maybe I should check my e-mail again.

Earlier today I finished work on a paper I’ve been developing for the past couple of months. It’s sitting on my desk with the rest of the submission packet since the journal I’m sending it to is archaic enough to not have an online system. And despite the fact that I have another paper to work on, I’m finding it very difficult to do anything.


I refer to this as the post-paper slump and it always causes trouble for a few hours/days after I wrap up a project.


Does anyone else suffer from this disorder? Any good home remedies?

bad borrowers or bad loans?

The right-vs-left contest over the credit crisis seems to have crystallized to some extent into whether the crisis was the outcome of regulators forcing banks to loan to bad borrowers (the right-wing version) or of under-regulated banks and financial institutions peddling bad mortgage products and then aggregating them into un-valuable derivatives that “clogged” the credit system (ahh, such metaphors!).

A UNC researchers has produced a rather interesting report (PPT format) suggesting that it is more the latter than the former: “bad” borrowers with “good” loans didn’t default at a particularly high rate; it was “bad” borrowers with “bad” loans who did so.

The implications of this question are vast. If the problem is forcing banks to adopt bad borrowers, the policy implication is to deregulate, repeal the CRA, and so on, which would clearly have major effects on systematic wealth inequality over time. If the problem is the proliferation of weird mortgage-based financial products and instruments, the implication is to re-regulate markets, which would likely sacrifice some degree of growth for greater stability and equality.

theoreticians and the polls

In recent days I’ve chatted with several theory-oriented colleagues (two in English, one in poli sci) about the polling sites. Typically the question is which of the aggregator sites I prefer: Pollster, 538, or Real Clear Politics. (For the record, I typically watch Pollster most carefully.)

What I find interesting is that these colleagues–and, by the way, I, too–buy the critique of public opinion research launched by, e.g., Adorno, Horkheimer, Pollock, Bourdieu, Habermas, etc., that holds polls to be, at best, productive fictions. The performativity claim can get us only so far–but the ontological status of the opinions being “measured” here is hardly clear, and is never addressed by any of the polling sites.

My question, then, is not just why they’re (we’re!) paying attention to the polls. The question is why they/we seem to be doing so in such a rapt fashion, following every known-to-be-meaningless percentage point change with such fascination, even morbid curiosity. This strikes me as an almost Lacanian quest for the true public as an objet petit a–an unattainable object of desire, fetishized and packed into an object of worship, a totem, in the moving polling average.

bill the plumber

Our kitchen faucet sprung a leak so Bill the Plumber came by.  (We joke that we may have to adopt him, he’s been here so often lately with one problem and another.)  He’s a middle-aged white guy.  Chatting after the repair was done, he said “I’ll be so glad when the election is over.”  We kind of made careful noises to each other and I said something like, “I don’t know who you support,” and he said, “I’ll tell you if you want” and I said “OK” and he said “Barack.”  I said me too.  And then we chatted.  He said he thinks McCain is offering no programs, just attacks.  He also said he has a half-Black daughter-in-law and can’t stand racist attacks, spending some time on that theme, saying “of course all of us have some of that” but then going on about how can people go to church and then come home spouting that stuff.  He complained about one customer who spouts vile racist stuff and how he warns the boss that if the guy says that stuff while he’s around, he’s going to go off on him, because this is in the family and it is personal.  Then he said he has a son in the military who has been in Iraq twice, and his son and most of the guys in the military are going to vote for McCain because they are concerned about just pulling the troops out, and he said he and his son have talked about issues and they see each other’s point of view.  He says he tells his son, “I understand what you are saying, but as a parent, I don’t want you sent over there.”  And they agree they are going to vote differently.  He also said he’s obsessively watching television and going crazy, and I told him to stay off the Internet, or he’d never get any sleep.

gender and health insurance

A story from the New York Times today indicates that women who purchase individual health insurance policies pay more than men who do the same.

More and more people are shopping for individual health insurance policies because they have lost jobs that provided coverage. Politicians of both parties have offered proposals that would expand the role of the individual market, giving people tax credits or other assistance to buy coverage on their own.

“Women often fare worse than men in the individual insurance market,” said Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana and chairman of the Finance Committee.

Insurers say they have a sound reason for charging different premiums: Women ages 19 to 55 tend to cost more than men because they typically use more health care, especially in the childbearing years.

The article goes on to show that even taking childbearing into account, women still pay more, but I find this whole line of argument, and all its derivatives, offensive. The whole point of insurance is to spread the costs of health care over a large population, insuring heavy users against heavy costs. And yet, the health insurance industry gets away with defining the population however it wants. Small workplace? Well, we’re only spreading costs across your workers. Elderly person? You have to pay more. Pre-existing condition? Too costly for us. At a certain point, the insurance part of insurance just disappears, and all you have is a payment plan for health care.

california’s culture war

By now, you have probably heard that Californians will be voting on a ballot initiative, Proposition 8,* that will ban same-sex marriage in the state, just after the state supreme court overturned the ban that was put into place by legislators. The polls show a very close race on this initiative.

But that is not the only issue California is dealing with.  Continue reading “california’s culture war”

what are you doing next tuesday?

Me: I’m going to be making gumbo. And some corn bread. Maybe fried okra. And greens. And a yet-to-determined starch. It will be a celebration of my southern roots. And I’ll be having folks over to watch the returns (NY readers: you’re welcome to join my “party” – if by party I mean anxiety fest). I don’t plan on going to bed until it’s over. I just hope this year isn’t like 2000, because that could mean being up for several weeks.