Quotulatiousness

November 18, 2014

QotD: Everyone knows that stereotypes are inaccurate

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

Except stereotypes are not inaccurate. There are many different ways to test for the accuracy of stereotypes, because there are many different types or aspects of accuracy. However, one type is quite simple — the correspondence of stereotype beliefs with criteria. If I believe 60% of adult women are over 5′ 4″ tall, and 56% voted for the Democrat in the last Presidential election, and that 35% of all adult women have college degrees, how well do my beliefs correspond to the actual probabilities? One can do this sort of thing for many different types of groups.

And lots of scientists have. And you know what they found? That stereotype accuracy — the correspondence of stereotype beliefs with criteria — is one of the largest relationships in all of social psychology. The correlations of stereotypes with criteria range from .4 to over .9, and average almost .8 for cultural stereotypes (the correlation of beliefs that are widely shared with criteria) and.5 for personal stereotypes (the correlation of one individual’s stereotypes with criteria, averaged over lots of individuals). The average effect in social psychology is about .20. Stereotypes are more valid than most social psychological hypotheses.

Which raises a question: Why do so many psychologists emphasize stereotype inaccuracy when the evidence so clearly provides evidence of such high accuracy? Why is there this Extraordinary Scientific Delusion?

There may be many explanations, but one that fits well is the leftward lean of most psychologists. If we can self-righteously rail against other people’s inaccurate stereotypes, we cast ourselves as good, decent egalitarians fighting the good fight, siding with the oppressed against their oppressors. Furthermore, as Jon Haidt has repeatedly shown, ideology blinds people to facts that are right under their noses. Liberal social scientists often have assumed stereotypes were inaccurate without bothering to test for inaccuracy, and, when the evidence has been right under their noses, they have avoided looking at it. And when something happens where they can’t avoid looking at it, they have denigrated its importance. Which is, in some ways, very amusing — if, after 100 years of proclaiming the inaccuracy of stereotypes to the world, can we really just say “Never mind, it’s not that important” after the evidence comes in showing that stereotype accuracy is one of the largest relationships in all of social psychology?

Lee Jussim, “Stereotype Inaccuracy? Extraordinary Scientific Delusions and the Blindness of Psychologists”, Psychology Today, 2012-10-25.

November 8, 2014

QotD: The light rail obsession among municipal politicians

Filed under: Government, Quotations, Railways — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

I just don’t get it — why the obsession with streetcars? Why pay zillions of dollars to create what is essentially a bus line on rails, a bus line that costs orders of magnitude more per passenger to operate and is completely inflexible. It can never be rerouted or moved or easily shut down if changes in demand warrant. And, unlike with heavy rail on dedicated tracks, there is not even a gain in mobility since the streetcars have to wallow through traffic and intersections like everyone else.

What we see over and over again is that by consuming 10-100x more resources per passenger, rail systems starve other parts of the transit system of money and eventually lead to less, rather than more, total ridership (even in Portland, by the way).

Warren Meyer, “I Can’t Understand the Obsession with Streetcars”, Coyote Blog, 2014-10-23.

September 21, 2014

QotD: A cry for “social justice”

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

A cry for social justice is usually little more than a call for goodness; “progressive” has become a substitute for “all good things.” But sometimes the word is too vague. So if you press a self-declared progressive to say what it means, he’ll respond, eventually, with something like, “It means fighting for social justice.” If you ask, “What does ‘social justice’ mean?” you are likely to get an exasperated eye roll, because you just don’t get it.

Social justice is goodness, and if you can’t see that, man, you’re either unintentionally “part of the problem” or you’re for badness.

Jonah Goldberg, excerpt from The Tyranny of Clichés, published by National Review, 2012-04-22.

August 26, 2014

Political labels and low-to-no-information voters

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:50

Jim Geraghty discusses why political labelling is so limited in helping get your message across when you’re talking to potential voters who aren’t political junkies:

Liz Sheld, examining some Pew survey results and confirming our worst suspicions, that a significant minority of the electorate walk around believing that certain political terms mean the opposite of what they really do:

    Looking just at the first question, which Pew has used to determine whether people who say they are libertarians actually know what the term means, 57% correctly identified the definition of “libertarian” with the proper corresponding ideological label. Looking at the other answers, an astonishing 20% say that someone who emphasizes freedom and less government is a progressive, 6% say that is the definition of an authoritarian and 6% say that is the definition of a communist.

As E. Strobel notes, “The term ‘low-info voter’ is inadequate… More like ‘wrong-info voter’.”

Perhaps when we’re trying to persuade the electorate as a whole, we have to toss out terms like “conservative” or “libertarian.” Not because they’re not accurate, but because they represent obscure hieroglyphics to a chunk of the people we’re trying to persuade.

July 29, 2014

QotD: Austria’s post-1867 parliament

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

Nowhere were the frictions generated by nationalist politics more in evidence than in the Cisleithanian [the non-Hungarian half of Austria-Hungary] parliament, which met from 1883 in a handsome neo-classical building on Vienna’s Ringstrasse. In this 516-seat legislature, the largest in Europe, the familiar spectrum of political ideological diversity was cross-cut by national affiliations producing a panoply of splinter groups and grouplets. Among the thirty-odd parties that held mandates after the 1907 elections, for example, were twenty-eight Czech Agrarians, eighteen Young Czechs (Radical nationalists), seventeen Czech Conservatives, seven Old Czechs (moderate nationalists), two Czech-Progressives (Realist tendency), one ‘wild’ (independent) Czech and nine Czech National Socialists. The Poles, the Germans, the Italians and even the Slovenes and the Ruthenes were similarly divided along ideological lines.

Since there was no official language in Cisleithania (by contrast with the Kingdom of Hungary), there was no single official language of parliamentary procedure. German,Czech, Polish, Ruthenian, Croat, Serbian, Slovenian, Italian, Romanian and Russian were all permitted. But no interpreters were provided, and there was no facility for recording or monitoring the content of the speeches that were not in German, unless the deputy in question himself chose to supply the house with a translated text of his speech. Deputies from even the most insignificant factions could thus block unwelcome initiatives by delivering long speeches in a language that only a handful of their colleagues understood. Whether they were actually addressing the issues raised by the current motion, or simply reciting long poems in their own national idiom, was difficult to ascertain. The Czechs in particular were renowned for the baroque extravagance of their filibustering. The Cisleithanian parliament became a celebrated tourist attraction, especially in winter, when Viennese pleasure-seekers crowded into the heated visitors’ galleries. By contrast with the city’s theatres and opera houses, a Berlin journalist wrily observed, entry to parliamentary sessions was free.*

    * Among those who came to watch the antics of the deputies was the young drifter Adolf Hitler. Between February 1908 and the summer of 1909, when Czech obstructionism was at its height, he was often to be found in the visitors’ gallery. He would later claim that the experience had ‘cured’ him of his youthful admiration for the parliamentary system.

Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914, 2012.

July 22, 2014

Cooling the conservative love affair with the police

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:07

If there’s one thing that separates conservatives from libertarians, it’s the conservative worship of the police. In most conservatives’ eyes, the police are always right and should never be criticized regardless of the situation. Perhaps this is beginning to change, as A.J. Delgado calls for an end to the love affair:

Imagine if I were to tell you there is a large group of government employees, with generous salaries and ridiculously cushy retirement pensions covered by the taxpayer, who enjoy incredible job security and are rarely held accountable even for activities that would almost certainly earn the rest of us prison time. When there is proven misconduct, these government employees are merely reassigned and are rarely dismissed. The bill for any legal settlements concerning their errors? It, too, is covered by the taxpayers. Their unions are among the strongest in the country.

No, I’m not talking about public-school teachers.

I’m talking about the police.

We conservatives recoil at the former; yet routinely defend the latter — even though, unlike teachers, police officers enjoy an utter monopoly on force and can ruin — or end — one’s life in a millisecond.

For decades, conservatives have served as stalwart defenders of police forces. There have been many good reasons for this, including long memories of the post-countercultural crime wave that devastated, and in some cases destroyed, many American cities; conservatives’ penchant for law and order; and Americans’ widely shared disdain for the cops’ usual opponents. (A hippie being arrested is something people from all walks of life are usually happy to see.) Although tough-on-crime appeals have never been limited to conservative politicians or voters, conservatives instinctively (and, it turned out, correctly) understood that the way to reduce crime is to have more cops making more arrests, not more sociologists identifying more root causes. Conservatives are rightly proud to have supported police officers doing their jobs at times when progressives were on the other side.

But it’s time for conservatives’ unconditional love affair with the police to end.

June 26, 2014

“Voxsplaining”, epistemic closure, and intellectual stagnation

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:37

Shikha Dalmia linked to this piece by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry which talks about the problem (on both the right and the left) of shutting out unwelcome facts to support a political worldview:

Several long winters ago, when President Obama was thunderously elected amid Messianic fervor, and much of the right was in the throes of apoplectic confusion, some liberal writers warned of a phenomenon among right-wing intellectuals, which they called “epistemic closure.” The charge was that conservative thinkers had lost the ability to process the idea that the world of 2008 was not the world of the Reagan Era, and more generally to consider new ideas or, really, reality. The word “derp” entered our lexicon to mock forehead-slappingly stupid statements, defined by the liberal blogger Noah Smith as “the constant, repetitive reiteration of strong priors.”

Liberal writers overstated the phenomenon at the time, and there was always a bit of shadow-boxing and concern-trolling there. But they did have a point. […]

Meanwhile, two things are particularly striking about the current Democratic agenda. The first is that it’s so tired. Raising the minimum wage, raising taxes on high earners, tightening environmental regulation — these are all ideas from the ’60s. The second is that nobody on the left seems to be aware of it.

One of the most striking examples of this epistemic closure among liberal writers are their forays into “explanatory journalism.” The idea that many people might like clear, smart explanations of what’s going on in the news certainly has merit. But the tricky thing with “explaining” the news is that in order to do so fairly, you have to be able to do the mental exercise of detaching your ideological priors from just factually explaining what is going on. Of course, as non-liberal readers of the press have long been well aware, this has always been a problem for most journalists. And yet, the most prominent “explanatory journalism” venture has been strikingly bad at actually explaining things in a non-biased way.

I am, of course, talking about Vox, the hot new venture of liberal wonkblogger extraordinaire Ezra Klein. It was already a bad sign that his starting lineup was mostly made up of ideological liberals. And a couple months in, it’s clear that much of what passes for “explanation” on Vox is really partisan commentary in question-and-answer disguise.

And the troubling thing is, I don’t think the people at Vox are even aware that that’s what they’re doing.

Many of the “Voxsplainers” don’t seem to be able to pass Bryan Caplan’s Ideological Turing Test — being able to correctly state the opposing position well enough that an impartial reader would not know the writer’s own position. If you can’t do that, you’re not debating the issues, you’re decimating straw men.

June 5, 2014

Mother Jones on the Rothbard-Koch feud

Filed under: History, Liberty — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:00

I met Murray Rothbard a few years before he died, sharing a panel with him at a Libertarian event in Toronto. He was a fascinating, but uncomfortable man to talk with (at least on my brief acquaintance). He was an ideological fundamentalist and had no time for those who wanted to “water down” the libertarian message to make it more acceptable to the general public. In Mother Jones, Daniel Schulman reports on the bitter break between Charles Koch and Rothbard not long after the founding of the Cato Institute over exactly that kind of issue:

Long before Charles Koch became the left’s public enemy number one (or two, depending on where David Koch falls in the rankings), some of his most vocal detractors were not liberals but fellow libertarians. None of his erstwhile allies would come to loathe him more fiercely than Murray Rothbard, one of the movement’s intellectual forefathers, with whom Charles had worked closely to elevate libertarianism from a fringy cadre of radical thinkers to a genuine and growing mass movement.

In the 1970s, Charles helped fund Rothbard’s work, as the economist churned out treatise after treatise denouncing the tyranny of government. Rothbard was a man with a plan when it came to movement-building. Where some libertarians had bickered over whether to advance the cause through an academic or an activist approach, Rothbard argued that the solution wasn’t to choose one path, but both. Charles was taken with his strategic vision.

Rothbard dreamt of creating a libertarian think tank to bolster the movement’s intellectual capacity. Charles Koch made this a reality in 1977, when he co-founded the Cato Institute with Rothbard and Ed Crane, then the chairman of the national Libertarian Party. This was a high point for libertarianism, when a busy hive of libertarian organizing buzzed on San Francisco’s Montgomery Street, home to Cato and a handful of other ideological operations bankrolled by Charles Koch.

But the relationship between Cato’s co-founders soon soured.

Rothbard, who was feisty by nature, chafed under the regime of Crane and Koch — the libertarian movement’s primary financier at that time. His breaking point came during the 1980 election, when David Koch ran as the Libertarian Party’s vice presidential nominee. Rothbard and his supporters felt that, in a bid for national legitimacy, David Koch and his running mate, Ed Clark, had watered down the core tenets of libertarianism to make their philosophy more palatable to the masses. Americans today would consider their platform — which called for abolishing Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid and eliminating federal agencies including the EPA and the Department of Energy — a radical one. But to Rothbard and his circle, it wasn’t radical enough. For instance, the Clark-Koch ticket stopped short of calling for the outright repeal of the income tax. And Clark, to Rothbard’s horror, had even defined libertarianism as “low-tax liberalism” in a TV interview.

Following the 1980 election, in which the Clark-Koch campaign claimed a little over one percent of the popular vote, Rothbard did not hold back. He penned a scathing polemic titled “The Clark Campaign: Never Again,” in which he wrote that Ed Clark and David Koch had “sold their souls — ours, unfortunately, along with it — for a mess of pottage, and they didn’t even get the pottage.” Thanks in part to Rothbard’s rabble-rousing, factional feuds and recriminations splintered the libertarian movement just as it was gaining momentum. A few months after Rothbard’s diatribe, Charles Koch and Ed Crane tossed him out of the Cato Institute and voided his shares in the think tank (which was set up, under Kansas law, as a nonprofit corporation with stockholders), a rebuke that turned their libertarian brother-in-arms into a lifelong adversary.

The Rothbard-Koch split was only the biggest of a lot of factional in-fighting in the movement in those days. Even in the outermost fringes of the movement (in Canada, for example), we had lots of splinters-of-splinters micro-movements going on (which is why the Monty Python skit about the People’s Front of Judea, the Judean People’s Front and the Judean Popular People’s Front “Splitters!” rings so true for me). Some days, we made the Communists/Marxist-Leninists look like sane, sensible co-operative folks.

June 2, 2014

The fall and rise of racism

Filed under: History, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:11

Frank Furedi says that what “everyone knows” about the rising tide of racism not only isn’t true, but it’s actually the reverse: racism has been largely defeated in the West. What we now call “racism” isn’t the same thing at all, as our definitions have changed dramatically.

It is astounding just how thoroughly the ideology of racism has been crushed. We should recall that until the outbreak of the Second World War, racial thinking was rarely questioned in any part of the world. Even in academic circles, critics of racism were very much in a minority in the 1930s. Back then, the term ‘racist’ was used neutrally and sometimes even positively in Western societies. It was only in the 1930s that the word ‘racism’ started to acquire negative connotations. It was in that decade that the use of the word racism in a derogatory way was first recorded in the English language. But even then, the idea of racial equality had few defenders – including within the intellectual community.

Since the 1930s, racism, with its oppressive claim that some people are superior to other, ‘subhuman’ people, has been systematically discredited. The idealisation of the racial superiority of whites and the dehumanisation of people from Africa and Asia has been culturally marginalised. Even the most extreme xenophobic cults and parties now find it difficult explicitly to use the language of racial ideology. The notion of racial superiority is conspicuous by its absence in public discussion in the twenty-first century.

People may still have their prejudices, but very few individuals now define themselves as racist. Indeed, the term racist is looked upon negatively even by people who do feel some form of prejudice against a foreign ethnic or religious group. The fact that such people feel obliged to say ‘I’m not a racist, but…’ indicates that racism enjoys very little cultural validation in modern Western societies.

[…]

Paradoxically, the sharp decline in expression of racial pride has been paralleled by a huge increase in public accusations of racism. One reason why such accusations are on the rise is because the definition of racism has changed to the point where it has almost nothing in common with the original meaning of the word. These days, any heated dispute between people of different cultural or ethnic backgrounds has the potential to be branded a racist incident. In his disturbing study, The Myth of Racist Kids, Adrian Hart reported that new anti-racist policies in British schools have led to the rebranding of everyday playground insults as ‘racist behaviour’. Following the lead of other institutions, schools have adopted an expansive definition of racism that includes name-calling and excluding a child from games.

May 28, 2014

Ontario NDP manifesto “reads like it was written at an Annex dinner party that went one bottle of red over the line”

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:15

The NDP is having some internal ructions during the ongoing Ontario election campaign, as federal NDP supporters are critical of the provincial party’s approach (and leaking that discontent to the media). The Toronto Star‘s Tim Harper reports:

Tom Mulcair and Andrea Horwath will share a stage next week at the provincial party’s spring gala in Toronto.

Publicly, it will be smiles and camaraderie. Privately, some members of the federal leader’s Ontario caucus and his inner circle are looking at the Horwath campaign with anxiety.

While Mulcair has praised Horwath’s “positive, optimistic” vision, there are concerns here about the messaging in the provincial campaign, the decision to force a vote at this time and the landscape the federal party might be traversing in the politically-key southern Ontario ridings in next year’s federal vote.

There are those who believe Horwath brought down the Liberals a year too late and is now not pushing back strongly enough against a budget that is a political document that cannot be delivered. Others wonder why the campaign lacks any big, fresh ideas.

[…]

Specifically, federal New Democrats are watching an attempt by the party to tack toward the middle where the votes lie, while fighting off backbiting from within for allegedly giving up on progressive voters and the causes they hold dear.

Mulcair is expected to steer the party in the same direction next year.

He will go to the polls with the NDP’s best chance for power in its history, campaigning with a mix of “small ball” policies, packaged around expected bold policies on the environment and sustainable development. Federal NDP strategists dismiss the tag of “small ball.” They call issues such as bank fees, gas prices and fees for paper bills “consumer issues” and they believe they engage voters who don’t think of politics in old right-left terms.

They dismiss a critical letter to Horwath from self-described NDP stalwarts — a manifesto that reads like it was written at an Annex dinner party that went one bottle of red over the line — as an attempt to drag the party back to what one called the “Audrey McLaughlin” days, a reference to a campaign two decades ago when the party remained ideologically pure and lost official party status.

April 12, 2014

Political religion

Filed under: Politics, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:19

In the most recent Goldberg File “news”letter, Jonah Goldberg discusses what serves some non-religious groups as an effective religion-replacement:

… I read some reviews of Jody Bottum’s new book (which I’ve now ordered). In, An Anxious Age: The Post Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America, Bottum argues that today’s liberal elites are the same liberal elites that we’ve always had. They come from the ranks of mainline Protestants that have run this country for generations (with some fellow-travelling Jews and Catholics, to be sure). But there’s a hitch. They champion a

    social gospel, without the gospel. For all of them, the sole proof of redemption is the holding of a proper sense of social ills. The only available confidence about their salvation, as something superadded to experience, is the self-esteem that comes with feeling they oppose the social evils of bigotry and power and the groupthink of the mob.

This strikes me as pretty close to exactly right. They’re still elitist moralizers but without the religious doctrine. In place of religious experience, they take their spiritual sustenance from self-satisfaction, often smug self-satisfaction.

One problem with most (but not all) political religions is that they tend to convince themselves that their one true faith is simply the Truth. Marxists believed in “scientific socialism” and all that jazz. Liberalism is still convinced that it is the sole legitimate worldview of the “reality-based community.”

There’s a second problem with political religions, though. When reality stops cooperating with the faith, someone must get the blame, and it can never be the faith itself. And this is where the hunt for heretics within and without begins.

Think about what connects so many of the controversies today: Mozilla’s defenestration of Brendan Eich, Brandeis’ disinviting of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the IRS scandal, Hobby Lobby, Sisters of Mercy, the notion climate skeptics should be put in cages, the obsession with the Koch brothers, not to mention the metronomic succession of assclownery on college campuses. They’re all about either the hunting of heretics and dissidents or the desire to force adherence to the One True Faith.

It’s worth noting that the increase in these sorts of incidents is not necessarily a sign of liberalism’s strength. They’re arguably the result of a crisis of confidence.

March 4, 2014

Not a science fiction story – “National Bolshevism” versus “Atlantis”

Filed under: Europe, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:59

According to Robert Zubrin, a key advisor to Vladimir Putin and other Russian leaders has some really weird notions:

Putin is sometimes described as a revanchist, seeking to recreate the Soviet Union. That is a useful shorthand, but it is not really accurate. Putin and many of his gang may have once been Communists, but they are not that today. Rather, they have embraced a new totalitarian political ideology known as “Eurasianism.”

The roots of Eurasianism go back to czarist émigrés interacting with fascist thinkers in between-the-wars France and Germany. But in recent years, its primary exponent has been the very prominent and prolific political theorist Aleksandr Dugin.

[…]

Nazism, it will be recalled, was an abbreviation for National Socialism. National Bolshevism, therefore, put itself forth as an ideology that relates to National Socialism in much the same way as Bolshevism relates to Socialism. This open self-identification with Nazism is also shown clearly in the NBP flag, which looks exactly like a Nazi flag, with a red background surrounding a white circle, except that the black swastika at the center is replaced by a black hammer and sickle.

[…]

The core idea of Dugin’s Eurasianism is that “liberalism” (by which is meant the entire Western consensus) represents an assault on the traditional hierarchical organization of the world. Repeating the ideas of Nazi theorists Karl Haushofer, Rudolf Hess, Carl Schmitt, and Arthur Moeller van der Bruck, Dugin says that this liberal threat is not new, but is the ideology of the maritime cosmopolitan power “Atlantis,” which has conspired to subvert more conservative land-based societies since ancient times. Accordingly, he has written books in which he has reconstructed the entire history of the world as a continuous battle between these two factions, from Rome v. Carthage to Russia v. the Anglo Saxon “Atlantic Order,” today. If Russia is to win this fight against the subversive oceanic bearers of such “racist” (because foreign-imposed) ideas as human rights, however, it must unite around itself all the continental powers, including Germany, Central and Eastern Europe, the former Soviet republics, Turkey, Iran, and Korea, into a grand Eurasian Union strong enough to defeat the West.

In order to be so united, this Eurasian Union will need a defining ideology, and for this purpose Dugin has developed a new “Fourth Political Theory” combining all the strongest points of Communism, Nazism, Ecologism, and Traditionalism, thereby allowing it to appeal to the adherents of all of these diverse anti-liberal creeds. He would adopt Communism’s opposition to free enterprise. However, he would drop the Marxist commitment to technological progress, a liberal-derived ideal, in favor of Ecologism’s demagogic appeal to stop the advance of industry and modernity. From Traditionalism, he derives a justification for stopping free thought. All the rest is straight out of Nazism, ranging from legal theories justifying unlimited state power and the elimination of individual rights, to the need for populations “rooted” in the soil, to weird gnostic ideas about the secret origin of the Aryan race in the North Pole.

February 5, 2014

Drawing the rhetorical battle lines for the war over the war

Filed under: Britain, Europe, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:13

Tim Stanley on the ongoing war of words over the “celebrations” planned to mark the First World War in Britain:

The reality is that WWI had nothing to do with modern ideology, yet (ironically) we constantly seek to understand it through modern ideology. It started because the 19th-century diplomatic system broke down, undermining assumptions that various powers had no interest in fighting and would not do so when tested. Its bloodiness was due to technology: industrial warfare trumped the war of fast movement that everybody expected. And it ended because the Germans ran out of food. So it was non-ideological in spirit, but it did become the catalyst for various new ideologies. Britain convinced itself it was fighting for democracy. The Russians turned into Soviets and came to see WWI as the acme of capitalist aggression. A small band of German idiots decided defeat was down to a massive conspiracy of Jews so brilliant that it was impossible to actually explain how they pulled it off. And so the Second World War — a profoundly ideological war — was spawned by a conflict that lacked philosophical justification. No wonder memories are so confused.

We continue the mistake of seeing the past as if it was today. The neoconservatives, for example, are wrong to see “Prussian militarism” as embryonic Nazism — indeed the comparison is so slight as to be offensive. And if the plucky Brits were fighting imperialism, that raises the question of why we didn’t divest ourselves of our own possessions in Africa, Asia, Australisia etc. But the Left is equally wrong to see the First World War as a class conflict, as a case of lions led by donkeys. The aristocratic class happily signed up and were almost entirely exterminated as a result, thanks in part to the fact that they tended to be taller than the average soldier and so easier to aim at in the trenches.

Well, that perhaps, but rather more that the junior officers and company commanders actually led from the front, and were visibly distinct from the mass of their troops (making themselves more attractive targets). The allies were in the position of having to attack German positions for most of the war after the front lines solidified, which meant more opportunities for officers to be come casualties. The life expectancy of a junior officer on the Western front was said to be only six weeks.

This comment rather puzzles me, though:

Second, I’m still not entirely sure what we’re commemorating about the First World War and why. Obviously, we should always remember and honour our nation’s war dead — as we do every November. But why — as a nation — pick through every battle, every fact, every detail, every controversy and turn it into a parade? What relevance does it all have to us now? And why is it so often rated as more important than the American War of Independence, the English Civil War or the Scramble for Africa? Will it overshadow the anniversary of Waterloo next year, when, incidentally, the Brits were rather pleased to have Prussian militarism on their side? As European conflicts go, the Thirty Years War also screams out for a little more attention. The population in Germany fell by between 25 and 40 per cent; the Swedish armies destroyed one third of all German towns. That was Hell, too.

The First World War was different from what came before because it literally touched everyone: there were dead and wounded from every city, town, village, and hamlet. Everyone lost family members, friends, acquaintances, business partners, church members, and so on. Unlike the Crimean War, or the Zulu War, or the Boer War, this was the first mass conflict where the entire society had to be re-oriented to support the struggle. Privation was not just a word, as civilians faced food shortages, coal shortages, unrelenting propaganda through the newspapers, and misery all around. This was the end of Britain’s view of war as being something unpleasant at a distance, to be handled by a few good men in red coats.

October 18, 2013

Republicans and conservatives

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:18

In The Atlantic, Molly Ball looks at the split between the GOP establishment and the increasingly angry conservative base:

On his radio show recently, Glenn Beck urged his listeners to “defund the GOP.” Sarah Palin has threatened to leave the Republican Party; Rush Limbaugh calls it “irrelevant.” The Senate Conservatives Fund has targeted mainly incumbent Republican senators for defeat. Erick Erickson, one of the right’s most prominent commentators, wonders if what’s coming is “a real third party movement that will fully divide the Republican Party.”

Conservatives have declared war on the GOP.

Tired of feeling taken for granted by a party that alternately panders to them and sells them down the river, in their view, Tea Partiers and others on the right are in revolt. The Republican Party itself is increasingly the focus of their anger, particularly after Wednesday’s deal to reopen the government, which many on the right opposed. Now, many are threatening to take their business elsewhere.

“Conservatives are either going to split [from the GOP] or stay home,” Erickson, the influential editor of RedState.com and a Fox News contributor, told me. “They’ll first expend energy in primaries, but if unsuccessful, they’ll bolt.”

Erickson, a former Republican elected official in Georgia, stressed that he wasn’t advocating such a split, only foreseeing it. “I think the GOP is already splitting,” he said, with grassroots activists feeling “played” by elected officials’ unfulfilled promises to defeat Obamacare.

The calls for a split mark a new, more acrimonious chapter in the long-simmering conflict between the Tea Party and the Republican establishment. Steve Deace, an Iowa-based talk-radio host, said his audience has never been angrier. “They’re tired of electing a bunch of Republicans who care more about what the media thinks about them than what the people who elected them think,” he told me. “Why do I care whether John Boehner or Nancy Pelosi is the speaker of the House? Why do I care whether Harry Reid or ‘Ditch’ McConnell is the Senate majority leader? What changes? Nothing changes.”

Of course, most of this is froth and fuming — they won’t split the party or form a new one. Why is that? It’s because the GOP and the Democrats have got the system rigged so that only those two parties ever have a real chance at getting candidates elected to state or federal office. In some states, third parties have to petition for ballot access every election for every individual candidate. This doesn’t sound too unreasonable, except the threshold for gathering signatures is incredibly high in many cases (or time-limited, or rigged in other ways), so that without an active, fully staffed party organization only the top few positions can be realistically contested. Only GOP and Democratic candidates are included in polls, debates, and other electoral events covered by the media, so as little “oxygen” as possible is given to outsiders, independents, and third party candidates. Stories like this recent one in Reason happen just about every year in most states.

Having done their part to make the existing duopoly the only game in town, the conservative faction of the Republican party may gripe all they want, but they’re not seriously going anywhere.

October 17, 2013

The internal struggle for the Republican party

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:13

At Ace of Spades H.Q., Drew M. explains why the struggle within the GOP won’t be over quickly:

Part of the on-going GOP vs. “Tea Party” civil war is an insistence by the GOP that the tea party needs to focus more on Democrats than conservative “purity tests” […].

This illustrates one of the big problems in the current battle, Republicans still don’t get the nature of the insurgency movement. The “tea party” isn’t about going after Democrats, that’s the job of the GOP, conservatives are increasingly focused on policing the GOP.

For too long the GOP has wooed conservatives by talking tough but acting very moderate when elected. I think you can trace it back to George H.W. Bush breaking his “no new taxes” pledge. Conservatives rallied around the elder Bush and put aside their distrust and dislike of him mostly out of respect for Ronald Reagan only to find out he was exactly who he thought they were.

Last night on the podcast we talked about how a lot of these differences were papered over during George W. Bush’s tenure. I argued to a large extent that was a result of 9/11 and the subsequent War on Terror. I said during the 2004 elections that had it not been for national security I would have wanted W. to face a primary challenge from the right and I think he might have been.

Conservative voters are feeling neglected betrayed and unappreciated by the GOP (and I think for good reason). Instead of telling conservatives to suck it up and fight Democrats, Republicans are going to have to treat conservatives as voters they have to woo. Maybe instead of telling conservatives to shut up and fight Democrats they should spend sometime telling conservatives what the GOP has done for them (and, “but the Democrats really suck” isn’t good enough). If the GOP has been so good for conservatives (and I mean small government conservatives here), it shouldn’t be hard to come up with a long list of positive achievements. Of course, there will be an alternative and likely longer list of GOP actions against small government conservative interests.

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