Archive for October, 2010
26 Oct 2010

“So You Want To Get a PhD in the Humanities”

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“It is important that I go to Yale. They have Harold Bloom.”

Hat tip to Matt McLean and Emmy Chang.

26 Oct 2010

The Paranoid Style in Liberal Politics

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As the democrat party’s November Appointment in Samarra draws near, the left has been furiously discussing how voter dissatisfaction and the Tea Party Movement is all the nefarious culmination of a diabolical plot presided over by scheming capitalists who artificially created the whole thing with their funding.

Andrew Ferguson, in this month’s Commentary, has a good deal of fun applying Richard Hofstadter’s paranoia meme to liberalism’s latest efforts at self gratification.

Over the past 30 years, Charles and David Koch, owners of a Kansas-based family business called Koch Industries, have given hundreds of millions of dollars to organizations that advance their political views. Those views can be described as unevenly conservative and generally libertarian (pro-gay marriage, anti-ObamaCare). The donations are readily observable in foundation tax records posted on the Internet, as all such transactions are, and the brothers themselves have made many public appearances on behalf of the think tanks and magazines they fund, given speeches and media interviews, issued statements of support, sat on boards—even, in David’s case, made a hopeless and expensive run for the vice presidency on the Libertarian Party ticket in 1980.

Oddly, it took a while for the Inspector Clouseaus of the American left to smell a rat. And in fairness, it should be said that hiding in plain sight can often be the most sinister form of disguise for billionaires like the Kochs, the tricky bastards. About a year ago, the alarming rise of the Tea Parties inspired researchers at a website called ThinkProgress to start Googling. Among their discoveries, breathlessly reported, was the news that one of the Kochs’ foundations had funded Americans for Prosperity, a group instrumental in the Tea Party movement.

ThinkProgress presented its story as a scoop the mainstream press was afraid to touch. There the Kochs stood at last, exposed to broad daylight in the public square, where they’d been all along. ThinkProgress dubbed them “The Billionaires Behind the Hate.” We may never know what tipped off the sleuths to the Kochs’ political activities, but David Koch in particular must be kicking himself: I knew I shouldn’t have given that speech to 2,000 people in that hotel ballroom at the Americans for Prosperity convention! And the interviews I gave to New York magazine, and the Times—what a fool I was! …

One mark of the paranoid style in American politics, Richard Hofstadter wrote in his famous essay, is its concern with “factuality,” a piling up of random details to create a coherence that reality itself can’t provide. Journalism of a certain sort becomes a convenient instrument of the paranoid partisan. “The paranoid’s interpretation of history,” Hofstadter wrote, “is distinctly personal: decisive events are not taken as part of the stream of history, but as the consequences of someone’s will,” an “amoral superman” who “manufactures the mechanism of history, or tries to deflect the normal course of history in an evil way.”

With the Kochs, the American left gets two amoral supermen in one. Mayer’s article, and the larger campaign it’s a part of, is meant not only to alarm its audience but to soothe it as well. Any Democrat unnerved by the rise of the Tea Party movement will find it comforting to learn that it’s a giant confidence trick. The belief requires both a deep cynicism about one’s fellow citizens and a touching credulity about the ease with which they can be manipulated. All those angry, badly dressed people shouting into megaphones on TV: they’re not evil, they’re just stupid.

26 Oct 2010

“Not An Elite At All”

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Glenn Reynolds observes that the pseudo-intellectual community of fashion is not really worthy of being described as an elite.

Forget cultural insularity or smugness. The main problem with the “new elite” is that they’re not an elite at all. That is, they aren’t particularly smart, or competent. They are credentialed, but those credentials aren’t so much markers for smartness or competence, or even basic education, as they are admission tickets to the Gentry Class, based on good standardized test scores. That’s fine — ETS was berry, berry good to me — but it doesn’t have much to do with ability to succeed, or lead, in the real world. Worse yet, it seems to have fostered a sense of entitlement.

UPDATE: A reader emails:

Very long-time reader and first time emailer. Just my two cents on the elitists.

    I am an elite anti-elitist Tea Partier and I made my first protest signs way back in March 2009. I’m a Yale [BA, Philosophy], Columbia [MA, International Affairs] former Wall Street trader and risk manager who is just about done getting another masters [in Library and Information Science] during a two-year “John Galt” sabbatical from work. I’ve met many, many Tea Partiers at this point and they are not anti-elitist in a general, superficial sense. Indeed, they most often admire those who have succeeded by dint of a good education or hard work or taking advantage of a bit of good luck. The subset of elitists that we are fed up with are the ones in the government, the media, and academia who think (erroneously) that they know better what we should be doing with our time every day and have the right to pick our pockets to fund it. Not only are we tired of being condescended to (and take my word for it, I could wipe the floor with most of them intellectually) but they’re obviously screwing everything up. So, to borrow Lee Harris’ word from his new book, we’re the “ornery” bastards who, from time to time, rise up to put the elite (and effete) corps of impudent snobs back in their place.

Places like Yale and Columbia (both of which I attended myself) are actually full of people with less than all that exciting SAT scores, who were really simply adequately professional performers of routine academic tasks. The lumpen Ivy League graduate tends to be sufficiently skilled in the rapid assimilation of cultural trivia and the manipulation of symbols and ideas to earn a comfortable place in the establishment community. But people of this sort are typically not genuinely intellectual, not well educated, and utterly and completely incapable of independent critical thought.

Members in good standing of the liberal community of fashion obtain all their ideas and opinions off the rack from the establishment media. They care deeply about politics because a strong commitment to fashionably leftwing politics is just like the right address, clothing, personal accessories, and automobile, a key class identifier.

Bad, stupid, and unfashionable people vote Republican, own guns, and remain committed to old-fashioned forms of conventional religion, just as Barack Obama observed aloud during the 2008 campaign. There is obviously something fundamentally defective about them. People who are chic, intelligent, and sophisticated, or at least who think they are, vote faithfully for liberal democrats and subscribe to a body of opinion simultaneously embracing Pacifism, Puritanism much modified by Epicureanism, and secularist Socialism.

The conservative critique of liberal political theory, liberal foreign policy, liberal economics, and liberal notions of environmental catastrophism is actually infinitely more substantive and serious, but conservatives are always being dismissed as stupid for failing to recognize that the smart people are the ones clever enough to identify the correct opinions and alert enough to the advantages of being aligned with the establishment.

Hat tip to Bird Dog.

26 Oct 2010

Smuggled Croc Crashes Plane

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MSNBC reports that there was only one survivor.

A crocodile stashed in a duffel bag got loose on an airplane, frightened passengers and led to a crash that killed 20 people on board, according to an inquiry into the accident.

The lone survivor of the crash in the Democratic Republic of Congo told the story to investigators, the U.K.’s Telegraph reported on Thursday. A British pilot was among the dead.

The plane was on a routine domestic flight from the capital of Kinshasa to a regional airport in Bandundu when the bizarre tale unfolded on Aug. 25.

An unnamed passenger had hidden the crocodile in a large duffel bag with the intent of selling the reptile, according to the Telegraph. The animal escaped as the plane approached its destination.

Pandemonium ensued.

“The terrified air hostess hurried towards the cockpit, followed by the passengers,” a report obtained by the Telegraph said. The plane then became unstable, “despite the desperate efforts of the pilot.”

The plane crashed into a home a few hundred feet from the airport, though the people who lived in the residence were not in the house.

The crocodile reportedly survived the crash but was killed by a blow from a machete.

Apparently, the rush of 17 passengers and the air hostess to the cockpit unbalanced the plane.

Hat tip to Gizmodo via Karen L. Myers.

25 Oct 2010

Four Years of a Democrat Majority

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25 Oct 2010

Internal Divisions at Wikileaks

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The Independent is reporting that the secret web-site’s operations are paralysed and its organization in disorder after the ouster of several prominent members who questioned Julian Assange’s anti-US obsession.

[A] number of former members say that the website’s obsession with pursuing the US military has resulted in Wikileaks losing sight of its founding principle that all leaks should be made available to the public no matter how large or small.

Speaking to The Independent last night, the Wikileaks founder Julian Assange hit back at the claims, accusing former colleagues of being “peripheral players… spreading poisonous false rumours”.

At least a dozen key supporters of the website are known to have left in recent months. They say Wikileaks has ignored reams of new exposés because so much attention has been paid to the Iraq and Afghan conflicts.

The heavily encrypted arm of the website that allows users to safely send information to the organisation has been offline for four weeks, making new submissions impossible.

According to former supporters, the submission section is down because a number of key personnel have fallen out with Assange over the direction of the website and his behaviour. “Outside of the Iraq and Afghan dossiers, Wikileaks has been incapacitated by internal turmoil and politics,” Smari McCarthy, a former Wikileaks volunteer and freedom of information campaigners from Iceland, told The Independent.

“Key people have become very concerned about the direction of Wikileaks with regard to its strong focus on US military files at the expense of ignoring everything else. There were also serious disagreements over the decision not to redact the names of Afghan civilians; something which I’m pleased to see was not repeated with the Iraq dossiers.”

Wikileaks admits that one member of the submission team has left but says that wing of the website is down for a system overhaul and will be back online soon. …

Birgitta Jónsdóttir, a member of Iceland’s parliament who recently quit Wikileaks, played a key role in the website’s release earlier this year of “Collateral Murder”, the 39-minute video showing an Apache helicopter gunning down a group of armed men, civilians and two Reuters journalists in Baghdad. Its release brought Wikileaks global notoriety but Jónsdóttir believes the website should have paid more attention to the smaller, less headline-grabbing leaks.

“I don’t want to take away from the importance of the Iraq dossiers,” she said yesterday. “But I have been saying for some time that before all these big scoops came along, Wikileaks was very much about creating small hubs in different countries where people could leak important information to. It shouldn’t just be about the international scoops.”

The sometimes erratic behaviour of Wikileaks’ founder has also caused a number of fallouts within the organisation. The Australian-born 39-year-old walked out of a CNN interview when an interviewer pressed him on the disagreements within Wikileaks and asked him to comment on an ongoing “molestation” investigation against him in Sweden. Assange, who vehemently insists that recent relationships he had with two women in Sweden were entirely consensual, criticised CNN’s interviewer for dwelling on his private life.

Last month the website’s second most visible face after Assange – a German spokesperson who went by the name Daniel Schmidt, but whose real name is Daniel Domscheit-Berg – broke ranks to disclose that he had quit after being suspended by Assange for unspecified “bad behaviour”. Like others who have since left Wikileaks, he cited both the website’s direction and Assange’s behaviour as motivating factors behind his leaving. “This one-dimensional confrontation with the USA is not what we set out to do,” Mr Domscheit-Berg told Der Spiegel.

Asked about Mr Domscheit-Berg’s comments Mr Assange replied: “Like many former employees who are suspended from a group he has now decided to turn on his former employer. But these are not valid criticisms.”

He also says those who accuse Wikileaks of ignoring whistleblowers outside of Iraq and Afghanistan are wrong.

“We are definitely concerned about that perception, but it’s important to stress that such a perception is not correct,” he said. “Over the past four years we have published leaks from more than 100 countries, from New York to Nairobi. We always prioritise our releases based on their potential impact and the timeliness. The next release will be relating to Afghanistan. After that we will probably do some smaller releases of a timely nature.”

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Assange flees CNN interview rather than answer questions on Swedish sex charges.

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Sweden’s National Migration Board recently denied Assange a residence permit. He applied for Sedish residency in August hoping to base Wikileaks officially in Sweden with himself as publisher.

25 Oct 2010

Regulatory Bias

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Matthew Ridley, in the Saturday Wall Street Journal Review section, offers a summary of a new and valuable article on the biases fueling endless government expansion and bad policy.

Slavisa Tasic, of the University of Kiev, wrote a paper recently for the Istituto Bruno Leoni in Italy about [the psychology and neuroscience of government]. He argues that market participants are not the only ones who make mistakes, yet he notes drily that “in the mainstream economic literature there is a near complete absence of concern that regulatory design might suffer from lack of competence.” Public servants are human, too.

Mr. Tasic identifies five mistakes that government regulators often make: action bias, motivated reasoning, the focusing illusion, the affect heuristic and illusions of competence.

In the last case, psychologists have shown that we systematically overestimate how much we understand about the causes and mechanisms of things we half understand. The Swedish health economist Hans Rosling once gave students a list of five pairs of countries and asked which nation in each pair had the higher infant-mortality rate. The students got 1.8 right out of 5. Mr. Rosling noted that if he gave the test to chimpanzees they would get 2.5 right. So his students’ problem was not ignorance, but that they knew with confidence things that were false.

The issue of action bias is better known in England as the “dangerous dogs act,” after a previous government, confronted with a couple of cases in which dogs injured or killed people, felt the need to bring in a major piece of clumsy and bureaucratic legislation that worked poorly. Undoubtedly the rash of legislation following the current financial crisis will include some equivalents of dangerous dogs acts. It takes unusual courage for a regulator to stand up and say “something must not be done,” lest “something” makes the problem worse.

Motivated reasoning means that we tend to believe what it is convenient for us to believe. If you run an organization called, say, the Asteroid Retargeting Group for Humanity (ARGH) and you are worried about potential cuts to your budget, we should not be surprised to find you overreacting to every space rock that passes by. Regulators rarely argue for deregulation.

The focusing illusion partly stems from the fact that people tend to see the benefits of a policy but not the hidden costs. As French theorist Frédéric Bastiat argued, it’s a fallacy to think that breaking a window creates work, because while the glazier’s gain of work is visible, the tailor’s loss of work caused by the window-owner’s loss of money—and consequent decision to delay purchase of a coat—is not. Recent history is full of government interventions with this characteristic.

“Affect heuristic'” is a fancy name for a pretty obvious concept, namely that we discount the drawbacks of things we are emotionally in favor of. For example, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill certainly killed about 1,300 birds, maybe a few more. Wind turbines in America kill between 75,000 and 275,000 birds every year, generally of rarer species, such as eagles. Yet wind companies receive neither the enforcement, nor the opprobrium, that oil companies do.

If lawmakers are to understand how laws get applied in the real world, they need to know and understand the habits of mind of their officials.

25 Oct 2010

60 Minutes: Real Unemployment 17% Nationally, 22% in California

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23 Oct 2010

Wikileaks Leak Offers WMD News

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Danger Room:

By late 2003, even the Bush White House’s staunchest defenders were starting to give up on the idea that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

But for years afterward, WikiLeaks’ newly-released Iraq war documents reveal, U.S. troops continued to find chemical weapons labs, encounter insurgent specialists in toxins, and uncover weapons of mass destruction.

An initial glance at the WikiLeaks war logs doesn’t reveal evidence of some massive WMD program by the Saddam Hussein regime — the Bush administration’s most (in)famous rationale for invading Iraq. But chemical weapons, especially, did not vanish from the Iraqi battlefield. Remnants of Saddam’s toxic arsenal, largely destroyed after the Gulf War, remained. Jihadists, insurgents and foreign (possibly Iranian) agitators turned to these stockpiles during the Iraq conflict — and may have brewed up their own deadly agents. …

A small group — mostly of the political right — has long maintained that there was more evidence of a major and modern WMD program than the American people were lead to believe. A few Congressmen and Senators gravitated to the idea, but it was largely dismissed as conspiratorial hooey.

The WMD diehards will likely find some comfort in these newly-WikiLeaked documents. Skeptics will note that these relatively small WMD stockpiles were hardly the kind of grave danger that the Bush administration presented in the run-up to the war.

But the more salient issue may be how insurgents and Islamic extremists (possibly with the help of Iran) attempted to use these lethal and exotic arms. As Spencer noted earlier, a January 2006 war log claims that “neuroparalytic” chemical weapons were smuggled in from Iran.

That same month, then “chemical weapons specialists” were apprehended in Balad. These “foreigners” were there specifically “to support the chemical weapons operations.” The following month, an intelligence report refers to a “chemical weapons expert” that “provided assistance with the gas weapons.” What happened to that specialist, the WikiLeaked document doesn’t say.

Read the whole thing.

23 Oct 2010

Republicans Commonly Suck

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Vote for them anyway, P.J. O’Rourke advises. The alternative is democrats, and they hate our guts.

Perhaps you’re having a tiny last minute qualm about voting Republican. Take heart. And take the House and the Senate. Yes, there are a few flakes of dander in the fair tresses of the GOP’s crowning glory—an isolated isolationist or two, a hint of gold buggery, and Christine O’Donnell announcing that she’s not a witch. (I ask you, has Hillary Clinton ever cleared this up?) Fret not over Republican peccadilloes such as the Tea Party finding the single, solitary person in Nevada who couldn’t poll ten to one against Harry Reid. Better to have a few cockeyed mutts running the dog pound than Michael Vick.

I take it back. Using the metaphor of Michael Vick for the Democratic party leadership implies they are people with a capacity for moral redemption who want to call good plays on the legislative gridiron. They aren’t. They don’t. The reason is simple. They hate our guts.

They don’t just hate our Republican, conservative, libertarian, strict constructionist, family values guts. They hate everybody’s guts. And they hate everybody who has any.

22 Oct 2010

Dog Symposium at National Sporting Library

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I won’t be getting a lot of blogging done on Saturday. Worse, I won’t even be hunting.

Karen and I are attending an all day dog symposium at the National Sporting Library. Most of the program is irresistibly interesting.

22 Oct 2010

Wikileaks Leaks Iraq Material

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The usual gang of establishment media collaborated:

New York Times

The Guardian

Spiegel

The commentariat of the left is complaining that US forces did not stop the Iraqis from coercively interrogating enemy prisoners. The other big news is the larger involvement of Iran in the Iraq insurgency than the US government publicly reported.

Rusty Shackleford notes the hypocrisy of leftist indignation.

WikiLeaks Bombshell: US Knew Arab Regime Tortured Citizens!!!

Wow. this is the big deal? And what was the US supposed to do if they investigated claims that the Iraqi government tortured its citizens? Invade? Yeah, I bet Julian Assange, the hysterical Left, and their Islamist allies would love that.

It’s the problem with America haters like Assange, Chomsky, and Osama bin Laden: it’s a worldview where America is always in the wrong, no matter what we do.

When we act, it’s evidence of US Imperialism. When we don’t act, it’s evidence of the US not caring about brown people.

We’re damned if we do, we’re damned if we don’t.

Which makes their underlying theory of cause and effect not a theory at all. First because it’s not falsifiable. Second, because all affects are attributed to the same cause.

I think the part of the story that pisses me off the most is that Assange promised us last time he’d do a better job of vetting the documents in order to protect the lives of soldiers and civilians. So, what did he do? Gave al Jazeera complete access to them.

22 Oct 2010

Stagehand Fired For Wearing the Name Bush

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Another case of liberal excess occurred at USC.


USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77)

22 Oct 2010

“Call Me Senator”

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David Zucker made this devastating ad as a personal apology for having supported Barbara Boxer in the past.

Via Big Hollywood.

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