Monday, February 27, 2012

Lasch on Argument

A number of writers in the blog ring (specifically Trumwill and Robin, although durned if I can find the links) have discussed human reason and suggested that its evolved purpose is less to find truth than to win arguments.  I’ve been working my way through Christopher Lasch’s last book, Revolt of the Elites, and he argues in his chapter “The Lost Art of Argument” that this is less a bug than a feature:

As for the claim that the information revolution would raise the level of public intelligence, it is no secret that the public knows less about public affairs than it used to know.  Millions of Americans cannot begin to tell you what is in the Bill of Rights, what Congress does, what the Constitution says about the powers of the presidency, how the party system emerged or how it operates.  A sizable majority, according to a recent survey, believe that Israel is an Arab nation.  Instead of blaming the schools for this disheartening ignorance of public affairs, as is the custom, we should look elsewhere for a fuller explanation, bearing in mind that people readily acquire such knowledge as they can put to good use.  Since the public no longer participates in debates on national issues, it has no reason in inform itself about civic affairs.  It is the decay of public debate, not the school system (bad as it is), that makes the public ill informed, notwithstanding the wonders of the age of information.  When debate becomes a lost art, information, even though it may be readily available, makes no impression.

What democracy requires is vigorous public debate, not information.  Of course, it needs information too, but the kind of information it needs can be generated only by debate.  We do not know what we need to know until we ask the right questions, and we can identify the right questions only by subjecting our own ideas about the world to the test of public controversy.  Information, usually seen as the precondition of debate, is better understood as its by-product.  When we get into arguments that focus and fully engage our attention, we become avid seekers of relevant information.  Otherwise we take in information passively – if we take it in at all.

I have written critically of the impulse to approach issues from a partisan position prior to the acquisition of any actual knowledge about the issues themselves.  But I am reconsidering whether we can realistically expect otherwise.  Using myself as an example, in my youth I became know among my peers as a politics geek because of my relatively high level of knowledge about current world issues, but on reflection I must admit that it was “motivated knowledge” gained specifically to reinforce my own worldview.  (If I were fully candid I might admit that this is true even today, though hopefully to a lesser extent.)  On the other hand, my knowledge was no less real for having been motivated by the desire to have an informed opinion about something.

Perhaps the trick is not the disinterested pursuit of knowledge, but rather maturing our minds to be open to assimilating contrary facts as well, even to be persuaded by the weight of the evidence.  Our capacity for even this may be limited, however, and I can’t say that I know the formula for getting there in any case.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

How to Spot a Slow News Day

When the AP runs stories like this:

DENVER - Two senior officials at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., were negligent in statements they made about credentials of the school's faculty, Air Force investigators said.

Now, it strikes me as a vital bit of background to know what were the statements. Yet it isn't until the very last sentence of the article that we read this:

[Former USAFA economics associate professor David] Mullin's original complaint alleged that about 60 percent of academy cadets who took introductory calculus classes between 1996 and 2006 were taught by instructors who did not have master's degrees in mathematics, statistics or mathematics education.

Substantively, this complaint is nonsense. I know for a fact that ALL active-duty faculty at USAFA have at least a Master's degree, and all civilian faculty I know about have a Ph.D. Why an econ professor is concerned that physicists and engineers are teaching first-year calculus (a subject that all cadets are required to take) is something of a mystery. But nothing about having an MS in statistics makes an instructor a better calculus teacher than one with an MS in, say, EE.

But that's just my (and the USAFA math department's) opinion. Did somebody claim that all math instructors have MS degrees in math?

The letter [to Mullin from the IG investigators] said Brig. Gen. Dana Born, the dean of faculty, was negligent in a statement she made to a newspaper. The letter didn't identify the newspaper, but the statement by Born cited in the complaint appeared in the Colorado Springs Independent.

That's all the AP gives us. The Independent, as you might imagine, is more lively, and informative:

Among active-duty military faculty, only 40 percent have doctoral degrees, compared to 80 percent of civilian faculty. Yet Born denies allegations that military instructors are less educated than their civilian counterparts. One reason for the disparity is the academy's practice of having captains and majors with master's degrees teach low-level courses. Born asserts that all AFA instructors have graduate degrees in the areas they teach, or related areas.

So basically, Mullins (and the IG, AP, and Independent) want to quibble about whether or not physics and engineering are math "related" fields. Seriously? I took this as self-evident last summer when I was applying to the math department of our local community college for an instructor position that asked for degrees in "related areas".

What's this about, really?

Mullin seems to be engaging in a bit of trade unionism. As the Independent implies, USAFA makes a point of rotating Air Force officers through three-year instructor assignments so they can serve as roll models for the cadets. This may or may not be worthwhile, but the AF has vastly more engineers and physicists with graduate degrees than it does mathematicians proper, and more business management majors than economics majors. Mullin, whilst at USAFA, didn't like the competition from military officers, and ran to the media with his non-story.

The rest of them are just doing what they do: attempting to embarrass USAFA, no matter how thin the facts.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Conservative Power

In the course of an interesting critique of Charles Murray's book Coming Apart, the substance of which I addressed here, Andrew Gelman (via Steve Sailer) writes:

The conservative elites tend to live in different places than the liberal elites and they tend to have influence in different ways (consider, for example, decisions about where to build new highways, convention centers, etc., or pick your own examples), and those differences interest me.

Let me try to articulate what's wrong with this statement. It may well be that many if not most liberals and conservatives buy into the notion that development per se is a partisan issue; if so, it reflects badly on both of our inability to perform rational cost-benefit analysis. But I will nonetheless assert that there is nothing especially conservative about development.

But let's stipulate that conservatives are "pro development". I don't want to minimize the impact that development projects have on local communities, and making decisions about "where to build new highways" represents the power to materially impact people's lives, for good and ill. But even if we agree that nominal conservatives make these decisions, I can't see how such decisions are made on behalf of conservatism, or at least any conservatism that I would recognize.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Voldemort 2012

“Many of our oldest family trees become a little diseased over time,” Voldemort said as Bellatrix gazed at him, breathless and imploring.  “You must prune yours, must you not, to keep it healthy?  Cut away those parts that threaten the health of the rest.”

“Yes, my Lord,” whispered Bellatrix, and her eyes swam with tears of gratitude again.  “At the first chance!”

“You shall have it,” said Voldemort.  “And in your family, so in the world . . . we shall cut away the canker that infects us until only those of the true blood remain . . . .”

Voldemort raised Lucius Malfoy’s wand, pointed it directly at the slowly revolving figure suspended over the table, and gave it a tiny flick.  The figure came to life with a groan and began to struggle against invisible bonds.

“Do you recognize our guest, Severus?” asked Voldemort.

Snape raised his eyes to the upside-down face.  All of the Death Eaters were looking up at the captive now, as though they had been given permission to show curiosity.  As she revolved to face the fire-light, the woman said in a cracked and terrified voice, “Severus!  Help me!”  “Ah, yes,” said Snape as the prisoner turned slowly away again.

“And you, Draco?” asked Voldemort, stroking the snake’s snout with his want-free hand.  Draco shook his head jerkily.  Now that the woman had woken, he seemed unable to look at her anymore.

“But you would not have taken her classes,” said Voldemort.  “For those of you who do not know, we are joined here tonight by Charity Burbage who, until recently, taught at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.”

There were small noises of comprehension around the table.  A broad, hunched woman with pointed teeth cackled.

“Yes . . . Professor Burbage taught the children of witches and wizards all about Muggles . . . how they are not so different from us . . .”

One of the Death Eaters spat on the floor.  Charity Burbage revolved to face Snape again.

“Severus . . . please . . . please . . .”

“Silence,” said Voldemort,with another twitch of Malfoy’s wand, and Charity fell silent as if gagged.  “Not content with corrupting and polluting the minds of Wizarding children, last week Professor Burbage wrote an impassioned defense of Mudlboods in the Daily Prophet.  Wizards, she says, must accept these thieves of their knowledge and magic.  The dwindling of the purebloods is, says Professor Burbage,k a most desirable circumstance . . . .l  She would have us all mate with Muggles . . . or, no doubt, werewolves . . . .”

Nobody laughed this time:  There was no mistaking the anger and contempt in Voldemort’s voice.  For the third time, Charity Burbage revolved to face Snape.  Tears were pouring from her eyes into her hair.  Snape looked back at her quite impassive, as she turned slowly away from him again.

“Avada Kedavra.”

The flash of green light illuminated every corner of the room.  Charity fell, with a resounding crash, onto the table below, which trembled and creaked.  Several of the Death Eaters leapt back in their chairs.  Draco fell out of his onto the floor.

“Dinner, Nagini,”said Voldemort softly, and the great snake swayed and slithered from his shoulders onto the polished wood.

-- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, Chapter 1

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Protocols of Heartland

Contra Megan, I'm not especially upset by Peter Gleik's phishing Heartland's tax returns. I mean, I don't think liberal bloggers should get any breaks that conservative bloggers don't get, I'm just saying that my admittedly weak ethical intuition isn't as mortified as Megan's is.

Megan uses the term "wire fraud" to potentially describe Gleik's activities. Personally, I would reserve that term, both legally and ethically, for stealing actual money, or something of value the theft of which deprives the victim of the use of the thing being stolen. I will say parenthetically that I'm not trying to articulate a full-blown property rights metaphysic here, nor am I trying to piggyback this matter onto the debate over IP protection generally. I am saying that it's a Public Good for the Public to know more rather than less about a Public Organization. This doesn't justify anything and everything. But it justifies some things.

Gleik's alleged fabrication of a Heartland "climate strategy" memo, in contrast, is a Public Harm, and AGW enthusiasts deserve all the opprobrium now being heaped upon them for, basically, doing what Dan Rather did when confronted with evidence that his famous Bush National Guard memo was fake: keep pushing the lie.

It occurs to me how difficult it is to pass off a fake -- or cover your tracks -- in the internet age. Think of all the typeface experts that emerged to take on Dan Rather, or in the present case, to recover the pdf metadata pointing to dubious origins.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Φ Joins the 47%

I did my taxes this week.

As my loyal readers know, I spent the first five months of 2011 in Southwest Asia, for which trouble I was reasonably well compensated.  But did you know that, subject to certain limits which never applied in my case, money earned in a war zone is free of federal income tax?

It gets better than that.  Between my tax-free earnings and 2 1/2 months unemployment, my adjusted gross income only barely covered my itemized deductions and exemptions.  Which left me with a taxable income of:  less than $2k.  Needless to say, I'm getting every dime of the income taxes I did pay refunded.

It gets better yet.  It turns out that, with two children and a taxable income of $2k, qualified us for the poverty programs.  That’s right:  you, my good tax-paying readers, actually subsidized my refund by an additional $3k under the Earned Income Tax Credit, over and above the refund of the income taxes I actually paid!

Thank you, 53%!


Monday, February 20, 2012

Military FUBARs


WASHINGTON -- Louie Castro is a 28-year-old religion major at Florida State University who should have started the final semester of his senior year last month. Instead, he spent 12 days in jail after being arrested at Miami International Airport because of an administrative error the Army apparently made when he left the service more than nine years ago.

The Army considered him absent without leave.

Okay, thus far the story is about ordinary, every day mindless government incompetence.  A bored, inattentive file clerk in the bowels of the Pentagon hits the wrong button and everybody else is Just Doing Their Jobs.

But from here, the story crosses into full-afterburner incompetence:

Castro was told he must fly to Fort Carson, Colo. — a base where he never served, but where his old Fort Hood unit, the 4th Infantry Division, relocated in 2009 — to resume his old life as an Army private long enough for military personnel officers to fix his paperwork. In the meantime, he missed the start of classes and was forced to withdraw, costing him his financial aid. He will not graduate on schedule.

Just so we’re clear on this, an unnamed adult of legal age, given power and authority by the United States government, decided with all deliberation that the rational solution to the Army’s screw-up was to pull an honorably discharged veteran back into the Army while the information was fixed.

Now you might think that some level of the military chain of command would realize that further detaining a private citizen in contravention of his constitutional rights over what no one disputes is an Army screw-up might be, ya’ know, illegal, unethical, and abuse of power, etc., and put a high priority on finding competent people to make decisions on the government’s behalf.  And of course you would be wrong, because it turns out the government has bigger fish to fry:

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has asked the Marine Corps to investigate the photo in which a group of Marine scout snipers posed before a flag bearing the lightning-bolt double S of the Nazi SS.

"Racist and anti-Semitic symbols have absolutely no place alongside the men and women of America's armed forces," Panetta spokesman George Little said in a brief statement this afternoon.



Oops, that’s not it.  But given the dismal state of historical knowledge, it’s pretty obvious what these guys are referring to.


Which is pretty much what the Army originally decided.

The investigation being ordered by Panetta follows one carried out quietly by the Corps in 2010, when the photo was taken in Afghanistan. The Marines in the photo were with Charlie Company, 1st Marine Battalion, which is based at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

The Corps said Thursday that none of the Marines in the photo are currently assigned to Charlie Company, but did not say if any of the Marines were disciplined. The Nazi SS flag in the photo is spread just below an American flag.

But of course, that’s not good enough for the usual people:

Panetta's decision to take a deeper dive into the embarrassing photo comes as civil and human rights groups, among them the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, turned up the heat on the Pentagon Thursday, within hours of the image going viral over the Internet.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder of Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Associated Press he does not believe it was an innocent mistake and insisted the American public has a right to know what happened.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Refugees Revisited

Remember my conversation with the UNHCR/CSS girl a couple of years ago. Well, via Vanishing American, here is an article documenting the full scope of the burden refugees are infliciting on taxpayers and local communities. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Racis’ Thought o’ the Day

Today’s post was supposed to be a discussion of the data mining program I wrote for the previous two posts.  While I was attempting to use it the other day, however, I discovered that the website had changed it’s HTML format in a way I haven’t figured out how to exploit yet.  So in lieu of a exposition on Excel VBA, I offer the following question for general consideration:

Do white people smell funny/bad/distinctive to black people?

This question involves one of my earliest childhood observations about race, yet it was something that, at least among upper middle class whites in the South, nobody ever talked about.  I mean, it was so obviously going to be a sensitive issue. 

The only public mention of the issue I can recall was in a short story I read in a literature class in college.  It was in (I think) an anthology entitled (I think) Tales of the Southern Gothic, although 15 minutes of googling has failed to turn up a book by that name.  One of the contributors was still alive in the 80s and came to speak to a packed auditorium on our campus.

Anyway, this was primarily an issue among blacks I knew in school in the South, but it hasn’t really been one since then, mostly because I don’t know a lot of blacks now, and the ones I do are other professionals.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Dr. Φ Does LAUSD

There are approximately 635 public and public charter elementary schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Of these, has both demographic and rating data on around 550.


Three quick observations:

  • Damn!  I mean, really, I don’t need any mathematics to recognize the implications of this graph.
  • It appears that my earlier observation, based on the schools in the Unnamed Metropolitan Area near which Φ resides, didn’t hold up.  If anything, school quality in LAUSD is relatively robust under 20% NAM; only at percentages above that does average school quality start to decline.  That said, there are differences between the two jurisdictions.  Hispanics don’t have much of a presence in UMA, whereas in LAUSD they outnumber blacks (though multiple regression on the LAUSD show blacks and Hispanics to be mostly interchangeable in terms of their impact on school quality).  Further, UMA is a slowly dying rust-belt city where nothing much happens demographically, whereas the population of LA has been in considerable turmoil over several decades because of immigration and white flight.  But I don’t have a testable hypothesis on why this might make a difference.
  • The data appear upper triangular.  They suggest that high NAM percentages and high GSRs are not inconsistent, although relatively unlikely.  But low NAM percentages seem to put a floor on the GSR.

On to the stats.  LINEST() yields:

LRA for GSR vs. NAM**

-0.069377883 10.64438456
0.002510365 0.212176384
0.58224699 1.503263987
763.7798947 548
1725.991803 1238.371833

Again, I have a killer coefficient of determination: R2 = 0.58, which means 58% of the variation in the data is accounted by the NAM percentage alone.  The slope of the regression, m = –0.07, is middling.  The implication is that every increase in NAM student body percentage  of 14.4% causes a drop of one GSR.  My intuition is that, given the bounds of the data (1 < GSR < 10, 0% < NAM < 100%), the largest slope I could expect would be m=0.1.

I will issue the usual caution to the HBDers (in which category I include myself):  most of what we are seeing here is self-sorting.  It doesn’t matter what the educability of NAMs or their effect on school quality actually are:  a generalized belief among parents of all races that NAMs adversely affect education will cause parents for whom education is a priority to flee to low NAM schools, leaving behind parents for whom it . . . isn’t.  This alone might generate patterns like we see here.

* As you can see, my Excel graphing skills have improved, although I still haven’t figured out how to set upper and lower bounds on the axes.

** For a full explanation of the LINEST() output, consult the Excel documentation or see my earlier post.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Great Schools LRA for Fun & Profit

I collected* the rating and demographic data for the elementary and middle schools in the greater metropolitan area of which Phi’s lily-white little burg is a satellite.

There were 68 schools on the list, of which 60 had both demographic data and a rating.  Interestingly, the schools in Phi’s lily-white little burg were included among those returned in a search of the greater metropolitan area (and indeed accounted for three of the four schools rated “10”) even though we are independently incorporated and have our own school district, while most of the other satellite cities were not included.  This may skew the results, but I’ve left them as they are for the purposes of this post.

MS Excel’s linest() function gives it’s output in the following format:


The m and b values in the first row are the coefficients of the regression line in the format y = m1x1+m2x2+ . . . + mnxn+b and the other values are listed below:

Standard error value for the constant b
R2 Coefficient of determination
Sey Standard error value for y
F F statistic
Df Degrees of freedom
Ssreg Regression sum of squares
Ssresid Residual sum of squares

While I will provide all the output from the linest() function, if I understand what I’m doing, the value that interests us the most is the coefficient of determination, R2, which measures the percent of the variation accounted for by the inputs.  Note that R is the correlation coefficient.  The Se and SS values are relative to the scale, and F is only useful for comparing the results of a controlled experiment.

Here are my results:

GSR by percent of student body that is African-American












Note that with only one input variable, there is only one value of m.

32.8% of the variation in a school’s GreatSchools rating is accounted for by the percent of the student body that is black.  The correlation coefficient is therefore 0.57.

Not all correlation coefficients are mathematically meaningful.  It depends on the number of samples.  In the back of my text, Elementary Statistics (Triola), I have a table listing the critical values of R for two different α values.  (α is basically the probability that, assuming no relationship between x and y, I could get a set of results with these statistics in a random draw).  For a sample size of 60, the critical values of R are .254 for α = .05 and .330 for α = .01.  Since R = 0.57, I can be pretty confident that my results are statistically significant.

Whether or not they are operationally significant is another question.  My m = –0.042 implies that in order to drop my GSR by a single value, I would need to increase the black share of its population by almost 24%.

Here are the results for Hispanics.

GSR by percent of student body that is Hispanic

-0.177847114 4.477951118
0.110464223 0.45456173
0.042779373 2.796730734
2.59209171 58
20.27457098 453.6587624


A much stronger m value, but the correlation is not significant.  In only two schools in my sample does the percent Hispanic reach double digits.

Let’s find the results for the sum of the black and Hispanic percentages:

GSR by percent of Student Body that is NAM

-0.04541439 6.316920233
0.00789716 0.494386832
0.363133052 2.281229537
33.07082753 58
172.1008577 301.8324756


A slightly higher coefficient of determination.  Again, though, not much in the way of operational significance.

Let’s look at a scatter plot GSR by percent NAM:


(Please pardon the crudity of this graph.  I’m a Matlab guy, not an Excel guy, and I was too lazy to figure out how to label or trim the axes.)

A couple of observations:

The data appear to thin out in the 40 – 80% range.  Most of the schools are either NAM or not-NAM.

The effect of NAM percentage looks concentrated in the 0 to 20-25% range.  Once the NAM percentage reaches this threshold, the school on average seems to be as bad as it’s going to get.

I suppose the follow-up question would be to divide my data into two groups, and consider the 0-25% NAM and 25-100% NAM groups separately.

GSR by NAM percent 0 – 25

-0.29849 9.582504
0.057868 0.775821
0.558875 1.881964
26.60551 21
94.23112 74.37758


Now we’re cooking with gas!  My coefficient of determination is now almost 56%, and my correlation coefficient easily meets the more stringent critical threshold for my reduced data set for α = .01.  My new slope m = –0.298 means that in the range 0 – 25%, my GSR will fall by one for each increase of 3.35% in my NAM percentage, a definite operational significance.

This is only one metropolitan area.  I had the advantage of choosing a city with fairly equal percentages of whites and blacks, so I didn’t suffer from range restriction.  I will test these observations against other data sets if I have time, but I encourage my readers who have MS Office to undertake their own studies.

* Getting data from Great Schools can be tedious if done manually.  I will discuss this issue in a subsequent post.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Why Φ Doesn’t Support Ron Paul (and Other Tales)

Mangan looks up the top contributors to Mitt Romney and Ron Paul.

Mitt Romney
Goldman Sachs $367,200
Credit Suisse Group $203,750
Morgan Stanley $199,800
HIG Capital $186,500
Barclays $157,750
Kirkland & Ellis $132,100
Bank of America $126,500
PriceWaterhouseCoopers $118,250
EMC Corp $117,300
JPMorgan Chase & Co $112,250

Ron Paul
US Army $24,503
US Air Force $23,335
US Navy $17,432
Mason Capital Management $14,000
Microsoft Corp $13,398
Boeing Co $10,620
Google Inc $10,390
Overland Sheepskin $10,350
IBM Corp $8,294
US Government $7,756


Goldman gave a cool $1M to The One in 2008, along with $400K to Hillary! and $240 to the McCainiac.  It will be interesting to watch what happens to Goldman’s contributions once Romney has the nomination.  These numbers from Mangan’s post are from mid-January.  I note that Ron Paul’s contributions from the armed service have trebled in the last 3 weeks, Romney’s have only increased by 50% from his big donors.

Like Mangan, I believe that Paul’s donor base speaks better of him than Romney’s speaks of Romney.

But I don’t support him.

. . . .

Newt Gingrich, objectively, is a moral dirtbag. The exact contours of his dirtbagginess have of course been the subject of debate, but even contruing the facts as we know them in the most favorable possible light, the essence of the man's character remains firmly in dirtbag territory. Yet I understand the frustration of South Carolina voters who, having listened to the mainstream media spend the '90s insisting that Clinton's sexcapades were irrelevant, and knowing now that it actively covered up John Edwards' misbehavior, watch Gingrich's private life picked apart as a matter of national importance. Understand, that is, but do not concur with them that the appropriate response to that frustration is giving him the Republican nomination.

. . . .

Paul has done some annoying things this campaign.  I’m not bothered by his infamous newsletters so much as by the implausible denials.  And I’m not happy about his attacks on Michelle Bachmann in Iowa.  But I might be able to overlook these things if I thought his presidency would be a net benefit to us.

. . . .

In light of Mitt Romney's "gaffe" in organizing his policy priorities on behalf of the middle class rather the underclass, conservative pundits have been lining up to intone about how the "primary victims of welfare are the recipients" and, more specifically, how the benefit structure disincentivizes economic mobility. This last is almost certainly true: most of the poverty programs all start to phase out at the same income level, leaving the poor with a marginal tax rate of often greater that 100% through a fairly wide bracket. But it's time we were honest with ourselves and stated the truth plainly: the evidence for a significant segment of aspirational poor ready to join the "ownership society" but for welfare-as-we-know-it is vanishingly small. The reality of the underclass is that there is no policy mix short of natural selection capable of brining them to middle class norms and outcomes. Romney is right to ignore them; his only gaffe was to be honest about it.

. . . .

What would a President Ron Paul accomplish? I don't mean what he wants to accomplish; Paul has been most forthright on that. I mean, assuming he was elected president, but given the Congress and SCOTUS that he would actually deal with given the actual and prospective office holders, what policies would he be able to enact.

It's pretty easy to list the ones that he would not enact:

  • He would not abolish the federal reserve and return to the gold standard (a proposal about which I am in any case deeply apprehensive). These were created and maintained by Congress, and Congress would never dissolve them.

  • He would not abolish affirmative action or the civil rights laws. These are held in place by the federal judiciary. Paul might be able to make the EEOC a little less overtly anti-white, but the laws would remain as they are.

  • He would not abolish welfare. Congess again.

  • He would not meaningfully advance the cause of states' rights. Again, Congress and the Judiciary would thwart him at every turn.

  • He would not remake the judiciary. If anything, his nominees would enjoy less presumption of confirmation given his stated view.

What would President Paul accomplish?

  • He might redeploy our troops and ease the burdens of the security state. These are primary executive branch functions, and Paul would enjoy broad latitude here. But there are some important caveats. First, our liberties would not actually be restored; President Paul would merely exercise more restraint than his predecessors. The laws would remain on the books. Second, even these are not guaranteed: Obama, after all, swept into office planning to do these same things, but lacked the fortitude to bend the bureaucracy to his will rather than the other way around. We should not assume that Paul would behave any differently.

  • Did I miss anything?

Oh, yeah, that's right: immigration. The problem is that Paul's positions on immigration line up perfectly with the Democrats, and are measurably worse than Romney's positions. And unlike his other agenda items, here he would come into office with a Congress eager to do business.

Let me pause to state the obvious: long-term, white America is boned, and none of the candidates presently running is able or willing to stop it. This is about the least bad alternatives. The good that Paul would actually accomplish I don't especially care about. And the bad would be worse than Romney is offering us.

Monday, February 06, 2012

My Doppelgänger

I paused to reflect, on reading Steve Sailer's review of Jodi Kantor's new book, The Obamas, how much in common I have with the president, in lots of ways I Don't Blog About, and in two ways I will:

  • We both spent part of our growing up overseas, I in South America, Obama in Hawaii and Indonesia (Hawaii being a foreign country in every way that matters). We are both in many respects products of and at home in an international milieu.

  • Nothwithstanding our backgrounds, or perhaps as a reaction to them, we have both constructed for ourselves radical identities that are at some level inauthentic. Like Obama, I was raised by cultural elitists, and still take comfort at the strains of the Morning Edition theme. Unlike Obama, I actually attended public schools rural, urban, and suburban (and, I should add, with far more American blacks than Obama ever saw), an experience I hated without reservation. But despite my alienation from just about every aspect of modern American culture, I atavistically identify as a nationalist. Obama, for his part, and with the exception of his apparently genuine obsession with NBA basketball, has exactly nothing in common with the descendants of American slaves either genetically or culturally, yet has taken for himself the role of their avatar.

These two may be related. Were I of a more philosophical bent, I might speculate that Obama and I are attempting to create for ourselves membership in mythic communities of a kind we found only fleetingly in our lives as we actually lived them. But it's 4:00 a.m. and I'm not really very philosophical.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Arbitrary and Capricious


The Air Force has reprimanded a group of Airmen who photographed themselves posing in and around a coffin last year. None of the Airmen was found to have committed any crime, but the photo did result in administrative discipline that may have career consequences.

"I heard and read the public's reaction to this photograph. I shared their concern and immediately took steps to prevent this sort of behavior and these unfortunate outcomes," said Col. Eric Axelbank, commander of the 37th Training Wing at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.<\

So, basically, a group of enlisted men engaged in some mordant humor (an entirely rational response to the possibility of dying in a pointless, dead-end war fought solely to advance Petraeus' and Obama's political careers) in a way that didn't break any rules. But . . . a journalist wrote something bad about it, so . . . .

The thing is, the punishment only "prevents this sort of behavior" if it is a predictable consequence. In other words, the behavior should have been specifically proscribed (it wasn't) or easily inferred as such (I'm not seeing this either).

But with fallen troops still returning in flag-draped coffins at Dover AFB, Del., many did not see the humor or intended message of the photo. The photo seemed "to slight our fallen heroes," the Air Force statement said.

I'm feeling your concern for our "fallen heros".

"While the members involved were expressing their creativity by taking a candid class photo, they lost sight of our core values and the messages they would broadcast while in uniform," Axelbank said. "The photo was in poor judgment and it did not reflect the high standards and professionalism of the United States Air Force."

I've heard the word "professionalism" slung around for 20 years now. It means exactly what those in power want it to mean, nothing more, nothing less.

On the other hand, these a$$holes should have known better.