Friday, February 25, 2005

Two Hours Before An Econ Test...

It's amazing the things one thinks up at 5:25 in the morning after having had an erratic sleep schedule at best. In this case, it's something good about Social Security.

In economics, we discuss something called optimal balance. Every individual can choose a certain balance between interest-gathering money (i.e. bank accounts or bonds, arguably stocks) and liquid assets (cash and such). They typically do so based on their own consumption preferences, concern about the future, and the interest rate that's been set. What right-wingers typically ignore about Social Security is a very basic fact about economics (leave it to connies to miss basics).

Investments are inherently risky. When one gives money to a bank, they loan out that money to someone, and if that person defaults on the loan, your share that was loaned out loses out. Further, we run on something called the required reserve ratio system. Banks don't keep every dollar that you put into their coffers. Let's say the Fed sets required reserve to 20% and I deposit 100 bucks into a bank. They have to keep 20 dollars in the bank, but they not only are willing to loan out 80 dollars (which is the real value of my deposit) but 400 dollars. This is because of something called the money multiplier. Now, where did this money come from? People like Murray Rothbard say nowhere: I disagree with caveats. The money multiplier takes into account that the 80 bucks they loan out from me will percolate around and will be spent multiple places AND will likely contribute to valuable future investment. It is true, however, that banks cannot tolerate what's known as a "bank run", since they don't keep around tons of assets.

It is true that stocks do often generate positive returns. Yet in depressions or even recessions or, heck, even in localized industry problems, one can suffer drastically. This is why smart investors almost never invest in only one company. Ever heard the phrase "diversified portfolio?" A smart person wants to be willing to take some calculated risks, sure, but also have some safe money for a rainy day. It's not entirely dumb to keep money hidden under your mattress or in bonds. I think it's a safe rule to say that, the higher the interest rate, the more risky the investment is. That's why the interest rate is there: As an incentive for you to loan your money.

Now, here's the key fact. Social Security becomes a government-assured aspect of this diverse portfolio. Each generation essentially pays for the next, not a massive sum to be sure, but enough that those people hopefully won't starve. What are the positive benefits? The older generation is willing to retire earlier and have more leisure time; the working class in general feels that there is a general safety net, which boosts their power relative to the upper classes; there are investment benefits in terms of quality of life; etc.

Remember that, just as older generations paid for the infrastructure to insure growth to benefit the younger generation, so too does the younger generation make a contribution to the older generation. Even more importantly, one typically pays into the system proportionally to how much money one makes (though the tax is regressive, the payout is progressive).

What seems so onerous about this? It is a societal investment to give everyone a reasonable expectation of safety and security; literally, "social security". Do I oppose perhaps democratizing Social Security more? Not at all, and I think part of doing that would be to charge progressively as well. Do I think Social Security has become a patronage fund? Absolutely. Do I think that the society should be able to change pay-outs, pay-ins, allowable eligibility ages, whatever? Sure. Those things are all fine. And I wouldn't mind an opt-in for Social Security to be used for government-backed bond-like programs (safe investments, rather than potentially disastrous stock market investments). But it's hardly democratic for a small group of Wall Street investment professionals to ram through a bill even Hastert recognizes is practically suicide, using their superior access to candidates and to the media to distort the perception of and reporting of the issues, and thus causing people to invest into the stock market, making their retirement contingent on them fighting against their class interests (higher wages, better pensions and social services, etc.) I think it's a travesty that someone's life is tied to their success on the market. Hell, I think the market is a travesty, but as long as it's around, there should be something to ameliorate its effects.

I must admit that this is a hard question, because I would like more radical democracy even extending to Social Security, but I think that society owes it to those who cannot work or who are retired to keep them afloat, as a repository of wisdom and as a social justice issue. However, I hardly think that serious democracy is threatened by someone not being able to invest the hardly substantial amount of money that comes from one's paycheck towards Social Security.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Some Statistics to Keep in Mind

(Note: I frequently get questions asking how I'm able to know so much. Simple: I research, research, research. In debate, I learned how to effectively find the things I needed. What I do nowadays is look for an article that I may want to read at some point and save it to my computer for my archives. Then I can, at any time, peruse it. I also keep a text file filled with citations. Most of this is from various Tim Wise articles.)

The very same blacks who presumably take white jobs are two to three times more likely to be unemployed, even when their credentials are equal to their white counterparts.

Whites are more likely than members of any other racial group to get into their first-choice college, while blacks are the least likely to do so.

Even when black students show potential that is equal to or above that of whites, they are 40 percent less likely to be placed in advanced or accelerated classes, according to the head of the College Board. Despite evidence of ability, blacks are 2.5 times more likely to be placed in remedial or low-track classes, where they will typically be taught by the least qualified teachers, be given less challenging material to learn, and receive on average nearly 40 hours less actual instruction annually.

So too is educational inequity fostered by unequal discipline, meted out in a racially disparate manner. Even though black and white rates of school rule infractions are roughly equal, black students are twice as likely as whites to be suspended or expelled. Blacks are half of all students suspended or expelled for weapons violations, even though self-report surveys indicate whites are just as likely to bring weapons to school, and white males are actually twice as likely as black males to do so. Since blacks are more likely to be suspected -- thanks to common stereotypes about violence and delinquency -- they are the ones who get searched and caught, but this hardly means they break the rules more often. [Bear in mind that friends of mine and myself have been pummeled and/or threatened by white crazy skinhead punks for founding an anarchist club. I have never heard of anything remotely as fascist in black communities.]

According to studies by the Applied Research Center, the disproportionate rate of black suspensions is the result of greater punishment given for subjective infractions like "defying authority," or "attitude problems," both of which are perceived as more threatening when coming from black students than whites.

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, there may be as many as 2 million instances of racial housing bias each year, and as many as half of all blacks may face discrimination when trying to rent an apartment or purchase a home.

According to the Boston Federal Reserve Bank, blacks are 56 percent more likely than whites to be rejected for a mortgage loan, even after controlling for 38 factors that could explain higher rejection rates for blacks -- including issues of credit history, collateral, and income. Nationwide, mortgage loan rejection rates for the highest income group of blacks is roughly the same as the rejection rates for the lowest income whites.

Students of color know of the negative stereotypes often held about their group by the general public, usually by the time they are eight or nine years of age.

Since drinking under 21 is illegal, and since one might consider law-breaking indicative of one's character, it is also instructive to examine the degree to which whites and blacks illegally consume alcohol. According to federal data, whites are 70 percent more likely than blacks to drink underage, more than twice as likely to binge drink underage, and four times as likely to binge drink regularly. In fact, while 23 percent of whites between the ages of 12-20 occasionally binge drink, only 19 percent of blacks that age ever consume alcohol, let alone five or more drinks at once. In other words, whites are more likely to binge drink underage than blacks are to drink underage at all. Whereas 1 in 12 whites between 12 and 20 years of age is a heavy drinker who consumes five or more drinks at a time at least five times per month, only one in 50 black youth fit this description. Among college students in 2001, whites were 2.3 times more likely than blacks to binge drink and as of 1999 they were four times more likely to do so regularly....A... study from Harvard found that schools with higher percentages of students of color tend to have less binge drinking, and those that are overwhelmingly white tend to have the most serious problems with alcohol abuse. Apparently, despite higher test scores and so-called “merit” whites on these campuses lack that self-discipline so central to the definition of character.

Black youths get “tagged” (68% of those who are considered in the “criminal justice system”), which means they are “arrested on suspicion”. They get fingerprinted and sent home because they were doing no crime, but now they are involved with the "criminal justice system".

Because schools are funded on property tax, there is a 1,000 to 5,000 dollar per pupil per year difference between black and white schools.*Data from the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act demonstrates that while blacks and whites with excellent credit appear to be treated roughly equally, there is a substantial gap between the way whites and blacks with bad credit or questionable credit are treated. As the Wall Street Journal has reported, nearly 70 percent of whites with poor credit are still able to receive a mortgage loan, compared to only 16 percent of blacks with equally poor credit.

Researchers estimate that if affordability and personal choice were the only factorsdetermining where people lived, there would be no all-white or all-black neighborhoods in any major city in the United States. Not one. But of course, there are several of each. While only 10 percent of blacks say they prefer to live in all or nearly-all black neighborhoods, roughly three-fourths of African Americans actually live in such places, not because of choice so much as unequal access to housing markets.According to several studies, blacks generally prefer well-mixed, integrated neighborhoods. It is whites, who by preferring no more than 10-15 percent people of color in their communities, effectively block such an arrangement from coming about. After all, if “too many” blacks or Latinos move in, whites begin to sell en masse, which means a net outflow of capital and thus falling property values, which results in more low-income persons gaining access to the area, and the eventual “tipping” of the neighborhood from mostly white to mostly of color, and poor. It is, in many ways, an ever-expanding, but nonetheless vicious circle of de facto race and class segregation.

Specifically, even after controlling for neighborhood demographics and actual crime rate differences, blacks and Latinos there are twice as likely to be stopped and searched by police as would be expected by random chance. And this profiling continues, despite the fact that those black and brown folks who get harassed are actually less likely to be found with drugs, guns, or other contraband than the whites who face such treatment far less often.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 6.4% of whites and 6.4% of blacks, age twelve and older, are current drug users; so, too, for 5.3% of Latinos that age. This translates into approximately 10.7 million whites, 1.9 million blacks, and 1.3 million Latinos who have used drugs in the past month. Whites are 76% of current users, while blacks are 13.5% and Latino/as are 9.2% of current drug users. Combined, these people of color comprise less than 23% of all drug users, but over the past several years, have come to represent 90% of all persons sent to jail or prison for a drug possession charge....In 2000, there were a little more than one million arrests for drugs in the United States. Most of these arrests resulted in state of [sic] local drug charges, although there were also about 33,000 federal drug arrests. While the federal arrests were almost all for distribution and manufacture, the state and local level cases were overwhelmingly for mere possession. Indeed, roughly 75% of all drug arrests annually are possession arrests. This means that in 2000, there were essentially 750,000 arrests for possession alone. Of the total, thirty-five percent of those arrested (roughly 350,000) were African American. If seventy-five percent of these were for possession, this means that approximately 263,000 blacks were arrested in 2000 for possession alone; this, despite being less than 14% of users (and thus, possessors of narcotics at any given moment). In that same year, data tells us that whites were a little over 64% of all persons arrested for drugs. But there's a problem: namely, those the government classifies as "Hispanic" are rolled in with the white folks. Furthermore, given what we know from federal drug arrest data (where Hispanics arrested are looked at separately), the percentage of Latinos arrested for drugs is well above their share of the racially-"white" population, and well above their share of actual drug offenders. Even if we assume that Latinos are only arrested for drugs at a rate that is double their share of the population (a conservative guess given federal data where they comprise nearly half of all arrests), this would mean that at roughly eleven percent of the 12-and-over "white" population, Latino "whites" would represent at least twenty-two percent of drug arrests: roughly 220,000. Of these, at least three-quarters (or 165,000) would be for possession alone.This would leave approximately 447,000 drug arrests of non-Hispanic whites, or 43% of the total arrests for drugs in 2000. Of these, 335,000 or so would be for possession alone. In other words, the group that comprises 76% of all drug users would represent well under half of all possession arrests.If we assume that the various law enforcement agencies have the resources to arrest 750,000 people each year for drug possession, calculating the privilege of being a white user isn't very difficult. If enforcement followed relative rates of violation, more than three-quarters of those busted would be white. That would mean 570,000 white folks arrested each year for drug possession, as opposed to the 335,000 currently arrested: a difference of 235,000 whites every year, not being arrested, not getting a record, not being prosecuted, and not facing jail time, irrespective of their actions. By the same token, there would be only a little more than 100,000 blacks busted for possession each year: a number that is less than four-tenths as large as the 263,000 African Americans actually getting popped for possession. For Latinos, enforcement based on rates of violation would bring less than 70,000 possession arrests annually, as opposed to the low-ball estimate of 165,000 for 2000.

Evidence suggests that blacks are only 16% of persons who sell drugs, while whites (including Hispanics) are 82%. Even if we make the absurdly high estimation that half of that white total is ethnically Hispanic, this would still mean that around four in ten dealers are Caucasian. Yet, at the federal level, where most of the distribution arrests are made, only one-fourth of those busted are white. Over the course of the last decade, that would mean that tens of thousands of whites who sold drugs escaped notice, arrest and long-term confinement.

[B]lack college graduation rates are identical to white rates once family economic status is controlled for. In other words, if blacks tend to graduate at a lower rate than their white counterparts, this has nothing to do with ability, as measured by test scores, but rather is a function of their family's economic ability to pay for college, among other non-merit factors.

Blacks in the juvenile justice system are 48 times more likely to be incarcerated than whites even with the same priors.

According to the most conservative studies, only 5% of people believe blacks are biologically inferior, yet that is still inexcusable because it translates to 10+ million people. That group of racists is twice the number of illegal immigrants, three times the number of black moms with single children, five times the “hardcore” underclass, 40% more than the number of people who will commit a violent crime, and 1000 times more than those drunk drivers in a fatal crash.Yet cultural racism is now more common, with 30-70% believing that blacks are more lazy, aggressive, and less determined to succeed.

And white dependence on people of color continues to this day. Each year, African Americans spend over $500 billion with white-owned companies: money that goes mostly into the pockets of the white owners, white employees, white stockholders, and white communities in which they live. And yet we say black people need us? We think they are the dependent ones, relying as we assume they do on the paltry scraps of an eviscerated welfare state? Now let's just cut the crap. Who would be hurt more: black folks if all welfare programs were shut down tomorrow, or white folks, if blacks decided they were through transferring half-a-trillion dollars each year to white people and were going to keep their money in their own communities?

Or what about the ongoing dependence of white businesses on the exploitation of black labor? Each year, according to estimates from the Urban Institute, over $120 billion in wages are lost to African Americans thanks to discrimination in the labor market. That's money that doesn't end up in the hands of the folks who earned it, but rather remains in the bank accounts of owners. That my friends, is dependence.

In workshops I have asked white folks and people of color what they like about being black, white, or whatever they in fact may be. For African-Americans the answers always have to do with the pride they feel, coming from families who have struggled against the odds, fought injustice, persevered, and maintained dignity in the face of great obstacles. In other words, to be black has internal meaning, derived from the positive actions and experiences of black people themselves. Variations on the same theme tend to be expressed by Latinos, Asians and Indigenous peoples as well.But for whites, if they come up with anything at all, it is typically something about how nice it is not to have to worry about being racially profiled by police, or how nice it is not to be presumed less competent by employers, or discriminated against when applying for a loan, or looking for a home. In other words, for whites, our self-definition is wrapped up entirely in terms of what and who we aren't. What it means to be white is merely to not be "the other." And for that to have any meaning whatsoever there first must be an "other" against which to contrast oneself.And that is the most significant dependence of all.

Of course, I hardly expect the facts to matter much, as an awful lot of white folks seem impervious to them. When it comes to racial realities, the levels of ignorance are so ingrained as to be almost laughable. Perhaps that's why 12 percent of whites actually say blacks are a majority of the nation's population, and why most whites believe blacks are a third of the nation's population, instead of the thirteen percent they actually represent. We seem to see black people everywhere, and apparently we see them doing quite well.

[From Greg Palast] In the 2000 presidential election, 1.9 million Americans cast ballots that no one counted. "Spoiled votes" is the technical term. The pile of ballots left to rot has a distinctly dark hue: About 1 million of them -- half of the rejected ballots -- were cast by African Americans although black voters make up only 12 percent of the electorate... And once again, the history of computer-voting glitches has a decidedly racial bias. Florida's Broward County grandly shifted to touch-screen voting in 2002. In white precincts, all seemed to go well. In black precincts, hundreds of African Americans showed up at polls with machines down and votes that simply disappeared. How can we fix it? First, let's shed the convenient excuses for vote spoilage, such as a lack of voter education. One television network stated as fact that Florida's black voters, newly registered and lacking education, had difficulty with their ballots. In other words, blacks are too dumb to vote. This convenient racist excuse is dead wrong. After that disaster in Gadsden, Fla., public outcry forced the government to change that black county's procedures to match that of white counties. The result: near zero spoilage in the 2002 election. Ballot design, machines and procedure, says statistician Klinkner, control spoilage. ... Going digital won't fix the problem. Canada and Sweden vote on paper ballots with little spoilage and without suspicious counts.

So too in Nashville, Tennessee -- my hometown, and the site of at least a half dozen scandals and questionable incidents involving police in recent years. First there were allegations that white officers physically assaulted Latinos: allegations still being investigated by the Justice Department. Then another officer was found to be moonlighting as owner of an adult club for swingers. This was followed by an officer who sexually assaulted a woman who had called him for help. Then there was the cop with a record of domestic violence. Then there were multiple shootings of blacks, including at least one in the back of the head. And to cap it all off: the decision by police not to shoot a white officer, even though that officer had shot at them, and held a neighborhood hostage as he tried to get to his ex-girlfriend.

The heart of the story -- that police are operating under threat of death -- seemed blatantly calculated to swing public support back towards the police, by typifying officers as brave warriors going to battle against a dark (pun intended) enemy force. The fact that less than 20 officers in the entire nation are killed by black people annually, (let alone black gang members), and that this is less than the combined total of cops who die from accidental falls, drowning and while directing traffic, hardly seems to matter.

Three of four persons killed by gang members are gang members themselves, and even these inter-gang killings are becoming increasingly rare. In fact, gang-related murder is down by over half since the early 1990's. Gang killings -- let alone the drive-by shootings that suburban whites often think are a daily occurrence in inner cities--represent about 4% of all homicides in the country, and come to just over 600 murders annually. This is 600 too many to be sure, but indicates that only a miniscule percentage of the 800,000 or so gang members in the nation will kill anyone this year.

Police are even famous for overestimating the involvement of people of color and underestimating the involvement of whites in gang activity, despite self-report surveys that show a much more balanced racial picture. Whereas police estimate gang membership at roughly half Hispanic and a third black, and only 13 percent white, studies that rely on what gang members actually say about their affiliations find that the white share of members is nearly 30 percent of the total -- very close to the black percentage. And note, that doesn't include whites who belong to racist organizations or skinhead groups, none of which are considered "gangs" for the purpose of these studies.

Maybe I'm being unfair. Maybe the Nashville police do have evidence of an impending gang takeover of drugs in public housing, and the planned capping of officers. But I doubt it. This is the same police department, after all, that last January called a colleague of mine to inform him that according to their internal "intelligence," I had been "distributing Black Panther literature" around Vanderbilt University.Now while I relish the image of myself (all 5'9" of me) stylin' in a full-length black leather jacket and black beret handing out "Free Huey Newton" posters at the campus Starbucks, I have to disappoint and note that the boys in blue had it wrong. I had indeed been at Vanderbilt to give a talk about racism in the justice system. And in that speech I mentioned the historical use of police to disrupt black activist organizations, and the assassination of around 30 Panthers in the '60's and '70's by local law enforcement. How that got transmogrified into distributing copies of the Party's 10-Point Plan is beyond me. But then again, police intelligence is increasingly a contradiction in terms.

Last week, 13-year police veteran, Sgt. Mark Nelson, distraught over being dumped by the female officer he'd been dating, went to the apartment of her new boyfriend (also a cop), while both were inside. He attempted to gain entry, fired bullets randomly into the air, and when police arrived, proceeded to shoot at three officers and put bullet holes in their vehicles. He then threatened to shoot down a news helicopter, and held an entire neighborhood essentially hostage for four hours: all down the road from an elementary school that was letting out for the day.Now imagine that this overwrought, bullet-spraying individual had been a civilian -- especially a young black man. How long do you think it would have taken for police on the scene to drop him in a hail of bullets? In a nation where black men are shot dozens of times for brandishing wallets and cell phones, it doesn't take a genius to guess that the time needed to "resolve" the situation would have been well short of 240 minutes.But in Nelson's case, his fellow officers insisted that he posed "no real threat" to them or the general public. After calm and rational negotiation, he laid down his weapon and was taken into custody.Apparently, who constitutes a "real threat" is in the none-too-objective eye of the beholder. Unlike the black officer who was beaten senseless a few years ago by white Nashville cops who didn't recognize him as "one of their own," Nelson was immediately considered family. Never mind that he pointed and discharged his weapon at his brothers in blue -- Mark Nelson was a friend, a colleague, and white. So the danger that would likely have been assumed had he been dark and a civilian was dismissed. He was cut slack.

One [e-mail in response to an article] in particular stood out: an email from a member of the SWAT team at Columbine, who admitted that the reason they hadn't acted quicker was precisely because the commanding officers had no idea how to respond to a situation in a upscale white community. These were folks with nice cars, nice homes, money and white skin. The uncertainty in this case cost precious time and has been the source of much criticism from parents of Columbine students.The irony is that it is precisely the parents and their communities' sheltered, privileged existence that created the delay in the first place. If this had been an inner-city school in Denver, the SWAT team would have moved with a quickness. But to do so in Littleton, and risk a catastrophe that would then result in a lawsuit was unacceptable. In other words, racial and class privileges not only failed to protect the kids at Columbine -- in the end, they may have put them at greater risk.

Sometimes, folks don't even bother hiding their racism. Take Keith Fangman, President of the Cincinnati Fraternal Order of Police (FOP). In the wake of this past week's uprising to protest the killing of Tim Thomas and 14 other black men by his colleagues since 1995, Fangman said:"If we give one inch to these terrorists in the form of negotiations, then we've got no one to blame but ourselves when we turn into another Detroit or Washington DC."Now, he could have said that negotiating with the "rioters" would turn Cincinnati into another Boulder, Colorado, or Carbondale, Illinois, or East Lansing, Michigan, or Eugene, Oregon, or State College, Pennsylvania, or Storrs, Connecticut, or Pullman, Washington or Tucson, Arizona -- all sites of major riots by drunken white college students in recent years. But he didn't. He picked Detroit and DC -- two places that haven't had any riots lately, but which both have a lot of black people. And that, after all, was his point.

And as for the "criminals" whose lives have been snuffed by the Cincinnati police, they include not only Tim Thomas -- whose rap sheet was filled with traffic offenses like not wearing a seatbelt (the savage!) -- but also Roger Owensby Jr, who had no criminal record, but whose "attitude" convinced police to arrest him for "disorderly conduct" and apply a deadly chokehold in the process. And then there was Lorenzo Collins, a mentally handicapped and emotionally disturbed young man whose shooting was explained as necessary since he was wielding a solitary brick and threatening to throw it at police -- 15 of them who surrounded him before dropping him in a hail of bullets. Sounds like a fair fight. Or Michael Carpenter, who was shot in the back of the head during a traffic stop. Or Courtney Mathis, a "menace to society" all of 12 years old, who borrowed a relative's car and who was shot to death for trying to flee after being pulled over.

"Notice that we whites don't go riot every time something bad happens to us," comes the mantra from still others, followed by the predictable, "and look at what animals those blacks are -- they burn down their own neighborhood!" True enough, whites don't riot over things like police brutality, mostly because we aren't often the victims of it; but also because we are too busy rioting over other things -- like the outcomes of sporting events or crackdowns on underage drinking. Yep, at over twenty college campuses since 1995, white students have taken to the streets in their own neighborhoods and gone absolutely ape-shit: burning furniture and cars in giant bonfires, hurling bottles and rocks at police, and smashing glass in business windows. Fifteen hundred people at Colorado University, 1500 at Penn State, 500 at the University of New Hampshire, 300 at the University of Oregon and over 10,000 at Michigan State in 1999.And yet, when whites riot (and don't even get me started on Woodstock '99 again), not only do we not call them "terrorists," cops rarely if ever shoot them with rubber bullets or spray them at point-blank range with mace. Although many arrests were made and harsh sentences handed out in the wake of the Michigan State riot two years ago, coverage was still largely sympathetic, with media asking "what made good kids do bad things?" and focusing on the otherwise "straight arrows" who got caught up in the moment. Hell, in that particular riot, white students were caught actually trying to pry a loaded shotgun from a police car (before trying to push the vehicle into the fire) -- an act that surely would result in death number sixteen were a black Cincinnatian to try it, but which, in East Lansing, only prompted a brief volley of tear gas, in order to disperse the crowd.

According to the recent Gallup Survey on "Black-White Relations," seven out of ten whites believe that blacks are treated equally in their communities: an optimism with which only 40 percent of blacks agree. Eight in ten whites say blacks receive equal educational opportunities, and 83 percent say blacks receive equal housing opportunities in their communities. Only a third of whites believe blacks face racial bias from police in their areas.Despite the fact that half of all blacks say they have experienced discrimination in the past 30 days, whites persist in believing that we know their realities better than they do, and that black complaints of racism are the rantings of oversensitive racial hypochondriacs. Blacks, we seem to believe, make mountains out of molehills, for Lord knows we would never make a molehill out of a mountain!Indeed, as far back as 1963, before there was a Civil Rights Act to outlaw even the most blatant racial discrimination, 60 percent of whites said that blacks were treated equally in their communities. In 1962, only 8 years after the Brown decision outlawed segregation in the nation's schools (but well before schools had actually moved to integrate their classrooms), a stunning 84 percent of whites were convinced that blacks had equal educational opportunity. In other words, white denial of the racism problem is nothing new: it was firmly entrenched even when this nation operated under a formal system of apartheid.

According to a recent study by the Russell Sage Foundation, even though blacks search for work longer and often more aggressively than whites, they are between 36-44 percent less likely to be hired for jobs in mostly white suburbs, even when their experience and qualifications are equal to their white counterparts. White males with a high school diploma are just as likely to have a job, and tend to earn just as much as black males with college degrees, and on average, even when age, experience, education and other relevant factors are considered, blacks average at least 10 percent less pay than similar whites.

Black families that apply for loans with $48,000 a year are equally likely to get a home/business loan as a $21,000 white family, not due to credit rating differentials, but because white families get away with loan excuses, not blacks.

Black people with a $48,000+ a year income are less likely to own their own home than whites making $13,000.

A few years ago, sociologist William Julius Wilson, who had long peddled the line that race and racism were of declining significance in the U.S., partially reversed course when he discovered that employers in and around Chicago were openly reluctant to hire people of color because of a collection of negative stereotypes about their work effort, home environment and character: the same kinds of stereotypes that form the backbone of GHETTOPOLY.

A full-time black male worker in 2003 makes less in real dollar terms than similar white men were earning in 1967. Such realities are not merely indicative of the disadvantages faced by blacks, but indeed are evidence of the preferences afforded whites -- a demarcation of privilege that is the necessary flipside of discrimination.

The black middle class, on average, has significantly less net worth, lower assets, lower home ownership rates, and tends to more closely mirror the working class. Oliver and Shapiro's book Black Wealth/White Wealth makes this more than clear.

As for inner city poverty, this is then influenced by housing availability which will not change just because someone finished high school or got married. Intact twoparent black families under the age of 25 still saw their incomes decline from theearly 90's until 1996, and so long as we have a monetary policy that REQUIRES unemployment of around 4% (officially), which really means 8-10% in actual terms when discouraged workers, and temps who want full time work are included (and this number exists: it is called the U7 rate), this means that about 12 million people will be out of work having nothing to do with their work ethic, but rather, because our monetary policy demands it to keep wages down and prevent inflation (a dubious theory but that's a different issue)...since many of these structurally unemployed folks will have dependents, this means that probably double this number are affected directly by the existence of such a monetary policy. This means that a good 20-25 million poor folks are likely poor based mostly on the need to maintain a certain slack in labor markets.

Within each income strata, this wealth gap persists; so among the poorest fifth of income earners, white households have, on average, 421 times the wealth of the poorest black households, because even the poorest 20% of whites have median wealth of roughly $24,000 (mostly home equity), while the poorest blacks have virtually no wealth to speak of at all — about $57 on average. In upper-income brackets, the white-over-black wealth gap is more than 3-to-1. Even whites below the poverty line are more likely to own their own home than blacks with three times more income, thanks to assets passed down from previously preferenced white parents.In the absence of past and present discrimination in housing markets alone, black families would have, on average, about $50,000 more in housing equity than is currently the case, and over the years, the black community as a whole would have received roughly half-a-trillion dollars more in housing assets than it actually has accumulated. Despite all the blustery claims about progress, the fact remains that, in 1865, blacks owned 0.5% of all the wealth in the United States, and, by 1990, still owned only 1% of it.

And I also know that many of the folks who readily hire those undocumenteds are unwilling to hire blacks for the same jobs, and they ADMIT it, as the Sage study, among others has indicated. Even when the blacks have greater experience, qualifications, obviously speak the language better etc...employers who hire undocumented workers do so because they can exploit them more than a domestic "minority" thanks to the fact that the latter knows the law, knows there is a minimum wage, and can't be threatened with deportation.

In... The Source of the River, social scientists Douglas Massey, Camille Charles, Garvey Lundy and Mary Fischer examine longitudinal data for students of different races who were enrolled in selective colleges and universities. Among the issues they explore is the degree to which differential performance among black and white students in college, in terms of grades, could be attributed to blacks or their families placing less value on academic performance than their white and Asian counterparts. After all, this claim has been made by some like McWhorter, Steele and a plethora of white reactionaries who seek to explain the persistent GPA gaps between blacks, in particular, and others in college....[T]he authors of this study found that black students' peers in high school are more likely than white peers to think studying hard and getting good grades are important, and indeed white peers are the least likely to endorse these notions.

In fact, the mere knowledge that negative views about one’s group are prevalent has been shown to adversely impact the academic performance of blacks, by creating the added stress of trying not to confirm the stereotype when one takes a standardized test, for example. The added burden of having to disprove a negative stereotype is enough in many cases to fully explain the scoring gaps between blacks and whites on tests like the SAT, according to groundbreaking research by Claude Steele, chair of the Psychology Department at Stanford who has studied the phenomenon of “stereotype threat” for years and whose research remains unrefuted.

As anyone who has taken the SAT or a similar test remembers, there is an experimental section on the exam -- either an extra verbal or extra math section -- which contains questions that are not counted toward a student’s score. The section exists so as to "pre-test" questions for use on future versions of the test.But as ETS concedes, questions chosen for future use must produce (in the pre-test phase) similar gaps between test-takers as existed in the overall test taken at that time. In other words, questions are rarely if ever selected for future use if students who received lower scores overall answer that particular question correctly as often or more often than those who scored higher overall.The racial implications of such a policy should be clear. Because blacks, Latinos and American Indian students tend to score lower on these exams than whites and Asians, any question in the pre-test phase that these students answer correctly as often as (or more often than) whites and Asians would be virtually guaranteed never to appear on an actual standardized exam!In practice, questions answered correctly by blacks more than whites have been routinely excluded from future use on the SAT. Although questions that whites answer correctly 30 percent more often than blacks are allowed to remain on the test, questions answered correctly even 7 percent more often by blacks than whites have been thrown out.Although the rationale for this practice is not overtly racist -- the testing company, for example, does not intentionally seek to maintain lower scores for blacks -- the thinking has a racist impact.Essentially, the company’s position is that for any question to have "predictive validity" it should be answered correctly or incorrectly in rough proportion to the overall number of correct or incorrect answers given by test-takers. But since the general scores have tended to exhibit a racial gap, such logic results in the virtual guarantee of maintaining that gap, as a function of test development itself.If test questions were made less culturally biased, so that the racial gap shrank or disappeared in the pre-test phase, those questions would likely be thrown out, simply because, being less culturally biased, they failed to replicate the racial gaps produced by the rest of the exam.Interestingly, as testing expert Jay Rosner has demonstrated, the makers of the SAT could reduce the racial gap between whites and blacks while still maintaining the same level of overall test difficulty by choosing questions that, although equally tough, produce less differentiation between white and black test-takers. That instead they maximize these differences by way of the questions they choose, and that reforms of this nature are not being offered by ETS, indicates how unconcerned they truly are about test fairness.

Prevailing Doctrinal Assumptions, Part IV

While I'm on a racial tangent, I'd like to point out a key assumption that underlies many discussions about social science and justice (assumptions akin to the ridiculous notion that freedom and equity are somehow necessarily inversely proportional). This came to mind when I was reading Chomsky's Radical Priorities.I have to give it to conservatives and fascists: they know how to make a catch 22. When they spout garbage about how blacks or Latinos or Native Americans are as a race intrinsically more likely to commit crime or be less intelligent or whatever, they are performing a social science sleight of hand trick. Let's assume, for the sake of discussion, that things like IQ and SAT scores were culturally universal and at all effective indicators of a justly defined intellect or merit (in reality, they fail at ascertaining even the narrow issues they test, and are not good tests even in theory), and that things like race or gender were at all easy-to-define concepts. A good social scientist would still avoid comparing X race and Y indicator of intellect because both concepts are so massive and unwieldy; instead, they would compare some kind of correlation between melanin in the skin and brain development (and even that would not be nearly as useful as one would expect). Of course, the two assumptions are false, so the discussion becomes far worse.But here's the catch-22. For me to argue that their tests are false (say, to say that blacks actually have higher I.Q.s or somesuch) or even to widen the definition of what we're looking for (say, to argue that their study ignores creative intellect as opposed to traditional rational intellect) is to confirm the idea that, were the fascist dude right, blacks would somehow be deserving of inferior treatment. In debate, we relied on "Even if" statements like nothing else, and this is one case where it's the only way out.Even if it was true that blacks or Arabs or Jews were somehow genetically distinct in a way that we may view as negative, it would no more justify oppression or violence inflicted upon them then the fact that some people are not as good at math would justify placing them in concentration camps. Of course, the studies these white trash morons cite are not only false, but are obviously devoid of any empirical content or rational citation. Even when a test or a speaker says something positive or at least neutral (say, "There's no evidence that blacks are less intelligent"), a racialized background can re-interpret evidence until 2+2=5. If Bill Cosby directs his comments at his racialized perspective of black communities, white conservatives can take his comments to mean that whites suddenly get a Get Out of Jail Free card and are perfectly justified when they cross Go and collect two hundred dollars, even though the opposite would be the import of Cosby's comments.This problem also stems from classist assumptions: Namely, that it's appropriate to reward people for innate ability. I don't see why that's at all appropriate from either a good policy or a social justice standpoint. Rewarding me for being more intelligent and thus able to bullshit my way through tests with an A encourages me to have bad study habits, not good ones. It also isn't fair to those kids who are working their asses off to get a good grade. Now, I happen to think the discussion is somewhat moot, because this is not a society ruled by the intelligent. Paris Hilton has quite a bit more potential impact than I may ever have, but I'd be hard pressed to call her smarter. Bill Gates is no Einstein or even Bertrand Russell, yet who has billions of dollars? Whenever MSN or Newsweek writes a ridiculous article about the attitudes of entrepeneurs, what is always showcased is a combination of ruthlessness, calculated apathy and obedience, cynicality, and a willingness to stomp out others. But if I could choose a society where people would be judged by their character (their effort, their generosity, their ethics) and would be apportioned decision-making power as such or a society where people would be judged by innate ability or learned ability, I would choose the former without thinking, on basis of human rights and liberty, equality, solidarity and efficiency, roughly in that order.

North Korea and the Military

Law and Order and Something Awful: a potent combination for inspiration.The front page of Something Awful today has an article by Lowtax (a brilliant comedic genius). It begins with mocking Bill O'Reilly for being completely non-sensical. I once watched good ol' Billy discuss with a professor on the topic of illegal immigration. Bill said, "But I don't like them coming into our country and taking our resources!" "Actually, Bill, they're a net benefit both privately and publicly. I think we need to find a way to accomodate what's here rather than pretending what's happening, and I think you are the type to do it." "But they steal our health care!" Repeat ad nauseum. The man was well versed and impeccably cordial and kind, yet Bill decided to be an "ideologue", to use Bill's own impoverished and inaccurate lexicon. This is one of those rare times when I don't even think Noam Chomsky needs to humiliate this guy - Maddox did it just fine. After Lowtax pwns O'Maniac, he moves on to discuss North Korea. Some classic quotes:"NORTH KOREA SCHEDULE for the week of FEBURARY 20th, 2005:Sunday - Claim to have produced 500 thousand tons of nuclear warheads disguised as clowns statues and comically large horseshoes.Monday - Recant previous claim. Ask for foreign aid money and suggest if they fail to pay, there might be a pretty high chance of clown statues and comically large horseshoes suddenly appearing in the future. Tuesday - Announce plans to manufacture an atomic volcano which ejaculates fiery death onto enemies thousands of miles away.Wednesday - Dub America "the great conspirator to destroy everything we hold dear, a vile rat gnawing away at our chains of freedom, chains made from courage and dedication and beauty and loyalty to the glorious Communist party." Threaten American with nuclear destruction unless they agree to trade more computers and automobiles in exchange for fanciful pieces of paper saying "IOU my heart, love N. Korea."Thursday - Close all diplomatic talks to any non-North Korean countries. If any of foreign representatives get caught hanging around in the country when it closes, refuse to let them out unless they agree to date Kim Jong.Friday - Resume talks with evil foreign nations. Claim to have produced 143 nuclear bombs just last night alone. Reveal to the world that North Korean babies are being born with nuclear bombs in their heads and laser eyes. If anybody asks for proof, present them with a piece of wedding stationary that has the words "THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES UNCLE JACK" scrawled across it in ballpoint pen.Saturday - Send out press release explaining all previous events this week were "just jokes, man" and that everything next week will be "totally for serious this time." Repeat.So what do we do about North Korea? Hell, I don't know, I just write stupid crap for a website that nobody anywhere reads. When screaming schoolyard bullies act up, the teacher often isolates them in a corner, forcing them to reflect upon their actions.""If any of this sounds familiar, well, you can probably credit that to the fact that North Korea has been flaunting their brand of patented lunacy for over two decades now. Much like the shrieking child in a kindergarten class who threatens to beat up anybody that either fails to give him any attention, gives him too much attention, or fails to give him too much attention, North Korea represents the quarrelsome problem child of our planet. Nobody knows if North Korea has the ability to produce nuclear weapons, as their goofy story changes every minute of the day, like a bizarro TV Guide."I do have to say that the diplomatic strategy is far more likely to break down Kim Jong Il's stranglehold on the polity and alter the country. The North Korean insanity is largely due to the fact that a) they have to save face and b) they need a credible deterrent to the US. If the US were to back off, there'd be a drastically more impressive chance that the situation would alter.Then there was a Law and Order episode about peace protesters and the miltiary. This makes me want to quantify my position on the military.The Pentagon isn't a defense institution, it is a subsidy and offense institution. The US may be better off with no army than with the Pentagon. That having been said, the military, while certainly having its own pathologies and violence, are largely constrained by political and economic factors. Often, groundpounders or even generals and officers have very realistic conceptions of the world and are honestly concerned with security, but are responsive only to generals who will become CEOs thanks to revolving doors, Congressmen who are more concerned with re-election than security (and hand the army weapons they can't use), Presidents in hoc to business elites, and corporations. It's a tidy system for everything but the grunts and the American people.My attitude is to take my issues up with management. Just like I won't harass a Wal-Mart employee, I won't harass a soldier. I know a good number of Marines, sailors and soldiers, and they are overwhelmingly intelligent and realistic.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Malcolm X's Assassination Day

Since yesterday was the anniversary of Malcolm X's assassination, I thought I'd discuss white privilege and Islam.White privilege means being able to write the history. We view W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington as being somehow diametrical opposites, when it is neither logically necessary nor factually correct to think that a black movement could only ask for internal reform of the community or external alteration of treatment. We also view Martin Luther King, Jr. as a pacifist reformist and Malcolm X as an extremist black nationalist, yet MLK Jr. demanded radical change (an end to the war in Vietnam, a fundamental change in our class structure) and Malcolm X's career close to the end of his life was very much about the unity of mankind. Even if the voices of others are thrown into the overwhelmingly white myth, they end up seeming so much like token diversity day admissions that they almost backfire; and worse, they seem to imply that the old days had so many black leaders, but now there aren't any, so the problems nowadays must be the black community's fault.White privilege means being viewed as an individual. If Bill O'Reilly spouts racist garbage in daily maniacal diatribes, white liberals are able to distance themselves by saying "But that's not all white people". But if a black man commits a crime or if an Asian succeeds, every white person from California to New York looks for an inherently racialized explanation.White privilege means being able to smugly talk about "progress". Malcolm X said, "Don’t put a dagger in my chest 12 inches, pull it out six inches and tell me that you have made progress." Worse, pulling out that dagger incompletely is likely to cause the wound to violently fester. A white person can confidently say "We've made a lot of progress to confront racism", but for a black person who will continue to never get the same jobs for the same pay and will always be viewed as somehow inherently pathological, progress means little to nothing.White privilege means being able to listen to "Fuck the Police" with the windows rolled down close to a police officer in a nice car and not be pulled over for it, as I have done.White privilege means being able to pretend that one is rational and unemotional when one is discussing matters of race, when in fact one is being callous and idiotic. It means that Bill Cosby's overtly racist rant is given credence and Tim Wise's responses are ignored or viewed as "playing the race card" or being too emotional.It even means that one gets to be looked at as a superstar in debate and sports while getting ripped on pot, Captain Morgan and shrooms (as I am intimately aware of), while an aspiring black student will always be suspected of running drugs. (To give this some context: "White kids are 27 percent more likely than blacks to receive anti-drug information from parents, and 24 percent more likely to receive similar information in school, yet they just can't seem to put down their needles and pipes." "There are more white high school students who have used crystal methamphetamine (the most addictive drug on the streets) than there are black students who smoke cigarettes." [Tim Wise].)If anyone is interested, I can post surprising and staggering statistics at just how much all of us white folks benefit from black oppression in very real economic terms.I'd also like to discuss Islam briefly. Even progressives, like my Mom, seem to think that every Muslim country is a woman-hating fundamentalist hellhole. Yet the majority of practitioners of Islam are in Africa and Indonesia, which, while not being perfect, are nothing like the Middle East. The Muslims I have met have overwhelmingly been loving, moderate, reasonable people, and the worst Muslims I know of aren't even as maniacal as some of the bizarre Christian groups out there. It may be true, as Edward Said seems to imply, that anti-Arab racism is the last acceptable racism and anti-Muslim sentiment is the last acceptable religious discrimination.

Prevailing Doctrinal Assumptions, Part III

I don't like to resurrect old news, but after the Bush-Kerry debates (not to mention Bush-Gore, Clinton-Dole, etc. etc.), the responses of the intellectuals and commentators was interesting. The perception of who won the debate was almost exclusively along partisan lines. It made the debates as worthless as "filing press releases verbally" (to paraphrase Something Awful).How would one judge a debate? One conceivable way to do it would be to put aside one's partisan outlook and evaluate the reasoning offered by both sides, seeing what issues were responded to, what issues were conceded, and who explained their position better. In that sense, I think even a Republican could agree that Kerry-Edwards ran circles around Bush-Cheney. (Admittedly, Cheney was going on easy on Edwards because his intent was to prove he was a good guy, not a good politico). Even the Republican election talking head they interviewed admitted that "not even the best trial lawyer in the country could defend John Kerry's record" (translation: Cheney lost except on the narrow issues of Kerry's personality issues). One would take notes with columns for each constructive or rebuttal. We called it flowing in debate, and it was assumed to be the only way to sensibly adjudicate issues.This may be why, in a world where ballots are actually counted instead of selectively allowed thanks to the patronage games of partisan election officials, Kerry and Edwards won.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Freedom and Equality: The Dichotomy? Shut Up, Ms. Roberts.

You all have undoubtedly heard this in some sophomore English class somewhere in your life: "There is an inherent contradiction between freedom and equality."

That's funny, because I though that monarchies and dictatorships were most often characterized not just by curtailed civil liberties, but by stratified classes of people with very different levels of wealth, power and prestige. If I have 10 times the money you do, don't I have innate capacity to cajole, bribe, intimidate and otherwise attack you using my inordinate wealth?

This theory has virtually zero real intellectual value: Instead, it serves an essential institutional role. It lets teachers split their class into two groups, one favoring freedom and one favoring equity. The former group gets to brag about their civil liberties, the latter gets to brag about attacking racism and sexism and making sure everyone is full and has a roof over their heads. It means that if someone likes freedom, they basically are forced to be libertarian conservatives, and if someone likes equity, then they basically are forced to be welfare state liberals. I think that this single example proves that even the relatively liberal schools (though they are far more conservative than one would expect, as I know from being a student activist) serve to reinforce institutional assumptions that are totally facile but make people into good party hacks.

The application of the theory proves this: It is typically discussed as the reason why the Soviet Union had such little material inequity but was so authoritarian. That's odd, because it posits the Soviet level of equity as some aberration, yet Japan and European nations are incredibly equal compared to the US: it's the Third World kleptocracies we eagerly create and support and the US itself that is odd. Nationalist myths get reinforced here too. While the Soviet Union may have had little material inequity, it was still there, and it was also riddled with racism, sexism, and unequal power and privilege aside from authoritarian treatment of civil rights. But even if it wasn't, one society with little material inequity and authoritarian politics does not prove that those are the two choices we can make, QED.

The problem is made a little more confusing by the fact that there is a kernel of truth: Any time we attack privilege, whether it be political, economic, sexual/gender, or racial/cultural, we are inherently delimiting some's freedom of motion. But the Enlightenment and the liberal tradition saw no contradiction here: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity were three integral and related parts of a good society. Overthrowing a tyrant accomplishes all three goals: it may reduce her and her cadre's power, but it certainly allows everyone else freedom and liberty. That's because the initial state was one where some people had the ability to make decisions that impeded on other's rights and life possibilities and others did not have the ability to make the decisions that affected their own lives. Changing it may have reduced freedom for some, but it certainly raised it for many.

Of course, rights of minorities are as key as rights of majorities, but the same principle applies. If I have unlimited ability to do what I want, you inherently don't, because some of my decisions will affect you virtually by definition. So the question is, how do we make a system where everyone has as much as liberty as possible and yet doesn't impede anyone else's rights? There is a tension there, but it's certainly not a diametrical or dichotomical tension.

Next time you hear this garbage, just ask this question: According to this principle, a society with one monarch with 99% of the wealth and who makes every decision must either be a society founded on equity or one founded on freedom, right?

Monday, February 14, 2005

Dean and Elections

NPR's often called National Petroleum Radio, and some of my posts may indicate why. Here's another good reason. Today, Dean became the Democratic National Committee Chairman. It ain't Kucinich, but it's pretty good. Dean had the support of various progressive groups and bloggers; though I thought he wasn't the best candidate, I must give it to the Dean supporters for barnstorming and continuing to be progressives after the election. I'm unequivocally happy that Dean's now heading the DNC.

NPR isn't so sure. Ostensibly, the Democratic Party needs to reach out to middle of the road voters and not energize its party base. Here's the problems with this assumption:

1) Gore and Kerry, in the real world where every legal vote is counted, actually won (see Greg Palast's work among others). Even if they didn't, there is no question that the votes taken away by vote spoilage and illegal disenfranchisement antics have hurt the Democratic Party's minority base. Further, the party activists are always looking at voting Green or similar. Being able to energize these people back to the Democratic Party is at least as good as reaching out to the middle.

2) Those "middle of the road" voters are actually not middle of the road at all. They are usually single issue voters; say, NRA members who are overwhelmingly Democratic except for gun control. Both parties are bidding for an incredibly small group, but the Republicans have managed to create a rallying cry to get some disenfranchised people to them. Note that, in one of the most closely fought elections ever, 40% of the population didn't bother to show. However, the US has some of the highest rates of political participation... just not voting. The political science work shows that, in all but a minority of cases, the Democrat who goes hard-line liberal or leftist wins and the Democrat who sells out doesn't.


Aside from that, more election coverage, this by Ed Herman.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

My Position on Institutions

I have heard everything about my positions on future societies and on revolution: that I am a utopian dreamer, that my belief begins in and ends in institutions (or alternately that my socialism and anarchism tries to make the perfect man and, according to Rorty, that is what was the problem with the Soviet Union et al - not the explicit totalitarian system, just this particular myth that may or may not have been part of the history). Let me clarify my position.

People are incredibly complex and wondrous organisms. We have an innate human creativity that manifests in the very basic things of life: language, dreams, memory, etc., all of which make us computers of staggering capacity, computers so sufficient that something like what we term "free will" makes up part of our matrix: that is, we are capable (like other animals but even more starkly) to respond to external stimuli in a way that is at least partially original and unique to the situation at hand yet is not randomly generated. I am interested most primarily in what humans want and need, in limiting human suffering and pain and enhancing human fulfillment and pleasure, in creating a world where as few external barriers to spiritual progress are present. (Note that this above comment is simple scientific fact: Scientists know virtually nothing about people and their behavior and can scarcely predict the operation of worms, let alone people with billions of neurons).

People build institutions. People design and compose institutions. Therefore, institutions are malleable and can be changed by human hands. Insitutions, for the sake of discussion, are structures wherein people are put into recurrent roles in relation to each other. There are institutions of fluid power, such as racism and sexism; there are institutions of solid power, such as the state and corporations. Institutions include all of the above plus church groups, the Army, volunteer fire departments, food coops, the manor of a feudal lord, etc.

Institutions inherently delimit roles, order information, alter perceptions, assign privilege and incentives as well as punishment and disincentives. This is all fine and well. For example: A fire department has some people who are using the hose and others who are going into the building; a fire department will dispense information about burning houses that may not go to non-fire department members; a firewoman will have the perception thereof; and a fire department will reward good team members and punish those who slack off when the fire is burning. There's no necessary path to dominance here.

My point is that, since people want to interact in ways that are fairly stable and make sense (because we are inherently social or tribal animals), and people also want to have dignity and freedom, our institutions should propel the desires we hold dear: solidarity, diversity, liberty, freedom, equity, self-management, compassion, justice, etc. etc. We want our institutions to not only allow but encourage behavior that accomplishes these goals and makes people happy, and offers the necessary information and roles to do so.

To offer an example of institutional change: Slavery in the United States was once considered an acceptable institution that should be allowed and encouraged by the law; the inputs of the economy went into and out of slavery; and being a slave-owner was a sign of power and prestige. Nowadays, slavery is illegal and punished; the inputs of the economy overwhelmingly stay away from slavery (though capitalists do have sweatshops that are pretty much [wo]manned by slaves); and to own slaves is considered a sign of brutality and cruelty.

This does not mean that I support B.F. Skinner-style incentive/disincentive structures. I fundamentally believe that people have free will, dignity, freedom, and are not machines that can be simply tweaked by the conceit of a behavioral scientist. That having been said, I think that people will overwhelmingly choose to go along with incentives/disincentives, information structures, etc. that appeal to their greater interests, even if they may have occasional disagreements... So raising a child in a family is a hard thing, not easily solved by specious "science", but where the institutional structure will overwhelmingly make good, decent folk even if there are still some lingering hatreds and flaws.

The Model Minority Myth: Gone. Part I.

Tim Wise has spent a lot of his time demolishing the Model Minority myth. Here's on of his best pieces that do so. This piece is available here:

"It happened again, for what seems like the millionth time. Once again, in response to something I said about ongoing racism in the United States, someone (a white male, naturally) pulled out the all-too-common conservative race card (oh yes, they have one), which they believe disproves the existence of racial injustice. It sounds a bit like this:
"If racism is such a big deal in America, then why have Asians done so well? Why is Asian income higher than white income? Doesn't this prove that the problem with blacks is simply a lack of effort?"
Offered this challenge most recently by a disgruntled county employee in Minneapolis who resented having to sit through a speech I had given, I rolled my eyes, took a deep breath and considered the irony of the query (ironic because it always comes from whites who insist on their "color-blindness") before issuing my reply.
As I pondered my response, I thought about the Asian women working twelve hours a day in garment sweatshops both abroad and in places like Los Angeles to make clothes for people like this guy's kids; and I wondered, in what sense were they "doing so well?"
I thought about the Vietnamese youth in California who are profiled as potential gang members by police, for wearing the wrong clothes or driving in the "wrong" neighborhoods; and I wondered, in what sense were they "doing so well?"
I thought about the Asian families whose members have to put in 80 hours a week just to keep their heads above water; and I wondered, in what sense were they "doing so well?"
I thought about the Indian, Pakistani or Bangladeshi taxi drivers who endure crappy working conditions, customers who get pissy about their accents or "attitudes," and cops who are responsible for nearly eighty percent of all anti-South Asian attacks-often against hack drivers in places like New York; and I wondered, in what sense were they "doing so well?"
I thought about the demonization of Wen Ho Lee, and of Chinese American political contributors during the Clinton Administration; and the beating death of Vincent Chin; and the persistent refrain that the Japanese are "buying up America;" and I wondered, in what sense were they "doing so well?"
But instead of getting into all of those things, which likely wouldn't have been seen as responsive by my detractor, I offered the following.
First, I noted that the Asian "model minority" myth has long been a staple of white conservative race commentary, though rarely have members of the various Asian communities in the U.S. pushed the notion themselves. The genesis of this argumentation goes back to the 1950's and '60's, when prominent magazines ran articles lauding the "hard-working" Chinese or Japanese, and explicitly contrasting their "success" with the "failure" of African Americans.
Of course, none of these ever editorialized in favor of lifting the immigration restrictions that had kept Asian populations small in the U.S. from the 1880's until 1965, despite their respect for their favored persons of color. Neither they nor any adherent to the model minority image spoke out against internment of "hard-working" Japanese Americans during World War Two, or the killing of hard-working Southeast Asians during the Vietnam War.
Secondly, I explained that comparisons between blacks and Asian Americans overlook a number of differences between them. Whereas the African American population represents a cross-section of background and experience, the APA community is highly self-selected. Voluntary migrants from nations that are not contiguous to their country of destination tend to be those with the skills and money needed to leave their home country in the first place. As many scholars have found, Asian immigrants are largely drawn from an occupational and educational elite in their countries of origin.
Indeed, Asian "success" in the U.S. relative to others is largely due to immigration policies that have favored immigrants with pre-existing skills and education. As the Glass Ceiling Commission discovered in 1995, between two-thirds and three-quarters of the highly-educated APA community in the U.S. already had college degrees or were in college upon their arrival.
Thanks to preferences for educated immigrants, Asian Americans are two-thirds more likely than whites and three times more likely than blacks to have a college degree. More than eight in ten Indian immigrants from 1966-1977 had advanced degrees and training in such areas as science, medicine or as engineers.
Pre-existing educational advantages are implicated in Asian success once here; but they hardly indicate genetic or cultural superiority. After all, to claim superior Asian genes or culture as the reasons for achievement in the U.S. requires one to ignore the rampant poverty and lack of success for persons from the same genetic or cultural backgrounds in their countries of origin. There is no shortage, after all, of desperately poor Asians in the slums of Manila, Calcutta and Hong Kong: testament to the absurdity of cultural superiority claims for Asians as a group.
Indeed, ethnic Koreans in Japan, as well as the Burakumin there-a minority treated similarly to the Dalits in India-consistently underperform economically and educationally, compared to dominant Japanese. They are both the targets of discrimination, and although they are culturally and genetically indistinguishable from other Koreans or Japanese, they are consistently found at the bottom of Japanese society, and do worse than others in Japan, or than Koreans in Korea.
Not only does this debunk the notion of pan-Asian superiority in genes or culture, but it also suggests that a group's caste status influences group outcomes: much as with blacks in the U.S., whose position has been similar to the Burakumin and ethnic Koreans in Japan.
The primary argument put forth by those who push the model minority myth is that APA income in the U.S. is higher than the average for other people of color and even whites. As such, it is suggested, racial discrimination cannot be a significant problem any longer.
But the data that shows Asians doing better in terms of income than whites, is family and/or household data, not per capita income data. This is important because APA households and families tend to have more family members (thus, slightly higher incomes are made to stretch over more persons), and more earners per family (thus, it takes more family members in the workforce in order to earn only slightly more than whites, with fewer income earners).
The average Asian household size, for example, is 3.3 persons, compared to only 2.5 per household for whites. Likewise, Asian American families are more likely than white families to have two income earners, and nearly twice as likely to have three earners. So while Asian household and family income is higher than that for whites, the median income per person is lower for Asians: as much as $2000 less annually.
An additional reason why the average income of Asian families is higher than that of whites is because Asians are concentrated in parts of the country that have higher average incomes and costs of living. The three states with the largest Asian populations and a disproportionate share of the overall Asian population (California, New York and Hawaii), rank 13th, 4th, and 16th in terms of average income: all within the top third of states. Whereas 76% of all Asian Americans live in the higher-income regions of the West and Northeast, only 41% of whites and 28% of blacks are in these regions.
Over half of all APA's in the U.S. live in just five major U.S. cities (Honolulu, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City): all of which have higher than average household incomes, and much higher costs of living than most of the U.S.
According to the Census Bureau, in 1996, median household income was about $35,500. But in states with disproportionate shares of Asians (NY and Hawaii, for example), median household income was $39,000 and $42,000 respectively. This means that APA median income will be skewed upward, relative to the rest of the country, but given cost of living differences, actual disposable income and living standards will be no better and often worse.
More importantly, claims of Asian success obscure the fact that the Asian American child poverty rate is nearly double the white rate, and according to a New York Times report in May of 1996, Southeast Asians as a whole have the highest rates of welfare dependence of any racial or ethnic group in the United States.
Nearly half of all Southeast Asian immigrants and refugees in the U.S. live in poverty, with annual incomes in 1990 of less than $10,000 per year. Amazingly, even those Southeast Asians with college degrees face obstacles. Two-thirds of Lao and Hmong-American college grads live below the poverty level, as do nearly half of Cambodian Americans and over a third of Vietnamese Americans with degrees.
Indeed, Asian "success" rhetoric ignores the persistent barriers to advancement faced by Asians relative to whites. On average, Asian Americans with a college degree earn 11% less than comparable whites; and APA's with only a high school diploma earn, on average, 26% less than their white counterparts.
When Asian American men have qualifications that are comparable to those of white men, they still receive fewer high-ranking positions than those same white men. Asian American male engineers and scientists are twenty percent less likely than white men to move into management positions in their respective companies, despite no differences in ambition or desire for such positions.
Of course, beyond the statistics, there are obvious points to be made. First, if whites truly believe that Asians are culturally superior and add to the quality of schools and workplaces, then why aren't these folks clamoring for a massive increase in immigration from Asian nations? Why not flood the borders, since we could all benefit from a little more Asian genius? Why not have white CEO's step down from their positions and let Japanese managers take their place?
Secondly, the whites who trumpet the model minority concept would be the first to object if Asian Americans began to bump their own white children from college slots, even if they did so by way of higher test scores and "merit" indicators. Just ask yourself what would happen if next year the top 3500 applicants to U.C.-Berkeley, in terms of SAT score and grades, happened to be Asian Americans, especially since there are only 3500 slots in the freshman class.
Would the regents allow the freshman class at the state's flagship school to become 100% Asian? Or for that matter even 80% or 70%? How would white Californians react to such a development, including those who praise hard-working Asian kids for their educational excellence and scholarly achievements?
How would white alums react if their favorite "model minorities" were suddenly seen as taking slots not from black and Latino youth, but from their own white children? To ask the question is to answer it.
And finally, to argue-as supporters of the model minority myth do-that Asians "have made it, so why can't blacks," is to misunderstand the issue of moral and ethical responsibility to correct the harm of wrongful actions.
Even if we accept the notion that groups victimized by racism can "make it" without assistance, affirmative action, or reparations, that would not deny (or indeed speak to in any way) the fact that society has an obligation to compensate the victims of injustice. After all, if my leg is blown off in an industrial accident, it hardly matters that many people with only one leg go on to succeed. The issue of compensatory justice remains, irrespective of what gains one can make without compensation.
I have little reason to believe that any of this made much difference to the individual who chose that day to trumpet Asian success as a way to denigrate African Americans. Given some of his other comments-that African sexual promiscuity was to blame for AIDS on the continent, and that he resented the "fact" that his black son (presumably adopted) has more opportunity in life than his white son (despite the fact that the former is unemployed and the latter in college)-his ability to rationally decipher much of anything seems doubtful.
Nonetheless, challenging the model minority myth is a worthwhile enterprise, especially when one considers how many decent, well-meaning individuals often fall for it.
Those who trumpet "Asian values and culture" (based on stereotypical understandings of both, not unlike the white guys who covet mail-order Asian brides for their anticipated "docility"), do Asians no favors. If anything, they set them up in a way that not only harms the groups against which they are contrasted, but in a way that harms Asians as well.
To be considered a group filled with math and science geniuses and passive, sensual, and willing female companions, not only objectifies Asian Pacific Americans, but results in a special stigma for those in the various Asian groups who aren't good in school, don't know how to fix your computer nor care to do so, or who don't fit the sexist stereotypes that are so comforting to Western male tastes.
The model minority myth, in other words, is a setup: a carrot offered to certain groups so long as they don't get out of line, assert their rights, strike for better wages, or try to determine their own sexuality. And as with all carrots, there is an even bigger stick, ready to throttle those who don't go along with the game.
Ultimately, justice and equity will remain elusive so long as whites feel no compunction about using one group of color against another group of color, in an attempt to make fools of both. "

Friday, February 11, 2005

Noam's Post on Iraqi Elections

Another perspective on Iraqi elections from our good buddy, Noam to the Chomsky.

"In many respects, the elections were successful. The main success, however, is being mentioned only marginally, by a few reporters: the US was compelled to allow them to take place.
That is a real triumph of non-violent resistance, for which Sistani has been the symbol. The US sought in every possible way to avoid elections, but has been compelled to back down, step-by-step. First, it tried to ram through a US-written constitution. That was barred by a Sistani fatwa. Then it tried to impose one or another device (caucuses, etc.) that could be controlled completely. Also blocked by non-violent resistance. It continued until finally the US (and UK, trailing obediently behind) had no recourse but to allow an election—and of course, the doctrinal system went into high gear to present it as a US initiative, once it could no longer be avoided. The US also sought to undermine it as much as possible, e.g., by driving independent media out of the country (notably al-Jazeera, the most important), by ensuring that its own candidates, particularly Allawi, would be the only ones to have access to state resources to reach the public (most candidates had to remain unidentified), etc. But the US-UK couldn’t block the elections, greatly to the distress of Washington and London. The question now is whether they can be compelled to accept the outcome. There’s little doubt, even from the more serious mainstream press as well as from polls and from properly hawkish experts (like Anthony Cordesman) that people voted with the hope that it would end the occupation. Blair announced at once, loud and clear, that the prospect is not even being contemplated, clearly articulating his usual contempt for democracy.
Washington also announced that the US military forces would stay at least into 2007, whatever Iraqis want. The more serious press, like the Wall St Journal, is reporting that the US is attempting to secure some kind of agreement on a “vague promise” to withdraw eventually.
Other issues will be whether the US can pressure the elected officials to keep to the occupation-imposed legal structure to open up the economy to US takeover. The oil minister of the interim (effectively, US-appointed) government has already announced his intention to open up the oil industry to foreign (meaning primarily US) takeover. And so on.
There are sure to be continuing struggles over these matters, and what happens here can have a significant outcome. There will be a major effort to project the required imagery about how the “free” and “sovereign” government wants the US to keep a long-term military presence, to take over a commanding role in the economy, etc. But that’s normal, as in Indochina, Central America, etc. It’s routine, not just in the US, of course.
I don’t think comparisons to 1984 in ES [El Salvador] or 1990 in NIcaragua are very useful. In those cases, the US was eager to have an election in the hope that it would ratify Washington’s resort to violence to undermine any prospect of democracy. This case is different. Whether it will be good for the people of Iraq is, in large measure, up to us."

Top Ten Reasons to Support Affirmative Action

1). If preferences for minorities and the underprivileged are not created, we will not live in a preferenceless society. Even if the history of this country had no present impact, preference is alive and well. Preferences in universities for alumni and sports or competitive stars will naturally privilege, respectively, white families who attended universities before they had yet to completely desegregate, and rich families who have the capacity to buy the best tutors for their children. White men still get 93% of all government contract dollars.
2). 86% of jobs, according to the National Center for Career Statistics, are never advertised. This means, in practice, that the job goes to those with connections to the employers. The history of this country is such that the "old boy's networks" will give these jobs, especially the good jobs, to those with the historical power, with the families that have been affiliated with the good colleges and the big businesses for generations. This is part of the reason why the very same blacks who presumably take white jobs are two to three times more likely to be unemployed, even when their credentials are equal to their white counterparts. Women receive 12% more Ph. D yet get 20% less tenured track positions. When women have the exact same statistics, 80% of executives say that women are kept down in their own companies and are paid less, according to a study conducted by Fortune magazine. Qualified black men with degrees in executive position earn 21% less, even when controlling for all other variables (age, time in workforce, location, etc.). Affirmative action therefore forces companies to open their positions to some kind of competitive market in order to fill the required slots.
3) The OFFCP review that determines compliance with the 1964 Civil Rights Act (the legislation that prevents private or public sector discrimination) is only able to survey 4000 companies, yet even there about three quarters of the company are in patent violation. However, the OFFCP review can only perform the type of spot checks it needs to enforce the Civil Rights Act every 38 years per business. In this sense, affirmative action is an alternative way of enforcing the law that actually exists on the books. The hypocrisy of the neo-cons is again drastically shown: finding a new way to enforce murder or even public decency laws, even if those enforcement mechanisms violated or infringed upon civil rights, would meet with instant approval by these maniacs, yet something to insure that the rich and powerful do not totally run away with the bank is stringently opposed.
4) Individual anti-discrimination suits are incredibly difficult to file. Note that the most recent high-profile case that I can think of (aside from the Wal-Mart debacles), the case against Texaco, was only successful because the executives were caught on tape. This is not the case the majority of the time, and even if the courts were not biased towards the rich due to deep pockets and the way judges are elected, it is incredibly difficult to prove that one refused to hire or decided to fire an employee because of racism. According to a review of Federal Affirmative Action programs in 1995, "Even after passage of the civil rights laws . . . judicial and legislative victories were not enough to overcome long-entrenched discrimination . . . . Formal litigation-related strategies [were] often dependent upon clear "smoking gun" evidence of overt bias or bigotry, whereas prejudice can take on myriad subtle, yet effective forms. Thus, private and public institutions alike too often seemed impervious to the winds of change, remaining all-white or all-male long after court decisions or statutes formally ended discrimination. As a result, both the courts and Republican and Democratic administrations turned to race- and gender-conscious remedies . . . developed after experimentation had shown that other means too often failed to correct the problems."
5) Even mainstream organizations, like the Glass Ceiling Commission, a think tank created by Bob Dole and George HW Bush, said that an "ongoing pattern of injustice" perpetuates a system where 43% of the workforce (white men) are 97% of upper management, 80% of tenured professors, 85% of all private management position, NOT because of qualifications. The GCC also said that affirmative action would need to continue.
6) There is virtually zero basis to reverse racism cases that are taken to the courts. Alfred Bloomrosen looked at the court cases in which affirmative action "reverse racism" cases were litigated (i.e. cases that claimed that a less qualified minority or woman applicant was given the job or the seat in college); 3000 cases were reviewed in the study, in which 100 were won and 6 were true. In all 100 cases, even though 94 had no merit, there was ample compensation. A study published in the Journal of Economic Literature--actually an analysis of over 200 other studies--found that persons who have benefited from affirmative action perform equal to or better than their white contemporaries, indicating that they are meeting whatever standard exists for everyone else. When a University of Texas applicant sued the state of Texas saying that her LSAT scores were higher than several black applicants, she conveniently ignored that 100 white applicants also had inferior LSAT scores. She wouldn't have bothered to take the case if there hadn't been a reverse racism opening because she has no inherent right to get into UoT, yet when a college decides to include as one of their standards for designing their campus a reasonable requirement that the campus be ethnically and culturally diverse, spoiled privileged individuals complain.
7) Whites in this country favored affirmative action programs before the right racialized and politicized the issue, and by now even the Supreme Court has come around to the idea that taking holistically into account the background of a person is acceptable. Northwestern has a policy that I learned when I was there for a summer debate camp, which involves analyzing your transcript not on some ridiculous absolute scale, but based on what was conceivably possible in your area.
8) If we want to encourage a meritocracy (i.e. a society where the "best [wo]man" gets the job, then we need to do exactly what any sensible individual would do. Let's say that you're a talent scout for a sports team. You see two quarterbacks. One is technically deficient but has amazing reserves of speed, precision and skill and is an effective leader; the other is technically sufficient but is at the peak of her/his game and will reach his/her apex fairly quickly. Which one would you take? The latter may lead to more immediate success, but the investment in the former is worthwhile. Simply put: If a black student has to brave inner city violence and the knowledge that gang warfare may be occuring in his very school while he is in class, if he has to take tests while plaster is falling around his ears, if his school does not offer AP classes (and, if it did, it would almost inevitably track him into remedial or lower level classes), if he does as most black students do and avoid drinking and drugs (even though they have far more opportunities to take them than white students), and still manages to get an 1100 on the SAT and a 3.5 GPA, then he is demonstrating intellect, merit and talent that far overrides my 3.8 and 1370 GPA. (This is putting aside the value of the SAT and high school grades in determining college performance, which is essentially nil).
9) The government is a stable organization with debts that do not disappear after some pre-ordained time period. It has debts that outlast the individuals that pay it taxes and compose it. Because government at all levels, local, state and federal, was complicit in the terror and indignity inflicted on blacks for centuries, it has a debt to pay. Private citizens also have an obligation, though for different reasons. People say, "I didn't enslave anybody! I wasn't alive during Jim Crow!" As true as this is, this only proves no direct involvement in the crimes, but complicity and accessory to the crimes still applies. A concrete example: Your grandfather hands you a bike that is covered with blood that is obviously not his. You know for a fact he violently stole it. Is it within your rights to accept it? No, obviously not, because doing so makes you involved with and in fact encouraging of this type of behavior. The same applies here. White males like myself have had privilege precisely because others have not, and as long as this is the case, we are complicit in ways that are almost impossible to describe. One example: Government created the white middle class in the 1950s and 1960s. 35 million white families got underwritten FHA loans and went to the suburbs, while those who were black were denied those loans. The home equity caused by the FHA loans is about $10 trillion. $10 trillion is more than all the outstanding mortgage debt, all the credit card debt, all the savings account assets, all the money in IRA's and 401k retirement plans, all the annual profits for U.S. manufacturers, and our entire merchandise trade deficit combined.
10) This struggle is not about the rights or needs of any one group, whether it be blacks, women, Latina/os, or Asian-Americans. All of these groups are harmed. Asian Americans with college degrees make 11% less than whites with high school diplomas. Latina/os as a community lose 12 billion dollars a year that they would get if their job conditions are fair. Economist Andrew Brimmer estimates that $240 billion is siphoned off of the economy each year because of mistreatment of blacks alone, due to lost productivity stemming from restricted talent, ability and output. Further, this inequity lowers growth rates: Dani Rodrik, a Harvard professor, discovered that a 10% gain in the Gini index of inequity reduces growth rates by 1.2%. No, this struggle is about the dignity and rights of all human beings. And if we are unable to resolve the inequity and injustice in our society, then any President's ringing declarations of civil rights and a crusade for democracy will always ring false in the eyes and ears of the world and of history.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Responses to Critiques of Buddhism

As a Buddhist, I frequently hear arguments against Buddhism as a spirituality that I feel are supported only by a very technical and insincere reading of the arguments. It may help, then, for me to describe my own experiences with Buddhism.My parents were in a Gurdjeffian spiritual school headed by an enigmatic and creepy individual. My Dad was still deeply involved, but my half-Quebecois activist-oriented Mom had had her fill of the group. I grew up in a house where spiritual issues were openly discussed alongside math, politics, and culture. I had always had experience with meditation, but it only came later that I fully saw Buddhism for its beauty. As a child, I would lie up at night thinking of death, of suffering, of love, of feeling and passion. I saw a world of infinite wonder, of flocks of delicate birds in the sky and ancient trees with their memory stretching far beyond any human's. This world of serenity and love was one that kept me going, as I was a very quiet and asocial boy, and I slowly had to develop confidence to use my intellect and my ideas to speak. People who know me now but didn't know me then are amazed that I was once so quiet and introspective, for now I am possibly too loud and talkative.

When I started to read Siddhartha by Herman Hesse and the works of the Dalai Lama, alongside philosophy in a coffee-table book that introduced me to everything from Hegel to Kant to postmodernism (things I would become intimately familiar with in my years of debates, reading Kritiks of language and assumptions virtually every negative round), I began to see something that appealed to me: A combination of rationality and passion, a philosophy so reasonable and common-sense that it evoked the best of David Hume and the Enlightenment to me. Reading the Dalai Lama is much like reading the works of Rousseau or Locke: the logic is allowed to develop in such a quiet and yet inexorable manner. Buddhism is the scientist's religion: It postulates nothing but observations that are practically axiomatic of any understanding whatsoever. With these very few assumptions (the Dalai Lama narrowed it down to one: our ethics should be concerned with confronting suffering), an entire edifice is developed, but it is an edifice that is not canon and is ever-changing. Buddhist monks have a practice where one stands and accentuates points with a decisive hand gesture, where the other sits down and responds. A debater's philosophy! How could I not turn this down.Buddhism to me is about combining passion and rationality. We want to be effective moral agents in a complex world. We see that we suffer, and that we do not want to suffer, and further that our suffering makes us blind to others' experiences and reduces our capacities to function. We then see that we suffer because we attach emotional stigma to particular things. If we are poor, we suffer when we see others' opulence; if we are an angry person, we suffer because we let our rage get the better of ourselves. From this, we see that our emotions are caused by a world which is called "illusion". This is possibly Misunderstanding #1. "Illusion" does not mean that one can wish away gravity, as idiotic postmodernists would hope. It rather means that we are contextual with and yet above the external world; that our emotions are caused by external events, and as long as we do not have that control, we will not be a unified self and we will suffer. The idea, then, is to isolate those things that make us lose control, that make us suffer, and slowly come to terms with them. Through this process of self-discovery simultaneous with discovery of the other, of the universe, and of nothingness (because Buddhism postulates that, as we are inevitably affected by and affect other things, we are not an I unto ourselves but something defined by and defining an external reality), we widen both our rationality and the depth and quality of our emotion. The ultimate realization of this is Nirvana.

Misunderstanding #2 is that Nirvana is a place or is a zombified drugged out state of mind. It is one thing to retreat from samsara; that is what the Buddha emphatically did not do, and what he said was idiotic when he created his Middle Way. It is quite another to rise above but affect samsara and seek to find others and assist them. A bodhisattva is a being of infinite compassion; she is capable of not only projecting her feelings onto others but truly feeling them as they feel it. However, unlike some, she does not get overwhelmed by this onrush of empathy; rather, she revels in it and absorbs it all for the sake of the Other. Infinite compassion thereby implies infinite will. Nirvana means that one is in full command of one's emotions and passions, that the mind is no longer like a wild chariot or a barrel of monkeys but instead like a computer under the control of a single, passionate, feeling, loving human being. At this exalted point, one uses anger if it will accomplish a moral task, or sadness, or love, or whatever is necessary. One does not suffer for the suffering of others; what is the point of increasing the amount of suffering? Rather, one feels that suffering and says, "This is inexcusable and must be stopped. How must I proceed?" Patience, rationality, love, compassion, understanding, humor (because humor is fundamentally about evoking satisfaction from another through understanding of their condition), curiousity and intrigue (because one should be interested in everything so one can understand with and empathize with anybody), solidarity, individuality, serenity, and bliss are all aspects of the Buddha mind. I have achieved this state in an incomplete form in very rare moments, as have many people, and I would like to always feel this way.

Misunderstanding #3 is that Buddhism necessarily implies passive resistance. I will readily concede that it leans that direction, but that is not necessary to it. Zen masters do occasionally use violence. The key point is that one should not hate or blame someone else, but understand their motives completely and be willing to forgive them endlessly. However, forgiveness does not mean passivity. If someone is being violent towards someone else, I would stop them, not out of revenge or anger or punishment, but in order to prevent them from doing further harm and to not attempt to coddle someone else's pathologies. It is one thing to be understanding, but it is another thing to submit to and legitimate someone's cruelties. Instead, one must, with patience and love (perhaps tough love), try to make someone else see the contradiction of what they are doing. It is true that a Buddhist will readily sacrifice themselves rather than harm another: for example, the famous Buddhist monks protesting the Vietnam war. Yet that is a perfect example: It was not pandering to the genteel sensibility of middle America; instead, it was going the extra mile to truly show the oppression and destruction for what it was. Many people remember that sacrifice truly vividly; what it showed was that there was a need so drastic to take a second look that it was worth sacrificing many years of possible productivity.