Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Contradictions On Exposition Round CXI

Some of you may have heard about Kofi Annan and others' comments on Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Now, given the confirmed pictures not to mention the numerous outside observers and other testimonies that there was torture and violence, the response of Jon Stewart on the Daily Show is quite apt (a paraphrase): "Oh, so you only tortured BEFORE? Those pictures of degradation are old news?" This from the same people talking about Saddam's treatment of the Kurds and telling lurid tales of rape rooms.

The contradictions only get more ironic. You see, the response of McClellan and Rumsfeld has to Kofi Annan has been, "They haven't even been to Guantanamo!" And crime scene investigators are sometimes not and George W. Bush was not at the area of the crimes that they speak confidently about. Moreover, the reason why this is not the case is because the US put roadblocks in the way of such investigations, including not allowing UN or other investigators to speak to prisoners. The reason? "They've been trained to lie." Clearly unlike administration officials or CIA agents. Of course, with actual people (not the Arab or terrorist subhumans), the accused have rights and all relevant witnesses must be asked. Since these prisoners presumably would have allegations, and if they are perjuring themselves that must be proven since they have a presumption of innoence, this response indicates nothing but a contempt for human and Constitutional rights. To use a common conservative mantra: Why be scared if you have nothing to hide? (Whatever responses these neo-cons use, such as the possibility of an unfair trial in the literal sense or in the court of public opinion, are wholly fair to throw back at them in the domains they offer the above excuse.)

And, the final point of irony I will note: While these war criminals may mistrust the testimony of these prisoners when it besmirches "America" (read: the reputation, already stained, of the imperial machine), they have no difficulty using such testimony to provide a justification for an illegal and immoral colonialist war.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Socialism: Dream or Institution?

I have been questioning the meaning and value of the word "socialist" and "socialism". There are roughly two outlooks that the Left generally holds. The first is held not only by Marxists but also anarchists like Noam Chomsky, while the second is held by other anarchists (a primary example would be Michael Albert).

The first is that socialism is a good dream which has been conjured for evil causes. This view describes socialism through the dreams of all the revolutionaries who have been inspired by it, talking about worker's control of the means of production, the end to capitalism (or, at least in the early days, its reform and humanization), and the sharing of the resources of society to benefit and enrich all. I am sympathetic tot his view because of the extensive history of the term, because of the acceptance of it in the majority of the world, and because I don't feel I should have to back down from a term because capitalists or tyrants have sullied it through propaganda. If the Left backs down from every such word, they will have given the field to the powerful. These men for institutions often point to the soviets or parecon or libertarian municipalism as socialist institutions.

However, the second points out that there is something disingenuous to the way that each generation of the Left attempts to recapture the term while describing concretely quite distinct institutions. Further, most socialist parties that come to any kind of power advocate market or central planned socialism (whether democratic or totalitarian). While it is true that most socialist advocates reject what happened in the USSR, indeed calling the collapse of the USSR a victory for socialism, there is also something disingenuous about dismissing the ideology of it too quickly as not socialist. Those men could spout Marxism and offer paeans to freedom just as well as anyone else, and Lenin had some quite libertarian writings. Whether it was something unique about Russian culture, or the influence of the state, or what have you, something went wrong... or did it? That may not be the most authentic formulation. It may have been that Marxism or Leninism or socialist institutions propelled the USSR by design. Further, when someone says "socialism", whether in Europe or America, what is implied (aside from connotations, whether negative or positive) is what happens in Europe: good to be sure, but not remotely the ideal a serious libertarian socialist or anarchist would commit to. Even completely non-capitalist market socialism is not my goal. Even the word, "socialism", implies a social focus rather than a libertarian or individualist focus.

So I'll open this up to whatever viewers I have. What would you argue is socialism? What comes to mind when you hear it? Should parecon advocates or advocates of other alternative economies call themselves socialists or not?

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Communication? That Was My Major!

Communication seems so natural if unexamined. One uses the best words one can find to express what one is feeling. Of course, virtually everybody knows that this is a simplification at best: misunderstanding, confusion, limits of vocabulary, preconception and all sorts of other barriers are an everyday occurrence. What is not so clear is the remarkable degree to which culture (as well as polity, economy and gender) impact communication, negatively if interlocutors do not pay sufficient attention. Everything from eye contact to hand gestures to conversational pace and perception of interruption varies according to cultural distinctions (Blauner 2004, 144-146). Because of this fact, attention to such variation is vital for any discussion group, especially one occurring within multicultural societies.
The first, and relatively surmountable, difficulty with intercultural communication is the semantic difficulty. Language is fundamentally arbitrary: There is no objective problem with calling a dog “a cat”. What different individuals mean by the same term can be quite distinct. One of the ways that these terms become variegated is across cultural lines. For example: In my experience, what radicals or many black commentators mean by the word “racism” are any forms or practices, especially institutional ones, that have the effect of privileging or benefitting one group or another, whereas most liberals, conservatives or white commentators typically believe it means concrete prejudice (the classic “racist effect v. intent” debate; incidentally, I am not alone in this position: Bob Blauner describes precisely this phenomenon in “Talking Past Each Other” and Tim Wise does as well in “White Like Me”.1) In a discussion about racism in a multicultural classroom, a whole conversation could be sidetracked by whether or not a practice should be called “racism” rather than discussing the content of the practice. This is relatively surmountable if the atmosphere in the discussion is at all informative and if the instructor is sufficiently attentive to the distinction between semantic and substantive argument. Obviously there may be difficulties if literally different languages are being employed, but those are relatively trivial cases and can be surmounted by a facilitator with tact and grace.
Next, distinct cultures provide differences of substance in belief and opinion. For example, even two very closely aligned individuals (i.e. a black or Aboriginal feminist and a white feminist) may end up having drastically different tactical judgments and indeed understandings about the nature of oppression owing to distinct cultural backgrounds (Lake 2001, 7).

This may also manifest itself as silence. For example, Native American interlocutors may be hesitant to describe their unique cultural practices because of fear of being dismissed as primitive or silly (Robinson and James 2003, 81). Unfortunately, silence cannot be enumerated or responded to.

Further, the very way that people discuss will be altered by culture. A Greek participant in a forum may view impassioned argument as a sign of respect or flattery, while a Asian participant might view this as problematic and prefer to change the subject (Bucher 2004, 155). People from different cultures will vary in the way they perceive issues to be resolved or discussed.
And the very perception of the existence and nature of institutions and authorities will alter across cultural, political, etc. lines. Someone from an activist culture or childhood will be more likely to view authority as an adversary or at best something to be tolerated than someone raised in a military environment.

In each of the above cases, various prejudices and preconceptions interfere with the resolution of the barrier. Someone with sufficient prejudice may refuse to alter one's terminology or explain themselves, or respond with a kneejerk to a position that is viewed as offensive without questioning if there is simply a terminological quibble at stake. The fear of prejudice may cause silence, and challenging of substantive differences may be viewed as an attack upon one's person. Misunderstanding of anothers' relationship or understanding of institutions or authority figures and their perception of the proper way to discuss may artificially abort discussion or cause unnecessary conflict.

As I argued in a discussion group [and on this blog], our culture is one wherein serious discussion with attention to logic and relentless questioning of stated positions, in other words with the prerequisite for any authentic comparison of ideas, is abandoned in a majority of cases by a metaphorical rush to the state, to repressive mechanisms that allow one to win. The solution that most multicultural advocates end up proposing as an alternative is a strategy often described as “dialogue versus debate”: Everyone has an opinion; ergo, one should treat each opinion as inviolable, and discussion is largely based on opinions proferred in some kind of relevant order. I view this as people retreating into hermetic containers only sticking their head out to look for crossfire. This is superior to angry and acrid argument, but that is a “lesser of two evils” position. The alternative? Respectful and attentive debate, with no disruptive interruptions, with ideas being proposed, discussed, compared and rebutted, with warrants and evidence insofar as is available and people being asked to provide reasons for conclusions and premises. This strategy has any number of subsets, but it resolves the above difficulties by providing a mechanism that is only as limited as the available logic and evidence. The cause of truth and learning is served by such comparison because even ideas brought up that end up being rejected served a purpose in causing thought and, if the logic was sufficiently rigorous, being eliminated thus eliminating an unsatisfactory idea and thus establishing more worthwhile discussions.

It may be worthwhile to notice the various roles that people play in such a well-regulated discussion. The first is the Debater. The Debater is actually adopting a position, whether she believe its or not, for a prolonged period of time, arguing from that perspective and defending it from rebuttals. The Debater can be affirmative and/or negative: that is, they may argue to defend a particular concrete position or proposal, argue to undermine another such position or proposal, or do both. The Debater is typically the centerpiece of this strategy: whatever the agreed upon topic being discussed in a group is, she provides the meat. Everyone in a group may be a Debater, but this is unlikely. To keep track of the distinct positions and rebuttals offered by seven other speakers is a task likely only on an Internet forum and even then with substantial investment of time. Typically, the people with established or passionate opinions and experience in the area in question will be these voices.

But they are not the only possible role, and indeed the best conversations will include more. Another vital role that should be played, at the very least by the facilitator or group leader, is the Devil's Advocate. This classic position is to argue for a moment from a different perspective or with different reasoning than one would normally agree with or utilize, so as to make sure that an obvious position is heard and that those arguing a different position have taken it into account. There are a few caveats. The devil's advocate should announce that they are function as a devil's advocate. They should do so sparingly, as the risk of the Devil's Advocate is that unimportant, irrelevant or unenlightening positions may be advocated without an appropriate check. And, while this is difficult to detect, some may use the pretense of being a Devil's Advocate as a way to express what they actually believe or perhaps a slightly more extreme variant of what they believe. Unfortunately, this has the risk of devolving into immature discussions or simple controversy or offensive statements for their own sakes (what in Internet parlance would be called “trolling”). When this is occurring, it may be because the forum is not sufficiently open to dissident or alternative viewpoints.

Two more roles individuals play are the Commentator and the Questioner, very closely related. During the course of discussions, topics will come up that some may not have extensive argumentation to provide for but that do beg questions or invite comments. These participation types should be encouraged almost without limit as they are very brief, vary the pace of the discussion, and can be quite insightful and valuable. However, if the questions or comments are excessively rhetorical or confrontational, they should be aborted.

And, of course, no one should be afraid to provide their own personal opinions, experiences, outlooks and philosophies, to whatever degree and in whatever depth they wish to. If they are personal experiences, they should not be denied, though it is fair for someone to question the relevance of the experience (respectfully), and if someone flags that they wish to not have an opinion challenged, it should be only responded to generally or used as a springboard rather than an argument. My model does not exclude opinions being presented and then not challenged or at least not challenged directly. Another thing to note is that value claims can not be demonstrated to be “wrong” per se, and since it is quite likely that people will come to the table with rather distinct value sets and estimations of the worth of various entities, the majority of the time if the remaining debate is upon distinct values the debate should be jogged along, as those debates are not likely to end in resolution.

The facilitator or discussion leader's job in such a system is complex. If the debate and discussion does not represent a sufficient cross-section of viewpoints, she should broaden the debate and discuss new viewpoints, hopefully proposing readings. She must make sure that there are sufficient pauses, prompts and opportunities to allow everyone a sufficient chance to chip in, especially if the grade in a discussion section is linked to participation. Part of this includes enforcing a reasonable limit on discussion time (most of the time this shouldn't be necessary, but if it becomes a problem comment “tickets” can be used, or perhaps a timer or hourglass circulated around the class), including cutting off someone who has spoken for some time or who is rambling. This may mean stopping the thought process of someone who thinks vocally, but unfortunately time is limited; however, if possible, the person should be allowed to continue if it makes sufficient sense. In line with this, the facilitator should be prepared to allow substantial backtracking to make sure people who had a thought can bring it up. When an argument is developing in ways not likely to be productive or conducive, they should be prepared to gently shove the discussion a different direction. If factual difficulties are encountered, the ideal situation would be for the facilitator or the relevant participants to do some research and circulate it through group e-mail. And the pace of argumentation and discussion must be controlled.

We have an obligation to tolerance. But we also have an obligation to truth. The way to resolve these values is to not simply incorporate and tolerate more viewpoints, not to simply look for and applaud what is good, but also to identify and discuss what is bad, to test and compare viewpoints. It is the only way to truly respect and tolerate others, to move past simple multicultural tolerance to polycultural interaction and exchange.

1. Blauner, Bob. “Talking Past Each Other.”

I'm On Top Of The World! (Now Can I Get Off?)

We all like to think that our position is due only to our own skill, our own ability, and yet we know that cannot possibly true. Regardless of our political opinion, it is simply a point of logic that without a great social system that created roads, educational facilities, and in general the whole economic and social thrust of society, we would be as nothing. Clearly those in other societies had at least as much merit and skill as us, yet throughout history living standards have obviously changed. The reasonable question is not, “Is success socially defined?”, but rather “Is this social definition based in justice?” To be intellectually honest, I should put my own life under examination and see how much justice was involved.

My parents were both white professionals with college degrees. But privilege is not a simple thing. For the first eight years of my life, my mother was a homemaker and my father a small and somewhat lazy businessman, both involved with a spiritual community. Yet my parents could still turn to their parents, who had homes and saved income, if they truly needed help, and I never went to school hungry or couldn't get a toy I really wanted. Moreover, when my father, after probably a decade of barely working, was able to parley his connections and MIT Math diploma to almost immediately get cushy management jobs in programming firms and become upper-middle class, while my mother became a rather successful translator able to work less than forty hours a week and continue taking care of the house and providing for my needs, it implicated me in privilege no matter my preference. Privilege is more than a high salary; it is connections, resources, educations, acculturations, and accesses that can surpass and even replace a high salary. Why wasn't a black candidate who had actual recent work experience hired over my father? Not least because there weren't many out there thanks to educational inequity, but that can't explain everything. Rather, that even those qualified black candidates had not made good with the bosses in the past (owing to not attending elite colleges or not having rich and well-connected parents), so their work experience was almost irrelevant. Even my parents' relatively hardtack beginnings were nothing compared to the reality of the truly poor in this country.

Early on, teachers recognized that I had a certain degree of talent and intelligence that put me into the “gifted” track, the position in the educational hierarchy involving extracurricular activities, spelling bees, honors and AP classes, debate clubs. Though my community was white enough as it was, in retrospect the honor track was even more white than usual. Even Northwestern University recognizes this fact; this is why they have pioneered an approach wherein they look at the context of the student's life, including economic and educational opportunity, in order to evaluate the “objective” indices of GPA, SATs and AP scores. It should be elementary that a student who went to a school without AP or honors courses should have their grades looked at differently. Yet few colleges have the resources or ability to perform such analysis with each application. Inaction sustains the system just as much as action: like the Red Queen's Race, one has to run as fast as one can to stay in the same place.

And what of my friends in high school? Those jocks, geeks, preps and emo kids who all spent their weekends drowning their sorrows with liquor and weed? Did any of them face consequences for illegal activity? Or rather was it, as I remember from a football meeting (long story short: I was in Football PE but not on the team), covered up and “forgiven” on the rare occasions it was even detected? Did anyone go to prison when the cops finally busted parties that had over a hundred people attending, including Sacramento gang members? Yet those excuses and those courtesies, while wholly proper (indeed, drugs should be legalized), are only extended to the whiter and richer among us. When Rush Limbaugh (who even admitted that “[T]oo many whites are getting away with drug use”) was caught abusing Vicodin and Oxycontin, he went to a rehab center, almost a health spa, not federal prison1. This anecdotal piece of evidence generalizes. As the Sentencing Project reports (“Crack Cocaine Sentencing: A Racist Policy?”), “The 100:1 quantity ratio in cocaine sentencing causes low-level crack offenders to receive arbitrarily severe sentences compared to high level powder cocaine offenders. The quantity distinction has also resulted in a massive sentencing disparity by race, with African Americans receiving longer sentences than the mostly white and Hispanic powder cocaine offenders.” And it's not just crime where white offenders consistently get their excuses listened to and their habits made unproblematic by institutional fiat. Gregory Squires' piece, “The Policy of Prejudice”, establishes that, “mystery shoppers' [were matched] in terms of the structure and value of their homes, their incomes and occupations, and other socioeconomic factors. The only difference was the racial composition of the neighborhoods.. when testers from white areas called to inquire about the availability of insurance agents generally attempted to sell them a policy. But when callers from minority areas inquired... [agents] discouraged the callers from pursuing a policy with them.” (147-148).

And what about my male privilege? I can't isolate many concrete incidences when being male helped me, but that is just as much the problem as anything else. As Steven Lukes argues in his three-dimensional model (Power: A Radical View, page 366 in the reader), “...the bias of the system can be mobilized, recreated and reinforced in ways that are neither consciously chosen nor are the intended result of particular individuals' choices.” How many times did I stand idly by when a sexist joke was made? When a female companion of mine was made uncomfortable but pretended to be “fine with it” precisely because of the consequences of not being fine with it? Recently, friends of mine created a “point system” as an incentive for them (quite geeky friends, to be fair) to engage with women. The “point system” did not offer incentives for what men call “playing” (and what with women we call “sluttiness”, owing to differential sex roles, often called “The Madonna and the Whore” in the literature), but it still had not occurred to most of them how disturbing many might find it that women were being reduced to “points”. My debate partner in high school was a Latino girl one year younger than me, and I can't imagine how many times I must have tried to force a submissive relationship, especially in the male, white and rich-dominated world of competitive high school debate (luckily, if nothing else, she was a spirited woman, and would not take that crap). And recently, after having read “You Just Don't Understand” by Deborah Tannen, I had come to realize that the way I had perceived my mother as supposedly interrupting me was created by gender, race, and geographical reality, and in fact she had just wanted to assist or to handle other topics (though admittedly she still did try to change the conversation a lot). To quote, “Women and men feel interrupted by each other because of the differences in what they are trying to accomplish with talk... Nothing is more disappointing in a close relationship than being accused of bad intentions when you know your intentions were good, especially by someone you love... And a left jab meant in the spirit of sparring can become a knockout if your opponent's fists are not raised to fight...” (122). More subtly, Arlie Hochschild in “The Second Shift” describes the phenomenon wherein women (women like my mother or any wife or girlfriend I might potentially meet and become involved with) work just as hard (incidentally typically still making less, as they are not perceived to be the primary breadwinners) during the day and then work an additional eight hours a day spread out among the week, typically meaning late nights, early mornings or weekends. That means that any woman I live with is highly likely to be more stressed and poorer than I am, a major advantage. Yet is it an advantage I really want? Is it worth it to have someone in your house who is too tired to do anything? The institution makes that choice for me, the cost of privilege.

Arguably, all this is nothing compared to American privilege, or imperial privilege, or the substantial advantages that come from living in the most economically and militarily powerful First World nation. Walton's chapter on The World System describes the history of European colonial plunder and economic control, then goes onto point out that, “The new stage is no more favorable to the underdeveloped nations of the periphery than the last two. On the contrary... they may be less obliging in particular ones.” And make no mistake, these systems of class, race, empire and gender are united. Anton Foek offers a poignant example in “Sweatshop Barbie”: “I cannot help thinking of Cindy Jackson... who has had 19 cosmetic-surgery operations to make herself look like Barbie – at a cost of some $165,000. I wonder what Jackson would say if she could see these sick and dying women and know how brutally they have been exploited in order to make dolls for First World children. Pramitwa, Sunanta and Metha have never heard of Cindy Jackson, but my guess is that they are glad not to be in her shoes.” The terms of trade are increasingly being rigged for the already powerful. Going to a relatively elite university like UC Davis virtually insures contacts, expertise, social standing and a perception of skill and ability that guarantees ostensible success. And once I'm in that position of success, I am quite likely to not only see my class grow richer and stronger, but also not be knocked out of that class. Robert Reich describes the well-known statistics that describe enhanced global inequity: The poorest fifth of American families became 8% poorer and the richest fifth became 13% richer, and this inequity generalized across the world, both inbetween and internal to nations. Reich makes clear that this problem is structural: “The conservative tide... certainly has many causes, but the fundamental change in our economy should not be discounted... It is now possible for the fortunate fifth to sell their expertise directly in the global market, and thus maintain and enhance their standard of living, even as that of other Americans declines.” And this has also manifested as a lack of social mobility as well.

Now, I am admittedly not always a recipient or beneficiary of privilege. My parents were once poor, and still are not in the highest echelons of society. Being involved in the activism I have been doing has led to death threats (but not actual assault or death), punitive responses from school officials (though not the same degree as “problem students”, disproportionately poor or black), and have been misquoted and misunderstood by journalists and people who can only hear limited parts of my arguments because of the script of the society.

But even my lefty principles and action implicate me in systems of privilege. I'm not just talking about how movement leadership tends to skew upwards in terms of class and race, as Lipsky in “Protest as Political Resources” indicts. Rather, that if I express opinions, my opinions are not taken to be emblematic of a group as such, a privilege not afforded to blacker individuals; when I do express my opinions, it is likely they will get a far more attentive audience than the same opinions expressed by those less privileged; and expressing my opinions is not likely to actually end up harming me. Consider Dave Chappelle's comment in his stand-up Showtime special, “For What It's Worth”: “I almost protested the war [in Iraq] to begin with, almost. Until I saw what happened to those Dixie chicks. I said, 'Fuck that'. If they'll do that to three white women, they'll tear my black ass to pieces.” Of course, Lipsky's comments are quite relevant, particularly about the skewing upwards of protest organizers.

And do I have to be involved in activism? Is it a matter of survival for me? Not especially. Actually, the things that I propose, like tax equalization across school districts, progressive taxation, full employment, etc. are likely to harm me. If I quit, or “sell out”, does anyone besides a small and insular group care? Indeed, doing so might give me more opportunities, as I join the ranks of David Horowitz and other former lefties who “saw the light” and get book deals and conservative think tank funding. Further, what makes me, and all those other rich and/or white leftists out there, think that success is possible or necessary? Why should I have to convince someone that doing the right thing might have good consequences? Shouldn't they do it anyways? Leftists despaired when the Iraq war was declared despite incredible resistance. This was ignoring that any protest before a war began was historically unprecedented, let alone principled international opposition. But hadn't the Iraqis fought for their rights for decades, and blacks against segregation and slavery for centuries? What made us think that a few years camping on college lawns and shaking some signs would stop a war machine of that magnitude with that degree of social backing? In short: The famous propensity of the Left to conceptually snatch defeat from the jaws of victory is also implicated in classist and racist biases, that the notion that we can fix anything we see is an illusion that only those who have had relatively easy lives can maintain.

I even have the option to use a different language to speak about race (or class or gender or empire or...). As Blauner indicates in “Talking Past Each Other”, whites often speak about race and racism as a problem that occurs when overtly racist people behave in a particular way, that “Whites saw racism largely as a thing of the past. They defined it in terms of segregation and lynching, explicit white supremacist beliefs, or double standards in hiring, promotion, and admissions to college or other institutions”, as contrasted with the black language of racism as a combination of history, governmental and economic policies, and acculturation practices.. Now it is quite true that whites often hold illusions about even those things, but the point is that blacks could understand, indeed had to understand, the complex interplay of forces that create “institutional racism”, whereas a white man or woman could afford to live in ignorance, as it might never affect them.

Had even a bit about my class, or race, or gender been different, my life would have been radically different, and likely for the worse. Had I been in a black neighborhood, chances would be much higher that I would be going to a poor or underfunded school even if my parents were well-off, like one of those schools Kozol describes in “Savage Inequalities”; and even if I went to a rich school, I would likely be tracked into remedial or non-honors classes. My radical activism would be simultaneously necessary to survive and often punished. Were I a woman, many of my successes would be viewed as “bitchy”, and my already often competitive attitude would be magnified; moreover, I would face lower wages and my educational possibilities would be artificially circumscribed by sexist pressures leading to certain majors and certain occupations. Were my parents less rich, they could not have afforded to pay for the high school debate that almost assuredly secured my place at this university, the camps and the flights and the long trips to Los Angeles.

My whole life has been corrupted, tainted and made impure by the presence of inequity and domination, just as surely as the victims of that inequity and domination. My position at this university, and this university, are no less implicated. This is not a reason to feel guilt. If anything, it is a reason to feel rage. But the most important thing: to act.

1. Michael Bradley, “Stoned Rush Limbaugh Makes Hypocritical History By Demanding Harsh Penalties For Other Drug Users”.

Bureucratic Tunnel Vision

As many of you know, one of the underlying themes of my leftism is to point out that the supposed dichotomy between efficacy and liberty that is implied by the classic debate about anarchism/socialism and libertarianism is an utterly false dichotomy, that in fact those institutions of domination (capitalism, bureaucracy, the nation-state) are inefficient at accomplishing human ends, among their many other debits. If that is the case, the statement "Anarchy [or parecon or so on] doesn't work" becomes even more problematic: aftter all, such a statement implies a comparative, i.e. not just "It fails" but (if the argument is to be relevant) "It fails worse than what we have".

In line with this, I extend an ironic line of reasoning: the critique of bureaucracy commonly argued by conservatives. And one of the many problems is what I call "tunnel vision", or more precisely an effectiveness-efficiency mismatch: The adoption of normalized standards and practices that end up being counterproductive to the broader goal of the institution. A perfect satirical example is the episode of South Park where the detectives do not arrest a man with severed human hands on his wall because the serial murderer they are looking for does not cut off that side of hand.

Today I experienced another such example, from my midterm:

"Answer the following questions in a clearly written essay of 5-6 pages in length (typed, single sided, double spaced, with normal font and margins). Your essay is due on February 14. Please e-mail the essay directly..."

Notice a problem? I'll let you all read a second.

For those you haven't figured it out:

If I'm e-mailing it to you, what does it matter if it is set to be single-sided or double-sided?

This is a prestigious university with a well-respected lecturer making this mistake.

It's funny. And on another level, completely disturbing.