Friday, February 20, 2009

Sailer on Education Spendulus

This gave me a chuckle:

Why does everybody always assume it's a self-evidently good idea in the public schools to send good teachers to teach bad students, when nobody thinks that way about any other form of instruction?

For example, Tiger Woods' swing coach, Hank Haney, is often considered the best golf instructor in the country. And everybody simply finds that perfectly reasonable: of course Tiger has the top swing expert. The best student can absorb the most wisdom from the best teacher. And of course the best teacher wants to teach the best student.

Yet, if I were to apply Arne Duncan's conventional wisdom about public education to golf teachers, I'd say: "It's a national disgrace that the best golf teachers waste their time on the best golfers. Why is Hank Haney frittering away his time trying to cut Tiger Woods's average score from 68 to 67 when he could be cutting my average score to 96 from 114? [Estimate based on my one round of golf in 2008, assuming I hadn't given up keeping score on the third hole in shame.]

Granted, Haney could only cut my score by 18 strokes if I also went and practiced what he taught me. Admittedly, even though I live three blocks from a driving range, I've only hit one bucket of balls there in the last nine years. But the reason I never practice must be because of society's soft bigotry of low expectations based on what my swing looks like. (I have this feeling that other golfers at the range would say to me, "Hey, buddy, Charles Barkley called. He wants his swing back.")

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sprawl, Reconsidered

As soon as it quoted Jane Jacobs as an expert on urban development, I knew that Richard Florida's "How the Crash Will Reshape America" was headed for trouble.

Although the specialization identified by Adam Smith creates powerful efficiency gains, Jacobs argued that the jostling of many different professions and different types of people, all in a dense environment, is an essential spur to innovation—to the creation of things that are truly new.

Steve Sailer has made a compelling case that diversity follows economic growth, not the other way around. Remind me to find the link.

Reading on:

Suburbanization—and the sprawling growth it propelled—made sense for a time. The cities of the early and mid-20th century were dirty, sooty, smelly, and crowded, and commuting from the first, close-in suburbs was fast and easy. And as manufacturing became more technologically stable and product lines matured during the postwar boom, suburban growth dovetailed nicely with the pattern of industrial growth. Businesses began opening new plants in green-field locations that featured cheaper land and labor; management saw no reason to continue making now-standardized products in the expensive urban locations where they’d first been developed and sold. Work was outsourced to then-new suburbs and the emerging areas of the Sun Belt, whose connections to bigger cities by the highway system afforded rapid, low-cost distribution. This process brought the Sun Belt economies (which had lagged since the Civil War) into modern times, and sustained a long boom for the United States as a whole.

But that was then; the economy is different now. It no longer revolves around simply making and moving things. Instead, it depends on generating and transporting ideas. The places that thrive today are those with the highest velocity of ideas, the highest density of talented and creative people, the highest rate of metabolism. Velocity and density are not words that many people use when describing the suburbs. The economy is driven by key urban areas; a different geography is required.

I'm not an expert, but this sounds exactly backwards. Paul Johnson's The Offshore Islanders (I think) made the point that those European countries that industrialized later rather than earlier were more competitive precisely because they were spacially organized to minimize transportation costs. Germany, for instance, was able to locate their steel plants close to their coal mines. More recently, China has taken over the world's manufacturing because it has done things like build an entire city dedicated to sock production.

But ideas? In the age of the internet, the movement of ideas over long distances is virtually free and instantaneous. So why, exactly, does everyone have to huddle in the same building to produce creative synergy? This question is not necessarily rhetorical: clearly, the telecommuting revolution predicted ten years ago was strangled in its crib. I will defer to the experts on why that happened, but I'm not aware of anything inherently innovative about room-huddling; on the contrary, a running joke on the Dilbert strip is how much time is wasted in meetings.

The foreclosure crisis creates a real opportunity here.

Oh dear. Stand by for social engineering.

Instead of resisting foreclosures, the government should seek to facilitate them in ways that can minimize pain and disruption. Banks that take back homes, for instance, could be required to offer to rent each home to the previous homeowner, at market rates—which are typically lower than mortgage payments—for some number of years. (At the end of that period, the former homeowner could be given the option to repurchase the home at the prevailing market price.)

This isn't necessarily a bad idea; Steve Sailer proposed it a while back. But: if it's so good, then why would government have to require it? Why wouldn't banks offer it to homeowners voluntarily?

Next, we need to encourage growth in the regions and cities that are best positioned to compete in the coming decades: the great mega-regions that already power the economy, and the smaller, talent-attracting innovation centers inside them—places like Silicon Valley, Boulder, Austin, and the North Carolina Research Triangle.

Again, why does this need encouragement? Why not let the market do its work?

Whatever our government policies, the coming decades will likely see a further clustering of output, jobs, and innovation in a smaller number of bigger cities and city-regions. But properly shaping that growth will be one of the government’s biggest challenges. In part, we need to ensure that key cities and regions continue to circulate people, goods, and ideas quickly and efficiently. This in itself will be no small task; increasing congestion threatens to slowly sap some of these city-regions of their vitality.

As the article makes clear, much of suburban sprawl is driven by government: the 30-year mortgage, mortgage interest deductability, zoning laws, and highway subsidies are all government creations and have all permitted us purchase much more house and yard than we otherwise would. If this turns out to have been unsustainable, then it the government should stop encouraging it. Again: let the market do its work.

Just as important, though, we need to make elite cities and key mega-regions more attractive and affordable for all of America’s classes, not just the upper crust. High housing costs in these cities and in the more convenient suburbs around them, along with congested sprawl farther afield, have conspired to drive lower-income Americans away from these places over the past 30 years. This is profoundly unhealthy for our society.

No it isn't. Whether they will admit it or not, for most people, the whole attraction of moving to the 'burbs has been the opportunity to put some distance between themselves and the rabble. Unfortunately, the Civil Rights era made moving away about the only means of avoiding the negative externalities generated by underclass minorities. Now, in many respects, this process is reversing: many urban cores are gentrifying, and as they do so, they become more attractive to yet more gentrifiers. Florida's suggestion that what cities is need to make themselves affordable to the rabble is exactly what will halt this process.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

On Socially Confident Women 2: or How I Decided that Professor X was Having an Affair with his Secretary

My PhD research has lately become more multi-disciplinary, and I have started working with a couple of professors in the physical sciences. This is how I came to meet Σ.

My grad school relies heavily on external funding streams that tend to be directed towards specific research projects. (This may be common among graduate schools. I woldn't know.) Thus, the departments tend to be organized around these research projects. Mature research groups even have their own offices with their names on the doors, and their own clerical staff.

Σ is such a staff member. Her cubicle is in the foyer to the offices of the research group headed by Professor X. My own research started taking me to the offices of Professor X last week. On a couple of occasions, X wasn't there, and I was left dealing with Σ.

There are two salient features of Σ. First, she is objectively quite beautiful. Without dwelling on the details, I'm pretty sure she would score an 8 on the Roissy scale. Second, and more to the point, she seems to possess outsized social confidence: full eye-contact, big smile, and attentive as if I was someone who mattered. (I'm not.)

This was very . . . unnerving. Don't get me wrong: nothing strokes a man's ego like the attention of a beautiful young woman, and Φ likes having his ego stroked. But Φ is also accutely aware that there is no upside to extending these interactions. For one thing, nothing in my experience leads me to think that my entertainment value is very high to anyone outside a narrow set of intimates. To the extent that anything about Σ's responsiveness is a function of Φ personally, it's sure to wear out pretty quickly. And second, even if it didn't, Φ is, you know, married.

Mmmm . . . as you can see, Φ's rat brain has evolved to attempt to read far more than warranted into female attentiveness. Fortunately, Φ's analytical brain overpowers rat brain, discerns the true significance of female friendliness, and often has spared Φ much ritual humiliation. Herewith, then, we develop five categories of circumstances in which you can find female friendliness.

1. The woman is attracted to you. This actually happened once back in '95. Sometimes there's just no accounting for taste.

2. The woman works in a job with some kind of hospitality aspect in which she creates the illusion of being attracted to you. This is why the dental technicians of my college years were alwyas really interested in engineering. See the South Park Raisins episode for how this works.

3. A woman's experience has bred a warm personality. Sometimes this happens, but it's pretty rare. I can, in fact, think of several women I have known, including Mrs. Φ, in which this was the case. I had a couple of students that fell in this category, although because I was faculty, and had built rapport with them in a classroom situation, they may have been special cases. On the other hand, I also heard favorable mention of this woman's qualities among other students. There are several theories as to what causes this. The blogger formerly known as Spungen said that it sprang directly from a woman's social power, specifically the power to punish any male that stepped out of line. Or it may be that such a woman hadn't any negative experiences with men (the Amish girls may fall into that category), or that she understands men well enough to interact with them in a mature way. Whatever the reason, there are very few of these women.

4. A woman is unattractive. Sad, but the personalities of unattractive women just develop better than those of attractive ones. In my late twenties, right around the time I met the future Mrs. Φ, my status was sufficiently improved that I had quite a few female friends with "good personalities", at least two of whom, I was to learn later, definitely fell into category one, above. But they were invariably women that I was not attracted to.

5. A woman is already attached. I remember being amazed all the way back in high school how girls that were cold and bitchy suddenly mellowed once they had acquired steady boyfriends. More recently, once I myself was married and began circulating regularly among married couples, I realized that married women were much more relaxed, confident, and friendly than I ever thought single women were. But there is an important caveat:

5a. An attached woman knows you through her husband/boyfriend. This is important, and directly relevant to the case at hand. The social confidence that being attached gives a woman is most operational when the social context is one in which her husband is well-integrated. I wouldn't make any generalizations about attached women that we might meet in her day-to-day work. But when we met them as part of a couple, as at church, or at work socials where the men bring their wives, then the women have little difficulty socializing in a relaxed and confident manner.

So, let's look at the present case.

We can safely dismiss categories 1 and 4. Two doesn't really apply either; Σ's primary job is secretarial, and only incidentally reception. And I am a student, not a client, so there really isn't any point for her to take the trouble of inducing any particular warm feelings in me. Category 3 is possible, but statistically unlikely. Σ is not Amish, for one thing. For another, Σ doesn't appear to wield extraordinary social power in her role as secretary.

Which leaves category 5. But as we have seen, category five only applies if she perceives the primary relationship to be between me and the man to whom she is attached. And Professor X is the only person she knows me to be working with. Plus, Professor X is a likely candidate. He has status (head of a research group); he is fit and, as far as I can judge these things, attractive. And to top it off, his manner is giddy and distracted . . . exactly like I would imagine a man to be who has a hot girl half his age.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Beta-hatred: the Jane Austen Version

I finished reading Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice to my daughters recently. I had not read it since high school, and I was impressed with how faithful its 2005 movie version had been. But I was also struck by something that had escaped my notice on its first reading, something that is directly relevant to the observation that still marks my primary claim to internet fame.

To recap: Elizabeth Bennett, the novel's protagonist, receives a proposal of marriage from her cousin, Mr. Collins. It is difficult to fully describe the metaphysical level of absurdity achieved by Mr. Collins, although the movie captured it pretty well: his obsequious devotion to his wealthy patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh; the unflattering way in which he compares everyone else to her; the extent to which he is convinced that his association with Lady Catherine elevates his own status; his endless promotion of the most trivial aspects of himself; and his utter insensitivity to the affect that his manner has on those around him. He is, in short, a beta, and an oblivious beta at that. He doesn't intend anyone ill, and in contrast to Mr. Darcy, Mr. Collins does nobody any injury other than inflict his none-too-likable presence on those around him.

But Elizabeth is a romantic, naturally, and summarily declines the proposal. But rejecting Mr. Collins, it turns out, is insufficient vindication of her low opinion of him. Let's review her reaction when she is told by her best friend, Charlotte Lucas, that Charlotte herself has accepted Mr. Collins's offer of marriage.

From Chapter 22:

"Engaged to Mr. Collins! my dear Charlotte -- impossible!"

The steady countenance which Miss Lucas had commanded in telling her story gave way to a momentary confusion here on receiving so direct a reproach; though, as it was no more than she expected, she soon regained her composure, and calmly replied --

"Why should you be surprised, my dear Eliza? Do you think it incredible that Mr. Collins should be able to procure any woman's good opinion because he was not so happy as to succeed with you?"

Charlotte's accusation here goes unrebutted, and indeed, this was exactly Elizabeth's expectation: because she did not want Mr. Collins, nobody else ought to want him either. Mr. Collins was a bad person who deserved to find all romantic options closed to him.

However, for reasons of her own, Charlotte has evaluated the trade-offs, and decides that Mr. Collins's proposal is acceptable. And for this crime, Elizabeth, in fact if not in form, withdraws her friendship. From Chapter 23:

Between Elizabeth and Charlotte there was a restraint which kept them mutually silent on the subject; and Elizabeth felt persuaded that no real confidence could ever subsist between them again.

Elizabeth elaborates on her feelings towards Charlotte in a conversation with her sister Jane. From Chapter 24:

"The more I see of the world, the more am I dissatisfied with it; and every day confirms my belief of the inconsistency of all human characters, and of the little dependence that can be placed on the appearance of either merit or sense. I have met with two instances lately: one I will not mention; the other is Charlotte's marriage. It is unaccountable! in every view it is unaccountable!"

"My dear Lizzy [replies Jane], do not give way to such feelings as these. They will ruin your happiness. You do not make allowance enough for difference of situation and temper. Consider Mr. Collins's respectability, and Charlotte's prudent, steady character. Remember that she is one of a large family; that as to fortune, it is a most eligible match; and be ready to believe, for everybody's sake, that she may feel something like regard and esteem for our cousin."

"To oblige you I would try to believe almost anything [continues Elizabeth], but no one else could be benefited by such a belief as this; for were I persuaded that Charlotte had any regard for him, I should only think worse of her understanding than I now do of her heart. My dear Jane, Mr. Collins is a conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly man: you know he is, as well as I do; and you must feel, as well as I do, that the woman who marries him cannot have a proper way of thinking. You shall not defend her, though it is Charlotte Lucas. You shall not, for the sake of one individual, change the meaning of principle and integrity, nor endeavour to persuade yourself or me that selfishness is prudence, and insensibility of danger security for happiness."

Even if we take Elizabeth's assessment of Mr. Collins's character as gospel truth, notice the chain of logic: Mr. Collins is inadequate; therefore, no worthwhile woman would accept him; therefore, any woman that does accept him is unworthy of continued friendship. From Chapter 26:

The [Collins'] wedding took place; the bride and bridegroom set off for Kent from the church door, and everybody had as much to say, or to hear, on the subject as usual. Elizabeth soon heard from her friend, and their correspondence was as regular and frequent as it had ever been: that it should be equally unreserved was impossible. Elizabeth could never address her without feeling that all the comfort of intimacy was over, and though determined not to slacken as a correspondent, it was for the sake of what had been rather than what was. Charlotte's first letters were received with a good deal of eagerness; there could not but be curiosity to know how she would speak of her new home, how she would like Lady Catherine, and how happy she would dare pronounce herself to be, though, when the letters were read, Elizabeth felt that Charlotte expressed herself on every point exactly as she might have foreseen. She wrote cheerfully, seemed surrounded with comforts, and mentioned nothing which she could not praise. The house, furniture, neighbourhood, and roads were all to her taste, and Lady Catherine's behavior was most friendly and obliging. It was Mr. Collins's picture of Husford and Rosings rationally softened; and Elizabeth perceived that she must wait for her own visit there to know the rest.

Let me put it bluntly: Elizabeth's conduct here is repugnant. She expects -- nay, she is eager -- that Charlotte will be unhappy, and the desire of savoring the details of this unhappiness is her motivation for continuing their correspondence. But Charlotte is not unhappy, at least not on balance, and Elizabeth can't bring herself to admit this possibility.

So what does this have to do with anything?

Φ's breakout blog post was an extended reflection on beta-hatred. Not just the cumulative affect of female preferences, but a nigh eliminationist stridency: betas morally deserve to suffer all the loneliness, ostracism, and despair that women can inflict. In that essay, I sought to explain this stridency as a function of the cognitive dissonance embedded within modern liberalism: a no-sparrow-shall-fall embrace of the welfare state, coexisting with a social darwinian sexual anarchy.

But reading Pride and Prejudice again made me wonder. It appears that beta-hatred has much deeper roots than either liberalism or the welfare state, and may exceed my diagnostic powers.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Still Disappointed in BSG

Maybe they will turn out to be relevant to tonight's episode, but my impression is that BSG pretty much wasted the last three "insurrection" episodes. Commander Adama puts down the mutiny . . . and the fleet finds itself exactly where it was three episodes ago, except lighter by two semi-major characters. Meanwhile, no new themes were introduced; on the contrary, the episodes worked hard to turn old themes into cliches.

Am I the only one who thinks that Lt ("Commander") Gaeta had a point? First, setting the terms by which the rebel Cylons become naturalized Colonials is almost definitionally a function of the civilian legislature, a.k.a. Quorum of Twelve. And second, the career arc of Boomer ought to give pause to accepting Cylon protestations of loyalty at face value. The original Lt. Valieri was the Manchurian Candidate sleeper agent, activated against her will into a saboteur and assassin under conditions which nobody has fully explained. I'm prepared to believe that the destruction of the resurrection hub put an end to Cavil's ability to remote-control the Cylons in the future . . . but nobody has even bothered to make that case in an intelligent way.

Instead, unreflective Cylon hatred was the only currency of the mutineers, never mind the considerable assistance that this particular group of Cylons had given to the Colonials already. Analogies are difficult, but imagine if the U.S. had spurned Cold War defectors on the grounds that "we hate all 'dem Ruskies!" Further, we are treated to the absurdity of Gaeta going through the motions of a trial so he can kill Adama. What's the point? At least a "show trial" would have provided a public cover for what he wanted to do anyway. But this private trial didn't even do that!

But the writers had to weaken the cause of the mutineers so the audience won't notice how weak Adama's case is. First, there's the arbitrary exercise of authority (again); second, the sudden and unexplained necessity of upgrading the fleet's FTL drives, which suddenly aren't as high-tech as the Cylon drives.

By the standards of the first two seasons, these are gaping holes in the show's writing, but it has this in common with almost every other modern story on the same theme: an impatience with due process. In every internecine conflict, the audience has always been expected to root for Commander Adama, and disdain the democratically elected Colonial officials. And we do! We have a hunger for the Man on Horseback, riding to wield whatever power, that's unseemly in a self-governing people.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

On Growing a General

Coming across the desk is news that the Air Force will be deleting deployment history from the duty qualification briefs used to select officers for promotion:

"Many factors have led to the recent change in policy," said Colonel Giles, "especially since deployments now take many forms across the Air Force."

In addition to "traditional" deployments, such as long-term deployments to the area of responsibility, some career fields such as space and missile and unmanned aircraft system operators do not typically deploy but provide daily support to the war on terrorism.

As Col. Potter might say, "horse hockey!" Yes, the Air Force needs missileers and drone pilots, just as it needs engineers and cooks. But I want my generals to know what burning flesh smells like. I want them to have felt the fear of death in combat. These experiences are vital to the proper perspective of senior commanders, and you don't get them sitting in a silo or moving a joystick.

My uninformed guess -- colored by my background assumption that nothing the military bureaucracy says should be taken at face value -- is somebody noticed that women weren't deploying overseas in the same proportion as men, and is striving to ensure that this fact doesn't increase the percentage of men being promoted.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Adventures is Plumbing

The Monday before Christmas, the shower in our master bath stopped working.

My wife called me as I was on the way home from the gym. I was taking the week off, and had been looking forward to catching up on my exercise. Ironically, this was the very day that the appraiser visited, which had us quite worried that we would be written up for "non-working appliances" or something that would crater our home value for our refinance. Fortunately, he never actually tested the appliances, but we still had a broken shower.

Our shower has one of those single control handles where the temperature is controlled by how far to the left the handle is twisted. Pretty standard, I think, although I don't know all the technical details. I'm not a plumber.

I attempted to unscrew the hex bolt holding on the handle to expose the mechanism behind it, but the buildup of whatever gunk is in our water system prevented this, and I had to basically rip the handle off. This exposed what is known as, alternately, a "manifold", or "universal rough", depending on whom you ask. It's the device that controls the mixture of hot and cold water (pipes 1 and 2) going to the shower head (pipe 3). Not knowing what else to do (I'm not a plumber), I took a hammer to the bathroom tiles to expose the pipe connections. The master bath is relatively new compared to the house, and the shower piping is copper instead of the galvanized metal we have most everywhere else. Being copper, the pipes had been soldered to the manifold, which means that replacing the manifold would require cutting the pipes to free them from my broken manifold.

Resisting the urge to call an actual plumber, I consulted with the good folks at Lowes on how to attack this problem. They happily sold me a $250 shower set (manifold and pretty new handle and head), an itty bitty pipe cutter to fit inside the itty bitty space I had to work, plus these really nifty connectors that would snap onto my cut pipes and screw (rather than solder) into my manifold. (Yeah, I know, I was skeptical too, but really they work pretty well if you put them on correctly. Which I did. Eventually. After more consultation at Lowes.)

It took many, many hours working my itty bitty pipe cutter back and forth, back and forth, to cut through my copper pipes, but I eventually freed the dead manifold. With little attention to the directions, I then tried to put the new manifold in place. I discovered that, with the snap on connectors, I hadn't taken enough copper pipe off. So more hours of cutting. I connected the new manifold and the connections leaked. Back to Lowes for more instructions, and at least one new connector. I brought it home and set to reconnect. Would you believe that, in my haste, I had grabbed a female instead of a male connector? Lowe's is twenty-five minutes each way!

Eventually, I had the new manifold in place. I still needed to replace the tile, but I wanted to test it to make sure that it worked. I turned on the water source again and lo: the water poured out of the shower! But it wouldn't turn off, no matter which way I twisted the plastic tab to which I assumed my pretty new handle would eventually connect!

I turned off the water source and consulted the directions. Wherein I read words to the effect of "unscrew the flange of the manifold and insert the shower control".

"Open up the manifold . . ."?

The manifold opens?!?

I leaned back and let out a breath. I now had several days and $300 into this project, and I still had to repair the drywall and replace the tiles in the hole in my shower wall that I had made to tear out the manifold. And now, come to find out, that there was in all probability nothing wrong with the manifold I had cut out of the wall, but only with the shower control that went inside the manifold, and all I would have needed to do was unscrew the flange holding the control in place and replace it with a new $30 control?

The blogger formerly known as Bobvis once wrote a post about the difference between disappointment and regret, and how the latter emotion was much more crushing than the former. He was right. Finding out that I would have to spend my Christmas vacation doing plumbing: that was disappointment. Finding out all that work and expenditure was unnecessary: that was regret.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On Socially Confident Women

At the ice rink the other day, I noticed a couple of young (late teen, I think) women wearing ankle length dresses and head coverings. Amish getup, or maybe Mennonite, but anyway, some sect that requires distinctive dress for women. I hadn't ever noticed them there before, even though they owned their own skates and skated well enough to be regulars.

Anyway, as we were heading around the rink I caught one's eye and nodded a greeting. And in return, I was rewarded with . . . full eye contact! A smile! A "hello"!

Poor, poor Amish girls. If they weren't so oppressed by religion, they would know to avoid eye contact with men, and quickly look away when one says hello.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Lessons of Iraq

David Frum has written a four-part summary of a report by the "Special Inspector General of Iraqi Reconstruction". David Frum:

Six years, four thousand lives and hundreds of billions of dollars later, we seem at last to have stabilized Iraq. This weekend’s elections occurred peacefully, and the US goal of an Iraq that does not threaten its neighbors or its people now looks within reach. Yet we all have to be haunted by the question: Did it have to take so long and cost so much?

Inspector General Stuart Bowen’s damning study strongly suggests the answer: No.

Oh dear. I already fear where this is going: now that we know what mistakes not to make, next time we can avoid them!

This is not the lesson I was hoping for. When it comes to the Middle East, the lesson I was hoping for was: don't get any of it on you.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Levin's Review of Sarah Palin

Yuval Levin (H.T.: Ross Douthat) offers a compelling description of America's cultural fault lines in the context of the Palin candidacy. In particular, he has this exactly right:

The sense of potential that accompanied Palin’s introduction, and the feeling that she might really reverse the momentum of the campaign, were not illusory. For two weeks or so, the polls moved markedly in McCain’s direction, as it seemed that his running mate was something genuinely new in American politics: a lower-middle-class woman who spoke the language of the country’s ordinary voters and had a profound personal understanding of the hopes and worries of a vast swath of the public. She really did seize the attention of swing voters, as McCain’s team had hoped she might. Her convention speech, her interviews, and her debate performance drew unprecedented audiences.

But having finally gotten voters to listen, neither Palin nor McCain could think of anything to say to them. Palin’s reformism, like McCain’s, was essentially an attitude devoid of substance. Both Republican candidates told us they hated corruption and would cut excess and waste. But separately and together, they offered no overarching vision of America, no consistent view of the role of government, no clear description of what a free society should look like, and no coherent policy ideas that might actually address the concerns of American families and offer solutions to the serious problems of the moment. Palin’s populism was not her weakness, but her strength. Her weakness was that she failed to tie her populism to anything deeper. A successful conservative reformism has to draw on cultural populism, but it has also to draw on a worldview, on ideas about society and government, and on a policy agenda. This would make it more intellectual, but not necessarily less populist.

McCain’s advisers were right about Palin: she was a mirror image of John McCain. She was not a visionary politician, or a programmatic politician, but an attitude politician with an appealing biography. In the end, she was no more able than McCain to offer a coherent rationale for his presidency.

As my readers know, I was an early Sarah Palin fan, primarily on Ross's recommendation; her selection was, in fact, the only reason that I voted for McCain. But Levin's assessment echoes my own private thoughts on watching her appearances: but for Ross's assurance that Palin would be The People's Tribune, I asked myself, how would I know it from what she says? Yes, Palin is a social conservative, but as Levin points out, she was only this in a perfunctory way. It's not that she wasn't sincere; on the contrary, she lived her values in a way that few other pro-life candidates have. But clearly, the paradigm by which she understood the objectives of social conservatism was primarily reactive: she might recognize a bad idea when she saw it, but there was nothing of urgency that she wanted her ticket, if elected, to accomplish in the realm of social policy. But if not social conservative objectives, then what? What would she do? What new policies would she pursue? Maybe I wasn't paying enough attention, but I didn't come away from the campaign with a clear answer to those questions. Absent specifics, promises to "control spending" are pretty weak, and everything else was even weaker.

The worst disappointment of all was her silence on immigration. We needed more than just talk of border security; we needed a compeling articulation of why our high immigrant population was undermining our quality of life, our public fisc, and (though this was more than anybody could really expect) our national solidarity. But Sarah Palin gave no evidence that she had thought at all about these and a great many other subjects.

Palin's candidacy shows the limits of populism, and in recognizing this I am putting myself on the side of the elitists. Running the government really does require knowing something about policy.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Numbers USA

New to the blogroll is Numbers USA, an activist website wherein you can obtain information and e-alerts on immigration-related legislation and generate free faxes to your congressional delegation on immigration issues.

The site is by no means perfect. For instance, while of course seeking a reduction in immigration and opposing any amnesty, Numbers USA's style comes off as squishy and moderate. In its eagerness to avoid looking "racist" (and you know it will be called racist anyway), its talking points are quite vague about what the problems actually are. Further, it doesn't allow users to personalize the text of the faxes that will be sent on their behalf, but only pick from a menu of pre-written communiqués.

Still, Numbers USA is the only website that I've found that provides these services. As the only game in town, it is definitely worth signing up for.