Saturday, June 27, 2009

Definitions. You haz them wrong.

Tim Fernholz has a good post over at The Prospect about how Republicans and conservatives are calling every action taken by the Obama administration "socialist." It's simply not valid:

it's not fair to say that the Obama administration is socialist per se because socialism is an -ism, a system, a guiding philosophy, and it's clear that putting the government in charge of private production is not the Obama administration's guiding philosophy...

If the Obama administration had come into office without an economic emergency, they wouldn't be involved in these firms -- don't forget that the first big government takeovers came under George W. Bush and that the management and directors of the auto companies asked for government help. The current administration has made clear they don't intend to be in the auto making (or banking) business for very long, and voluntarily laid out various guidelines to keep politics out of business decisions. Obviously, lines will be fudged and there are plenty of opportunities for conflict, but this is clearly not an administration whose every answer is "seize the means of production"

Now, would someone please this to tell the yokels that keep writing into the News-Gazette?

(h/t Ezra Klein)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Why do bicycles have gender?

For some reason even I'm not really clear on, I've been thinking about getting a bike lately. They're kind of intimidatingly expensive, so I've also been keeping an eye out on Craigslist for a used one. It's gradually started to bug me about why bicycles have gender; that is, why are there "men's bikes" and "women's bikes"? (Actually, if you look at the Schwinn website, you'll see there are "bicycles" and "women's bicycles.")

The only difference between them that I can tell, is the location of the crossbar that goes from just under the handlebars to the stem on which the seat sits. On men's bicycles it's high. On women's bikes, it's low. Really, that's all I can find. Pink tassels on the handlebars notwithstanding.

The standard explanation I've always heard (and this is from way back when) is that men and boys are more likely to treat their bike roughly, and so they need a more sturdy frame. So why not just make them all that way? Is it just "Oh, you're a lady and ladies need a more feminine, breakable bike"?

To be fair, I just looked around a bit, and the "sport" type bikes that are likely to be ridden offroad or by professional athletes all appear to have the higher crossbar, I assume because the frame is stronger.

Is there really some reason behind this, or is it just an unnecessary gender difference and marketing scam?

UPDATE: OK, based on the comments here, the comments on Facebook after Bryan posted a link to this, and my mother calling me the other night, the most reasonable explanation is that women's bikes have the crossbar where it is so women can wear dresses without getting them all rumply.

I can't imagine that's particularly important anymore, though. Unless you're a fundamentalist Mormon woman riding a bicycle around the compound (because no fundamentalist Mormon woman would ever need to ride a bicycle off of her husband's compound), the need to accommodate long skirts just doesn't seem all that important anymore. I haven't seen many women riding a bike in a tea-length gown lately, have you?

Friday, June 12, 2009

You decide

From Matthew Yglesias comes this report of conditions under which prisoners are held:

[P]rolonged periods of exposure to the elements; humiliations such as public nakedness; confinement for up to several weeks in small ‘punishment cells’ in which prisoners were unable to stand upright or lie down; being forced to kneel or sit immobilized for long periods; being hung by the wrists; being forced to stand up and sit down to the point of collapse.

Quick. North Korea or American "enhanced interrogations"?

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Paging Mr. Hitchcock

My desk sits right next to a window. From the outside, the windows must be reflective, because birds keep coming up and attacking their reflections. Sparrows, cardinals, and one with a little orange head that I can't identify. They can't seem to see us, because they never react to our movements.

This week, we had a new visitor, a hawk. For some reason, this guy didn't attack his reflection. These aren't great pictures (they were taken from a cell phone), but I was literally 12 inches or so from this hawk, which was a pretty amazing experience. It's like our own little hunting blind.

I had to tilt the shades open so we could see him, and I think he could hear that. You can see in some of the pictures, he's fluffing his feathers. When we tried to lift the shades up out of the way, he squawked and flew off.

I think this is a red-tailed hawk. He's been there before, but never this close. I hope we'll see him again.