How to fix the Miss America Pageant

So, remember last year’s Miss America Pageant? Let me remind you. We were treated to Alyse Eady, Miss Arkansas, whose talent was singing “I want to be a cowboy’s sweetheart,” including the yodeling, through the use of two ventriloquist dummies. AND SHE DIDN”T WIN!

Ventriloquist yodeling, people. Here’s the video:

Anyway, the fact that she didn’t win obviously points to the deep corruption at the core of our socio-economico-pageanto-political system. However, the fact that she came in second is reason to hope for the future. In the vein of that hope, I humbly suggest that next year’s pageant involve a group talent competition. I furthermore suggest, nay, demand, that one of the groups do an act like the one in the next video.

This video features the Warriors of Goja on an Indian talent show and comes here via Jason Kottke notes:

I’ve been on the web for 17 years now, I’m a professional link finder, and I have never in my life seen anything like these guys performing on an Indian talent show. They *start off* by biting into fluorescent light bulbs and it just gets more nuts from there.

Note: best viewed with the volume up.

There is no one out there who can honestly say that ten Miss America contestants jumping through columns of fluorescent lightbulbs and hitting each other with sledgehammers would not be the greatest television event in history.

Also, is there someone who can translate what the female judge says to them at the end? Anyone? Tanmoy? Anyone?

Mitt Romney in his own words

So, you may have heard about Mitt Romney’s first paid campaign ad, in which he quotes Obama as saying “If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.”

Of course, in context, what Obama actually said was this: “Senator McCain’s campaign actually said, and I quote, ‘If we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.'”

Well, here’s an awesome video of Romney quotes whipped up by the folks at Think Progress, noting that this is Romney in his own words, by his own standards:

via The Atlantic Wire.

Monday Linkasaurolophus: November 21, 2011

So, originally, I had been hoping to write a follow-up post on everything that has happened in the wake of the UC Davis pepper spray incident. However, two things. First, everyone else and their mother has covered the UC Davis thing in far more depth than I would be able to do. Second, xkcd released this epic infographic on money, which makes putting anything else on the internet feel sort of pointless.

Instead, let me just point to a few Occupy UC Davis links:

Over at phylogenomics, Jonathan Eisen has tons of pictures from UC Davis, and has reposted a lot of the open letters that have been written to Chancellor Linda Katehi. He also has an impressive compilation of links on the topic here.

The most moving of the open letters that I have seen is the one written by UC Davis Professor Cynthia Carter Ching addressed to the students. Read the whole thing here. Excerpt:

So, to all of you, my students, I’m so sorry.  I’m sorry we didn’t protect you.  And I’m sorry we left the wrong people in charge.

And to my colleagues, I ask you, no, I implore you, to join with me in rolling up our sleeves, gritting our teeth, and getting back to the business of running this place the way it ought to be run.  Because while our students have been bravely chanting for a while now that it’s their university (and they’re right), it’s also ours.  It’s our university.   And as such, let’s make sure that the inhuman brutality that occurred on this campus last Friday can never happen again.  Not to our students.  And not at our university.

The other must-read piece on the subject is by Alexis Madrigal in the Atlantic. It rightly points out that by focusing too much on the individual cop who did the spraying, we miss everything that is wrong with the system, and the fact that the cops are, in a sense, victims of the same broken system.

Over at Boing Boing, Xeni Jardin had been covering pretty much all of the crucial OWS happenings. If you have any interest in the Occupy movement at all, you should be following her at Boing Boing and on Twitter. For just one example, here is an interview with one of the students who was pepper sprayed.

Also check out Boing Boing’s Occupy Lulz photo collection, which features the meme-ified pepper-spraying Lt. John Pike heavily, but not exclusively. Here’s the most recent addition at the time of this posting:

For a more exhaustive collection, check out the Pepperspaying Cop Tumblr.

The first rule of plutocracy is . . .

So, a couple of weeks ago, Eleonora came up with this line, and she asked me to put together a poster to accompany it. Finally, yesterday, I had a chance to take a stab at it. Or, you know, spray it in the face at close range with weaponized capsaicin, as the kids are calling it these days.

Best URL for sharing:
Permanent image URL for hotlinking or embedding:
If you have some desired use for this that would require a different format,
or a higher resolution image, let me know.

Katehi responds re: pepper spraying students

So, Chancellor Linda Katehi has released an open letter in response, presumably, to criticism in the wake of the UC Davis police brutality that resulted as a direct consequence of her orders.

If you really want to read the whole thing, you can find it here, but I don’t particularly recommend it, as it is the usual mishmash of bureaucratic double-speak and expressions of regret and sadness that are carefully worded so as to avoid admitting any blame.

She is calling for a task force, though, so, um, yay?

UC Davis Pepper Spraying and Call for Chancellor’s Resignation

So, I’m posting here the astounding 8-minute video of UC Davis police pepper spraying student protesters, and the crowd reaction afterwards. If you follow the Occupy movement at all, you’ve probably already seen it, but if not, watch the whole thing.

And keep in mind, these students are there protesting the police brutality that occurred at previous protests, where UC students were beaten with batons and hospitalized.

[UPDATE (via Mother Jones): Just FYI, the main pepper sprayer is Lieutenant John A. Pike, who received a salary of $110,243.12 in 2010.]

And here’s a shorter video (with the spraying, but without the crowd reaction) taken from a different angle.

Here are a few of the things that I take away from these videos:

  1. The police are being used to brutalize and intimidate protesters. Note that the cops went out of their way to spray protesters who were way off to the side, who were not actually blocking the path. This is about physically punishing people for dissent.
  2. A few of the police (here and elsewhere) seem to take an attitude towards inflicting pain on other people that is at best indifferent, and at worst psychopathic. The vast majority of the police, I think, are not like this, but nor do they seem to be doing anything to stop their colleagues from brutalizing the students.
  3. Peaceful, non-violent confrontation can work. It seems fairly clear in the first video that the protesters won the day. And they did it by taking the high road, while at the same time not backing down.
This morning, Nathan Brown, an Assistant Professor, posted this open letter calling for the resignation of Chancellor Linda Katehi. In the letter, he details the events captured in the video, as well as incidents of police brutality leading up to this particular protest. Here’s an excerpt describing the police dismantling of the tents on the UC David Quad:

Without any provocation whatsoever, other than the bodies of these students sitting where they were on the ground, with their arms linked, police pepper-sprayed students. Students remained on the ground, now writhing in pain, with their arms linked.

What happened next?

Police used batons to try to push the students apart. Those they could separate, they arrested, kneeling on their bodies and pushing their heads into the ground. Those they could not separate, they pepper-sprayed directly in the face, holding these students as they did so. When students covered their eyes with their clothing, police forced open their mouths and pepper-sprayed down their throats. Several of these students were hospitalized. Others are seriously injured. One of them, forty-five minutes after being pepper-sprayed down his throat, was still coughing up blood.

The whole letter is well worth reading. And if you have any association with UC (e.g., as faculty, staff, student, or alum), add your voice.

Inequality and Occupy Wall Street

So, I just discovered the blog of Miles Corak, an Economics Professor at the University of Ottawa (via this short piece in The Atlantic Wire). He has been doing a series of posts about wealth and income inequality that are really interesting and accessibly written. At this time, there are five posts in the series (here, here, here, here, and here).

If you’re interested in a thoughtful, nuanced, and readable discussion of the economic factors underlying the Occupy Wall Street protests, check it out.

The most striking image comes from the post on nepotism, where Corak presents a graph from one of his own papers from the Journal of Labor Economics (accessible version available here) that shows the fraction of sons who work in the same firm as their fathers, as a function of income percentile. (Data for Canada)

Corak notes:

Connections matter. And for the top earners this might even be nepotism. This is not a bad thing if parents pass on real skills to their children, skills that might even be specific to particular occupations, industries, or even firms. If this is the case then it makes economic sense to follow in your father’s footsteps.

Wayne Gretzky often talked about the role his father played in developing his skating and stick handling skills. He spent hours and hours with Walter on the backyard rink. But not all top earners got to where they are because of this sort of good nepotism. I somehow doubt that James Murdoch is the Wayne Gretzky of the publishing world.

Bad nepotism promotes people above their abilities by virtue of connections, and it erodes rather than enhances economic productivity.

But there is even a larger cost. If the rich leverage economic power to gain political power they can also skew broader public policy choices—from the tax system to the education system—to the benefit of their offspring. This will surely start eroding the belief that labour markets are fair, and that anyone can aspire to the top.

He also notes that the United States is among the most unequal of the world’s rich countries, as well as one of the most elastic. Elasticity, in this context, is the extent to which a person’s income is determined by the income of their parents.

Corak goes on to write:

These facts are finally starting to percolate into the American consciousness. Joseph Schumpeter, the Harvard University economist who taught during the 1930s, is often cited as saying that recessions are like cold showers: they clear the economy of inefficiencies, make the existing structures more apparent, and set the conditions for change.

But recessions have social as well as economic consequences. The current recession has shaken some people awake, and Occupiers signal the decline of the American Dream in our consciousness, a manifestation of underlying realities, and the demand for a change in the way of doing business.

Here’s hoping that there will be many more installments coming in this series.

Corak, M., & Piraino, P. (2011). Intergenerational Transmission of Employers Journal of Labor Economics, 29 (1), 37-68 : 10.1086/656371