Reflections on the “Feel Good” War

Prompted by my current reading — another novel about World War II — and the viewing of yet another film about Winston Churchill’s leadership during that war.

World War II was by no means a “feel good” war at the time it was fought. But it became one, eventually, as memories of a generation’s blood, toil, tears, and sweat faded away, to be replaced by the consoling fact of total victory. (That FDR set the stage for the USSR’s long dominance of Eastern Europe and status as a rival world power is usually overlooked.)

World War II is a “feel good” war in that it has been and continues to be depicted in countless novels, TV series, and movies as a valiant, sometimes romantic, and ultimately successful effort to defeat evil enemies: Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Most of the treatments, in fact, are about the war in Europe against Nazi Germany, because Hitler lingers in the general view as a personification of evil. Also, to the extent that the treatments are about stirring speeches, heroism, espionage, sabotage, and resistance, they are more readily depicted (and more commonly imagined) as the efforts of white Americans, Britons, and citizens of the various European nations that had been conquered by Nazi Germany.

World War II is also a “feel good” war — for millions of Americans, at least — because it is a reminder that the United States, once upon a time, united to fight and decisively won a great war against evil enemies. Remembering it in that way is a kind of antidote to the memories of later wars that left bitterness, divisiveness, and a sense of futility (if not failure) in their wake: from Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

That World War II was nothing like a “feel good” war while it was being fought should never be forgotten. Americans got off “lightly” by comparison with the citizens of enemy and Allied nations. But “lightly” means more than 400,000 combat deaths, almost 700,000 combat injuries (too many of them disabling and disfiguring), millions of lives disrupted, the reduction of Americans’ standard of living to near-Depression levels so that vast quantities of labor and materiel could be poured into the war effort, and — not the least of it — the dread that hung over Americans for several years before it became clear that the war would end in the defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

The generations that fought and lived through World War II deserved to look back on it as a “feel good” war, if that was their wont. But my impression — as a grandson, son, and nephew of members of those generations — is that they looked back on it as a part of their lives that they wouldn’t want to relive. They never spoke of it in my presence, and I was “all ears”, as they say.

But there was no choice. World War II had to be fought, and it had to be won. I only hope that if such a war comes along someday Americans will support it and fight it as fiercely and tenaciously as did their ancestors in World War II. If Americans do fight it fiercely and tenaciously it will be won. But I am not confident. the character of Americans has changed a lot — mostly for the worst — in the nearly 75 years since the end of World War II.

(See also “A Grand Strategy for the United States“, “Rating America’s Wars“, “The War on Terror As It Should Have Been Fought“, “1963: The Year Zero“, and “World War II As an Aberration“.)

Preposition Proliferation

I have a habit of speech — acquired long ago and hard to shake — which is the unnecessary use of prepositions in phrases like “hurry up” and “stand up”. I don’t write that way, but I still (too often) speak that way.

I hadn’t been conscious of the habit, probably acquired from my parents, until about 30 years ago, when a young computer whiz corrected me when I said something like “open up”. She said that “open” would suffice, and my eyes were (figuratively) opened; that is, for the first time in my life I understood that I had long been been guilty of preposition proliferation.

In addition to “hurry up”, “stand up”, and “open up”, there are “fill up”, “lift up”, and dozens of others. I leave it to you to list your favorites.

There are also phrases involving prepositions that aren’t quite wrong, but which are unnecessarily long. Consider, for example, one that is used often: “come in”. It’s really a shorthand way of saying “come into the room/office/house to which you are seeking entry”. So the “in” isn’t superfluous, but it is unnecessary.

“Come” will suffice, as will “enter”. Why aren’t those expressions used as commonly as “come in”? I suspect that it’s because “come in” sounds more cordial than the peremptory “come” and “enter”. That is to say, “come in” is “softer” and more welcoming.

Which brings me back to “hurry up”, “stand up”, and similar phrases. Perhaps the prepositions were added long ago to suggest that the speaker was making a request, not issuing a command. That is, they were added out of politeness.

Perhaps it is politeness that prevents me from giving up abandoning the practice of preposition proliferation.

More Presidential Trivia

The modern presidency began with the adored “activist”, Teddy Roosevelt. From TR to the present, there have been only four (of twenty) presidents who first competed in a general election as a candidate for the presidency: Taft, Hoover, Eisenhower, and Trump. Trump is alone in having had no previous governmental service before becoming president. There’s no moral to this story. Make of it what you will.

(See also “Presidents: Key Dates and Various Trivia“, to which this commentary has been added.)

Thinking about the Unthinkable

Thinking about the Unthinkable is the title of a book by Herman Kahn, who according to an obituary that ran in The Washington Post, believed that

nuclear war would be terrible indeed, but mankind would survive it. Since such wars are bound to take place, it behooves man to prepare for them.

He stated his case in two books that appeared in the early 1960s…. [The first book] argued that the policy of deterrence, known officially as “mutually assured destruction” (MAD), was unworkable. Thus, the techniques of survival must take a large place in policy planning.

The second book [Thinking about the Unthinkable] restated this premise and went on to criticize those who refused to face the possibility of war as acting like “ancient kings who punished messengers who brought them bad news.”

The unthinkable, in this post, isn’t how the United States might (in some fashion) survive a nuclear war, but about how the traditional mores of the United States — which are rapidly being suppressed by enemies within — can be preserved and restored to primacy in the nation’s governmental and civil institutions. The possibility that traditional mores will be suppressed, is unthinkable enough to most people — including most conservatives, I fear. Even more unthinkable is the “how” of preventing the suppression of traditional mores, because (a) it requires acknowledgment that there are enemies within, (b) that they must be treated as enemies, and (c) that they might not be defeated by traditional (electoral) means.

If you are uncomfortable with the proposition that the left (or the organized part of it in politics, the media, academia, and Big Tech) is an enemy, consider the following (typical) report from the latest Democrat presidential debate:

Former Congressman Beto O’Rourke called racism not only “endemic” to America but “foundational.” He explained, “We can mark the creation of this country not at the Fourth of July, 1776, but August 20, 1619, when the first kidnapped African was brought to this country against his will and in bondage and as a slave built the greatness, and the success, and the wealth that neither he nor his descendants would ever be able to participate in or enjoy.”

The villains in the Democratic Party story of America do not remain hundreds of years beyond our reach. Cops, gun owners, factory farmers, employees of insurance and pharmaceutical companies, Wall Street speculators, the oil industry, Republicans, and so many others who, together, constitute the majority of the nation: our Houston Dems do not look to them as fellow countrymen but as impediments, evil impediments in some cases, to realizing their ideological vision. And if that message did not come across in English, several candidates speaking Spanish not comprehended by most viewers nevertheless did not get lost in translation.

That ideological vision includes a doubly unconstitutional confiscation of weapons through executive fiat endorsed by Senator Kamala Harris and O’Rourke (“Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47”), abolition of private health insurance in a bill sponsored by Senators Sanders and Warren, former Vice President Joe Biden’s insistence that “nobody should be in jail for a nonviolent crime,” reparations for slavery supported by O’Rourke, a wealth tax proposed by Warren, Senator Cory Booker’s call to “create an office in the White House to deal with the problem of white supremacy and hate crimes,” Harris demanding that government “de-incarcerate women and children” (even ones who murder?), Andrew Yang wanting to “give every American 100 democracy dollars that you only give to candidates and causes you like,” and the entire stage endorsing open borders, if in muted terms during this debate, and amnesty for illegal immigrants.

That’s just the tip of the ideological iceberg. I urge you to read at least some of the following posts:

Intellectuals and Capitalism
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
The Barbarians Within and the State of the Union
The Culture War
Ruminations on the Left in America
The Left and Violence
The Internet-Media-Academic Complex vs. Real Life
The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy
Leftism
Leftism As Crypto-Fascism: The Google Paradigm
What Is Going On? A Stealth Revolution
“Tribalists”, “Haters”, and Psychological Projection
Utopianism, Leftism, and Dictatorship
Whence Polarization?
Social Norms, the Left, and Social Disintegration
Can Left and Right Be Reconciled?
The Fourth Great Awakening
It’s Them or Us
Conservatism, Society, and the End of America

Many of the themes of those posts are captured in “Not With a Bang“, wherein I say something that I’ve said many times and have come to believe more firmly in recent months.

The advocates of the new dispensation haven’t quite finished the job of dismantling America. But that day isn’t far off. Complete victory for the enemies of America is only a few election cycles away. The squishy center of the electorate — as is its wont — will swing back toward the Democrat Party. With a Democrat in the White House, a Democrat-controlled Congress, and a few party switches in the Supreme Court (of the packing of it), the dogmas of the anti-American culture will become the law of the land; for example:

Billions and trillions of dollars will be wasted on various “green” projects, including but far from limited to the complete replacement of fossil fuels by “renewables”, with the resulting impoverishment of most Americans, except for comfortable elites who press such policies).

It will be illegal to criticize, even by implication, such things as abortion, illegal immigration, same-sex marriage, transgenderism, anthropogenic global warming, or the confiscation of firearms. These cherished beliefs will be mandated for school and college curricula, and enforced by huge fines and draconian prison sentences (sometimes in the guise of “re-education”).

Any hint of Christianity and Judaism will be barred from public discourse, and similarly punished. Islam will be held up as a model of unity and tolerance.

Reverse discrimination in favor of females, blacks, Hispanics, gender-confused persons, and other “protected” groups will be required and enforced with a vengeance. But “protections” will not apply to members of such groups who are suspected of harboring libertarian or conservative impulses.

Sexual misconduct (as defined by the “victim”) will become a crime, and any male person may be found guilty of it on the uncorroborated testimony of any female who claims to have been the victim of an unwanted glance, touch (even if accidental), innuendo (as perceived by the victim), etc.

There will be parallel treatment of the “crimes” of racism, anti-Islamism, nativism, and genderism.

All health care in the United States will be subject to review by a national, single-payer agency of the central government. Private care will be forbidden, though ready access to doctors, treatments, and medications will be provided for high officials and other favored persons. The resulting health-care catastrophe that befalls most of the populace (like that of the UK) will be shrugged off as a residual effect of “capitalist” health care.

The regulatory regime will rebound with a vengeance, contaminating every corner of American life and regimenting all businesses except those daring to operate in an underground economy. The quality and variety of products and services will decline as their real prices rise as a fraction of incomes.

The dire economic effects of single-payer health care and regulation will be compounded by massive increases in other kinds of government spending (defense excepted). The real rate of economic growth will approach zero.

The United States will maintain token armed forces, mainly for the purpose of suppressing domestic uprisings. Given its economically destructive independence from foreign oil and its depressed economy, it will become a simulacrum of the USSR and Mao’s China — and not a rival to the new superpowers, Russia and China, which will largely ignore it as long as it doesn’t interfere in their pillaging of respective spheres of influence. A policy of non-interference (i.e., tacit collusion) will be the order of the era in Washington.

Though it would hardly be necessary to rig elections in favor of Democrats, given the flood of illegal immigrants who will pour into the country and enjoy voting rights, a way will be found to do just that. The most likely method will be election laws requiring candidates to pass ideological purity tests by swearing fealty to the “law of the land” (i.e., abortion, unfettered immigration, same-sex marriage, freedom of gender choice for children, etc., etc., etc.). Those who fail such a test will be barred from holding any kind of public office, no matter how insignificant.

Are my fears exaggerated? I don’t think so, given what has happened in recent decades and the cultural revolutionaries’ tightening grip on the Democrat party. What I have sketched out can easily happen within a decade after Democrats seize total control of the central government.

All of it will be done in ways that Democrats will justify in the name of “equality”, “fairness”, “public safety”, and other such shibboleths. (See “An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare“.) Bill Vallicella offers an example of how it will be done in his post, “The Grave Danger to the Republic of ‘Red Flag’ Laws“:

Destructive Democrats now label the National Rifle Association  a ‘domestic terror organization.’ Mind-mannered Mike of Mesa is a member and receives their publications. His mail man, though, is a flaming lefty. The mail man reports Mike to the government as a domestic terrorist on the ground that anyone who is a member of a terrorist organization is a terrorist. ATF agents break into Mike’s house in the wee hours and seize his one and only firearm, a semi-automatic pistol. A year later, Mike is able to get his gun back, but he must pay all court costs.

Not quite Nazi Germany, but getting there….

The Democrat Party is now a hard-Left party.

Kevin D. Williamson expands on that theme in “The Divine Right of the Democratic Party“:

Michelle Goldberg of the New York Times has a dream, a dream in which about half of the American people are deprived of an effective means of political representation, a dream of one-party government in which the Democrats are the only game in town — “Dare We Dream of the End of the GOP?” her column is headlined — which also is a dream of visiting vengeance upon those who dared to vote for their own interests as they understood them and thereby schemed “to stop the New America from governing.”That quotation is from a new book by Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg bearing the title R.I.P. G.O.P. Greenberg himself has a new column in the Times on the same theme. “The 2020 election will be transformative like few in our history,” he writes. “It will end with the death of the Republican Party as we know it . . . [and] liberate the Democratic Party from the country’s suffocating polarization and allow it to use government to address the vast array of problems facing the nation.”

We might understand the Goldberg-Greenberg position as “the divine right of Democrats,” who apparently have an eternal moral mandate to rule for reasons that must remain mysterious to those outside the ranks of New York Times columnists….

Restrictions on immigration and abortion, conditions on welfare for the able-bodied, lower taxes and lower spending — these are not positions associated with the Democratic party. But millions of Americans, in some cases majorities and even large majorities, hold these views. They are entitled to political representation, irrespective of the future of the Republican party as an organization. And they will have that representation, whether it goes by the brand name Republican, Liberal, Whig, or Monster Raving Loony (RIP Screaming Lord Sutch). Eliminating the Republican party would not relieve the country of the “polarization” — meaning opposition — that annoys the Goldberg-Greenberg camp.

The only way to achieve that would be through the political suppression of those with dissenting political views.

Which, of course, is the Left’s current agenda, from deputizing Corporate America to act as its political enforcer by making employment contingent upon the acceptance of progressive political orthodoxies to attempting to gut the First Amendment in the name of “campaign finance” regulation — it is the Democratic party, not the moral scolds of the Christian Coalition, that proposes to lock up Americans for showing movies with unauthorized political content — to grievously abusing legislative and prosecutorial powers to harass and persecute those with nonconforming political views (“Arrest Climate-Change Deniers”) and declaring political rivals “domestic terrorists,” as California Democrats have with the National Rifle Association.

Which is to say: It is not only the Republican party as a political grouping they dream of eliminating: It is Republicans as such and those who hold roughly Republican ideas about everything from climate change to gun rights, groups that Democrats in agencies ranging from state prosecutors’ offices to the IRS already — right now, not at some point in some imaginary dystopian future — are targeting through both legal and extralegal means.

The Democrats who are doing this believe themselves to be acting morally, even patriotically, and sometimes heroically. Why? Because they believe that opposition is fundamentally illegitimate.

Eliminating the ability of those who currently align with the Republican party to meaningfully participate in national politics is not only wishful thinking in the pages of the New York Times. It is the progressive program, from Washington to Palo Alto and beyond.

William L. Gensert is more apocalyptic in “No Matter Who Wins in 2020, There Will Be Blood“:

Tone-deaf to [the] silent majority and emboldened by victory, the new [Democrat] president will borrow Barry’s “pen and phone” and start issuing executive orders throwing open our borders, banning fossil fuels, and of course, implementing “common sense” gun control.  Buoyed by media, the new president will start with universal background checks and a gun registry.

Eventually, the president will overreach, signing an order for gun confiscation, euphemistically called, “mandatory buybacks.”  Antifa and their ilk will flood the streets in support of seizing these “weapons of war.”  Media will declare, “It’s the will of the people.”

And for the right, that will be the last straw (plastic or paper).

[M]illions will refuse to give up their guns.  And, many gun owners in this country will not go “meekly into the night,” there will be “rage” against what they will see as a usurpation of their constitutional rights.

Confiscation will go well at first, with gun owners in the cities acquiescing to the knock on the door in the middle of the night and the intimidation of, “Papers please.”

But in flyover country, a different scenario will play out.  Most gun owners will hide their weapons and most local police departments will accept that, not wanting to jail their neighbors.  Resistance will be broad, perhaps encompassing hundreds of millions of Americans.  Barack Obama, for once in the dismal history of his efforts to kill the America we love, will be proven correct.  Americans do “cling to their guns.”

The media will call it “white supremacy,” but a still unregulated internet will be rife with videos of an out of control government battling its own citizens.

The president will call for mobilizing the National Guard.  Some governors will refuse, and army units now overseas will be sent home to deal with the growing unrest.  Mistakes will be made and there will be gunfire in the streets; people will die on both sides.  The  president will desperately call for martial law.

Many Army, National Guard, and police will defect, or desert, or simply refuse orders.

What will happen after that is anybody’s guess.

I am less pessimistic about the possibility of widespread violence. But that is because I am realistic about the ability and willingness of a Democrat president to enforce gun confiscation (and more) throughout the nation, with the aid of acquiescent and cowed State governors, and the dozens of federal law-enforcement agencies under his command, including but far from limited to the FBI, the BATF, the DEA, and the U.S. Marshals Service. Only a relatively small number of (literal) die-hards will put up much of a fight, and they will go down fighting.

It can happen here.

Is there a way to prevent it? A year-and-a-half ago I offered a peaceful and constitutional option in “Preemptive (Cold) Civil War” and “Preemptive (Cold) Civil War, Without Delay“. Near the end of the latter post, I quoted a piece by Publius Decius Mus (Michael Anton), “It’s Clear That Conservatism Inc. Wants Trump to Lose“:

I believe the Left, as it increasingly feels its oats, will openly discard the pretense that it need face any opposition. It’s already started. This will rise to a crescendo during the 2020 election, which the Left will of course win, after which it will be open-season on remaining “conservative” dissent. Audits. Investigations. Prosecutions. Regulatory dictates. Media leaks. Denunciations from the bully pulpit. SJW witch-hunts. The whole panoply of persecution tools now at their disposal, plus some they’ve yet to deploy or invent.

Much of that passage covers ground previously covered in this post. The key phrase is “which the Left will of course win”, because Democrats are masters of asymmetrical ideological warfare. And they are expert in the art of “winning” close elections. States that narrowly went for Trump in 2016 can easily be flipped by means fair and foul — and it won’t take many such States to do the trick.

Further, as I noted in the same post,

[t]he squishy center [of the electorate], having been bombarded by anti-Trump propaganda for four years is just as likely to turn against him as to re-elect him.

I ended with this:

There’s no time to lose. The preemptive (cold) civil war must start yesterday.

But it didn’t. And now the fate of America hinges on the election of 2020.

Unless thinking about the unthinkable includes thinking, quickly and cleverly, about how to defeat the enemy within. And I don’t necessarily mean at the ballot box.

Thoughts about L’Affaire Bolton

I hadn’t given much thought to the Bolton business until prompted by a link my son sent to me this morning. But given Trump’s past pronouncements about foreign interventions and Bolton’s known hawkish views, it’s possible that the appointment of Bolton was a setup (by Trump) from the beginning:

First, hiring Bolton was a signal to Iran and North Korea of Trump’s seriousness — a way of getting their attention.

Second, bringing Bolton inside the tent meant that he couldn’t criticize Trump if Trump made “nice” with Iran and North Korea after his (usual) hard opening. Trump could play “good cop” to Bolton’s “bad cop”.

Third, when that ploy was no longer needed, Bolton became excess baggage. His firing means that his future criticisms of Trump’s foreign-policy actions will be taken as sour grapes. It also means that the left has been partially disarmed when it comes to criticizing Trump’s foreign-policy agenda.

I am becoming more and more convinced that Trump is a master strategist.

Insidious Leftism

I sat on the fringes of a social gathering this evening, as chauffeur for my wife, who can’t drive in the dark. Except for my wife, the other participants were all school teachers. Politics, as usual, dominated the conversation that followed the nominal topic of the evening: books. Politics, of course, means swapping stories about how much they hate Trump.

Aside from Trump there was the usual subtext of political discussions among women of that ilk: Government doesn’t exist to keep people from doing bad things to each other, it exists to do things for people. Ergo, Reagan (to name one) was just as bad as Trump, when it comes to policy. (No one is as bad as Trump when it comes to anything else.)

The belief that government exists to do things for people has been shared by every public-school teacher with whom I’ve had contact since I left public school 60 years ago. There were some exceptions when I went to school, but it’s certainly a belief that has been held by most public-school teachers for several generationsl

Given that, I am surprised and grateful that a large portion of the populace still seems to believe that the proper role of government is only to keep people from doing bad things to each other.

Scott Adams on Guns

Scott Adams’s stock in trade is provocation. Dilbert, Adams’s long-running comic strip, is a case in point. Adams packages a lot of subtle provocation behind the strip’s main premise, which is the frustration caused level-headed, logical Dilbert by the incompetence and posturing of his boss.

But in ways subtle and obvious, Adams makes known — and concisely illustrates — many unfortunate aspects of the modern, bureaucratized workplace; for example: the idiocy of hiring to fill quotas, the time-wasting fads of management “science”, and the ability of a trouble-maker protected by a group identity to cause trouble and impede productive work. In sum, Adams strikes at political correctness and its implementation by government edicts. This stance is at odds with the views of various elites, ranging from politicians of both parties to corporate executives to most members of the academic-media-information-technology complex. Adams gets away with it because the strip is (usually) humorous and its targets are caricatures, not actual persons with whom some readers might sympathize.

But when Adams ventures beyond Dilbert, to expound views on current political issues, it’s another matter. For example, according to Adams’s blog entry for July 11, 2016,

Some of you watched with amusement as I endorsed Hillary Clinton for my personal safety. What you might not know is that I was completely serious. I was getting a lot of direct and indirect death threats for writing about Trump’s powers of persuasion, and I made all of that go away by endorsing Clinton. People don’t care why I am on their side. They only care that I am.

You might have found it funny that I endorsed Clinton for my personal safety. But it was only funny by coincidence. I did it for personal safety, and apparently it is working. Where I live, in California, it is not safe to be seen as supportive of anything Trump says or does. So I fixed that.

Again, I’m completely serious about the safety issue. Writing about Trump ended my speaking career, and has already reduced my income by about 40%, as far as I can tell. But I’m in less physical danger than I was.

Despite the claimed loss of income, Adams almost certainly is wealthy beyond the aspirations of most Americans. He can attack sacred cows with impunity, knowing that (a) his personal stands don’t seem to affect the popularity of Dilbert, and (b) even if they did, he would still be extremely wealthy.

But candor doesn’t mean correctness. If it did, then I would have to bow to the likes of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Occasio-Cortez, and the dozens of dim-wits like them who are cluttering the air waves and internet with proposals that, if adopted, would turn America into a fourth-world country.

I have — finally — set the stage for a discussion of Scott Adams and guns. In a blog post dated September 1, 2019, Adams says this:

You might find this hard to believe, but I’m about to give you the first opinion you have ever heard on the topic of gun ownership in the United States.

What? You say lots of people have opinions on that topic?

No, they don’t. Everyone in the United States except me has a half-pinion on the topic. I have the only full opinion. Here it is:

My opinion: I am willing to accept up to 20,000 gun deaths per year in the United States in order to preserve the 2nd Amendment right to own firearms.

For reference, the current rate of gun deaths is about double that number. In other words, I would be open to testing some gun ownership restrictions to see if we can get the number of gun deaths down.

A full opinion on any topic considers both the benefits and the costs. A half-pinion looks at only the costs or only the benefits in isolation. Ask yourself who else, besides me, has offered a full opinion on the topic of gun ownership. Answer: No one. You just saw the world’s first opinion on the topic.

So let’s stop pretending we have differences of opinion on gun ownership. What we have is exactly one citizen of the United States who has one opinion. Until someone disagrees with me with a full opinion of their own, there is no real debate, just blathering half-pinions.

This is hardly a “full opinion” because it doesn’t explain what measures might cut the rate of gun deaths in half. Nor does it address the costs of taking those measures, which include but aren’t limited to the ability of Americans to defend themselves and their property if the measures involve confiscation of guns.

Moreover, as Adams points out in a later post (discussed below), about half of the 40,000 gun deaths recorded annually are suicides. Actually, according to this source, suicides account for 24,000 of the 40,000 gun deaths, which is 60 percent of them. Suicide by gun, on that scale, can be reduced drastically only by confiscating all guns that can be found or turned in by law-abiding citizens, or by some kind of “red flag” law that would almost certainly ensnare not just suicidal and homicidal persons but thousands of persons who are neither. If those change could be effected, I daresay that the rate of gun deaths would drop by far more than half — though almost all of the remaining gun deaths would be killings of innocent persons by criminals.

Adams is being sloppy or slippery. But in either case, his “opinion”, which is hardly the only one on the subject, is practically worthless.

In a subsequent post, Adams assesses “dumb arguments” (pro and con) about gun control. I will address the more egregious of those assessments, beginning here:

Slippery slope

Slippery slope arguments are magical thinking. Everything in this world changes until it has a reason to stop. There is nothing special about being “on a slippery slope.” It is an empty idea. Society regulates all manner of products and activities, but we don’t worry about those other regulations becoming a slippery slope. We observe that change stops when the majority (or vocal minority) decide enough is enough. To put it another way, mowing the lawn does not lead to shaving your dog.

I take these assertions to be an attempt to rebut those who say that the enactment more restrictive laws about the ownership of guns would merely be a step toward confiscation. Adams, is entirely in the wrong here. First, “we” do worry about other regulations becoming a slippery slope. Regulations are in fact evidence of the slippery slope that leads to greater government control of things that government need not and should not control. The mere establishment of a regulatory agency is the first big step toward more and more regulation. Nor does it stop even when a vocal minority — consititutionalists, economists, and lovers of liberty in general — protest with all of the peaceful means at their disposal, including carefully argued legal and economic treatises that prove (to fair-minded audiences) the illegitimacy, inefficiency, and costliness of regulations. But the regulations keep on coming (even during the Reagan and Trump administrations) because it is almost impossible, politically, to do what needs to be done to stop them: (a) enforce the non-delegation doctrine so that Congress takes full and direct responsibility for its acts, and (b) abolish regulatory agencies right and left.

I will go further and say that the Antifederalists foresaw the slippery slope on which the Constitution placed the nation — a slope that unquestionably led to the creation and perpetuation of a vastly powerful central government. As “An Old Whig” put it in Antifederalist No. 46:

Where then is the restraint? How are Congress bound down to the powers expressly given? What is reserved, or can be reserved? Yet even this is not all. As if it were determined that no doubt should remain, by the sixth article of the Constitution it is declared that “this Constitution and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof, and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shalt be the supreme law of the land, and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, any thing in the Constitutions or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.” The Congress are therefore vested with the supreme legislative power, without control. In giving such immense, such unlimited powers, was there no necessity of a Bill of Rights, to secure to the people their liberties?

Is it not evident that we are left wholly dependent on the wisdom and virtue of the men who shall from time to time be the members of Congress? And who shall be able to say seven years hence, the members of Congress will be wise and good men, or of the contrary character?

Indeed.

Despite the subsequent adoption of the Bill of Rights — and despite occasional resistance from the Supreme Court (in the midst of much acquiescence) — Congress (in league with the Executive) has for most of its 230 years been engaged in an unconstitutional power grab. And it was set in motion by the adoption of the Constitution, over the vocal objections of Antifederalists. Mr. Adams, please don’t lecture me about slippery slopes.

Next:

Criminals can always get guns

Criminals can always get guns if they try hard enough. But I’m more concerned about the 18-year old who has no criminal record but does have some mental illness. That kid is not as resourceful as career criminals. If that kid can’t get a firearm through the normal and legal process, the friction can be enough to reduce the odds of getting a weapon.

The 18-year-olds of Chicago and Baltimore don’t seem to find it difficult to get guns. Yes, it’s possible that the 18-year-old (or older) who is bent on committing mass murder at a school or workplace might be (emphasize “might”) be stopped by the application of a relevant law, but that would do almost nothing to the rate of gun deaths.

Which leads to this:

Gun deaths are not that high

About half of gun deaths are suicides. Lots of other gun deaths involve criminals shooting each other. If you subtract out those deaths, the number of gun deaths is low compared to other risks we routinely accept, such as the risk of auto accidents, overeating, sports, etc. If the current amount of gun violence seems worth the price to you, that would be a rational point of view. But it would not be rational to avoid testing some methods to reduce gun violence even further. Americans don’t stop trying to fix a problem just because only 10,000 people per year are dying from it. That’s still a lot. And if we can test new approaches in one city or state, why not?

I can’t think of a method to reduce gun violence by any significant amount that doesn’t involve confiscation, or something akin to it (e.g., extremely restrictive and vigorously enforced gun-ownership laws). The current amount of gun violence, balanced against the only effective alternative (confiscation), is “worth the price” to me and to millions of other persons who want to be able to defend themselves and their property from those who almost certainly wouldn’t comply with confiscatory laws.

Adams, clever fellow that he is, then tries to defuse that argument:

You are ignoring the lives saved by guns

No, I’m not. I’m looking at the net deaths by guns, which is what matters. If a new law improves the net death rate, that’s good enough, unless it causes some other problem.

Net deaths by guns isn’t what matters. What matters is whether the deaths are those of criminals or law-abiding citizens. I wouldn’t shed a tear if deaths rose because more citizens armed themselves and were allowed to carry guns in high-risk areas (i.e., “gun free” zones), if those additional deaths were the deaths of would-be killers or armed robbers.

I could go on and on, but that’s enough. Scott Adams is a provocative fellow who is sometimes entertaining. He is of that ilk: a celebrity who cashes in on his fame to advance ideas about matters that are beyond his ken — like Einstein the socialist.

There’s an oft-quoted line, “Shut up and sing”, which in Adams’s case (when it comes to guns, at least) should be “Shut up and draw”.

Tragic Capitalism

Capitalism, when it isn’t being used as a “dirty word” by “socialist democrats” (the correct rendering, and an oxymoron at that), simply entails three connected things:

  • There is private ownership of the means of production — capital — which consists of the hardware, software, and processes used to produce goods and services.
  • There are private markets in which capital, goods, and services are bought by users, which are (a) firms engaged in the production and sale of capital, goods, and services and (b) consumers of the finished products.
  • The owners of capital, like the owners of labor that is applied to capital (i.e., “workers” ranging from CEOs and high-powered scientists to store clerks and ditch-diggers), are compensated according to the market valuation of the worth of their contributions to the production of goods and services. The market valuation depends ultimately on the valuation of the finished products by the final consumers of those products.

For simplicity, I omitted the messy details of the so-called mixed economy — like that of the U.S. — in which governments are involved in producing some goods and services that could be produced privately, regulating what may be offered in private markets, regulating the specifications of the goods and services that are offered in private markets, regulating the compensation of market participants, and otherwise distorting private markets through myriad taxes and social-welfare schemes — including many that don’t directly involve government spending, except to enforce them (e.g., anti-discrimination laws and environmental regulations).

None of what I have just said is the tragic aspect of capitalism to which the title of this post refers. Yes, government interventions in market are extremely costly, and some of them have tragic consequences (e.g., the mismatch effect of affirmative action, which causes many blacks to fail in college and in the workplace; the withholding of beneficial drugs by the FDA; and the vast waste of resources in the name of environmentalism and climate change). But all of that belongs under the heading of tragic government.

One tragedy of capitalism, which I have touched on before, is that it leads to alienation:

This much of Marx’s theory of alienation bears a resemblance to the truth:

The design of the product and how it is produced are determined, not by the producers who make it (the workers)….

[T]he generation of products (goods and services) is accomplished with an endless sequence of discrete, repetitive, motions that offer the worker little psychological satisfaction for “a job well done.”

These statements are true not only of assembly-line manufacturing. They’re also true of much “white collar” work — certainly routine office work and even a lot of research work that requires advanced degrees in scientific and semi-scientific disciplines (e.g., economics). They are certainly true of “blue collar” work that is rote, and in which the worker has no ownership stake….

The life of the hunter-gatherer, however fraught, is less rationalized than the kind of life that’s represented by intensive agriculture, let alone modern manufacturing, transportation, wholesaling, retailing, and office work.

The hunter-gatherer isn’t a cog in a machine, he is the machine: the shareholder, the co-manager, the co-worker, and the consumer, all in one. His work with others is truly cooperative. It is like the execution of a game-winning touchdown by a football team, and unlike the passing of a product from stage to stage in an assembly line, or the passing of a virtual piece of paper from computer to computer.

The hunter-gatherer’s social milieu was truly societal [and hunter-gatherer bands had an upper limit of 150 persons]….

Nor is the limit of 150 unique to hunter-gatherer bands. [It is also found in communal societies like Hutterite colonies, which spin off new colonies when the limit of 150 is reached.]

What all of this means, of course, is that for the vast majority of people there’s no going back. How many among us are willing — really willing — to trade our creature comforts for the “simple life”? Few would be willing when faced with the reality of what the “simple life” means; for example, catching or growing your own food, dawn-to-post-dusk drudgery, nothing resembling culture as we know it (high or low), and lives that are far closer to nasty, brutish, and short than today’s norms.

There is also an innate tension between capitalism and morality, as I say here:

Conservatives rightly defend free markets because they exemplify the learning from trial and error that underlies the wisdom of voluntarily evolved social norms — norms that bind a people in mutual trust, respect, and forbearance.

Conservatives also rightly condemn free markets — or some of the produce of free markets — because that produce is often destructive of social norms.

Thanks to a pointer from my son, I have since read Edward Feser’s “Hayek’s Tragic Capitalism” (Claremont Review of Books, April 30, 2019), which takes up the tension between capitalism and conservatism:

Precisely because they arise out of an impersonal process, market outcomes are amoral. Hayek thought it unwise to defend capitalism by emphasizing the just rewards of hard work, because there simply is no necessary connection between virtue of any kind, on the one hand, and market success on the other. Moreover, the functioning of the market economy depends on adherence to rules of behavior that abstract from the personal qualities of individuals. In particular, it depends on treating most of one’s fellow citizens not as members of the same tribe, religion, or the like, but as abstract economic actors—property owners, potential customers or clients, employers or employees, etc. It requires allowing these actors to pursue whatever ends they happen to have, rather than imposing some one overarching collective end, after the fashion of the central planner.

Hayek did not deny that all of this entailed an alienating individualism. On the contrary, he emphasized it, and warned that it was the deepest challenge to the stability of capitalism, against which defenders of the market must always be on guard. This brings us to his account of the moral defects inherent in human nature. To take seriously the thesis that human beings are the product of biological evolution is, for Hayek, to recognize that our natural state is to live in small tribal bands of the sort in which our ancestors were shaped by natural selection. Human psychology still reflects this primitive environment. We long for solidarity with a group that shares a common purpose and provides for its members based on their personal needs and merits. The impersonal, amoral, and self-interested nature of capitalist society repels us. We are, according to Hayek, naturally socialist.

The trouble is that socialism is, again, simply impossible in modern societies, with their vast populations and unimaginably complex economic circumstances. Socialism is practical only at the level of the small tribal bands in which our psychology was molded. Moreover, whereas in that primitive sort of context, everyone shares the same tribal identity and moral and religious outlook, in modern society there is no one tribe, religion, or moral code to which all of its members adhere. Socialism in the context of a modern society would therefore also be tyrannical as well as unworkable, since it would require imposing an overall social vision with which at most only some of its members agree. A socialist society cannot be a diverse society, and a diverse society cannot be socialist.

Socialism in large societies requires direction from on high, direction that cannot fail to be inefficient and oppressive.

Returning to Feser:

… Hayek—who had, decades before, penned a famous essay titled “Why I Am Not a Conservative”—went in a strongly Burkean conservative direction [in his last books]. Just as market prices encapsulate economic information that is not available to any single mind, so too, the later Hayek argued, do traditional moral rules that have survived the winnowing process of cultural evolution encapsulate more information about human well-being than the individual can fathom. Those who would overthrow traditional morality wholesale and replace it with some purportedly more rational alternative exhibit the same hubris as the socialist planner who foolishly thinks he can do better than the market.

Unsurprisingly, he took the institution of private property to be a chief example of the benefits of traditional morality. But he also came to emphasize the importance of the family as a stabilizing institution in otherwise coldly individualist market societies, and—despite his personal agnosticism—of religion as a bulwark of the morality of property and the family. He lamented the trend toward “permissive education” and “freeing ourselves from repressions and conventional morals,” condemned the ’60s counter-culture as “non-domesticated savages,” and placed Sigmund Freud alongside Karl Marx as one of the great destroyers of modern civilization.

Hayek was committed, then, to a kind of fusionism—the project of marrying free market economics to social conservatism. Unlike the fusionism associated with modern American conservatism, though, Hayek’s brand had a skeptical and tragic cast to it. He thought religion merely useful rather than true, and defended bourgeois morality as a painful but necessary corrective to human nature rather than an expression of it. In his view, human psychology has been cobbled together by a contingent combination of biological and cultural evolutionary processes. The resulting aggregate of cognitive and affective tendencies does not entirely cohere, and never will.

Feser than summarizes three critiques of Hayek’s fusionism, one by Irving Kristol, one by Roger Scruton, and one by Andrew Gamble, in Hayek: The Iron Cage of Liberty (1996). Gamble’s critique, according to Feser, is that Hayek

never adequately faced up to the dangers posed by corporate power. Most people cannot be entrepreneurs, and even those who can cannot match the tremendous advantages afforded by the deep pockets, legal resources, and other assets of a corporation. Vast numbers of citizens in actually existing capitalist societies simply must work for a corporation if they are going to work at all. But that entails an economic dependency of individuals on centralized authority, of a kind that is in some ways analogous to what Hayek warned of in his critique of central planning. As with socialism, conformity to the values of centralized authority becomes, in effect, a precondition of the very possibility of feeding oneself. By way of example, we may note that the political correctness Hayek would have despised is today more effectively and directly imposed on society by corporate Human Resources departments than by government.

Feser concludes with this:

None of this implies a condemnation of capitalism per se. The problem is one of fetishizing capitalism, of making market imperatives the governing principles to which all other aspects of social order are subordinate. The irony is that this is a variation on the same basic error of which socialism is guilty—what Pope John Paul II called “economism,” the reduction of human life to its economic aspect. Even F.A. Hayek, a far more subtle thinker than other defenders of the free economy, ultimately succumbed to this tendency. Too many modern conservatives have followed his lead. They have been so fixated on socialism and its economic irrationality that they have lost sight of other, ultimately more insidious, threats to Western civilization—including economism itself. To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, a madman is not someone who has lost his economic reason, but someone who has lost everything but his economic reason.

Alan Jacobs offers an orthogonal view in his essay, “After Technopoly” (The New Atlantis, Spring 2019):

The apparent captain of technopoly [the universal and virtually inescapable rule of our everyday lives by those who make and deploy technology] is what [Michael] Oakeshott calls a “rationalist”…. [T]hat captain can achieve his political ends most readily by creating people who are not rationalists. The rationalists of Silicon Valley don’t care whom you’re calling out or why, as long as you’re calling out someone and doing it on Twitter….

Oakeshott wrote “The Tower of Babel” at roughly the same time as his most famous essay, “Rationalism in Politics” (1947), with which it shares certain themes. At that moment rationalism seemed, and indeed was, ascendant. Rejecting the value of habit and tradition — and of all authority except “reason” — the rationalist is concerned solely with the present as a problem to be solved by technique; politics simply is social engineering….

Oakeshott foresaw the coming of a world — to him a sadly depleted world — in which everyone, or almost everyone, would be a rationalist.

But that isn’t what happened. What happened was the elevation of a technocratic elite into a genuine technopoly, in which transnational powers in command of digital technologies sustain their nearly complete control by using the instruments of rationalism to ensure that the great majority of people acquire their moral life by habituation. This habituation, of course, is not the kind Oakeshott hoped for but a grossly impoverished version of it, one in which we do not adopt our affections and conduct from families, friends, and neighbors, but rather from the celebrity strangers who populate our digital devices.

In sum, capitalism is an amoral means to material ends. It is not the servant of society, properly understood. Nor is it the servant of conservative principles, which include (inter alia) the preservation of traditional morality, both as an end and as a binding and civilizing force.

I therefore repeat this counsel:

It is important (nay, crucial) to cultivate an inner life of intellectual or spiritual satisfaction. Only that inner life — and the love and friendship of a small circle of fellows — can hold alienation at bay. Only that inner life — and love and close friendships — can give us serenity as civilization crumbles around us.

What about the “Gay Gene”?

UPDATED 09/24/19

An article in Science discusses the findings of a recent “genome-wide association study (GWAS) [by Andrea Ganna et al.], in which the genome is analyzed for statistically significant associations between single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and a particular trait.” That upshot is that

genetics could eventually account for an upper limit of 8 to 25% of same-sex sexual behavior of the population. However, when all of the SNPs they identified from the GWAS are considered together in a combined score, they explain less than 1%. Thus, although they did find particular genetic loci associated with same-sex behavior, when they combine the effects of these loci together into one comprehensive score, the effects are so small (under 1%) that this genetic score cannot in any way be used to predict same-sex sexual behavior of an individual.

Further, “Ganna et al. did not find evidence of any specific cells and tissues related to the loci they identified.”

Is this a big change from what was thought previously about genes and homosexuality? Yes, according to an article in ScienceNews:

The new study is an advance over previous attempts to find “gay genes,” says J. Michael Bailey, a psychologist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., who was not involved in the new work. The study’s size is its main advantage, Bailey says. “It’s huge. Huge.”…

Previous sexual orientation genetic studies, including some Bailey was involved in, may also have suffered from bias because they relied on volunteers. People who offer to participate in a study, without being randomly selected, may not reflect the general population, he says. This study includes both men and women and doesn’t rely on twins, as many previous studies have….

This is the first DNA difference ever linked to female sexual orientation, says Lisa Diamond, a psychologist at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City who studies the nature and development of same-sex sexuality. The results are consistent with previous studies suggesting genetics may play a bigger role in influencing male sexuality than female sexuality. It’s not unusual for one sex of a species to be more fluid in their sexuality, choosing partners of both sexes, Diamond says. For humans, male sexuality may be more [but not very] tightly linked to genes.

But that doesn’t mean that genes control sexual behavior or orientation. “Same-sex sexuality appears to be genetically influenced, but not genetically determined,” Diamond says. “This is not the only complex human phenomenon for which we see a genetic influence without a great understanding of how that influence works.” Other complex human behaviors, such as smoking, alcohol use, personality and even job satisfaction all have some genetic component [emphasis added].

In sum, as an article in The Telegraph about the Ganna study explains,

[g]enes play just a small role in whether a person is gay, scientists have found, after discovering that environment has a far bigger impact on homosexuality….

[G]enes are responsible for between eight to 25 per cent of the probability of a person being gay, meaning at least three quarters is down to environment.

What’s most interesting about the commentary that I’ve read, including portions of the articles just quoted above, is what “environment” means to those who are eager to preserve the illusion of homosexuality as a condition that’s almost unavoidable.

The article in The Telegraph quotes one of the Ganna study’s authors, who is hardly a disinterested party:

As a gay man I’ve experienced homophobia and I’ve felt both hurt and isolated by it. This study disproves the notion there is a so-called ‘gay gene’ and disproves sexual behaviour is a choice.

Genetics absolutely plays an important role, many genes are involved, and altogether they capture perhaps a quarter of same-sex sexual behaviour, which means genetics isn’t even half the story. The rest is likely environmental.

It’s both biology and environment working together in incredibly complicated ways.

How does the study disprove that sexual behavior is a choice? It does so only if one makes the valiant assumption that environmental influences somehow don’t operate on behavior, and aren’t in turn shaped by behavior.

Another scientist, quoted in The Telegraph article, acknowledges my point:

There is an unexplained environmental effect that one can never put a finger on exactly it’s such a complex interplay between environment, upbringing, and genetics [emphasis added].

The Associated Press, always ready to spin news leftward, ran a story with the same facts and interpretations as those quoted earlier, but with the headline: “Study finds new genetic links to same-sex sexuality”. Which hides  the gist of the story: Homosexuality is mainly determined by environmental influences, which include and are shaped by behavioral choices.

What’s left unmentioned, of course, is that homosexuality is therefore predominantly a choice. What’s also left unmentioned are the environmental influences that are most likely to induce homosexual behavior. Here is my not-mutually-exclusive list of such influences:

  • shyness toward the opposite sex (caused by introversion, fear of rejection, self-assessment as unattractive)
  • proximity of potential sexual partners who are shy toward the opposite sex and/or open to experimentation, or who are seeking opportunities to seduce those who are shy and/or experimental
  • conditions conducive to experimentation (sleepovers, drunkenness, pornographic titillation)
  • encouraging or permissive milieu (parental encouragement/indifference, parental absence — as when a person is away at college, especially a “liberal” college populated by sexual experimenters/homosexuals)
  • general indifference or approbation (secularization of society, removal of criminal sanctions, legalization of sodomy, legalization of same-sex marriage, elite embrace and praise of non-traditional sexual behavior and roles: bisexuality, homosexuality, transgenderism).

All of those influences operate on the urge for sexual satisfaction, which is especially strong in adolescents and young adults. Given that urge, the incidence of introversion, the incidence of physical unattractiveness, the unconscionably large number of persons in college, and the social and legal trends of recent decades, it is almost shocking to learn that only about five percent of American adults think of themselves as LGBT. If you live in a “cosmopolitan” city of any size, you might believe that they account for a much larger fraction of the population. But that’s just due to the clustering effect — birds of a feather, and all that. Even if you don’t live in a “cosmopolitan” city, you may believe that far more than five percent of the population is LGBT because the producers of films and TV fare — “cosmopolitan” elites that they are — like to “celebrate diversity”. (Or, more aptly, shove it down your throat.)

In summary, I submit that most persons of the LGBT persuasion make a deliberate and often tragic choice about their “sexual identity”. (See, for example, my post, “The Transgender Fad and Its Consequences“, and Carlos D. Flores’s article, “The Absurdity of Transgenderism: A Stern But Necessary Critique“.)

I submit, further, that the study by Ganna et al. implies that conversion therapy could be effective, and that (politically correct) “scientific” opposition to it is based on the now-discredited view of homosexuality as a genetically immutable condition.

If the apologists for and promoters of LGBT “culture” were logically consistent in their insistence on homosexuality as a genetic condition, they would also acknowledge that intelligence is largely a matter of genetic inheritance. They don’t do that, generally, because they are usually leftists who subscribe to the blank-slate view of inherent equality.

If any trait is strongly genetic in origin, it is the abhorrence of homosexuality, which is a threat to the survival of the species.

UPDATE

There is some support for my hypothesis about environmental causes of homosexual behavior in Gregory Cochran’s post, “Gay Genes” at West Hunter, where he discusses the paper by Ganna et al.:

They found two SNPs [single-nucleotide polymorhpisms] that influenced both male and female homosexuality, two that affected males only, one that affected females only. All had very small but statistically significant effects….

The fraction of the variance influenced by these few SNPs is low, less than 1%. The contribution of all common SNPs is larger, estimated to be between 8% and 25%. Still small compared to traits like height and IQ, but then we knew that the heritability of homosexuality is not terribly high, from twin studies and such – political views are more heritable.

So genes influence homosexuality, but then they influence everything. Does it look as if the key causal link (assuming that there is one) is genetic? No, but then we knew that already, from high discordance for homosexuality in MZ twins.

Most interesting to me were the genetic correlations between same-sex behavior and various other traits [displayed in a graph]….

The genes correlated with male homosexuality are also correlated ( at a statistically significant level) with risk-taking, cannabis use,  schizophrenia, ADHD, major depressive disorder, loneliness, and number of sex partners. For female homosexuals, risk-taking, smoking, cannabis use, subjective well-being (-), schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, ADHD, major depressive disorder, loneliness, openness to experience, and number of sex partners.

Generally, the traits genetically correlated with homosexuality are bad things.  As far as I can see,  they look like noise, rather than any kind of genetic strategy.  Mostly, they accord with what we already knew about male and female homosexuals: both are significantly more likely to have psychiatric disorders, far more likely to use drugs.   The mental-illness association maybe looks stronger in lesbians.  The moderately-shared genetic architecture seems compatible with a noise model….

[The finding] that homosexuality was genetically correlated with various kinds of unpleasantness was apparently an issue in the preparation and publication of this paper. The authors were at some pains  to avoid hurting the feelings of the gay community, since avoiding hurting  feelings is the royal road to Truth, as shown by Galileo and Darwin.

If there are genes for bad behavior, it is the penchant for bad behavior that pushes some persons in the direction of homosexuality. But the choice is theirs. Many persons who are prone to bad behavior become serial philanderers, serial killers, sleazy politicians, etc., etc., etc. Homosexuality isn’t a necessary outcome of bad behavior, just a choice that many persons happen to make because of their particular circumstances.

P.S. I don’t mean to imply that bad behavior and homosexuality go hand-in-hand. As I suggest in the original post, there are other reasons for choosing homosexuality in those cases (the majority of them) where it isn’t a genetic predisposition.

(See also “The Myth That Same-Sex Marriage Causes No Harm“, “Two-Percent Tyranny“, and “Further Thoughts about Utilitarianism“.)

“Libertarianism”, the Autism Spectrum, and Ayn Rand

The “libertarians” at Reason.com (or one of them, at least) jump on the rightly reviled Nancy MacLean — author of Democracy in Chains — for having said that economist James M. Buchanan (a target of her book) and other early leaders of the limited-government movement “seem to be on the autism spectrum.”

A stopped watch is right twice a day. MacLean isn’t a stopped watch, but she’s right for once.

There’s something about so-called libertarians — at least the ones whose writings I’m familiar with — that led me once upon a time to say following in “The Pseudo-Libertarian Temperament” (block quotation format omitted for ease of reading):

[My] migration from doctrinaire libertarian to libertarian-conservative took place in the last decade, that is, since I began blogging in 2004. Why did my political world-view shift at so late an age? Because I came to realize, without the benefit of familiarity with Haidt’s work, that one’s political views tend to be driven by one’s temperament. That struck me as an irrational way of choosing a political stance, so — despite my own “libertarian” temperament — I came around to a libertarian brand of conservatism, one that I have sometimes called Burkean-Hayekian libertarianism (or conservatism).

The typical “libertarian” — the kind of pseudo-libertarian that I refuse to be — is stridently against religion, for “open” borders, for same-sex “marriage,” for abortion, and against war (except possibly when, too late, he sees the whites of his enemy’s eyes). Mutually beneficial coexistence based on trust and respect deriving from the common observance of traditional, voluntarily evolved social norms? Are you kidding? Only “libertarians” know how their inferiors (the “masses”) should live their lives, and they don’t blink at the use of state power to make it so. How “liberal” of them.

What temperament is typical of the pseudo-libertarian? Here’s [Todd] Zywicki [writing at The Volokh Conspiracy]:

Haidt finds that [pseudo] libertarians place a much higher emphasis on rationality and logical reasoning than do other ideologies. But that doesn’t mean that [pseudo] libertarian beliefs are less-motivated by unexamined psychological predispositions than other ideologies. Again, take the idea that [pseudo] libertarians believe that “consistency” is a relevant variable for measuring the moral worth or persuasiveness of an ideology. But that is not a self-justifying claim: one still must ask why “consistency” maters or should matter. So while [pseudo] libertarians may place a higher stated value on rational argumentation, that does not mean that [pseudo] libertarian premises are any less built upon subjective psychological foundations.

Zywicki links to an article by Haidt and others, “Understanding Libertarian Morality: The Psychological Dispositions of Self-Identified Libertarians” (PLoS ONE 7(8): e42366. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0042366), which arrives at this diagnosis of the pseudo-libertarian condition:

[They] have a unique moral-psychological profile, endorsing the principle of liberty as an end and devaluing many of the moral concerns typically endorsed by liberals or conservatives. Although causal conclusions remain beyond our current reach, our findings indicate a robust relationship between [pseudo] libertarian morality, a dispositional lack of emotionality, and a preference for weaker, less-binding social relationships [emphasis added].

That’s an uncomfortable but accurate description of my temperamental leanings, which reflect my almost-off-the-chart introversion. As the old saying goes, it takes one to know one. Thus, as I have written,

[p]seudo-libertarian rationalists seem to believe that social bonding is irrelevant to cooperative, mutually beneficial behavior; life, to them, is an economic arrangement.

Elsewhere:

[They] have no use for what they see as the strictures of civil society; they wish only to be left alone. In their introverted myopia they fail to see that the liberty to live a peaceful, happy, and even prosperous life depends on civil society….

And here:

Pseudo-libertarianism …. posits a sterile, abstract standard of conduct — one that has nothing to do with the workaday world of humanity….

That is not libertarianism. It is sophomoric dream-spinning.

Finally:

[P]seudo-libertarianism [is a] contrivance[], based … on … an unrealistic, anti-social view of humans as arms-length negotiators…. Pseudo-libertarianism can be dismissed as nothing more than a pipe-dream….

To the doctrinaire pseudo-libertarian, a perfect world would be full of cold-blooded rationalists. Well, perfect until he actually had to live in such a world.

End of quotation. (I especially like the phrase “introverted myopia”.)

What is my own “libertarian” temperament? This is from “Empathy Is Overrated” (block quotation format omitted again):

I scored 12 (out of 80) on a quiz that accompanies the article. My score, according to the key at the bottom, places me below persons with Asperger’s or low-functioning autism, who score about 20. My result is not a fluke; it is consistent with my MBTI type: Introverted-iNtuitive-Thinking-Judging (INTJ), and with my scores on the Big-five personality traits:

Extraversion — 4th percentile for males over the age of 21/11th percentile for males above the age of 60

Agreeableness — 4th percentile/4th percentile

Conscientiousness – 99th percentile/94th percentile

Emotional stability — 12th percentile/14th percentile

Openness — 93rd percentile/66th percentile

End of quotation.

I recite all of this background because I was reminded of my characterization of “libertarians” by Arnold Kling, who today quotes from a piece by Shanu Athiparambath, “Ayn Rand Had Asperger’s Syndrome“:

Ayn Rand, in all likelihood, knew nothing about the autism spectrum. But she could draw from her own life and experiences. The creator of Howard Roark worked obsessively, evening after evening. She rarely went out. Ayn Rand was extremely nervous before public functions, but there was a violent intensity about her. She observed, rightly, that boredom preserves the precarious dignity of people who love small talk. Her sensitivity to cruelty and injustice has largely escaped her readers. All her life, she collected things, and kept them in separate file folders. Her grandmother gifted her a chest of drawers to store her collections, and her mother complained about all the rubbish she collected. She loved ordering and categorizing things, something very fundamental to the autistic cognitive style. Ayn Rand ticks way too many boxes.

Kling, himself, wrote this ten years ago:

In Rand’s study…There were more than two hundred grocer’s cartons, each divided into sections and filled to the brim with colored stones Rand had collected and sorted.

This is from Anne C. Heller’s biography of Ayn Rand. Based on reading Tyler Cowen’s Create Your Own Economy, I would view this stone-sorting behavior as a symptom of someone who was somewhere on the autistic spectrum. Heller does not mention autism or Aspergers’, but there is much in her biography of Rand to lead one to speculate that Rand was a high-functioning individual with that sort of disorder.

I don’t believe for a second that Rand was unique among “libertarians”. On the contrary, I believe that she was normal (as “libertarians” go), and that her “introverted myopia” drove her political philosophy.

Free Markets and Democracy

I am not slavishly devoted to free markets.

And I am deeply cynical about democracy as it is effected through electoral politics. But to almost everyone “democracy” is electoral democracy — and a “good thing”.

Of course, a goodly fraction of the people who think of “democracy” as a good thing have a particular formulation in mind: The “people” ought to decide how resources are allocated, businesses are run, profits are distributed, etc., etc., etc. The only practical way for such things to be done is for the “people” to elect office-holders who will use the power of government to make such things happen, as they (the office-holders and their unelected bureaucratic minions) prefer them to be done.

So the end result of electoral democracy isn’t democratic at all. The masses of people who are affected by government decisions about their social and economic affairs don’t really have a say in the making of those decisions. They only have a say in the election of office-holders who offer vague and nice-sounding promises about the things that they will accomplish. Those office-holders then turn things over to bureaucrats who have their own, very specific, undemocratic views about what should be accomplished, and how.

Which brings me back to free markets. Free markets are those in which buyers and sellers, through the price mechanism, determine what products and services should be produced, at what prices, and for whom. Every market participant acts voluntarily, and no one is coerced into selling something that he doesn’t want to produce or buying something that he doesn’t want to have. (Government intervention in markets yields exactly that kind of coercion by dictating, in effect, what can and cannot be produced, under what conditions, and by whom. The consumer is therefore coerced into a range of choices, or non-choices, that aren’t the ones he would prefer.)

Free markets, in sum, are democratic, in that their outcomes are determined directly by the participants in those markets.

And so we are left with the paradox that the loudest proponents of “democracy” are responsible for subverting it by their adamant opposition to free markets.

Competitiveness in Major-League Baseball

Only 30 days and fewer than 30 games per team remain in major-league baseball’s regular season. There are all-but-certain winners in three of six divisions: the New York Yankees, American League (AL) East; Houston Astros, AL West; and Los Angeles Dodgesr, National League (NL) West.

The Boston Red Sox, last year’s AL East and World Series champions, probably won’t make it to the AL wild-card playoff game. The Milwaukee Brewers, last year’s NL Central champs, are in the same boat. The doormat of AL Central, the Detroit Tigers, are handily winning the race to the bottom, with this year’s worst record in the major leagues.

Anecdotes, however, won’t settle the question whether major-league baseball is becoming more or less competitive. Numbers won’t settle the question, either, but they might shed some light on the matter. Consider this graph, which I will explain and discuss below:


Based on statistics for the National League and American League compiled at Baseball-Reference.com.

Though the NL began play in 1876, I have analyzed its record from 1901 through 2018, for parallelism with the AL, which began play in 1901. The rough similarity of the two time series lends weight to the analysis that I will offer shortly.

First, what do the numbers mean? The deviation between a team’s won-lost (W-L) record and the average for the league is simply

Dt = Rt – Rl , where, Rt is the team’s record and Rl is the league’s record in a given season.

If the team’s record is .600 and the league’s record is .500 (as it always was until the onset of interleague play in 1997), then Dt = .100. And if a team’s record is .400 and the league’s record is .500, then Dt = -.100. Given that wins and losses cancel each other, the mean deviation for all teams in a league would be zero, or very near zero, which wouldn’t tell us much about the spread around the league average. So I use the absolute values of Dt and average them. In the case of teams with deviations of .100 and -.100, the absolute values of the deviations would be .100 and .100, yielding a mean of .100. In a more closely contested season, the deviations for the two teams might be .050 and -.050, yielding a mean absolute deviation of .050.

The smaller the mean absolute deviation, the more competitive the league in that season. Season-by-season plots of the means are rather jagged, obscuring long-term trends. I therefore used centered five-year averages of mean absolute deviations.

Both leagues generally became more competitive from the early 1900s until around 1970. Since then, the AL has experienced two less-competitive periods: the late 1970s (when the New York Yankees re-emerged as a dominant team), and the early 2000s (when the Yankees were enjoying another era of dominance that began in the late 1990s). (The Yankees’ earlier periods of dominance show up as local peaks in the black line centered at 1930 and the early 1950s.)

The NL line highlights the dominance of the Chicago Cubs in the early 1900s and the recent dominance of the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, and St. Louis Cardinals.

What explains the long-term movement toward greater competitiveness in both leagues? Here’s my hypothesis:

Integration, which began in the late 1940s, eventually expanded the pool of baseball talent by opening the door not only to American blacks but also to black and white Hispanics from Latin America. (There were a few non-black Hispanic players in major-league ball before integration, but they were notable freckles on the game’s pale complexion.) Integration of blacks and Latins continue for decades after the last major-league team was nominally integrated in the late 1950s.

Meanwhile, the minor leagues were dwindling — from highs of 59 leagues and 448 teams in 1949 to 15 leagues and 176 teams in 2017. Players who might otherwise have stayed in the minor leagues have been promoted to the major leagues more often than in the past.

That tendency was magnified by expansion of the major leagues. The AL started in 1961 (2 teams), and the NL followed suit in 1962 (2 teams). Further expansion in 1969 (2 teams in each league), 1977 (2 teams in the AL), 1993 (2 teams in the NL), and 1998 (1 team in each league) brought the number of major-league teams to 30.

While there are now 88 percent more major-league teams than there were in 1949, there are far fewer teams in major-league and minor-league ball, combined. Meanwhile the population of the United States has more than doubled, and that source of talent has been augmented significantly by the recruitment of players of Latin America.

Further, free agency, which began in the mid-1970s, allowed weaker teams to attract high-quality players by offering them more money than stronger teams found it wise to offer, given roster limitations. Each team may carry only 25 players on its active roster until the final month of the season. Therefore, no matter how much money a team’s owner has, the limit on the size of his team’s roster constrains his ability to sign the best players available for every position. So the richer pool of talent is spread more evenly across teams.

“Economic Growth Since World War II” Updated

I have updated key portions of “Economic Growth Since World War II“; specifically, these sections:

II. The Record Since World War II

VI. Employment vs. Big Government and Disincentives to Work

There’s a long way to go before the dead hand of big government has been lifted enough to allow the restoration of robust growth — last enjoyed in the 1980s (see the table following figure 3). If a Democrat is elected president in 2020, the dead hand will, instead, lie more heavily on the economy.

Conservatism vs. “Libertarianism” and Leftism on the Moral Dimension

I said this recently:

Conservatives rightly defend free markets because they exemplify the learning from trial and error that underlies the wisdom of voluntarily evolved social norms — norms that bind a people in mutual trust, respect, and forbearance.

Conservatives also rightly condemn free markets — or some of the produce of free markets — because that produce is often destructive of social norms.

What about “libertarianism”* and leftism? So-called libertarians, if they are being intellectually consistent, will tell you that it doesn’t matter what markets produce (as long as the are truly free ones). What matters, in their view, is whether the produce of markets isn’t used to cause harm to others. (I have elsewhere addressed the vacuousness and fatuousness of the harm principle.) Therein lies a conundrum — or perhaps a paradox — for if the produce of markets can be used to cause harm, that is, used in immoral ways, the produce (and the act of producing it) may be immoral, that is, inherently and unambiguously harmful.

Guns aren’t a good example because they can be (and are) used in peaceful and productive or neutral ways (e.g., hunting for food, target-shooting for the enjoyment of it). Their use in self-defense and in wars against enemies, though not peaceful, is productive for the persons and nations engaged in defensive actions. (A war that contains elements of offense — even preemption — may nevertheless be defensive.)

Child pornography, on the other hand, is rightly outlawed because the production of it involves either (a) forcible participation by children or (b) the exploitation of “willing” children who are too young and inexperienced in life to know that they are subjecting themselves to physical and emotional dangers. Inasmuch as the produce (child pornography) can result only from an immoral process (physical or emotional coercion), the produce is therefore inherently and unambiguously immoral. I will leave it to the reader to find similar examples.

Here, I will turn in a different direction and tread on controversial ground by saying that the so-called marketplace of ideas sometimes yields inherently and unambiguously immoral outcomes:

Unlike true markets, where competition usually eliminates sellers whose products and services are found wanting, the competition of ideas often leads to the broad acceptance of superstitions, crackpot notions, and plausible but mistaken theories. These often find their way into government policy, where they are imposed on citizens and taxpayers for the psychic benefit of politicians and bureaucrats and the monetary benefit of their cronies.

The “marketplace” of ideas is replete with vendors who are crackpots, charlatans, and petty tyrants. They run rampant in the media, academia, and government.

If that were the only example of odious outcomes, it would be more than enough to convince me (if I needed convincing) that “libertarians” are dangerously naive. They are the kind of people who believe that disputes can and will be resolved peacefully through the application of “reason”, when they live in a world where most of the evidence runs in the other direction. They are as Lord Halifax — Winston Churchill’s first foreign secretary — was to Churchill: whimpering appeasers vs. defiant defenders of civilization.

The willingness of leftists (especially office-holders, office-seekers, and apparatchiks) to accept market outcomes is easier to analyze. Despite their preference for government dictation of market outcomes, they are willing to accept those outcomes as long as they comport with what should be, as leftists happen to see it at the moment. Leftists are notoriously unsteady in their views of what should be, because those views are contrived to yield power. Today’s incessant attacks on “racism”, “inequality”, and “sexism” are aimed at disarming the (rather too reluctant and gentlemanly) defenders of liberty (which isn’t synonymous with the unfettered operation of markets).

Power is the ultimate value of leftist office-holders, office-seekers, and apparatchiks. The inner compass of that ilk — regardless of posturing to the contrary — points toward power, not morality. Rank-and-file leftists — most of them probably sincere in their moral views — are merely useful idiots who lend their voices, votes, and money (often unwittingly) to the cause of repression.

Leftism, in short, exploits the inherent immorality of the “marketplace of ideas”.

Is it any wonder that leftism almost always triumphs over “libertarianism” and conservatism? Leftism is the cajoling adult who convinces the unwitting child to partake of physically and psychologically harmful sexual activity.


* I have used “sneer quotes” because “libertarianism” is a shallow ideology. True libertarianism is found in tradistional conservatism. (See “What Is Libertarianism?” and “True Libertarianism, One More Time“, for example.)

(See also “Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare“, “An Addendum to Asymmetrical (Ideological) Warfare“, and “The Left-Libertarian Axis“.)

Another Thought about “Darkest Hour”

I said recently about Darkest Hour  that

despite Gary Oldman’s deservedly acclaimed, Oscar-winning impersonation of Winston Churchill, earned a rating of 7 from me. It was an entertaining film, but a rather trite offering of Hollywoodized history.

There was a subtle aspect of the film which led me to believe that Churchill’s firm stance against a negotiated peace with Hitler had more support from the Labour Party than from Churchill’s Conservative colleagues. So I went to Wikipedia, which says this (among many things) in a discussion of the film’s historical accuracy:

In The New Yorker, Adam Gopnik wrote: “…in late May of 1940, when the Conservative grandee Lord Halifax challenged Churchill, insisting that it was still possible to negotiate a deal with Hitler, through the good offices of Mussolini, it was the steadfast anti-Nazism of Attlee and his Labour colleagues that saved the day – a vital truth badly underdramatized in the current Churchill-centric film, Darkest Hour“. This criticism was echoed by Adrian Smith, emeritus professor of modern history at the University of Southampton, who wrote in the New Statesman that the film was “yet again overlooking Labour’s key role at the most dangerous moment in this country’s history … in May 1940 its leaders gave Churchill the unequivocal support he needed when refusing to surrender. Ignoring Attlee’s vital role is just one more failing in a deeply flawed film”.

I thought that, if anything, the film did portray Labour as more steadfast than the Tories. First, the Conservatives (especially Halifax and Neville Chamberlain) were made to seem derisive of Churchill and all-too-willing to compromise with Hitler. Second — and here’s the subtlety — at the end of Churcill’s speech to the House of Commons on June 4, 1940, which is made the climactic scene in Darkest Hour, the Labour side of the House erupts in enthusiastic applause, while the Conservative side is subdued until it follows Labour’s suit.

The final lines of Churchill’s speech are always worth repeating:

Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous States have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

If G.W. Bush could have been as adamant in his opposition to the enemy (instead of pandering to the “religion of peace”), and as eloquent in his speech to Congress after 9/11 and at subsequent points in the ill-executed “war on terror”, there might now be a Pax Americana in the Middle East.

(See also “September 20, 2001: Hillary Clinton Signals the End of ‘Unity’“, “The War on Terror As It Should Have Been Fought“, and “A Rearview Look at the Invasion of Iraq and the War on Terror“.)

Analysis vs. Reality

In my days as a defense analyst I often encountered military officers who were skeptical about the ability of civilian analysts to draw valid conclusions from mathematical models about the merits of systems and tactics. I took me several years to understand and agree with their position. My growing doubts about the power of quantitative analysis of military matters culminated in a paper where I wrote that

combat is not a mathematical process…. One may describe the outcome of combat mathematically, but it is difficult, even after the fact, to determine the variables that made a difference in the outcome.

Much as we would like to fold the many different parameters of a weapon, a force, or a strategy into a single number, we can not. An analyst’s notion of which variables matter and how they interact is no substitute for data. Such data as exist, of course, represent observations of discrete events — usually peacetime events. It remains for the analyst to calibrate the observations, but without a benchmark to go by. Calibration by past battles is a method of reconstruction — of cutting one of several coats to fit a single form — but not a method of validation.

Lacking pertinent data, an analyst is likely to resort to models of great complexity. Thus, if useful estimates of detection probabilities are unavailable, the detection process is modeled; if estimates of the outcomes of dogfights are unavailable, aerial combat is reduced to minutiae. Spurious accuracy replaces obvious inaccuracy; untestable hypotheses and unchecked calibrations multiply apace. Yet the analyst claims relative if not absolute accuracy, certifying that he has identified, measured, and properly linked, a priori, the parameters that differentiate weapons, forces, and strategies.

In the end, “reasonableness” is the only defense of warfare models of any stripe.

It is ironic that analysts must fall back upon the appeal to intuition that has been denied to military men — whose intuition at least flows from a life-or-death incentive to make good guesses when choosing weapons, forces, or strategies.

My colleagues were not amused, to say the least.

I was reminded of all this by a recent exchange with a high-school classmate who had enlisted my help in tracking down a woman who, according to a genealogy website, is her first cousin, twice removed. The success of the venture is as yet uncertain. But if it does succeed it will be because of the classmate’s intimate knowledge of her family, not my command of research tools. As I said to my classmate,

You know a lot more about your family than I know about mine. I have all of the names and dates in my genealogy data bank, but I really don’t know much about their lives. After I moved to Virginia … I was out of the loop on family gossip, and my parents didn’t relate it to me. For example, when I visited my parents … for their 50th anniversary I happened to see a newspaper clipping about the death of my father’s sister a year earlier. It was news to me. And I didn’t learn of the death of my mother’s youngest brother (leaving her as the last of 10 children) until my sister happened to mention it to me a few years after he had died. And she didn’t know that I didn’t know.

All of which means that there’s a lot more to life than bare facts — dates of birth, death, etc. That’s why military people (with good reason) don’t trust analysts who draw conclusions about military weapons and tactics based on mathematical models. Those analysts don’t have a “feel” for how weapons and tactics actually work in the heat of battle, which is what matters.

Climate modelers are even more in the dark than military analysts because, unlike military officers with relevant experience, there’s no “climate officer” who can set climate modelers straight — or (more wisely) ignore them.

(See also “Modeling Is Not Science“, “The McNamara Legacy: A Personal Perspective“, “Analysis for Government Decision-Making: Hemi-Science, Hemi-Demi-Science, and Sophistry“, “Analytical and Scientific Arrogance“, “Why I Don’t Believe in ‘Climate Change’“, and “Predicting ‘Global’ Temperatures — An Analogy with Baseball“.)

Predicting “Global” Temperatures — An Analogy with Baseball

The following graph is a plot of the 12-month moving average of “global” mean temperature anomalies for 1979-2018 in the lower troposphere, as reported by the climate-research unit of the University of Alabama-Huntsville (UAH):

The UAH values, which are derived from satellite-borne sensors, are as close as one can come to an estimate of changes in “global” mean temperatures. The UAH values certainly are more complete and reliable than the values derived from the surface-thermometer record, which is biased toward observations over the land masses of the Northern Hemisphere (the U.S., in particular) — observations that are themselves notoriously fraught with siting problems, urban-heat-island biases, and “adjustments” that have been made to “homogenize” temperature data, that is, to make it agree with the warming predictions of global-climate models.

The next graph roughly resembles the first one, but it’s easier to describe. It represents the fraction of games won by the Oakland Athletics baseball team in the 1979-2018 seasons:

Unlike the “global” temperature record, the A’s W-L record is known with certainty. Every game played by the team (indeed, by all teams in organized baseball) is diligently recorded, and in great detail. Those records yield a wealth of information not only about team records, but also about the accomplishments of the individual players whose combined performance determines whether and how often a team wins its games. Given that information, and much else about which statistics are or could be compiled (records of players in the years and games preceding a season or game; records of each team’s owner, general managers, and managers; orientations of the ballparks in which each team compiled its records; distances to the fences in those ballparks; time of day at which games were played; ambient temperatures, and on and on).

Despite all of that knowledge, there is much uncertainty about how to model the interactions among the quantifiable elements of the game, and how to give weight to the non-quantifiable elements (a manager’s leadership and tactical skills, team spirit, and on and on). Even the professional prognosticators at FiveThirtyEight, armed with a vast compilation of baseball statistics from which they have devised a complex predictive model of baseball outcomes will admit that perfection (or anything close to it) eludes them. Like many other statisticians, they fall back on the excuse that “chance” or “luck” intrudes too often to allow their statistical methods to work their magic. What they won’t admit to themselves is that the results of simulations (such as those employed in the complex model devised by FiveThirtyEight),

reflect the assumptions underlying the authors’ model — not reality. A key assumption is that the model … accounts for all relevant variables….

As I have said, “luck” is mainly an excuse and rarely an explanation. Attributing outcomes to “luck” is an easy way of belittling success when it accrues to a rival.

It is also an easy way of dodging the fact that no model can accurately account for the outcomes of complex systems. “Luck” is the disappointed modeler’s excuse.

If the outcomes of baseball games and seasons could be modeled with great certainly, people wouldn’t bet on those outcomes. The existence of successful models would become general knowledge, and betting would cease, as the small gains that might accrue from betting on narrow odds would be wiped out by vigorish.

Returning now to “global” temperatures, I am unaware of any model that actually tries to account for the myriad factors that influence climate. The pseudo-science of “climate change” began with the assumption that “global” temperatures are driven by human activity, namely the burning of fossil fuels that releases CO2 into the atmosphere. CO2 became the centerpiece of global climate models (GCMs), and everything else became an afterthought, or a non-thought. It is widely acknowledged that cloud formation and cloud cover — obviously important determinants of near-surface temperatures — are treated inadequately (when treated at all). The mechanism by which the oceans absorb heat and transmit it to the atmosphere also remain mysterious. The effect of solar activity on cosmic radiation reaching Earth (and thus on cloud formation) remains is often dismissed despite strong evidence of its importance. Other factors that seem to have little or no weight in GCMs (though they are sometimes estimated in isolation) include plate techtonics, magma flows, volcanic activity, and vegetation.

Despite all of that, builders of GCMs — and the doomsayers who worship them — believe that “global” temperatures will rise to catastrophic readings. The rising oceans will swamp coastal cities; the earth will be scorched. except where it is flooded by massive storms; crops will fail accordingly; tempers will flare and wars will break out more frequently.

There’s just one catch, and it’s a big one. Minute changes in the value of a dependent variable (“global” temperature, in this case) can’t be explained by a model in which key explanatory variables are unaccounted for, about which there is much uncertainty surrounding the values of those explanatory variables that can be accounted for, and about which there is great uncertainty about the mechanisms by which the variables interact. Even an impossibly complete model would be wildly inaccurate given the uncertainty of the interactions among variables and the values of those variables (in the past as well as in the future).

I say “minute changes” because first graph above is grossly misleading. An unbiased depiction of “global” temperatures looks like this:

There’s a much better chance of predicting the success or failure of the Oakland A’s, whose record looks like this on an absolute scale:

Just as no rational (unemotional) person should believe that predictions of “global” temperatures should dictate government spending and regulatory policies, no sane bettor is holding his breath in anticipation that the success or failure of the A’s (or any team) can be predicted with bankable certainty.

All of this illustrates a concept known as causal density, which Arnold Kling explains:

When there are many factors that have an impact on a system, statistical analysis yields unreliable results. Computer simulations give you exquisitely precise unreliable results. Those who run such simulations and call what they do “science” are deceiving themselves.

The folks at FiveThirtyEight are no more (and no less) delusional than the creators of GCMs.

A Footnote to “Movies”

I noted here that I’ve updated my “Movies” page. There’s a further update. I’ve added a list of my very favorite films — the 69 that I’ve rated a 10 or 9 (out of 10). The list is reproduced below, complete with links to IMDb pages so that you can look up a film with which you may be unfamiliar.

Many of the films on my list are slanted to the left (e.g., Inherit the Wind), but they’re on my list because of their merit as entertainment. Borrowing from the criteria posted at the bottom of “Movies”, a rating of 9 means that I found a film to be superior several of thhe following dimensions: mood, plot, dialogue, music (if applicable), dancing (if applicable), quality of performances, production values, and historical or topical interest; worth seeing twice but not a slam-dunk great film. A “10” is an exemplar of its type; it can be enjoyed many times.

My Very Favorite Films: Releases from 1920 through 2018
(listed roughly in descending order of my ratings)
Ratings
Title (year of release) IMDb Me
1. The Wizard of Oz (1939)  8 10
2. Alice in Wonderland (1951)  7.4 10
3. A Man for All Seasons (1966)  7.7 10
4. Amadeus (1984)  8.3 10
5. The Harmonists (1997)  7.1 10
6. Dr. Jack (1922)  7.1 9
7. The General (1926)  8.1 9
8. City Lights (1931)  8.5 9
9. March of the Wooden Soldiers (1934)  7.3 9
10. The Gay Divorcee (1934)  7.5 9
11. David Copperfield (1935)  7.4 9
12. Captains Courageous (1937)  8 9
13. The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)  7.9 9
14. Alexander Nevsky (1938)  7.6 9
15. Bringing Up Baby (1938)  7.9 9
16. A Christmas Carol (1938)  7.5 9
17. Destry Rides Again (1939)  7.7 9
18. Gunga Din (1939)  7.4 9
19. The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939)  7.8 9
20. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)  8.1 9
21. The Women (1939)  7.8 9
22. The Grapes of Wrath (1940)  8 9
23. The Philadelphia Story (1940)  7.9 9
24. Pride and Prejudice (1940)  7.4 9
25. Rebecca (1940)  8.1 9
26. Sullivan’s Travels (1941)  8 9
27. Woman of the Year (1942)  7.2 9
28. The African Queen (1951)  7.8 9
29. The Browning Version (1951)  8.2 9
30. The Bad Seed (1956)  7.5 9
31. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)  8.1 9
32. Inherit the Wind (1960)  8.1 9
33. Psycho (1960)  8.5 9
34. The Hustler (1961)  8 9
35. Billy Budd (1962)  7.8 9
36. Lawrence of Arabia (1962)  8.3 9
37. Zorba the Greek (1964)  7.7 9
38. Doctor Zhivago (1965)  8 9
39. The Graduate (1967)  8 9
40. The Lion in Winter (1968)  8 9
41. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)  8 9
42. Five Easy Pieces (1970)  7.5 9
43. The Godfather (1972)  9.2 9
44. Papillon (1973)  8 9
45. Chinatown (1974)  8.2 9
46. The Godfather: Part II (1974)  9 9
47. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)  8.7 9
48. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)  8.6 9
49. Breaker Morant (1980)  7.8 9
50. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)  8.7 9
51. Das Boot (1981)  8.3 9
52. Chariots of Fire (1981)  7.2 9
53. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)  8.4 9
54. Blade Runner (1982)  8.1 9
55. Gandhi (1982)  8 9
56. The Last Emperor (1987)  7.7 9
57. Dangerous Liaisons (1988)  7.6 9
58. Henry V (1989)  7.5 9
59. Chaplin (1992)  7.6 9
60. Noises Off… (1992)  7.6 9
61. Three Colors: Blue (1993)  7.9 9
62. Pulp Fiction (1994)  8.9 9
63. Richard III (1995)  7.4 9
64. The English Patient (1996)  7.4 9
65. Fargo (1996)  8.1 9
66. Chicago (2002)  7.1 9
67. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003)  7.4 9
68. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)  6.9 9
69. The Kite Runner (2007)  7.6 9

What? Where?

The small city of Marysville, Michigan (population ca. 10,000), is in the news because Jean Cramer, a candidate for a seat on the city council, is reported by The New York Times (and other of our “moral guardians”) to have said “Keep Marysville a white community as much as possible” during a forum at which she and the other candidates spoke.

The Times adds that

Kathy Hayman, the city’s mayor pro tempore, said during the forum that she took Ms. Cramer’s comments personally….

“My son-in-law is a black man and I have biracial grandchildren,” Ms. Hayman said.

After the forum, Ms. Cramer submitted to an  interview with the local newspaper:

… Ms. Cramer expanded on her views to The Times Herald and said that Ms. Hayman’s family was “in the wrong” because it was multiracial.

“Husband and wife need to be the same race,” Ms. Cramer told the paper. “Same thing with the kids. That’s how it’s been from the beginning of, how can I say, when God created the heaven and the earth. He created Adam and Eve at the same time. But as far as me being against blacks, no I’m not.”

Ms. Cramer told The Times Herald on Friday that she would not have an issue if a black couple moved next door to her. “What is the issue is the biracial marriages, that’s the big problem,” Ms. Cramer said. “And there are a lot of people who don’t know it’s in the Bible and so they’re going outside of that.”

I find this brouhaha rather amusing because I’m familiar with Marysville, the population of which in 2010 was

97.5% White, 0.3% African American, 0.2% Native American, 0.6% Asian, 0.4% from other races, and 0.9% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.8% of the population.

Marysville is a “suburb” of Port Huron, a shrinking city of 30,000 souls. Among the reasons for the shrinkage of Port Huron’s population is its growing “blackness”. When I toured Port Huron on my last trip to Michigan (four years ago), I saw that neighborhoods which used to be all-white have changed complexion. Marysville was the original white-flight destination for Port Huronites. Other “suburbs” of Port Huron have grown, even as the city’s population shrinks, for much the same reason.

So Ms. Cramer is guilty of saying what residents of places around the nation — upscale and downscale — believe about keeping a “white community”. Her stated reason — a Biblical injunction against miscegenation — probably isn’t widely shared. But her objective — economic-social-cultural segregation — is widely shared, nonetheless.

The only newsworthy thing about Ms. Cramer’s statement is the hypocrisy of the cosseted editors and reporters of The New York Times and other big-media outlets for making a big deal of it.

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