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Tuesday, April 21, 2015


A recent post on Bookworm Room blog  pointed to post elsewhere and raised the reparations question. The real gem was an additional link to a truly outstanding post on the Wolf Howling blog titled: The Roots of Slavery & The Race Hustlers' Holy Grail - Reparations.  The three primary topics addressed are the race hustling industry and reparations, the history of slavery, and how this reflects on human nature and power.  It's worth reading the whole post.  (Video on the post as well.)

Prof. Henry L. Gates, a Prof. of African American Studies at Harvard and late of Beer Summit fame, is chasing the Holy Grail of the race-hustling industry – reparations for slavery.Prof. Gates has no problem “parcelling out the blame” for slavery on this side of the Atlantic. It is, he tells us, the “whites.” So under Gates's theory, if you are a white American, you are born with the sin of slavery hung about your neck. What troubles Gates is the fact that the historical record shows that the people on the supply side of the African slave trade – the people selling African slaves into bondage - were not the evil white skinned devils, but rather black Africans themselves.  
The issue is not divisive at all. It's ludicrous. Those who took part in slavery in America are long dead. It is a fundamental aspect of our legal system that people are held responsible for the wrongs they personally commit; responsibility for those wrongs does not follow down blood lines. But, as Prof. Gates would have us, let us leave that fundamental issue aside. Even so, over 145 years having past since the end of slavery in America, there are a host of issues associated with who should owe what to whom such that every aspect of Gate's call for reparations passes into the surreal. Obama himself perfectly encapsulates some of this. 
Slavery didn't begin with the African slave trade. To the contrary, slavery, as an accepted practice in the world, ended with the African slave trade. Slavery began with the dawn of civilization and it has involved virtually every race. Indeed, unless Gates is historically illiterate, he must know that slave based agrarian economies have been the norm throughout much of the world's history.

And of then there are the world's most prolific slavers of history – the Arabs. Indeed,the Arabs in Saudi Arabia still teach today that it is permissible to make slaves of non-Muslims. And indeed, they still practice what they preach - enslaving blacks in Mali when it fell under al Qaeda rule. Under the Gates theory, we should all be getting reparation checks from Ridyah. 
The bottom line, if slavery is, as Gates posits, an original sin that passes not only through the generations, but also among entire races, then it hangs around the necks of most people in the world today - including President Obama and Prof. Gates. Obviously that can't be right. That doesn't fit the Gate's narrative at all. 
The only way Prof. Gates call for reparations can have even a patina of legitimacy is if it holds culpable only the descendants of those who actually owned slaves and supported the institution of slavery. Fortunately, they are identifiable. The slave owning class in pre-Civil War America and the supporters of slavery as an institution were all to be found in the Democrat Party. It is beyond perverse for Gates, on this historic record, to also seek to hold culpable the Republicans who never supported slavery and whose ancestor's gave their very lives to end slavery. Do you think an Executive Order condemning the Democrat Party for slavery in America and ordering them to pay the reparations per a special levy would satisfy Dr. Gates? I for one could be persuaded to accept that as a reasonable settlement of the problem. 
Gates's push for reparations has more holes than a block of Swiss cheese. If he wanted to actually do something constructive for blacks in America, then Gates would be shouting to the rafters about the call of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for a color blind society. That is certainly in the best interests of both blacks and our nation. Yet instead of focusing on furthering that cause, Gates is pursuing an issue that is sure to, by its very nature, drive whites and blacks apart. 
I am sure Dr. Gates is not so dumb as to be ignorant of any of the above. Nor can he be ignorant of the fact that the descendants of slaves in this country have, today, all of the opportunities of America open to them. No one, Prof. Gates included, could possibly believe that the call for reparations will add anything to that. 
Actually, given that Prof. Gates's wants to apportion blame to all "whites" in America for slavery, it would seem self-evident that the purpose of Dr. Gate's push for reparations is to foster a permanent sense of guilt in the white population of America on one hand and, on the other hand, to separate blacks from whites in society by keeping blacks focused on past sins. That has nothing to do with justice and everything to do with politics. It is naught but a variant on the sermons of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, damning America and calling for blacks to eschew the values of "white" America. 
More specifically, this is the “sins and grievances” approach to politics about which Thomas Sowell recently wrote in his brilliant four-part essay, Race and Politics. It directs blacks and other members of 'victim classes' to “nurse their resentments, instead of advancing their skills and their prospects.” As Dr. Sowell notes, the only beneficiaries of this type of grievance politics “are politicians and race hustlers.” The losers in this equation are those blacks ignoring their opportunities and the reality of America in 2010 and instead, following the ilk of Prof. Gates on the hunt for the race hustlers' holy grail.

The post then continues with an update that draws upon a different article by Dr. Sowell:

. . . Slavery is a classic example. The history of slavery across the centuries and in many countries around the world is a painful history to read — not only in terms of how slaves have been treated, but because of what that says about the whole human species — because slaves and enslavers alike have been of every race, religion, and nationality. 
If the history of slavery ought to teach us anything, it is that human beings cannot be trusted with unbridled power over other human beings — no matter what color or creed any of them are. The history of ancient despotism and modern totalitarianism practically shouts that same message from the blood-stained pages of history. 
But that is not the message that is being taught in our schools and colleges, or dramatized on television and in the movies. The message that is pounded home again and again is that white people enslaved black people.If American society and Western civilization are different from other societies and civilizations, it is in that they eventually turned against slavery, and stamped it out, at a time when non-Western societies around the world were still maintaining slavery and resisting Western pressures to end slavery — including, in some cases, by armed resistance. 
Only the fact that the West had more firepower put an end to slavery in many non-Western societies during the age of Western imperialism. Yet today there are Americans who have gone to Africa to apologize for slavery — on a continent where slavery has still not been completely ended, to this very moment. 
It is not just the history of slavery that gets distorted beyond recognition by the selective filtering of facts. Those who mine history in order to find everything they can to undermine American society or Western civilization have very little interest in the Bataan death march, the atrocities of the Ottoman Empire, or similar atrocities in other times and places.
Those who mine history for sins are not searching for truth but for opportunities to denigrate their own society, or for grievances that can be cashed in today at the expense of people who were not even born when the sins of the past were committed.
The politics of grievance and division and a grossly distorted version of history are meant to undermine a free society, not to promote incremental improvement.

I think this is a terrific example of how the internet allows people to share their efforts to be more knowledgeable and aware.

Thanks GW at Wolf Howling.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Grasping the essence

It has been my experience that in studying the literature on complex subjects in social science such as economics,  many of the people with significant insights could be considered polymaths.  Some time in the past year I was discussing some ideas espoused by George Gilder with  my coblogger.  He asked if I considered Mr. Gilder to be a polymath.  I've read many articles and most of the books authored by Mr. Gilder but had not thought about that question.  After a pause to think about the matter, the reply was a clear "yes."  A few weeks later while watching a video of Deirdre McCloskey, George Gilder and his ideas came up in discussion.  It was clear that McCloskey, herself an obvious polymath, considers Gilder to be a polymath.  With that introduction, here are some excerpts from  Unleash the Mind by George Gilder:
The belief that wealth consists not chiefly in ideas, attitudes, moral codes, and mental disciplines but in definable static things that can be seized and redistributed—that is the materialist superstition. It stultified the works of Marx and other prophets of violence and envy. It betrays every person who seeks to redistribute wealth by coercion. It balks every socialist revolutionary who imagines that by seizing the so-called means of production he can capture the crucial capital of an economy. It baffles nearly every conglomerateur who believes he can safely enter new industries by buying rather than by learning them. It confounds every bureaucrat of science who imagines he can buy or steal the fruits of research and development.  
Even if it wished to, the government could not capture America’s wealth from its one percent of the one percent. As Marxist despots and tribal socialists from Cuba to Greece have discovered to their huge disappointment, governments can neither create wealth nor effectively redistribute it. They can only expropriate and watch it dissipate. If we continue to harass, overtax, and oppressively regulate entrepreneurs, our liberal politicians will be shocked and horrified to discover how swiftly the physical tokens of the means of production dissolve into so much corroded wire, abandoned batteries, scrap metal, and wasteland rot. 
Capitalism is the supreme expression of human creativity and freedom, an economy of mind overcoming the constraints of material power. It is not simply a practical success, a “worst of all systems except for the rest of them,” a faute de mieux compromise redeemed by charities and regulators and proverbially “saved by the New Deal.” It is dynamic, a force that pushes human enterprise down spirals of declining costs and greater abundance. The cost of capturing technology is mastery of the underlying science. The means of production of entrepreneurs are not land, labor, or capital but minds and hearts. Enduring are only the contributions of mind and morality.

Entrepreneurship is the launching of surprises. The process of wealth creation is offensive to levelers and planners because it yields mountains of new wealth in ways that could not possibly be planned. But unpredictability is fundamental to free human enterprise. It defies every econometric model and socialist scheme. It makes no sense to most professors, who attain their positions by the systematic acquisition of credentials pleasing to the establishment above them. Creativity cannot be planned because it is defined by information measured as surprise. Leading entrepreneurs—from Sam Walton to Larry Page to Mark Zuckerberg—did not ascend a hierarchy; they created a new one. They did not climb to the top of anything. They were pushed to the top by their own success. They did not capture the pinnacle; they became it.

Most of America’s leading entrepreneurs are bound to the masts of their fortunes. They are allowed to keep their wealth only as long as they invest it in others. In a real sense, they can keep only what they give away. It has been given to others in the form of investments. It is embodied in a vast web of enterprises that retains its worth only through constant work and sacrifice. Capitalism is a system that begins not with taking but with giving to others.
For this reason, wealth is nearly as difficult to maintain as it is to create. Owners are besieged on all sides by aspiring spenders—debauchers of wealth and purveyors of poverty in the name of charity, idealism, envy, or social change. Bureaucrats, politicians, bishops, raiders, robbers, short-sellers, and business writers all think they can invest money better than its owners. In fact, of all the people on the face of the globe, it is usually only the legal owners of businesses who know enough about the sources of their wealth to maintain it. It is usually they who have the clearest interest in building wealth for others rather than spending it on themselves.

Entrepreneurial knowledge has little to do with certified expertise, advanced degrees, or the learning of establishment schools. The fashionably educated and cultivated spurn the kind of fanatically focused learning commanded by the innovators. Wealth all too often comes from doing what other people consider insufferably boring or unendurably hard. 
The treacherous intricacies of software languages or garbage routes, the mechanics of frying and freezing potatoes, the mazes of high-yield bonds and low-collateral companies, the murky lore of petroleum leases or housing deeds or Far Eastern electronics supplies, the multiple scientific disciplines entailed by fracking for natural gas or contriving the ultimate search engine—all are considered tedious and trivial by the established powers. 
Most people consider themselves above the gritty and relentless details of life that allow the creation of great wealth. They leave it to the experts. But in general you join the one percent of the one percent not by leaving it to the experts but by creating new expertise, not by knowing what the experts know but by learning what they think is beneath them.

Most of the world, then as now, was engaged in one of its periodic revulsions against capitalist  “greed” and waste. Lester Thurow of MIT was proclaiming a “zero sum society,” where henceforth any gains for the rich must be extracted from the poor and middle classes. William Sloane Coffin, the formidable Yale chaplain, was inveighing against capitalist orgies of greed and environmental devastation. Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky were denouncing Western capitalism for displacing American Indians and condemning Israelis for displacing Palestinians (rather than praising the settlers in both countries for reclaiming and redeeming wastelands and hugely enlarging the populations they could support). Edward Said was conducting his Columbia classes (fatefully introducing the works of Frantz Fanon to future president Barack Obama) on Western psychological colonization and hegemonic evisceration of the entire Third World. 
Here we go again, deep in the New Millennium. The themes of exploitation and zero-sum equality continue to preoccupy the media. Congress remains enthralled with static accounting rules that assume tax-rate reductions will not alter economic behavior. In this model, the only way to expand tax receipts is to raise rates on the “rich.”

By focusing on incentives rather than on information and creativity, free-market economists have encouraged the idea that capitalism is based on greed, although, as we have seen, entrepreneurs cannot in general revel in their wealth, because most of it is not liquid. Greed, in fact, only motivates capitalists to seek government guarantees and subsidies that denature and stultify the works of entrepreneurs. The financial crash of 2007 and beyond reflected orgies of greed among crony capitalists awash in government guarantees and subsidies, sitting on their Fannies and Freddies, feeding in the troughs of Treasury privileges and government insurance scams. Greed leads as by an invisible hand to an ever-growing welfare and plutocratic state—to socialism and near-fascist corporatism (see Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism for details).  
The secret of supply-side economics is not merely to incentivize people to work harder or accept more risk in order to gain a greater reward. That could be done under socialism. The reason lower marginal tax rates produce more revenues than higher ones is that the lower rates release the creativity of employers, allowing them to garner more information. They can move more rapidly down the curves of learning and experience. They can learn more because they command more capital to use in their trade. With more capital they can attract more highly skilled labor from around the globe. They reduce time and effort devoted to avoiding taxes and interpreting regulations and consulting lawyers and accountants. With fewer resources diverted to government bureaucracy, they can conduct more undetermined experiments, test more falsifiable hypotheses, try more business plans, generate more productive knowledge. 
It is not the enlargement of incentives and rewards that generates growth and progress, profits and capital gains for the entrepreneur and revenues for the government, but the combination of new knowledge with the power to test and extend it. Volatile and shifting ideas, not heavy and entrenched establishments, constitute the source of wealth.

These are not the conventional ideas that enter most discussions about economics, growth and wealth creation, but they are part of much deeper insight than most people will ever acquire.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

a little is better than none

In a recent article  Jonah Goldberg provided useful guidance and clarification for conservative students:
In this exclusive Q&A with The College Fix, Goldberg explains how American progressivism was born of the same intellectual and political climate that gave rise to various European collectivist, statist and nationalistic movements – and how those mindsets are currently in control of higher education discourse today.
“Political correctness, speech codes, hate-crime hoaxes: these are all efforts by a very small number of people to control what is said and how it is said,” Goldberg explains. 
While you rightly point out that the word “fascist” is exhausted in its use, do you think the fascist connections with American progressivism carry on in any of the clichés (i.e. those buzz phrases that stop an argument) you find when you speak at different campuses? 
Goldberg: A big point of my book was an attempt to “deflate” the idea of fascism. It wasn’t an outlier in the earlier 20th century; it was a very mainstream movement (particularly before the rise of Nazism) that was part of the fad for “experimental” social engineers. The key issue is power. 
Today, the power of fascism is in using the label to silence your opponents. No one gets called a fascist for wanting more “public-private partnerships” between the feds and big business, even though that sort of thing is central to fascist economics. No, people get called “fascist” for disagreeing with feminist radicals or supporting free speech or refusing to conform. The most fascistic things routinely said on college campuses today is “if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem” or “the time for debate is over.” 
There’s no safe-harbor for disagreement. You have to get with the program or you’re a “problem” that needs to be fixed. The best working definition of fascist for the left is simply a “conservative who’s winning an argument.” Because all you have to do to get called a fascist is to disagree with a leftist. Rightwing on college campuses is just another word for “non-compliant.” 
Orwell noticed this a long time ago, which is why he said that fascism had simply come to mean “anything not desirable” or something like that.

You write in your latest book, The Tyranny of Clichés, that clichés are tyrannical in that they are “the use of allegedly non-ideological insights to advance starkly ideological understandings of the world.” Is academic freedom now a tyrannical cliché, and how so? 
Goldberg: Sure. Let’s start with the word ideology. Few words have a worse reputation these days. It has become synonymous with “closed-minded” and “dogmatic,” even “brainwashed.” This is nonsense. An ideology is merely a checklist of your principles. Hopefully your principles are derived from empiricism and experience, though they needn’t always be. (I have never murdered anyone, never committed incest etc., yet I am ideologically, even dogmatically, opposed to them.) 
There’s nothing wrong with being ideological or dogmatic. When people tell me they hate dogma or certainty and brag about how open-minded they are, I tell them that I am dogmatically opposed to setting orphanages on fire. I am also dogmatically opposed to slavery, genocide and the consumption of flan. Save for that last bit, does that make me more or less enlightened? 
Again, it all comes back to power. The Progressives borrowed this neat trick from Napoleon and Marx (which sounds like a fine haberdashery). They unilaterally declared all competing ideologies to be closed-mindedly “ideological” while claiming for themselves an open-minded pragmatism. So liberalism doesn’t have to defend itself as an ideology while it can accuse all of its competing ideologies of being cult-like and other-worldly. We hear this in Obama all of the time. His opponents are “ideologues” who put their “ideology” ahead of the American people, while he is merely a “problem-solver” who only wants to do “what works.” I’m sure he believes it. 
Which points to one of the big problems with liberalism; its staggering lack of self-awareness.  Liberals simply take it as a given that they are open-minded, morally superior free thinkers. At least conservatives acknowledge our dogma. Liberals have become so dogmatic they can’t even see theirs.
So some ideology is probably better than none or pretending to have none.  I believe that Peter has made this point before.  (We could call this post applying the lesson: episode 2.)  Later in the interview:
Conservatives need to get better at convincing people that we believe what we believe not just because it is good for us but because it’s good for everybody. Capitalism is the greatest anti-poverty program in human history. Yet conservatives rarely emphasize that. Why? 
More to the point of your question, the ultimate goal must never be ridicule but persuasion.
Nothing wrong with some ideology provided one avoids being blinded by it.

Monday, March 30, 2015

What can you tell us?

This article about  Brazil appeared online last week:

print version (will load quicker)
Millions of people are out demonstrating, asking for president Dilma Rousseff’s resignation. The endemic corruption of the leftist regime is being denounced by the masses that have taken to the streets, but largely ignored by the media elites, which are connected to those neo-Bolshevik channels financially supported by the Putin autocracy and its friends. The Sao Paulo Forum with its radical exhortations continues its maneuvers of hypnotizing the public opinion. Lies abound, but are starting to not be believed anymore. Protesters are being slandered as “American agents”, “spies”, “fascists” etc. Yet, less people than ever buy into these slanders. 
The protests are being organized by a grassroots initiative with an openly liberal (non-leftist) orientation – the Free Brazil Movement (MBL). Signatures are being gathered for Dilma Rousseff’s dismissal. It turns out that philosopher Olavo de Carvalho’s anti-totalitarian ideas have taken root in Brazil. Olavo, a remarkable social thinker execrated by the Left, knows a great deal about Marxism and revolutionary utopianism in general, at any rate a far greater deal than Dilma and her followers. He is familiar with the famous 11th thesis on Feuerbach: “Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it.” The world is changing in Brazil. 
The hyper-corrupt bureaucracy of the Workers’ Party, so outrageously obvious during the World Cup in 2014, is coming face to face with a resurgent civil society. What is being foreshadowed, it seems, is a peaceful, non-violent revolution. Marxist revolutions are explosions of violence. But not the anti-totalitarian ones. It is now clear that millions of Brazilians feel the need to expose twaddle, nonsense, irresponsible foolishness, cynical demagoguery masquerading as a springboard for collective bliss.

Clovis, what is your sense of things?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Not just the shoes

A recent Nick Gillespie interview of Camille Paglia provided some interesting perspectives.  I like the points that blogger Stuart Schneiderman lifted out on his Had Enough Therapy? blog:
If universities should not be in the business of policing student behavior, they should be in the business of forming young minds. There, according to Paglia, they have failed miserably: 
Now, I've encountered these graduates of Harvard, Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, and Princeton, I've encountered them in the media, and people in their 30s now, some of them, their minds are like Jell-O. They know nothing! They've not been trained in history. They have absolutely no structure to their minds. Their emotions are unfixed. The banality of contemporary cultural criticism, of academe, the absolute collapse of any kind of intellectual discourse in the U.S. is the result of these colleges, which should have been the best, have produced the finest minds, instead having retracted into caretaking. The whole thing is about approved social positions in a kind of misty, love of humanity without any direct knowledge of history or economics or anthropology. 
A wondrous image: minds like jello. Insubstantial, unstructured, incapable of dealing with ideas … quivering with deep feeling about nothing in particular.

He excerpts many other worthwhile points and his post is a bit shorter than the full interview.  Some other points that I liked included:

Paglia: I am an equal-opportunity feminist. I believe that all barriers to women's advancement in the social and political realm must be removed. However, I don't feel that gender is sufficient to explain all of human life. This gender myopia has become a disease, a substitute for a religion, this whole cosmic view. It's impossible that the feminist agenda can ever be the total explanation for human life. Our problem now is that this monomania—the identity politics of the 1970s so people see everything through the lens of race, gender, or class—this is an absolute madness, and in fact, it's a distortion of the '60s.
reason: You're not saying that those things—race, class, and gender—which is kind of the holy trinity of contemporary cultural studies, but all of those things are important, and they all intersect in many ways.
Paglia: They are important.
reason: But you're essentially arguing that none of these explain things totally.
Paglia: That's right. These are techniques of social analysis I find very useful. That's the way I teach and write. Race, class, and gender? Absolutely! But the point is that Marxism is, as I argue in the introduction to my last booklet, is not sufficient as a metaphysical system for explaining the cosmos. It is very limited. Marxism sees only society, but we are much greater than that. There's nature, there's eternity, there's questions of mortality, which Catholic theology of the Middle Ages addresses far more profoundly then Marxism ever has.
A solid takedown of a simplistic class only analysis of the world makes sense to me.  Another area of agreement for me was the historical cluelessness of the American press:
Paglia: [As a] writer of cultural criticism, I find that I'm happiest when I'm writing for the British press, and I write quite a bit for The Sunday Times magazine in London. I find that the general sense of cultural awareness means that I can have an authentic discourse about ideas with international journalists from Brazil or Germany or Italy or Norway or Canada even—somewhat, but they have a P.C. problem themselves. I can feel the vacuum and the nothingness of American cultural criticism at the present time. It is impossible—any journalist today, an American journalist, you cannot have any kind of deep discussion of ideas.
reason: Is that just a kind of hyper-exaggeration of the American disease, which goes back to early American literary criticism, that we're people who come from nowhere and we don't care about the past. We're freed from the burdens of the past, but we don't care about the past.
Paglia: Yes, I think this is true. The past is always present in Europe. To the extent that you're in Berlin, you can still see the bullet marks on buildings from World War II. And it's a terrible burden to have that there. I think Americans are far more ingenious and open and daring. On the other hand...people abroad have a much more sophisticated idea about [politics and ideology in] Europe…
Finally, a point I couldn't find in the transcript but was in the video, was that there is no male-bashing in her feminism.  Equal rights and opportunities are the point, not a putdown of men.
On the whole, a presentation of many sensible ideas.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Trivia of the Day

Excerpt from a Marginal Revolution post:
An American male is 4,582 times more likely to become an Army general if his father was one; 1,895 times more likely to become a famous C.E.O.; 1,639 times more likely to win a Pulitzer Prize; 1,497 times more likely to win a Grammy; and 1,361 times more likely to win an Academy Award. Those are pretty decent odds, but they do not come close to the 8,500 times more likely a senator’s son is to find himself chatting with John McCain or Dianne Feinstein in the Senate cloakroom.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Lies, Damn Lies, and Government Statistics: Part II

At Marginal Revolution, economist Tyler Cowen asks: "How much has the U.S. poverty rate declined?" He notes two government statistics:
Official percent poor in 1964: 19.0%Official percent poor in 2013: 14.5%
He then notes that depending on which government statistics are used to derive "percent poor," such as using the PCE price deflator rather than CPI-U, you can get radically different results:
Adjusted percent poor in 2013: 4.8%
You can show anything you want using government statistics.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Left in a Sentence

Wisconsin: Unions Sue to Stop Law Halting Dues Collection

(AP) The state A.F.L.-C.I.O. and two local unions filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to at least temporarily block a new law barring unions from requiring workers to pay the equivalent of dues. The lawsuit, arguing that the law is unconstitutional, was filed in Dane County Circuit Court a day after Gov. Scott Walker signed the measure. A spokeswoman for Mr. Walker, a Republican, and Attorney General Brad Schimel, also a Republican, both said they were confident that the law would be upheld, just as federal courts have ruled in favor of such laws in Michigan and Indiana. The unions say that the law is an unconstitutional taking of their property without just compensation and that enforcement would cause them irreparable harm.

Emphasis added, perhaps unnecessarily.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Applying the lesson

In the comments to a recent post, Hey Skipper stated the following:

I could swear I've brought this up a couple times already: Left & Right are useless terms; instead we should use Collectivist & Individualist.

Old habits die hard.  In an attempt to change those habits, I thought it would be worth trying to apply this idea to a post by John Jay on one of his blogs:

Leftists Collectivists don't understand much 
Leftists Collectivists are people who know and understand a lot less than they think they do.  The classical example of that is of course in economics.  Even when they gained unfettered control of such vast countries as Russia and China, they made a hash of it.
At the time of the 1917 revolution, Russia was a rapidly modernizing country with railways snaking out across the land and a flourishing agricultural sector that made it a major wheat exporter.  After the revolution agricultural production dropped by about one third and right through the Soviet era Russia never managed to feed itself.  Europe's subsidized food surpluses were a Godsend to it.  A lot of those food surpluses went East. 
And in China, Mao's Great Leap Forward was an unmitigated disaster that achieved nothing but millions of deaths from starvation.  An understanding of economics as poor as Communist economics could hardly be a better proof that Leftists Collectivists are people who know and understand a lot less than they think they do. 
And what libertarian said this? “The bureaucracy is a parasite on the body of society, a parasite which ‘chokes’ all its vital pores…The state is a parasitic organism”. It was V.I. Lenin, in August 1917, before he set up his own vastly bureaucratic state.  He could see the problem but was quite incapable of solving it. 
And Leftists Collectivists understand people so badly that they judge everyone by themselves  (projection) -- leading to the generalization that to understand what is true of Leftists Collectivists you just have to see what they say about conservatives.  That is even true of Leftist Collectivist psychologists (i.e. around 95% of psychologists).
For example, a book by Leftist Collectivist psychologists called "The Authoritarian personality" (under the lead authorship of a prominent Marxist theoretician) was a huge hit among psychologists in the '50s and '60s and is still well-spoken of among them to this day.  The basic theme of the book was that conservatives are authoritarian.  What a towering example of projection!  It was written while the vastly authoritarian regimes in Russia and China were still extant and just after another hugely authoritarian socialist regime had collapsed, Hitler's.  Yet it was conservatives who were supposed to be authoritarian? 
The fact of the matter is that Leftism Collectivism is fundamentally authoritarian. Whether by revolution or by legislation, Leftists Collectivists aim to change what people can and must do. When in 2008 Obama said that he wanted to "fundamentally transform" America, he was not talking about America's geography or topography but rather about American people. He wanted them to stop doing things that they wanted to do and make them do things that they did not want to do. Can you get a better definition of authoritarianism than that? 
And remember Obama's 2008 diagnosis of the Midwest:
"You go into these small towns in Pennsylvania and, like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And they fell through the Clinton administration, and the Bush administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. 
And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations." 
That Midwesterners could be sincere Christians who need guns for self defence and hunting clearly did not figure in Obama's understanding of the Midwest -- and the remarks have become a byword for Leftist Collectivist incomprehension. To this day conservatives often sarcastically refer to themselves as "bitter clingers". As all the surveys show, conservatives tend to be happy people, not "bitter".  The uproar caused by  his uncomprehending remarks led Obama himself to backpedal. 
And the stock Leftist Collectivist explanation for all social ills --   It's due to poverty -- got really hilarious in the aftermath of the 9/11/2001 attacks on America by Osama bin Laden and his followers.  Leftists Collectivists insisted that bin Laden's hatred was also due to poverty.  It took some months before they could get it into their brains that bin Laden was actually a billionaire 
Leftism Collectivism is the politics of rage.  They see things about them that seem wrong to them but rather than seek to understand why that state of affairs prevails, they simply condemn it and propose the first  simplistic solution to the problem that comes into their heads -- usually some version of "MAKE people behave better".  They are incurious and impatient people and the destruction they can cause as a result is huge.
German philosopher Leibniz proposed many years ago that we live in "the best of all possible worlds" as a way of drawing attention to the fact that some good things necessarily have bad effects as well.  So stomping on the bad things will also destroy good things.  The whole of Leftism Collectivism is an example of that in action. To improve the world you first have to understand it.  Leftists Collectivists don't.
That's not a bad start, but it might take some more practice.

My youngest is home on break.  He was looking over my shoulder as I prepared this post.  His comment was, "that's a very opinionated piece."  I replied, "yes, but it's not wrong."  He agreed.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Lies, Damn Lies, and Government Statistics

Our favorite economic pundit, Paul Krugman (okay, maybe a wee little bit of sarcasm about "favorite"), writes: "My first chart shows wages of production and nonsupervisory workers in 2014 dollars; we have never gotten back to 1973 levels":

Scott Sumner, an economist who blogs at The Money Illusion, prior to seeing Krugman's chart wrote: "Here’s a graph showing hourly real wages, where I use the wage series excluding the higher paid managers.  I presume that’s the series people are discussing":

Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 12.51.33 PM

Both are based on "Average Hourly Earnings of Production and Nonsupervisory Employees." Seems like they should have the same shape with a different scale.

It took me awhile to figure why they look so different. The following chart provides the answer:

Krugman used the Consumer Price Index (the red line above) in order to "normalize" wages. The CPI is:
an index of the variation in prices paid by typical consumers for retail goods and other items.
Sumner used the Personal Consumption Expenditures index (the green line above) to "normalize" wages. The PCE is:
A measure of price changes in consumer goods and services. Personal consumption expenditures consist of the actual and imputed expenditures of households; the measure includes data pertaining to durables, non-durables and services.
This example shows you can paint any picture you like about just about anything just by picking which statistics (especially when it comes to price indices) you choose to use. Stagnant wages? Sure. Rising wages? No problem. Whatever you want.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Fear of Intelligence

I sat on a robotics panel last week that discussed the future of robotics. The audiences' questions exposed the fact that at least some people are really scared of robotics and Artificial Intelligence.  It seems that some of this renewed fear is due to the philosopher Nick Bostrom,who recently authored Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies. Bostrom specializes in "existential risk" and I have a hunch that just like everything tends to look like a nail when the only tool you have is a hammer, it's convenient for everything to look catastrophically dangerous when your specialty is existential risk. It certainly increases your likelihood of funding!

The basis for the fear is the advancement of machine intelligence coupled with a technology singularity. The following is a description of levels of machine intelligence:
AI Caliber 1) Artificial Narrow Intelligence (ANI): Sometimes referred to as Weak AI, Artificial Narrow Intelligence is AI that specializes in one area. There’s AI that can beat the world chess champion in chess, but that’s the only thing it does. Ask it to figure out a better way to store data on a hard drive, and it’ll look at you blankly. 
AI Caliber 2) Artificial General Intelligence (AGI): Sometimes referred to as Strong AI, or Human-Level AI, Artificial General Intelligence refers to a computer that is as smart as a human across the board—a machine that can perform any intellectual task that a human being can. Creating AGI is a much harder task than creating ANI, and we’re yet to do it. Professor Linda Gottfredson describes intelligence as “a very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience.” AGI would be able to do all of those things as easily as you can.
AI Caliber 3) Artificial Superintelligence (ASI): Oxford philosopher and leading AI thinker Nick Bostrom defines superintelligence as “an intellect that is much smarter than the best human brains in practically every field, including scientific creativity, general wisdom and social skills.” Artificial Superintelligence ranges from a computer that’s just a little smarter than a human to one that’s trillions of times smarter—across the board. ASI is the reason the topic of AI is such a spicy meatball and why the words immortality and extinction will both appear in these posts multiple times.
The Technological Singularity is described as follows:
The technological singularity is the hypothesis that accelerating progress in technologies will cause a runaway effect wherein artificial intelligence will exceed human intellectual capacity and control, thus radically changing civilization in an event called the singularity.[1] Because the capabilities of such an intelligence may be impossible for a human to comprehend, the technological singularity is an occurrence beyond which events may become unpredictable, unfavorable, or even unfathomable.[2]
The concepts of varying levels of artificial intelligence and the singularity have been around for a long time, starting well before existential risk philosopher Bostrom was even born. I've had the opportunity to contemplate these concepts for decades while I've worked in technology, robotics and artificial intelligence, and I think these concepts are egregiously fundamentally flawed. They make for a good science fiction story and not much else. I was glad to find I'm not alone in this:
If this sounds absurd to you, you’re not alone. Critics such as the robotics pioneer Rodney Brooks say that people who fear a runaway AI misunderstand what computers are doing when we say they’re thinking or getting smart. From this perspective, the putative super intelligence Bostrom describes is far in the future and perhaps impossible.
While it would take volumes of highly detailed technical information for me to present a fully convincing argument, for now, I'd like to leave y'all with a couple of thoughts.

Consider the following words: computation, intelligence, experience, information/knowledge, decision, action.

  • Even infinite computation (which is kind of the basis of the singularity) doesn't inherently translate to infinite intelligence or even any real or general intelligence.
  • In a vacuum, even infinite intelligence is useless.
  • The frontiers of information/knowledge can't be very much expanded with intelligence alone - experience (hypotheses, experiment, scientific method, etc.) is required no matter how intelligent something or someone is, and experience takes time, a long, long, long time as any researcher, developer or thinker (apparently other than an existential risk philospher) knows.
  • No matter how intelligent something is, it can't make decisions to take catastrophic actions based on currently unknown knowledge until it takes the time to gain experience to push the state of knowledge. The actions required to gain that experience will be observable and easily stoppable if necessary.
On the other hand, consider a nuclear tipped cruise missile. It can perform some computation and can maneuver in its very narrowly intelligent way, has none of its own experience (it's a one shot deal after all), has some information/knowledge in terms of maps, someone else made the decision to launch, but it's action is quite devastating. 10,000 of them could destroy most of the advanced life on earth. When I was a child, we had air raid drills in school because we thought some crazy soviet might do exactly that.

The point being that we're already more than intelligent enough to destroy ourselves via nukes, pathogens, etc.  The risk from super intelligent machines pales in comparison. Consider:

  • About 1% of humans are sociopaths and that translates to about 70,000,000 people worldwide. Given standard bell curves, some of those are likely to have IQs in the neighborhood of 200. If intelligence alone is a thing to fear, then it's too late unless we're willing to kill all the smart people, and I strongly suggest we don't do that.
  • Humans, using tools (including computers), have and will continue to have access to all the tools of annihilation that a super intelligence would have and some of us are downright evil already.
Part of the runaway AI fear is based on the concept of a single Artificial Super Intelligence emerging in a winner-takes-all scenario, where it redesigns and rebuilds itself so fast that nothing else will ever be able to out think it and disable it so we'd better hope it's beneficent.

But consider the saying: "Jack-of-all-trades, master of none." My view is that narrow, focused intelligence, sort of the idiot-savants of the AI world, in their narrow area, will outperform a super general intelligence, and enable us to use them as tools to keep super general intelligences, if any are ever created, in check.

There is no commercial reason to ever create a general intelligence. For example, at my company, our vision systems will soon surpass human vision systems, and watching our Robotic Pruner prune, it looks quite purposeful and intelligent, but there's no real intelligence there. Siri's "descendants" will far surpass the Turing Test in a couple of decades (or sooner or later), and will appear extremely intelligent, but will be just a very, very good verbal analysis and response AI and will have no general intelligence of any kind. C-3PO in Star Wars appears intelligent and we will be able to create a C-3PO eventually, but the real world version will have no real, general intelligence.

The illusion that many of us seem to have fallen for is that many behaviors that we associate with our own anthropomorphic intelligence are only possible if we create an entity with intelligence that somehow operates like a human's, or is orthogonal to the way human intelligence operates, but is similarly global and all encompassing. I strongly believe that view is mistaken and that it is just an illusion. Seemingly intelligent looking behaviors will emerge from massive computation and information interacting with a non-trivial environment, but it won't be any sort of conscious or real intelligence. And because of that, it won't be dangerous.

Human intelligence requires a human body with a circulatory system pumping hormones and responding to rhythms and movements and events and sensory input. I always chuckle when someone suggests encoding someone's brain (neurons & connections) into a computer. You know what you get if you do that? The person in a coma, which doesn't seem particularly useful to me.

I think intelligence, especially within this particular topic, is wildly overrated, and there's nothing to fear.

Saturday, February 14, 2015


The use of labels is standard fare in many political discussions.  Such simplifications can be helpful but they can also obscure or confuse things when the labels miss the mark or their use changes over time.  I was recently reading an article at PJMedia and there was a link to an article with the very cute title: The Electric Tea Party Acid Test in which the author offered his own construct:

A necessary precursor to accepting any new worldview is to first jettison the previous worldview. So let’s start at the beginning: for the duration of this essay at least, pretend you’ve never heard of the left/right spectrum. Stick with me on this. As an intellectual exercise, just toss the notions of “left-wing” and “right-wing” out the window and begin your political education anew. Because it is this unnecessary (and now inaccurate) dichotomy between “left” and “right” which prevents most people from clearly conceptualizing the way that political thought is actually arrayed.

OK — is your mind clear? Now look at my newly conceptualized spectrum which schematizes political philosophies in a much more sensible and incisive way:

Later in the article Zombie continues:
People who adhere to the outdated and overly simplistic left/right divide may have trouble grokking this new way of looking at society. Newsweek, for example, recently claimed that the Tea Party has an “anarchist streak.” I find this interesting, because the Newsweek writer understood that both Tea Partiers and anarchists are on the same end of the “Government Control” axis, but couldn’t grasp that, viewed from a different orientation, Tea Partiers are at the opposite end of the “Human Nature” axis from anarchists, who want to construct an (impossible) law-free utopia based on the assumption that people can change and control themselves in the absence of any authority whatsoever.

This brings up a good point: Scroll back up to the chart and think of it in terms of “halves.” Leftists want to highlight the fact the both Tea Partiers and Nazis are in the same “half” of the chart — the bottom half, as it is currently oriented (although of course the way I rotated the chart was completely random — there is no inherent meaning in the up-down-left-right placement, and I just as easily could have designed it to be 90 degrees or 180 degrees a different way). Of course, as mentioned above, the crucial difference is that Nazis and other totalitarians want to use government to enforce their idea of the natural order of things, whereas Tea Partiers have the exact opposite urge — to have no government enforcement at all, and to let the natural order of things play itself out — naturally.

On the other hand, The Tea Partiers (and I) want you to notice that all the “bad” ideologies, including Nazism and communism, also share space on the same half of the chart, in this case the “more government control” half.

So, the chart is viewpoint-neutral; each person can express their pre-existing political bias by pointing out how this-or-that political enemy is at least in the same half as some identifiably bad ideology. It just all depends on what angle from which you choose to view the spectrum.

There are things to quibble over and different points of emphasis someone else might bring to bare, but overall a pretty interesting take on the matter.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

War of the Sexes: Part 10 - Karma?

In The End of Men: And the Rise of Women, Hanna Rosin created a metaphor for modern men and women:
Throughout my reporting, a certain imaginary comic book duo kept presenting themselves to me: Plastic Woman and Cardboard Man. Plastic Woman has during the last century performed superhuman feats of flexibility. She has gone from barely working at all to working only until she got married to working while married and then working with children, even babies. If a space opens up for her to make more money than her husband, she grabs it. If she is no longer required by ladylike standards to restrain her temper, she starts a brawl at the bar. If she can get away with staying unmarried and living as she pleases deep into her thirties, she will do that too. And if the era calls for sexual adventurousness, she is game. [...]
Cardboard Man, meanwhile, hardly changes at all. A century can go by and his lifestyle and ambitions remain largely the same. There are many professions that have gone from all- male to female, and almost none that have gone the other way. For most of the century men derived their sense of manliness from their work, or their role as head of the family. A 'coalminer' or 'rigger' used to be a complete identity, connecting a man to a long lineage of men.
Clearly the female gender is far superior with its "superhuman" flexibility and success while "centuries" can go by with men mired in the same muck. But wait! In the uncountable centuries prior to the last couple, where was that vaunted flexibility and success of the female gender? It seems like women were rather stuck in the mud with the same "ambitions" century after century as well, just like men.

Ah, but I'm sure it was the oppression of the evil patriarchy that kept "Plastic Woman" from launching into her meteoric rise all these millennia. After all, it's always the patriarchy's fault. Of course, then we have to wonder why the patriarchy suddenly became incompetent at oppression in the last couple of centuries.

To play a little with a famous saying, god created man and woman, but Sam Colt made them equal. When the armaments of an age are the broadsword and longbow, which require a lot of strength to use effectively, wielding weapons of war and defense is best left to the physically stronger sex. With the development of hand guns and rifles, a woman wielding a weapon became every bit as dangerous as most men. I don't think it's a coincidence that Plastic Woman seems to have emerged with the development of modern, light, and powerful weapons. The cost of oppression was suddenly much higher and the need for male defenders swinging broadswords was suddenly much lower.

Weapons technology was one technology behind the emergence of Plastic Woman, but virtually every technology has moved all aspects of life towards matching women's nature. I realize that only an evil patriarch like myself would even dare to suggest that women and men have different natures, but I'm the evil author of this post, so deal with it.

Natural attributes of men, such as physical strength and willingness to engage in physical and even mortal danger, have been rendered nearly useless by inventing machines and refining them to tame their potentially violent and dangerous or deadly force. Though there is debate on the issue, my opinion is that one would have to be deaf to not know that women are more verbal than men (I'm using up all of my words for at least three days just to write this post), and with the increasing importance of information and complex networks in all aspects of society, verbal competency has become ever more important, playing to women's strengths. Being naturally nurturing in nursing and other jobs in the growing service sector also moves the world towards women.

Therefore, it's not that Plastic Woman necessarily has superhuman flexibility, but rather the world was dumped in her lap and she could hardly help but flourish. On the other hand, Cardboard Man has pretty much had everything taken away from the sweet spot of his abilities. From this perspective, women haven't been flexible at all and while men may not have flexed enough to keep up with the stunningly rapid change of the last two centuries, they have flexed quite a bit. Other than a few things like female prostitution, there really aren't any jobs a woman can do that a man can't, and men have made at least some inroads into most existing careers.

Ms. Rosin can continue to gloat for her gender for a while longer. But what goes around comes back around eventually, and technology, which has so far destroyed mostly only men's livelihoods while creating new opportunities for women, is relentlessly marching towards eliminating women's work as well. Within decades, computers will learn to speak, and not just the rote responses you get on the phone or from Apple's Siri. They will learn to understand what they hear and respond with knowledgeable and seemingly empathetic responses. My estimate is that this strong AI will start to be well developed within two decades.

Along the way, computers, coupled with sensors and actuators, will become better doctors, nurses and therapists than humans; better administrators; better at customer service; and better at sales. They may eventually even be better at prostitution, though robot sex may not be considered prostitution, I suppose. At that point we'll get to see if Plastic Woman is really fantastically flexible or if women also are ejected unceremoniously from the workforce and end up sitting around watching soap operas all day.

Then Ms. Rosin can write a new book with the title "The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence." Oh wait! Somebody already wrote that book.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

War of the Sexes: Part 9 - War in the Workplace

One of the major battles in the War of the Sexes is in the work place. Within this realm, I don't think anything draws the ire of feminists more than the following:
On average, full-time working women earn just 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.
It's seen as inherently unfair, certain to be a symptom of rampant discrimination and oppression by the patriarchy. After all, given that women are equal to men in every way (except, of course, where they're better), how could anything but nefarious motives possibly explain why women are paid so much less?

To those of us, such as myself, who are deemed to be part of the evil patriarchy, it looks like there are a large number of reasons for the salary discrepancy, and most of them aren't nefarious at all. Indeed, according to a US Department of Labor report, pretty much the entire wage gap can be easily explained:
There are observable differences in the attributes of men and women that account for most of the wage gap. Statistical analysis that includes those variables has produced results that collectively account for between 65.1% and 76.4% of a raw gender wage gap of 20.4%, and thereby leave an adjusted gender wage gap that is between 4.8% and 7.1%. These variables include:
  • A greater percentage of women than men tend to work part-time. Part-time work tends to pay less than full-time work.
  • A greater percentage of women than men tend to leave the labor force for child birth, child care and elder care. Some of the wage gap is explained by the percentage of women who were not in the labor force during previous years, the age of women, and the number of children in the home.
  • Women, especially working mothers, tend to value “family friendly” workplace policies more than men. Some of the wage gap is explained by industry and occupation, particularly, the percentage of women who work in the industry and occupation.
Research also suggests that differences not incorporated into the model due to data limitations may account for part of the remaining gap. Specifically, CONSAD’s model and much of the literature, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics Highlights of Women’s Earnings, focus on wages rather than total compensation. Research indicates that women may value non-wage benefits more than men do, and as a result prefer to take a greater portion of their compensation in the form of health insurance and other fringe benefits.
This report doesn't even take into account minor little details like fatalities as shown by the following depiction:

Nor does it take into account things like lawsuits. Women bring far more lawsuits against employers than men and some of the awards are astounding. For example, one jury awarded $168 million for a sexual harassment lawsuit. While some of the lawsuits may well be justified (though more than half of all sexual harassment lawsuits are dismissed as No Reasonable Cause), it makes women as a whole more expensive than men for the same job.

Women, still not happy with their compensation relative to men, are turning to the class action suit:
This month, Merck  was hit with a $100 million sex discrimination suit alleging that the company engaged in systemic gender bias. The complaint could be used in a law school as a way to teach virtually every gender-based claim that could possibly be brought against an employer.
The case includes many allegations of discrimination against female and pregnant employees, and staffers who chose to take family-medical leave. The suit also claims that Merck engaged in discriminatory promotional and payroll practices. And the case also includes less tangible “Boys’ Club” allegations, which have become increasingly common in gender bias cases. 
But Merck is far from alone. In a 2011 paper, Holland & Hart’s John M. Husband and Bradford J. Williams list private employers who have settled class actions in the tens — or even hundreds — of millions of dollars, noting that it “reads like a who’s who of Fortune 500 companies.” Many, but not all, involve sex discrimination. 
Class actions are not going away. First, there are plaintiffs’ lawyers who focus on class actions. Let’s face it: That’s where the money is for many lawyers. Indeed, there are some plaintiffs’ lawyers who specifically focus on Fortune 500 companies. 
Second, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in its strategic plan, has prioritized eliminating systemic barriers in hiring. This priority will unavoidably focus on the way employers give out promotions too. 
It is highly likely that the EEOC’s approach will involve more and more class action suits because companywide or systemic issues almost always involve a group of employees. It is probably no accident that the most recent EEOC commissioner appointee is an attorney with significant class action expertise.
This battle in the War of the Sexes is being taken to the courts. It has entered the realm of who can get what from whom and who can control whom. Pretty much like the purpose of any other war. Why do I claim that this is the purpose rather than assume the courts are needed to address some sort of inequity? Consider the following thought experiment.

Let's ignore all the analysis and say that women really are paid less than their value. If that's the case, I would think that women would start lots of companies and hire all these underpaid women because if they did, they'd have a huge advantage in labor costs relative to existing companies, and they would be wildly profitable and dominate the markets in short order. There are even government programs to help encourage this.

Women don't do that. Instead, they turn to the class action trial attorneys. Therefore, I can only conclude that this battle is more about getting something not really deserved rather than actually working towards a positive solution.

With the help of the trial lawyers, my bet is that women will have a decisive victory in the battle of the workplace as well before too long. As they drive more and more men out of work, they may find that victory to be somewhat hollow.

Monday, February 09, 2015

If It Doesn't Kill You, Is It a Bad Decision?

I stumbled upon an excerpt today that I think nearly perfectly describes the contempt many conservatives assign to the progressive experiment (liberal disease):
It should be apparent by now that these social policies [of modern liberalism] and the passions that drive them contradict all that is rational in human relating, and they are therefore irrational in themselves. But the faulty conceptions that lie behind these passions cannot be viewed as mere cognitive slippage. 
The degree of modern liberalism’s irrationality far exceeds any misunderstanding that can be attributed to faulty fact gathering or logical error. 
Indeed, under careful scrutiny, liberalism’s distortions of the normal ability to reason can only be understood as the product of psychopathology. 
So extravagant are the patterns of thinking, emoting, behaving and relating that characterize the liberal mind that its relentless protests and demands become understandable only as disorders of the psyche. The modern liberal mind, its distorted perceptions and its destructive agenda are the product of disturbed personalities.
Personally, I don't think it's a problem of liberalism, but rather it's part of the human condition. All of us, conservatives, libertarians, progressives, communists, etc., are so divorced from reality that we can all have "extravagant" "patterns of thinking, emoting, behaving and relating" that have little or nothing to do with reality. Almost no matter what we do, we'll all survive, at least into our reproductive years. We'll all have enough food, clothing, and shelter to keep on breathing, even the poorest among us.

A significant part of the reason for that is that neither conservatives, libertarians, progressives, communists, etc. are going to let children starve or otherwise die from destitution. None of us can stand to watch children die, especially if those children are in our own communities. That aversion is part of being human. But that means that all children, even very poor ones, even ones that come from a long line of folks whose decisions we disagree with, such as those whose actions result in single motherhood which results in poverty most of the time, will reach adulthood and will likely have children of their own, who also will be kept alive, enabling the cycle of poverty to continue.

Is anyone making an objectively bad decision? I claim no. For those that support safety nets (which is nearly everybody, really), the money is more than worth it to not have children starving. For those making decisions that will likely result in children being raised in poverty, they're propagating their DNA, which seems like an objectively good decision as well.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

A False Flag Operation?

As I read the Master and Commander series, I gained an appreciation for what "false flag" means: an action carried out under an identity other than that proclaimed and sometimes surreptitiously opposite to that of the claimed identity.

Just so with A New Way to Talk About Poverty in New York.

Slate is a bastion of mostly — but to be fair, not always — unreflective progressivism (which, unfortunately, continues to make the brand-sullying error of publishing Amanda Marcotte).

The point of the piece was to photographically document living in poverty and, ostensibly, provide an opportunity for empathy and sympathy in the viewer. And not black poverty, which is such a lightning rod, but rather white poverty in upstate New York.

To progressives, poverty is an indictment of society and the system and capitalism. Oh, and Reagan.

In contrast, for non-progressives, poverty is often the consequence of self-defeating choices, which should not be subsidized because the inevitable consequence is getting more of what you pay for.

It should come as no surprise, then, that this photo essay serves as a compelling indictment of right-wing capitalism. Here is the author's précis:

Brenda Ann Kenneally takes photographs, but to call her a photographer isn’t quite accurate. She prefers the term “digital folk artist,” and when you hear how she interacts with her subjects—families living below the poverty line in Troy, New York—and tells their stories ...

Kenneally lived in Troy, a city 140 miles north of Manhattan, and surrounding cities on and off as a child and teen. She left for good at the age of 17 after a young pregnancy and abortion, problems with drugs and the legal system, and time living in group homes. After getting sober, she studied photojournalism and sociology at the University of Miami. After graduation, she moved to Brooklyn and began photographing her neighbors’ struggles with poverty and drugs.

No doubt, part of this story is about the consequences of economic change: no one wants to live without it, but, particularly for some, it can be hard to live with, too.

... today, Troy is a city with serious social issues: According to a report released by the New York State Community Action Association in 2010, 21.4 percent of residents in Troy live in poverty, and about 70 percent of poor families are headed by a single mother. “I have dedicated my life to exploring the how and why of class inequity in America. I am concerned with the internalized social messages that will live on for generations after our economic and social policies catch up with the reality of living on the bottom rung of America’s upwardly mobile society,” Kenneally said in a statement about her work. “My project explores the way that money is but a symptom of self-worth and a means by which humans separate from each other. Poverty is an emotional (rather than simply) physical state with layers of marginalization that cements those who live under them into place.”

The rote boilerplate and passive voice is the false flag; the images themselves the operation. It is surprising Slate got taken in so easily. After all, it is clear enough that Kenneally's success came only after stopping make bad choices; or, for you optimists out there, started making good ones.

In this thread are some images that didn't make the cut at Slate — scroll down.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Chart of the Day: Education and Spending

Since the topic in one of the comment threads has turned to education, I thought I'd put this chart up.  I may have used it before, but I can't remember.

Yes, yes, yes, I know, careful dissection of the data behind this chart coupled with alternate assumptions and premises could lead one to conclude this chart is an exaggeration, but education spending and actual educational outcomes have been at least somewhat decoupled for a half-century.

That delta $100,000+ in spending also should give us pause. Many of the recipients would likely, in my opinion, be better off with that money invested for them rather than spent trying to educate them.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Smug

A recent Jonah Goldberg column contained the following:
I don’t know who first said, “Behind every apparent double standard lies an unconfessed single standard” (and as far as I can tell, neither does the Internet), but whoever did was onto something.

What looks like inexplicably staggering hypocrisy from the conservative perspective is actually remarkably consistent from the liberal perspective.

Well, “perspective” is probably the wrong word because it implies a conscious, deliberate, philosophical point of view. What is really at work is better understood as bias, even bigotry.

If you work from the dogmatic assumption that liberalism is morally infallible and that liberals are, by definition, pitted against sinister and — more importantly — powerful forces, then it’s easy to explain away what seem like double standards. Any lapse, error, or transgression by conservatives is evidence of their real nature, while similar lapses, errors, and transgressions by liberals are trivial when balanced against the fact that their hearts are in the right place.

Despite controlling the commanding heights of the culture — journalism, Hollywood, the arts, academia, and vast swaths of the corporate America they denounce — liberals have convinced themselves they are pitted against deeply entrenched powerful forces and that being a liberal is somehow brave. Obama, the twice-elected president of the United States, to this day speaks as if he’s some kind of underdog.

A later column titled Blaming America First  had these additional points  :
In reality, the liberal ideological comfort zone is incredibly narrow. If an issue can’t be turned into a critique of America (or: white privilege, the religious Right (variously defined), capitalism, the GOP, or some other float in the parade of horribles that is the legacy of those horrible Pale Penis People who gave us so much of Western civilization), then the conversation must be pulled in that direction. It’s simply where their minds go. Rhetorically they have to fight every fight on home turf.
 So what happens when events and facts make it impossible for liberals to change the subject to more convenient topics? They figure out how to make the villain or problem at hand “conservative.”
 All of the nonsense about microaggressions and hate speech, all of the namby-pamby self-esteem boosting, the elevation of feelings, the paranoia of offending people, the thousand flavors of political correctness including informed-consent for every romantic overture: They did it. Them. All by themselves. And they are still doing it. Conservatives aren’t behind any of it and libertarians certainly aren’t.

But the moment it becomes impossible to ignore the huge frick’n mess they created, what do they start calling it? Conservatism.

This is all part of the narrative and political branding.  Plenty of bright people are so trapped in the bubble that they can't see this at all.

Later in the same column he continues:
The Left loves wars of national liberation. The Left loves self-determination against colonialism. But when such nationalism becomes a problem, out come the smug lectures about how nationalism is right-wing.

 And that’s the point. Once something becomes too terrible to ignore, it must be labeled “right-wing” or “conservative” somehow. If you don’t believe me, find the smartest liberal you know and ask him or her to list all of the really bad things done by the Left. Odds are you’ll get silence. Or you might get “Well, I don’t believe in labels . . . ” (“Don’t get him started on that again, people!” — The Couch). But what you won’t hear is much of anything about the American eugenics movement, or the internment of the Japanese, or the Black Panthers, Weathermen, the manifest failures of the New Deal (economic and non-economic alike), etc. That’s because liberalism, by conviction if not definition, is never wrong.

Kevin Williamson in a column titled The New Royals :

Other civilizations are big on karma, arete, martial codes of honor, virtus, etc.; we Americans have “Work hard, live well, enjoy good stuff,” which might be sneered at by philosophers and warlords but is nonetheless the best and most humane organizing principle a human polity has yet discovered.

I miss the days when the important status symbol could be something so simple as a Cadillac.

Tinkering with the organic, spontaneous orders of human society is a tricky business. In the 1960s, the Western world got it into its collective head that traditional social arrangements, especially family arrangements, were an instrument of oppression that needed to be torn down. And we set about tearing them down, without giving any thought to what would replace them. We were confident that whatever came next inevitably would be better, and about 80 percent of our current domestic-policy initiatives are in one way or another aimed at dealing with the fact that what came after wasn’t better — that it was brutish and frequently cruel — without ever being so gauche as to notice that that’s the case.

Similarly, the old status symbols — the nice house, the car, the sensible two-week family vacation — might have been bound up with a brand of unthinking and insalubrious materialism, but they were also bound up with some important virtues that we are in the process of rediscovering: thrift, frugality, delayed gratification, etc. That is, in fact, why status symbols work as status symbols: It’s not just having the Cadillac or the gold watch — it’s being the sort of person who earns them.
 As in the case of the princess in Hans Christian Andersen’s 1835 story, so sensitive that she could feel the pea under 20 mattresses and 20 featherbeds, acute dissatisfaction with the tiniest, most ridiculous little details of life is how 21st-century progressives communicate to the world that they are indeed the new royalty, with sensibilities finer than those known to mere commoners.
 There is a term for this that is uncharitable but cannot be improved upon: status-whoring. The old status symbols may have been shallow; the new ones are shallow, destructive, and a great deal less fun to drive.

And they don’t even require you to work particularly hard in school.
 But there is an important distinction between political-correctness-as-status-symbol and Cadillac as a status symbol. The Cadillac, at least as presented by Neal McDonough, is a symbol of what you have earned; hashtag-activist foie-gras phobia is, like the princess’s sleepless night, an expression of who you are — or who you are pretending to be. Anybody can be dissatisfied; it requires no real expenditure of effort. All you have to do to be a member of the new aristocracy is to convince the prince (or some gender-neutral equivalent) that you belong.

Which is to say, our progressives have progressed right back to 1835.

 These examples are presented in support of what the late Andrew Breitbart described as the frequent practice of the left to exhibit an "unearned moral and intellectual superiority."  This kind of posturing is an attempt to always claim the high ground in all matters.  It's as phoney as heck and it's all pretend even if many of practitioners don't realize this.

This Afterburner video with Bill Whittle explains this Coin of the Realm.

Once matters get beyond modest complexity, there are no shortcuts to acquiring the requisite knowledge and achieving sufficient maturity and wisdom to make sound judgements about right and wrong and to then have sound ideas about what might follow.  That is what I told my youngest child, who is a junior in college.  All that has comprised this post was part of an attempt to give him an explanation of and a vocabulary to describe and deal with an attitude he senses on campus which he calls "The Smug." 

Cost of this effort: some time; look on his face afterwards: priceless!