July 29, 2010

Symbols matter, but not as much as reality

Filed under: Education, Government, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 20:49

Ace puts his finger on one of the key differences between “the masses” and the “governing class”:

That’s why the “Political Class” — the Gee Aren’t I Terribly Enlightened? crowd — opposes this. They talk about that a lot — the symbolism of the thing.

[. . .]

I’m noting this because a few weeks ago I saw a guy at the riots in Toronto who complained that the police barricades were a symbol representing a division between the protesters and the G-20 representatives.

And I thought, “Gee, no, actually it’s not a symbol of a division; it really is, in fact, a physical division.” Because, see, you’re rioting. (And not symbolically in riot, either.) You can tell it’s a real-world division because now you can’t get to the G-20 conference center and throw rock-metaphors through the window-symbols.

I think there is a type of person — well-represented in the “Political Class” and in progressive politics — that has learned, from college, that the Abstract is everything, that Real Smart People are always focused on the Abstract, on metaphors, on symbols.

And they seem to disregard the concrete, the real, almost as a dirty thing, something of concern to the plebians, who cannot of course grasp the subtleties of high representational thinking like they can. You know, with their “symbolic” barricades and all.

QotD: You can’t beat the media

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 17:16

Stephen Harper is feeling some of that effect from the millions he put into “infrastructure” projects as part of Canada’s own stimulus plan. You will recall that Ottawa solicited proposals from local governments before handing over the money. Inevitably, a goodly number turned out to be . . . shall we say . . . not entirely crucial, leading to articles like this, pointing out that — oh dear — taxpayers were financing bocce courts via deficit spending. Not to mention sending money to rich people in good neighbourhoods! Even funding for the arts — which Harper was previously criticized for providing too little of — was thrown back in his face as a cheap attempt to correct his earlier gaffe. (If he hadn’t corrected the gaffe, of course, it could have been portrayed as a “continuing snub.” Don’t try to beat the media folks, you can’t win.)

So what’s the lesson here? Politicians should ignore the experts and do what makes people happy, even if it’s unlikely to have much long-term benefit? Politicians should never expect the public to appreciate their efforts unless there’s some kind of individual payoff? Politicians should stay out of the economy, because no one is ever satisfied anyway?

Pick any one of those. Just don’t run for president or prime minister if you want to be popular.

Kelly McParland, “Obama could save America and lose the election”, National Post, 2010-07-29

BC government finds an issue to distract the media

Filed under: Cancon, Health, Law — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:44

Adrian MacNair linked to this Vancouver Sun article, saying “”B.C. halts penis-arousal test for youth sex offenders” Say whaaaaaaatttt?”

A moratorium has been placed on tests done on B.C. youth sex offenders measuring their penis arousal in response to sexual stimuli after the province’s top child advocate launched an immediate investigation Wednesday.

The device in question is called a “penile plethysmograph” — or PPG. In a lab setting, it is attached to male genitals so technicians can measure changes in “penile tumescence” — essentially erections that reflect the state of arousal in subjects shown photographs of adults, children and even babies in varying states of undress while at the same time being read a story that describes coercive or forced sexual activity.

So, until it came to light, the government was showing provocative images and reading pornographic stories to teenage boys to find out if they got erections during the process? Would anyone be surprised to find that teenage boys found this whole exercise sexually arousing? Teenage boys are hard-wired to find all sorts of things sexually arousing!

The point of the test is to reportedly predict whether offenders have gained control of their deviant arousal patterns through treatment or if they have not learned how to suppress deviance and will be a strong risk for re-offending.

Again, we’re talking about teenage boys . . . I’d be more suspicious if they found that one of them was managing not to react to such stimulus!

Okay, yes, I’m unfairly stereotyping, at least to some degree. But this sort of “test” or “experiment” would be flagrantly illegal if it were being done by anyone other than a government-funded health organization, wouldn’t it?

Replacing one impossible ideal with another

Filed under: Britain, Health, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:23

Colby Cosh linked to this Guardian article, saying “I’m afraid she’s right. ‘Thin’ is something every girl can at least strive for. Only God can make Christina Hendricks.”

When it comes to the ideal female body-shape the pipe cleaner is out, the hourglass is in — or at least it will be if the new equalities minister, Lynne Featherstone, manages to chisel out her will on the perfect body image.

“In the autumn the minister will convene the first of a series of roundtable discussions with members of the fashion industry, including magazine editors, models and advertisers, to discuss how to boost body confidence among the young,” the Sunday Times reported yesterday.

One might think that one of the first steps to boost such confidence might be to abolish school weigh-ins and make puppy fat a normal rite of passage rather than the subject of a health warning via the National Child Measurement Programme. (Can any woman think of anything more likely to have produced a fear of being on the chunky side than turning up to school one morning and being plonked on a set of scales?)

While I’m happy to have any excuse to post a photo of the delightful “YoSaffBridge”, this is another example of Nanny State thinking: (some) women have body image issues, therefore we must spring into action and fix it.

Rather than replacing the old impossible images with new impossible images (as the creative director of Harper’s Bazaar pointed out, the fashion industry exists to create the fantasy you’ll never live up to) an equalities minister should throw out all notions of obsessing about feminine beauty and concentrate on helping young girls think about the size of their achievements rather than the flatness of their navels, and the scale of their ambitions rather than — in Joanie’s case — the rather spectacular power of their bosoms.

An end to ASBOs in sight?

Filed under: Britain, Law, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:01

BBC News thinks that the much-maligned ASBO may be going away.

Home Secretary Theresa May has signalled the possible end of Asbos in England and Wales, saying it is “time to move beyond” the orders, first introduced by Labour 11 years ago.

They have been imposed on 10-year-old boys and 80-year-old women, used to sober up persistent drunks and mute noisy neighbours.

Of course, one of the more useful aspects of the ASBO has been to allow the media an easy way to find stories to run in the quiet times, like this one:

A 60-year-old man from Northampton was banned from dressing as a schoolgirl.

Peter Trigger’s Asbo stopped him from wearing skirts or showing bare legs on school days between 0830 and 1000 and 1445 and 1600.

The authorities acted after parents complained he was waiting near a primary school dressed in clothes similar to school uniform. He then breached this in December last year by bending over in front of his neighbours repeatedly.

You see, without the ASBO, reporters would have to dig up gems like that themselves, instead of having the local police blotter highlight the most newsworthy items for them.

I often wondered, when reading some of the weird and whacky things that people were hit with ASBOs over, why existing laws weren’t applied (lots of these violations were clearly against the law before ASBOs were created). The intent may have been to give judges more flexibility in sentencing, but in practice it appears to have created a “market” in unusual sentences and distorted the notion of equality before the law.

Other things that (some) economists discover unexpectedly

Filed under: Economics, Government, Humour — Tags: — Nicholas @ 08:43

Terry Kinder rounds up a few more things that economists find surprising:

Other Things That Surprise Economists (other than the economy sucks):

  • Sunrise
  • Sunset
  • Lifetime Television has a lot of chick flicks
  • Milli Vanilli were lip syncing
  • Summer
  • Politicians lie
  • Gravity
  • Christmas
  • Their own shadows
  • Sneezing
  • Near beer isn’t
  • Knock knock jokes

. . . and a whole lot more.

To be fair, Terry is really poking fun at only some economists, but the 90% that work for the government are giving the rest of them a bad name.

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