself in ashes, insult, and blood; for the South believed an educated Negro to be a dangerous Negro. And the South was not wholly wrong; for education among all kinds of men always has had, and always will have, an element of danger and revolution, of dissatisfaction and discontent. Nevertheless, men strive to know.
To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships.

W.E.B. Du Bois
--The Souls of Black Folk

His emotion had made him a boy again, a child sitting quietly with folded arms.
'It's spring, I'm walking into the new season,' Rolandsen answered over his shoulder as he went by.
On the other hand, he was not God, he could not contain his heart if it insisted on flying away in the spring.
The nights too were bright and sunny. It was weather for dreamers, for young people to flit about in restless excitement. They wandered the roads at night, singing and beating the air with sallow-twigs. And from all the isles and skerries came the sound of birds: guillemots and oyster-catchers and gulls and eiderducks. The seal thrust his dripping head up out of the water and looked around, then dived back down again to his own world.
He went to the sexton's house to look for Olga. Now that it was spring Rolandsen had to have a sweetheart; it was no easy matter to hold his own great heart in check.
Alas, Rolandsen was ever hopeful; it took very little to rouse his expectations. But it had to be admitted that he was also good at bearing disappointments; he was proud and resilient and his spirit was never broken.

Knut Hamsun

Some people are always getting a bigger boat, but rarely sail.
All these books boil down to the same message: 'Resist the urge to buy.' Once you learn how to do it, it becomes second nature.
Most people find that stuff does indeed expand to fill the space provided. Do you want to encourage this tendency with the stuff in your house? Extra space will cost you in several ways: money and times to decorate, clean, and maintain; energy to heat and cool all that space; and outdoor space (the more you put under roof, the less you'll have outside). There's also the house law of diminishing returns: the difference between having one bathroom or none is enormous, but between two or three may be negligible.
Living smaller frees up...time and money to pursue fun. Having good friends is a proven mood elevator.
Polls show that most Americans believe we must earn about twice the median income to be solidly middle class - that is, we believe that what we earn, on average, is just not enough.

Shay Salomon and Nigel Valdez
--Little House on a Small Planet

20 January 2008

UCTF: Phoenix Invite

I had another great track meet yesterday - won the mile (4:22) and anchored the winning DMR (4:24 split). We won the 8-team meet, as did the women's team. Results are here.

Photos by Appie Hirve.

13 January 2008

Pics from the UW-Oshkosh dual track meet

The pictures were taken by Appie Hirve. Meet results can be found here.