Will Unhinged

George F. Will, the pseudo-don of political punditry, began to unravel last year when faced with Donald Trump’s candidacy, nomination, and electoral victory. Inasmuch as I don’t read Will as religiously as I used to — when he had sensible things to say about Barack Obama — I failed to witness the point at which he became unhinged. But unhinged he is, as evidenced by a recent column in The Washington Post. It’s about the possibility of a Trump-ordered first strike against North Korea:

A U.S. war of choice against North Korea would not be a pre emptive war launched to forestall an imminent attack. Rather, it would be a preventive war supposedly justified by the fact that, given sophisticated weapons and delivery systems, imminence might be impossible to detect.

Will ends the column with this:

It would be interesting to hear the president distinguish a preventive war against North Korea from a war of aggression. The first two counts in the indictments at the 1946 Nuremberg trials concerned waging “aggressive war.”

The counts refer to the aggression against Poland. There is no parallel between Poland, with its relatively primitive armed forces and lack of bellicosity, and Kim Jong-un’s North Korea.

Further, though there was moral justification for war-crimes prosecutions of Nazis after World War II, the legal footing of the Nuremberg trials is on shaky ground. Here are some passages from the Wikipedia article about the trials:

Critics of the Nuremberg trials argued that the charges against the defendants were only defined as “crimes” after they were committed and that therefore the trial was invalid as a form of “victor’s justice”. The alleged double standards associated with putative victor’s justice are also evident from the indictment of German defendants for conspiracy to commit aggression against Poland in 1939, while no one from the Soviet Union was charged for being part of the same conspiracy. As Biddiss observed, “the Nuremberg Trial continues to haunt us. … It is a question also of the weaknesses and strengths of the proceedings themselves.”…

Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court Harlan Fiske Stone called the Nuremberg trials a fraud. “(Chief U.S. prosecutor) Jackson is away conducting his high-grade lynching party in Nuremberg,” he wrote. “I don’t mind what he does to the Nazis, but I hate to see the pretense that he is running a court and proceeding according to common law. This is a little too sanctimonious a fraud to meet my old-fashioned ideas.”

Jackson, in a letter discussing the weaknesses of the trial, in October 1945 told U.S. President Harry S. Truman that the Allies themselves “have done or are doing some of the very things we are prosecuting the Germans for. The French are so violating the Geneva Convention in the treatment of prisoners of war that our command is taking back prisoners sent to them. We are prosecuting plunder and our Allies are practising it. We say aggressive war is a crime and one of our allies asserts sovereignty over the Baltic States based on no title except conquest.”

Associate Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas charged that the Allies were guilty of “substituting power for principle” at Nuremberg. “I thought at the time and still think that the Nuremberg trials were unprincipled,” he wrote. “Law was created ex post facto to suit the passion and clamor of the time.”

U.S. Deputy Chief Counsel Abraham Pomerantz resigned in protest at the low caliber of the judges assigned to try the industrial war criminals such as those at I.G. Farben.

Will himself has questioned the legality of the Nuremberg trials. It was an act of intellectual desperation to bring them into the discussion.

All in all, Will’s recent column is weak on the facts and weak as a matter of historical analysis. The main impetus for the column seems to be Will’s fixation on Trump. His doubts about Trump’s stability and soundness of judgment may be justified. But Will ought to have stuck to those doubts, and elaborated on them.

The End of an Era?

What do these people have in common?

Roy Moore
Harvey Weinstein
Kevin Spacey
Louis C.K.
Al Franken
Charlie Rose
John Conyers
Matt Lauer
Garrison Keillor

I’m sure I’ve missed some names. They’ve been coming too fast for me to keep up. And that’s just this year’s crop — though Bill Clinton always heads the list of past offenders (proven and alleged).

What they have in common, of course, is a rap for sexual harassment or worse — sometimes much worse.

What they also have in common is that they are all public figures who are either in politics or entertainment (which includes “news”).

The most important thing that they have in common, with the exception of Roy Moore, is their attachment to left-wing politics. Oops, here comes Clinton, again.

The day of the free pass because “his heart’s in the right place”* seems to be over.
_________
* This is a reference to following passage in “The Devolution of American Politics from Wisdom to Opportunism“:

The canonization of Ted Kennedy by the American left and its “moderate” dupes — in spite of Kennedy’s tawdry, criminal past — reminds me of the impeachment trial of William Jefferson Clinton. Clinton’s defense attorney Cheryl Mills said this toward the end of her summation:

[T]his president’s record on civil rights, on women’s rights, on all of our rights is unimpeachable.

In other words, Clinton could lie under oath and obstruct justice because his predatory behavior toward particular women and the criminal acts they led to were excused by his being on the “right side” on the general issue of “women’s rights.” That makes as much sense as allowing a murderer to go free because he believes in capital punishment.

The Ken Burns Apology Tour Continues

Ken Burns, of the Burns-Novick team responsible for The Vietnam War and many other documentaries, is known to be a man of the left. Leftists have many tics. One of them, which Barack Obama exhibited vocally and often, is the habit of apologizing for America’s moral imperfections. It is those imperfections that justify the left’s dismissal of America as just another country — nothing exceptional to see here, folks, so just move along.

One of the exceptional things that leftists dismiss is the written (real) Constitution, with its explicit limits on the power of the central government. The left’s aim — everywhere and always — has been to override those limits, so that government can decide what is best for the people, instead of allowing the people to decide that for themselves.

Also exceptional are the sacrifices that Americans have made — in life, limb, and money — to defend people around the world against tyranny. But leftists have a way of turning those sacrifices into sins.

Which brings me back to Ken Burns, whose first and perhaps most famous series revisited the Civil War. Where better to begin hammering away at America but with the Civil War, which was all about slavery — except when it wasn’t? But why would a leftist bother to give serious consideration to the legitimate, constitutional cause that impelled many Southerners to defend their homeland?

Burns managed to turn his baseball and jazz series into extensions of the Civil War, with their long sermons about America’s racism. Burns’s lop-sided history of baseball included the obligatory (and badly distorted) depiction of Ty Cobb as a vicious ballplayer and a vicious racist.

Then came Burns’s epic about World War II, The War, of which I wrote in 2007 (here, here, here, and here). I draw on those earlier posts in the next several paragraphs.

The War illustrates that, however necessary a war, victory may be attainable only at a very high price. The War also makes the case, graphically, that there can be no alternative but to pay that very high price when one is faced with brutal, fanatical enemies. (These are points that The Vietnam War fails to follow through on.)

But The War also spends a lot of time on issues with racial dimensions; specifically:

  • the forced removal and internment of approximately 120,000 Japanese and Japanese Americans (62 percent of whom were United States citizens) from the West Coast of the United States during World War II
  • government-enforced racial segregation in the armed forces (and, sometimes, among workers in defense plants), against a backdrop of racial tension.

The War neglects to mention the military considerations that justified the internment. (See these three posts, for example.) Instead, The War engages in the kind of second-guessing eschewed by the U.S. Supreme Court when it opined in the case of Korematsu v. United States (1944). It is right to give time to the internment; it was a significant (and temporary) event arising out of the prosecution of the war. But it is wrong to give a one-sided presentation of that event.

Why hammer away at the segregation of blacks and black-white conflict? They were not central to the conduct of the war. Racial tension is an ineluctable fact of life that had nothing to do with World War II, except as it found its way into the armed forces. But so did other social phenomena, including divisions along the lines of class, religion, and region, for example. But leftists — who are as clannish as they come — just cannot abide the thought that other people are also clannish. And in the case of racial tension, the clannishness is depicted as one-sided — as if blacks aren’t just as clannish and prone to race-based violence as whites.

Forced segregation had been (and would remain, for some years), a government policy. Would it have been too much to expect a government that was battling ferocious enemies abroad to take time out to desegregate the armed forces, desegregate civilian life, and deal with the resulting racial conflict (of which there was already enough)? The short answer is yes. That is not to excuse government-sponsored and government-enforced segregation. It is simply to call, once again, for perspective and balance, which The War does not offer.

The effect of the racial sideshow is to tarnish what was a great and noble undertaking: the defeat of Japan and Germany. Which is to say that the racial sideshow plays into the anti-war message of The War. That message is underscored by the exploration of three other themes.

The first is that “no plan survives contact with the enemy”, according to Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke (1800-1891). But after making that observation (in slightly different words and with the wrong attribution), The War goes on to conflate it with a second theme about defective leadership.

The fact that war is an unpredictable endeavor is a thing entirely apart from the fact that some commanders aren’t fit to lead men in battle. We can thank The War for reminding us that unpredictability and bad decisions can be part of any war. But there is too much about bad leadership (which wasn’t endemic among U.S. forces in World War II), and too little about the unpredictability of war and the necessity of working through it to attain the ultimate strategic objective, which is victory.

The third theme is the horrors of war, especially as expressed by Eugene Sledge and the egregious Paul Fussell (see this). Fussell clearly implies that the war wasn’t worth fighting until the Holocaust came to light, late in the war.

Under the heading of horrors, there is the presentation of “balanced” reactions to the dropping of A-bombs on Japan. One of the “witnesses” who appears throughout the series staunchly defends the act. Another notes its strategic wisdom but still wishes it hadn’t been necessary. But it was necessary — and, really, an act of mercy toward the Japanese as well as to America’s fighting men. Why pander to the nay-sayers, who will go to their graves condemning the act, in spite of its moral necessity?

Finally, there is the film’s subtext, which has two main elements. One element is voiced at the very end of the final episode, in the dedication. It is to those who served in World War II, “that necessary war” — not “a necessary war”, as the first episode has it. The implication is that no later war was or is necessary, including (of course) the war in Iraq which was going strong when The War first aired.

The second element of the subtext reinforces the first one, and it is less subtle. That second element is The War‘s insistence on playing up America’s moral failings (as discussed above). The intended message is that because of America’s moral failings, and because war is hell, World War II was barely worth fighting, although it seemed necessary at the time (even to the left, given that the USSR was an “ally”). The left proclaims an act of war against anyone but Hitler (not a Hitler, but the Hitler) to be an act of hypocrisy and brutality by a morally imperfect nation.

In sum, The War affirms the American left’s anti-defense, anti-war dogmas, which reflect the post-patriotic attitude that America is nothing special. It’s as if Burns and Novick were paving the way for the ascendancy of that post-patriotic president, Barack Obama.

The Vietnam War picks up where The War left off. Yes, The Vietnam War is superficially balanced, but its anti-war, anti-American message is in the subtext — or, rather, the missing subtext. The Vietnam War is an exemplar of propaganda by selection and omission.

The ex-soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen chosen for on-camera roles are notable for their range of views: from being stridently against the war to stolidly neutral. Was it impossible to find anyone who served during the war who thought it a worthwhile cause, a cause that was undermined by the media and poll-driven politicians? Surely it wan’t impossible. But Burns and his production partner, Lynn Novick, nevertheless were unable — unwilling, really — to produce such a person out the tens or hundreds of thousands whose testimony would have conflicted the Burns-Novick story line.

To take a second, glaring example, The Vietnam War glosses over the media’s complicity in drumming up anti-war hysteria, especially in the wake of the Tet Offensive. The fact that it was a defeat for the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong is mentioned but not pursued. Why did the U.S. government fail to exploit the U.S.-South Vietnamese victory?

Here’s why: LBJ, who at the time of the offensive, was probably aiming for re-election, gave in to the media-led hysteria in the wake of the offensive. LBJ, anxious as ever about “public opinion”, responded to media-led hysteria by turning victory into defeat.

Does The Vietnam War pursue that line of inquiry? No. Instead the viewer is treated to a monotonous stream of snippets from “news” programs. These feature the oracular, avuncular Walter Cronkite (and his imitators) crying doom and gloom and pushing the polls against the war.

So Burns-Novick gladly second-guess the French, the decisions that led the U.S. into Vietnam, and the wisdom of the war itself. But it’s off-limits (for Burns-Novick) to second-guess LBJ’s reluctant-warrior act after Tet. Despite a further troop buildup, the constraints placed by LBJ on the conduct of the war — especially in the air — led eventually to the withdrawal of U.S. forces and the defeat of South Vietnam. It’s as if those ignominious outcomes were inevitable — and perhaps deserved by a nation as flawed as the one the Burns likes to portray.

I am far from alone in my disdain for the Burns-Novick treatment of the Vietnam War:

Lewis Sorley (author of A Better War) appears in The Vietnam War, but if he said anything contrary to the Burns line, it fell to the cutting room floor. Later, in a different setting, Sorley speaks his mind; see the video embedded here, starting at 48:00. There are many other Sorleys out there, I’m sure (e.g., Mark Moyar, author of Triumph Forsaken).

Scott Johnson of Power Line has much to say about The Vietnam War in “Notes on the Ken Burns Version” and “Notes on the Ken Burns Version, Continued“. In both posts he cites and quotes other dissenters from the Burns-Novick narrative.

Another example of informed dissent is George J. Veith’s post at Library of Law and Liberty, “Burns and Novick on Vietnam: A Neutral Film, or a Rifle Butt to the Heart?“, which concludes that The Vietnam War

was at best an imperfect effort to tell an extraordinarily complex story. At worst, it has cemented, perhaps forever, the old stereotypes—the Americans as bumbling interlopers layering mistakes upon bad judgment and governmental deceit; the communists as ardent nationalists simply trying to unify their country; the people in the South as corrupt incompetents not worth the lives of our GIs. The film serves as a stark reminder that, “In war truth is the first casualty.”

And in peace truth is the first casualty when leftists push an agenda.

Not-So-Random Thoughts (XXI)

An occasional survey of web material that’s related to subjects about which I’ve posted. Links to the other posts in this series may be found at “Favorite Posts,” just below the list of topics.

Fred Reed, in a perceptive post worth reading in its entirety, says this:

Democracy works better the smaller the group practicing it. In a town, people can actually understand the questions of the day. They know what matters to them. Do we build a new school, or expand the existing one? Do we want our children to recite the pledge of allegiance, or don’t we? Reenact the Battle of Antietam? Sing Christmas carols in the town square? We can decide these things. Leave us alone….

Then came the vast empire, the phenomenal increase in the power and reach of the federal government, which really means the Northeast Corridor. The Supreme Court expanded and expanded and expanded the authority of Washington, New York’s store-front operation. The federals now decided what could be taught in the schools, what religious practices could be permitted, what standards employers could use in hiring, who they had to hire. The media coalesced into a small number of corporations, controlled from New York but with national reach….

Tyranny comes easily when those seeking it need only corrupt a single Congress, appoint a single Supreme Court, or control the departments of one executive branch. In a confederation of largely self-governing states, those hungry to domineer would have to suborn fifty congresses. It could not be done. State governments are accessible to the governed. They can be ejected. They are much more likely to be sympathetic to the desires of their constituents since they are of the same culture.

Tyranny is often justified by invoking “the will of the people”, but as I say here:

It is a logical and factual error to apply the collective “we” to Americans, except when referring generally to the citizens of the United States. Other instances of “we” (e.g., “we” won World War II, “we” elected Barack Obama) are fatuous and presumptuous. In the first instance, only a small fraction of Americans still living had a hand in the winning of World War II. In the second instance, Barack Obama was elected by amassing the votes of fewer than 25 percent of the number of Americans living in 2008 and 2012. “We the People” — that stirring phrase from the Constitution’s preamble — was never more hollow than it is today.

Further, the logical and factual error supports the unwarranted view that the growth of government somehow reflects a “national will” or consensus of Americans. Thus, appearances to the contrary (e.g., the adoption and expansion of national “social insurance” schemes, the proliferation of cabinet departments, the growth of the administrative state) a sizable fraction of Americans (perhaps a majority) did not want government to grow to its present size and degree of intrusiveness. And a sizable fraction (perhaps a majority) would still prefer that it shrink in both dimensions. In fact, The growth of government is an artifact of formal and informal arrangements that, in effect, flout the wishes of many (most?) Americans. The growth of government was not and is not the will of “we Americans,” “Americans on the whole,” “Americans in the aggregate,” or any other mythical consensus.


I am pleased to note that my prognosis for Trump’s presidency (as of December 2016) was prescient:

Based on his appointments to date — with the possible exception of Steve Bannon [now gone from the White House] — he seems to be taking a solidly conservative line. He isn’t building a government of bomb-throwers, but rather a government of staunch conservatives who, taken together, have a good chance at rebuilding America’s status in the world while dismantling much of Obama’s egregious “legacy”….

Will Donald Trump be a perfect president, if perfection is measured by adherence to the Constitution? Probably not, but who has been? It now seems likely, however, that Trump will be a far less fascistic president than Barack Obama has been and Hillary Clinton would have been. He will certainly be far less fascistic than the academic thought-police, whose demise cannot come too soon for the sake of liberty.

In sum, Trump’s emerging agenda seems to resemble my own decidedly conservative one.

But anti-Trump hysteria continues unabated, even among so-called conservatives. David Gelertner writes:

Some conservatives have the impression that, by showing off their anti-Trump hostility, they will get the networks and the New York Times to like them. It doesn’t work like that. Although the right reads the left, the left rarely reads the right. Why should it, when the left owns American culture? Nearly every university, newspaper, TV network, Hollywood studio, publisher, education school and museum in the nation. The left wrapped up the culture war two generations ago. Throughout my own adult lifetime, the right has never made one significant move against the liberal culture machine.

David Brooks of The New York Times is one of the (so-called) conservatives who shows off his anti-Trump hostility. Here he is writing about Trump and tribalism:

The Trump story is that good honest Americans are being screwed by aliens. Regular Americans are being oppressed by a snobbish elite that rigs the game in its favor. White Americans are being invaded by immigrants who take their wealth and divide their culture. Normal Americans are threatened by an Islamic radicalism that murders their children.

This is a tribal story. The tribe needs a strong warrior in a hostile world. We need to build walls to keep out illegals, erect barriers to hold off foreign threats, wage endless war on the globalist elites.

Somebody is going to have to arise to point out that this is a deeply wrong and un-American story. The whole point of America is that we are not a tribe. We are a universal nation, founded on universal principles, attracting talented people from across the globe, active across the world on behalf of all people who seek democracy and dignity.

I am unaware that Mr. Trump has anything against talented people. But he rightly has a lot against adding to the welfare rolls and allowing jihadists into the country. As for tribalism — that bugbear of “enlightened” people — here’s where I stand:

There’s a world of difference between these three things:

  1. hating persons who are different because they’re different
  2. fearing persons of a certain type because that type is highly correlated with danger
  3. preferring the company and comfort of persons with whom one has things in common, such as religion, customs, language, moral beliefs, and political preferences.

Number 1 is a symptom of bigotry, of which racism is a subset. Number 2 is a sign of prudence. Number 3 is a symptom of tribalism.

Liberals, who like to accuse others of racism and bigotry, tend to be strong tribalists — as are most people, the world around. Being tribal doesn’t make a person a racist or a bigot, that is, hateful toward persons of a different type. It’s natural (for most people) to trust and help those who live nearest them or are most like them, in customs, religion, language, etc. Persons of different colors and ethnicities usually have different customs, religions, and languages (e.g., black English isn’t General American English), so it’s unsurprising that there’s a tribal gap between most blacks and whites, most Latinos and whites, most Latinos and blacks, and so on.

Tribalism has deep evolutionary-psychological roots in mutual aid and mutual defense. The idea that tribalism can be erased by sitting in a circle, holding hands, and singing Kumbaya — or the equivalent in social-diplomatic posturing — is as fatuous as the idea that all human beings enter this world with blank minds and equal potential. Saying that tribalism is wrong is like saying that breathing and thinking are wrong. It’s a fact of life that can’t be undone without undoing the bonds of mutual trust and respect that are the backbone of a civilized society.

If tribalism is wrong, then most blacks, Latinos, members of other racial and ethnic groups, and liberals are guilty of wrong-doing.

None of this seems to have occurred to Our Miss Brooks (a cultural reference that may be lost on younger readers). But “liberals” — and Brooks is one of them — just don’t get sovereignty.


While we’re on the subject of immigration, consider a study of the effect of immigration on the wages of unskilled workers, which is touted by Timothy Taylor. According to Taylor, the study adduces evidence that

in areas with high levels of low-skill immigration, local firms shift their production processes in a way that uses more low-skilled labor–thus increasing the demand for such labor. In addition, immigrant low-skilled labor has tended to focus on manual tasks, which has enabled native-born low-skilled labor to shift to nonmanual low-skilled tasks, which often pay better.

It’s magical. An influx of non-native low-skilled laborers allows native-born low-skilled laborers to shift to better-paying jobs. If they could have had those better-paying jobs, why didn’t they take them in the first place?

More reasonably, Rick Moran writes about a

Federation for American Immigration Reform report [which] reveals that illegal aliens are costing the U.S. taxpayer $135 billion.  That cost includes medical care, education, and law enforcement expenses.

That’s a good argument against untrammeled immigration (legal or illegal). There are plenty more. See, for example, the entry headed “The High Cost of Untrammeled Immigration” at this post.


There’s a fatuous argument that a massive influx of illegal immigrants wouldn’t cause the rate of crime to rise. I’ve disposed of that argument with one of my own, which is supported by numbers. I’ve also dealt with crime in many other posts, including this one, where I say this (and a lot more):

Behavior is shaped by social norms. Those norms once were rooted in the Ten Commandments and time-tested codes of behavior. They weren’t nullified willy-nilly in accordance with the wishes of “activists,” as amplified through the megaphone of the mass media, and made law by the Supreme Court….

But by pecking away at social norms that underlie mutual trust and respect, “liberals” have sundered the fabric of civilization. There is among Americans the greatest degree of mutual enmity (dressed up as political polarization) since the Civil War.

The mutual enmity isn’t just political. It’s also racial, and it shows up as crime. Heather Mac Donald says “Yes, the Ferguson Effect Is Real,” and Paul Mirengoff shows that “Violent Crime Jumped in 2015.” I got to the root of the problem in “Crime Revisited,” to which I’ve added “Amen to That” and “Double Amen.” What is the root of the problem? A certain, violence-prone racial minority, of course, and also under-incarceration (see “Crime Revisited”).

The Ferguson Effect is a good example of where the slippery slope of free-speech absolutism leads. More examples are found in the violent protests in the wake of Donald Trump’s electoral victory. The right “peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” has become the right to assemble a mob, disrupt the lives of others, destroy the property of others, injure and kill others, and (usually) suffer no consequences for doing so — if you are a leftist or a member of one of the groups patronized by the left, that is.

How real is the Ferguson effect? Jazz Shaw writes about the rising rate of violent crime:

We’ve already looked at a couple of items from the latest FBI crime report and some of the dark news revealed within. But when you match up some of their numbers with recent historical facts, even more trends become evident. As the Daily Caller reports this week, one disturbing trend can be found by matching up locations recording rising murder rates with the homes of of widespread riots and anti-police protests.

As we discussed when looking at the rising murder and violent crime rates, the increases are not homogeneous across the country. Much of the spike in those figures is being driven by the shockingly higher murder numbers in a dozen or so cities. What some analysts are now doing is matching up those hot spots with the locations of the aforementioned anti-police protests. The result? The Ferguson Effect is almost undoubtedly real….

Looking at the areas with steep increases in murder rates … , the dots pretty much connect themselves. It starts with the crime spikes in St. Louis, Baltimore and Chicago. Who is associated with those cities? Michael Brown, Freddie Gray and Laquan McDonald. The first two cities experienced actual riots. While Chicago didn’t get quite that far out of hand, there were weeks of protests and regular disruptions. The next thing they have in common is the local and federal response. Each area, rather than thanking their police for fighting an increasingly dangerous gang violence situation with limited resources, saw municipal leaders chastising the police for being “too aggressive” or using similar language. Then the federal government, under Barack Obama and his two Attorney Generals piled on, demanding long term reviews of the police forces in those cities with mandates to clean up the police departments.

Small wonder that under such circumstances, the cops tended to back off considerably from proactive policing, as Heather McDonald describes it. Tired of being blamed for problems and not wanting to risk a lawsuit or criminal charges for doing their jobs, cops became more cautious about when they would get out of the patrol vehicle at times. And the criminals clearly noticed, becoming more brazen.

The result of such a trend is what we’re seeing in the FBI report. Crime, which had been on the retreat since the crackdown which started in the nineties, is back on the rise.


It is well known that there is a strong, negative relationship between intelligence and crime; that is, crime is more prevalent among persons of low intelligence. This link has an obvious racial dimension. There’s the link between race and crime, and there’s the link between race and intelligence. It’s easy to connect the dots. Unless you’re a “liberal”, of course.

I was reminded of the latter link by two recent posts. One is a reissue by Jared Taylor, which is well worth a re-read, or a first read if it’s new to you. The other, by James Thompson, examines an issue that I took up here, namely the connection between geography and intelligence. Thompson’s essay is more comprehensive than mine. He writes:

[R]esearchers have usually looked at latitude as an indicator of geographic influences. Distance from the Equator is a good predictor of outcomes. Can one do better than this, and include other relevant measures to get a best-fit between human types and their regions of origin?… [T]he work to be considered below…. seeks to create a typology of biomes which may be related to intelligence.

(A biome is “a community of plants and animals that have common characteristics for the environment they exist in. They can be found over a range of continents. Biomes are distinct biological communities that have formed in response to a shared physical climate.”)

Thompson discusses and quotes from the work (slides here), and ends with this:

In summary, the argument that geography affects the development of humans and their civilizations need not be a bone of contention between hereditarian and environmentalist perspectives, so long as environmentalists are willing to agree that long-term habitation in a particular biome could lead to evolutionary changes over generations.

Environment affects heredity, which then (eventually) embodies environmental effects.


Returning to economics, about which I’ve written little of late, I note a post by Scott Winship, in which he addresses the declining labor-force participation rate:

Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) makes the argument that the decline in prime-age male labor is a demand-side issue that ought to be addressed through stimulative infrastructure spending, subsidized jobs, wage insurance, and generous safety-net programs. If the CEA is mistaken, however, then these expensive policies may be ineffective or even counterproductive.

The CEA is mistaken—the evidence suggests there has been no significant drop in demand, but rather a change in the labor supply driven by declining interest in work relative to other options.

  • There are several problems with the assumptions and measurements that the CEA uses to build its case for a demand-side explanation for the rise in inactive prime-age men.
  • In spite of conventional wisdom, the prospect for high-wage work for prime-age men has not declined much over time, and may even have improved.
  • Measures of discouraged workers, nonworkers marginally attached to the workforce, part-time workers who wish to work full-time, and prime-age men who have lost their job involuntarily have not risen over time.
  • The health status of prime-age men has not declined over time.
  • More Social Security Disability Insurance claims are being filed for difficult-to-assess conditions than previously.
  • Most inactive men live in households where someone receives government benefits that help to lessen the cost of inactivity.

Or, as I put it here, there is

the lure of incentives to refrain from work, namely, extended unemployment benefits, the relaxation of welfare rules, the aggressive distribution of food stamps, and “free” healthcare” for an expanded Medicaid enrollment base and 20-somethings who live in their parents’ basements.


An additional incentive — if adopted in the U.S. — would be a universal basic income (UBI) or basic income guarantee (BIG), which even some libertarians tout, in the naive belief that it would replace other forms of welfare. A recent post by Alberto Mingardi reminded me of UBI/BIG, and invoked Friedrich Hayek — as “libertarian” proponents of UBI/BIG are wont to do. I’ve had my say (here and here, for example). Here’s I said when I last wrote about it:

The Basic Income Guarantee (BIG), also known as Universal Basic Income (UBI), is the latest fool’s gold of “libertarian” thought. John Cochrane devotes too much time and blog space to the criticism and tweaking of the idea. David Henderson cuts to the chase by pointing out that even a “modest” BIG — $10,000 per adult American per year — would result in “a huge increase in federal spending, a huge increase in tax rates, and a huge increase in the deadweight loss from taxes.”

Aside from the fact that BIG would be a taxpayer-funded welfare program — to which I generally object — it would necessarily add to the already heavy burden on taxpayers, even though it is touted as a substitute for many (all?) extant welfare programs. The problem is that the various programs are aimed at specific recipients (e.g., women with dependent children, families with earned incomes below a certain level). As soon as a specific but “modest” proposal is seriously floated in Congress, various welfare constituencies will find that proposal wanting because their “entitlements” would shrink. A BIG bill would pass muster only if it allowed certain welfare programs to continue, in addition to BIG, or if the value of BIG were raised to a level that such that no welfare constituency would be a “loser.”

In sum, regardless of the aims of its proponents — who, ironically, tend to call themselves libertarians — BIG would lead to higher welfare spending and more enrollees in the welfare state.


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Farewell to “Lexington”

The Economist — a boring, “liberal“, opinion-disguised-as-news magazine of British origin — has for some years run a column by “Lexington”. The name refers to the location of an early military engagement of America’s Revolutionary War: Lexington, Massachusetts. The conceit behind the name is that Lexington observes the American scene. The departing Lexington is one David Rennie — a Brit, of course — whose late father had served as head of MI6.

You see immediately the problem with Lexington. He is usually (always?) a smarmy Brit who exudes Oxbridge superiority. (Not long ago, and perhaps still, it was dominated by graduates of Magdalen College of the University of Oxford. You may demonstrate your own superiority by pronouncing Magdalen “correctly” as maudlin.)

The departing Lexington recently issued his valedictory column. It appeared in the print edition of The Economist dated September 9, 2017, under the heading “Indispensable, in Trouble”. (I have capitalized “trouble” despite The Economist‘s annoying practice of capitalizing only the first letter of the first word of a headline, aside from acronyms and the first letter of any proper noun occurring therein. This practice, it seems to me, betrays a shaky grasp of the rules of capitalization — or is a rather feeble attempt at trendiness.) Being disinclined to give The Economist even a farthing, I obtained the article online via this link, which may have expired.

What did the departing Lexington have to say about America in his final attempt (as Lexington) to assert his superiority to the booboisie — those Americans who aren’t members of America’s Europe-envying academic-media-political classes? He did what you would expect these days — he savaged Donald Trump. How tedious.

In keeping with the “fair game” principle of quotation, I herewith quote extensively from the online version of the column, so that I might annotate Lexington’s profundities with my commentary, which is in brackets and italicized:

AS LEXINGTON writes this, his 244th and final column on America, a black-and-white photograph looks down from an office wall. Taken in New York in about 1940, it shows your columnist’s late father, then a serious young man in his 20s, hard at work for a British government agency tasked with bringing America into the second world war. This mission involved both appeals to high-minded principle and to sentiment—tales of British civilian pluck were a staple—to counter the rhetoric of the America First Committee and other isolationists. [But in any event, America entered the war because — and perhaps only because — of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was that which swayed popular opinion, not “hard at work” effete Brits. Similarly, Lexington, who is heeded — if at all — by effete Americans who already agree with him, has wasted his time by writing what follows.]

During two postings to Washington, DC, this Lexington has tried to remember that history lesson. America remains an indispensable nation [for the purpose of rescuing Britain from German aggression and protecting it from Soviet threats?]. But understandably, the will to bear that burden [which Lexington lacks the grace to define] cannot be taken for granted. For Americans to remain open to the world, at once leading and profiting from a post-war order [the United Nations? NATO and other anti-Soviet alliances? globalization?] that their country in large part designed, both heads and hearts must be won. With each new generation, that work needs repeating. [What work needs repeating? The winning of hearts and minds? To what end? To save Britain once again? To protect her from the threat of succumbing to communism, which is already well-entrenched in Britain, though in the guise of liberal democracy? To join in the defense of Europe against a possible attack by Russia, which defense the Europeans themselves are unwilling to lend more than token support? What is he babbling about?]

Enter President Donald Trump [the real reason for this valedictory]. A natural demagogue [unlike Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Lyndon Johnson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Teddy Roosevelt, of course], he spotted how, after years of the war on terror, America was weary of trying to fix an ungrateful world. [Actually, if “America” was weary of anything, it was fighting two foreign wars to little avail, especially after Barack Obama snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in Iraq. “Non-America” — the country’s effete elites — never wanted victory in the first place, and it was they who were most tired of foreign wars, as they have been since the end of World War II. Other than foreign wars, there was little to fix, other than to dismantle the economically and socially destructive regulatory-welfare state, unless it was to rearm against growing Russian and Chinese strength and to prevent Iran and North Korea from obtaining nuclear weapons. But those fixes were staunchly opposed by the effete elites who have governed America most of the time since 1900.] He grasped how, at home, millions could conceive of no benign explanation for economic and social changes that worried or disgusted them [“free markets” being a malign explanation in the view of benighted rednecks and effete elites, alike — their sole point of commonality; social changes dictated by effete elites being a truly malign explanation], and heard no argument from the two main parties that reassured them [Republicans generally being too spineless to challenge the conventional wisdom]. He sensed that voters are more [in what ways?] than adding machines, weighing the costs and benefits of this stale tax plan or that tired promise of help. He won in part by understanding how much people need to feel that they are useful, respected and heeded [apparently an understanding beyond the reach of professional politicians]. A better man than Mr Trump could have done great things with that insight [though Lexington doesn’t get around to telling us what those great things are].

In years of reporting from a total of 46 states [in the way that a cross-country flight exposes a traveler to America], a handful of encounters stand out. They showed how, when Americans think they are arguing about points of ideology or fact (or confected para-facts) [“alternative facts”?], they are often wrangling about who is a good person, with a right to be heard. [With this sensible observation, it seemed that Lexington might yet say something insightful. But he let me down.]

Take the wilds of eastern Oregon, where ranchers spent the Obama era fearing that vast tracts of the Owyhee Canyonlands would be declared a national monument, exposing them to lawsuits from eco-absolutists bent on banning cattle from public lands. In early 2016 armed anti-government militants occupied a wildlife refuge to challenge the federal government’s right to own land at all. Visiting a few months later, Lexington heard much technical talk about water rights and grazing permits. But deep down this was a scrap about whether ranchers and miners whose great-grandfathers toiled to tame the sagebrush steppes are trustworthy stewards of the land. That row pits the old West against the new West of hikers and environmentalists, or, as one academic puts it, folk with gun racks against those with bike racks. The ranchers, meanwhile, challenged the standing of the cowboy-hatted anti-government zealots claiming to speak for Oregon. A young farmer noted that most came from out of state, adding: “Those people look like us, but aren’t us.” [But the “zealots” weren’t claiming to speak for “Oregon”, they were making a statement about the federal government’s right to own land — which is to say, seize land. Selective quotation of a young farmer hardly constitutes evidence that the “zealots” were mistaken in their position or entirely unrepresentative of the ranchers and miners of Oregon.]

Partisans on the left sometimes scoff at conservatives ascribing voter anger to “economic anxiety”, arguing that this is really prejudice at work. In real life, differing forms of anxiety cannot easily be separated [a statement which may be true but is irrelevant to what follows]. In 2012 the state of Wisconsin commissioned a scientific report into why middle-aged men were buying fewer licences to hunt deer. That sounds a dry premise. But tugging at that thread unravelled a vast, tangled skein of male angst. With women gaining economic and social power, the study found, men feel less able to head to the woods for a week’s deer camp, supremely confident in their authority as breadwinners. To be good fathers, they feel less able to skip children’s sports. “The ladies all hollered at me,” one research subject recalled after a deer-related conflict, in tones of baffled hurt. [This is just another selective and ridiculous quotation. What’s the point? That there was anxiety for Trump to exploit? Every presidential candidate since George Washington has exploited anxiety of one kind or another. Tell me something new.]

Mr Trump did not invent partisan divisions [changing the subject after introducing anxiety to no apparent end]. The 2012 presidential elections, a joyless slog [compared with what?], saw President Barack Obama traduce the Republican candidate, Mitt Romney as a heartless plutocrat and thus “not one of us”. Republicans leant heavily on slogans that lauded hard-working, taxpaying “makers” and scorning welfare-collecting “takers” [which is quite a reasonable thing to do, when facts are faced]. Millions of voters were willing to believe that Democrats won office by giving free stuff to the lazy on their dime [and they were quite right, though many of those voters were also takers of free stuff]. But they also growled that Republicans were the party that looked out for bosses, not them [because they have been brainwashed to believe in the zero-sum game called “income distribution”]. A machine repairman from Waukesha, Wisconsin, encountered during a factory visit by Mr Obama after his re-election, summarised, brilliantly, his moral code of work. “People ought to get off their duffs and get a job, but I’d like it to be a job that pays well,” he explained [as if there were an entitlement to a job that pays “well”, i.e., a lot more than his job paid]. He trusted neither party to deliver this package in its entirety [and if he did, he would be guilty of believing in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Genie of the Lamp].

Deadbeats v deplorables

A focus group of Trump supporters in December 2015 offered early clues that the businessman had found a way to escape voter distrust of traditional politicians. His backers spent three hours excusing their hero of each contradiction or untruth alleged by his foes. In part, this reflected their liking for certain policies: the proposed ban on Muslims, or the border wall. But an unforgettable moment came when the Trump fans were asked about Barack Obama, and responded with furious, vitriolic resentment. Everything we are good at in America, Mr Obama tells us it is a bad thing, said a woman. Another disgustedly compared the then-president to “a disappointed parent”. With Mr Trump, it was the opposite. His supporters basked in his approval. He was a fantastically successful man, who validated how they saw the world. [Of course, the contemporary supporters of Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama would never, ever hold such attitudes about their heroes and their heroes’ antagonists. So what else is new, and what does it have to do with Trump’s actual policies as set forth in his budget, his cabinet appointments, his judicial nominations, and his regulatory rollbacks?]

There are plausible scenarios in which Mr Trump, a cynical and undisciplined bully [whose children, oddly seem to love and respect him], brings catastrophe to the country that Lexington was raised to love, and where both his children were born [and even more plausible scenarios in which President Trump, regardless of the name-calling that Lexington and his ilk indulge, is actually able to rescue America from its downward spiral into economic stagnation, military impotence, and politically correct oppression]. For now consider a disaster that is already certain. Mr Trump has a rare understanding of how change has left millions feeling disrespected, abused and alienated from mainstream politics. Alas, he has used that gift only to divide his country, for selfish ends [unlike Lexington and his ilk, whose effete elitism and name-calling is sure to unite the country]. This [column] is a tragic waste.

I have seldom encountered so many words with so little substantive content.

There will be another Lexington, unfortunately, and another after that one, and so on. Unless, mercifully, The Economist folds.

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The Left and Evergreen State: Reaping What Was Sown

Tiana Lowe writes with misguided enthusiasm at National Review:

In the past fortnight, the Evergreen State College mob has incited violence against a professor, gotten said professor, Bret Weinstein, to flee campus in fear for his physical safety, inflicted $10,000 in property damage on campus, shut down classes, and forced graduation to be held off-campus as a result.

… Prior to going quiet after receiving mass-murder threats, Weinstein wrote an editorial in the Wall Street Journal warning: “The Campus Mob Came for Me—and You, Professor, Could Be Next.”…  [T]he New York Times has found a mob victim sympathetic enough in Weinstein, a liberal professor, to publicly lambaste the mobs at Evergreen, who counter every question, comment, and even a hand gesture by shouting, “RACIST.”

“It’s just the way discourse goes these days,” Evergreen president George Bridges told the Times’s Frank Bruni. Even the Seattle Times, which has previously let Bridges wax poetic on, “Why students need trigger warnings and safe places” in its editorial pages, condemned Evergreen as having “no safety, no learning, no future.”…

With the world witnessing Evergreen’s Mizzou-scale collapse in real time, perhaps the Left has finally woken up to its own tendency to eat its own. [“Evergreen State Faces Condemnation from [T]he Seattle Times and [T]he New York Times“, June 8, 2017]

Lowe links to a piece by Frank Bruni, an unsurprisingly left-wing columnist at The New York Times (“These Campus Inquisitions Must Stop“, June 3, 2017). Bruni opens with a morally relativistic, irrelevant, and sweeping statement:

Racism pervades our country. Students who have roiled college campuses from coast to coast have that exactly right.

Pervades? Perhaps Bruni is thinking of the attitude of blacks toward whites. Most American whites don’t have the time or inclination to be racist; they’re trying to get into universities and get hired and promoted despite the favoritism that’s showered on less-qualified blacks by their condescending, leftist “betters”. Yes, there is a hotbed of racism in the U.S., and it is located in the media, among the professoriate, and in the soul of every collegian of whatever color who sees life through the lens of “racism”.

Bruni, having shored up his left-wing credentials, actually says a few sensible things. After recounting the travails of Professor Weinstein, whose cause is laudable to leftists because Weinstein is a leftist, Bruni turns to

that awful moment … when one of the dozens of students encircling Nicholas Christakis, a professor [at Yale], shrieked at him: “You should not sleep at night! You are disgusting!”

He and his wife, Erika, were masters at one of Yale’s residential colleges, and she had circulated an email in which she raised questions about the university’s caution against any Halloween costumes that might be seen as examples of cultural appropriation or hurtful stereotyping.

“American universities were once a safe space not only for maturation but also for a certain regressive, or even transgressive, experience,” she wrote. “Increasingly, it seems, they have become places of censure and prohibition. And the censure and prohibition come from above, not from yourselves! Are we all O.K. with this transfer of power? Have we lost faith in young people’s capacity — in your capacity — to exercise self-censure?”

“Talk to each other,” she added. “Free speech and the ability to tolerate offense are the hallmarks of a free and open society.”

Agree or disagree with her, she was teeing up precisely the kind of contest of ideas that higher education should be devoted to. And she did so, if you read the whole of her email, in a considered, respectful fashion.

No matter: She was pushing back at something — the costume guideline — that was draped in the garb of racial sensitivity. And that made her, ipso facto, an enemy of illumination and agent of hate.

She and her husband were driven from their roles in the residential college, though he still teaches at Yale. He posted several sympathetic tweets last week about Weinstein’s vilification. In one he wrote that his wife “spent her whole career” working with “marginalized populations” and has a “deep, abiding humanity.”

“But still they came for her,” he added.

You would think that the Christakises, having been mugged by reality, would have changed their political stripes. Life is an IQ test, and they failed the mid-term.

Bruni continues:

Like plenty of adults across the political spectrum, they use slurs in lieu of arguments, looking for catharsis rather than constructive engagement. They ratchet up their language to a degree that weakens its currency for direr circumstances. And they undermine their goals — our goals — by pushing away good-hearted allies and handing ammunition to the very people who itch to dismiss them.

Right-wing media have had a field day with Evergreen, but not because they’ve faked a story. No, the story was given to them in ribbons and bows.

That’s the real problem. Bruni is afraid that Evergreen State will be used to discredit “progressivism”. But “progressivism” discredits itself, every day in every way. The riots at Evergreen State and other universities are merely the contemporary equivalent of Stalin’s purges and “show trials“.

Another piece linked to by Lowe is an unsigned editorial in The Seattle Times, “The Evergreen State College: No Safety, No Learning, No Future” (June 5, 2017). Here’s some of it:

The public state college near Olympia has become a national caricature of intolerant campus liberalism in both The New York Times and Fox News. At least one professor has been harangued and classes disrupted by shouting mobs of students accusing the famously progressive campus of “systemic racism.”

That coverage apparently has incited anonymous threats of mass murder, resulting in the campus being closed for three days. In the critical last week of school, students have been deprived of learning by extremes on the left and right.

Caricature? How can reality be a caricature? How did the “extreme” right get into the act? It’s news to me that there were and are rightists of any kind among the thugs who seized control of Evergreen.

More:

Since the corrosive 2016 presidential election, Americans increasingly comprise a nation with citizens sealed in ideological bubbles; college campuses are often the most hermetically sealed of bubbles. When Weinstein, the professor, asked a yelling mob of students if they wanted to hear his answer, they shouted “No!”

Left-wing craziness at universities long predates the 2016 election. This is another  transparent (but failed) attempt to spread some of the blame rightward.

Leftists like Bruni and the editorial board of The Seattle Times can’t see the real problem because they’re part of it. They’re like the never-say-die apologists for socialism who protest that “real socialism” has never been tried. What they can’t face up to — despite the failure of the too-long-lived Soviet experiment — is that “real socialism” necessarily leads to suppression and violence. The Soviet Union, Communist China, Castro’s Cuba, and other socialist regimes are real socialism in action, not failed substitutes for it.

Bruni and his ilk, past and present, are responsible for the turmoil at Evergreen and other campuses. Bruni and his ilk — too many parents, most school teachers, most professors of the soft stuff, most pundits, too many politicians — have been spoon-feeding leftism to the young people of this country for more than a century. That is to say, they’ve been spoon-feeding generations of young people an intolerant ideology which prevails only through violence or the clear threat of it. The particulars of the ideology shift with the winds of leftist fashion, but its main catch-words are these:

  • liberty — to do whatever one feels like doing, and to suppress whatever one doesn’t like
  • equality — which others will be forced to pay for, à la socialism, and bow to, as in “some are more equal than others”
  • fraternity — but only with the like-minded of the moment.

Bruni and his ilk seem surprised by the virulence of their intellectual offspring, but they shouldn’t be. Dr. Frankenstein was a mere amateur by comparison with his 20th and 21st century successors, who must be blamed for loosing the monsters — students, faculty, administrators — who are destroying universities. Far worse than that, they and their elders are destroying the institutions of civil society.


Related posts:
Intellectuals and Capitalism
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Left’s Agenda
The Left and Its Delusions
The Spoiled Children of Capitalism
Politics, Sophistry, and the Academy
Subsidizing the Enemies of Liberty
Are You in the Bubble?
The Culture War
Ruminations on the Left in America
Academic Ignorance
The Euphemism Conquers All
Defending the Offensive
Superiority
Whiners
A Dose of Reality
God-Like Minds
Non-Judgmentalism as Leftist Condescension
An Addendum to (Asymmetrical) Ideological Warfare
The Left and Violence
Four Kinds of “Liberals”
Leftist Condescension
A Word of Warning to Leftists (and Everyone Else)
Another Thought or Two about Class
The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy

The JFK Standard

I believe that the media’s treatment of a president has more to do with his party affiliation and various “cosmetic” factors than with his policies or executive competence. To test this hypothesis (unscientifically), I constructed a table listing six factors, and gave JFK a 10 for each of them. (He was the last president to enjoy an extended honeymoon with the media, and it had to have been based more on “cosmetic” factors than anything else.) I then quickly assigned relative scores to each of JFK’s successors — and didn’t go back to change any scores. I didn’t add the scores until I had assigned every president a score for all six factors. Here’s the result:

Given the media’s long-standing bias toward Democrats, I arbitrarily gave each Democrat 10 points for party affiliation, as against zero for the Republicans. “Looks,” “wit,” and “elegance” (as seen through the eyes of the media) should be self-explanatory. “Wife” and “children” refer to contemporaneous media perceptions of each president’s wife and child or children. Jackie was the perfect First Lady, from the standpoint of looks, poise, and “culture.” And Caroline and John Jr. epitomized “adorable,” unlike the older and often unattractive (or notorious) offspring of later presidents.

I’d say that the total scores are a good indication of the relative treatment — favorable, middling, and unfavorable — given each president by the media.


Related:
Facts about Presidents
Is Character Really an Issue?
Blindsided by the Truth
Rating the Presidents, Again
The Modern Presidency: A Tour of American History
Nonsense about Presidents, IQ, and War
1963: The Year Zero

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.

*     *     *

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.)

*     *      *

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.

*     *     *

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

*       *      *

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.

*     *     *

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.