The Aristocracy of Talent

How Meritocracy Made the Modern World

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

This book was one of the nominees for this year's Hayek Book Prize. My small project to read all the nominated books has been a mixed bag so far (see here, here, here, and here) but this is a pretty good contender. The good folks at the Interlibrary Loan department at the University Near Here wangled a copy from Tunxis Community College in Farmington, Connecticut.

The author, Adrian Wooldridge, is a Brit, and worked for The Economist for a long time. He writes very accessibly for the layman, with quite a bit of wit. One downside of that is the language. I'm pretty sure he expects the reader to know what a "swot" is. (American translation, I think, is "nerd".) And (apparently) in Britain there are "grammar schools" which differ from "public schools". (Grammar schools are what we'd consider to be "prep schools", I think.)

It's a very interesting history of how the concept of meritocracy rise and fell over the centuries, in a lot of different countries and cultures. It had its roots in Plato: that whole philosopher-king thing. But for millennia the default assumption was that your social position was determined by the simple fact of being born to your parents: nobles begat nobles, farmers begat farmers, and you were pretty much stuck in that role for life.

As society complexified, the flaws in that scheme began to show. (To everyone: "The Emperor's New Clothes" had centuries-old roots, after all.) Gradually the liberals and left-wingers of the day started pushing the idea that jobs with power should be held by people of better intellectual talents and abilities. (But not completely. You might have noticed whose funeral just happened.)

Meritocracy has had a rough time of it lately. And not without good reasons; the folks at the tippy-top of the pyramid can get out of touch with The Rest Of Us, start working for their own benefit instead of society at large. Nebraska's Senator Roman Hruska said it best: "[The mediocre] are entitled to a little representation, aren't they, and a little chance?" There are critics of even trying to measure intellectual talent, most notably via the IQ test. Wooldridge is dismissive: "This argument is an exercise in anachronistic sermonizing rather than serious historical understanding, which at its best is an exercise in grasping the intricacies of context rather than projecting our own prejudices backwards."

But anyway, in a neat flip-flop, although old leftists were enthusiastic about meritocracy, modern leftists bemoan it.

Nobody wants a mediocre brain surgeon, though.

The book is not without its flaws. A Herbert Spencer quote, "The superior shall have the good of his superiority; and the inferior the evil of his inferiority", is shorn of context to imply he's referring to those inherent qualities and talents. I think (after looking at the original text) that he's referring to superior/inferior conduct, and arguing against "communistic distribution" of wealth.

Near the end of the book, Woolridge cheers Kamala Harris's ascent to the Vice-Presidency, and says it wouldn't have been possible "without the meritocratic idea." Overlooking the facts that (a) Kamala's widely perceived as lacking in intellect, (b) was picked for veep primarily due to her race and sex, and (c) got her start not through merit, but by becoming the mistress of a married politician.

Charles Murray has had a lot of interesting stuff to say about this. Woolridge only mentions The Bell Curve, and (I think) misinterprets the thrust of that 1994 book. Nothing's said about the work Murray's done since then.

But, overall, a very worthwhile and interesting book.

URLs du Jour

2022-09-24

  • Ladies and gentlemen: We got your second episode of Crime Squad right here:

    It's a federal crime to not watch Crime Squad, so…


  • Like Web 2.0, it kind of sucks. Kevin D. Williamson's debut column at the Dispatch doesn't seem to be paywalled, so check it out: Grift 2.0.

    Writing in Salon under the headline, “I was a right-wing pundit,” Rich Logis confesses: “I was all-in on Donald Trump’s lies, well after Jan. 6.” And: “I was dead wrong about all of it.”

    Welcome to the party, pal.

    I’m not here to sneer at Salon or its contributors, but I am going to guess you’ve never heard of Rich Logis, who seems to have been a “right-wing pundit” more in aspiration than in reality. You know the type: a couple of Federalist bylines, one on FoxNews.com, and, at last count, 64 Twitter followers. The media-activism nexus, left and right, is full of reasonably bright, reasonably articulate people trying to build a career telling people what they want to hear, and Logis seems to be one of those on the right who have moved on to Grift 2.0: “Mea most maxima culpa, baby, now here’s a link to donate to my new organization.” In Logis’ case, that’s a new entity called Listen, Lead, Unite, which consists of a web page with a mission statement, a founder bio, and—the most important bit—a link for donations.

    Speaking as someone with (yup) 21 Twitter followers (as I type)… well, maybe I shouldn't speak.

    But KDW moves on to bigger game, namely Senator Lindsay Graham (2.1 megafollowers).


  • That train has already left the station. Still it's worth pointing out, as Jonathan Rauch does, The Danger of Politicizing Science.

    Nature Human Behaviour, a respected member of the Springer stable, thinks so. “Science has for too long been complicit in perpetuating structural inequalities and discrimination in society,” the editors declare in a recent manifesto. “With this guidance, we take a step towards countering this.”

    The editors assure us that “advancing knowledge and understanding is a fundamental public good.” Okay. They say that research should avoid harming the individuals it studies; not a controversial proposition. But then, in a move that deserves to be very controversial, they broaden their definition of unacceptable harm to include negative social consequences for studied groups.

    Researchers should “minimize as much as possible…risks of harm to the studied groups in the public sphere,” they say (my italics). “Research may—inadvertently—stigmatize individuals or human groups,” they add (again, my italics). “It may be discriminatory, racist, sexist, ableist or homophobic. It may provide justification for undermining the human rights of specific groups, simply because of their social characteristics.”

    The phrases I italicized do a lot of work. A researcher might not have a discriminatory bone in her body, and she might take exquisite care to avoid biasing her research. Her evidence may be solid, her methods sound, and her conclusions actually true. Nonetheless, the editors may reject her article, require revisions, or even retract and repudiate it if they believe it “undermines the dignity or rights of specific groups; assumes that a human group is superior or inferior over [sic] another simply because of a social characteristic; includes hate speech or denigrating images; or promotes privileged, exclusionary perspectives.”

    When Rauch is not dealing directly with politics, he's pretty good. But when he does, he can be pretty bad. Caveat lector.


  • The Senator's New Clothes? Charles C. W. Cooke is the truth-telling kid in the crowd: Elizabeth Warren Is Trump in Professor’s Clothing. (NRPlus, sorry. Subscribe!)

    Elizabeth Warren believes that she is treated differently than are many other American politicians because she is a woman. For once, Warren is correct: Were she a man, people would be far more likely to see her for who she actually is — which, once one gets past her pseudo-academic affect and poll-studied indignation, is Donald Trump in a Harvard professor’s pantsuit.

    Warren is a little more refined than Trump — and, as a result, she is more transparent in her artifice. But the ingredients are the same. She is a bully who seeks office for its imprimatur. She is an egomaniac who responds well to praise. (In 2019, a simple endorsement was sufficient to get her to propose that “black trans and cis women, gender-nonconforming, and nonbinary people are the backbone of our democracy,” which is a sentence that nobody else has ever constructed, or will ever again construct, in English.) And, because she is a narcissist, she is incapable of admitting her mistakes — even when not doing so means adopting intellectual positions that would have made Prospero blush. At root, Warren is a shell, an opportunist, an actor. She was white, then she was Native American, then she was white again. She was a Republican, then she was a Democrat. She was against money in politics, until that money began to follow her, rather than her opponents, and, suddenly, she favored it. Her life story is malleable and Gatsbyesque, with the only consistent narrative being that she, Elizabeth Warren, is the hero of the age.

    Obligatory Babylon Bee story: Harvard To Pay Elizabeth Warren $400,000 To Teach Class On Why College Is So Expensive.


  • Most Americans encounter immigrants regularly, so… Veronique de Rugy notes yet another disconnect: Most Americans Value Immigration. Most Politicians Don't.

    At a time when the American economy could use more people, restrictions on immigration continue to trap a lot of unused talent in low-productivity countries. To unleash it, the United States could simply let these immigrants in and let them work. They'd become a productive part of the system that makes this country so wealthy. But politicians are getting in the way.

    Forget for a moment about the usual fear-based talking points. Ignore the recent use of immigrants as political props. As George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan said on PBS, "if you don't know anything about economics, just learn this: the secret to mass consumption is mass production. Countries that produce a lot of stuff have a high living standard. Countries that produce a small amount of stuff have a low living standard. That is why people want to live in rich countries, because production per person is high in rich countries."

    Unfortunately, the extravagant redistribution of wealth during the COVID-19 years created incentives to stay home instead of work. Today, many U.S. industries are having a hard time finding workers, leaving production lower than it should be. That means fewer goods and services to raise our living standards. It's so bad that unfilled jobs in the manufacturing sector could cost the U.S. economy $1 trillion annually.

    Data point: Vero's from France. Their loss, our gain.


  • But they're so progressive! So it's sad, but unsurprising, to see reports of Antisemitism at University of Vermont. Bobby Miller at the NR Corner:

    The University of Vermont (UVM) is currently experiencing a spate of antisemitic incidents. The students committing these blatant acts of bigotry may have been initially motivated by their sanctimonious opposition to the “occupation” of the Palestinian territories. Irrespective of what is motivating them, this sentiment has clearly entered the realm of outright xenophobia.

    For example, UVM students were recently seen throwing rocks at the Jewish student-life center on campus. When asked to cease their vile behavior, one of the perpetrators asked the person beseeching their goodwill, “Are you Jewish?”

    There’s no way that this can be construed as anything other than explicit antisemitism. Yet the school refuses to acknowledge what’s happening.

    Vermont is also home to "hey, we're not anti-semites" Ben & Jerry's, which last year ended sales of its ice cream in what it called "Occupied Palestinian Territory". Which (currently) is causing a rift with "hey, we're not anti-semites either" parent company Unilever.

URLs du Jour

2022-09-23

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • There must be fifty ways… to betray your first principles, but Adam Thierer stops at six: 6 Ways Conservatives Betray Their First Principles with Online Child Safety Regulations. And here is number…

    1) It’s a rejection of personal responsibility

    Again, I understand all too well how hard parenting can be. But that does not mean we should abdicate our parental responsibilities to the State. Conservatives have spent decades fighting government when it comes to broken schools and the supposed brainwashing many kids get in them. The rallying cry of conservatives has long been: Let us have a greater say in how we raise and educate our children because the State is failing us or betraying our values.

    Thus, when conservatives suggest that the State should be making decisions for us as it pertains to anything the government says is a “child safety” issue, there is some serious cognitive dissonance going on there. In his humorous Devil’s Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce jokingly defined responsibility as, “A detachable burden easily shifted to the shoulders of God, Fate, Fortune, Luck or one’s neighbor. In the days of astrology it was customary to unload it upon a star.” For parental responsibility to actually mean something, it has to be more than a “detachable burden” that we unload upon government.

    Is there anything wrong with the Internet that ham-fisted government regulation can't make much worse?


  • For more on that… here's Jacob Sullum with his usual Very Long Headline: The Government Can't Fix Social Media Moderation and Should Not Try: Democrats and Republicans Both Demand Solutions That Are Inconsistent With the First Amendment.

    Despite their increasingly bitter differences, Democrats and Republicans generally agree that content moderation by social media companies is haphazard at best. But while Democrats tend to think the main problem is too much speech of the wrong sort, Republicans complain that platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are biased against them.

    The government cannot resolve this dispute and should not try. Siding with the critics who complain about online "misinformation" poses an obvious threat to free inquiry and open debate. And while attempting to mandate evenhandedness might seem more consistent with those values, it undermines the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment in a more subtle but equally troubling way.

    Under a Texas law that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit declined to block last week, the leading social media platforms are forbidden to discriminate against users or messages based on "viewpoint." The "censorship" that Texas has banned includes not just outright removal of content and cancellation of accounts but also any steps that make posts less visible, accessible or lucrative.

    That means platforms are obliged to treat all posts equally, no matter how objectionable their content. With narrow exceptions for speech that is not constitutionally protected, Facebook et al. are not allowed to favor tolerance over bigotry, peace over violence, or verifiably true historical or scientific claims over demonstrably false ones.

    There's zero chance of this working out well.


  • Which brings us to this somewhat related item. Karl Bode may, someday, come to realize that this sort of behavior from government is Standard Operating Procedure, but (for now) he's still surprised that There Have Been Decades Of Broadband Policy And Subsidies And We’re Only Just Now Accurately Measuring Their Impact.

    This FCC this week formally announced it had finally started gathering more accurate broadband mapping data from U.S. ISPs after more than a decade of complaints about mapping accuracy.

    “On June 30, the Federal Communications Commission opened the first ever window to collect information from broadband providers in every state and territory about precisely where they provide broadband services,” FCC boss Jessica Rosenworcel stated in a press release.

    “For the first time ever, we have collected extensive location-by-location data on precisely where broadband services are available, and now we are ready to get to work and start developing new and improved broadband maps,” she added.

    Think about that for a moment. Decades of broadband policy and programs, and countless billions in taxpayer subsidies, and we only just started accurately trying to figure out if those efforts actually made a difference. It’s not a landmark the gadget and gossip obsessed tech press will give much attention to, but it matters all the same.

    Unfortunately, Bode's remedy is to get Gigi Sohn confirmed to the FCC. It's difficult to avoid sarcasm here: "Yeah, that'll work."

    Supplementary Gigi reading: The FCC is working just fine without Gigi Sohn; Gigi Sohn, Biden's Pick for FCC Vacancy, Is Still Pushing Pointless 'Net Neutrality' Regulations.


  • Allahpundit is now Nick Catoggio. His column at the Dispatch is titled "Boiling Frogs" (now there's an image) and his inaugural address is: Suckers and Fighters.

    One of the more illuminating footnotes of the Trump years comes from an interview Paul Ryan gave in 2018. Ryan was on his way out of Washington by then, an ember of post-Reagan Republicanism smothered by Trumpism and finally flickering out. He told the New York Times that Trump had privately taken to calling him a “Boy Scout,” a habit that began at their first meeting after the 2016 election. But one day, after Ryan’s House majority had pushed through a number of bills on the president’s agenda, a pleased Trump informed him that he would no longer use the term.

    “I guess he meant it as an insult all along,” Ryan later observed. “I didn’t realize.”

    Boy Scouts are (or should be) Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent. I can see how Trump would have a problem with some of those.


  • Meanwhile, in Pennsyvania… voters have a choice between two flavors of crap sandwich. George F. Will: While Oz campaigns about campaigning, Fetterman sells a synthetic authenticity.

    Distilled to its populist essence, Fetterman’s campaign theme is: Oz’s successes — as cardiothoracic surgeon and a television talk-show host — have made him wealthy, so, unlike me, he is unable to relate to the toiling masses. For Fetterman, being a mayor was his only toiling — his only protracted employment — until, in 2019, he shouldered the burden of being lieutenant governor.

    The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that “for a long stretch lasting well into his 40s,” Fetterman’s “main source of income came from his parents,” including “$54,000 in 2015 alone.” As mayor from his mid-30s until he was 49, he earned $150 a month. In 2013, he paid his sister $1 for a loft she purchased for $70,000. He was mayor of Braddock (population 1,700) near Pittsburgh from 2006 until 2019. The town’s decay (population has declined; one-third of the remaining residents are in poverty) resisted whatever ameliorative talents Fetterman acquired with his degree from Harvard’s Kennedy School.

    “You’d be surprised,” Dolly Parton says, “how much it costs to look this cheap.” Imagine how much thought goes into Fetterman’s feigned thoughtlessness about his appearance. Six feet 8 inches, tattooed arms, shaved head, a goatee. His signature costume is a hoodie and shorts, even in winter, perhaps even at parent-teacher meetings at his children’s private school. His synthetic authenticity signals proletarian envy, a Bernie Sanders acolyte embarrassed by having uncalloused hands.

    In “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” Truman Capote’s protagonist, Holly Golightly, is “a phony” but “a real phony” because “she believes all this crap she believes.” Fetterman is skittering away from inconvenient beliefs he has espoused: Releasing one-third of incarcerated Pennsylvanians would not make the state less safe. Fracking is so risky, vast natural gas reserves should remain locked in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale formation. Fetterman does not like big things (corporations, campaign contributions) other than big government. He says “our economy is a mess because of Washington.” Which his party controls. And he thinks the mess-maker insufficiently permeates and regulates Americans’ lives.

    Oz, of course, has his own problems.


  • Harpootling on "The View". Back in 2011, I invented a verb: harpootle. To "harpootle" is "to attack someone in a way that reveals the attacker as foolish, petty, vile, and/or stupid."

    Since then, examples have abounded. But my original inspiration was Dick Harpootlian, South Carolina Democrat who attempted to attack then-governor Nikki Haley being identified as "white" on a 2001 voter registration form.

    Yes, a white Southern Democrat was outraged because he thought that someone with a non-European bloodline was trying to "pass".

    Now, 11 years later, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. And unsurprisingly, the target is again Nikki Haley. Andrew Stiles tells the tale: Liberal Host Sunny Hostin (Real Name Asunción) Smears Nikki Haley (Real Name Nikki) as Racial ‘Chameleon’.

    Asunción "Sunny" Hostin on Tuesday smeared former governor Nikki Haley (R., S.C.) as a racial "chameleon," suggesting the GOP politician changed her name because she was ashamed of her Indian heritage. "What is her real name, again?" the liberal cohost of The View snarked when colleague Alyssa Farah Griffin suggested Haley was a strong presidential contender in 2024.

    Haley, who made history as the first female Asian American governor and the first Indian American to ever serve in a presidential cabinet as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was born Nimarata Nikki Randhawa and changed her surname after marrying Michael Haley in 1996. Hostin, by contrast, is a former commentator on Court TV. She was born Asunción Cummings and married Emmanuel Hostin in 1998. Nevertheless, the liberal journalist persisted in attacking Haley as a traitor to her race. "I think if she leaned into being someone of color, it would be different," Hostin said.

    Like Harpootle, Hostin has a long history of hostility to any person without (yes) a pure European bloodline identifying as a Republican or conservative. She is stunningly stupid. (But she's "leaning into" it.)

URLs du Jour

2022-09-22

  • Alternate title: California Screaming.

    Captain Ego! [Captain Ego]

    Suggested reading from Christian Britschgi at Reason: California Providing Free Money In Attempt To Mitigate Inflation.


  • Nietzsche is just pietzsche to these folks. Stephanie Slade notes the bad news: "National" conservatives haven't mended their wayward ways: The Will to Power Was Front and Center at NatCon III.

    "Wokeism is not a fever that will pass but a cancer that must be eradicated," declared a main-stage speaker at the third National Conservatism Conference ("NatCon III") last week. "In this new reality, the only institution with the power to contend with and conquer the woke-industrial complex is the government of the United States."

    In the task to identify what distinguishes national conservatism from other right-wing varietals, you could do worse than to start with that quote from activist Rachel Bovard. It shows that this burgeoning political faction has at its heart a fundamentally favorable orientation toward federal power and not a mere revivification of national pride. It also makes it clear that the natcons' purpose in acquiring government power is not merely to prevent its misuse by opposing ideologues; it's to use it affirmatively to destroy opposing ideologues.

    The rhetoric is just rhetoric, for now. But we're talking about folks (the left has them too, of course) who view every election as a "Flight 93 election". It's not a giant leap to embrace "whatever means necessary" tactics to "charge the cockpit".


  • Oh, Danny, this isn't Disneyland. Is this Disneyland? This isn't Disneyland, is it? I didn't think so. Mike Masnick (aka: "the sensible Techdirt writer") makes a useful distinction: The Internet Is Not Disneyland; People Should Stop Demanding It Become Disneyland.

    Disneyland can be a fun experience for kids (and potentially a frustrating one for parents), but it’s a very controlled environment in which everything is set up to bend over backwards to be welcoming to children. And that’s great for what it is, but the world would kinda suck if everything was Disneyland. I mean, some countries have tried that, and it’s… not great, especially if you believe in basic freedoms.

    Here’s the thing: Disneyland’s limits are great for a place to visit occasionally. As a vacation. But it’s not the real world. And we shouldn’t be seeking to remake the real world into Disneyland. And I think it’s especially true that most parents wouldn’t want to raise their kids in Disneyland and then send them out into the real world upon turning 18, and assuming they’ll be fully equipped to deal with the real world.

    Yet that’s exactly what some busybody politicians (with support of the media) have been trying to do. They want to pass new laws that effectively demand that the internet act like Disneyland. Everything must be safe for kids. That means much greater surveillance and much less freedom… but “safe for kids.”

    I thought I was quoting someone when I said the Internet was like having God's library card. If I was, then I can't find that source now.

    The problem (or: the "problem") is that God stocks all the books. Even the bad ones.

    [Headline quote based on a classic.]


  • And they don't put the "fun" in "fundamentalism". Joel Kotkin elaborates on a long-running theme: Environmentalism Is a Fundamentalist Religion.

    Today's climate activists resemble nothing so much as a religious movement, with carbon the new devil's spawn. The green movement is increasingly wedded to a kind of carbon fundamentalism that is not only not realistic but will reduce living standards in the West and around the world. And as with other kinds of religious fundamentalism, the climate hysteria is often overwrought and obviously so; a decade ago, the same activists predicted a planetary disaster by 2020 if the U.S. and China did not reduce their emissions by 80 percent—which of course never happened.

    This approach is a losing one that reduces the effectiveness of the green lobby. What's needed to combat climate change is a pragmatic approach based on adapting to real and verifiable dangers. And this starts with environmentalists acknowledging the limits of our ability to curb emissions in the short run.

    My favorite climate solution, artificial photosynthesis, goes unmentioned yet again. [The linked article views it as a "renewable" energy source. Which is fine, but its first-order effect is to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Which would (literally) be cool.]


  • Not a town in New Mexico. Martin Gurri, thinking deeply about the Big Picture at Discourse: Truth and Its Consequences.

    Let me be blunt: Truth, for the human animal, is always partial, temporary and local. We never attain the “whole truth”—eyewitness testimony is notoriously faulty. Rather, truth comes to us in bits and fragments, like a jigsaw puzzle with most pieces missing. As we learn new facts and with time shift our point of view, truth alters its aspect. That process never ends. Finally, truth is dependent of the level of analysis: It appears wholly different through the lens of the atom collider than it does through that of the Webb telescope. We earth-bound creatures can hold no conception of what truth must look like to an immense universal being.

    Because we are symbolic as well as biological animals, we find truth’s imperfections difficult to accept. It goes against logic. A proposition that is partial and is soon to be overthrown feels like an error. Truth—complete accordance with reality—must be one and eternal. This craving for wholeness in human experience eventually inspires a desperate maneuver: Truth is removed from earth to a higher sphere. For Plato, the world of objects was a flitting shadow on a cave wall; reality could be found only in the realm of perfect and unchanging forms. The great world religions, like Christianity, have made a similar move. Truth abides in heaven while doubt torments earthly life. The result is a curious but all-too-human inversion, whereby the attainment of truth now demands an act of faith.

    It's as eye-opening and mind-expanding as you might expect. A drive-by observation: "Media 'fact-checkers' are not concerned with checking facts but with regaining epistemic control."


  • Biden's gonna have trouble putting lipstick on this pig. Eric Boehm notes a really inconvenient (albeit partial, temporary, and local) truth: Expected Interest Rate Hike Will Add $2 Trillion to the Deficit.

    Tomorrow's [as I type, yesterday's] rate hike will add an estimated $2.1 trillion to the federal deficit over the next two years, according to an analysis from the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB), a nonprofit that advocates for lower deficits. That's $2 trillion that goes on the tab to be repaid even though no one ever benefitted from it. It helped to build no bridges, feed no hungry people, or make any business more profitable.

    Even with low interest rates, the cost to service the size of the national debt was expected to balloon during the next few decades. Other than the cost of entitlements like Social Security and Medicare, the interest costs are the biggest driver of America's long-term deficit. Higher interest rates will compound that problem, as the CRFB has been detailing for months.

    Biden and Congress have made the situation yet worse by continuing to borrow and spend even long after it became obvious that interest rates would have to rise to combat inflation caused in part by all the borrowing and spending. Despite what the White House claims, Biden has approved more than $4.8 trillion in new borrowing to finance the American Rescue Plan, student debt relief, and other initiatives.

    Eric notes that the Pollyannas who thought interest rates could/would be kept low forever were wrong, wrong, wrong.

    They will not be the ones suffering for their errors.

URLs du Jour

2022-09-21

  • Whoa. So Cathy Young tweeted:

    This is the kind of thing you see on Twitter all the time. No big deal. But it drew a response:

    Which caused Cathy to reply:

    Which seemed, well, an odd argument to make. I made a not-at-all snarky tweet:

    And, as noted above: whoa. Look at those likes! This was literally unprecedented for me. (You want to make fun of me? It's easy: after 12 years on Twitter, I've accumulated 21 followers.)

    I should mention that I like Cathy Young. Although her current primary perch is at the Bulwark, she's been a feature of a bunch of publications I read, like Reason. I didn't tweet out of hostility.

    But I guess I learned two things about getting Twitter likes:

    1. Be quick. In this case: 6 minutes. Otherwise someone else is gonna make your completely obvious point first.
    2. Be brief.
    3. No insults. (Some of the people in the thread… sigh.)
    4. Most important: reply to someone who has a lot of followers (Cathy has 67.6K of 'em) and (apparently) draws a lot of flak from them.


  • This is Joe's brain. This is Joe's brain on "replay". People are starting to notice some recurring themes. President Biden in April of this year, as quoted in this C-Span tweet:

    "This ain't you [sic] father's Republican Party. Not a joke, all you gotta do is look what's being played this morning about the tape that was released. Anyway, but all kidding aside, this is a MAGA party now...These guys are a different breed of cat."

    President Biden just a few days ago:

    "This is not your father’s Republican Party. This is a different breed of cat we’re dealing with."

    President Biden ten years ago, as reported by ABC News.

    PORTSMOUTH, Ohio - Vice President Joe Biden often proclaims how different the Republican Party is from generations ago, but in Portsmouth, Ohio, today, he had a new way to describe them - a "different breed of cat."

    "They're not bad guys. It's just a different, as my brother would say, different breed of cat," Biden said at Portsmouth High School.

    In nearly every speech, Biden cites the transformation of the GOP with Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan now at the helm of the party, telling audiences "This is not your father's Republican Party."

    But as it turns out, the Huffington Post noticed this a couple years ago:

    “This is not your father’s Republican Party,” Biden said campaigning for a Senate candidate in 2018. “They are not who we are. They are not who America is.” Not with their “phony populism” or “fake nationalism.”

    “This is not your father’s Republican Party,” he said in 2011. “This is a different breed of cat.”

    “Today’s Republican Party is not your father’s Republican Party,” Biden said in 2010. “It’s the party of the tea party. … I’m not questioning their integrity. I’m questioning their judgment.”

    “I don’t get it,” Biden said during the close of the 2008 election with Sarah Palin his GOP opponent. “This is not your father’s Republican Party. This is a different deal. This is a different outfit.”

    “This is not your father’s Republican Party,” Biden said in 2006, his first recorded utterance. Republicans are “bright, patriotic people,” he added, who, sadly, “want to radically change the social structure that has nurtured a thriving middle class.”

    I know this isn't classy at all, but… just sayin'.

URLs du Jour

2022-09-20

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • Also: why I'm sending money to The Dispatch. Even occasional readers may have noticed that I'm a Kevin D. Williamson fanboy. He's recently pulled up his stakes from National Review, and decamped for … well, let him tell you about it in an unpaywalled article: Why I’m at The Dispatch.

    Some of you may know me from National Review, where I spent 15 years, or from the Atlantic, where I spent three days, or from my earlier newspaper work, or from one of my books. I’ve done a lot of different things, but the thing I’ve always liked best is long-form reported pieces, going to places where interesting things are happening and trying to understand them and explain them. The idea is to make you say, “Huh, interesting, I didn’t really know anything about that.” In most cases, I won’t have known very much about that two weeks ago, either—whatever that is—which is fun. Someone once described journalists as “people who have the bad taste to learn in public.” And that’s what I’m here at the Dispatch to do, mostly.

    I’m not going to pretend that I don’t enjoy delivering verbal beatdowns to sundry miscreants defiling our public life and institutions—or that readers haven’t enjoyed those, too, or that I’m not good at that—but that isn’t what I’m here to do. That’s the directive from Dispatch On High Such As It Is: extra reporting, hold the hot takes.

    I assume that most of his Dispatch content will be paywalled. That won't stop me from plugging and excerpting it here. I recommend you cough up for a subscription. (They have an enticing promo offer right now.) Can't afford it? As KDW has advised in the past: Get a job, hippie.


  • A tale (not quite) as old as time. Kat Rosenfield writes at Unherd on The American media's racism fantasy. The latest datapoint on that ongoing story being…

    It was the kind of correction you love to see. The story that originally broke in the final days of August, about a young black athlete being racially heckled in front of a crowd of thousands at Utah’s Brigham Young University, was not just exaggerated but completely false. The n-word was not shouted, let alone repeatedly, at Duke volleyball player Rachel Richardson when she went up to serve. A crowd of more than 5,000 people did not stand idly by during an act of malignant racism. The United States is not, apparently, a socially backwards hellscape where people openly scream slurs at packed sporting events without compunction or shame.

    Unfortunately, it’s a correction that many people are probably never going to see — or if they do, they won’t believe it.

    Ms. Rosenfield links to an (uncorrected, as I type) USA Today column from Mike Freeman from a couple weeks back: "Right-wing conspiracy theory involving Duke volleyball player is absurd".

    Mike, conspiracy theories are absurd. At least that's the way to bet.

    You know what's not absurd? Skepticism. Which is a stance you should have adopted.

    Let's go back to Ms. Rosenfield's bottom line, which should go on a Post-It above Mike Freeman's workstation, and that of every other "journalist" who bought into this fantasy:

    Needless to say, it is not good for a society to exist in a state of such constant catastrophising vigilance for signs of racial resentment. Amid our obsessive fear of fake news, this is a particularly insidious sort of misinformation; it is the reason why, for instance, liberal Americans grossly overestimate the number of unarmed black men killed every year by police. The actual number in 2019 was somewhere between 10 and 30, but fully 53% of surveyed liberals assumed it was over 1,000, while 22% estimated the number at 10,000 or more. It is also why, even as Americans across the board report feeling good about diversity and warmth for their black countrymen, we nevertheless believe that other people’s racism is bad and getting worse.

    But the worst harm is something more basic: it is bad for black Americans to be unreasonably terrified that they’ll be hate-crimed every time they leave the house. It is wrong to instil fear and pessimism and panic for the sake of clicks. And telling people that many of their fellow Americans secretly hate them and wish them harm, when this is not in fact the case, is morally reprehensible.

    Yeah. Let me also mention that Ms. Rosenfield's latest book is really good.


  • Meet the New Scientist, same as the Old Scientist. Jerry Coyne notes a recent effort from a "science" magazine to boost illiberalism: New Scientist calls for curbs on “free speech” in America. It's from Annalee Newitz, American journalist and fiction writer, and here's her article Coyne is rebutting: Twitter and the dangers of the US myth of free speech.

    Myth? Oh well. 'Twas nice while it lasted.

    Newitz's article is free-after-registration, or you can just check out the long excerpts Coyne provides. Here's one:

    It turns out that information overload is just as toxic to democracy as censorship is. We need to chuck out the US myth that bad speech can be “cured” with more speech. Without moderation, ground rules for debate and thoughtful regulation in our digital public squares, it is impossible for us to reach agreement on anything.

    There is a vast and pleasant country between total censorship and total information chaos, and that is where I hope to live one day. I’ll save you a seat.

    Coyne's response:

    So I ask this obvious question to Ms. Newitz:

    “Who, do you propose, should censor the speech of “anti-democratic politicians,” trolls, promoters of offense and hate, confusing messages (presumably false information about Covid and the like), and others. Do you nominate yourself? Or would you prefer a Department of Censorship.  And how will you silence the likes of Trump?”

    I’m looking forward to Newitz, in a future column, describing how she would arrange things to turn America into the “vast and pleasant country” she craves.  How, exactly, will she arrange the suppression of speech that she finds cruel, vicious, chaotic, and trollish?

    Free speech isn’t a myth, but if censorious folk like Newitz get their way, it will become one.

    But if you'd like to check out Annalee's tale of "time travelers fighting for reproductive rights across thousands of years of history"…

    Hey! Will Wheaton liked it!

    I'm pretty sure we won't see her novel of time travelers fighting for free speech rights across thousands of years of history anytime soon.


  • A simple question. And it's posed by the WSJ editorialists to the Folks in Charge: Is the Pandemic ‘Over,’ or Not?.

    President Biden finally dared to say it on Sunday, declaring in an interview on CBS’s “60 Minutes” that the “pandemic is over.” Various public-health eminences are saying he’s wrong, but his comments recognize the reality of the disease at this stage and the public mood. The trouble is that his Administration still hasn’t lifted its official finding of a Covid public-health emergency.

    Eric Topol, the Scripps Research Translational Institute director who is one of America’s leading Covid scolds, tweeted “Wish this was true. What’s over is @POTUS’s and our government’s will to get ahead of it, with magical thinking on the new bivalent boosters. Ignores #LongCovid, inevitability of new variants, and our current incapability for blocking infections and transmission.”

    I detect a whiff of that old Blazing Saddles quote: "We have to protect our phoney baloney jobs here, gentlemen!"

    And, yes, further down, the WSJ notes: "The reason is almost certainly money." And also power. And also (specifically) the power to give away taxpayer money.


  • And for more details on that… Peter Suderman takes Biden pandemic-over pronouncement literally, but not seriously: Biden Inadvertently Declares His Student Loan Forgiveness Program Illegal.

    If the pandemic is over, then there is no ongoing national emergency, which means that the already shaky legal ground on which the Biden administration based its action has now collapsed entirely.

    What's more, the administration had previously acknowledged that it lacked the legal standing to enact policy based on a pandemic emergency.

    In a post flagging the legal implications of Biden's inconsistency, National Review's Charles Cooke notes that "in May, the Biden administration (correctly) reported that it was obliged to end the use of Title 42 of the 1944 Public Health Services Act at the border because the Covid-19 emergency had passed." The administration, in other words, had already concluded that the pandemic was no longer an emergency that justified extraordinary action months prior to the student loan forgiveness announcement. But that, of course, was a policy the Biden administration wanted to end. For legal purposes, the Biden administration's position was that the pandemic was over when it needed to be over, but ongoing when it needed to be ongoing.

    Suderman concludes that Biden "cannot even be bothered to keep his shoddy story straight." I'd add: He likely lacks the mental capacity to even notice that his shoddy story isn't straight. Also: nobody outside of us Reason-reading cranks will call him on it.


  • We're not walking anything back, but you shouldn't pay attention to anything the senile old fool says. Jimmy Quinn at National Review notes another Orwellian moment. Senior White House Official: Biden’s Taiwan Comments Were Not Walked Back.

    During an interview on CBS’s 60 Minutes, Biden said that the U.S. would send American service members to defend Taiwan “if in fact there was an unprecedented attack” by China.

    White House officials told the television program, however, that the president’s comments did not represent a change in U.S. policy, and that there is no official commitment to mount a defense of Taiwan. White House Indo-Pacific coordinator Kurt Campbell then denied that this contradicts what the president said during the interview last night.

    And then he said: "Who are you gonna believe? Me, or your own ears?"

    To point out something obvious: having the president babble incoherently about foreign policy and America's response to naked aggression is kind of dangerous. Just ask Ukraine.

    [And you'll want to check out the Quote Investigator for the Marxist take on our current situation.]

URLs du Jour

2022-09-19

  • Rating about a 7.5 on the Snarkometer. My tweet in response to my ex-CongressCritter, but still full-time toothache, Carol Shea-Porter:

    Effective deterrence would have been far less expensive, in both monetary and human costs. Let's not forget "masterful" Joe's "minor incursion" babble, that even NPR realized needed cleaning up. And, although I don't agree with Ted Galen Carpenter's usual "blame America first" viewpoint, his analysis at Cato (from January of this year) is damning enough:

    However, there has been a noticeable change in the language that Biden administration officials use when talking about the U.S. commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty or the likely U.S. response if Russia uses military force against its neighbor. That change created a new wave of mixed messages. In his two‐hour video conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin on December 7, Biden spoke of “harsh consequences” if an invasion took place. However, he only warned of additional economic sanctions and vaguely of “other measures.” Tellingly, he did not caution Putin that U.S. forces would take steps to defend Ukraine.

    I don't claim to know anything about foreign policy or defense. (Other than to observe that the Smart People In Charge keep getting things wrong.)


  • Anonymous sources, what would we do without 'em? The Washington Times reports: Biden accused of pressuring FBI to fabricate 'extremist' and 'White supremacist' cases.

    Rank-and-file FBI agents are accusing the Biden administration of exaggerating the threat of White supremacists and pressuring agents to cook up domestic terrorist cases involving racist extremists. 

    Current and former FBI agents told The Washington Times that the perceived White supremacist threat is overblown by the administration. They said top bureau officials are pressuring FBI agents to create domestic terrorist cases and tag people as White supremacists to meet internal metrics.

    “The demand for White supremacy” coming from FBI headquarters “vastly outstrips the supply of White supremacy,” said one agent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “We have more people assigned to investigate White supremacists than we can actually find.”

    Now (of course) the "rank-and-file FBI agents" are unnamed. As are the "top bureau officials" accused of demanding cases be made against those white supremacists. Take it with a big-ass crystal of sodium chloride.

    Still, it sounds pretty similar to the IRS's aggressive scrutiny of conservative 501(c)(3) groups under the Obama Administration. I would imagine FBI higher-ups are reviewing technigues on how to unconvincingly claim emails were lost and how to selectively invoke the Fifth Amendment in front of Congressional investigators.


  • A sordid story. Jeff Jacoby looks at the latest Ken Burns documentary on PBS and it's pretty grim:

    ON JAN. 30, 1933, Adolf Hitler was sworn in as the chancellor of Germany. Over the next 100 days, American newspapers published more than 3,000 thousand [sic] stories about the eruption of antisemitic attacks whipped up by the new regime.

    "Bands of Nazis throughout Germany carried out wholesale raids calculated to intimidate the opposition, particularly the Jews," reported Edmond Taylor of the Chicago Tribune. "Men and women were insulted, slapped, punched in the face, hit over the head with blackjacks, dragged from their homes in night clothes. Never have I seen law-abiding citizens living in such terror."

    Taylor's story is quoted early in "The US and the Holocaust," a six-hour documentary by Ken Burns that premieres tonight on PBS and will air in three parts this week. It is cited to make the point that for Americans who cared to know what was happening to the Jews under the new German government, the information was readily available. News accounts like Taylor's fueled widespread protests. On March 27, more than 20,000 New Yorkers packed Madison Square Garden, with 35,000 more outside, to condemn the Nazis' behavior. Similar rallies were held in scores of cities across the country.

    Pressure to suppress both the news coverage and the protests was not long in coming. Some of that pressure came from Germany, where Nazi officials denied that they were targeting Jews and claimed that the negative stories were "Jewish lies." But efforts to downplay the truth, the new documentary makes clear, also came from the US government.

    I (probably) won't be watching, although I (probably) should. Jacoby notes the Burns blind spot:

    The one serious weakness in Burns's documentary is how hard it tries to justify FDR's inaction. Repeatedly viewers are told that the president could not get out in front of public opinion, which was unwilling to open the doors to refugees. But Roosevelt, despite his vast popular following, made no effort to influence that public opinion.

    Writing at the New Yorker, James McAuley critiques the other Roosevelt, Eleanor's, introduction to an edition of The Diary of Anne Frank:

    The destruction of the European Jews, in Eleanor Roosevelt’s telling, was not really about the Jews: it was a parable for right and wrong, a “teachable moment” about perseverance in the face of adversity—could there be anything more hopelessly and terminally American than that? As Roosevelt wrote, Anne’s diary was among “the wisest and most moving commentaries on war and its impact on human beings that I have ever read. . . . Despite the horror and humiliation of their daily lives, these people never gave up.” Anne, she concluded, “tells us much about ourselves and our own children.” Not once did Eleanor Roosevelt use the word “Jew”; the story of “these people” was not the point. By then, the Jewish catastrophe was everyone’s to claim, and the “lessons” of the Holocaust were already in the process of becoming a strangely American form of national self-help.

    For Eleanor, Anne Frank's diary was simply teaching us that "war is bad".


  • My TV set is in danger. Because I swear I'm gonna start throwing heavy objects at it when political ads come on. Not a single one shows a glimmer of intelligence or wit. And there are still (as I type) seven more weeks of them to look forward to.

    And of course there are the outright lies. Michael Graham points out a subset of them: Democrats, Abortion, and the 'Big Lie'.

    When New Hampshire Public Radio ran a story on Thursday reporting GOP U.S. Senate candidate Gen. Don Bolduc’s sudden reversal on the 2020 election, its headline read, “Bolduc Abandons False Claims of Stolen Election, Days After GOP Senate Primary Win.”

    “False claims” is strong language for journalists writing a news story. At WMUR, news reports on Republicans questioning the 2020 results used the phrase “unsubstantiated claims about voter fraud.” At The Concord Monitor and Associated Press, their news coverage — not opinion — uses the word “lies” to describe comments by some GOP politicians regarding 2020.

    So, how will those news outlets cover the claims being made by Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan and Rep. Chris Pappas about their opponents’ position on abortion?

    Since (at least) the first debates of the GOP primary cycle, hosted by NHJournal, both [Don Bolduc] and First District Republican nominee Karoline Leavitt have repeatedly said they support states making abortion laws for themselves and oppose a national abortion law.

    And yet Hassan and Pappas are both spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on ads claiming the opposite.

    As I've observed before: these guys can't talk about how swimmingly the economy is going. Immigration is another unmentionable. They can't really say the country's being run by a competent president. So… abortion, abortion, abortion.

Live and Let Die

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

By coincidence, I read this short book concurrently with the (very long) novel Gone With the Wind. My copy of Live and Let Die has (according to Amazon's "Look Inside the Book" function) three occurrences of that N-word, including the original title of Chapter Five. Both books make heavy use of their black characters' dialect. ("Don' ack mad at me, honey. Ah was fixin tuh treat yuh tonight. Take yuh tuh Smalls Par'dise, mebbe. See dem high-yallers shakin' 'n truckin,")

Yeah. That sort of thing would not fly today, I'm pretty sure. Live and Let Die is from 1954, GWtW from 1936. Times change. That said:

Bond is tasked with tracking down Communist agent (and master criminal) "Mr. Big", who's financing Soviet spying activities in America with gold smuggled in from the Caribbean. Mr. Big is big in Harlem, and he keeps his criminal empire in line via voodoo and the extra-sensory perceptive powers of "Solitaire", a beautiful maiden Mr. Big keeps as his slave.

Bond teams up with CIA agent Felix Leiter to investigate. This works out not at all well for Felix. (The book's details on that were repurposed for a different Bond movie.) Bond survives a series of encounters with Big and his gang, but it's a near thing. (It doesn't help that Big really seems to have Bond outsmarted and outgunned nearly all the way through the book.) There is a slam-bang final encounter. Which, spoiler alert, Bond survives.

URLs du Jour

2022-09-18

  • George, the Memory Hole doesn't seem to be working that well. Not as long as people can take screenshots, as demonstrated in Mollie Hemingway's tweet.

    I don't attach much significance to the quote itself. It's a prime example of "nutpicking"; you can always find people, left, right, and center, who will make embarrassing statements off the cuff that they regret a few milliseconds later. (Or not, if they really are nuts.)

    The real scandal lies with NBC news. They would not (of course) hesitate to publicize an equivalent comment from an immigration restrictionist. We'd have a name, a place, a time, and probably video of the picked-nut. And it would echo through the airwaves and interwebs of ABC, CBS, NPR, NYT, WaPo, …

    So Mollie has it exactly right: someone at NBC realized, at some point: Hey, that makes our friends look bad. Can't have that. [Flushing sound effect]

    We may never know who said this, or the "foundation" of which he or she was a "founding member". If NBC News reported that, Google can't find it (as I type), so those inconvenient facts seem to have been successfully deleted from reality.

    So the Memory Hole is partially functioning. Orwell would be happy to hear that.

    [Well, no, he probably wouldn't.]


  • Nice try, railroad unions. Eric Boehm describes How Railroad Unions Almost Broke the Economy.

    Freight railroads and unions representing nearly 125,000 workers reached a tentative agreement on a new labor contract that, for now, averts the possibility of an economically catastrophic strike.

    The deal itself still needs to be ratified by union members before it becomes binding—and before the possibility of a strike that could have disrupted billions of dollars of daily commerce is put off for good—but both the unions and the Association of American Railroads, which represents the industry, have praised the deal. The details of the contract are not public, but the unions reportedly scored several of their top priorities, including graduated pay increases of 24 percent that will be doled out over several years and an average lump sum payment of $11,000 to all union members (a major carrot to get workers to approve the new deal). Much of the brinksmanship on display over the past week, however, had to do with a demand for paid medical leave—a demand that even the Biden administration opposed for being "too costly"—which was reportedly left out of the final deal.

    That a strike was avoided is undeniably the most important thing, given the high economic stakes. But how we got to the brink of a major railroad strike is a fascinating, if convoluted, story as well—one that involves unions overplaying their hand in what they believed to be a favorable political environment, only to discover that Democratic politicians were not prepared to play ball.

    Click through for the "fascinating, if convoluted, story".


  • My guess is we'll have another six years of Senator Maggie. At Reason, Jacob Sullum pays attention to some flip-flopping in my little state: A Senate Candidate's Belated Acknowledgment of Biden's Victory Is a Reality Check for a Trump-Dominated GOP.

    During a debate last month, Don Bolduc, a retired U.S. Army brigadier general who was seeking the Republican nomination to oppose Sen. Maggie Hassan (D–N.H.) in November, unambiguously asserted that Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election. "I signed a letter with 120 other generals and admirals saying that Trump won the election, and, damn it, I stand by my letter," Bolduc said, eliciting cheers and applause from the audience. "I'm not switching horses, baby. This is it."

    Yesterday, two days after Bolduc won the Republican Senate nomination, he suddenly renounced that reality-defying position. "I've done a lot of research on this," he said on Fox News, "and I've spent the past couple weeks talking to Granite Staters all over the state from every party, and I have come to the conclusion—and I want to be definitive on this—the election was not stolen….Elections have consequences, and, unfortunately, President Biden is the legitimate president of this country."

    Ed Mosca at Granite Grok is pretty steamed at what he calls Bolduc's "massive unforced mistake". His suggestion on what Bolduc should have said instead (essentially): "Hey, I was just talking about Zuckerbucks and Hunter Biden's laptop." I don't think that would have meshed well with Bolduc's previous "not switching horses" rhetoric either.

    Granite Grok enthusiastically endorsed Bolduc in the primary. Dunno if that made a difference, but I'll point out that he only won by fewer than 2,000 votes, 1.3 percentage points. So it's not too far-fetched.

    My prediction in the headline could be totally wrong. If you want proof of my bad guesses in the past, see (roughly) everything I wrote about Donald Trump's chances in 2016.


  • LFOD Watch I. The intrepid Boston Globe reporter Brian MacQuarrie traveled up to the Queen City to find out about the Free State phenomenon, and reports: For this New Hampshire family, ‘Live Free or Die’ is more than a motto. There's an interesting interview with Tyler and Sara Brown, who bailed from New York last year. But I was more interested in MacQuarrie's looking-for-Free-Staters-under-the-bed language, emphasis added:

    Already, there are 25 known and likely members in the state House of Representatives, according to progressive tracking groups, and a number of other representatives are suspected of sympathizing with the movement.

    Damn! I mean… damn! I'm not old enough to remember McCarthyism, but I was told that it was pretty paranoid about card-carrying ("known") Communists, and for those not carrying cards, there were plenty of "suspected" Commies, not to mention "likely" fellow travellers. It's … interesting to see that sort of rhetoric repurposed for the 21st century. Except now we're going after libertarians, so I'm sure it's OK.


  • LFOD Watch II. The Google LFOD News Alert also drew my attention to Emily Apter, writing at a site called e-flux, with a truly daunting headline: Live Free or Die? Psychopolitical Infrastructures of Denialism. [footnotes elided]

    When approached from the angle of political theory, the Todestrieb of Covid-denialism aligns with the logic of “live free or die” libertarianism. New Hampshire’s official motto was adopted in 1945 and borrowed from a toast (“Live free or die: Death is not the Worst of Evils”) made by Revolutionary War hero General John Stark, who himself was borrowing it from the French Revolutionary slogan “Vivre libre ou mourir.” Under conditions of pandemia, this libertarian rallying cry is weaponized in a paroxysm of individual choicism that gains energy and positive reinforcement from in-group identification and the community support-structures of fellow denialists. One could say, then, that pandemia denialism produces a singular community; a company of Lockean self-property owners, possessive individualists whose ego-ideal is based on the kind of self-sufficing “ownness” (Eigenheit) that Max Stirner outlined in his controversial 1844 book The Ego and its Own (Der Einzige und sein Eigentum). Stirner’s theory of the ego was castigated by Marx as little more than a smokescreen for petty bourgeois individualism and self-interest, but Marx was short-sighted in dismissing its potential for the kind of anarchist individualism that we see animating entrepreneurial philosophy in the tech industry. Nor could he forsee its importance for Freud’s theory of das Ich, of the ego as a subjective agency that, in misrecognizing itself, and engaging in a dreamlike distortion of reality to justify its own ends, enables grandiose fantasies of self-possession. Psychosis, as Freud would note in this instance, becomes a way of making good on the loss of reality.

    Shorter: whoa, them folks is cray-zee!

    Ms. Apter makes it somewhat easier on her thesis by quoting extensively from Pastor Greg Locke of the Global Vision Bible Church in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. Who really is cray-zee. See my comments above about "nutpicking".

URLs du Jour

2022-09-17

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • On the meritocracy front… I'm currently reading The Aristocracy of Talent: How Meritocracy Made the Modern World by Adrian Wooldridge, and it's great. So good, in fact, that my ears prick up (figuratively) for articles like Jeff Maurer's: Merit is Meaningless.

    Next week, I’ll publish a column arguing that meritocracy is good. I’ll argue that the recent trend towards rolling one’s eyes at meritocracy is bad, and that meritocracy is something a just society should want. But first, I need to write this column, in which I argue that merit is a meaningless concept that should be ignored in every context except for one.

    That might seem contradictory, and maybe it is. Maybe I’m getting so far up my own ass with semantic distinctions that this column is basically a self-colonoscopy. Nonetheless, I see a big difference between saying that merit is a useful concept — which I think it is — and saying that it’s a meaningful concept, which I think it isn’t. The debate over meritocracy often seems to be pro-merit people arguing that the concept is useful versus anti-merit people arguing that it’s meaningless. As is so often the case in American politics, both sides are sort of right, both sides are speaking past each other, and both badly need to shut the fuck up.

    Well, I hope you survived Jeff's F-bomb. The useful-vs-meaningful distinction is an interesting one. Check out his argument.

    I'll go into slightly more detail when I report on the Wooldridge book later this month, but right now my insight is limited to something pretty trivial: the problem with "meritocracy" is the "-cracy" suffix: that people should have more coercive power over others according to whatever quality comes before that dreaded -cracy.


  • Teaching kids how to read might help. Frederick M. Hess and Hayley Sanon observe that Educators Have Lost the Public’s Trust and wonder how can they get it back.

    Educators sense the skepticism and know that it has real implications. Jay Wamsted, a middle school math teacher from Atlanta, recently penned a much-discussed essay for Education Week fretting that the lack of trust and the ensuing policy fights make teaching more difficult. Wamsted argues, “We need to grant our teachers freedom to answer questions” without his feeling compelled to “choose between my students’ education or my own job security.” Wamsted is right to note that complex issues inevitably arise in the course of schooling and that good teachers want and need the ability to address these in thoughtful, responsible ways.

    But the problem is that many parents don’t trust all educators to do just that. While education leaders like American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten have blamed right-wing “extremists” for undermining public support through a campaign of “lies, smears, and distortions,” the inconvenient fact is that there are educators out there publicly bragging about their efforts to infuse their dogmas into school practices and policy.

    Hess and Sanon cite the Project Veritas videos which (if you haven't heard) are "troubling", because they show educrats "talking frankly about how they promote ideological agendas at school." They suggest that Step One for educators looking to regain trust would be for them to clearly denounce such statements.

    So far, that hasn't happened. Not holding my breath.


  • Also having trust issues… are the mainstream media. Jerry Coyne has his take on the Jesse Singal article we discussed here yesterday. His theory: NYT and other media fall for a hoax because it matched their ideology. His thoughts:

    This is typical of what happens when a campus “hate crime” is revealed as a hoax—as a substantial proportion of them are. I suggest having a look at Wilfred Reilly’s book, Hate Crime Hoax: How the Left is Selling a Fake Race War. (Reilly, by the way, is black.) I’ve read it, and the stories he tells are dire. I can’t remember the proportion of campus hate crimes or hate “incidents” that turn out to be fake (usually perpetuated by a member of the minority group that was a victim of the fabricated “hate”), but it’s substantial.

    What’s telling is what these incidents have in common after they’re revealed as hoaxes. The perpetrators are often not punished, even when they’re caught; the fact that the hate crime or incident was a hoax is not revealed to the college community (this is bad, because it perpetrates the idea that racism is prevalent on campus); these hoaxes happen everywhere, and, after the “crime” is revealed as a hoax, the schools nevertheless continue to insist that it could have been real because racism is everywhere. Finally, the colleges even put in place new antiracist initiatives—simply to show that they’re doing something, even in the face of a hoax. These colleges, like the newspapers, have a substantial ideological investment in perpetrating the idea that racism is ubiquitous.

    An interesting sidelight: the too-good-to-check hoax was revealed by a small (conservative) student paper at Brigham Young. Because they took the time to do the job the New York Times and others didn't feel like doing.


  • Chuck Schumer thanks New Hampshire GOP primary voters. As I type, FiveThirtyEight gives Democrats a 71% chance of controlling the Senate come 2023. At National Review, Fred Bauer describes How Destabilizing a Post-Nuclear Senate Could Be. That refers to the fact that if the Ds have a net gain of two seats, "nuking" the legislative filibuster would be probable.

    Nuking the filibuster could also have broader constitutional effects by dramatically affecting the balance of power in the federal government. A post-nuclear Congress could decide to pack the Supreme Court on a narrow, party-line vote. Civil-service protections could also be revised by only the slimmest of partisan majorities, with significant implications for the federal bureaucracy.

    Other than Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, every incumbent Democratic senator is on board with the nuclear option. In January, Michael Bennet, Catherine Cortez Masto, Maggie Hassan, Mark Kelly, and Raphael Warnock (all up for reelection in November) all voted to exercise the nuclear option on the legislative filibuster. Senate challengers Mandela Barnes, Val Demmings, John Fetterman, and Tim Ryan have also said that the filibuster should be scrapped. In Utah, independent Senate candidate Evan McMulllin (who is supported by the state’s Democratic Party) says at the moment that he only supports certain reforms to the filibuster — but his campaign did not respond to a request for comment about whether McMullin would support the nuclear option or not.

    The latest poll shows Senator Maggie (bolded above) with an 11-point lead over her November opponent, Don Bolduc, just picked by 37.1% of GOP primary voters.


  • I'm letting my WIRED subscription lapse. There's just too much left-wing navel-gazing. But (I must admit) there are some things I'll miss, things like this Steven Levy article: Neal Stephenson Named the Metaverse. Now, He’s Building It.

    Neal Stephenson invented the metaverse. At least from an imagination standpoint. Though other science fiction writers had similar ideas—and the pioneers of VR were already building artificial worlds—Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash not only fleshed out the vision of escaping to a place where digital displaced the physical, it also gave it a name. That book cemented him as a major writer, and since then he’s had huge success. But late last year, Stephenson’s ambient, persistent and immersive alt-reality suddenly became known as the next step in computing. “Metaverse” became a buzz word, and Big Tech raced to productize it. Most notably, Facebook, spending billions on its Reality Labs, renamed itself Meta. Everyone from Microsoft to Amazon was suddenly coming up with a metaverse strategy, even though the technologies that might make it happen are still out of our grasp.

    At the time, Stephenson was publicizing his most recent novel, with a theme involving climate engineering. “That turned into the ‘Neal, how do you feel about the Metaverse?’ book tour,” says Stephenson. The answers Stephenson provided to that question were a mix of bemusement or, as a WIRED writer noted, disgust. For one thing, the metaverse according to Snow Crash was a somewhat dystopian locale, a fact ignored by the companies telling us that it will be a great place to live. And seeing his fictional creation colonized by profit-seeking growth-greedy goliaths wasn’t fun.

    Well, you see what I mean about the left-wing navel-gazing there at the end. Anyway, the Neal news is that he's co-founding LAMINA1, which is described as "the base layer for the Open Metaverse". (I.e., something uncontrolled by Zuck.)

    And he's doing this instead of writing a new novel. I have mixed feelings about that.