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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Worse than you might think, but...

Having recently addressed an example from the past of how a distorted narrative was employed in the world of arts and literature to misrepresent people and circumstances, let us turn to the world of journalism.

The perceptive Michael Walsh makes the following observation:
The suicide of American journalism, and the “objective” ideal I grew up with as a young reporter, continues apace, as I noted in this space yesterday and the IBD website mentions today:

Media Malfeasance: In less than two weeks, bombshell stories of a vicious gang rape and a millionaire teen investor were exposed as frauds that never would have made it into print but for gross negligence and liberal bias.
...
There’s a reason that, back in the day, every revolution began be seizing the newspapers and radio stations. The Left understands, far more than the Right, that propaganda is everything — and if it has to kill American journalism to make its points, then so be it.

Over at Sultan Knish, Daniel Greenfield has some typically perceptive thoughts on “Life in Post-Truth America.” Well worth a read.

Worse than the hoaxes and reporting of half truths are the errors of omission.  The neglect of both stories that make their side look bad (as if they should be taking sides) and stories that present the opposition in a positive light.

Excerpts from the column by the prolific Mr. Greenfield include:
The unreliable narrator has crossed over from a fictional device in novels to memoirs, journalism and into politics.
...
 The device of the unreliable narrator puts truth out of reach. It says that there is no such thing as truth, only various perspectives on an event.
...
 In the absence of facts, there can be no reality. There is only ideology.
...
 ObamaCare was an ugly collectivist bureaucratic dinosaur clothed in imaginary stories. The stories about it, about the economy, about the war are still being told. Added to it are new stories about racism. The stories are passionate, compelling and appealing. They are also completely unreal.

Progressives don’t only live in a post-American world; they live in a post-Truth world. A world without facts and without truth is one in which the America that was cannot exist.

America had prospered because of a firm belief in a discoverable and exploitable reality. That was the country that could build skyscrapers and fleets in a year. Post-Truth America has little interest in big buildings because it’s too busy enacting a psychodrama in which the earth is about to be destroyed. And fleets, like horses and bayonets and facts, are 19th century toys that are much less interesting than the manipulation of people through lies and deceit.

Lena Dunham’s Barry and Obama’s Barry are both imaginary creatures. They are the sophisticated products of disordered minds and a disordered civilization whose leading figures lie as instinctively and as shamelessly as any pre-rational culture that could not distinguish between lies and truth. 

The cause for optimism is that two of the redoubts of the left, media and academia, will come under increasing competitive pressure for many years to come.   (see also here and here)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Happy Hanukkah!

I would've missed the first night (not being religious), but the younger daughter remembered and wanted to light candles (my daughters are borderline pyros, so any excuse to burn something is remembered with, well, "religious" fervor).  We muffed the prayers (good thing there's 8 chances, maybe we'll get them right tonight?) but did manage to get the candle lit (and the candle to light the candle lit) and then, most importantly, had a family Happy Hanukkah Hug.

For more serious reading about this holiday, I found A Dangerous Holiday interesting.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

More Manufacturing

Literally!

As shown in the graph below, manufacturing (real) output (the red line) has finally recovered from the Obama recession and clearly has a lot of momentum in the growth direction.  Of course, also clearly, that "momentum" isn't really momentum at all, and can change nearly instantaneously.



From the Money Illusion comes this somewhat related commentary:
First some international comparisons.  In the US, IP [Industrial Production] is up more that 73% in the past 25 years. In Japan it fell by 1.5%.  Some of that is population, but not all. After all, Japan’s population is higher than it was 25 years ago, and America’s has risen by roughly 30%, not 73%.  America industrializes as Japan de-industrializes. Germany reunified 25 years ago, which might affect the data, but their IP is up only about 30% since 1991.  France is up only 9% in 25 years. (The 35-hour workweek?).   Britain is similar to Japan, down by about 1%.  (Falling North Sea oil output?) Italy is down 11.2% in 25 years.  (Berlusconi spending too much time at orgies?) It’s the US that stands out as an industrial power, at least if the data is correct.
I wrote "somewhat related" because the numbers don't exactly match between countries (various countries slice and dice Industrial Production versus Manufacturing differently and the above commentary is more related to Industrial Production than Manufacturing, but the longer term trends are pretty similar).  So you can get an idea from this, but I suggest not quoting any of the numbers without doing more extensive research to understand what you are quoting.  Or at least put forth a caveat like I just did.

Nonetheless, of all the advanced economies of any size, the United States is actually doing quite well as far as Manufacturing output and Industrial Production goes (Industrial Production looks even better recently than the above chart because of the shale oil boomlet).  Germany is the closest and may possibly be better, but even if so, not by much.

On the other hand, as the above graph also shows, while real Manufacturing output is up 73% over the time period (20 years), the number of jobs has dropped by 30% and as a percent of the workforce has fared even more poorly. A common explanation for the loss of jobs is that they've been transferred overseas, but given the fairly dramatic increase in output, all of the job loss and then some can be explained by increased productivity.

In other words, technology is more the enemy of jobs than foreign competition.  But technology is what makes us all better off over the long haul.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Rotten Apples

Humans are inherently flawed.  Most of us are pretty decent overall and because of that, civilization has been able to take hold and flourish or at least survive.

Some people, however, are simply rotten to the core. It's a small percentage, but even a small percentage of a large population such as that found in the United States, is still quite a substantial number of people.  These horrible people think nothing of lying, manipulation, fraud, assault, sadism, rape, even murder.  I don't know what percentage of the population these people represent, but just to get an idea, some have argued that sociopaths alone make up 4% of the population.  Even if that figure is off on the high side by an order of magnitude, we're still talking more than a million sociopaths in the United States alone.

These rotten apples can be found across race, gender, religious, and ideological boundaries.  Oh sure, we could argue until we're blue in the face whether, say, more Republicans or Democrats are sociopathic (or otherwise horrible people), but the point is that any and every group has at least some of them.

Any crime or immoral act that you can imagine has probably been committed by some rotten apple(s) somewhere in each and every group.  There are an uncountable number of sensational and horrifying stories just waiting for some intrepid journalist to track down and expose to the public. Such stories aren't really relevant or useful, other than being entertaining and/or engaging stories.

And that brings us to the main topic of this post.  An award winning feature writer wanted to find the next big feature.
Magazine writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely knew she wanted to write about sexual assaults at an elite university. What she didn’t know was which university. 
She knew the narrative and the story within the narrative that she wanted to tell.  She just didn't know the "where" or the "when."
So, for six weeks starting in June, Erdely interviewed students from across the country. She talked to people at Harvard, Yale, Princeton and her alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. None of those schools felt quite right.
And, of course, since she was going for the next big feature story, and a non-statistical anecdote has no real meaning anyway other than reminding everybody that rotten apples exist (which everybody knows already), the feel of the story and how it fits the narrative is extremely important.  Fortunately, she finally found what she was looking for:
But one did [have the right feel]: the University of Virginia, a public school, Southern and genteel, brimming with what Erdely calls “super-smart kids” and steeped in the legacy of its founder, Thomas Jefferson.
She found a student named Jackie, who told a harrowing story of gang rape that fit the desired narrative perfectly. The setting was:
...Phi Kappa Psi. The "upper tier" frat had a reputation of tremendous wealth, and its imposingly large house overlooked a vast manicured field, giving "Phi Psi" the undisputed best real estate along UVA's fraternity row known as Rugby Road. 
Rich white southern males in an all male exclusive organization.  A group that many love to hate.  And certainly a group that everyone is allowed to hate.  Nobody needs to feel guilty about despising, loathing, hating, etc. a group of rich white southern frat boys.  The hate one is allowed to feel for this group would be beyond shocking if directed at virtually any other unrelated group.

The story starts with Jackie riding high.  She's been invited to a "date function" at the frat and has meticulously dressed and primped.  Next thing you know, Jackie is "climbing the frat-house stairs with Drew," her frat boy date.  And like in a horror flick, where some character is going off alone and you're screaming at the screen, "DON'T GO THERE!!!" you know it's going to end bad.

And boy, does it ever end bad.  I'm not going to get into the ugly details of the gang rape here (this is a family blog :-), but it caused a lot of outrage at the fraternity and UVA administration:
University faculty arranged a protest that kicked off late Saturday night on Beta Bridge, responding to a Rolling Stone magazine article released Wednesday that described an alleged gang rape of a UVa student by seven men at the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity two years ago, and the subsequent missteps of the system by which the assault was reported. Charlottesville police have been asked by UVa to investigate the allegation. [...]
The Phi Kappa Psi house was vacated days ago, not long after the controversial article was released and the house was attacked by an anonymous group that is demanding changes in the university’s sexual assault reporting system. Some students have asserted that members of the fraternity left the house after receiving anonymous death threats, though the fraternity has not responded to these claims. 
They attacked the entire house regarding something that happened two years ago.  There were alleged "death threats" against members of the fraternity who may or may not have had anything to do with the incident.  It's typical mob behavior, and in some fairness, they did have some justification to lump the entire fraternity in with the rapists: Jackie's story implied that the gang rape was some sort of fraternity initiation ceremony; therefore, that innocent women were regularly snagged by this fraternity for these heinous criminal acts.
Phi Kappa Psi voluntarily suspended its affiliation with the university not long after the release of the [Rolling Stone] article. And on Saturday, the university suspended all Greek organizations for the remainder of the semester. [...]
Thus, the entire fraternity and sorority system was punished for unproven allegations that nobody had ever been indicted for and that had happened more than two years ago.  Due process was summarily thrown out the window.  Many were quite happy about that:
Claire Wyatt, a 2013 UVa graduate, ... praised the crowd’s “righteous anger.”
Because righteous anger is known to always solve everything and lead to justice, right?

It turns out that Jackie didn't want her part of the article to go forward:
Jackie said she asked Erdely to be taken out of the article. She said Erdely refused and Jackie was told that the article would go forward regardless.
After all, the story fit the narrative so perfectly.  However, it turns out that Ms. Erdely would have done well to have followed Jackie's request.  Indeed, that request might have been the first hint that maybe this story wasn't quite factually accurate.  But this red flag was ignored. Erdely also did not bother to spend a lot of effort fact checking the story or corroborating the very limited available hard evidence.

The fraternity, while cooperating with the police, found that pretty much everything that could be verified about the alleged gang rape turned out to be false and has since published a statement to that effect.  Rolling Stone soon followed by adding a note to the beginning of the story that "there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie's account," but they have not fully retracted the story.

But of course they wouldn't retract the story.  At the very worst, it's just yet another "fake but accurate" story.  Fake in some details, but accurate to the narrative.

My first thought when finding that Jackie's story wasn't true, at least not completely true, was that Erdely was simply incompetent.  Not because she produced a fake story but because she didn't bother to find a truer and real version of it.  As I was noting in the beginning of this post, there are enough rotten apples that surely at some place and some time, a horrible gang rape has been committed by members of a fraternity.  There are millions of people who have been members of fraternities and using the 4% rotten apples estimate, that's tens of thousands of bad people who have belonged to fraternities.  All Erdely had to do was find the truer version and verify it and then she could've had a "true and accurate" story.  An anecdote true in details and true to the narrative.

Several people I know think that the details are immaterial.  So what that she apparently got the fraternity wrong? So what if she got the date wrong?  So what if the people she described don't exist?  Something likely happened to Jackie that night - that's the important thing.

In other words, "fake but accurate" is perfectly acceptable.  Indeed a gripping "fake but accurate" story might be better than a true one if its details, even if wrong, are more compelling.

The collateral damage of smearing innocent people's reputations, vandalizing the fraternity, and shutting down the greek system are also not a problem - this is a group that it's okay to hate and okay to damage.  The fact the Jackie's credibility is non-existent now that all verifiable facts turned out to be false is also unimportant. Women do get raped, so it doesn't really matter if Jackie's specific story is true at all.  It's an accurate enough description of what has happened to somebody, at some place, at some time.  Therefore, all males, everywhere, all the time, are guilty.  And males, especially members of a southern fraternity, need to bear the brunt of the "fake" part of "fake but accurate" whenever and wherever required to further the narrative.

Because the importance of the narrative trumps everything else.



Debunking a myth

In the wake of Mary Landrieu's loss, Kevin Williamson addresses a falsehood prevalent in some circles:

The Democrats, being intellectually dishonest, cling to the myth that the two parties “switched places” on racial issues in the 1960s, that Senator Landrieu’s troubles are a consequence of that reversal, and that the general Southern realignment is evidence that the Republican party is a comfortable home for bigots, Confederate revanchists, and others with dodgy racial politics.

This is a strange line of argument, and an indefensible one once the evidence is considered. Democrats remained the favored party in the South for decades and decades after the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, controlling a majority of governorships, Senate seats, state legislative bodies, etc., well into the 21st century.

...
 Strange that redneck bigots would wait for so many decades to punish the Democrats for giving up cross-burning; my own experience with that particular demographic suggests that its members do not in general have that sort of attention span.
 ...

In reality, the Republican party in the South was not the party of peckerwood-trash segregationists; the GOP made its first Southern inroads among relatively affluent, educated, suburban voters, i.e., basically the same people who were Republicans everywhere else in the country, and the Southern voters least interested in segregation. And that began in the 1920s, not the 1960s. But it really picked up during the New Deal, with Franklin D. Roosevelt’s support among Southern white voters diminishing as his Prussian-style command-and-control economic fantasies became more audacious.

When Democrats push their “trading places” legend, they insistently (and dishonestly) ignore that their party, which was the party of Southern voters before Lyndon Johnson finally got on the right side of the lynching-law issue, was also the party of Southern voters long after Democrats finally packed away their white hoods for good. Instead, they will point to the presidential-election maps, which tell a different story.
...

 It was the 1994 midterm — 30 years after the fight over the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — that announced the real realignment in Southern politics. As with the New Deal, economic issues rather than racial ones were once again front and center. Bill Clinton had had the poor sense to put his wife in charge of a cockamamie project to quasi-nationalize American health care — terrible idea, right? — and Republicans responded with the Contract with America, an eight-point agenda that had zilch to do with race. Only the very finest sensibilities of the dog-whistle detectors at MSNBC could derive a racial agenda out of “require that all laws that apply to the rest of the country also apply to Congress,” “cut committee staff by one-third,” or “require committee meetings to be open to the public.” (Go ahead — find the racial subtext; I’ll wait.) It was that election that saw the Southern congressional delegation go Republican for the first time. And while Clinton would still win a few Southern states in 1996, Democratic presidential candidates would subsequently find themselves largely shut out of the South outside of Florida and Virginia.
...

That the Democratic party has attempted to hijack for itself credit for the hard and often bloody work performed for a century almost exclusively by Republicans, from Lincoln to Eisenhower, is a reminder that the party of Lyndon Johnson and Bill Clinton is not a place for men with a very developed sense of decency.

That being the case, Democrats should spare us their batty tales about Louisiana sending off the South’s last Democratic senator — a sanctimonious white lady if ever there was one — because white bigots are being inspired by a governor one generation away from Punjab, Haitian refugees representing Utah in the House, and this National Review cruise aficionado. From George Wallace’s infamous stand in the schoolhouse door to Barack Obama’s, embarrassing racial politics are the Democrats’ bread and butter. And what happened in the 1960s wasn’t the parties’ “changing places” on racism and civil rights; it was the Democrats’ — some of them, at least — joining the ranks of civilized human beings for the first time.

It only took them a century.

Mr. Williamson provides plenty more detail and analysis to bolster his case.  Remember this next time someone tries to push the "switched places" nonsense.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Drunk on Their Own Bathwater

In April, Jonathan Chait wrote the cover article in New York magazine, entitled "The Color of His Presidency". It asserted that, instead of alleviating race grievances, Obama's presidency has made them worse. Progressives have relentlessly thrown down the racist card, but mostly conservatives are racists, in that mostly means pretty much totally. It got a lot of attention from All Correct Thinking People.

Crooked Timber, an echo chamber of progressive self regard, had a post on the story.

Having not learned from my previous forays into the fever swamp that is fundamentalist progressivism, I waded in.

Small government conservative = racist hater.

That’s pretty much what virtually all the comments on this thread boil down to.

Paul Ryan says something that is, in effect, identical to things Pres. Obama and Bill Cosby have said. How is that racist?

Arguing confiscatory taxation is a bad idea isn’t racist. Believing that Great Society programs have created a culture of dependency isn’t racist; indeed, it can’t be. Viewing affirmative action programs as likely to harm their beneficiaries and inherently racist isn’t racist. Concluding that the ACA has made a dysfunctional system worse, and was sold only by grotesque lies isn’t racist. (And using Lee Atwater to tar these arguments makes no more sense than dismissing progressivism because Pres. Wilson was a thoroughgoing racist who thought eugenics a good idea, or FDR put Japanese-Americans in concentration camps.)

The result is the Liberal Gulag. After all, it is so much easier to dump out another barrel of Racist Hater™ than countering an actual argument.


Here is the rejoinder from Philosophy professor John Holbo:

As to your objection that “Small government conservative = racist hater” is not a conceptual truth: this is true. Nevertheless, the sociology is disturbing. From Chait’s article:

And the truth is almost too brutal to be acknowledged. A few months ago, three University of Rochester political scientists—Avidit Acharya, Matthew Blackwell, and Maya Sen—published an astonishing study. They discovered that a strong link exists between the proportion of slaves residing in a southern county in 1860 and the racial conservatism (and voting habits) of its white residents today. The more slave-intensive a southern county was 150 years ago, the more conservative and Republican its contemporary white residents. The authors tested their findings against every plausible control factor—for instance, whether the results could be explained simply by population density—but the correlation held. Higher levels of slave ownership in 1860 made white Southerners more opposed to affirmative action, score higher on the anti-black-affect scale, and more hostile to Democrats.”

That is, in case you haven't noticed it, not the brutal truth itself, but rather its executive summary.

Keep in mind, this Chait article got a lot of attention. It was, after all, a very long cover story for a major magazine. Further keep in mind the audience.

Do you know what none of those smug, arrogant, progressives did, including Chait?

Read the actual actual report.

How do I know they didn't read it? Because I did, far enough to discover what progressive political scientists call data (from page 11 in the "study"):


That is to data as a dog's breakfast is to haute cuisine.

Hence my response to Professor Holbo:

Did you look at the study at all, or are you satisfied with a quote from the abstract?

Go to page [11], and look at the three graphs depicting proportion slave in 1860 vice proportion Democrat, approving affirmative action, and racial resentment. You should notice that the portion approving of AA isn’t high anywhere. The center of the distribution in areas without slaves is only 20%, and the variation in racial resentment between low and high slave proportion counties is small — the slope of that line isn’t zero, but it isn’t much more than that. […] One standard deviation in slave proportion yielded a 0.11 point increase in racial resentment; 2.7 percent decrease in support for affirmative action, and a 3.1 percent decrease in among those who identify as Democrats.

The [upper left graph] shows a steep decline in registered Democrats in areas with high slave proportions in 1860. Fine, let’s take it as read that is due to racially derived resentment of Democrat policies.

Now explain this [(an electoral map of the 2012 Presidential election by county)].

You can’t.

You uncritically accepted the conclusions of a study because they confirmed your pre-existing bigotry. No matter that in two dimensions the change potentially due to racist feelings is small, and in the other it has no explanatory power whatsoever.

I have no doubt that the legacy of slavery still has knock-on effects in racial attitudes, but using this study as a tar brush to smear as racist disagreement with progressive policies makes the error of placing far more weight on the conclusions of this study than they can possibly bear.

But by all means, go ahead and do so. I’m sure you will be just as willing to make a cause and effect relationship based on the overwhelming statistical data correlating AFDC to the breakdown of the African American family.

(Brackets where I have fixed typos or other minor errors.)

His rejoinder?

You complain that I haven’t studied one thing that Chait cited. It’s true, I haven’t. But I have read a great deal, studied many other studies – historical and sociological and so forth. (Read that Lind article linked, upthread. That’s a good article.) So the question is not: is this study valid.

In other words, one of progressivism's pillars: fake, but true:

Chait completely uncritically accepted that study. All the readers of his article here, including you, did the same. What should get your attention is the degree to which that study failed to confirm your expectation. When a study clearly conducted to confirm a pre-existing conclusion almost completely fails to do so, perhaps it is the conclusion itself that needs revisiting.

In what way is Lind’s article good?

His thesis is that hysteria, aggression and gerrymandering are white southerner’s last hope to maintaining political control.

Here is the evidence he presented for his thesis: gerrymandering. Well, of course! That has never happened anywhere ever before for any reason, therefore racists! (The maps he links to are no help. The pattern of the first can be closely approximated by average house size, percentage of black owned business, divorce rate, and, average humidity. The second relies upon a virtually meaningless US census distinction.)

As for his assertions, he presents no evidence whatsoever, unless an article written by a Northerner 93 years ago counts.

Why have I drug you through this fetid swamp of progfluffery?

Because it provides insight into the workings of the progressive mind. In order to maintain their own sanctified self image, they must first demonize, then ostracize, anything that might cause cognitive dissonance.

Before suggesting I am, once again, using a large gun and a small barrel to go fish hunting, this is no isolated example of progressives swallowing whole that which flatters.

Neil deGrasse Tyson has a road show, where he panders to those Who Just Absolutely Love Science. In them, he trots out quotes to demonstrate the innumeracy and ignorance of selected targets: headline writers, congress critters, and Bush 43.

I'm sure it comes as no surprise that the audiences lapped it all up.

There's a problem, though. (Actually two; I'll get to the second in a bit.)

Near as anyone can tell, none of Tyson's quotes exist in this time-space continuum. Now, as far as headlines or congresscritters go, the targets are so generic as to scarcely matter. (In the former, Tyson's inability to distinguish mean from median seems something of an own goal, and fair warning to those who should become more familiar with the concept of "the pot calling the kettle black".)

Not so with what Tyson attributed to Bush 43:

According to Tyson, in the days following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Bush uttered the phrase, “Our God is the God who named the stars.” According to Tyson, the president made that claim as a way of segregating radical Islam from religions like Christianity or Judaism. Here’s Tyson (link goes to video clip).

From the clip:

TYSON: Here’s what happens. George Bush, within a week of [the 9/11 terrorist attacks] gave us a speech attempting to distinguish we from they. And who are they? These were sort of the Muslim fundamentalists. And he wants to distinguish we from they. And how does he do it?

He says, “Our God” — of course it’s actually the same God, but that’s a detail, let’s hold that minor fact aside for the moment. Allah of the Muslims is the same God as the God of the Old Testament. So, but let’s hold that aside. He says, “Our God is the God” — he’s loosely quoting Genesis, biblical Genesis — “Our God is the God who named the stars.”

This is nasty stuff. It is one thing to slime some not-too-specific group with some intellectual shortcoming that is easily common enough, if not particularly important. It is altogether something else to be repeatedly and specifically defamatory. At least to most of us; not so much, progressives.

Back to The Federalist article:

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s story has three central claims: 1) Bush uttered that precise phrase, 2) in the days immediately after 9/11, 3) in order to distance American religion from that practiced by radical Muslims.

As you have probably already guessed, every single claim is false. Every one! Then there’s Tyson’s aside that Bush’s quote was a “loose quote” of the book of Genesis. Yep, that’s false, too. Add embarrassing biblical illiteracy to Tyson’s list of accomplishments on his CV.

Here is the rest of the problem: just as many in Tyson's audience sussed his fabulisms* as Crooked Timberists cottoned on to that travesty shining example of the social science arts. No one from the self-styled Reason Based Community so much as fluttered an IQ point at Tyson's stylings that were just a little to pat to be true.

Unsurprisingly, and typical for the breed, Tyson's apology was late, and grudging to the point of non-existence.

And we haven't even gotten to Star Wars yet. I sense your dismay, verging on irritation, at this segue: what, in heaven's name, could a galaxy both long ago and far way have to do with any of this?

That you ask this question is a sure sign you underestimate the progressive mind. The opening seconds of the trailer for the next installment in the Star Wars franchise features a black imperial storm trooper. Which, in turn, led to hundreds of racist comments directed at the actor, John Boyega. Unfortunately,

The issue of Boyega’s skin color has been such a heated topic of debate online that none of the news outlets who ran stories about fan racism directed at Boyega could cite a single example of it happening. Not on Twitter. Not in an Op-ed, not on movie fan sites.

Not one.

The progressive world view is, to me, anyway, an unending mystery. Self styled as the reality based community, progressives display a childlike faith in, and blindness to, their own bigotries, combined with a shameless facility for making stuff up. And when it comes to vacuous, rote, demonization, they certainly have a case to answer. It's almost, or perhaps completely, as if the only things left in their intellectual armoire are tar brushes and slime buckets.

Of course, it is entirely possible, even probable, that I am as blind to anti-progressives', and my own, transgressions: that we are just as prone to unquestioned assertions and invention for the sake of the narrative, reality or decency be damned.

So, if any of the thousands of progressives in our devoted reading audience could set me straight, I'd appreciate it.

Or anyone else, for that matter. Unfortunately, my memory, self-awareness, and google skills aren't up to the task.


* Not a word, but it should be

Funny Private Industry Versus Government Solutions Post

The government of Nevada competes with Uber for providing fair cab fares and wins! (Sort of.)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Rock Stars

My wife sent me a school notice about a meeting regarding "The Future of Life Science Education at La Jolla High School" because she thinks it's good for us to attend such things.  I generally think such things are a waste of time and terribly boring to boot, so I started thinking up excuses about why I couldn't possibly make it that particular evening.

But then, "Guest Speaker: Craig Venter," caught my eye on the meeting notice.  To me, Venter is a rock-star of science, primarily famous for his drive and success in sequencing the Human Genome:
Frustrated with what Venter viewed as the slow pace of progress in the Human Genome project, and unable to get funds for his ideas, he sought funding from the private sector to fund Celera Genomics. The goal of the company was to sequence the entire human genome and release it into the public domain for non-commercial use in much less time and for much less cost than the public human genome project. The company planned to profit from their work by creating a value-added database of genomic data to which users could subscribe for a fee. The goal consequently put pressure on the public genome program and spurred several groups to redouble their efforts to produce the full sequence. DNA from five demographically different individuals was used by Celera to generate the sequence of the human genome; one of the individuals was Venter himself. In 2000, Venter and Francis Collins of the National Institutes of Health and U.S. Public Genome Project jointly made the announcement of the mapping of the human genome, a full three years ahead of the expected end of the Public Genome Program. [emphasis added]
In fact, being the nerd that I am, someone like Craig Venter is more of a draw to me than, say, someone like Mick Jagger, though admittedly, Jagger might possibly be somewhat more entertaining.

So I said to my wife, "Why yes dear, there is nothing I'd like better than attending this school meeting!" She looked at me skeptically with raised eyebrows, to which I replied, "No, really. I'm serious!"  So we went. Or rather, I went.  On the night of the meeting she decided she was too tired and decided not to attend.

There were between 50 and 100 people at the meeting. I was surprised.  After all, if it was Jagger instead of Venter, I think it might've been more crowded.  I was definitely disappointed that someone that I think is so important would only draw that few people.  On the other hand, it was more intimate than if it was a big crowd.

One gentlemen there really stood out.  Or should I say stood up? And up and up. He was 6' 11" which is really, really tall and probably 8 inches taller than the next tallest person in attendance.  It turned out to be retired NBA superstar Bill Walton who happens to be on the board of directors of one of Venter's ventures. In fact, the main event was a conversation with Bill Walton asking Craig Venter various questions about his personal life, genomics, and his views on education.  Two superstars for the price of one!

Some interesting tidbits:

  • On education, the first thing Venter noted was that he had terrible grades and barely graduated from high school and that was only possible because he talked a teacher into giving him a D- instead of an F in a required class.  While I'm not sure that background gives him a lot of credibility to pontificate on how high schools should teach life science, he said that two things they should teach (but don't) are how to take risk, and how to fail (or, more accurately, how to recover from failure).
  • On competitiveness of biotech, he's confident that even though Europe and China are pumping huge amounts of money into this area, the United States will maintain a lead for a long time.  He says that in the United States, a great deal of the funding for biotech comes from an unusual intersection of individual philanthropy and investment (venture) capital which is far more creative, versatile, and nimble than the massive, but blunt and poorly directed funding by the European and Chinese governments.
  • On the direction of biotech in general and the human genome in particular, he feels that huge advances in all aspects of health care will be coming in the next ten years.  He feels that this is a fantastic time to invest in biotech companies.
  • On sequencing human genomes, he feels that the clause in Obamacare that enables everyone to get insurance without regard for pre-existing conditions is critically important because that enables everyone to get their genome sequenced without having to worry about likely genetic based diseased states (a type of pre-existing condition) which could have precluded them from getting affordable insurance. Having everybody's genome sequenced will enable optimal health therapies to be personally designed for each and every person over their entire lifetime, increasing both health and longevity.
Every bit as good as a rock concert!

Monday, November 17, 2014

"That's what I'm afraid of..."

This June, about a month or two before the original Halbig decision,  I was talking with my co-blogger and sharing some of my thoughts on healthcare policy and ACA.  I'm not big on making hard and fast predictions, but exploring various scenarios and thinking about relative probabilities is a common practice.  More about that later.  There were a handful of issues that could have been addressed with targeted pieces of legislation that could have drawn solid bipartisan support.  Instead we got a serious CF that has barely evidenced all of the related problems it will cause.  The political realities make outright repeal very unlikely, however, there is a path forward.  First, let's look at the following historical example of a really lousy piece of legislation which was eventually stripped down to something more manageable.  In an article titled  Let's Taft-Hartley Obamacare by Paul Moreno:

It is increasingly clear that the Affordable Care Act is not going to be either completed or abolished, regardless of what happens in November or in any envisionable future election. It is locked in, but in a peculiarly limited way.
...

But Obamacare will not be as locked in as, say, Social Security, the Civil Rights Act, or Medicare. As critics have pointed out, those programs were enacted with bipartisan support. Obamacare has enough shortcomings and complications that it will probably track that most accidental of New Deal legislation, the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, which made organized labor the most powerful interest group in America for half a century.
...
Almost everyone expected the Court to strike down the Wagner Act. Indeed, many liberals wanted the Court to do so, to highlight the conflict between the New Deal and judicial conservatism. Thus the Wagner Act passed the Senate 63 to 12 and passed the House without a recorded vote. The best explanation for the lopsided majority was not consensus in favor of the bill, but the conviction held by many of its opponents that the Court would strike it down — so why incur the enmity of organized labor for nothing?

To nearly everyone’s surprise, the Court upheld the Wagner Act in April 1937, shortly after Roosevelt had threatened to pack it. Suddenly, the country was saddled with an act that might not have passed at all, and certainly not in as radical a form, without the Supreme Court wild card. However, the Democratic majorities were so overwhelming in 1935 (70 to 20 in the Senate) that the NLRA probably would have passed, albeit by smaller margins, had the assumed Supreme Court strikedown not been a factor.

The public was soon put off by the militant tactics — especially the sit-down strikes — employed by the new unions of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), which had broken away from the more conservative AFL. Roosevelt packed the NLRB with CIO partisans, which alienated both employers and the AFL.
...

When the Republicans won control of Congress in 1946, for the first time since the beginning of the Depression, they enacted the Labor-Management Relations Act (Taft-Hartley). President Truman vetoed it, calling it a “slave-labor bill,” but Congress overrode the veto. (Many believe that Truman expected and actually wanted his veto overridden. He saw that Taft-Hartley was a much-needed correction to the Wagner Act, and this way he could get it while still keeping the support of the AFL and CIO.)  Taft-Hartley did not go so far as to repeal the Wagner Act. Instead, it maintained its fundamental principles while prohibiting some of the most abusive union practices. Most important, it allowed states to adopt “right-to-work” laws prohibiting compulsory union membership. The nation’s labor markets adjusted to the new regime, until today private-sector union membership is about where it was before the Wagner Act.

When the Roberts Court upheld the Affordable Care Act in 2012, we found ourselves again saddled with an act that probably would not have passed at all, and certainly not in so radical a form, had not the president and Democrats in Congress resorted to every trick in the book to enact it. But the Court left enough openings to significantly curtail it. House Republicans have already taken some small steps, as when they repealed an arbitrary $2,000 cap on deductibles in small-business health-insurance plans.

Some have always been there — like allowing interstate competition in health insurance. (Ironically enough, the liberal New Deal Court invited Congress to do this in 1944, and it declined.) The Court has held that Congress cannot force the states to expand Medicaid, and some Republican governors have taken a stand here. Other provisions, such as the religious-freedom exemptions, also present possibilities. More will open up if and when the Republicans take control of the Senate; outright repeal will be a possibility only if and when they take the presidency, too. But we can still have a Taft-Hartley improvement in the meantime.

So there is historical precedent...

In an article titled  Reforming the Reform Kevin Williamson has some fun which also includes some historical perspective, after which he concludes:

You guys had your shot at this, and you passed the law — but you still managed to blow it. But there are more intelligent, market-based, consumer-driven alternatives, and they are ultimately what’s going to end up getting enacted. We’re here to help — whether you like it or not.

James Capretta and Yuval Levin offer their ideas about a transition to something better.  Their article Getting there: How to transition from Obamacare to real health care reform  begins with the following observations:

Obamacare—or at least the version of it that the president and his advisers currently think they can get away with putting into place—has been upending arrangements and reshuffling the deck in the health system since the beginning of the year. That’s when the new insurance rules, subsidies, and optional state Medicaid expansions went into effect. The law’s defenders say the changes that have been set in motion are irreversible, in large part because several million people are now covered by insurance plans sold through the exchanges, and a few million more are enrolled in Medicaid as a result of Obamacare. President Obama has stated repeatedly that these developments should effectively shut the door on further debate over the matter.

Of course, the president does not get to decide when public debates begin or end, and the public seems to be in no mood to declare the Obamacare case closed. Polling has consistently shown that more Americans oppose the law than support it, and that the opposition is far more intense than the support. The law is built on a foundation of dramatically expanded government power over the nation’s health system, which strikes many voters as a dangerous step toward more bureaucracy, less choice, higher costs, and lower quality care. The beginning of the law’s implementation does not appear to have eased these fears, and in some cases has exacerbated them.


In what is one of the better articles pursuing this theme,  How to Transcend Obamacare Avik Roy begins:

It turns out that repealing Obamacare is not our only hope for reversing the triumph of the entitlement state. Indeed, there may be an even better one.
...
We can learn two things from Switzerland and Singapore. First, that there are countries out there with freer health-care systems than our own. Second, that it is possible to have one of the freest economies in the world while also ensuring that every citizen has health insurance.


The impressive results of Switzerland and Singapore drive home a powerful message: that health care works best when individuals have more control over their own health spending. The Left can’t bring itself to believe this; there, it’s an article of faith that “disinterested” government experts will make better and more cost-efficient decisions for you than you would make for yourself.

But the examples of Switzerland and Singapore also drive home the problem with focusing solely on Obamacare. If we were to spend all our capital “repealing and replacing” Obamacare, we might not have enough left to tackle the real drivers of unsustainable single-payer health care in America: Medicare and Medicaid.
...
In short, migrating future retirees and low-income Americans onto exchanges could yield substantial benefits to the quality and cost of subsidized health coverage. But there’s no reason we should accept the Obamacare exchanges as they are.

 Instead of forcing Americans to buy insurance plans that they neither need nor want — the Obamacare way — we should convert the exchanges into real marketplaces, places where people can voluntarily buy coverage that is suited to them. We can do this by repealing Obamacare’s individual and employer mandates, and by rolling back the plethora of new federal regulations and tax hikes that make insurance more costly without improving its quality.
...
 More than four-fifths of Americans receive federally subsidized health insurance; in Switzerland, only about one-fifth do. That’s the difference between an entitlement leviathan (ours) and a true safety net (theirs).
...
 The good news is that we can do this. We can solve the problem that conservatives care about more than any other — that America is broke — while actually making the health-care system work better for everyone. The poor and the sick and the elderly will benefit from higher-quality, fiscally sustainable health coverage. And average tax-paying Americans will benefit from affordable insurance, lower long-term tax liabilities, and a consumer-driven health-care system that is centered around them rather than the bureaucracy.
...
It’s time for conservatives to bring Reagan’s lesson to health reform. Instead of waiting for Obamacare to fail, we should instead devote ourselves to liberating the entire U.S. health-care system from government control. If we do that, and demonstrate the value of our economic principles with tangible results, it won’t matter whether we have formally repealed Obamacare. We will have transcended it, and solved the most important policy problem of our time: that of unsustainable government spending. If we want our children and grandchildren to inherit the country we grew up in, we have no time to waste.

Returning to the conversation mentioned at the beginning of this post -

The main point was that we should probably not be overly gloomy.  After a bunch of struggles healthcare access and affordability will probably be much better 10-20 years hence, despite the law.  More importantly, there are many things happening in the healthcare and life sciences arenas that will allow for the kind of creative destruction that will improve things dramatically.  (To be addressed in a future post.)  I think this is the high probability scenario.  The progressives in their usual clueless manner  will of course think that their law brought this all about.  Then he replied, "that is what I'm afraid of."

Thursday, November 13, 2014

How Much Is Being "Better Off" Worth?

The economist Don Boudreaux notes that Jonathan Gruber admits what many would like to keep hidden:
Obamacare’s chief academic architect, Jonathan Gruber, is caught on camera admitting frankly, and without remorse, that important parts of Obamacare were sold to the public under false pretenses.  Gruber does express regret that voters are afflicted with too much “stupidity” to enable them to see that such legislation is (or so believes Gruber) in their best interest.  But given this regrettable reality of the political process, deception is in order.  Deception and lies and duplicity are proper.
So now I'm allegedly better off regarding my healthcare, but to get there, I had to be held with contempt as being stupid, lied to, and deceived.  Well, guess what?  The negative value to me of being thought stupid, lied to, and deceived by those with violence at their disposal to force me to do what they want far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far exceeds any possible benefits that might accrue from Obamacare, even if those benefits are substantial.

In other words, being made "Better Off" by folks like Gruber has made me worse off.

Boudreaux concludes his Gruber post with:
So Jonathan Gruber simply admits that the very process that people on the left romanticize and celebrate – democratic politics – isn’t what it’s cracked up to be.  Of course, libertarians and public-choice scholars say the same.  The difference between the Jonathan Grubers of the world and the [libertarian scholars such as the] Russ Robertses and Bryan Caplans of the world is that the former believe that politics is still commendable as long as good, smart people (such as Gruber) are performing deceptions necessary to trick voters into supporting policies that good, smart people somehow divine are best for the masses, while the latter believe that the very need to deceive rationally ignorant (indeed, rationally irrational) voters is itself a major flaw in politics – a flaw that makes politics far less reliable and admirable than competitive, private markets.
 The arrogance of the Grubers of the world is what forces me firmly into the libertarian camp.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Narrative, the Narrative, the Narrative

Earlier this year history professor author Fred Siegel released an interesting and surprisingly good book titled,  The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class.  The introduction begins:
This short book rewrites the history of modern American liberalism. It shows that what we think of liberalism today – the top and bottom coalition we associate with President Obama - began not with Progressivism or the New Deal but rather in the wake of the post-WWI disillusionment with American society. In the twenties, the first writers and thinkers to call themselves liberals adopted the hostility to bourgeois life that had long characterized European intellectuals of both the left and the right. The aim of liberalism’s foundational writers and thinkers such as Herbert Croly, Randolph Bourne, H.G. Wells, Sinclair Lewis and H.L Mencken was to create an American aristocracy of sorts, to provide a sense of hierarchy and order associated with European statism.

Like communism, Fabianism, and fascism, modern liberalism, critical of both capitalism and democracy, was born of a new class of politically self-conscious intellectuals. They despised both the individual businessman's pursuit of profit and the conventional individual's pursuit of pleasure, both of which were made possible by the lineaments of the limited nineteenth-century state.
The introduction concludes:


Liberalism, as a search for status, is sufficiently adaptable that even in failure, self-satisfaction trumps self-examination. As the critic Edmund Wilson noted without irony, the liberal (or “progressive reformer,” in his term) has “evolved a psychological mechanism which enables him to turn moral judgments against himself into moral judgments against society.”  This is a book about the inner life of American liberalism over the past ninety years and its love affair with its own ambitions and emotional impulses. Liberals believe that they deserve more power because they act on behalf of people's best interests – even if the darn fools don't know it.   (emphasis mine)
Thanks for demonstrating this so well Mr. Gruber:
“Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage,” says the MIT economist who helped write Obamacare. “And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical for the thing to pass.”
Mr. Driscoll concludes:  "The left have displayed enormous condescension to voters in recent years; lying is merely one manifestation of that. And they wonder why they got clobbered last week."



The concluding chapter contains the following passage:
Liberalism, argued Herbert Croly and his heirs, rested on “disinterestedness.”   Experts and intellectuals could be trusted, their theory held, because, unlike the Jeffersonian small-business owners, they weren't motivated by narrow self-interest. But with the expansions of the Great Society and onward, much of the public came to see politicians in general and liberals in particular as engaged in the self-interested business of expanding government expressly to secure policies and privileges for themselves and their supporters. The growing importance of public-sector unions has greatly increased the sense that government has gone into business for itself.

In addition to dealing with increasingly complex and burdensome tax and regulatory regimes economic actors must contend with a bureaucracy and elected officials that have become practically parasitic.  Even when this problem was less pronounced, there were still limits to how much of a positive role the state could play.  As the story is usually told, there is a statist bias with many private actors being unfairly vilified.  Many such examples are in evidence in an old post titled revisiting economic history . (If you haven't seen this post before you might want to give it some attention.) Some of the portrayals are blatantly misleading others are more subtle.  Economic history is not the only area of inquiry  where the conventional wisdom is transmitted through very questionable story-lines. 



Returning to The Revolt Against the Masses, in a chapter titled Three Trials, the author provides the following (excerpts):


No one incident or event contributed more to the self-understanding of liberals or the way they conceived of their political rivals over the past half century than the Scopes “Monkey Trial,” or more precisely the version of the trial rendered in the wake of McCarthyism by the 1955 Broadway hit Inherit the Wind.
...

Beginning in the 1950s, the play Inherit the Wind and the two film versions of the stage production suffused the liberal imagination.
...

In the dramatized version of the case, which took considerable liberties with the historical record, the trial was initiated when Scopes, a high school biology teacher, was dragged out of his classroom by a mob and thrown into jail. In reality, as historian Edward Larson showed in his scrupulous rendering of the case based on primary sources, there was no mob, nor was there a jailing. Evolution had long been part of the Tennessee high school curriculum, and there had been no attempt to enforce the symbolic law – the Butler Act – that barred its teaching. In an era when science was seen as wondrous, this law was meant more as a matter of symbolism than substance. It was a period in which eugenics, which had first been introduced by Darwin's cousin Francis Galton, won strong support from liberals who supported both family planning and economic planning. Thirty-five states had enacted laws to restrain the ability of the genetically “unfit” to reproduce themselves.

The case was a contrivance from the outset. The American Civil Liberties Union, founded in the wake of WWI's repression, had initiated the case, which it saw as an opportunity to repeal the Butler Act while also making a name for itself. The ACLU ran newspaper ads across the state looking for a teacher who would be willing to cooperate with them in challenging the state law. They needed a defendant who would agree to be tried for violating the Butler Act. The town fathers of Dayton envisioned the trial as a potential boon that could put them on the map, and they convinced Scopes, a local high school teacher, to intentionally incriminate himself so that he would quality as a defendant and the state's case could go forward. His arrest was a friendly affair arranged by local boosters as a prelude to the show, which would make history by being the first trial broadcast on radio.
...

Mencken, who wrote about the trial for the Baltimore Sun, gilded the liberal disdain for Bryan by depicting him as a buffoonish bigot and the “idol of morondom.” Mencken, a eugenicist, despised Bryan as a demagogue “animated by the ambition of a common man to get his thumb into their eyes.” He mocked the locals as “Babbits,” “morons,” “peasants,” and “yokels,” which, to be fair, was no less caustic than his usual characterizations of the immigrant masses.

Bryan saw the Scopes trial as in part a matter of self-government. The trial, he wrote, raised the question of “whether the people...have a right to control the educational system which they have created and which they tax themselves to support.” By contrast, Mencken saw the trial, and Bryan in particular, as the living proof of why democracy was a despicable form of government. Mencken's Notes on Democracy (1926) argued that democracy was both impossible and undesirable. Kaiser Wilhelm II, by then dethroned, praised the book highly, but a friend sighed that he wished Mencken hadn't written it, “because it reveals too much about him.” It was a tedious, repetitious performance by an intellectual vaudevillian whose writing never rose above his resentments.

But Bryan, Mencken's avatar of dreadful democracy, was far from a bigoted provincial man. A well-read world traveler, Bryan had read On the Origin of Species in 1905 and had engaged in an ongoing debate about the book with eugenicist Henry Fairfield Osborn, the president of the American Museum of Natural History. The Great Commoner treated his talented wife as a partner and decried the sin of religious prejudice. He roundly criticized his supporters who attributed his 1908 defeat at the hands of William Howard Taft to a Catholic conspiracy, and he would later take Henry Ford publicly to task for publishing The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
...

Regardless of what happened in Dayton, the effect of the case was clear: European-like divisions, largely absent thus far in America, opened up between science and revealed religion – it was a chasm never to be closed. Absent the Scopes controversy, some of the fundamentalists might have drifted into the position already adopted by a few of their leaders that evolution was but another name for God's creation.
...

After Scopes, and the case's revival with Inherit the Wind, fundamentalists were seen by many Americans as not just wrong about evolution, which was clear enough, but so psychologically deranged that they needed to be barred from the public square.

The irony of the Scopes trial, notes historian Michael Kazin, was that it led liberals to tag Bryan, who in many ways was a proto-New Dealer, as a “right-wing authoritarian.” At the same time, it helped position Mencken – the rabidly anti-democratic and sometimes anti-Semitic supporter of eugenics who admired both the Kaiser and 1930s Germany – as “the champion of liberalism.” But this is less of an irony than it appears to Kazin. Modern liberalism, before, during, and since the New Deal, has been based in large measure on Croly's “exceptional fellow countrymen,” the professionals who feel contempt or pity for the unwashed and who are resentful that many business people are better off than they are. Bryan's humiliation became a central event in the liberal story of modern America; it linked together the post-WWI persecutions by rednecks, the execution of Saco and Vanzetti, and Sinclair Lewis's ever-popular It Can't Happen Here, the 1935 novel in which a Bryan-like leader established a dictatorship in America. It's a story whose echoes can still be heard during dinner-table conversations in America's hipper precincts.


I repeatedly hear about "the narrative" from my progressive friends.  My question is, "do you care how much in your story is fiction and how much is non-fiction?"  Even more than what is written in a history book, movies, plays and novels shape the culture.  As Breitbart observed and Lawrence Meyers explains, politics is downstream from culture.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

The new Birchers

Over the last few months on several occasions I have thought about a quote or misquote commonly attributed to Eric Hoffer:

Up to now, America has not been a good milieu for the rise of a mass movement. What starts out here as a mass movement ends up as a racket, a cult, or a corporation.
  • Frequently misquoted as "Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket."
 
For example: the civil rights movement, feminism and environmentalism all seem to have degenerated from what were once valid approaches to noble goals.

Ed Driscoll has his own take on the matter:

The modern left is built around a trio of laudable principles: protecting the environment is good, racism is bad, and so is demonizing a person over his or her sexual preferences. (In the chapter of his book Intellectuals titled “The Flight from Reason,” Paul Johnson wrote that “At the end of the Second World War, there was a significant change in the predominant aim of secular intellectuals, a shift of emphasis from utopianism to hedonism.” ) But just as the Bircher right began to see communists everywhere, the new Bircher left sees racism, sexism, homophobia, and Koch Brothers everywhere.

They’re lurking around more corners than Gen. Ripper imagined there were commies lurking inside Burpelson Air Force Base. They’re inside your video games! They own NFL teams! They’ll steal your condoms! Disagree with President Obama? Racist! (That goes for you too, Bill, Hillary, and your Democratic supporters.) Not onboard for gender-neutral bathrooms? Not too thrilled with abortion-obsessed candidates like Wendy Davis and “Mark Uterus”? Sexist! Disagree with using global warming as a cudgel to usher in the brave new world of bankrupt coal companies and $10 a gallon gasoline? Climate denier!

And as with the original Birchers, don’t get ‘em started on fluoride.
The original Birchers weren’t bad people, but their Cold War paranoia got the better of them. Similarly, as Charles Krauthammer famously said, “To understand the workings of American politics, you have to understand this fundamental law: Conservatives think liberals are stupid. Liberals think conservatives are evil,” which illustrates how a John Birch-style worldview can cause the modern leftists to take an equally cracked view of his fellow countrymen, to the point of writing off entire states and genders:

...

The John Birch left? I think it’s a phrase whose time has come...

Seems pretty apt.


Friday, November 07, 2014

Congrats to Republicans, I Guess

The Republicans emerged victorious in the midterm elections, meeting or exceeding expectations at pretty much all levels of government where there was a contest.  The map below depicts the outcome for the House of Representatives.

So, with all my criticisms of Obama and the Democrats, am I thrilled? No, not at all.  My observations of politics is that a Democrat controlled government does a miserable job and is voted out and replaced by Republicans who do a horrendous job who are then voted out and replaced by Democrats and the cycle begins again and repeats over and over.  So now we've just entered a different part of the vicious cycle. Not much reason for hope, with me leaning more towards nope.

It is striking to me, though, just how much land area is controlled by Republicans.  Except for tiny slivers of densely populated areas and a couple rare exceptions, the vast majority of the country by area is Republican dominated. The Democrats call it "fly-over country," but really, it's the country.

I have become more convinced over time that the type of government(s) needed for highly populated areas is simply different from the type of government(s) needed for less densely populated areas.  So it's not that there's something the matter with Kansas, but simply it has different cultural and political needs than New York City because of the variance in population density.  Once again, that points to federalism being potentially beneficial, enabling each area to build its political structure according to its needs.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Progressivism in a Paragraph

Without a hint of irony, progressives, fundamentalists to the core, excoriate those who believe in other religions while being completely blind to their own:

If you are truly convinced that there is some solution to all human problems, that one can conceive an ideal society which men can reach if only they do what is necessary to attain it, then you and your followers must believe that no price can be too high to pay in order to open the gates of such a paradise. Only the stupid and malevolent will resist once certain simple truths are put to them. Those who resist must be persuaded; if they cannot be persuaded, laws must be passed to restrain them; if that does not work, then coercion, if need be violence, will inevitably have to be used—if necessary, terror, slaughter. Lenin believed this after reading Das Kapital, and consistently taught that if a just, peaceful, happy, free, virtuous society could be created by the means he advocated, then the end justified any methods that needed to be used, literally any.
(Link)

For abundant proof: Here. And here.

Or just wade through the merde that is any comment thread on any progressive blog.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Probably Trending Upwards

My wife claimed that school shootings in the United States are on the rise and she's right [source]:



I was surprised because I had last looked at this in 2002, three years after the Columbine incident, and at that point there was clearly no statistical trend.  Even throwing out the outliers, there probably is one now.

But, before we freak out collectively and totally, remember that there are nearly 50 million students in the United States, making the probability of dying in a school shooting less than one-in-a-million for a student in a given year.

Now Tell Us How You Really Feel

From a Q&A about "The Bell Curve" on its 20th anniversary with author Charles Murray:
Reflecting on the legacy of “The Bell Curve,” what stands out to you? 
...The reaction to “The Bell Curve” exposed a profound corruption of the social sciences that has prevailed since the 1960s. “The Bell Curve” is a relentlessly moderate book — both in its use of evidence and in its tone — and yet it was excoriated in remarkably personal and vicious ways, sometimes by eminent academicians who knew very well they were lying. Why? Because the social sciences have been in the grip of a political orthodoxy that has had only the most tenuous connection with empirical reality, and too many social scientists think that threats to the orthodoxy should be suppressed by any means necessary. Corruption is the only word for it. 
Now that I’ve said that, I’m also thinking of all the other social scientists who have come up to me over the years and told me what a wonderful book “The Bell Curve” is. But they never said it publicly. So corruption is one thing that ails the social sciences. Cowardice is another. [emphasis added]
Well, after all, social science is not rocket science. I found the whole interview interesting.

Oh Good! Another Excuse...

...to do what I would've done anyway - eat a lot of chocolate:
Science edged closer on Sunday to showing that an antioxidant in chocolate appears to improve some memory skills that people lose with age.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Is It True?

Every once in a while I read some mainstream blurb that I find truly incomprehensible and because it's mainstream, shows me just how out-of-touch I am sitting here in my little bubble.  Here's the latest such blurb from presidential candidate Hillary Clinton:
Don't let anybody tell you that it's corporations and businesses that create jobs. You know that old theory, trickle-down economics. That has been tried, that has failed. It has failed rather spectacularly. One of the things my husband says when people ask him what he brought to Washington, he says I brought arithmetic.
So do businesses really not create jobs when they decide to hire additional employees?  If so, what would you call the process of hiring additional employees? If there were no businesses, would there be more jobs than there are now? What does trickle-down economics have to do with that anyway? Is it even possible to "try" a theory? For example, would it make sense to "try" the theory of evolution and, if so, how would you do that? When asked what he brought to Washington, does Bill really answer, "My wife brought arithmetic...?" Is that not a nonsensical response to the question?

She's going to be the next President of the United States and leader of the world and I can't figure out what the hell she's talking about.  Help me out here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Looks that way to me

In a column earlier this year titled  Days of Future Past  Jonah Goldberg included this:
All around the world, authoritarianism of one bent or another is in vogue. From Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s Egypt to Vladimir Putin’s Russia to the Communist party’s China, statism is an idea whose time has come, again. “Over the past few months,” New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote recently, “we’ve seen the beginning of a global battle of regimes, an intellectual contest between centralized authoritarian capitalism and decentralized liberal democratic capitalism.”

Of course, the yearning for authoritarianism is ancient. I would argue that it is baked into the human condition, which is why it must be constantly fought. But even this latest outbreak did not just emerge ex nihilo over the last few months. The heavy intellectual work has been done in plain view for years (indeed, I offer something of a survey of such impulses in my 2008 book Liberal Fascism). How many columns has Thomas Friedman written extolling the superiority of the Chinese way? “There is only one thing worse than one-party autocracy,” Friedman has written, “and that is one-party democracy, which is what we have in America today.”

How many times has Barack Obama, Friedman’s most influential reader, invoked China’s economic planning as something we need to emulate? How many remoras of the Leviathan have offered similar encomiums to statism? “The conservative-preferred, free-market fundamentalist, shareholder-only model — so successful in the 20th century — is being thrown onto the trash heap of history in the 21st century,” declared former SEIU president Andy Stern in the Wall Street Journal in 2011.

Again, this is nothing new. Similar sentences were written countless times in the 20th century, insisting that the free-market fundamentalism of the 19th century was being thrown onto the same trash heap. Anne Morrow Lindbergh famously coined the phrase “wave of the future” to describe the inevitability of collectivism in 1940. The lesson here is not that history proved them wrong, because history doesn’t do anything. They were proved wrong because people proved them wrong.

That is the lesson to take away: The wave of the future isn’t a wave at all, but an eternal tide that champions of freedom must fight against, constantly. For if they stop, even briefly, the tide will push them back to the shores of the natural human condition, and the state of nature is not liberal-democratic capitalism but tribal, thuggish authoritarianism. On this point Orban was absolutely right. “The point of the future is that anything can happen,” he said. “That means it could easily be that our time will come.”
 
In another column title  Freedom  he made the point: 
It’s a little bizarre how the Left has always conflated statism with modernity and progress. The idea that rulers — be they chieftains, kings, priests, politburos, or wonkish bureaucrats — are enlightened or smart enough to tell others how to live is older than the written word. And the idea that someone stronger, with better weapons, has the right to take what is yours predates man’s discovery of fire by millennia. And yet, we’re always told that the latest rationalization for increased state power is the “wave of the future.”

That phrase, “the wave of the future,” became famous thanks to a 1940 essay by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. She argued that the time of liberal democratic capitalism was drawing to a close and the smart money was on statism of one flavor or another — fascism, Communism, socialism, etc. What was lost on her, and millions of others, was that this wasn’t progress toward the new, but regression to the past. These “waves of the future” were simply gussied-up tribalisms, anachronisms made gaudy with the trappings of modernity, like a gibbon in a spacesuit.

The only truly new political idea in the last couple thousand years is this libertarian idea, broadly understood. The revolution wrought by John Locke, Edmund Burke, Adam Smith, and the Founding Fathers is the only real revolution going. And it’s still unfolding. (emphasis mine)

Blogger Bird Dog at Maggie's Farm  excerpted the following from Klaven  
Whatever its pretensions, whatever its claims, statism — progressivism, leftism, socialism — is based on the idea that a small elite intelligentsia can run your life better than you can. They know how to spend your money. They know how to educate your children. They know how to run your health care. They know how to protect you from yourself.

You do not have to talk to a statist very long before he will profess an intense dislike, distrust and even fear of ordinary people. Ordinary people spend money on what they want (TV’s restaurants and cars) rather than what the elite know they ought to want (aluminum foil climate change reversers). Ordinary people teach their children that God created the world rather than a random pattern of mathematic realities that came into being through another random pattern that came…  well, the elite know: it’s random patterns all the way down! Ordinary people will give jobs and business to those who earn them rather than those the elite, in their greater understanding, know are historically deserving because of past oppression. And so on.

Now, of course, with the very elite of the elite running the country, we find that — what do you know? — this statism dodge doesn’t really work all that well. And there are two reasons for this. The first is that the statist premise is wrong. In fact, ordinary people left at liberty to do as they will are actually better at running their lives and businesses and country than the geniuses in Washington. Central planning works great in the imaginations of the elite, but in the real world…  not so much.

And the second problem is that the elite are stupid. No, really. They’re educated and sophisticated and they dress well and speak well. They may even have high IQs. But in the immortal words of Forrest Gump’s mother: “Stupid is as stupid does.” And the elite are stupid.

 Even though I have plenty of friends who would consider themselves part of the elite, the ideas expressed above nail it!