Monday, June 23, 2008

The Privatization of Social Securty

Interestingly, the front page of John McCain's primary web site lists a number of issues with brief comments on his position(s) but there is no mention of social security. I was a little surprised by this until I realized that along with Bush's war policy, McCain supports Bush's privatization of social security. Its not good for a rich old man, rich thanks to marrying a rich woman (what is it with guys like Lyndon Johnson, John Kerry, and John McCain and rich women?), to be meddle with the AARP.

McCain, as is his way, has waffled in regard to the privatization of social security. He both supports and opposes Bush's privatization of social security, according to statements from McCain published in the Huffington Post. On June 12, McCain said 'I'm not for quote privatizing Social Security, I never have been, I never will be." That, unfortunately, is a lie. He voted for Bush's 2006 privatization bill. And in a March interview by the Wall Street Journal, he said "On Social Security, the Arizona senator says he still backs a system of private retirement accounts that President Bush pushed unsuccessfully, and disowned details of a Social Security proposal on his campaign Web site." So, what is the truth? He backs privatization but he doesn't back it? In the unhappy event that he is elected, we will have to change his title to "Waffler in Chief." I suspect that the real truth, as in anything else to do with the economy, McCain simply knows little and thinks less.

The concept of privatization is a very tricky one. Privatization of, say, the railroads would mean selling them off to private investors of one sort or another. Privatization of social security is not so clearly interpreted linguistically. The problem we face is the words "private" and "personal" occupy almost the same semantic space. "Private" is an adjective and from it we can form the verb "privatize" and this in turn can be turned into the noun "privatization." The on line Merriam dictionary says of the adjective that it "means" "belonging to or concerning an individual person, company, or interest". Note the term "person" in this "definition." (I am snigger quoting here because as I have made clear elsewhere in this blog that dictionaries don't give definitions or meanings but instead give word and phrasal equivalents. "Personal" on the other hand is "defined" as "of, relating to, or affecting a particular person." Private thus has a broader reach than personal. Therein lies the problem.

When I have heard talking of "privatization of social security," most have been people that are sure that they can beat the returns to them of their social security taxes if they could only get their hands on this money. But, of course, neocons like Bush and McCain do not have in mind giving the Average Joe a shot at use of this money as the Average Joe sees fit. Instead, they will give it to some sort of private, as opposed to governmental, investment companies who cannot fail to profit -- they will take a cut of the money no matter what. The reason for this is clear -- the government knows that if it lets you and me invest this money as we see fit, many of us will fail to invest wisely and the government will be faced with bailing us out -- by creating an uber-safety net we might call "Social Security Plus."

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Barack Obama is a White Man

I don't get it. Obama is seen as a Black man. Why not see him as a White man. He is, if I understand his parentage, 50% White and 50% Black. Moreover, he went to Harvard. This constitutes unimpeachable evidence (sort of) that Obama is a White man. Tiger Woods is 50% Black and 50% Thai. How in hell does that make him into a Black man. His father raised him, it seems, to be White in that he taught him a mostly White sport and sent him to mostly White Standford University (the last is a guess). I suspect that Tiger has more White friends than Black ones. I hereby claim him as a White man.

Back when I was a full time faculty remember I looked over a class I was about to teach Sociolinguistics for the first time and remarked that it was too bad there were no African Americans in the class since we would be talking about issues of interest to them. A girl right in front of me said, "What makes you think that there aren't any Blacks in this room?" I took a good look at her essentially White freckled face and her red hair and said, on observing that her hair was "kinky" in the way the hair of Blacks can be and replied, "If you say so." The next class two relatively clear cases of Black students showed up.

Since that "error" on my part, I have observed all manner of athletes on TV whose race I find it impossible to tell. They could be very light skinned "Black" people or White people. Certainly their skin color is often lighter than that of certain so-called "White" people from Europe.

It seems that there has been a "one drop" rule for distinguishing Whites from Blacks in America. Wikipedia puts it this way;
The one-drop rule is an historical colloquial term in the United States that holds that a person with any trace of African ancestry (however small or invisible) cannot be considered white[1] and so, unless the person has an alternative non-white ancestry that he or she can claim, such as Native American, Asian, Arab, Australian aboriginal, the person must be considered black.
This is asinine. One might as well have a one drop rule for making someone White.

When I was an undergraduate at Rice, I wrote a paper on race in which I cited research that showed that if one abstracted away all of the defining characteristics of race -- hair color and consistency (straight, curly, kinky, etc.), lip shape, nose shape, skin color (taking shades seriously), butt size, etc. and valued them equally, we could come up with some pretty wild racial groupings if we were to take any one of them as the single most important criterion.

Should we take blackness of the hair as most important, we would be inclined to put Orientals and Blacks together. Were we to take the straight/kinky hair characteristic as definitive, we would lump together Blacks and certain Semitic peoples. Should we take straightness of hair as definitive, we might lump certain Whites, Orientals, and some or all of Amerindians together into one race. But we didn't do any of these things. The Black-White distinction was picked and in America and elsewhere, the one drop rule was adopted for racial identification. That is sad.

In fact, the Black/White thing is ethnic more than any other thing. On that ground alone, Barack Obama is more White than Black. I have seen him engage in certain sporting activities. He would be on the outer reaches of the Bell Curve for acquired and native athleticism of Black's based on what I have seen. He and his wife seem to be very different in their ethnicity but I surely have missed something. I would need to see him at, say, a family reunion of his wife's family. This is probably going to sound racist but I don't mean it to be. Michelle Obama acts more Black than Barack does and I suspect that at a reunion of her people, we might find him acting more like she does. Who knows? None of us should really care.

A year or so ago, I saw a film of a family reunion that might look a lot like Barack's parent's family reunions might look like -- lots of Blacks and Whites and In Betweens. They seemed to get along quite well with each other. Indeed they seemed to act quite lovingly toward each other. That should be the model for America. We have a chance with Barack Obama to make it so. We Whites should claim him for ourselves.

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Sunday, June 01, 2008

The Language of Time

Once in grad school at Rice, I read Husserl's "Phenomenology of Time Consciousness" in German because it had not been translated and I was interested in Husserl's philosophy and in the concept of time. I don't remember a word. whether German or English, but I have remembered some other things philosophers have side about time. I have been most fond of St. Augustine's claim that
"who denieth the present time hath no
space, because it passeth away in a moment?"
Indeed,time hath so space in that it is infinitely divisible.

Grocho Marx is famous for saying in a movie
"“Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana”"
Thus was a legendary linguistic ambiguity born. I heard the first clause from Noam Chomsky in a lecture who used it as an illustration of syntactic ambiguity. Since some seem to find it difficult to grasp the ambiguity, note that were there such things as "time flies" then perhaps such flies could like an arrow. Why not? Now, the syntactic issue is whether "time" is functioning as an unmodified noun and "flies like an arrow" ascribes a property of time or "time" is modifying the noun "flies." Of course, time would have to bend, which is, if I may be forgiven a digression, may explain why fruit is said to fly like a banana. However it is to ask too much of any comedian to make total sense.

I am drawn to make these not always sensible remarks about time because I was listening on NPR this afternoon (Sunday) in which a man was describing a contest his father had suckered him into as to who could make the best photographs of his dying grandfather. The young man, a teenager, didn't realize that the point of this competition was to get the kid to attend to his grandfather during his last days. Interestingly his buddies, with whom he worked at a restaurant thought that this was very cool and they followed him home each night where they drank beer, helped him lift his grandfather off his soiled sheets so his hideous bedsores would be less painful, and clean him off and sheets changed -- all things one does not often think of young men being willing to do. It ended with someone saying
"its just a matter of time now"
This is a very interesting use of time for it seems somehow to attribute a certain causal efficacy to time.

Indeed, at the point this referred to there was nothing medicine nor nursing care could do for the old man. He was going to die soon. Of course, we also ascribe the opposite causal efficacy to time as when we say that time heals all wounds (except, of course, the ones that kill you.) People mourning the loss of someone to death or a break up of some romantic relationship are invariably told by others that they just need to give themselves some time to recover. Time kills and time heals. Can it do anything else?

I am inclined to think that there is really no such thing as time. Saint Augustine made it quite clear that time can be infinitely divisible. So far as i know, physicists have not discovered any infinitesimally small particles. Perhaps, instead time flows, another time dishonored metaphor/cliche. Amazingly in a press release from the University of Chicago headlined "Scientists zero in on why time flows in one direction" we have not just the "flow" of time, we get the arrow as well." And flowing of all things!
[Sean] Carroll and [Jennifer] Chen's research addresses two ambitious questions: why does time flow in only one direction, and could the big bang have arisen from an energy fluctuation in empty space that conforms to the known laws of physics?

The question about the arrow of time has vexed physicists for a century because "for the most part the fundamental laws of physics don't distinguish between past and future. They're time-symmetric," Carroll said. "
I would suggest that physicists might be less vexed if they quit using metaphors.

The fact is that time per se does not exist. It is simply a means by which we keep track of processes and events. It is no less an instrument of measurement than is a ruler. Now, if physicists are vexed that their formulae can be run forward or backward with respect to time then they need only recognize that what is not reversible are processes and event sequences. If they were, then our dying grandfather could, at least in principle, be deaged with his bed sores going away and his good health recovered. Even if that were made possible, what would stop the man from being an infant and then a fetus and then a spermatozoon and an egg and then a gleam in daddy's eye and ... This way of thinking lies madness. Thinking of time going backward somehow is not a problem since, not existing, who cares whether physicists use a construct that allows for the possibility that once the big bang is spent, the universe might collapse in on itself, and form a very tiny, very heavy mass and blow up again. Of course, if that happened, it would not deexpand in the exact reverse of how it expanded because that would mean processes could be reversed and that is not possible. So, physicists, relax. Your problem is not a time problem. It is a dying problem. I suspect the universe's way of dying is to expand forever until gravity ceases to exist.

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