Sunday, November 30, 2014

John McWhorter and Glenn Loury on the ethics of Ferguson



John McWhorter: [Michael Eric] Dyson thinks that a Michael Brown doesn't have any control. . . . The idea is that it's unfair to even suggest that the black community has control . . . . It's considered to be a special case, I think, in human history. The idea is that slavery plus Jim Crow and all these 400 years, then deindustrialization . . . makes it so that we have a group of people who cannot be expected to control themselves. It's on society.

Glenn Loury: That's a . . . category mistake. It mixes up two different kinds of things. Suicides will go up if the unemployment rate stays above a certain level for a certain period of time. I don't have the data at my fingertips, but I bet it's true. So, a social scientist can learn that, and that's worth knowing. This individual who hung herself — you can't account for that action with that reference. That's absurd. It's just mixing up two different kinds of things. There's no inconsistency between the simultaneous existence of a collective and an individual responsibility. Societies are responsible for the conditions in which people live; people are responsible for what they do in those conditions. I see no contradiction there.

McWhorter: You know, I know what you mean, but I honestly think that a lot of people, including a great many academics and intellectuals, would disagree with that point. You and I would be considered a little bit backward in understanding that there's a point beyond which individuals really cannot be held responsible. I think that in terms of that suicide example, many people would say: "No! You can't talk about what's going on inside of her! It's the larger issue!"  . . . The main flashpoint of Ferguson is that Michael Brown and his friend refused to step aside. And I'm not saying that in blame; I'm saying that because that shows you what their attitude toward law enforcement was. And I think that ultimately, that's law enforcement's fault. . . . Now, do I think of Michael Brown as responsible for the fact that he really could have just moved aside? I do. But on the other hand, I also see a society where I don't think that a representative number of people are going to be convinced by that. . . .

Loury: There's an ethical question here. . . . What does it mean to treat people with dignity and with respect? Withholding from them the presumption of their being responsible and capable, in terms of the management of their own lives, is a profound move of disrespect, in my opinion. I don't know how you can possibly have equality under such conditions. Those people then become infantile. The people about whom you say: "Oh my! Look at their conditions! They can only do this!" They become outside the orbit of any kind of moral discourse. They're not moral agents anymore. . . . You've gotta treat people as moral agents, man, or else you're not taking them seriously as human beings.

McWhorter: Well, isn't it sad that the fact is: we're backward! That is exactly why people hate the kinds of things that you and I write, because the idea is that this kind of Kantian — you might even call it "enlightened" — way of looking at it doesn't work when it comes to the descendants of African slaves in the United States of America. . . . I cannot stand the idea that part of my racial identity is supposed to be that I'm supposed to only pay lip service to the idea that we can do anything about our fate — that I'm supposed to just watch this steamroller rolling over us, and have a sense of heroicness in undergoing it and making sure that people see me undergoing it. That doesn't work. And I don't think it works for you.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Is now the time to have a National Conversation About Race?

Some people think so. But no, now is the worst time to have that conversation. To have a good conversation about race, we should get as far away from "now" as possible. Right now, the conversation is happening in the context of pointlessly heightened racial tension, riots, theft, arson, lawlessness, and presumptions of guilt. That's a terrible context in which to try to have a thoughtful conversation about a sensitive topic.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Siskel & Ebert on Back to the Future

It's hard for me to imagine going into this movie for the first time, not knowing what to expect. (I have almost no memory of when I first saw it, since I was so young.) Interesting to hear Siskel describe how the movie "fooled" him . . .





(In case you're wondering, Siskel & Ebert split, in different directions, on Parts II and III.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The cycle of cause célèbres

This is the second time in as many years that something remarkably similar has happened, and it's starting to feel like a bad rerun. There's a national outcry over a young black man being killed by a "white man" (as he's almost invariably described). Of course, killing a person isn't always a crime; there are defenses to murder. Yet it seems as if the nation just needs to see him convicted and sent to prison. But that can only happen through a legal process. And when the case is commenced not under the usual standards, but under political pressure, it turns out to be a weak case, and there's no conviction.

All good people are supposed to understand that this is not just a tragedy, but a national tragedy. Somehow, it's supposed to be particularly tragic when a black man is killed by a white man. And many look to the legal system as if it existed to provide therapeutic relief to the whole country. When that doesn't happen, after all the talk about how the defendant symbolizes this country's problems with race, the legal result strikes some people as so outrageous that they riot, harming innocent people and casting whatever political movement they might represent in the worst possible light.

We need to think more carefully about the way we elevate a single criminal case into something that's supposed to take on larger meaning, resonate throughout the country, and resolve lingering, longstanding national wounds. This approach is highly likely not to work out, and to backfire.

I work on a lot of felony cases; many are murder cases. I regularly see cases that feel just as important to me as any case I see in the news. They feel anything but routine. They contain so much vivid detail and emotion and meaning, that it can be jarring to stop and think that this was an everyday occurrence. Only a few people paid any attention to it, and everyone else went about their business. I don't understand why the 1-in-a-million case becomes a cause célèbre, when other cases of horrible crimes don't. The fact that the alleged perpetrator was white and the alleged victim was black in the cases we care about, and there was a different racial configuration in most of the cases we don't care about, would seem to be a very poor criterion. It's certainly not a reason to reach a national consensus that a man is guilty before we've afforded him due process.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Do you need to go college?

Peter Thiel writes:

Perhaps the least controversial thing that President Obama ever said was that “in the coming decades, a high school diploma is not going to be enough. Folks need a college degree.” This vision is commonplace, but it implies a bleak future where everyone must work harder just to stay in place, and it’s just not true. Nothing forces us to funnel students into a tournament that bankrupts the losers and turns the winners into conformists. But that’s what will happen until we start questioning whether college is our only option. . . .

If a college degree always means higher wages, then everyone should get a college degree: That’s the conventional wisdom encapsulated by Obama. But how can everyone win a zero-sum tournament? No single path can work for everyone, and the promise of such an easy path is a sign of a bubble.

Of course, you can’t become successful just by dropping out of college. But you can’t become successful just by going to college, either, or by following any formula. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg aren’t famous because of the similar ways in which they left school. We know their names because of what each of them did differently from everybody else.

Learning from dropouts doesn’t require closing colleges but rather questioning them carefully. Higher education holds itself out as a kind of universal church, outside of which there is no salvation. Critics are cast as heretics or schismatics endangering the flock. But our greatest danger comes from the herd instinct that drives us to competition and crowds out difference.

A Reformation is coming, and its message will be the same as it was 500 years ago: Don’t outsource your future to a big institution. You need to figure it out for yourself.
The whole article is worth reading.

Monday, November 24, 2014

"Why Democrats Can’t Win Over White Working-Class Voters"

This is a pretty good Slate article, though I could have done without the accusations that people who prefer Bill Clinton's welfare reform to the previously open-ended welfare are "racist."

Also, this part of the article doesn't make sense:

in the 2012 presidential election, Republican nominee Mitt Romney ran a series of ads—concentrated in the white working-class areas of Ohio and Pennsylvania—attacking President Obama for “gutting welfare” and “cutting checks” to people who wouldn’t work.
According to that link, Romney ran ads attacking Obama for "gutting welfare reform" — not "gutting welfare," but expanding welfare.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Twitter

The illusion that you're hanging out with celebrities.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

"Schools Implement Explicit Racial Bias in Suspensions"

Reason reports:

The good: Minneapolis Public Schools want to decrease total suspensions for non-violent infractions of school rules.

The bad: The district has pledged to do this by implementing a special review system for cases where a black or Latino student is disciplined. Only minority students will enjoy this special privilege. . . .

[P]ublic schools have gone discipline-crazy over the years, punishing students all-too-harshly for silly reasons every day. Any respite from overcriminalization is welcome. Any respite, except this one. . . .

[D]on't all students, regardless of skin color, deserve to have their disciplinary issues adjudicated under the same standards? And yet [Superintendent Bernadeia] Johnson is committed to reducing suspensions for minority students by a specific percentage, irrespective of the facts of the individual cases.
Some will defend this policy on the ground that minority students are probably more likely to be suspended without good reason. But if that's true, then reviewing all students' suspensions should be especially good for minorities. And wouldn't it be nice to have evidence of whether it's really true that suspensions of minorities are more likely to be unfounded? And wouldn't reviewing suspensions of all students be a good way to collect such evidence?

Monday, November 17, 2014

"We protect women and children, but these are dark-skinned men"

TNR reports on human trafficking in Iraq and Afghanistan, paid for by US tax dollars:

It is not surprising that labor trafficking is seen as a lesser evil than sex trafficking. The argument often goes: Is it really so bad to charge a worker in India a one-time fee in exchange for a job overseas with higher wages than he could find in his own country? But recruitment fees essentially create a system of indentured servitude. Workers usually take out high-interest loans in their home country to pay the fee, and the payments can trap them in their new jobs. Recruiters often mislead workers about their salary and the location of their job—promises of high-paying jobs in Jordanian hotels turn into custodial positions on U.S. military bases in warzones.

"The government says it has a zero tolerance policy, and yet there’s fairly credible allegations that these guys have been involved in trafficking and they continue to win government contracts,” says Steven Watt, a human rights attorney at the ACLU. “It’s pretty far from a zero tolerance policy.”

McCahon is more blunt: “This is the only situation in which the government uses U.S. tax dollars to fund human trafficking,” he says. “It’s not that we’re idly sitting by; we’re actively paying for it. It’s like the U.S. government is the John, telling the pimp, ‘We need bodies here, but we aren’t going to look at how you got them, or if they are even getting paid.’” . . .

He cited one case where an Indian college graduate named Ramesh paid $5,000 upfront to an agent who promised an $800 per month salary to work for a U.S. contractor in Iraq. Once in Iraq, he was only offered $150 per month, but took the job because he felt he had no other choice. When the loan shark became dissatisfied with the repayment rate, he sexually assaulted Ramesh’s sister. His sister hung herself and his mother fell into a state of shock. When Ramesh returned home to India, he and his surviving family members poisoned themselves.

While labor trafficking is clearly a human rights issue, McCahon is quick to point out that recruitment fees are also procurement fraud. Under the current contract, Dyncorp and Fluor pay Ecolog to bring them a specified number of workers. The contractors assume responsibility for transporting and housing their workers and are reimbursed by the government for the associated costs. “So if a subcontractor brings over 8,000 workers, and each worker comes with a $2,500 recruitment fee, that’s a $20 million black money kickback,” explained McCahon. “This is the largest contract fraud in the history of reconstruction.” The Army reimburses Dyncorp and Fluor for all of their allowable costs, plus 3 to 6 percent of their costs as profit—so the higher the costs, the higher the profit . . .

No contractor has ever been disciplined for a trafficking violation under the current Federal Acquisition Regulation, the set of rules for government purchases of goods and services. This means that even though there has been evidence of contractors violating anti-trafficking rules, there is no official negative past performance record, so they continue to be eligible to receive top-dollar government contracts.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The author of the Choose Your Own Adventure books has died

R.A. Montgomery died in his Vermont home at the age of 78, a few days ago.

This website collects the unhappy endings to your adventures.

A commenter on Metafilter says:

I remember as a child being aghast at a The Cave Of Time ending where you were enslaved for the rest of your life building The Great Wall. Certainly made a 9 year old me stop to think what things were like for others.

Friday, November 14, 2014

OK Go — "I Won't Let You Down"

You have to watch this to the end — amazing. (I recommend watching it in "full screen" by clicking the button in the lower-right corner.)

Thursday, November 13, 2014

"If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about"

Next time you hear someone say that cliche about surveillance, remember . . . Martin Luther King had "something to hide." He did some wrong things in his life.

Now, even if you happen to be a perfect saint who has "nothing to hide," do you want to live in a society where your money is used to spy on someone like Martin Luther King? Our government spied on him to try to destroy him.

4 takes on Jonathan Gruber's remarks on Obamacare

Gruber, an MIT economics professor who's considered a key architect of Obamacare (and Romneycare), infamously said:

Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically call it the stupidity of the American voter, or whatever, but basically that was really, really critical in getting the thing to pass . . . . And I wish Mark was right, we could make it all transparent, but I'd rather have this law than not.
Howard Dean:
The problem is not that he said it. The problem is that he thinks it. The core problem with the damn law is it was put together by a bunch of elitists who don’t really, fundamentally understand the American people. That’s what the problem is.
(That's my own transcription of Dean; the quote at that link is incorrect.)

Ann Althouse (my mom):
MIT prof Jonathan Gruber is sorry he was transparent about the lack of transparency in getting Obamacare passed. . . . He wants his old lack of transparency back. He revealed what he liked so much about it. Now, why can't he have it back? Well, Professor Gruber, it just doesn't work that way. Once you've let us see that you mean to deceive us, we won't get fooled again . . . unless you're right, and we really are stupid.
Tyler Cowen:
It’s a healthy world where academics can speak their minds at conferences and the like without their words becoming political weapons in a bigger fight. . . . I’m simply not very interested in his proclamations on tape, which as far as I can tell are mostly correct albeit overly cynical. (If anything he is overrating the American voter — most people weren’t even paying close enough attention to be tricked.) Criticisms of Gruber are not criticisms of a policy, and it is policy we should focus upon and indeed there is still a great deal of health care policy we need to figure out. It’s hardly news that intellectuals who hold political power, even as advisors, very often do not speak the truth. If anything, I feel sorry for Gruber that he has subsequently felt the need to so overcompensate by actively voicing such ex post cynicism, it is perhaps the sign of a soul not at rest.

In the meantime, I’d like to see more open discourse, not less. Perhaps we should subsidize people who end up looking foolish, rather than taxing them.
Bryan Caplan responds to Tyler Cowen:
Tyler and I start at the same place yet end continents apart. We see the same facts: Lying politicians and the elite intellectuals who craftily decorate their masters' lies. But Tyler starts with a strong moral presumption that Whatever People in Our Society Routine[ly] Do is morally acceptable. Indeed, he bends over backwards to see the world from their point of view.

I, in contrast, start with a strong moral presumption in favor of scrupulous honesty. Unless you have strong reason to believe that lying will have awesome consequences, you shouldn't lie. Instead of bending over backwards to make excuses for liars, we should bend over backwards to tell the truth. The fact that most people fall short of this puritanical standard shows that most people ought to shape up and fly right.

And when people fleetingly realize that every society is ruled by liars, they are right to shudder.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

In defense of reason and arguments

Over at The New Republic, where they're celebrating their 100th anniversary, Leon Wiesltier defends reason itself (which is sadly necessary):

There are people who prefer ardent thought to clear thought, and loyal thought to strict thought. There are people who mistrust thought altogether and prefer the unarguable authenticities of the heart—the individual heart and the collective heart. There are people who regard thought . . . as an activity of an elite; and there is some sociological truth to their misgiving, though the social provenance of an idea says nothing about its value. (Hardship may make one wise, but it does not make one smart.) Yet the ideal of “clear and intelligent thought,” stripped of its condescension and its indifference to the non-rational dimensions of human life, deserves to be defended. We need not be a nation of intellectuals, but we must not be a nation of idiots. . . .

[T]he cultural reputation of reason needs to be revised. Reason is an intensely romantic pursuit, especially if one finds romance in struggle. Reason’s victories are almost never final. It is always surrounded by unreason, which is always more popular. Reason is the stout resistance, the flickering lamp in the darkness, the perpetual underdog, the stoic connoisseur of defeat, the loser that dusts itself off and fights another day. If, as some of its enemies claim, reason aspires to control, it is a futile aspiration. The anti-rationalist mob in contemporary thought can relax: reason will never come to rule. Not a chance. Thomas Mann once remarked, against Nietzsche, that the world never suffers from a surfeit of reason. And he never went online! . . .

The application of reason to public affairs is sometimes confused with technocracy. Yet there are no technocrats of first principles, no specialists in what to believe. Some people regard themselves as such experts, of course; but too much authority is conceded to them. Good judgment cannot be prescribed or outsourced. There are no blue-ribbon panels on truth and goodness. The responsibility for belief falls equally on all of us. The search for values, and for the grounds of values, is catch-as-catch-can: it may lead the thoughtful individual to books, to films, to travel, to participation, to conversation, to friendship and love . . .

There are many questions that call for expertise, but this does not settle the matter: there arise warring experts. Sometimes the disagreement is honest, sometimes it is not. The dissent from a scientific or scholarly consensus is sometimes nothing more than the doubt that powerful interests cunningly sow for their own purposes. (Where there are experts there are pseudo-experts.) But the work of natural scientists and social scientists will never relieve the ordinary citizen of his obligation to arrive at some basis for a view. It falls to us, who are not economists or biologists or climatologists, to support a position. We must support what we cannot ourselves verify.

By what authority do we choose between authorities? And yet an open society is founded upon the faith in precisely such a choice. The confidence of an open society in the intellects of its citizens is astounding. Has it ever been completely vindicated? . . .

A democracy imposes an extraordinary intellectual responsibility upon ordinary people. Our system is finally determined by what our citizenry thinks. This is thrilling and this is terrifying.

A thoughtless member of a democracy is a delinquent member of a democracy. Anti-intellectualism has been one of the regular features of populism, but in this respect populism is an offense against the people, because it denies their mental capability and scants their mental agency. Anti-intellectualism is always pseudo-democratic. In enshrining prejudices and dogmas, it robs the citizen of his exacting and proper role.

What was the democratic breakthrough? Among other things, it was the triumph of opinion. We are governed by what we think. What is wrong with being opinionated? Opinionation is an expectation of democracy. But the triumph of opinion was a mixed blessing, or at least a tremendous gamble. Opinion, after all, is fantastically manipulable. In 1920, Walter Lippmann wrote glowingly of “the manufacture of consent”—the phrase was made famous in his book Public Opinion two years later—but for us the phrase is infamous, and more than a little sinister. For this reason, there is nothing more consequential for the workings of a democratic order than its methods of opinion-formation. Lippmann, again: “The protection of the sources of its opinion is the basic problem of democracy. Everything else depends upon it. Without protection against propaganda, without standards of evidence, without criteria of emphasis, the living substance of all popular decision is exposed to every prejudice and to infinite exploitation.” . . .

“It’s just my opinion”: this bizarre American locution, which is supposed to provide an avenue of escape in a disputation, suggests that there is something illegitimate, even disrespectful, about insisting upon the defense of a proposition. Yet the respect we owe persons we do not owe their opinions. Political respect is axiomatic, but intellectual respect must be earned. . . .

The refinement of opinion cannot be accomplished except in a spirit of criticism. Describing and explaining will not suffice (though they may account for whole genres of journalism); the moment must come for judging. It was a dark day in America when “judgmental” became a term of opprobrium. In a universe without judgment, what is admiration worth?

Long live negativity! We must learn again to think negatively. Negations may be emancipations. Negations may operate in the service of affirmations. But happy talk, the uplift of pure positivity, is the rhetoric of the status quo.

The polemical temperament advances the aims of an honest and decent society more than the blurbing temperament.

An aversion to controversy is an aversion to democracy. Since all the views do not go together, and since the stakes in the validity of the respective views are very high, a free people should be a quarrelsome people. The quarrels of an open society are evidence of extraordinary philosophical and political development. They are the proof of our progress. The quarrels are not the problem, they are the solution.

Are our fights nasty? Not as nasty as their absence would be. . . . Ferocity is as essential to our system as civility. It is easy to be tolerant of ideas about which one is indifferent. . . .

Dictators employ intellectuals, but finally they fear intellectuals. They live in dread that their liars will one day decide to tell the truth. Sooner or later, therefore, they destroy them.

A just order is an order in which truth has no need of courage.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

"The Berlin Wall Fell, but Communism Didn’t"

That's the headline of this WSJ article:

"In January 1973, a young mother named Ingrid hid with her infant son in a crate in the back of a truck crossing from East to West. When the child began to cry at the East Berlin checkpoint, a desperate Ingrid covered his mouth with her hand, not realizing the child had an infection and couldn’t breathe through his nose. She made her way to freedom, but in the process suffocated her 15-month-old son. . . .

1.5 billion people still live under communism. Political prisoners continue to be rounded up, gulags still exist, millions are being starved, and untold numbers are being torn from families and friends simply because of their opposition to a totalitarian state.

As important as the fall of the Berlin Wall was, it was not the end of what John F. Kennedy called the “long, twilight struggle” against a sinister ideology. By looking at the population statistics of several nations we can estimate that 1.5 billion people still live under communism. Political prisoners continue to be rounded up, gulags still exist, millions are being starved, and untold numbers are being torn from families and friends simply because of their opposition to a totalitarian state.

Today, Communist regimes continue to brutalize and repress the hapless men, women and children unlucky enough to be born in the wrong country.

In China, thousands of Hong Kong protesters recently took to the streets demanding the right to elect their chief executive in open and honest elections. This democratic movement—the most important protests in China since the Tiananmen Square demonstrations and massacre 25 years ago—was met with tear gas and pepper spray from a regime that does not tolerate dissent or criticism. The Communist Party routinely censors, beats and jails dissidents, and through the barbaric one-child policy has caused some 400 million abortions, according to statements by a Chinese official in 2011.

In Vietnam, every morning the unelected Communist government blasts state-sponsored propaganda over loud speakers across Hanoi, like a scene out of George Orwell ’s “1984.”

In Laos, where the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party tolerates no other political parties, the government owns all the media, restricts religious freedom, denies property rights, jails dissidents and tortures prisoners.

In Cuba, a moribund Communist junta maintains a chokehold on the island nation. Arbitrary arrests, beatings, intimidation and total media control are among the tools of the current regime, which has never owned up to its bloody past.

The Stalinesque abuses of North Korea are among the most shocking. As South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye recently told the United Nations, “This year marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, but the Korean Peninsula remains stifled by a wall of division.” On both sides of that wall—a 400-mile-long, 61-year-old demilitarized zone—are people with the same history, language and often family.

But whereas the capitalist South is free and prosperous, the Communist North is a prison of torture and starvation run by a family of dictators at war with freedom of religion, freedom of movement and freedom of thought."

Monday, November 10, 2014

A conversation about politics

This is me and Alex Knepper talking about politics a few weeks ago on IM. It should go without saying that I would never post something like this without the other person's permission! I've added links and rearranged the text into a coherent dialogue.

A: You voted for Kerry in 2004, right?

J: Yes

A: Did you think that was a particularly dirty campaign?

J: Well, I ignored the swift boat stuff.

A: Interesting. The right-wing base was obsessed with it.

J: That just didn't interest me. I voted for him because I was inclined to vote Democratic, he seemed solid and reasonable, and Bush wasn't very good. I wasn't going to be influenced by personal attacks.

A: Do you think, though, I mean, that the election was a particularly poor display of democratic campaigns at work?

J: Well, my view of a presidential race is mainly based on the debates, plus random TV interviews and speeches and stuff like that, not the ads. I thought the 2004 debates were incredibly serious and substantive, almost to a fault.

A: Who was the last Republican candidate you voted for before Romney?

J: I didn't vote for Romney.

A: Oh yeah. You voted for Gary Johnson. But you preferred Romney to Obama, no?

J: I couldn't decide. For a while, I considered voting for Romney. I wrote up a whole blog post about why I would vote for him, but I didn’t publish it. I can't bring myself to vote for someone who's against legal abortion, against gay rights, etc.

A: I really was stunned that he continued to advocate for the FMA. If he runs in 2016 will he still support the FMA? Geez

J: I voted for Joe Lhota for Mayor. That's the most significant Republican I've voted for. Lhota is pro gay rights, and abortion rights don't matter for NYC mayor. Note: when social issues are off the table, I suddenly start voting Republican — an example of how Republicans lose young voters through their unreasonable social views.

A: I’m at the point now where as long as the Democrat is basically reasonable on economics and foreign policy, even if I disagree a bit (to the right), I'd prefer to vote for the Democrat over a socially conservative Republican. These social issues are clearly being resolved in favor of the liberal position, as is usually the case in American history, and it's time to let these issues go. The longer the GOP holds onto them the more of a drag it is on their ability to do anything substantive.

J: Another reason I wouldn't say I thought Romney was definitely better: I found him appealing because he seemed really smart on economics, more so than Obama. But then I had to step back and say: OK, he can talk about economics smartly, but what is he going to do? And I thought: well, he wants to take money away from Medicaid and spend it on the military. And I just think that's wrong.

A: I was deeply disappointed when he sort of shelved Ryan's Medicare plan, and shamelessly started criticizing the Medicare cuts in Obamacare. The GOP freakin' ran ads in 2010 that juxtaposed the words 'government takeover of healthcare' with 'Obama getting in your Medicare.’

J: Romney was obviously in a bind on health care. What a weird choice for a nominee! I can't believe the Republicans nominated the governor responsible for the precursor to Obamacare.

A: Yeah, well, what was the alternative? Newt Gingrich? Rick Santorum? Herman Cain? All the serious candidates declined to run.

J: Yeah, there was no good candidate. But why was there no good candidate?

A: Because Romney blocked them from entering.

J: Oh, Romney didn't stop anyone from doing anything!

A: Ever since 2008, when I first started writing, I've been mystified by Romney's appeal.

J: I find him appealing! I think he's gotten a bad rap. There's plenty of stuff I disagree with him about. But considering that the Republican party exists, I like him about as much as any Republican. I hope he runs again. And I think he probably will. When I watched Romney, I thought: that's probably what I'd be like if I ran for president. I'd be stilted and awkward and overly calculating. Probably most people I know would be. Most normal people would be uncomfortable as national politicians. Very few people would be as cool and effortless as Obama.

A: Given how lukewarm my opinion about Romney is, it is sad to say that I'd still prefer him to just about anyone else the Republican Party is putting up. I just don't trust him.

J: We should never trust any politician.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Kristallnacht

It's the 76th anniversary of the beginning of Kristallnacht ("the night of broken glass"), in which a thousand synagogues and thousands of Jewish businesses were attacked, in what's considered to mark the beginning of the Holocaust. The New York Times reports:

When watershed Holocaust dates come up on the calendar, like the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the pogrom in Germany and Austria on Nov. 9 and 10 in 1938, Anne [Frank]’s surviving relatives and friends are invited to share tidbits as well as tell their own often harrowing stories. . . .

Eva Schloss, 85, is an elegant, articulate woman who worked as a photographer, ran an antiques shop, raised three daughters and wrote a 1988 book, “Eva’s Story: A Survivor’s Tale by the Stepsister of Anne Frank.” She was born Eva Geiringer in Vienna on May 11, 1929, a month before Anne. Hers was an assimilated family that owned a shoe factory. In school, children were separated for religious classes.

“Everybody knew who was a Jew,” she said. “So after the Nazis came, we were immediately attacked and beaten up and the teachers were watching it and not doing anything.”

Her family ended up in Amsterdam, also living in the Merwedeplein apartments across from the Franks. The two girls were in a loose gang that played together in the square. Anne, she said, had a leader’s personality; she was a “big know-it-all,” occasionally “domineering,” who demanded attention.

When the Nazis occupied Holland in May 1940, Jews were forbidden, among other things, to go to movies. “They showed the Disney film ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,’ and the Christian children talked about it,” Mrs. Schloss recalled. “For us it was already a tragedy.”

In July 1942, when the Nazis began calling up Jews like Margot and Eva’s brother, Heinz, for work assignments in Germany, the Frank and Geiringer families went into hiding, with the Geiringers splitting up among a succession of Dutch resistance families. In May 1944, Mrs. Schloss’s family was betrayed and wound up in Auschwitz. Only she and her mother survived.

Otto Frank, knowing his wife had died, was also liberated at Auschwitz and returned to Amsterdam to await news about his daughters. Mrs. Schloss’s mother and Otto became friends and eventually lovers.

“He looked like a ghost,” she said. “One day he came to us with a little parcel. It was a diary. It took him three weeks to read it, . . . and he said, ‘I didn’t really know my own child.'”

Saturday, November 8, 2014

"The gay people pushed to change their gender" in Iran

"My father came to visit me in Tehran with two relatives. They'd had a meeting to decide what to do about me... They told me: 'You need to either have your gender changed or we will kill you and will not let you live in this family.'" (via)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Which Democrat secretly won the 2014 election?

Jim Webb?

"Choices We Don’t Want Women to Make"

Mona Charen brilliantly dissects President Obama's rhetoric on women:

Speaking to a Rhode Island College group last week, the president uttered a gaffe that opened a window to his stale, doctrinaire thinking.

He was decrying the lack of “affordable, quality child care” in America. “Too often,” he said, “parents have no choice but to put their kids in cheaper day care that maybe doesn’t have the kinds of programming that makes a big difference in a child’s development . . . or the best programs may be too far away. And sometimes, someone, usually mom, leaves the workplace to stay home with the kids, which then leaves her earning a lower wage for the rest of her life as a result. And that’s not a choice we want Americans to make.”

Many commentators have given the president the benefit of the doubt and assumed that what he meant was that mothers shouldn’t be obliged to choose between staying home with their children and earning higher wages. Let’s assume that’s right; it’s still a nonsense statement. What will the government do — mandate that employers offer women who took perhaps years off to care for children the same pay and promotions they would have earned had they remained in the workforce? How would that be remotely possible?

You’d have to assume that the woman in question would have remained for all those years at the same firm, and would have been a good employee. You’d also have to assume that the employer remains in business, that the kind of work the mom did is still needed and hasn’t been superseded by technological or other changes. And what would become of the employee, male or female, who was doing the mom’s work while she stayed home with the kids? Besides, if firms were required to pay above the market value to returning mothers, wouldn’t that discourage hiring?

Liberals like Obama don’t think in those terms. They apply the “wave the magic wand” school of policy analysis, as in “If I could wave a magic wand, there would be no trade-offs in life. Child care would be plentiful, staffed by Ivy League graduates, convenient to everyone’s homes, and dirt-cheap. Moms would be able to work while their kids were young, and never feel a tug of regret. Or, they could choose to stay at home for a few years and return to the workforce without missing a step or a paycheck.”

This is the sort of talk that liberals and progressives have been feeding eager audiences for decades. It glides past economic realities without so much as a backward glance. How, for example, are you going to get those highly educated college grads to work in day-care centers when they expect large returns for their very expensive educations? Is the pay going to start at $100,000? Where will the money come from?

President Obama, faithful foot soldier of the Left, is eager to free women from child-care responsibilities. “That’s not a choice we want Americans to make.” It’s odd, isn’t it, that the Left, always hostile to business and money, elevates marketplace participation above family life so consistently? Nancy Pelosi thinks Obamacare is wonderful because it will supposedly free people from work so that they can be artists, but God forbid that women voluntarily take time off to nurture children.

Most mothers want to be able to raise their own children. Some even believe that the fanciest child-care center in the world can’t compete with a parent’s love. A Pew Survey found that among parents who had taken significant time off from work to care for children, 94 percent said they were glad they did.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

What happened?

Jonathan Cohn of TNR explains:

It was a horrible night for the Democrats. They lost control of the Senate, which was to be expected. But they lost nearly all of the close races and appear to have held onto seats in New Hampshire and Virginia only by the thinnest of margins. Democrats also failed to oust Governor Rick Scott in Florida and Scott Walker in Wisconsin. More troubling still: Democratic candidates lost governor’s races in Illinois and Maryland. In Vermont, land of Ben and Jerry's, the Democrat barely edged his GOP counterpart but couldn't get 50 percent of the vote, sending the contest to the State Legislature. He should get elected anyway, but when Democrats are struggling in deeply blue states like Vermont, you know it's a really bad night.

Oh, and Republicans padded their majority in the House. They should have around 250 seats when final results are in everywhere.

What the heck happened? Everything that was true 24 hours ago is true now. The states with Senate races tended to be Republican-leaning, yielding an electorate substantially more conservative than the country as a whole. And turnout was lower than in presidential elections, with participation disproportionately lower among groups that vote Democratic. In 2012, as John Judis points out, voters between 18 and 44 made up nearly half the electorate. In Tuesday's elections, they were less than one-third of the electorate. Don't let anybody tell you that these two factors, geography and turnout, weren't a huge part of the story.

But they're not the whole story, as Judis also notes. Turnout among young people [was] low even by midterm standards. That suggests the Democrats, and particularly the president, failed to rally them. More generally, Obama’s approval rating is in the low 40s—better than George W. Bush in his sixth year, but worse than President Clinton’s or President Reagan’s. With those kinds of ratings, the president’s party is not going to fare well, even in states where Democrats are typically more competitive. . . .

Republicans can’t honestly claim a mandate tonight. They can’t even claim a mandate to undo Obamacare, the program that they claim to hate most. No, all Republicans did was say they were opposed to the president. On Tuesday night, that was enough to win.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Dancing traffic lights could save lives



"[T]he dancing traffic light made 81% more people stop and wait before crossing. When you’re entertained, you’re less likely to cheat a red light, which is of course a dangerous habit especially in busy streets."

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Government in a nutshell

"You will be arrested . . . to protect you from yourself."

"They" singular

Megan McArdle feels strongly about it:

Let me make my position clear: In situations with a generic singular antecedent, "they" is not OK. It is preferable. The attempted abolition of singular "they" was a hypercolossal blunder by 18th- and 19th-century fusspots who thought grammar should follow the same sort of simple rules as a steam engine, that Latin and Greek grammars were a good model for English diction, and that in public-facing activity, men absorbed the women in their circle like a sort of social sponge. We should stop perpetuating their error. We should rip this rule from our grammar texts and obliterate it from our stylebooks. We should fling it down and dance upon it.

Consider the reasons that we are supposed to oppose singular “they” . . .