Media Matters & Reportage

Rock and Roil

Have you noticed the prevalent use of emotive words in “news” headlines and stories? I’m referring to verbs like “rock” and “roil” and nouns like “chaos” that seem to occur with great frequency, especially since the inauguration of Donald Trump as president.

Trump’s pronouncements and policies are said to “rock” the foundations of the republic, and “roil” the political scene. It is only natural that such pronouncements and policies emanate from a White House that is “mired” in “chaos.”

Whatever happened to neutral language in headlines and stories? I submit that it vanished with the pretense of objectivity during the Vietnam War. I’m not ignoring the age of “yellow journalism” around the turn of the twentieth century. But it seems to me that reportage became rather neutral, by comparison, in the several decades leading up to the 1960s. It was then that the media began blatantly to take sides instead of relying on subtle forms of bias: what to cover, what “facts” to present, where to position a story, and so on. The subtlety is still there, but as a mere adjunct to overt bias. Were I writing a headline about it, I would say the the bias has become “shrill” since the ascendancy of Donald Trump.

The advantage of the blatant side-taking is that readers, listeners, and viewers are left in no doubt as to the leanings of the reporters, editors, and publishers of particular media outlets. The disadvantage is that many of those same readers, listeners, and viewers are too gullible to see where they are being led by “rock” and “roil,” and take it for granted that such-and-such a policy is in fact unwise, unconstitutional, and widely resisted among the electorate.

Here’s the (obvious) key to understanding the outpourings of most media outlets: They consist of pro-governement propaganda when Democrats are in power and anti-anti-government propaganda when Republicans are in power.

H.L. Mencken’s Final Legacy

I used to think of H.L. Mencken as a supremely witty person. My intellectual infatuation began with his Chrestomathy, which I read with relish many years ago.

In recent decades my infatuation with Mencken’s acerbic wit dimmed and died, for the reason given by Fred Siegel in The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class. There, Siegel rightly observes that Mencken “learned from [George Bernard] Shaw how to be narrow-minded in a witty, superior way.”

I was reminded of that passage by Peter Berger’s recent account of Mencken’s role in the marginalization of Evangelicals:

The Evangelical sense of marginalization can be conveniently dated—1925. Until then Evangelical Protestantism was at the core of American culture. Think of the role it played in the anti-slavery and temperance movements. Between 1910 and 1915 a series of four books was published under the title The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth. The term “fundamentalism” derives from this title—today a pejorative term applied to all kinds of religious extremes. The aforementioned books were hardly extreme. They came out of the heart of mainline Protestantism, which today would be called Evangelical. Many of the authors were orthodox Presbyterians, then-centered at Princeton Theological Seminary, which in the 1920s split into an orthodox Calvinist and a “modernist” faculty. What happened in 1925 was a watershed in the history of American Evangelicalism—the so-called “monkey trial.”

Under the influence of a conservative Protestant/Evangelical lobby the state of Tennessee passed a law prohibiting the teaching of evolution in public schools. John Scopes, a school teacher in Dayton, Tennessee, was charged with having violated the law. The trial turned into a celebrity event. William Jennings Bryan, former presidential candidate and prominent Evangelical leader, volunteered to act for the prosecution, and the famous trial lawyer Clarence Darrow defended Scopes. The trial had virtually nothing to do with the offence in question (which was not in doubt). Bryan used it to defend his literal understanding of the Bible, Darrow to make Bryan ridiculous. In this he succeeded, reducing Bryan to petulant babbling. Both men were propagandists for two forms of “fundamentalism,” a primitive view of the Bible against a primitive view of science. Unfortunately for Bryan’s reputation, the brilliant satirist H.L. Mencken covered the trial for the Baltimore Sun. His account was widely reprinted and read. He was contemptuous not only of Bryan but of Christianity and of the local people (he called them “yokels”). The event had an enormous effect on American Evangelicals. It demoralized them, making them feel marginalized in a hostile environment. The result was an Evangelical subculture, turned inward and defensive in its relation to the outside society. Mark Noll sums this up in the title of one of his books, The Closing of the Evangelical Mind. [“Religion, Class, and the Evangelical Vote,” The American Interest, November 23, 2016]

I would have to read and consider Noll’s book before I sign on to Berger’s claim that it was Mencken’s account of the “monkey trial” which demoralized and marginalized Evangelicals. But it didn’t help, and it ushered in 90 years of Mencken-like portrayals of Evangelicals and, more generally, of the mid-to-low-income whites who populate much of what’s referred to sneeringly as flyover country. As Berger observes,

During the 2008 campaign Obama slipped out this description of people in economically deprived small towns: “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.” And during the just-concluded presidential campaign Clinton described Trump voters as a “basket of deplorables.”

Is it any surprise that Trump — who appealed strongly to the kinds of people disparaged by Mencken, Obama, and Clinton — carried these States?

  • Florida — won by Obama in 2008 and 2012
  • Pennsylvania — the first time for a GOP presidential candidate since 1988
  • Ohio — won by Obama in 2008 and 2012
  • Michigan — the first GOP presidential win since 1988
  • Wisconsin — last won by a GOP candidate in 1984
  • Iowa — won by the Democrat presidential candidate in every election (but one) since 1984.

And how did Trump do it? Mainly by running strongly in the areas outside big cities. It’s true that Clinton outpolled Trump nationally, but so what? It’s the electoral vote that matters, and that’s what the candidates strive to win. Trump won it on the strength of his appeal to the descendants of Mencken’s yokels: Obama’s gun-clingers and Clinton’s deplorables.

A digression about election statistics is in order:

Based on total popular votes cast, 2016 surpasses all previous elections by more than 5 million votes (they’re still being counted in some places). Trump now holds the record for the most votes cast for a GOP presidential candidate. Clinton, however, probably won’t match Obama’s 2012 total, and certainly won’t match his 2008 total (the size of which testifies to the gullibility of a large fraction of the electorate).

Did the big turnout for Gary Johnson (pseudo-libertarian) and the somewhat-better-than 2012 turnout for Jill Stein (socialist crank) take votes that “should have been” Clinton’s? Obviously not. Those who cast their ballots for Johnson and Stein were, by definition, voting against Clinton (and Trump).

But what if Johnson and Stein hadn’t been on the ballot and some of the votes that went them had gone instead to Clinton and Trump? My analyses of several polls leads me to the conclusion that the presence of Johnson and Stein hurt Trump more than Clinton. Johnson voters would have defected to Trump more often than to Clinton. Stein voters would have defected to Clinton more often than to Trump. On balance, because there were three times as many Johnson voters as Stein voters, Trump (not Clinton) would have done better if the election had been a two-person race. Moreover, Trump improved slightly on recent GOP showings among blacks and Hispanics.

What about Clinton’s popular-vote “victory”? As of today (11/24/16) she’s running ahead of Trump by 2.1 million votes nationally, and by 3.8 million votes in California and 1.5 million votes in New York. That leaves Trump ahead of Clinton by 3.2 million votes in the other 48 States and D.C. I could go on about D.C. and the Northeast in general, but you get the idea. Clinton’s “appeal” (for want of a better word) was narrow; Trump’s was much broader (e.g., winning a higher percentage than Romney did of the two-party vote in 39 States). Arguably, it was broader than that of every Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan won a second term in 1984.

The election of 2016 probably rang down the final curtain on the New Deal alliance of white Southerners (long-since defected), union members (a dying breed), and other denizens of the mid-to-low-income brackets. The alliance was built on the illusory success  of FDR’s New Deal, which prolonged the Great Depression by several years. But FDR, his henchmen, his sycophants in the media and academe, and those tens of millions who were gulled by him didn’t know that. And so the Democrat Party became the majority party for the most of final eight decades of the 20th century, and has enjoyed periods of resurgence in the 21st century.

The modern Democrat Party — the one that arose in the 1950s with Adlai Stevenson at its helm — long held the allegiance of the yokels, even as it was betraying them by buying the votes of blacks and Hispanics and trolling for the votes of marginal groups (queers, Muslims, and “liberal arts” majors) in order to wear the mantle of moral superiority. The yokels were taken for granted. Worse than that, they were openly disdained in Menckian language.

Trump wisely avoided the Democrat-lite stance of recent GOP candidates — the two Bushes, McCain, and Romney (Dole was simply a ballot-filler) — and went after the modern descendants of the yokels. And in response to that unaccustomed attention, huge numbers of mid-to-low-income voters  — joined by those traditional Republicans who wisely refused to abandon Trump — produced a stunning electoral upset that encompassed most of the country.

As for Mencken, where he is remembered at all it is mainly as a curmudgeonly quipster with views that wouldn’t pass muster among today’s smart set. Though Mencken’s flirtation with anti-Semitism might commend him to the alt-left.

Here, then, is H.L. Mencken’s lasting legacy: There has arisen a huge bloc of voters whose members are through with being ridiculed and ignored by the pseudo-sophisticates who lead and populate the Democrat Party. It is now up to Trump and the Republican Party to retain the allegiance of that bloc. And if they do not, a third party will arise, and — for the first time in American history — it will be a third party with long-lasting clout. Think of it as a more muscular incarnation of the Tea Party, which was its vanguard.

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Related reading:
Mike Lee, “Conservatives Should Embrace Principled Populism,” National Review, November 24. 2016
Yuval Levin, “The New Republican Coalition,” National Review, November 17, 2016
Henry Olsen, “For Trump Voters There Is No Left or Right,The Washington Post, November 18, 2016
Fred Reed, “Uniquely Talented: Only the Democrats Could Have Lost to Trump,” Fred on Everything, November 24, 2016 (Published after this post, and eerily similar, in keeping with the adage that great minds think alike.)

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Related posts:
1963: The Year Zero
Society
How Democracy Works
“Cheerful” Thoughts
How Government Subverts Social Norms
Turning Points
The Twilight’s Last Gleaming?
Winners and Losers
“Fairness”
Pontius Pilate: Modern Politician
Should You Vote for a Third-Party Candidate?
My Platform
How America Has Changed
Civil War?

Babbling Brooks

David Brooks has finally gone off the deep end, unhinged by the election of Donald Trump. He just can’t understand it, even though he’s supposedly a conservative. But being a conservative on the payroll of The New York Times means being more polite to left-wingers than Paul Krugman is to conservatives and libertarians.

So here he is, in full flight:

If your social circles are like mine, you spent Tuesday night swapping miserable texts. Not all, but many of my friends and family members were outraged, stunned, disgusted and devastated….

I was on PBS trying to make sense of what was happening while trying to text various people off the ledge….

Populism of the Trump/Le Pen/Brexit variety has always been a warning sign, a warning sign that there is some deeper dysfunction in our economic, social and cultural systems….

Trump’s bigotry, dishonesty and promise-breaking will have to be denounced. We can’t go morally numb. But he needs to be replaced with a program that addresses the problems that fueled his ascent.

After all, the guy will probably resign or be impeached within a year. The future is closer than you think. [“The View from Trump Tower,” The New York Times, November 11, 2016]

Social circles? I ain’t got no frigging social circles. I’ve got family and friends. Only The Crust of Manhattan, Vail, and San Francisco have social circles. Where I grew up a social circle was several boys huddled around a game of marbles.

Which just goes to show you what a clueless twit David Brooks is.

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Related reading:

Columnist, Heal Thyself

David Brooks’s recent column, “The Protocol Society,” is a typical Brooksian muddle, in which he attributes evolutionary changes in economic behavior to the “discoveries” of contemporary economists.

Our Miss Brooks

Some time back, Tom Smith referred to the NYT columnist and pseudo-conservative David Brooks as “prissy little Miss Brooks.” Smith’s recycling of the appellation has not diminished its satirical effect — or its substantive accuracy.

Miss Brooks recently cringed when she contemplated an America without government, in the aftermath of a victorious Tea Party movement. Miss Brooks, it seems, is besotted with the manliness of limited-but-energetic governments.

Miss Brooks’s “Grand Bargain”

The idiot known as David Brooks — The New York Times‘s idea of a conservative — is true to form today….

In other words, Republicans should simply give in, on Miss Brooks’s say-so.

More Fool He

Fool David once, Obama’s to blame. Fool David twice, David’s to blame. Fool David thrice (at least), and you know that David’s no sap — he’s a fool.

David Brooks, Useful Idiot for the Left

Brooks begins by assuming that the Hamiltonian approach to government is the correct one: An assertion that Madison and Jefferson would refute.

Beyond that, Brooks ignores the evidence of his own analysis, which is that each aggrandizement of governmental power (economic and social) — beginning with Hamilton’s nationalism — fostered subsequent expansions of governmental power.

Baseball or Soccer? David Brooks Misunderstands Life

Brooks’s latest offering to the collectivist cause is “Baseball or Soccer?”…

Brooks has gone from teamwork — which he gets wrong — to socialization and luck. As with Brooks’s (failed) baseball-soccer analogy, the point is to belittle individual effort by making it seem inconsequential, or less consequential than the “masses” believe it to be.

You may have noticed that Brooks is re-running Obama’s big lie: “If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen.”…

The foregoing parade of non sequitur, psychobabble, and outright error simply proves that Brooks doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I hereby demote him from “useful idiot” to plain old “idiot.”

A Lesson in Election-Rigging

UPDATED 10/27/16

A leading story on yesterday’s NBC evening news broadcast trumpeted an ABC News poll showing Hillary with a 12-point lead over The Donald. It could have been a story about polls in which NBC News participates: The latest NBC News/SM poll gives Clinton an 8-point edge, and the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll has Clinton up by 10 points. Or it could have been about the latest CBS News poll, which has Clinton leading by 11 points.

Why single out a poll that’s not representative of the world of polling? Why not trumpet the the overall average computed by FiveThirtyEight, a reputable outfit spawned by The New York Times? The answer is that FiveThiryEight‘s consensus forecast gives Clinton only a 6-point edge. (As do I.)

Why do you suppose FiveThirtyEight reports “only” a 6-point edge for Clinton? Because it adjusts for the bias inherent in polls like those conducted by ABC, CBS, and NBC.

And why do you suppose that the three networks conduct and report polls biased in Clinton’s direction, just as they routinely conduct and report polls biased toward Democrats? To ask the question is to answer it.

What better way to rally Clinton voters (and Democrats generally) while discouraging Trump voters (and Republicans generally) than to make a Clinton victory (or any Democrat victory) seem inevitable?

If presidential elections in America are in any sense “rigged,” they’re rigged by the pro-Democrat bias of the mainstream media, which comes through loud and clear on ABC, CBS, and NBC (and others). The bias shows up not only in what stories those networks choose to run and how they report those stories; it also shows up in the polls that they conduct and their reporting on those polls.

UPDATE

Related reading:

Aaron Ball, “How and Why Election 2016 Is Rigged,” American Thinker, October 27, 2016

Leslie Eastman, “#Election2016 Reporting through the Haze of ‘Gaslight’,” Legal Insurrection, October 27, 2016

Hillary’s Health

Originally published as “Stroke?” on 09/18/16

UPDATED 09/20/16 & 09/21/16

Not long ago I listed some potentially election-changing events. Among them: Hillary Clinton might suffer a stroke. This video of Clinton’s reaction to the bombing in NYC, this discussion of the symptoms and causes of stroke, and the medical histories of Clinton’s parents lead me to suspect that she suffered one on September 11 when she collapsed after abruptly leaving a 9/11 memorial ceremony.

Either that or she’s heavily medicated because of another medical problem that’s more serious than the pneumonia that she supposedly had or has. What medical problem might that be? There’s been a lot of speculation about Parkinson’s disease, which is another credible explanation of Clinton’s behavior.

UPDATE 09/20/16

Photo taken 09/19/16. No comment necessary:

clinton-helped-up-stairs
(Source: http://www.trump-conservative.com/news/hillary-clinton-helped-up-stairs-at-temple-university-rally-low-turnout/)

UPDATE 09/21/16

Thomas Lifson wonders about Hillary’s intermittent exotropia (uncoordinated eyeball movement), which is a particular form of strabismus. It could be a symptom of Graves’ disease. But, given the severe concussion Hillary incurred four years ago, trauma-related strabisumus seems most likely:

Many things and/or events can cause a strabismus. They include genetics, inappropriate development of the “fusion center” of the brain, problems with the controlled center of the brain, injuries to muscles or nerves or other problems involving the muscles or nerves. Surprisingly, most cases of strabismus are not a result of a muscle problem, but are due to the control system — the brain.

What other health problems might have caused the fall that led to the concussion, or have resulted from the concussion? Parkinson’s disease is one possibility, of course.

I don’t expect a complete and candid answer from Hillary or her camp.

Consistent Conservatism

[A] person’s political philosophy — if he may be said to have one — is likely to consist of a set of attitudes, many of them logically irreconcilable. This, I believe, is due mainly to the influence of temperament on one’s political views. It is a rare human being who does not interpret the world through the lens of his preferences, and those preferences seem to be more a matter of temperament than of knowledge and reason. Even highly intelligent persons are capable of believing in the most outlandish things because they want to believe those things.

Parsing Political Philosophy (II),” Politics & Prosperity

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I offer myself as an example of the operation of temperament on political preferences. I am, by nature, a conservative person. For example, I’m cautious about change. It’s my view that if a thing works reasonably well, tinkering with it will probably cause it to stop working well, or at all. For that reason, I dislike meddling in the affairs of others. I don’t know what they know about their own circumstances, so I presume that they’re acting in their own best interests. And if they mess up their lives, it’s up to them to make things right if they can. And if they can’t, it’s not my responsibility to clean up the mess that they’ve made. But, in typically conservative fashion, I will try to help them if I’m attached to them by blood or another strong bond.

By extension, I intensely dislike government meddling because it can mess up so many lives, even (and especially) lives that would otherwise be well lived. It follows that government has only one legitimate function, which is to protect Americans from force and fraud. That implies a vigorous defense of Americans and their overseas interests against enemies, foreign and domestic. The purpose of a vigorous defense is to enable Americans to lead their lives (lawfully) as they deem best; it is not to make America safe for governmental meddling in social and economic affairs.

Government, in short, should be conservative in the way that I am conservative. Some would call me a libertarian, but it is my long-held position that conservatism is true libertarianism.

My consistent conservatism is reflected in my attitude toward WikiLeaks. I was gladdened by this recent news:

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange promised he’s not done leaking information that could be damaging to Hillary Clinton. During an interview this week with Fox’s Megyn Kelly he said the documents would be “significant” in perhaps turning the tide of the 2016 election by giving voters a better understanding who they’re electing.

Not that I’m a Donald Trump fan; I’m not, as you will know if you’re a regular reader of this blog. But I welcome almost any development that might keep that lying, hypocritical statist Hillary Clinton out of the White House.

Am I a hypocrite, too? My visceral (conservative) reaction to activists, protestors, and rabble-rousers is “go away and mind your own business.” That was my reaction to WikiLeaks when I first heard of it — and Julian Assange — six years ago, in connection with the release of documents related to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When it comes to war-making in defense of Americans and their overseas interests, my conservative (i.e., cautious) view is that it’s better to kill enemies sooner rather than later. Delay gives enemies a chance to build their strength, and to use it in unexpected ways.

I know that the politicians and generals who wage war aren’t always or often brilliant about how they do it. But perfection is hard to come by, so I’m willing to tolerate mistakes as long as they err on the side of “too much” defense. (LBJ’s Vietnam vacillations were maddening to me; he should have gone all out or bugged out, but he did neither.) I was therefore angered by the revelations six years ago because it seemed to me that they put America’s war-fighters in jeopardy, or at least compromised America’s ability to wage war.

So, no, I don’t think I’m hypocritical in the least. Anything (non-violent) that helps to take down a domestic enemy like Hillary Clinton is acceptable. Anything (violent or non-violent) that damages America’s defenses against foreign enemies is unacceptable, and often treasonous.

Conservative in temperament, conservative in politics, consistently conservative. That’s my motto.

Logical Fallacy of the Day

Cincinnati mourns gorilla killed to save boy.” That’s the headline of a USA Today story, which says (in part):

The Cincinnati Zoo was open Sunday for Memorial Day weekend tourists, but the gorilla exhibit was closed indefinitely after authorities killed a gorilla that attacked a 4-year-old boy who fell into the enclosure’s moat.

Zoo President Thane Maynard said the boy crawled through a barrier Saturday, fell 10 to 12 feet and was grabbed by the zoo’s 17-year-old male western lowland gorilla, Harambe.

The Cincinnati Fire Department said in a statement that first responders “witnessed a gorilla who was violently dragging and throwing the child.” The boy was with the 400-pound animal for about 10 minutes before the zoo’s Dangerous Animal Response Team deemed the situation “life-threatening,” Maynard said.

Police confirmed the child was taken to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center near the zoo and was treated for non-life threatening injuries.

“The choice was made to put down, or shoot, Harambe, so he’s gone,” Maynard said. “We’ve never had a situation like this at the Cincinnati Zoo where a dangerous animal needed to be dispatched in an emergency situation.”

Maynard said the Dangerous Animal Response Team followed procedures, which they practice in drills. He said no one had ever gotten into the enclosure in the 38-year history of the zoo’s gorilla exhibit.

“It’s a sad day all the way around,” Maynard said. “They made a tough choice. They made the right choice, because they saved that little boy’s life. It could have been very bad.”

After the gorilla was shot, zoo employees unlocked the gate and two firefighters quickly retrieved the child, according to the fire department.

Two female gorillas were also in the enclosure.

“We are all devastated that this tragic accident resulted in the death of a critically endangered gorilla,” he said in a news release. “This is a huge loss for the zoo family and the gorilla population worldwide.”…

The decision to shoot Harambe instead of tranquilizing the animal was made in the interest of the boy’s safety, Maynard said.

“In an agitated situation, it may take quite a while for the tranquilizer to take effect,” he explained….

Maynard also explained that while Harambe didn’t attack the child, the animal’s size and strength posed a great danger.

Before I get to the logical fallacy, I must comment on some aspects of the story. The first is the apologetic tone of Maynard’s statement. Why apologize for doing the right thing?

Then there’s the contradiction. Maynard is reported to have said that the gorilla didn’t attack the child. But the fire department’s statement says that the gorilla was violently dragging and throwing the child, which seems more plausible.

And why was the situation deemed life-threatening only after the child had been in the gorilla enclosure for 10 minutes? It was life-threatening the instant that he climbed into the enclosure. Perhaps it took the response team that long to arrive at the scene and decide to execute the gorilla — an unconscionable delay.

Anyway, the logical fallacy is that “Cincinnati mourns.” That’s typical headline guff, and a logical fallacy. To ascribe an emotion or trait to a geopolitical area (and thus to all of its inhabitants) is a form of reification, which is the treatment of an abstraction as if it had material existence.

There is no “Cincinnati” to mourn, grieve, or otherwise experience emotion. There are many, many Cincinnatians (and New Yorkers, Americans, etc.) who have many different emotional reactions to notorious events: the killing of a gorilla, the death of Princess Diana, and so on. One of those reactions is indifference, which is often the proper one.

The headline writer could have written “Cincinnati rejoices in rescue of child from gorilla’s clutches.” But that would have been just as fallacious. There are Cincinnatians (and others) whose  main (and sometimes only) reaction to the killing of the gorilla was to mourn it, and even to claim that it had been deprived of due process of law. But such views — I suspect and hope — are in the vast minority.

Were I given to reification, I would say that the events in Cincinnati reveal the callousness of America. The headline writer focused on “mourning” for the gorilla, while giving second place to the child’s well-being. And there were several bystanders who recorded the event with their cameras instead of turning away in horror.

I report, you reify.

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Related posts:

More Thoughts about Evolutionary Teleology

Creative Destruction, Reification, and Social Welfare

“We the People” and Big Government

Society

Politics & Prosperity in Print

I am drawing on my best posts (see “A Summing Up“) to produce a series called Dispatches from the Fifth Circle. The first volume — Leftism, Political Correctness, and Other Lunacies — is available at Amazon.com.

I’m working on the second volume — Impossible Dreams, Utopian Schemes — and hope to publish six more after that one.

Who Shot JFK, and Why?

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED 11/22/13; UPDATED 09/25/14 AND 06/26/15; REVISED 06/27/15

On this, the 50th anniversary of the murder of John F. Kennedy, I refer you to my recollections of the day (posted two years ago), and offer the following thoughts about the killing.

I recently watched the NOVA production, Cold Case JFK, which documents the application of current forensic technology to the 50-year-old case. The investigators’ give a convincing explanation of the shooting in Dallas. The explanation supports the original “verdict” of the Warren Report: Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone shooter. He, and only he, fired the shots that killed JFK and wounded John Connally, then governor of Texas. The NOVA program moves me from “reasonable doubt” to “beyond a reasonable doubt,” with respect to who shot JFK and how.

What about the thesis advanced by James B. Reston Jr. that Oswald’s real target was Connally? Possibly, inasmuch as Oswald wasn’t a sniper-class shooter. Here’s a scenario that’s consistent with the timing of events in Dealey Plaza: Oswald can tell that his first shot missed his target. He got off a quick second shot, which hit JFK, who’s in line with Connally, passed through JFK and hit Connally. There was no obvious, dramatic reaction from Connally, even though he was hit. So Oswald fired a quick third shot, which hit Kennedy in the back of the head instead of hitting Connally, who by that time had slumped into his wife’s lap. (Go here for the Warren Commission’s chronology of the shots and their effects.)

Reston’s thesis is that Oswald went after Connally because Oswald’s discharge from the Marine Corps was downgraded from “honorable” to “undesirable” while Connally was Secretary of the Navy. The downgrading hurt Oswald’s pride and his ability to get a good job in those days when employers were allowed to hire whom they pleased. I have read Reston’s book and can tell you that it is a piece of padded fluff. Padded as it is, the book consists of only 183 pages of text, set in large type on small pages. Reston offers no evidence other than Oswald’s grudge against Connally and (supposed) lack of of grudge against JFK. Reston harms his case by ascribing unsourced and obviously fabricated words and thoughts to his characters. I say “characters” because Reston has fashioned something that reads more like a novel than a history.

Reston could be right, but we’ll never know if he is or isn’t. The truth of the matter died with Oswald on November 24, 1963. In any event, if Reston is right, it would mean that there was no conspiracy to murder JFK.

The only conspiracy theory that might still be worth considering is the idea that Oswald was gunning for JFK because he was somehow maneuvered into doing so by LBJ, the CIA, Fidel Castro, the Mafia, or the Russians. (See, for example, Philip Shenon’s “‘Maybe We Missed Something’: Warren Commission Insider Publicly Concedes That JFK Assassination Was Likely a Conspiracy,” The Washington Post, September 22, 2014, republished in The National Post.) The murder of Oswald by Ruby conveniently plays into that theory. But I say that the burden of proof is on conspiracy theorists, for whom the obvious is not titillating enough. The obvious is Oswald — a leftist loser and less-than-honorably discharged Marine with a chip on his shoulder, a domineering mother, an unhappy home life, and a menial job. In other words, the kind of loser with a gun who now appears almost daily in the news, having slaughtered family members, former co-workers, or random strangers. (This ubiquity is, of course, a manifestation of the media’s anti-gun bias, but that’s another story.)

Finally, after 50 years as a moderate skeptic of the Warren Report, I am satisfied that Lee Harvey Oswald was the only shooter in Dallas, and that he wasn’t part of a conspiracy.  Given that, it is immaterial whether Oswald was gunning for JFK or Connally. He killed JFK, and the rest — for good or ill — is history.

That history still resounds with absurd claims that an “atmosphere of hate in Dallas” (right-wing, of course) was somehow responsible for the murder of JFK. How did this “atmosphere” — invented by the media to deflect blame from a leftist killer — cause Oswald to take aim at JFK or Connally? By “atmospheric” induction? There’s a conspiracy theory for you.

Intellectual Courage in Austin

Ken Herman’s columns in the Austin American-Statesman are among the paper’s few bright spots. I don’t always agree with Herman, whose brand of modern-style liberalism usually shines through. But he’s intelligent, analytical, witty, and fair.

I cringed inwardly this morning when I read this in Herman’s column (“Judgment on constitutionality, not on abortion,” behind a paywall):

Local U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel showed a keen understanding of both sides of that equation this week in his decision striking down portions of Texas’ new abortion restrictions law. And, though a federal appeals court on Thursday lifted Yeakel’s injunction against enforcement of portions of the new law, he offered solid logic in throwing out the provision requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles.

“The court expresses grave reservations about allowing a hodgepodge of diverse medical committees and boards to determine, based solely on admitting privileges, which physicians may perform abortions,” he wrote, adding that the provision “places an undue burden on a woman seeking an abortion.”

What did the appeals court — a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit — have to say? This:

We first consider the hospital-admitting-privileges provision of H.B. 2 [the Texas law] and whether the State has made a strong showing that it is likely to succeed on the merits. We conclude that it has….

… The district court focused primarily on emergency room treatment of women experiencing complications following an abortion. This overlooks substantial interests of the State in regulating the medical profession and the State’s interest in “‘protecting the integrity and ethics of the medical profession.’” As the Supreme Court has noted, “the State has ‘legitimate concern for maintaining high standards of professional conduct’ in the practice of medicine.’” The Supreme Court has also consistently recognized that “[r]egulations designed to foster the health of a woman seeking an abortion are valid if they do not constitute an undue burden.”

The State offered more than a “conceivable state of facts that could provide a rational basis” for requiring abortion physicians to have hospital admission privileges. The State offered evidence that such a requirement fosters a woman’s ability to seek consultation and treatment for complications directly from her physician, not from an emergency room provider. There was evidence that such a requirement would assist in preventing patient abandonment by the physician who performed the abortion and then left the patient to her own devices to obtain care if complications developed. The district court’s finding to the contrary is not supported by the evidence, and in any event, “a legislative choice is not subject to courtroom factfinding and may be based on rational speculation unsupported by evidence or empirical data.”

The requirement that physicians performing abortions must have hospital admitting privileges helps to ensure that credentialing of physicians beyond initial licensing and periodic license renewal occurs….

The district court’s conclusion that a State has no rational basis for requiring physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital is but one step removed from repudiating the longstanding recognition by the Supreme Court that a State may constitutionally require that only a physician may perform an abortion….

We similarly [to the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in Gonzales v. Carhart] conclude that the provisions of H.B. 2 requiring a physician who performs an abortion to have admitting privileges at a hospital, “measured by [their] text,” do not impose a substantial obstacle to abortions. Just as the Supreme Court concluded in Gonzales with regard to the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 200335 that “[t]here can be no doubt the government ‘has an interest in protecting the integrity and ethics of the medical profession,’”36 there can be no doubt that the State of Texas has this same interest, as well as an interest in protecting the health of women who undergo abortion procedures.

There is the possibility, if not the probability, however, that requiring all physicians who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital may increase the cost of accessing an abortion provider and decrease the number of physicians available to perform abortions. As the district court correctly recognized, the Supreme Court has nevertheless held that “‘[t]he fact that a law which serves a valid purpose, one not designed to strike at the right itself, has the incidental effect of making it more difficult or more expensive to procure an abortion cannot be enough to invalidate it.’”

There’s much more, but that’s enough to make this point: It should have been evident to Herman that Judge Yeakel’s “solid logic” wasn’t really solid.

I will give Herman the benefit of the doubt by suggesting that he didn’t have time to digest the Fifth Circuit’s opinion before he wrote his column. (The opinion was issued in the morning of October 31, and Herman’s column was posted at 7:28 p.m. on the same day.)

But I come to praise Herman, not to vilify him. What’s praiseworthy in his column are two paragraphs near the end:

In addition to being a most-divisive issue, abortion is one with little to no middle ground. And it’s marked by close to a total inability for one side to understand the other side.

One of the blindest spots in the argument is held by abortion rights supporters who believe the other side is driven by opposition to women’s rights. Abortion rights foes are motivated by a sincere belief that an unborn child or fetus, or whatever term you choose, is a form of life entitled to constitutional protection. You might agree, you might not. But if you don’t, it’s important that you understand that [anti-abortion] side isn’t driven by a desire to curtail woman’s rights. (Emphasis added.)

It’s hard to say it any plainer than that. Kudos to Herman for saying it, and for figuratively confronting the pro-abortion forces, which — in leftish Austin — must vastly outnumber the anti-abortion forces.

I expect Herman’s candor to be “rewarded” with irate and hateful messages from many abortion advocates. Herman must have anticipated such messages — and perhaps worse — before he published his column. I therefore admire not only his candor but also his intellectual courage.

Good news …

… for a change.

Despite my pessimism about America, the pathway to the future sometimes rises.

First:

The Texas Senate late Friday passed tough new abortion restrictions after weeks of protests, sending them to Gov. Rick Perry to sign into law. (Source)

George Zimmerman has been acquitted of all charges in the February 2012 shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla.

Thus my week ends on a high note.

Life in Austin (1)

You may have heard that Austin, Texas, is the “Live Music Capital of the World.” That dubious, self-promoting title points to only one of Austin’s many noteworthy characteristics. Most of them, unfortunately, make Austin an unsuitable locale for those of you who may be in search of a better place in which to live and work.

If you haven’t been keeping track of such things, let me tell you that Austin ranks among the worst cities in the nation for traffic congestion. There are four contributing factors worth mentioning here:

  • There is a powerful cycling lobby that represents (at most) 2 percent of Austin’s residents but which has gobbled (and continues to gobble) road space for bike lanes.
  • Then there is the foolish belief (common among Austin’s green-hued elites) that an urban rail system will somehow absorb the influx of new residents, despite the fact that the system (as it stands) is mainly a means of subsidizing businesses and yuppies by transporting low-wage workers from outlying (low-rent) areas. And, like the city’s bus system, it does this by running almost-empty coaches most of time. The proposed expansion of the system will do more of the same, while also compounding traffic problems during construction (as roads are torn up and blocked) and afterwards (as more almost-empty coaches cause traffic backups at grade crossings).
  • Austin’s rapid growth has been spurred by the insistence of its elites on promoting growth (often through tax breaks that rebound onto current residents). Austin’s elites may be green-hued lefties, but they are just as irrationally attached to the idea of a “greater Austin” as any jingo is attached to the idea of “national greatness” and protectionism.
  • The preceding factors militate against clear thinking and the expenditure of tax monies in ways that would actually relieve traffic congestion. One such way, which seems never to have occurred to Austin’s elites, is the conversion of existing, stop-and-go east-west thoroughfares into high-speed, controlled access highways. The lack of such highways undoubtedly accounts for a goodly share of Austin’s ungodly traffic mess.

All of this is lost on Austin’s multitude of guilt-ridden, SUV-driving yuppies who — together with Latinos and blacks — represent Austin’s Democrat super-majority.  That super-majority, which takes its intellectual cues from the leftist academics at the University of Texas (UT), consistently elects a Democrat mayor and city council, whose adherence to political correctness trumps every tenet of economic sensibility. In addition to the aforementioned bike lanes, dysfunctional transit system, and growth for its own sake, Austinites “enjoy” (and pay through the nose for) a recycling program that loses millions of dollars a year; electricity that (in obeisance to the prevailing, antiscientific religion of “warmism”) is generated in significant part by high-cost “sustainable” resources; a health-care agency that, in a few years, has expanded its mission from the administration of tax-funded medial services for the poor and lazy to the extortionate, tax-funded subsidization of a medical school for football-rich UT.

You will, by now, be unsurprised to learn that a recent revenue windfall (higher sales tax revenues arising from economic recovery) led Austin’s rulers to ask for ideas about how to spend the additional money. Was a tax reduction considered? Ask a stupid question. This is, after all, the Peoples Republic of Austin, with government of the left, by the left, and for the left and its dependents.

If all of that isn’t enough to deter you from moving to Austin, stay tuned.

The Clemens Verdict

This does not surprise me:

Roger Clemens, who intimidated even the toughest batters while becoming one of the best pitchers in baseball history, was acquitted Monday of all charges that he lied to Congress in 2008 when he insisted he never used steroids or human growth hormone during his long career. [Juliet Macur, “Clemens Found Not Guilty of Lying About Drug Use,” The New York Times, June 18, 2012]

I did not follow the trial closely, and cannot recite details of the evidence presented by the government or the defense’s response to the evidence. I am unsurprised by the verdict because there is no statistical case that Clemens used (or derived benefit from) steroids or human growth hormone (HGH). The statistical evidence — or lack of it — is spelled out in my post of February 18, 2008, “Did Roger Do It?

Leaks, What Leaks?

Victor Davis Hanson is in a justifiable state of stratospheric dudgeon about the leaks that clearly are meant to portray Barack Obama as a steely, anti-terrorist warrior:

Recent leaks — the cyberwar secrets, the drone methodology, the double agent in Yemen, the details of the bin Laden mission, and the trove of information that accrued from it — juxtaposed with polls that have consistently shown uncertainty about Obama’s natural-security fides (cf. the serial boasting of Joe Biden that Obama’s decision is the most significant accomplishment in recent military history) are a time bomb.

Unlike the terrible Fast and Furious scandal, the Secret Service fiasco, the Solyndra boondoggle and solar con, or the GSA mess, we are talking about endangerment to the collective security of the entire United States — and not just due to laxity or incompetence but apparently due to calibrated political advantage. These targeted leaks seem to be part of a larger culture of narrowly defined and opportunistic access and political imaging. For is there not something terribly wrong when, to take just two examples, a David Sanger is apparently given access to such top-secret information, or when a David Ignatius, chest-thumps “exclusive,” as he offers his own analyses of once classified al-Qaeda documents seized from the bin Laden compound, for which he alone apparently was selected as gatekeeper to examine and analyze what he thinks is and is not important for Americans to know?…

This scandal will not go away, because it is so reckless that it will go well beyond Republican efforts to score political points, as it equally enrages congressional Democrats, Defense Department non-political officials, the CIA, and the intelligence community at large, whose careers and lives are jeopardized by such serial leaking. There is a toxic relationship now between high members of this administration, and favored marquee reporters such as those at the New York Times and Washington Post, who have crafted a hand-washes-hand relationship that, whether inadvertent or not, has put all our safety at risk. Obama himself seems not so much angry that his own are leaking to form favorable narratives, but angry that anyone would dare suggest to him that they are. That, too, is an untenable position and will change.

This will not stand, and until those who are doing these terrible things to the country are fired, the story will not go away. [“Court Journalism and the National Interest,” The Corner at National Review Online, June 12, 2012]

Update (06/13/12): Today, Hanson writes:

Securitygate has Nixonian trademarks all over it and is far more injurious to the republic than all the previous Obama administration–era scandals combined. Attorney General Holder simply cannot select an attorney to investigate key players in the administration who was both a recent appointee of Obama and a campaign contributor to and political supporter of him….

That the result was lives endangered and national policy imperiled makes an outside investigator essential. Even more chilling is that unlike prior leaking during past administrations when the media was at odds with the executive branch, in this case the administration apparently welcomed the leaks. The reporters involved were assumed to operate, not as self-proclaimed auditors trying to enhance their careers purportedly by keeping government honest, but rather more as court toadies determined to make their sources look good as payback for “exclusives.”…

At some point, watch the journalistic community: Typically they rally around the leaky reporter and law breaker as some sort of wounded fawn punished for trying to speak truth to power, but now what? Are they to close ranks with Ministry of Truth careerists who may well have been used as stooges of a government that serially broke the law for partisan advantage? [“Securitygate Is Not Going Away,” The Corner at National Review Online, June 13, 2012]

Here are links to some of the leak-ticles that prompted Hanson’s [continued] sub-orbital flight:

Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will,” Jo Becker and Scott Shane, The New York Times, May 29, 2012

Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran,” David Sanger, The New York Times, June 1, 2012

Stuxnet was work of U.S. and Israeli experts, officials say,” Ellen Nakashima and Joby Warwick, The Washington Post, June 1, 2012

And here links to some relevant commentary (in addition to Hanson’s):

Covert Wars, Waged Virally: ‘Confront and Conceal’,” a review by Thomas Ricks of David Sanger’s book about cyberwar against Iran and various anti-terrorist action, The New York Times, June 5, 2012

For U.S. Inquiries on Leaks, a Difficult Road to Prosecution,” Charlie Savage, The New York Times, June 9, 2012

Obama loses veneer of deniabilty with intelligence leaks,” Richard Cohen, The Washington Post, June 11, 2012

Ricks, an erstwhile Pentagon correspondent of some note, seems unfazed by leakage — an indifference that must have served him well in the day. He notes, without irony, that

Mr. Sanger clearly has enjoyed great access to senior White House officials, most notably to Thomas Donilon, the national security adviser.

Well, the moral code of Washington is encapsulated in “go along to get along” and “give something to get something.” (A former colleague — now a late and (by me) unlamented one — of no firm convictions, who fancied himself politically astute, was fond of spouting those feeble justifications of his sleaziness.) Thus Ricks’s next sentences should come as no shock to anyone but a pre-schooler:

Mr. Donilon, in effect, is the hero of the book, as well as the commenter of record on events. He leads the team that goes to Israel and spends “five hours wading through the intelligence in the basement of the prime minister’s residence.” He is shown studying the nettlesome problems of foreign relations, working closely with the president, and fending off the villains of this story— which in Mr. Sanger’s account tend to be the government of Pakistan and, surprisingly, the generals of the American military.

Yes, there is righteous outrage in Washington. Savage’s piece opens with this:

Anger over leaks of government secrets and calls for prosecution have once again engulfed the nation’s capital. Under bipartisan pressure for a crackdown, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. on Friday announced the appointment of two top prosecutors to lead investigations into recent disclosures.

But

the prospects for those efforts are murky. Historically, the vast majority of leak-related investigations have turned up nothing conclusive, and several of the nine that have been prosecuted — six already under the Obama administration, and just three more under all previous presidents — collapsed.

“These cases are very difficult to pursue,” said Kenneth L. Wainstein, a former assistant attorney general for national security under President George W. Bush.

Why?

Many people are surprised to learn that there is no law against disclosing classified information, in and of itself. The classification system was established for the executive branch by presidential order, not by statute, to control access to information and how it must be handled. While officials who break those rules may be admonished or fired, the system covers far more information than it is a crime to leak.

Instead, leak prosecutions rely on a 1917 espionage statute whose principal provision makes it a crime to disclose, to persons not authorized to receive it, national defense information with knowledge that its dissemination could harm the United States or help a foreign power.

The statute should be changed to make it a criminal act to knowingly disclose classified information to anyone not authorized to receive it. But that would not suit the leak-happy mentality of Washington. Nor would it suit the primary beneficiaries of that mentality, namely, the major media outlets. So, the leaks will continue apace and every once in a while they will be condemned — even by the leakers, if not the leakees.

Cue Lefty Cohen, who makes sport of the whole thing:

Pity the poor Obama administration leakers. They impart their much-cherished secrets to make their man look good and then, at the first chirp of criticism, are ordered to confess their (possible) crimes by the very same president they were seeking to please. In this, they are a bit like the male praying mantis. He does as asked, and then the female bites his head off.

What is remarkable about the recent leaks is the coincidence — it can only be that — that they all made the president look good, heroic, decisive, strong and even a touch cruel; born, as the birthers long suspected, not in Hawaii — but possibly on the lost planet Krypton. The leak that displayed all these Obamian attributes was the one that said the president personally approves the assassinations of terrorists abroad. He gives his okay, and the bad guys are dispatched via missiles from drones.

Cohen is not worried so much about leaks, which are potage to the Post, as he is about those terrorists who refuse to surrender to American justice and so are dispatched at long distance:

The leak that troubles me concerns the killing of suspected or actual terrorists. The triumphalist tone of the leaks — the Tarzan-like chest-beating of various leakers — not only is in poor taste but also shreds a long-standing convention that, in these matters, the president has deniability. The president of the United States is not the Godfather.

But he is commander-in-chief, and if he has performed any constitutionally legitimate act during his presidency, it has been to advance the common defense by terrorizing terrorists.

But that does not excuse the acts of leakage, which are morally if not legally criminal. They have been committed on behalf of Barack Obama, and — I cannot doubt — at his behest.

Not-So-Random Thoughts (II)

Links to the other posts in this occasional series may be found at “Favorite Posts,” just below the list of topics.

Atheism

Philip Kitcher reviews Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality:

The evangelical scientism of “The Atheist’s Guide” rests on three principal ideas. The facts of microphysics determine everything under the sun (beyond it, too); Darwinian natural selection explains human behavior; and brilliant work in the still-young brain sciences shows us as we really are. Physics, in other words, is “the whole truth about reality”; we should achieve “a thoroughly Darwinian understanding of humans”; and neuroscience makes the abandonment of illusions “inescapable.” Morality, purpose and the quaint conceit of an enduring self all have to go.

The conclusions are premature. Although microphysics can help illuminate the chemical bond and the periodic table, very little physics and chemistry can actually be done with its fundamental concepts and methods, and using it to explain life, human behavior or human society is a greater challenge still. Many informed scholars doubt the possibility, even in principle, of understanding, say, economic transactions as complex interactions of subatomic particles. Rosenberg’s cheerful Darwinizing is no more convincing than his imperialist physics, and his tales about the evolutionary origins of everything from our penchant for narratives to our supposed dispositions to be nice to one another are throwbacks to the sociobiology of an earlier era, unfettered by methodological cautions that students of human evolution have learned: much of Rosenberg’s book is evolutionary psychology on stilts. Similarly, the neuroscientific discussions serenely extrapolate from what has been carefully demonstrated for the sea slug to conclusions about Homo sapiens.

And David Albert gets rough with Lawrence M. Krauss’s A Universe from Nothing:

Look at how Richard Dawkins sums it up in his afterword: “Even the last remaining trump card of the theologian, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?,’ shrivels up before your eyes as you read these pages. If ‘On the Origin of Species’ was biology’s deadliest blow to super­naturalism, we may come to see ‘A Universe From Nothing’ as the equivalent from cosmology. The title means exactly what it says. And what it says is ­devastating.”

Well, let’s see. There are lots of different sorts of conversations one might want to have about a claim like that: conversations, say, about what it is to explain something, and about what it is to be a law of nature, and about what it is to be a physical thing. But since the space I have is limited, let me put those niceties aside and try to be quick, and crude, and concrete.

Where, for starters, are the laws of quantum mechanics themselves supposed to have come from?…

Never mind. Forget where the laws came from. Have a look instead at what they say. It happens that ever since the scientific revolution of the 17th century, what physics has given us in the way of candidates for the fundamental laws of nature have as a general rule simply taken it for granted that there is, at the bottom of everything, some basic, elementary, eternally persisting, concrete, physical stuff….

The fundamental laws of nature generally take the form of rules concerning which arrangements of that stuff are physically possible and which aren’t, or rules connecting the arrangements of that elementary stuff at later times to its arrangement at earlier times, or something like that. But the laws have no bearing whatsoever on questions of where the elementary stuff came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular elementary stuff it does, as opposed to something else, or to nothing at all.

The fundamental physical laws that Krauss is talking about in “A Universe From Nothing” — the laws of relativistic quantum field theories — are no exception to this. The particular, eternally persisting, elementary physical stuff of the world, according to the standard presentations of relativistic quantum field theories, consists (unsurprisingly) of relativistic quantum fields. And the fundamental laws of this theory take the form of rules concerning which arrangements of those fields are physically possible and which aren’t, and rules connecting the arrangements of those fields at later times to their arrangements at earlier times, and so on — and they have nothing whatsoever to say on the subject of where those fields came from, or of why the world should have consisted of the particular kinds of fields it does, or of why it should have consisted of fields at all, or of why there should have been a world in the first place. Period. Case closed. End of story….

[Krauss] has an argument — or thinks he does — that the laws of relativistic quantum field theories entail that vacuum states are unstable. And that, in a nutshell, is the account he proposes of why there should be something rather than nothing.

But that’s just not right. Relativistic-quantum-field-theoretical vacuum states — no less than giraffes or refrigerators or solar systems — are particular arrangements of elementary physical stuff…. And the fact that particles can pop in and out of existence, over time, as those fields rearrange themselves, is not a whit more mysterious than the fact that fists can pop in and out of existence, over time, as my fingers rearrange themselves. And none of these poppings — if you look at them aright — amount to anything even remotely in the neighborhood of a creation from nothing.

None of this is news to me. This is from my post, “The Atheism of the Gaps“:

The gaps in scientific knowledge do not prove the existence of God, but they surely are not proof against God. To assert that there is no God because X, Y, and Z are known about the universe says nothing about the creation of the universe or the source of the “laws” that seem to govern much of its behavior.

(See also the many posts linked at the bottom of “The Atheism of the Gaps.”)

Caplan’s Perverse Rationalism

Regular readers of this blog will know that I have little use for the psuedo-libertarian blatherings of Bryan Caplan, one of the bloggers at EconLog. (See also this and this.) Caplan, in a recent post, tries to distinguish between “pseudo output” and “real output”:

1. Some “output” is actually destructive.  At minimum, the national “defense” of the bad countries you think justifies the national defense of all the other countries.

2. Some “output” is wasted.  At minimum, the marginal health spending that fails to improve health.

3. Some “output” doesn’t really do what consumers think it does.  At minimum, astrology.

Note: None of these flaws have any definitional libertarian component.  Even if there’s no good reason for tax-supported roads, existing government roads really are quite useful.  Still, coercive support is often a credible symptom of pseudo-output: If the product is really so great, why won’t people spend their own money on it?

Once you start passing output through these filters, the world seems full of pseudo-output.  Lots of military, health, and education spending don’t pass muster.  Neither does a lot of finance.  Or legal services. In fact, it’s arguably easier to name the main categories of “output” that aren’t fake.  Goods with clear physical properties quickly come to mind:

  • Food.  People may be mistaken about food’s nutritional properties.  But they’re not mistaken about its basic life-preserving and hunger-assuaging power – or how much they enjoy the process of eating it.
  • Structures.  People may overlook a structure’s invisible dangers, like radon.  But they’re not mistaken about its comfort-enhancing power – or how aesthetically pleasing it is.
  • Transportation.  People may neglect a transport’s emissions.  But they’re not mistaken about how quickly and comfortably it gets them from point A to point B.

Lest this seem horribly unsubjectivist, another big category of bona fide output is:

  • Entertainment.  People may be misled by entertainment that falsely purports to be factual.  But they’re not mistaken about how entertained they are.

Caplan is on to something when he says that “coerc[ed] support is often a credible symptom of pseudo-output,” but he gives away the game when he allows entertainment but dismisses astrology. In other words, if Caplan isn’t “entertained” (i.e., made to feel good) by something, it’s of no value to anyone. He is a pacifist, so he dismisses the value of defense. He (rightly) concludes that the subsidization of health care means that a lot of money is spent (at the margin) to little effect, but the real problem is not health care — it is subsidization.

Once again, I find Caplan to be a muddled thinker. Perhaps, like his colleague Robin Hanson, he is merely being provocative for the pleasure of it. Neither muddle-headedness nor provocation-for-its-own-sake is an admirable trait.

The Sociopaths Who Govern Us

I prefer “psychopath” to “sociopath,” but the words are interchangeable; thus:

(Psychiatry) a person afflicted with a personality disorder characterized by a tendency to commit antisocial and sometimes violent acts and a failure to feel guilt for such acts Also called sociopath

In “Utilitarianism and Psychopathy,” I observe that the psychopathy of law-makers is revealed “in their raw urge to control the lives of others.” I am not alone in that view.

Steve McCann writes:

This past Sunday, the Washington Post ran a lengthy front-page article on Obama’s machinations during the debt ceiling debate last summer.  Rush Limbaugh spent a considerable amount of his on-air time Monday discussing one of the highlights of the piece: Barack Obama deliberately lied to the American people concerning the intransigence of the Republicans in the House of Representatives.  The fact that a pillar of the sycophantic mainstream media would publish a story claiming that their hero lied is amazing….

What I say about Barack Obama I do not do lightly, but I say it anyway because I fear greatly for this country and can — not only from personal experience, but also in my dealing with others — recognize those failings in a person whose only interests are himself and his inbred radical ideology, which as its lynchpin desires to transform the country into a far more intrusive state by any means possible….

… Obama is extremely adept at exploiting the celebrity culture that has overwhelmed this society, as well as the erosion of the education system that has created a generation or more of citizens unaware of their history, culture, and the historical ethical standards based on Judeo-Christian teaching….

The reality is that to Barack Obama lying, aka “spin,” is normal behavior. There is not a speech or an off-the cuff comment since he entered the national stage that does not contain some falsehood or obfuscation. A speech on energy made last week and repeated on March 22 is reflective of this mindset. He is now attempting to portray himself as being in favor of drilling in order to increase oil production and approving pipeline construction, which stands in stark contrast to his stated and long-term position on energy and reiterated as recently as three weeks ago. This is a transparent and obvious ploy to once again fool the American people by essentially lying to them….

[T]here has been five years of outright lies and narcissism that have been largely ignored by the media, including some in the conservative press and political class who are loath to call Mr. Obama what he is, in the bluntest of terms, a liar and a fraud. That he relies on his skin color to intimidate, either outright or by insinuation, those who oppose his radical agenda only adds to his audacity. It is apparent that he has gotten away with his character flaws his entire life, aided and abetted by the sycophants around him; thus, he is who he is and cannot change.

Obama: Sociopath-in-Chief.

Poetic Justice

Newspaper Ad Revenues Fall to 60-Yr. Low in 2011

“Nuff said.

Where Were You?

If you are in your mid-fifties or older, you must remember where you were and what you were doing when you learned that JFK had been shot in Dallas.

I have long since repented of my admiration for JFK (e.g., here). But my repentance is irrelevant to this story. The events in Dallas on November 22, 1963, burned into my brain a memory that will remain with me for the rest of my life.

I was in Arlington, Virginia, where I was employed by a defense think-tank. I was seated in the company van that made regular trips to the Pentagon (a few miles away), where members of the think-tank’s staff met often with their clients. The van was being held to await a senior manager. As he entered the van (it must have been shortly after 1:30 p.m. EST) he broke the news that Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. When I arrived at the Pentagon, the TV sets in the Pentagon’s public concourse were tuned to coverage of the shooting. JFK’s death (officially at 2:00 p.m. EST) was announced while I watched the TV coverage.

That bare-bones recitation may seem cold but emotions fade with time, and I have come to see that the emotions that stirred in me 48 years ago were foolish ones. The greatest tragedy of JFK’s passing was LBJ’s succession to the presidency. LBJ’s cynical use of JFK’s memory helped him to unleash policies that have divided America and threaten to bankrupt it.

More Fool He

David Brooks, The New York Times‘s ersatz conservative, writes:

When the president unveiled the second half of his stimulus it became clear that this package has nothing to do with helping people right away or averting a double dip. This is a campaign marker, not a jobs bill….

This wasn’t a speech to get something done. This was the sort of speech that sounded better when Ted Kennedy was delivering it. The result is that we will get neither short-term stimulus nor long-term debt reduction anytime soon, and I’m a sap for thinking it was possible.

Yes, I’m a sap. I believed Obama when he said he wanted to move beyond the stale ideological debates that have paralyzed this country. I always believe that Obama is on the verge of breaking out of the conventional categories and embracing one of the many bipartisan reform packages that are floating around….

Being a sap, I still believe that the president’s soul would like to do something about the country’s structural problems. I keep thinking he’s a few weeks away from proposing serious tax reform and entitlement reform. But each time he gets close, he rips the football away.

No s***, Sherlock. Being a bit smarter than Charlie Brown isn’t exactly a mark of distinction.

Welcome to the party David, even if it has taken you three years to get here.

Oh, but wait…

The White House has decided to wage the campaign as fighting liberals. I guess I understand the choice, but I still believe in the governing style Obama talked about in 2008. I may be the last one. I’m a sap.

Fool David once, Obama’s to blame. Fool David twice, David’s to blame. Fool David thrice (at least), and you know that David’s no sap — he’s a fool.

Gestapo Exonerates Hitler

Well, it’s not quite that bad, but it’s analogous:

Federal Investigators Clear Climate Scientist, Again

The Inspector General of the National Science Foundation has closed its investigation into climatologist Michael Mann after failing to find any evidence of misconduct

What an amazing coincidence!