Saturday, October 23, 2010

Why it is vitally necessary to prevent the extinction of the final serial comma

From Bruce Baugh via Patrick Nielson Hayden via Brad DeLong, here is a photo caption from a story about Merle Haggard:
The documentary was filmed over three years. Among those interviewed were his two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall.
Were Merle & Kris & Robert ever actually married? Somehow, I doubt it. My guess is that the passage in question should have read:
Among those interviewed were his two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson, and Robert Duvall.
Can anyone think of a good reason to leave out that last comma in a series? I can't. In fact, the practice has always irritated me. It belongs in the historical dustbin of English usage.

Yours for logical punctuation,
Jeff Weintraub

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Driving over a cliff with the British government at the wheel (by Shalom Lappin)

The piece below by Shalom Lappin, guest-posted on normblog, is characteristically clear, acute, hard-hitting, and illuminating. And the significance of the issues he's discussing goes well beyond Britain—as evidenced by the way that Lappin draws effectively on current American debates and brings them to bear on the British situation.

Among other things, Lappin highlights one of the more bizarre aspects of current debates about economic policy on both sides of the Atlantic—namely, that so many participants in in these debates seem to have lost sight of the proper relationship between short-term and long-term considerations in the context of a major recession. In the long term, we all have to learn to live within our means (which is one reason why the post-1980 Republican attitude that "deficits don't matter"—except, of course, for propaganda purposes when Democrats are in power—has been so pernicious). In the short run, however, during a severe economic downturn, when the economy has a lot of unused capacity, unemployment is high and persistent, and there is a danger of a self-propelling downward spiral, governments should be running deficits (except in very special constraining circumstances) to pump demand into the system and help stimulate a recovery.

This basic Keynesian insight was a radical innovation when it was first developed, but in the 70 years or so since the Great Depression of the 1930s it seemed to have become an accepted part of conventional economic wisdom, not only among economists but also among semi-informed pundits, journalists, and politicians. The main exceptions, I would have thought, were complete economic illiterates and doctrinaire cranks with a quasi-theological commitment to various pre-Keynesian economic dogmas. People might still disagree with Keynes and Keynesians about lots of other things. But surely the validity of that central insight was generally accepted.

Apparently not. Polls here in the US, as well as other relevant evidence, make it clear that much of the public still finds this whole notion deeply counter-intuitive. But what is more surprising is that there seems to have been some sort of collective amnesia about this basic insight in broad sectors of allegedly informed opinion, including not only journalists, pundits, and politicians but even some allegedly serious economists. The consequences are unfortunate, and may prove disastrous.

(Back in the spring of 2009, when House Minority Leader John Boehner suggested that the middle of an economic crash was a good time to cut federal spending and start balancing the budget, even the conservative columnist David Brooks tactfully described this idea as "insane." But something along these lines now appears to be the official Republican position, and this lunacy seems to make sense to a large portion of the electorate.)

Lappin's piece is worth reading in full (and it's not that long), but here are some highlights:
On October 20 the government will present the results of its Comprehensive Spending Review to the House of Commons. From its own budget commitments, it intends to implement a set of cuts (between 25 per cent and 40 per cent across all ministries over the next five years) that will lay waste to large sections of the public domain in the UK. Given the scope of this assault on services, the debate over the policy that is motivating the cuts has been remarkably restrained. In fact, most parties to this debate have accepted the government's view that large-scale deficit reduction is urgently required in the short term. [....] Critics of the cuts have stressed the social and civil damage that they will do, but most have left the basic economic reasoning of the government's anti-deficit case intact.

In fact, there are very strong reasons for believing that the government's argument is entirely misconceived in economic terms. Neo-Keynesian economists like Paul Krugman and Bradford DeLong argue persuasively that cutting deficits in a time of sustained economic downturn simply exacerbates the deficit and reinforces the trend towards long term deflation. Osborne claims that if the current high ratio of deficit to GDP is permitted to continue, then Britain's credit rating will suffer at the hands of bond-rating agencies. [....] In response to the American version of this argument Krugman and DeLong observe that long-term US treasury bond prices remain low, with there being no indication that the interest rate will go up in the near future. [....] In fact, the situation is similar in the UK, where the ten-year government bond spread is 2.9 per cent, close to the 2.51 per cent spread for US treasury bonds. These rates contrast sharply with the Greek government bond's ten-year spread of 10.37 per cent, and they are significantly lower than the Spanish bond rate of 4.13 per cent. [....]

Similarly, the claim that heavy government borrowing in times of prolonged economic downturn forces out private investment is without foundation. In such conditions there is no substantial private demand to force out of the financial market. [....]

Oddly, these time-worn truths, learned at great cost from previous depressions and recessions, seem to have disappeared from much of the public discussion surrounding the UK government's impending attack on public services. [....]

Krugman has aptly compared deficit reduction worshippers to 'the priests of some ancient cult, demanding that we engage in human sacrifices to appease the anger of invisible gods'. The current debate over government cuts in the UK seems to pit the hawks, who argue that fiscal responsibility requires that the victim's heart be offered up, against the doves, who plead that, in the name of compassion, we should make do with removing an external appendage. In fact, opponents of the cuts ought to be defending a stimulus plan to prevent the economy from sinking further into stagnation, and quite possibly, into serious recession.

[....] If this is the centre of British politics, then conventional political wisdom has moved very far to the right indeed. [....] The radical folly of the current government's proposals has been compared to that of Thatcher's policies in the 1980s. In fact these proposals are far more drastic, and, if they are implemented, the damage that they do to the social and economic fabric of the country may well be irreparable. [....]
Read the whole thing.

--Jeff Weintraub

P.S. Actually, the Republicans' position, in effect if not always explicitly, is still that deficits don't matter—as long as they're caused by tax cuts and military spending.

==============================
normblog (Norman Geras's weblog)
October 4, 2010
Driving over a Cliff with the British Government at the Wheel
Guest-posted by Shalom Lappin

On October 20 the government will present the results of its Comprehensive Spending Review to the House of Commons. From its own budget commitments, it intends to implement a set of cuts (between 25 per cent and 40 per cent across all ministries over the next five years) that will lay waste to large sections of the public domain in the UK. Given the scope of this assault on services, the debate over the policy that is motivating the cuts has been remarkably restrained. In fact, most parties to this debate have accepted the government's view that large-scale deficit reduction is urgently required in the short term. Disagreement has focused on the size of the required cuts, and which areas should be targeted. As a result, the opponents of the government's plans have generally allowed Cameron and Osborne to define the terms of the discussion. The Tories, in turn, have cast the choice as a contest between the tough love of government-imposed austerity in the interest of eventual recovery, on one hand, and continued ballooning deficits that support unaffordable state benefits, while undermining private sector growth, on the other. Critics of the cuts have stressed the social and civil damage that they will do, but most have left the basic economic reasoning of the government's anti-deficit case intact.

In fact, there are very strong reasons for believing that the government's argument is entirely misconceived in economic terms. Neo-Keynesian economists like Paul Krugman and Bradford DeLong argue persuasively that cutting deficits in a time of sustained economic downturn simply exacerbates the deficit and reinforces the trend towards long term deflation. Osborne claims that if the current high ratio of deficit to GDP is permitted to continue, then Britain's credit rating will suffer at the hands of bond-rating agencies. This will increase the cost of public borrowing, and it will stifle economic growth by pricing private sector borrowing out of the credit market. He and others who advance this view invoke the spectre of Britain following the path of Greece to financial ruin. In response to the American version of this argument Krugman and DeLong observe that long-term US treasury bond prices remain low, with there being no indication that the interest rate will go up in the near future. They attribute this situation to the depressed state of the economy, which causes investors to seek safety in government bonds rather than putting their money in the stock market. In fact, the situation is similar in the UK, where the ten-year government bond spread is 2.9 per cent, close to the 2.51 per cent spread for US treasury bonds. These rates contrast sharply with the Greek government bond's ten-year spread of 10.37 per cent, and they are significantly lower than the Spanish bond rate of 4.13 per cent.

One might insist that the current low interest on UK bonds is the result of the government's announced cuts restoring market confidence in its capacity to handle the public finances. In fact, there is no evidence for this claim. The Obama administration has resisted deficit reduction measures, and it has even recently announced a modest new stimulus programme. Greece's extreme austerity program has not improved its credit rating or attracted foreign investors. A more plausible explanation for the low cost of government bonds in both the US and the UK is continued market fear of recession in the two countries.

Similarly, the claim that heavy government borrowing in times of prolonged economic downturn forces out private investment is without foundation. In such conditions there is no substantial private demand to force out of the financial market. Government investment, financed by deficits, is the major source of demand, and hence a necessary instrument for preventing widespread economic collapse. Deficit reduction is best achieved through economic growth, and significant cuts are best deferred to a period of relative prosperity.

David Cameron's suggestion that we can export our way to high growth while implementing deep budget cuts, as Canada did in the 1990s, is, at best, unrealistic. It ignores the fact that Canada was able to significantly increase its exports to the United States (largely by devaluing its currency) because of the economic boom of the Clinton years. By contrast, Britain's main trading partners in Europe and North America are themselves contending with recession or slow growth, which they are trying to offset by increasing their own exports. It is unclear, then, where the foreign demand for British goods and services will come from when global demand is weak.

Oddly, these time-worn truths, learned at great cost from previous depressions and recessions, seem to have disappeared from much of the public discussion surrounding the UK government's impending attack on public services. The Liberal Democrats, self-styled champions of progressive values, have become eager collaborators in an economic programme that would have done Herbert Hoover proud. Vince Cables' recent false heroics aside, the Liberals in coalition are serving as ticket conductors on the buses that Tory drivers are eagerly racing over the cliff of financial disaster. Ed Miliband, anxious to ingratiate himself with what he takes to be the 'centre' of the British political spectrum, has been steadily backing away from sharp criticism of Osborne's budget, while making obsequious noises about the need for large-scale cuts in the interests of fiscal responsibility. Even the TUC, which took a robust stand against the government's budget at its recent conference, has failed to cogently challenge the economic arguments driving this budget.

Krugman has aptly compared deficit reduction worshippers to 'the priests of some ancient cult, demanding that we engage in human sacrifices to appease the anger of invisible gods'. The current debate over government cuts in the UK seems to pit the hawks, who argue that fiscal responsibility requires that the victim's heart be offered up, against the doves, who plead that, in the name of compassion, we should make do with removing an external appendage. In fact, opponents of the cuts ought to be defending a stimulus plan to prevent the economy from sinking further into stagnation, and quite possibly, into serious recession.

Particularly revealing in all of this is the remarkable cynicism of Cameron's use of the traditional right-wing discourse of 'empowerment' through small government to package his cuts as politically progressive. It is a line that the Liberal Democrats are peddling with an increasingly hoarse desperation, as the economic and social devastation that the cuts portend becomes obvious to their own supporters. If this is the centre of British politics, then conventional political wisdom has moved very far to the right indeed. As services are withdrawn, communities will be empowered to supply them at their own cost. As jobs disappear, one will be free from employment, the income it provides, and the social benefits that used to be available to mitigate poverty. Those with the means to absorb these changes will not be adversely affected. The middle and the working classes and the poor, for their part, will have the satisfaction of knowing that their suffering is serving the national economic interest.

The radical folly of the current government's proposals has been compared to that of Thatcher's policies in the 1980s. In fact these proposals are far more drastic, and, if they are implemented, the damage that they do to the social and economic fabric of the country may well be irreparable. One wonders how much unnecessary hardship will be inflicted upon the population before the sort of widespread dissent that toppled Thatcher from power will emerge as a leading force within the political mainstream.

(Shalom Lappin, King's College London.)

Religious toleration in Saudi Arabia - Filipinos caught praying

As long as we're on the subject of Saudi Arabia, it's worth noting another interesting feature of life in that society: the ongoing tension between the desire to impose complete religious uniformity, which means that all public non-Muslim religious practice is legally banned and there is intense discrimination against non-Salafist forms of Islam, and the practice of importing foreign guest-workers to do most of the work in Saudi Arabia, which means that there are actually a fair number of non-Muslims floating around. There's always the danger that they might suddenly start praying, or something.

One result, as Mick Hartley points out, is that "[t]he work of the Saudi Religious Police is never done." The English-language Saudi newspaper Arab News reports:
Twelve Filipinos and a Catholic priest have been released on bail in Riyadh after being arrested at a rest house in the city’s Rawdah district last Friday.

The arrests followed a raid by members of the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice on the premises, where 150 expatriates were said to have attended a Catholic mass.

However, a source told Arab News that only the priest and the 12 Filipinos were arrested for allegedly being the organizers and leaders of the group while the others were let go because they could not all be accommodated at the police station.

“They were charged with proselytizing,” confirmed Ezzedin H. Tago, chargé d'affaires at the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh. [....]

"It did not mean that their case had been settled. If they are proven guilty as charged, they would go back to jail," the source said. [...]
My guess is that the charge of proselytizing is probably a bogus addition in this case. But the more significant point is that (non-Muslim) proselytizing is, in fact, a crime in Saudi Arabia—and is also illegal in a number of other Muslim countries, by the way.

Still, one should keep all this in proper perspective. Agence France-Presse elaborates:
Saudi Arabia bans the practice of any religion aside from Islam. However, small, low-key prayer services inside expatriate compounds and in Filipino gatherings are tolerated by officials.
That seems reasonable and pragmatic, doesn't it? I don't know why some people claim that Saudi Arabia is religiously intolerant.
With more than one million workers in Saudi Arabia, Filipinos comprise the bulk of the Christian community inside the kingdom.
I don't know whether that figure of one million is accurate. But the general order of magnitude doesn't sound entirely implausible. Millions of Filipinos work abroad, and there are definitely a lot of Filipino guest-workers in Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf oil states ... along with Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, Indians, and so on. Welcome to 21st-century global capitalism.

--Jeff Weintraub

Saturday, October 09, 2010

What they think about Jews in Saudi Arabia (Iqra TV)

Of course, we all know that claims about the prevalence of virulent anti-semitism in much of the contemporary Muslim world are just imaginary fabrications (or else that anti-Jewish feelings are "understandable," after all ... and, anyway, murderous anti-semitism is no big deal, so criticizing exponents of murderous anti-semitism, like the highly influential Qatar-based cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, is a tactless, vulgar, and embarrassingly unsophisticated distraction from the really serious issues).

Nevertheless, this video clip from Saudi Arabia's IQRA TV (recorded and translated by the highly informative Middle East media Research Center - MEMRI) might still be of interest. It provides excerpts from a show that featured "man on the street" interviews exploring public attitudes about Jews.

I was especially struck by this cogent analysis from one respondent:
Allah's wrath is upon them, as the Koran says. Allah's wrath is upon them and they all stray from the path of righteousness. They are the filthiest people on the face of this earth because they care only about themselves - not the Christians, not the Muslims, nor any other religion.

The solution is clear, not only to me but to everyone. If only [the Muslims] declared Jihad, we would see who stays home. We have a few countries… There is one country with a population of over 60-70 million people. If we let them only march, with no weapons even, they would completely trample the Jews, they would turn them into rotten carcasses under their feet. [....]

But the cowardice inside us, deep within our hearts, was instilled by the Arab leaders, may Allah forgive them. They breast-fed us with it from the day we were born to this very day it has grown with us.
Yes, this sort of apathy, cynical accommodation, and cowardly failure to deal with the Jewish Problem should certainly be deplored. But it's good to know that at least some idealistic young people are upset about it.

Yours for reality-based discourse,
Jeff Weintraub

Thursday, October 07, 2010

More fiscal fraudulence from the Republicans

A grimly amusing, entirely fair, and quite illuminating video compilation by ThinkProgress.
For the past year and half, Republicans have done little else but urgently demand that the federal government drastically cut spending to reduce the deficit. However, like much of the rest of their agenda, Republicans have been remarkably vague on what they would actually cut.

In interview after interview, journalists have pushed, and even begged, GOP leaders for specifics, always to no avail. When pressed, they hem and haw, often appearing uncomfortable — and in the case of Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), visibly angry — but can offer nothing more than cop-out answers like repealing unsent stimulus money or an “across the board” cut on all spending. [....]
Or this: "You could go through every different program within government outside of entitlements, outside of national defense...." In other words: The biggest spending programs, which add up to the great bulk of federal spending, including the programs whose costs are most likely to balloon in the future, are off-limits, of course. Or to put it more straightforwardly: I'm not serious.

(OK, there are a few Republican candidates willing to say something semi-concrete about actually cutting the biggest spending programs, but they're marginal exceptions--and mostly whackos, too.)

The more closely you listen to the statements, the more clear it becomes how evasive, dishonest, and/or ludicrous they are. How can the Republicans possibly think they can get away with this? Well, they are getting away with it, aren't they?

--Jeff Weintraub

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Nicolopoulou, Scales, & Weintraub - "Gender Differences and Symbolic Imagination in the Stories of Four-Year-Olds" (1994)

One of the side-effects of being married to a developmental psychologist with interpretive and socio-cultural inclinations who studies young children's play and narrative (Ageliki Nicolopoulou) is that, over the years, I have read hundreds of spontaneous stories composed by 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds. They're fascinating in a lot of ways. Back in the early 1990s, when Ageliki was just getting started on this line of research, we even co-authored a piece about a body of childrens' stories that she had obtained—"Gender Differences and Symbolic Imagination in the Stories of Four-Year Olds" (published in 1994).

This piece has come up in a few conversations lately, and I think it should be of interest to a wide range of people (by which I mean just about everybody, including anyone who is ever around young children and/or who was ever a child). So it occurs to me that I should make it conveniently accessible.

http://upenn.academia.edu/JeffWeintraub/Papers/306629/Nicolopoulou_Scales_and_Weintraub_-_Gender_Differences_and_Symbolic_Imagination_in_the_Stories_of_Four-Year-Olds_1994_

In addition, below that is a letter I once sent to some friends that discussed this piece (among others), elaborated further on some of the issues it raises, and speculated a bit about some broader implications. Anyone interested in an introductory overview can have a look at that letter first ... or, if you feel so inclined, you can go directly to the article itself, which doesn't really need a lot of introduction.

As I said in the letter, we tried to work in as many of the children's stories as we could. I suspect very few readers will be able to get through the piece without laughing out loud at least once.

--Jeff Weintraub

===================================
[October 13, 2003]

Dear X & Y,

Here are some pieces that I think will interest you both as sociologists and as parents. I know enough about the realities of life to anticipate that your first reaction will be to put them on a pile for future reading (after which they will gradually disappear under other things-to-be-read-someday). But let me urge you to resist this impulse. At the very least, have a look at the first piece, "Gender Differences and Symbolic Imagination in the Stories of Four-Year-Olds"; once you get into the piece (and especially the children's stories quoted in it), I would guess you'll find it genuinely absorbing.

=> First, some background.

For a decade now the main focus of Ageliki's research has been on young children's narrative activities and their role in development. That is, her work comprises both (a) narrative development per se (i.e., children's acquisition and development of narrative skills and other related linguistic, cognitive, and symbolic abilities) and (b) the role of narrative in the larger process of children's socialization and development. Of course, in real life these two sides are closely interwoven and complementary, so she's tried to integrate them in her research--which is not that common. (She's also argued for the need to treat children's storytelling and pretend play as interwoven modes of their narrative & symbolic activity. Again, this might not sound radical or exotic, but on the whole the mainstream research literatures on children's play and narrative tend to be surprisingly segregated.)

Much of this work has centered on the analysis of a large body of data that Ageliki collected over the past decade from preschools in California and Massachusetts. These include over 3000 spontaneous stories composed and told by 3- to 5-year-old children in the course of an everyday classroom storytelling and story-acting practice (i.e., the stories are not elicited by adults in relatively artificial situations), combined with observations of the classroom activities, friendship patterns, play, and group life of the children involved. In the context of research on young children's spontaneous storytelling, I believe her collection is unique in terms of the quantity of stories per child that it includes, which is important for tracing longitudinal patterns. The circumstances in which the stories are composed also helps to make them exceptionally rich and illuminating.

Most of this research has been conducted in preschools serving children from largely middle-class and upper-middle-class back¬grounds, but in the late 1990s she was able to broaden the comparative scope of her data base by collecting stories composed this way by children in a Head Start class in western Massachusetts (where a former student of hers from Smith was a teacher). And last year she was able to establish some solid connections in the Philadelphia Head Start system, where (if she can get funded), she's opened up some exciting possibilities for a long-term research project.

The first two pieces here belong to what I described as category (b) above: i.e., they explore the role of narrative in the broader process of children's construction of reality and identity, particularly gender identity. These are the aforementioned "Gender Differences and Symbolic Imagination in the Stories of Four-Year Olds" (1994) and "Worldmaking and Identity Formation in Children's Narrative Play-Acting" (1997).

=> The "Gender Differences" piece is one (early) offshoot of this line of inquiry. With that piece, I went along for the ride, since there are a lot of theoretical angles that interest me (among other things).[1]
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[1] In 1998 we also co-authored a theoretical article in Human Development on "Individual and Collective Representations in Social Context: A Modest Contribution to Resuming the Interrupted Project of a Sociocultural Developmental Psychology"(yes, I know that's a sprawling title) ... which might interest you at some point.
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I suppose the grand way to describe Ageliki's subject here would be to say that it involves looking at the interplay between cognitive world¬making and identity formation in the development of children's symbolic imagination and group life, approached by treating their play and narrative activity as interwoven forms of socially situated symbolic action. One element of this project has been an inquiry into the developmental emergence of gender differences in symbolic imagination and in images of the social world (we might sum this up as "gendered images of order") based on the analysis of young children's spontaneous stories.[2]

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[2] The stories in the "Gender Differences" piece came from children in the nursery school affiliated with [JW: confidential information deleted here]--than which there could not be a more relentlessly "enlightened," egalitarian, non-sexist, and progressive environment in North America. In fact, the place was so virtuously non-sexist that the teachers had never really noticed that the boys and girls were telling very different kinds of stories ... and at first were skeptical when Ageliki pointed it out to them. When you read the stories, you will appreciate the significance (and humor) of this fact.
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The development of the argument in this particular piece was constrained somewhat both by space limitations and by the audience toward which it had to be angled (including both academics and child-serving professionals, predominantly psychologists and teachers). Aside from having to smooth over some of the complexities of the argument (which a well-tuned ear will probably be able to hear under the surface), space limitations meant that we had to sacrifice some really striking stories we wanted to quote and analyze (with great regret in some cases). But I think there is enough here for the flavor of the analysis to come through. And the children's own stories (we worked in as many as we could) are almost enough to carry the piece by themselves.

Actually, this kind of material is an absolute gold mine. The more time Ageliki spends with it, the more intriguing implications (for adults as well as children) and promising lines of investigation suggest themselves.

(Also, I am often reminded of Freud's remark about "the depressing contrast between the radiant intelligence of a healthy child and the feeble intellectual powers of the average adult," which invites us to consider what might account for what he calls "this relative atrophy.")

=> Ageliki has been continuing this line of inquiry (which also has a lot of facets not connected to gender, including the oral-language foundations of emergent literacy in early childhood).[2] In 1992-1996, while we were living in

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[2] By the way, have you encountered Eleanor Maccoby's important 1998 book, The Two Sexes: Growing Up Apart, Coming Together? Maccoby (favorably) discusses Ageliki's gender-related work there and elsewhere.
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western Massachusetts, she assembled a mountain of new data in collaboration with teachers at two preschools in Northampton and Amherst; and during 1997-1998, as I mentioned above, she and one of her graduate students gathered equivalent material from a Head Start program in Massachusetts, which should allow for some interesting comparisons (since the children involved obviously come from families with very different class and educational back-grounds).

"Worldmaking and Identity Formation in Children's Narrative Play-Acting" develops some aspects of the analysis in the "Gender Differences" piece more fully. It also breaks new ground by doing a more systematic job of situating the gendered patterns in the children's storytelling in the context of their group life and the dynamics of peer-group socialization. (Some recent pieces by Ageliki explore these dimensions of the subject even more fully and deeply ... but I figured enough is enough for the moment.)

=> I might mention that working with this stuff has strengthened a long-standing suspicion of mine that (at least in a considerable range of cultures and subcultures) the cognitive and emotional life of boys really is more chaotic and disorderly than that of girls, and therefore that imposing order on it is a more strenuous and violent experience. (I.e., Freud's account captures boys' experience more fully in this respect--as in various others.) On the other hand, if you look at the image of the world underlying these four-year-old girls' stories and compare it with that of the boys, what is striking is the extent to which, for the girls, (1) order is taken as largely achieved (so that it is not so urgent a problem) and (2) cognitive order is social order (or vice-versa).

(When I was at the European University in 1991-1992, I was talking about this with another visitor there who teaches in a law school in England, and who was trying to grapple with the latest agitations in feminist theory. She asked me: If girls are so preoccupied with order, why aren't all the judges women? Well, that's where some acquaintance with Freud's emphasis on the ambivalence and polarity of emotional life could be illuminating. I responded, only half-facetiously: If you look at the criminal courts, whom do you see? The judges are boys, by and large, and so are the criminals. That whole game of order and disorder is largely a boys' game. Meanwhile, girls seem to deal with it differently.[4])

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[4] Which does not mean, by the way, that I think girls are necessarily 'nicer' than boys, on the whole. Even at very young ages, for example, girls are generally more effective at being sneaky, manipulative, and backstabbing than boys (which is partially a side-effect of the fact that they have better verbal and interpersonal skills and are more sensitive to the nuances of emotional interactions, about which boys tend to be pretty clumsy); and there is a remarkable amount of psychological cruelty in the processes by which girls form cliques, exclude 'unpopular' girls, and jockey constantly to see who is 'friends' and 'not friends' with whom. (In this connection, Christopher Lasch once wrote a brilliantly devastating review essay about the work of Carol Gilligan and her disciples dealing with adolescent girls, which appeared in the New Republic in 1992 or 1993 with the title "Gilligan's Island"--and I suspect from reviews that it may have been included in the posthumous collection of Lasch's essays, Women and the Common Life.) What I'm saying is that the ways that boys and girls handle aggression and conflict seem to be characteristically different. (And some of these differences seem to persist into adulthood. For example, women are still--in general, with due exceptions and qualifications--characteristically less enthusiastic about wars, violent crimes, and competitive team sports.)
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(And here is a revealing and comical anecdote: One of the first occasions on which Ageliki publicly discussed this subject was a talk at the Ethnography in Education Association convention in Philadelphia back in 1990. The meeting was dominated by education people and other child-serving professional types, and the audience at the talk was about 80% women. When Ageliki had finished laying out the main argument, together with examples of the stories, one of the men in the audience stood up and made the following intervention--without any trace of irony or self-consciousness, as far as Ageliki could tell: He couldn't help noticing that the boys' stories were much more interesting than the girls' stories. How did she explain this? From all the women in the audience, silence. But after the question-and-answer period was over, a number of them came up to Ageliki and said they certainly hoped she didn't agree with him. They thought the girls' stories were much more interesting. So it almost seems, discouragingly enough, that the basic patterns are all fixed by the age of four. We need to figure out what we can do about this....)

=> Of course, dealing with these kinds of issues is extremely touchy and delicate, and talking about them is a little like negotiating a minefield. While "diversity" and "difference" are nowadays Good Things that one is supposed to favor, people often tend to get extraordinarily upset if you actually find any differences (especially in the circles to which Ageliki has to be sensitive).[5]

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[5] Even someone like Barrie Thorne, who has done some really useful and interesting work analyzing the ways in which boys and girls build up and elaborate gender-segregated subcultures on their own initiative, and carefully police the symbolic boundaries between them, devotes a great deal of effort to complicating, muffling, obfuscating, explaining away, and generally backing away from some of the implications of her own findings. The kind of twisting and turning that's going on under the surface of the argument in, e.g., Gender Play (a very nice book) is actually quite fascinating to observe in terms of what it reveals about the ideological tensions involved.
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And one of the reasons for this reaction is that people assume that, if such striking gender differences show up at such a young age, then this must prove that the differences are genetically hard-wired (so they don't want to accept the results, because of what they take to be their implications--while other people do want to accept them, for similar reasons). But, in fact, the inference is unwarranted.

What these patterns signify to me is that socialization starts very early, and in some ways goes very deep--all of which would be less mysterious to people if the insights of Freud, and of psychoanalysis more generally, hadn't been so thoroughly repressed in the last few decades. Actually, a lot has happened by the time children reach the age of four.[6]

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[6] Of course, given what we know from the best ethological writing on our closest primate relatives (by people like Jane Goodall or Frans de Waal, for example), it would be remarkable if there weren't some genetic element in the mix that produces gender-linked tendencies in temperament and inclination. But I remain convinced that we are fundamentally social and cultural animals to a degree that makes us qualitatively different even from chimpanzees and bonobos.
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=> If the "Gender Differences" piece had been directed at a different audience, we would have raised some of these larger issues more fully and explicitly, and done more than gesture vaguely at the extensive body of work that addresses them. But, under the circumstances, Freud--and Durkheim and Geertz, etc.--had to be smuggled in largely implicitly and administered in small and manageable doses; and, as it is, we may have strained our audience's ingestive capacity.[7] Ageliki will have to carry this further.

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[7] Durkheim got his due, to some degree, in our article on "Individual and Collective Representations," of which he was the theoretical hero (though the thinker who got the most extensive discussion there was actually Piaget).
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=> I've also enclosed a more recent article that Ageliki did with one of her graduate students, Liz Richner: "The Narrative Construction of Differing Conceptions of the Person in the Development of Young Children's Social Understanding." The analysis there builds on her previous work, including "Gender Differences," but it also accomplishes some genuinely new and interesting things--not least by going deeper into young children's gendered conceptions of the self or person than she was able to do before and, in particular, by starting to delineate their developmental pathways systematically. In its own way, this article is intended as a contribution to the project of developing a "morphology of persons" that Jerome Bruner called for in Acts of Meaning; and it pursues this enterprise through an interpretive and socio¬cultural analysis of young children's narrative construction of reality and identity. Actually, I think this is quite an important and pathbreaking piece.

**********

This letter has gotten more than long enough, so I'll leave it at that. I do expect that you will find these pieces interesting and intellectually sympathetic. For a start, as I said, have a look at "Gender Differences." Take my word for it: Once you get into it, it will be hard to stop reading. And if it doesn't make you laugh at least once, I'll be surprised.

Best of luck in your life & work,
Jeff Weintraub

2010 election campaigns flooded by right-wing money from corporations

These floodgates were opened by the recent Supreme Court decision that allowed unlimited political spending by corporations—a ruling that may prove to have been one of the most important and consequential expressions of the increasingly assertive right-wing judicial activism of the past few decades. The massive infusions of campaign money that have resulted, often from disguised or anonymous sources, have gotten some attention, but not nearly enough. This is a potentially quite significant and definitely troubling development.

As an article in yesterday's Washington Post (see below) sums things up:
Interest groups are spending five times as much on the 2010 congressional elections as they did on the last midterms, and they are more secretive than ever about where that money is coming from.

The $80 million spent so far by groups outside the Democratic and Republican parties dwarfs the $16 million spent at this point for the 2006 midterms. In that election, the vast majority of money - more than 90 percent - was disclosed along with donors' identities. This year, that figure has fallen to less than half of the total, according to data analyzed by The Washington Post.

The trends amount to a spending frenzy conducted largely in the shadows.

The bulk of the money is being spent by conservatives, who have swamped their Democratic-aligned competition by 7 to 1 in recent weeks. The wave of spending is made possible in part by a series of Supreme Court rulings unleashing the ability of corporations and interest groups to spend money on politics. Conservative operatives also say they are riding the support of donors upset with Democratic policies they perceive as anti-business. [....]
In addition to corporate funding, which obviously has the potential to swamp other sources of campaign spending, some of this money no doubt comes from individual plutocrats as well. But the point is that the origins of this money are becoming increasingly opaque. Mandating disclosure and transparency about these sources of campaign funding might help provide at least some minimal degree of accountability, but so far Congressional Republicans have managed to block all efforts along those lines. And if the Republicans manage to gain control of one or both branches of Congress in November—or even if the midterm elections result in razor-thin Democratic majorities—the chances of achieving such reforms will almost certainly be nil. So this whole process could turn out to be self-reinforcing.

Meanwhile, here's one example of how it works this time around:
One of the biggest spenders nationwide is a little-known Iowa group called the American Future Fund, which has spent $7 million on behalf of Republicans in more than two dozen House and Senate races. Donors for the group's ad campaign have not been disclosed in records the group has filed with the Federal Election Commission.

The group recently entered a previously sleepy race in its home state of Iowa, announcing that it would devote up to $800,000 to campaign against Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley of Waterloo. The campaign kicked off with a commercial alleging that Braley "supports building a mosque at Ground Zero." Braley denies supporting construction of the proposed Islamic cultural center near the World Trade Center site, saying it's a zoning issue for New Yorkers to decide.

The ad, part of a nationwide campaign of similar mosque-themed spots, is the brainchild of Larry McCarthy, a media strategist who gained renown for creating the racially tinged "Willie Horton" commercials against Democratic presidential candidate Michael S. Dukakis in 1988.

"Folks across America should be worried about these anonymous groups that go into an election and try to buy a favorable result," said Braley spokeswoman Caitlin Legacki. "People have no idea where the money came from. It's difficult to take recourse." [....]

Ben Lange, Braley's GOP challenger, denies any connection to the American Future Fund's attacks. "We have no interaction with this group," said Cody Brown, spokesman for Lange. "We're not so much concerned with what these outside groups are doing. We want to have an honest, focused debate on the issues."
Sure.

—Jeff Weintraub

==============================
Washington Post
Monday, October 4, 2010
Interest-group spending for midterm up fivefold from 2006;
many sources secret

By T.W. Farnam and Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writers

Interest groups are spending five times as much on the 2010 congressional elections as they did on the last midterms, and they are more secretive than ever about where that money is coming from.

The $80 million spent so far by groups outside the Democratic and Republican parties dwarfs the $16 million spent at this point for the 2006 midterms. In that election, the vast majority of money - more than 90 percent - was disclosed along with donors' identities. This year, that figure has fallen to less than half of the total, according to data analyzed by The Washington Post.

The trends amount to a spending frenzy conducted largely in the shadows.

The bulk of the money is being spent by conservatives, who have swamped their Democratic-aligned competition by 7 to 1 in recent weeks. The wave of spending is made possible in part by a series of Supreme Court rulings unleashing the ability of corporations and interest groups to spend money on politics. Conservative operatives also say they are riding the support of donors upset with Democratic policies they perceive as anti-business.

"The outside group spending is primarily being driven by the political climate," said Anthony Corrado, a professor of government at Colby College who studies campaign finance. "Organized groups are looking at great opportunity, and therefore there's great interest to spend money to influence the election. You've got the possibility of a change in the control of Congress."

The increase in conservative spending has come both from established groups and from groups only a few months old. On the left, major labor groups such as the Service Employees International Union have also ratcheted up their expenditures compared with 2006 but are unable to keep up with groups on the right.

One of the biggest spenders nationwide is a little-known Iowa group called the American Future Fund, which has spent $7 million on behalf of Republicans in more than two dozen House and Senate races. Donors for the group's ad campaign have not been disclosed in records the group has filed with the Federal Election Commission.

The group recently entered a previously sleepy race in its home state of Iowa, announcing that it would devote up to $800,000 to campaign against Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley of Waterloo. The campaign kicked off with a commercial alleging that Braley "supports building a mosque at Ground Zero." Braley denies supporting construction of the proposed Islamic cultural center near the World Trade Center site, saying it's a zoning issue for New Yorkers to decide.

The ad, part of a nationwide campaign of similar mosque-themed spots, is the brainchild of Larry McCarthy, a media strategist who gained renown for creating the racially tinged "Willie Horton" commercials against Democratic presidential candidate Michael S. Dukakis in 1988.

"Folks across America should be worried about these anonymous groups that go into an election and try to buy a favorable result," said Braley spokeswoman Caitlin Legacki. "People have no idea where the money came from. It's difficult to take recourse."

Interest groups spending large amounts on the election are prohibited by law from talking to candidates about their strategy.

Ben Lange, Braley's GOP challenger, denies any connection to the American Future Fund's attacks. "We have no interaction with this group," said Cody Brown, spokesman for Lange. "We're not so much concerned with what these outside groups are doing. We want to have an honest, focused debate on the issues."

Fund officials could not be reached to comment.

Flexibility for the GOP

Heightened spending by outside groups has given the Republican Party flexibility in choosing which races to focus on. In West Virginia, the GOP recently spent $1.2 million backing businessman John Raese for the Senate seat long held by Robert C. Byrd, who died in June. The contest had been considered safe for the Democrats, whose candidate, Joe Manchin III, is the state's governor. But Manchin's poll numbers have recently slipped.

While the interest-group money has primarily helped Republicans, Democrats have proved better at raising money for the party itself and for individual candidates. Those donations must, by law, come from individuals and are limited in size. Much of the interest-group spending, by contrast, has been based on large contributions from well-heeled donors and corporations.

The Supreme Court cleared the way for unlimited spending by corporations, unions and other interest groups on election ads in its 5 to 4 decision this year in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Many interest groups are organized as nonprofits, which are not required to disclose their financial backing, helping fuel the increase in secret donors.

The Post analyzed spending numbers that groups are required to report to the FEC, including spending on broadcast ads mentioning a candidate's name within 30 days of a primary and 60 days of the general election. Some expenditures - and donors - are not revealed. Many groups, for example, avoid reporting what they spend on attacks by making a subtle distinction, saying their message is focused on candidates' positions on issues instead of the election itself.

One reason Democrats have benefited less from interest-group spending may be the party's - and President Obama's - message against the role of moneyed interests in Washington. And in his 2008 campaign, Obama discouraged such independent interest groups on the left from forming.

Some Democratic groups have lowered their spending on election ads. The Internet-based advocacy group MoveOn.org will spend roughly the same amount it did in the 2006 midterms, said Executive Director Justin Ruben, but will concentrate on organizing supporters instead of trying to compete on the airwaves.

"We can't possibly match this spending dollar for dollar," Ruben said. "Turnout is big in a midterm, and the best way to affect turnout is person-to-person contact. These groups have a few millionaires, but they can't talk to that many people."

Organized as nonprofits

Conservative groups such as Americans for Job Security and Crossroads GPS, an arm of the American Crossroads group, co-founded by former George W. Bush administration adviser Karl Rove, are organized as nonprofits and don't have to disclose who is giving them money. Some liberal groups, such as the League of Conservation Voters, an environmental group, are also nonprofits but raise money on a much smaller scale.

One major player this year is the 60 Plus Association, an Alexandria-based group that bills itself as the conservative alternative to the AARP seniors group. In 2008, the group reported less than $2 million in revenue, most of it from direct-mail contributions.

This year the group has spent $7 million on election-related ads, according to its FEC reports. It also funded a $9 million campaign against Obama's health-care overhaul in 2009.

The group is somewhat renowned for its take-no-prisoners approach to advertising, alleging in recent spots that multiple Democrats have "betrayed seniors." The journalistic research Web site PolitiFact.com called the ads "highly misleading" in describing the funding outlook for Medicare.

But 60 Plus spokesman Tom Kise defended the ads and said the group's rapidly expanded budget was due to widespread opposition to Democratic policies on issues affecting senior citizens.

"We've never had this kind of threat to seniors before," Kise said. "We are in unprecedented times, which calls for unprecedented measures."

In earlier years, 60 Plus received significant grants from foundations connected to Pfizer and other major drugmakers, according to AARP. Kise declined to provide details about the group's donors but said it is not taking money from the pharmaceutical industry.

farnamt@washpost.com | eggend@washpost.com