Quotulatiousness

January 6, 2015

When Stephen met Kathleen

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:40

Paul Wells explains why, despite all the blather from Harper “supporters”, the PM finally got around to meeting with the premier of Ontario. It has to do with a number … a very large number:

The “readout” is a term of art, one I’ve actually only learned in the past couple of years, for a summary of a conversation between two political leaders. It’s usually perfunctory, often designed to obscure as much as it reveals. The readout supplied by the Ontario premier’s office after Kathleen Wynne’s meeting with Stephen Harper is athletically happy-happy. Deleting the details actually clarifies the tone. I’m not making this excerpt up. Everyone make friends!:

    “Today’s meeting with the Prime Minister is a positive step forward… The Prime Minister and I agreed… Today, the Prime Minister and I had a good discussion… we agreed that, going forward, our governments will work together … I am pleased that Prime Minister Harper and I agreed today to continue working together… agreed to deepen our collaboration… I am confident that today’s meeting can mark the beginning of such a partnership. The Prime Minister and I agreed to continue…”‎‎

But what’s striking is that though the PMO sent out no readout that I’ve received, it did publish a photo of the blessed event. And it’s also a flattering pic of both of them.

Okay, so what is the big number of significance here?

One scrap of data for you: in the 2011 federal election, there were 951,156 more Ontario voters who voted for the Harper Conservatives than there were Ontario voters who voted for the Hudak Conservatives in the 2014 Ontario election.

That’s not quite a million Ontario voters who didn’t vote for Hudak, but whom Harper needs to vote for him if he’s to hold his majority. That’s what political moderation looks like. Harper needs the votes of a hell of a lot of Ontarians who basically have no problem with Kathleen Wynne. Realizing that, and acting on it, is an election-year instinct. It’s the same instinct that made him campaign with old Bill Davis in 2006 after excoriating the former Red Tory premier in print. It’s the instinct that has his PMO send out photos of Harper with Jean Chrétien and Harper with Barack Obama every time the PM nears those men. His base can’t stand Chrétien, Obama or Wynne. He needs more than his base. On Monday, he came back from vacation and sucked it up.

January 5, 2015

Scott Aaronson on “white male privilege” as experienced at MIT

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Down in the comments on this post, Scott Aaronson gets extremely personal:

… You also say that men in STEM fields — unlike those in the humanities and social sciences — don’t even have the “requisite vocabulary” to discuss sex discrimination, since they haven’t read enough feminist literature. Here I can only speak for myself: I’ve read at least a dozen feminist books, of which my favorite was Andrea Dworkin’s Intercourse (I like howls of anguish much more than bureaucratic boilerplate, so in some sense, the more radical the feminist, the better I can relate). I check Feministing, and even radfem blogs like I Blame the Patriarchy. And yes, I’ve read many studies and task force reports about gender bias, and about the “privilege” and “entitlement” of the nerdy males that’s keeping women away from science.

Alas, as much as I try to understand other people’s perspectives, the first reference to my “male privilege” — my privilege! — is approximately where I get off the train, because it’s so alien to my actual lived experience. This is not, insanely, to suggest a lack of misogyny in the modern world! To whatever extent there is misogyny, one could say that there’s also “male privilege.” Rather it’s to suggest that, given what nerdy males have themselves had to endure in life, shaming them over their “male privilege” is a bad way to begin a conversation with them.

But I suspect the thought that being a nerdy male might not make me “privileged” — that it might even have put me into one of society’s least privileged classes — is completely alien to your way of seeing things. To have any hope of bridging the gargantuan chasm between us, I’m going to have to reveal something about my life, and it’s going to be embarrassing.

(sigh) Here’s the thing: I spent my formative years — basically, from the age of 12 until my mid-20s — feeling not “entitled,” not “privileged,” but terrified. I was terrified that one of my female classmates would somehow find out that I sexually desired her, and that the instant she did, I would be scorned, laughed at, called a creep and a weirdo, maybe even expelled from school or sent to prison. And furthermore, that the people who did these things to me would somehow be morally right to do them — even if I couldn’t understand how.

You can call that my personal psychological problem if you want, but it was strongly reinforced by everything I picked up from my environment: to take one example, the sexual-assault prevention workshops we had to attend regularly as undergrads, with their endless lists of all the forms of human interaction that “might be” sexual harassment or assault, and their refusal, ever, to specify anything that definitely wouldn’t be sexual harassment or assault. I left each of those workshops with enough fresh paranoia and self-hatred to last me through another year.

My recurring fantasy, through this period, was to have been born a woman, or a gay man, or best of all, completely asexual, so that I could simply devote my life to math, like my hero Paul Erdös did. Anything, really, other than the curse of having been born a heterosexual male, which for me, meant being consumed by desires that one couldn’t act on or even admit without running the risk of becoming an objectifier or a stalker or a harasser or some other creature of the darkness.

Of course, I was smart enough to realize that maybe this was silly, maybe I was overanalyzing things. So I scoured the feminist literature for any statement to the effect that my fears were as silly as I hoped they were. But I didn’t find any. On the contrary: I found reams of text about how even the most ordinary male/female interactions are filled with “microaggressions,” and how even the most “enlightened” males — especially the most “enlightened” males, in fact — are filled with hidden entitlement and privilege and a propensity to sexual violence that could burst forth at any moment.

Because of my fears — my fears of being “outed” as a nerdy heterosexual male, and therefore as a potential creep or sex criminal — I had constant suicidal thoughts. As Bertrand Russell wrote of his own adolescence: “I was put off from suicide only by the desire to learn more mathematics.”

At one point, I actually begged a psychiatrist to prescribe drugs that would chemically castrate me (I had researched which ones), because a life of mathematical asceticism was the only future that I could imagine for myself. The psychiatrist refused to prescribe them, but he also couldn’t suggest any alternative: my case genuinely stumped him. As well it might — for in some sense, there was nothing “wrong” with me. In a different social context — for example, that of my great-grandparents in the shtetl — I would have gotten married at an early age and been completely fine. (And after a decade of being coy about it, I suppose I’ve finally revealed the meaning of this blog’s title.) This is not, in any way, shape, or form, to suggest that I yearn for an era when women could be purchased as property. There were many times and places where marriages did not occur without both parties’ consent, but there was also a ritualized system of courtship that took much of the terror and mystery out of the process. Even that is not exactly what I “yearn” for; I merely say it’s what I felt “optimized” for.

All this time, I faced constant reminders that the males who didn’t spend months reading and reflecting about feminism and their own shortcomings — even the ones who went to the opposite extreme, who engaged in what you called “good old-fashioned ass-grabbery” — actually had success that way. The same girls who I was terrified would pepper-spray me and call the police if I looked in their direction, often responded to the crudest advances of the most Neanderthal of men by accepting those advances. Yet it was I, the nerd, and not the Neanderthals, who needed to check his privilege and examine his hidden entitlement! Contrary to what countless people have said, this is not intended to blame women for their choices — or even, really, to blame the Neanderthals. Rather, it’s intended to blame a culture that told male nerds since childhood that they’d be horrible people if they asked — even more horrible than if they didn’t ask! — thereby ceding the field to the Neanderthals by default.

So what happened to break me out of this death-spiral? Did I have an epiphany, where I realized that despite all appearances, it was I, the terrified nerd, who was wallowing in unearned male privilege, while those Neaderthal ass-grabbers were actually, on some deeper level, the compassionate feminists — and therefore, that both of us deserved everything we got?

No, there was no such revelation. All that happened was that I got older, and after years of hard work, I achieved some success in science, and that success boosted my self-confidence (at least now I had something worth living for), and the newfound confidence, besides making me more attractive, also made me able to (for example) ask a woman out, despite not being totally certain that my doing so would pass muster with a committee of radfems chaired by Andrea Dworkin — a prospect that was previously unthinkable to me. This, to my mind, “defiance” of feminism is the main reason why I was able to enjoy a few years of a normal, active dating life, which then led to meeting the woman who I married.

Now, the whole time I was struggling with this, I was also fighting a second battle: to maintain the liberal, enlightened, feminist ideals that I had held since childhood, against a powerful current pulling me away from them. I reminded myself, every day, that no, there’s no conspiracy to make the world a hell for shy male nerds. There are only individual women and men trying to play the cards they’re dealt, and the confluence of their interests sometimes leads to crappy outcomes. No woman “owes” male nerds anything; no woman deserves blame if she prefers the Neanderthals; everyone’s free choice demands respect.

That I managed to climb out of the pit with my feminist beliefs mostly intact, you might call a triumph of abstract reason over experience.

But I hope you now understand why I might feel “only” 97% on board with the program of feminism. I hope you understand why, despite my ironclad commitment to women’s reproductive choice and affirmative action and women’s rights in the developing world and getting girls excited about science, and despite my horror at rape and sexual assault and my compassion for the victims of those heinous crimes, I might react icily to the claim — for which I’ve seen not a shred of statistical evidence — that women are being kept out of science by the privileged, entitled culture of shy male nerds, which is worse than the culture of male doctors or male filmmakers or the males of any other profession. I believe you guys call this sort of thing “blaming the victim.” From my perspective, it serves only to shift blame from the Neanderthals and ass-grabbers onto some of society’s least privileged males, the ones who were themselves victims of bullying and derision, and who acquired enough toxic shame that way for appealing to their shame to be an effective way to manipulate their behavior. As I see it, whenever these nerdy males pull themselves out of the ditch the world has tossed them into, while still maintaining enlightened liberal beliefs, including in the inviolable rights of every woman and man, they don’t deserve blame for whatever feminist shortcomings they might still have. They deserve medals at the White House. This is obvious hyperbole.

H/T to Scott Alexander, who has much to say about both Aaronson’s painful confession and the rather over-the-top responses to it from the feminist community.

Morality in public, perversity in private?

Filed under: Media, Politics, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In the Washington Post, Nita Farahany looks at an interesting study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. The study gives away the game in the title — Do American States with More Religious or Conservative Populations Search More for Sexual Content on Google?

“In America, religiosity and conservatism are generally associated with opposition to non-traditional sexual behavior, but prominent political scandals and recent research suggest a paradoxical private attraction to sexual content on the political and religious right. We examined associations between state level religiosity/conservatism and anonymized interest in searching for sexual content online using Google Trends (which calculates within-state search volumes for search terms). Across two separate years, and controlling for demographic variables, we observed moderate-to-large positive associations between: (1) greater proportions of state-level religiosity and general web searching for sexual content and (2) greater proportions of state level conservatism and image-specific searching for sex. These findings were interpreted in terms of the paradoxical hypothesis that a greater preponderance of right-leaning ideologies is associated with greater preoccupation with sexual content in private Internet activity. Alternative explanations (e.g., that opposition to non-traditional sex in right-leaning states leads liberals to rely on private internet sexual activity) are discussed, as are limitations to inference posed by aggregate data more generally.”

The researchers found that the American states with the greatest proportion of individuals who self-identify as very religious, or consider religion to be an important part of their lives, engage in more active searches for sexual content online compared to states with fewer religious and conservative individuals. There was a direct correlation between the proportion of conservatives in a state and image-specific Internet sex searches documented in that state.

Their conclusion? More restrictive social norms drive behaviors underground. There are quite a few limitations of the study and alternative hypotheses that may drive the results, which the researchers acknowledge. But it’s still quite an interesting study.

January 3, 2015

Urban Canada – where China’s one-child policy has been religiously observed

Filed under: Cancon, Humour, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

I can’t imagine what has gotten into David Warren to distract him from posts on the inner spirituality of the Catholic Church to suddenly turn to a bit of Canadian Ethnography:

… in a DINK household (“double income, no kids”) the rules subtly change, or rather change overtly, and no need remains for any sort of manliness. Indeed, should the woman make a substantial income, perhaps the man should consider living off her. She can claim him for a little break on her taxes, after all. Consider: housework, without kids, is a snip. And when his “partner” gets home, physically and emotionally exhausted from work, burning with the little humiliations she has suffered out there in the “real world,” and seriously hungry into the bargain — he can remind her that they are a “modern” couple. Tasks such as cooking should be shared equally.

This is old hat, of course. For the most part it also applies where the Red Chinese “one child policy” is obeyed, as across most of urban Canada.

I became exceptionally aware of the new arrangements in a visionary experience, twenty years ago. It consisted of attending a “bake sale” for the public school in which my sons were enrolled (temporarily, I assure you). I got to meet the whole “sorority” in my new liberal neighbourhood. (Kingston, Ontario: never go there.) This was mostly an “audio” vision, I should explain, though it had a video component. I’d never seen nor heard before so many whole-earth, left-wing, squeaky-voiced “house husbands,” all in one place. The immediate revelation was that spiritual emasculation actually changes a man’s voice in the same way physical emasculation does.

Among other discoveries was that the men had done most of the baking — which was good, for men often make better bakers. And we turn to the castrati to hit the highest notes.

The women, on the other hand, I could hear roar. The tone in which they addressed their squeakers was beyond instructive. I reflected that if a man spoke to his wife like that, in public, he’d be courting arrest. The feminists had now got exactly what they wanted.

There was more. The “gender” stereotypes had reversed at every other level. These women were now the sexual aggressors. I recall one in particular — an executive in a local “arts” operation — who had previously called me “fascist” as well as “sexist” in reference to something I had written in a newspaper. That she hated me still, I could take for granted. But right in front of her lamentable house-husband she was, unbelievably, “flirting” (although the term seemed over-refined). The wee fellow looked harmlessly outraged. He made sounds such as I imagine a gerbil makes when his mate shoves him aside. On his fidelity, I’m sure she could rely, for no other woman could want him. But she was trawling for something more masculine, herself.

Feminism alone could account for the collapse of the birth rate (which does, incidentally, have economic repercussions); for it operates at so many levels, from the neutering of males, to making females so extremely unattractive. But it cannot account for the rise of feminism. On that, I’m with Marx: it has a chiefly economic causation.

January 1, 2015

J.R.R. Tolkien – confessed anarchist

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In The Federalist, Jonathan Witt and Jay W. Richards wonder if the Shire is a hippie paradise:

“The Battle of the Five Armies,” the final installment of The Hobbit film trilogy, opened last week, and online boards are buzzing with discussions of Peter Jackson’s casting decisions, his use or overuse of computer-generated imagery and what Middle-Earth’s creator, J.R.R. Tolkien, would have thought of the films. Geeky questions, to be sure, but for those who follow both Tolkien and politics, we suggest a still geekier line of inquiry: How would Tolkien vote? That is, what kind of political vision did the Oxford professor carry into his novels?

His wildly popular novels have, after all, shaped generations of followers, and are shot through with valuable insights about man and government that might not be obvious to a casual reader or fan of the movie versions. Tolkien’s political insights, moreover, are in danger of being lost and forgotten in the capitols of the West. Here, in other words, is a vein worth mining.

[…]

An early hint of this can be found in the beloved homeland of the hobbits, the Shire. Her pastoral villages have no department of unmotorized vehicles, no internal revenue service, no government official telling people who may and may not have laying hens in their backyards, no government schools lining up hobbit children in geometric rows to teach regimented behavior and groupthink, no government-controlled currency, and no political institution even capable of collecting tariffs on foreign goods.

“The Shire at this time had hardly any ‘government,’” we eventually learn. “Families for the most part managed their own affairs.”

Significantly, Tolkien once described himself as a hobbit “in all but size,” commenting in the same letter that his “political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control, not whiskered men with bombs).” As he explained, “The most improper job of any man, even saints, is bossing other men. Not one in a million is fit for it, and least of all those who seek the opportunity.”

In the Shire, Tolkien created a society after his own heart, one marked by minimal government, private charity, and a commitment to property rights and the rule of law.

This isn’t to say the Shire is without problems. Near the end of The Lord of the Rings, Frodo returns home after a quest to destroy a corrupting ring of absolute power. To his dismay, a gang of bossy outsiders has infiltrated the Shire, “gatherers and sharers … going around counting and measuring and taking off to storage,” supposedly “for fair distribution,” but what becomes of most of it is anyone’s guess.

Ugly new buildings are being thrown up, beautiful hobbit homes spoiled. And for all the effort to “spread the wealth around” (to borrow a phrase from our current president), the only thing that seems to be spreading is the gatherers’ power. It’s a critique of aesthetically impoverished urban development, to be sure. But conservatives and progressives alike also have seen in it a pointed critique of the modern, hyper-regulated nanny state.

As Hal Colebatch put it in the Tolkien Encyclopedia, the Shire’s joyless regime of bureaucratic rules and suffocating redistribution “owed much to the drabness, bleakness and bureaucratic regulation of postwar Britain under the Attlee labor Government.”

December 28, 2014

QotD: The art of politics

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: — Nicholas @ 00:01

The art of politics, under democracy, is simply the art of ringing it. Two branches reveal themselves. There is the art of the demagogue, and there is the art of what may be called, by a shot-gun marriage of Latin and Greek, the demaslave. They are complementary, and both of them are degrading to their practitioners. The demagogue is one who preaches doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots. The demaslave is one who listens to what these idiots have to say and then pretends that he believes it himself. Every man who seeks elective office under democracy has to be either the one thing or the other, and most men have to be both. The whole process is one of false pretences and ignoble concealments.

H.L. Mencken, Notes on Democracy, 1926.

December 27, 2014

QotD: Political morality

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

There is in him, in his professional aspect, no shadow of principle or honour. It is moral by his code to get into office by false pretences, as the late Dr. [Woodrow] Wilson did in 1916. It is moral to change convictions overnight, as multitudes of American politicians did when the Prohibition avalanche came down upon them. Anything is moral that furthers the main concern of his soul, which is to keep a place at the public trough. That place is one of public honour, and public honour is the thing that caresses him and makes him happy. It is also one of power, and power is the commodity that he has for sale. I speak here, of course, of the democratic politician in his role of statesman – that is, in his best and noblest aspect.

H.L. Mencken, Notes on Democracy, 1926.

December 26, 2014

The skillful part of polling is how you phrase the questions

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Richard Anderson rightly pours scorn on a recent poll on the upcoming 2015 federal election:

This isn’t a push poll, it’s a shove off the cliff and tell me where you land poll.

Let me put it another way:

    If you were forced to choose between vanilla ice cream that’s slightly melted, or a new type of calorie free ice cream that has the great taste of chocolate flavoured orgasms, which would you prefer?

The amazing thing is that the poll still gives the Harper Tories 40% of the vote. So for those of you keeping track at home when forced to choose between a real alternative and the fever dreams of the Canadian Left, the Tories still win. This isn’t a news story this is a sad desperate plea for Justin and Tom to get hitched.

This will never happen. Thomas Mulcair is a seasoned politician who leads the official opposition. The odds are between zero and nothing that he would ever consent to sharing political power, before an election is even held, with a neophyte playing guitar in the Gerald Butts Travelling Show. After years of slobbering media coverage the Once and Future Prime Minister is still being beaten in the polls by a dull bank manager with a terrible haircut. Wait just six months for when the Tory War Room gets fully fired up.

They turned Michael Ignatieff into a mound of excessively self-analyzed jelly. While Justin is more politically adept he is also far less substantive. The Liberal Party has to hope against hope they can spend the next ten months showing pictures of Justin’s adorable family before people figure out that when it comes to Justin there is no there there.

Now some of the embittered cynics in the backrow will counter that Barack Obama, an empty suit’s empty suit, was able to capture the Presidency twice. This is certainly true. Thing is that Barry of Chicago had two powerful trump cards: He is black (sort of) and wasn’t Geroge W Bush.

December 18, 2014

“[C]onservatives are underrepresented in academia because they don’t want to be there, or they’re just not smart enough to cut it”

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 06:55

The advantage of the quote in the headline is that it allows the person saying it to feel more positive about his or her own worldview, while side-stepping the real issue. Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry looks at a new report that addresses this issue:

I have had the following experience more than once: I am speaking with a professional academic who is a liberal. The subject of the under-representation of conservatives in academia comes up. My interlocutor admits that this is indeed a reality, but says the reason why conservatives are under-represented in academia is because they don’t want to be there, or they’re just not smart enough to cut it. I say: “That’s interesting. For which other under-represented groups do you think that’s true?” An uncomfortable silence follows.

I point this out not to score culture-war points, but because it’s actually a serious problem. Social sciences and humanities cannot be completely divorced from the philosophy of those who practice it. And groupthink causes some questions not to be asked, and some answers not to be overly scrutinized. It is making our science worse. Anyone who cares about the advancement of knowledge and science should care about this problem.

That’s why I was very gratified to read this very enlightening draft paper [PDF] written by a number of social psychologists on precisely this topic, attacking the lack of political diversity in their profession and calling for reform. For those who have the time and care about academia, the whole thing truly makes for enlightening reading. The main author of the paper is Jonathan Haidt, well known for his Moral Foundations Theory (and a self-described liberal, if you care to know).

Although the paper focuses on the field of social psychology, its introduction as well as its overall logic make many of its points applicable to disciplines beyond social psychology.

The authors first note the well-known problems of groupthink in any collection of people engaged in a quest for the truth: uncomfortable questions get suppressed, confirmation bias runs amok, and so on.

But it is when the authors move to specific examples that the paper is most enlightening.

December 16, 2014

The real problem with socialism is that the family model doesn’t scale well

Filed under: History, Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:04

Despite it’s almost unbroken streak of disaster whenever full-blown socialism is tried, many people still find the ideas to be attractive and are willing to entertain the notion of “doing it right this time”. Why does this happen to so many people?

The answer has two parts. First is the nature of mankind. Humans are tribal animals. Socialism is a top down model, and tribes are almost always run in a top down manner. Humans respond to this on an instinctive level. Ordered liberty, free market capitalism, rule of law and other bottom up organizational methods are the aberration in human history. Humans are not wired to respond to these concepts the way they respond to a hierarchy. It’s better for them, but it isn’t instinctive. Think about it like throwing a ball. Humans naturally throw “like a girl”. Give a kid who has never held a ball a ball and tell him to throw it, and that’s how he’ll do it. We have to be shown how to throw properly. Once we learn how, man, we can throw so much better and further and more accurately, but it’s not instinctive. So humans are hard wired to identify with one of the basic tenants of socialism.

Second, there is one structure that is inherently socialistic, one that is familiar to and revered by almost everyone, and one that works quite well. That structure is the family. Families are little groups of people functioning on the socialist model. There is a central authority (mom, dad) that sets the rules and makes sure that the resources of the family are distributed “fairly” (let your sister have the last piece of chicken!) for the benefit of all (survival of all its members). That is the basic unit of human organization, and it’s completely socialistic. Whether they realize it consciously or not, most people are predisposed to think favorably of socialism because that’s the model that defined their world as they grew to self awareness.

The problem is that what works for four people likely won’t for forty and damn sure won’t for four hundred. Families are bonded by love and dedication to each other, forces that are much weaker in a tribe and non-existent in a nation. Socialism can only work within groups that have that level of bond to each other.

However, because of these two facts, socialism feels “natural” to most human beings until they take the time to reason it out. Most people don’t bother to do that, so when a Socialist happens along spouting their Utopian garbage, it resonates with people on an instinctive level, and the cycle starts over again. Socialism inevitably fails, but damnit, it “feels” like it SHOULD work.

And that’s why it is so bloody hard to defeat socialism.

QotD: Gentlemen and politics

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:01

I do not say that a gentleman may not thrust himself into politics under democracy; I simply say that it is almost impossible for him to stay there and remain a gentleman … If he retains his rectitude he loses his office, and if he retains his office he has to dilute his rectitude with the cologne spirits of the trade … the man of native integrity is either barred from the public service altogether or subjected to almost irresistible temptations after he gets in.

H.L. Mencken, Notes on Democracy, 1926.

December 15, 2014

UKIP’s changing demographics force changes to ideology

Filed under: Britain, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:03

In sp!ked, Patrick West explains why as UKIP’s electoral chances have grown, they’ve been talking less and less like they used to:

This weird synthesis is a product of the global downturn, globalisation and UKIP’s reaction to these developments. In recent years, UKIP has started to pick up voters in the north of England and from traditional Labour constituencies. It’s a different beast to that which, during the 1990s, was supported mostly by middle-class, golf-club types and anti-EU monomaniacs.

UKIP has noticeably moved leftwards in accordance with its broadening appeal. A recent YouGov survey for the The Times showed that 56 per cent of the population wanted the state to take back ownership of utilities, and 59 per cent supported renationalising the railways. But the clamour for renationalisation was even higher among UKIP voters – 64 per cent for utilities and 67 per cent for the railways. UKIP now openly speaks of renationalising the railways, with its financial spokesman, Steven Woolfe, earlier this week saying he was open to the idea.

Indeed, today’s UKIP speaks of a ‘living minimum wage’, a tax on the super rich and protecting the NHS from the private sector. It now comes in for as much criticism from Tories and the libertarian right as from the metropolitan left (check out the hashtag #RedUKIP on Twitter, for instance). Why, asks the right-wing libertarian commentator James Delingpole, is UKIP now ‘flirting with the kind of wealth taxes and turnover taxes you’d more usually associate with the Greens or the Socialist Workers Party?’.

It’s no coincidence that free-market, pro-immigration publications such as The Economist and the Financial Times are as hostile to UKIP as the Guardian is. It’s often said that UKIP wants to ‘turn the clock back’, which is a fair accusation. But keep in mind that its supporters also increasingly want to turn the clock back to a pre-Thatcherite Britain.

QotD: The “purity” of Marx

Filed under: History, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

You or I, upon hearing that the plan is to get rid of all government and just have people share all property in common, might ask questions like “But what if someone wants more than their share?” Marx had no interest in that question, because he believed that there was no such thing as human nature, and things like “People sometimes want more than their shares of things” are contingent upon material relations and modes of production, most notably capitalism. If you get rid of capitalism, human beings change completely, such that “wanting more than your share” is no more likely than growing a third arm.

A lot of the liberals I know try to distance themselves from people like Stalin by saying that Marx had a pure original doctrine that they corrupted. But I am finding myself much more sympathetic to the dictators and secret police. They may not have been very nice people, but they were, in a sense, operating in Near Mode. They couldn’t just tell themselves “After the Revolution, no one is going to demand more than their share,” because their philosophies were shaped by the experience of having their subordinates come up to them and say “Boss, that Revolution went great, but now someone’s demanding more than their share, what should we do?” Their systems seem to be part of the unavoidable collision of Marxist doctrine with reality. It’s possible that there are other, better ways to deal with that collision, but “returning to the purity of Marx” doesn’t seem like a workable option.

Scott Alexander, “Book Review: Singer on Marx”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-09-13.

December 14, 2014

Jonah Goldberg on the Gruber hearings

Filed under: Government, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

In this week’s Goldberg File, Jonah Goldberg talks about the show Jonathan Gruber put on in front of some Washington political types:

I learned from Twitter this morning that Gustave Flaubert, born this day in 1821, said, “The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.” So, as Jay-Z says every morning he enters a music studio and as Joe Biden says every time President Obama gives him a fresh 64-pack of crayons, “Let’s make some art, bitches.”

Let’s start with Jonathan Gruber. I have to say I was disappointed by the hearings. Oh, sure, it was good theater-as-human sacrifice of the sort Washington does so well (though I am glad they stopped short of rectal rehydration).

But this was one of those moments where they really could have put the system on trial. Gruber’s consistent answer was that he’s a shabby, shallow, little man who belittles others, including the American people, to make himself look good. “I tried to make myself seem smarter by demeaning others.”

In almost every exchange, Gruber fell back on language you’d expect from a stockbroker tied up in an S&M dungeon. I did it because I am a flea! A worm! I am no master of the universe, I am nothing! Punnnniissshhh meee!

All that was missing were some riding-crop and melted-candle-wax welts, and maybe a shorn scrotum. But, hey man, it’s a defense.

But it’s not a good one. You can blame your arrogance for calling the American voters stupid, but you can’t blame your arrogance for claiming that the bill was designed to hide taxes and deceive the public. If I stab someone 34 times, the jury might want to hear about my arrogance, but whether I’m arrogant or humble, it doesn’t change what I did — and apologizing for it doesn’t clarify where the body is buried.

Gruber’s strategy of emotional self-abasement was very clever because it distracted from the central arguments of fact.

[…]

As for Gruber, he said this week that he wasn’t an architect of Obamacare. And yet, for several years he let the New York Times, The New Republic, PBS, and countless other media outlets describe him as exactly that. That label was of great financial value to him. But it was probably of greater social, psychological, and professional value. And that is probably why he seems to have not once taken the time to ask them to stop calling him that. Gruber is of a class of people who take great satisfaction from the belief that they are not only smarter and better than normal Americans, but that their superiority entitles them to manipulate the public and system in whatever way they think necessary.

There’s another reason Gruber never corrected anybody when they described him as an architect of Obamacare: Because it’s true!

Which leads to another important point: Gruber’s a huge, monumental, Brobdingnagian liar.

To believe his testimony before Congress is to believe that on one occasion after another, he baldly lied over and over again to his peers, colleagues, students, and friends. Darrell Issa sort of gets at this here at the end of Gowdy’s interrogation when he asks Gruber, “Did anybody come up to you and tell you that what you were saying was inappropriate?”

That’s an interesting question and tells you a lot about the sovereign contempt the expert class has for the American people. But a better question would be, “Why didn’t anybody correct you on your factual claims? Or simply say ‘What you’re saying isn’t true’?” Gruber was on panels with other health-care experts. The audiences were full of people who were deeply informed about Obamacare and all its details. And yet no one said, “Hey, that’s not the way it happened.” Why? Because Gruber was telling the truth when he said they had to deceive the American people. And before you ask me what proof I have, I would like to direct you to the fact that Barack Obama deceived the American people over and over and over again when he said things like “You can keep your doctor” and “You can keep your insurance” etc. (and not one liberal journalist cheerleader for Obamacare ever felt compelled to push back on this obvious lie). Are we really so stunned that the same president might be willing to play accounting games with the CBO?

Sure maybe Gruber exaggerated his role or involvement. Maybe he embellished this or that. But you can’t exaggerate a lie; you can only exaggerate the truth. For years he told the truth to anyone who would listen, and now that it’s politically problematic he says it was all a lie.

So we’re forced to choose: Was he lying when talking to countless audiences full of peers, colleagues, and experts, or was he lying in front of Congress in order to save his team any further embarrassment and preserve a law he’s sincerely proud of (because he was an architect of it)? Personally, I think you’d have to be too stupid to beat Joe Biden at tic-tac-toe to think the “real” Gruber testified before Congress this week. But whichever side you come down on this question, one thing has been established: He’s a huge liar.

December 13, 2014

QotD: Political careers

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Out of the muck of … swinishness the typical American law-maker emerges. He is a man who has lied and dissembled, and a man who has crawled. He knows the taste of boot-polish. He has suffered kicks in the tonneau of his pantaloons.

He has taken orders from his superiors in knavery and he has wooed and flattered his inferiors in sense. His public life is an endless series of evasions and false pretences. He is willing to embrace any issue, however idiotic, that will get him votes, and he is willing to sacrifice any principle, however sound, that will lose them for him. I do not describe the democratic politician at his inordinate worst; I describe him as he is encountered in the full sunshine of normalcy.

H.L. Mencken, Notes on Democracy, 1926.

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