Betty and Veronica: The Cultural Politics of Hair Colour

Betty and Veronica as drawn by Dan DeCarlo and Alison Flood.

Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge are not just rivals for the love of Archie Andrews, they are archetypes of two sharply contrasting ways of being feminine. The differences between the two is not as sharp as the traditional misogynist dichotomy between the virgin and the whore, but it does have some of the same overtones of separating the womanhood into opposing camps, one wholesome but unexciting and the other sexy but bitchy.

Betty is blond, the girl next door, kind of heart, often put upon but a good sport,  a bit insecure, attractive although a bit dowdy in the way she dresses. The pathos of Betty’s life comes from the fact that although Archie likes her well enough, he also takes her for granted. The situation is explored in one of the very best Archie stories, Bob Bolling’s “The Long Walk”, which shows what the red-haired dolt and Betty were like when kids. The story can be found here.

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Lessons from the Current Crisis

I’ve gathered together my thoughts on Wall Street Socialism, developed as squibs on this blog, into a National Post op-ed, available here. As they say in the vulger jargon of the blogosphere, this is the money quote:

The current crisis is pregnant with political and economic lessons. The problem with Wall Street Socialism is not just that it’s hypocritical but that it doesn’t go far enough. The Federal Reserve has already tossed a trillion dollars into the market in a futile attempt to stop the current crisis from spreading; much more will be spent before financial health returns. 
If we can afford socialism for the rich, we can certainly also have socialism for the poor. If government is needed to bail out the rich in times of crisis, let’s have a more sharply progressives tax structure, so that the beneficiaries of the current system who are so sheltered from risk pay their fair share. If the state is so willing to intervene to protect the financial status quo, there is no justification for the increasing income inequality that has characterized contemporary capitalism.

Danny Boy

This has been making the rounds, at Crooked Timber and elsewhere, but is worth posting not just in honour of St. Patrick’s day but because it’s one of the highlights of television comedy: the Leprechaun Brothers (Animal, the Swedish Chef and Beaker) singing, if that’s the word, the classic lamentation “Danny Boy”. A tearful tune has never been rendered funnier. Especially delightful is the way Animal’s voice cracks when he mourns “Danny Boy, boy oh boy.”

Can Wall Street Learn From Sweden?

There are, we’re often told, no atheists in fox holes. I don’t know if that’s true but I would say that there are no purist free market Hayekians during a global economic meltdown.  As we stare into the abyss created by decades of deregulation and lax oversight, of cheap credit as a substitute for social policy, of central bankers cheering on the ballooning of each fresh new financial bubble until the very moment of popping, we find that surprising sources are now calling on the strong arm of the state to save the system from its self-generated implosion.

One noteworthy sign of the times is an essay  by David Rosenberg, chief economist of Merrill Lynch, which argues that the USA should look to Sweden, which dealt with a similar crisis in the early 1990s swiftly and efficiently using “heavy doses of  government intervention.” Rosenberg’s analysis is very informed and detailed; I hope it gets widely read in policy circles. (The essay is courtesy of the all-seeing Doug Henwood, a veritable Argus_Panoptes on economic matters).

There is one problem with the Swedish model. As free market ideologue Tyler Cowen confesses: “There are many things we do not do as well as the Swedes.” I’m not exactly sure what Cowen means by that. Surely there is no Swedish gene that gives these admirable Nordics the ability to govern themselves with greater skill than other nations. Isn’t America the can-do nation? It’s unlikely that the United States will ever give birth to a filmmaker as great as Ingmar Bergman, but still I think that the economic and political lessons of Sweden are more portable than its stellar cultural achievements.

Wall Street Socialism

The editors of the Wall Street Journal are forever praising the free market – until a crisis hits large investment firms. Then they hem and haw, muttering under their breath about the need for the Federal government to step in to underwrite loans and finance a needed bailout. Hence this remarkable editorial supporting the government’s decision to work in concert with J.P. Morgan to save Bear Stearns from bankruptcy.  

These columns prefer the discipline of the market, but then we don’t know all of the facts that regulators confronted as they looked at Bear’s troubles. Specifically, we don’t know if letting Bear collapse might have had a domino effect on others in the debt and derivative markets.

The Fed and J.P. Morgan are acting in concert to give Bear short-term access to the Fed’s discount lending window that Bear couldn’t access on its own. A big plunger in the debt markets but not a standard commercial bank, Bear’s private sources of funds had dried up. The overriding public interest at the current moment is to maintain a functioning financial system, and regulators clearly felt this was at risk from a Bear failure. Just once we’d like to see what would happen if a big bank did fail, but the current general market panic arguably isn’t the best time to have that experiment. Presumably Bear will now be shopped to private buyers.

This may or may not be wise economic policy. I’ll leave it to the experts to decide on that (Brad DeLong and Paul Krugman have been good guides on these issues). But I never, ever want to be lectured again on the merits of the free market or the need for the poor to pull themselves up by their bootstraps without the demoralizing aid of government funds. Bear Stearns might not be facing receivership anymore, but free market ideology certainly is bankrupt.

Tony Blair, friend of Creationism

Charles Darwin.

The novelist Ken MacLeod, deeply immersed lately in issues of religion and science due to his upcoming science fiction novel about the future of the faith wars, offers a very enlightening look at the unexpected rise of creationism in the United Kingdom, the homeland of the Darwinian revolution.  A key player in this story is Tony Blair, whose government opened the way for a greater role for religion in British schools. While Blair’s big sins (especially with regard to foreign policy) are well known, the smaller missteps of his administration also deserve condemnation.

One of the strengths of MacLeod’s essay is that it manages to criticize creationism without descending into the crude anti-religious polemics of Christopher Hitchens. MacLeod rightly recognizes that the myriad of faith traditions approach evolution differently.

Macleod essay can be found here. Some excerpts:

In part, it’s a legacy of Tony Blair’s enthusiasm for ‘faith schools’ and ‘city academies’. The City Academies scheme allows businesses, churches and voluntary groups to gain control over a school’s policy and ethos by contributing £2m towards the capital cost – around 10% of the total, the other 90% of which comes from you and me. State funded schools that teach creationism now include the Emmanuel City Technology College at Gateshead and the King’s Academy in Middlesbrough, both sponsored by Sir Peter Vardy, and a Seventh Day Adventist school in Tottenham. Some at least of the UK’s thousands of faith schools may be doing the same – though it should be noted that Anglican, Catholic and Jewish schools are very unlikely to do so. Just how bizarre this stuff can get is well brought out by Stephen Layfield, head of science at Emmanuel College, who calls for teaching ‘the historicity of a world-wide flood’ and affirms ‘the feasibility of maintaining an ark full of representative creatures for a year …’ (The complete speech was archived by religious affairs and science journalist Andrew Brown – the Christian Institute removed it from its its own website after Richard Dawkins drew attention to it in The Daily Telegraph.

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Listening to Prostitutes

Many theoretically minded pundits, myself included, have weighed in on the pros and cons of decriminalizing prostitutions. Notably missing on this debate (at least in mainstream outlet) are the voices of those most directly involved: the prostitutes themselves and their customers.This is a shame because sex work advocates (who are often former or current prostitutes) are often the most eloquent and incisive critics of current legal regimes. If anyone wants to hear what prostitutes themselves say, one good source is an interview Doug Henwood conducted with the staffers of $pread magazine (which is published for and by sex workers). Henwood’s interview can be found here.

Complimenting that interview is another one Henwood conducted with Laura Agustín, author of Sex at the Margins, who usefully dismantles the bogeyman of trafficking. That interview can be found here.

There is an interesting side issue that comes up in the interview with the $pread crowd: the relationship between prostitution and socialism. Sex work involves selling sex for money. As a social democrat, I’m not bothered by the sex part but the money is a little disturbing. Prostitution is often exploitive but so are almost all forms of labour under capitalism (see the intriguing arguments of the German-English social theorist K. Marx).

So the question arises as to what prostitution will be like under socialism. Holland provides an interesting model. In that humane and sensible society there is a push to have the state pay for prostitutes to have sex with disabled men and women. There are also reports, difficult to verify, that Holland also has a more informal version of this idea, with volunteers rather than paid professionals.

The Cult of the Prosecutor

The downfall of Eliot Spitzer reminded me of a great essay by Philip Marchand titled “The Cult of the Prosecutor” (Toronto Star, July 23 2006) which traces the decline of the lone wolf private dectective as a popular hero and the rise of shows celebrating District Attorneys, forensic labs, and by-the-books police officers. Spitzer’s rise to prominence was part of this cult of the prosecutor, a cult that flourished as much among liberals as conservatives. The problem with the prosecutor cult is that it’s a form of statism, of assuming that agents of the government are omni-competent and morally trustworthy at all times. I’m old school enough to think that liberals and leftists should be wary of prosecutors and certainly not regard them as agents of progressive social change.

Unfortunately, Marchand’s article doesn’t seem to be available anywhere online (although it can be found on the Toronto Star archives).  

Here are a few choice paragraphs:

But Spillane’s hero, Mike Hammer, represented something more than a private detective who, unlike Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade, slept with the dames he met on the job and pistol-whipped, with equal enthusiasm, uncooperative sources of information.

Hammer also embodied an independence – from police, government and the judicial system – that our popular culture has since decisively rejected. The cult of the prosecutor now dominates television crime shows. Instead of the lonely knight-errant walking down those mean streets, we have relentless police investigators, sophisticated forensic labs, and fiercely upright district attorneys who battle evildoers and their loathsome defence lawyers.

The trend began before 9/11 but has intensified since then. The message of current cop shows on television is simple: The government protects you and holds your destiny in its hands. Say goodbye to the rogue private eye – he has gone the way of the lone Westerner.

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Pols and Prostitutes Redux

Eliot Spitzer.

I’ve expanded my earlier thoughts about politicians and prostitutes into a National Post column, which can be found here.

An excerpt:

There is something tragic about the relationship between prostitutes and politicians. The two professions have a hidden affinity: Both are essential and perennial human activities that are unfairly maligned. If you label someone a politician or a prostitute, it’s likely that you’re seeking to insult them. Politicians are often stereotyped as amoral and insincere, always performing a role and never being themselves, eager to please, willing to say or do anything to achieve their ends. A similar set of moral strictures hover around the terrible word “whore.”

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Neoliberalism and its Discontents

F.A. Hayek.

Not unexpectedly, my comments on neoliberalism and Nafta have drawn rebukes. Both A.M. Lamey  and John Haffner have concluded that I’m an enemy of market economies and free trade, when I simply wanted to make clear that I was opposed to “neoliberalism and the policies that are often described as ‘free trade’ (but which are in fact managed trade agreements designed to bolster corporate power).”

So let me try to clear up the confusion:

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