Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Moral Depravity

Via Roy Edroso, we see that Megan McArdle made one of those awkward, badly made blogging videos, this time with Diane Sawyer and ABC News. Our Megan is moving up in the world, and our only regret is that Ann Althouse* hasn't found the same fame as well, because that would be much funnier. But we must go to video with the hack we have, not the hack we wish to have.

For some reason known only to the gods, ABC has decided that McArdle's English degree, MBA, and keen sense of the sweep of history make her the perfect person to interview about morality during a recession. Fortunately for McArdle, she specializes in what she would probably call the girly economic outlook, in which McArdle posts about her feelings about the economy instead of actual facts about the economy. Sawyer asks Professor McArdle about the biggest changes in morality during a recession, and McArdle replies that it is tradition to indulge in vice during good times because you have money to drink, gamble and party. During the Depression morality improved, McArdle said, because people had less money to spend on vice. Because evidently humans are binary creatures who only choose between two actions--spend money or not spend money. If you have money then of course you buy alcohol and have drunken parties, hire prostitutes, and gamble that money away. And when you have less or no money, of course you don't lie, cheat, or steal to feed your family. You don't use your last dollar to drink away your sorrows. You don't get into fights because you feel weak and worthless as a provider for your family. You don't prostitute yourself to feed your baby when your husband runs away in shame because he can't bear to watch you go hungry. You don't become a national hero by robbing banks.

My god, she's a stupid woman.

The morality of the young people was broken apart by the horrific war they had just endured. A Lost Generation, looking for someone to trust, something to believe in, something to help them forget. And the older generation clung even tighter to religion, condemning the immoral youth, just like in the sixties and eighties and any other time. In the 20s there was a resurgence of religious fundamentalism in response to the destruction in the social fabric that always occurs during and after a war.

McArdle must have read The Great Gatsby, but evidently concluded that Jay Gatsby was a superior businessman destroyed by the lower classes' envy, and the soulless, empty people in the mansions and nightclubs drank just because they could afford to buy alcohol.

So, Sawyer asks, should marijuana be legalized to provide revenue? That's an argument in favor of legalization, McArdle replies. She has perfected the art of saying nothing while talking endlessly, which is taking her far in the world of elite media. Sawyer next asks about morality after a great recession or depression. McArdle replies that during a depression people must depend on their community to help them survive, and therefore after the crises has passed, people are more moral and puritanical because they have more of a sense of obligation to those in the community and less to those outside the community. She does not mention that the US didn't' pull out of bad times until the massive government spending to prepare for and wage war, but this is, no doubt, why the 1940s were shining times of morality, instead of cesspool of murder, looting, rape, and god knows how many other atrocities, like genocide.

Stupid, stupid elite problem-solving Master of the Universe. With them in charge we're all going to die. Really. They'll bumble around and refuse to educate themselves and end up blowing up every damn one of us. I understand that people are very fond of faith-based thinking, but the lack of logic and rational thought out there is going to get us all killed.

Back in our recession, Sawyer asks McArdle about the biggest surprises of these times. McArdle replies that the biggest surprises are the relative mildness of the recession, [it's not over yet, cupcake] compared to what people predicted, and the speed in which anger at bank bailouts morphed into anger at any spending. If she wants to understand that phenomenon she should roll over in her bed of sin and talk to her tea-bagging boyfriend, who helped usher in these immoral, violent times.

*Hi, Ann!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Lesser Megan

Shorter Megan McArdle: Because the government doesn't have the resources to police crooked businesses, we should get rid of the government.

Less Private Megan: Ricky Martin is gay. I just wanted to say that. Also, someone who is not officially out is gay. I just wanted to say that too. [I hope her blogging friends don't become more famous, or we'll be hearing about their sex lives too.]

More Fiscally Responsible Megan
: People are worried about long-term risk on US bonds. Perhaps they think we're in a financial crises, but it is more likely that they are worried about Social Security and Medicare driving the US into default.

[That can't be right, can it? Is she really saying people are worried about the US government defaulting? Several times she's said something similar, but I must be mistaken in some way. Does she not understand the part about printing money, or am I seeing things that are not there?
And of course, there's the dreaded default risk. If people stop thinking we're good for the money, they will demand higher interest rates, and tip us into crisis.

What is she saying?]

Monday, March 29, 2010

So Much For Respect

Megan McArdle:

Big Government has written a post suggesting that the individual health care mandate will not actually be enforced by the IRS.


Big Government has written a post


Big Government


From Thoreau to Breitbart.

Congratulations, Atlantic.

Hell On Earth

Today is another busy work day, so I will be relatively brief. Fortunately Ross Douthat was stupid again; I don't have time for one of McArdle's fact-warping posts.

The Catholic Church has covered up its priests' sexual abuse of children, just as our secular society used to sweep such crimes under the rug. Kathryn Jean Lopez merely parrots the official Vatican line--it was all the fault of the dirty hippies and gays, who brought sex out from under the authority of straight men, where it belonged. But more is expected from a New York Times columnist, and Douthat delivers.

What the American and Irish churches have endured in the last decade and what German Catholics find themselves enduring today is all part of the same grim story: the exposure, years after the fact, of an appalling period in which the Catholic hierarchy responded to an explosion of priestly sex abuse with cover-ups, evasions and criminal negligence.

You see, the real problem here is not the children who endured rape and molestation. The real victims are the churches, which "have endured" the exposure (years after the fact, mind you--years!) of their rape and molestation, and the bishops and others who protected the child rapists and molesters instead of protecting the children. They knew that priests were raping children as they were saying Mass, leading prayers, holding confessions, administering First Communion to the little kids. Every time they blessed a child, they knew another child was being bent over and raped. Beaten in institutions. Forced to give oral sex to priests. Told it was their fault, that the child was the seducer. Forced parents to stay silent for fear of excommunication. Douthat chooses to focus on the institution and ignore the child victims, which puts him on the same level as the priests who knew what was going on but excused it away. Douthat is trying to spin child molestation, a sickening and disgusting action that should be inexcusable. But in this authority-loving world where children are seen as possessions to be treated or mistreated any way the parent chooses, the powerful will always win over the powerless, until they are stopped.

Every time you don't confess a sin it adds more sins to your plate--that is what Catholic children are told. And the priests and especially the bishops and pope were able to face God as if they had innocent hearts instead of guilty ones and tell everyone else that the must confess all their sins and go forth and sin no more, or else God would cast them out to Hell. Every minute of their lives they lived a double life, a life shadowed by sin, and yet they still conducted their business as if they were a moral authority anointed by God. It was possible to do this only if the priests, bishops and popes thought their survival and good public image was more important than the rape and molestation--the torture--of children. The Church and its unquestioned authority, they quite clearly stated from their actions, is more important than the people in it.

Now the scandal has touched the pope himself. There are two charges against Benedict XVI: first, that he allowed a pedophile priest to return to ministry while archbishop of Munich in 1980; and second, that as head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the 1990s, he failed to defrock a Wisconsin priest who had abused deaf children 30 years before.

The second charge seems unfair. The case was finally forwarded to the Vatican by the archbishop of Milwaukee, Rembert Weakland, more than 20 years after the last allegation of abuse. With the approval of then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s deputy, the statute of limitations was waived and a canonical trial ordered. It was only suspended because the priest was terminally ill; indeed, pretrial proceedings were halted just before he died.

But the first charge is more serious. The Vatican insists that the crucial decision was made without the future pope’s knowledge, but the paper trail suggests that he could have been in the loop. At best, then-Archbishop Ratzinger was negligent. At worst, he enabled further abuse.

For those of us who admire the pope, either possibility is distressing, but neither should come as a great surprise. The lesson of the American experience, now exhaustively documented, is that almost everyone was complicit in the scandal.

From diocese to diocese, the same cover-ups and gross errors of judgment repeated themselves regardless of who found themselves in charge. Neither theology nor geography mattered: the worst offenders were Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston and Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles — a conservative and a liberal, on opposite ends of the country.

This hasn’t prevented both sides in the Catholic culture war from claiming that the scandal vindicates their respective vision of the church.

And here we see what Douthat is protecting; his precious culture war, in which he can use his Jesus stick to beat everyone else over the head so they won't have teh icky sex. His career, which consists of calling women sluts and cowering in fear of the Dreaded Gay Agenda, is more important that helping raped and molested children. If the Church goes down, his career goes down too. If we stop giving authority to strange white males, he goes down as well. Make no mistake, it's also in Douthat's best interest to ignore raped children, and in the pages of the New York Times, he does his very best to wrench blame away from the child molesters and rapists and smear their sins over everyone else.

Liberal Catholics, echoed by the secular press, insist that the whole problem can be traced to clerical celibacy. Conservatives blame the moral relativism that swept the church in the upheavals of the 1970s, when the worst abuses and cover-ups took place.

In reality, the scandal implicates left and right alike. The permissive sexual culture that prevailed everywhere, seminaries included, during the silly season of the ’70s deserves a share of the blame, as does that era’s overemphasis on therapy. (Again and again, bishops relied on psychiatrists rather than common sense in deciding how to handle abusive clerics.) But it was the church’s conservative instincts — the insistence on institutional loyalty, obedience and the absolute authority of clerics — that allowed the abuse to spread unpunished.

Disgusting. Bishops covered up the priests' and their own actions instead of going to the police. You have child rapists arrested, you don't move them from parish to parish. More spin. Douthat is forced to admit that obedience is part of the problem, but his solution is more obedience, not less.

What’s more, it was a conservative hierarchy’s bunker mentality that prevented the Vatican from reckoning with the scandal. In a characteristic moment in 2002, a prominent cardinal told a Spanish audience that “I am personally convinced that the constant presence in the press of the sins of Catholic priests, especially in the United States, is a planned campaign ... to discredit the church.”

That cardinal was Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI. Since then, he’s come to grips with the crisis in ways that his predecessor did not: after years of drift and denial under John Paul II, the Vatican has taken vigorous steps to promote zero tolerance, expedite the dismissal of abusive priests and organize investigations that should have happened long ago. Because of Benedict’s recent efforts, and the efforts of clerics and laypeople dating back to the first wave of revelations in the 1980s, Catholics can reasonably hope that the crisis of abuse is a thing of the past.

Right, blame the dead pope, not the man in charge of handling the scandals under the pope--Benedict, then cardinal.

But the crisis of authority endures.

Because that's what's in danger here, that's what really counts. Not children going to bed crying in fear and dread of the next day. Not bruised bodies. Not destroyed minds. Not the children.

There has been some accountability for the abusers, but not nearly enough for the bishops who enabled them. And now the shadow of past sins threatens to engulf this papacy.

Popes do not resign. But a pope can clean house. And a pope can show contrition, on his own behalf and on behalf of an entire generation of bishops, for what was done and left undone in one of Catholicism’s darkest eras.

This is Holy Week, when the first pope, Peter, broke faith with Christ and wept for shame. There is no better time for repentance.

Which is exactly what the priests, bishops and popes want--to control the entire situation. Substitute meaningless confession and repentance for arrest, trial, jail, and, sadly, the terrible sexual abuse that is tolerated in our prisons today. Because the important thing here is that the priests have the chance for God's forgiveness, not that children have vindication and the rapes are punished. In the eyes of the Church the children are invisible, just as they were during the crimes. And that is what the rape and molestation of thousands of children over centuries proves to us--what really matters is that the powerful maintain their power over the lives of others.

The Church is not God. The papal hierarchy is not God. The multi-million dollar Church estates are not God. The gold, jewels, Prada shoes, missals, tabernacles, vestments, abortion protests, political lobbying are not God. The children are the face of God, and if you turn your back on them, you have nothing left.

There is no more church. There are abusers and their enablers, and their victims. If the institutions are permitted to continue, the pope, priests and bishops will be just like Dick Cheney, who learned that the only sin is getting caught.

The next time they won't be so careless.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Gimme More Money Or The Tribe Dies

NRO On-line:

Emergency NRO Webathon
Help Us Fight Back!

Now more than ever, we need your help yelling Stop. We need your help to demand Repeal, to protect Liberty, and to halt aggrandizing Government!

Let others despair – NRO is going to battle ’til victory. We face more Obama-Reid-Pelosi-Emanuel fights ahead, massive election battles in November, and so much more.

You can count on National Review and NRO to be on the job 24/7 countering the Left.

Jonah Goldberg on Twitter:

On agenda this weekend: Watch DVR'd New: Breaking Bad, V, Flashforward, Community, 30 Rock. Ah productivity.

2:10 PM Mar 26th via web

Friday, March 26, 2010

Nobody Can Know Anything, Ever

Shorter David Brooks: Our elite are not to blame for this economic disaster; economists failed because nobody can know anything, ever.

Did I mention that one of David Brooks' favorite economics blogger is Megan McArdle?

The establishment — and yes, this week there really is such a thing — is saying we have to pass [Bush's bank bailout] even if it’s ugly. The greater risk is inaction, not bad action. I happen to agree with this position, for what it’s worth, influenced by the brilliant economic blogger Megan McArdle, who points out that given how bad the Great Depression was, it’s probably worth taking heroic measures to prevent another.

The elite say we have to give tax-payer money to the banks so we must do what they say. But our elite economists were wrong. But that's not their fault because economics is an art, not a science, and now our elite say economics is broken. But our elite will figure out the solution. All they have to do is look back to earlier elites, who will tell the present elites what to do, so they can tell David Brooks, who can then tell us.

This amounts to rediscovering the humility of an earlier time. After all, Adam Smith was a moral philosopher, Friedrich von Hayek built his philosophy on an awareness of our own ignorance, and John Maynard Keynes “was not prepared to sacrifice realism to mathematics,” as the biographer Robert Skidelsky put it. Economics is a “moral science,” Keynes wrote. It deals with “motives, expectations, psychological uncertainties. One has to be constantly on guard against treating the material as constant and homogenous.”

In Act IV, in other words, economists are taking baby steps into the world of emotion, social relationships, imagination, love and virtue. In Act V, I predict, they will blow up their whole field.

Economics achieved coherence as a science by amputating most of human nature. Now economists are starting with those parts of emotional life that they can count and model (the activities that make them economists). But once they’re in this terrain, they’ll surely find that the processes that make up the inner life are not amenable to the methodologies of social science. The moral and social yearnings of fully realized human beings are not reducible to universal laws and cannot be studied like physics.

Sociologists and theologians might disagree, but Brooks is busy creating a new reality here, and the old reality will just have to suck it up.

Once this is accepted, economics would again become a subsection of history and moral philosophy. It will be a powerful language for analyzing certain sorts of activity. Economists will be able to describe how some people acted in some specific contexts. They will be able to draw out some suggestive lessons to keep in mind while thinking about other people and other contexts — just as historians, psychologists and novelists do.

At the end of Act V, economics will be realistic, but it will be an art, not a science.

That's one powerful assessment of failure there. Our economics didn't fail us, economics failed our economists-our elite. Who are never wrong, even when they are.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Third Rail Of McArdle

(Busy today--more posting tomorrow.)

Megan McArdle (or, as she likes to be called, McStupid), has decided to attack social security,, which is rather a mistake as her manipulations are easily refuted.

Every since the early eighties, when the Greenspan commission kicked the can down the road with a combination of tax increases and later retirement ages, analysts have been awaiting the day when the system would finally go into deficit. That date has been sliding around between 2016 and 2020 for some years now, but the suspense is finally over: the system is going into deficit this year.

Not doing a bit of research, I remember this was known and planned for.

Now, we all know that this week, McArdle said one of the stupidest things a grown human can say. ("Tyranny of the Majority") My friends, this week she tops herself. She's become quite the Jonah Goldberg.

This is the canary in the coal mine; if Social Security's finances are in trouble, Medicare's will also be looking worse. While I was at the Kauffman Foundation's economics blogger forum last Friday, a show of hands indicated that about 80% of the people there thought America would have a serious fiscal crisis in the next two decades. This is how it starts--not with a bang, but with a moderate decline in revenues.

I'll have to read a lot about Social Security to respond, but if she's going to operate on this level of clumsy misdirection and feeble lying, it'll be fun.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Shorter Megan McArdle


Kathryn Jean Lopez Calls Bart Stupak A Slut

Kathryn Jean Lopez volunteered for the Prom Committee and the power has gone to her head.

I have no idea what Bart Stupak was thinking. Perhaps he couldn’t endure the pressure on him, on his staff, and, most intimately, on his family. Perhaps he lacked an appreciation of the power he had to hold up the president’s signature legislation for the sake of the unborn and then got entranced by the pats on the back he got from leadership for saving their day, which he very likely did. A Democrat who wanted to vote for universal health care, in the end, Stupak proved himself the cheapest of dates. He traded all this power — power that had Nancy Pelosi screaming at a pro-life Democrat on the House floor Sunday — for a mess of pottage: for a farce of an executive order that holds no power over the codified statute of Obamacare.

Throughout the whole ordeal — both while Stupak was fighting and after he caved — I couldn’t get the late Pennsylvania governor Robert Casey out of my mind. He was pro-life, and he was a Democrat. And he didn’t actually have a home in the Democratic party. If you’re pro-life and you’re a Democrat, for decades now, you’ve found yourself empty-handed, duped, angry, or humiliated.

That's right, sluts, he'll take your virtue and leave you alone and humiliated. Sure, first Obama was all, "Hey there!" and winking at Stupak and offering him a ride in his sports car, but after he used him and cast him aside for the next cute legislator, Stupak was left with nothing but a cheap corsage and his regrets.

In 1992, Casey won reelection with over a million votes. That and being the governor of Pennsylvania, a key swing state right next door to New York, would normally get you a slot at a Madison Square Garden Democratic convention. But not for Casey. In a move reminiscent of Bill Clinton’s refusal even to talk to his own ambassador to the Vatican, who stood outside the president’s office for hours trying to deliver a letter from the pope on the president’s decision to veto a ban on partial-birth abortion, the White House refused even to respond to Casey’s requests for a place on stage during the 1996 national convention. The Democratic party, which claims to be a beacon of tolerance, doesn’t have a lot of it when it comes to those who defend the most innocent among us.

Casey was a good girl and where did it get him? The other Democratic Seducer-in-Chief did the same thing! Casey waited by the phone all day but Bill Clinton never called, even though Casey had a letter from the pope! The pope! If a letter from the pope won't get you an invitation to the prom, what will? The pope defends the innocent children as long as they are unborn. After they are born, not so much, and you'd better learn to not let the priest stand directly behind you. But that's not the point--protecting the children is the point!

Casey called abortion “inconsistent with our national character, with our national purpose, with all that we’ve done, and with everything we hope to be.”

Of course, our current president, who claims to be all about hope, went to that same school and tried to wash the conscience of Casey from our political memories. But he can’t. And for a while, it looked as if Bart Stupak wouldn’t let him.

So much for that.

Do you think jut because he goes to school with you that he won't use you? You fool! You'll be forgotten just like the last girl in your sorry position. You think you'll hold out, but then he gets out the Barry White and it's good-bye panties, hello public humiliation.

What we saw in the health-care debate is that the Democratic party — as defined by its national leaders — is a party that, when given a choice between abortion and universal health care, as it was on Friday night before Stupak gave in, chooses abortion.

I think she's trying to say that instead of going to Planned Parenthood for reproductive health care, Slutty McStupak had an abortion instead, but my Wingnut translation skills are taxed to the limit here.

Soon, the farce that is the executive order Bart Stupak agreed to will undergo the analysis of more observers than just the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Politics may well wake up the party leadership. If it doesn’t, politicians of conscience are going to have to walk. “Pro-life” is just talk if you’re a vote for Nancy Pelosi as speaker and a vote for the most radical embrace of abortion by a branch of the federal government since Roe v. Wade.

In other words, for the moment, “pro-life Democrat” is a category that doesn’t really exist. As for the pro-life Democrat “no” votes left standing alone and useless last night, God bless them.

Therefore, Kathryn Jean does hereby petition the student council from letting any slutty Democrats from going to the prom and ruining it for everyone else, who just want to have a nice time without any hanky-panky going on that will earn them eternal damnation.

Whatsoever You Do

In "More On Health Care Predictions," Megan McArdle expends many, many unnecessary words to attack her enemies, the liberal bloggers. For all of life is a pissing contest between yourself and your peers, attempting to one-up them and get their attention. McArdle is not yet reduced to staring at photos of politicians until she sees a hidden picture like Ann Althouse, but she's getting there.

McArdle discusses cost and benefit and accountability but she does not discuss people, whom she reduces to numbers on a balance sheet. McArdle thinks people exist to maximize their economic potential. She doesn't have the faintest clue that we exist to love and be loved, and to give of yourself to your fellow man is the greatest privilege on earth.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Death! Destruction! Totalitarianism! Meooooow!

Megan McArdle is devastated. Bereft. Heartbroken. Crushed. She's a sad little kitty.

Obviously, yes, I was upset yesterday. I'm glad that this could bring so much joy to peoples' hearts, and of course to know that for many people, the happiest part of passing health care reform seems to have been knowing that it made people like me unhappy.

It's hard to be the center of the universe. Here you are, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and Big Thinkerish, but people keep doing things you don't like. What the hell is wrong with them? Don't they care about Megan McArdle at all? Do they even think about what she wants? Or do they just think of ways to make her unhappy, like trying to get health care or end wars? How freaking selfish can other people be??

The people wondering why I was so upset should contemplate that first, I think you people just screwed up both our health care system, and our fiscal system (even further), and that if I'm right, that's not really funny.

Awwww. Sad Kitty ignored the death of Iraqis (and actually tried with all her might to downplay their deaths) and the irresponsible actions of her banking gods, but now she's terrified. Little Miss Megan thought it was fine for our elite to plunge the world into an economic crises, but health care will mean the death of our nation, just like national health care brought down all these countries that have it: "Afghanistan, Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Cuba, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iraq*, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Oman, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Ukraine and the United Kingdom."

Yes, we are providing universal health care for Afghanistan. The child of a Muslim warlord gets health care from the American government, but the child of an American worker and tax-payer does not.

McArdle has not really backed down from any of her lies and distortions about health care; she still repeats them in ever-shifting form. She simply dismisses the facts, saying that government is bad and it should stay out of health care.

Once the government gets into the business of providing our health care, the government gets into the business of deciding whose life matters, and how much. It gets into the business of deciding what we "really" want, where what we really want can never be a second chocolate eclair that might make us a size fourteen and raise the cost of treating us.

I realize that to most people, these are airy-fairy considerations that should be overridden by the many "practical" considerations of the awesomeness of central health care. Well, I'm actually pretty underwhelmed by that awesomeness, for reasons I'll happily elaborate elsewhere. But not here, because fundamentally, to me, the effect on the tax code and the relative efficiency of various sorts of bureaucracy are mostly beside the point. The real issue is the effect on future lives, and future freedom. And in my opinion, they way in overwhelmingly on the side of stopping further government encroachments into health care provision.

Unfortunately for everyone who was paid to fight health care reform, the Republicans ruined the economy, lost the election, and lost the opportunity to watch more Americans die in the street or cheap apartments. McArdle only makes herself look hysterical, ill-informed, and hopelessly partisan by predicting the end of the world as we know it.

If you think there is actually no chance that I'm right, you need to go read a book like Jonah Leher's How We Decide.

You have to admire her belief in her mental powers. However, she forgets one tiny detail:

Otto: Don't call me stupid.

Wanda: Oh, right! To call you stupid would be an insult to stupid people! I've known sheep that could outwit you. I've worn dresses with higher IQs. But you think you're an intellectual, don't you, ape?

Otto: Apes don't read philosophy.

Wanda: Yes, they do, Otto. They just don't understand it. Now let me correct you on a couple of things, OK? Aristotle was not Belgian. The central message of Buddhism is not every man for himself. The London Underground is not a political movement. Those are all mistakes. I looked 'em up.

(My computer went haywire for a moment, so this post was edited after publishing.)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Future After Health Care

America, I come to you with a heavy heart and a dark cloud floating over my head, the kind with little flashes of lighting and rumbly noises. Do you know what happens when you elect a man who promises to reform health care and then makes some reforms on health care? You have failure, my friends! Failure! Have we no protection from the people we elected to reform health care actually reforming health care? Don't they care that we had an election in which the Democrats, who are for health care reform, were elected to reform health care? How long must we be ruled by our elected representatives? The scandal! The tragedy!

But you'll get yours, oh yes, you will. The Republicans will disagree with you! Will refuse to support you or do what you want! It is to laugh, the idea that the Republicans won't withhold their support! I laugh at your supposition of comity, mutual support, and bipartisanship!

My only consolation is that all the people who were elected to reform health care will be sent howling into the wilderness for supporting health care reform. How they hate the mouth-breathers who elected them to support health care reform. The best route to electoral success has never been to do what your constituents elected you to do.

I hope Obama enjoys his success. That'll teach him. He's sure to be rejected by the electorate for obeying their wishes. Not that it matters what the people think; nobody listens to me them anyway.

In Which The Poor Disappoint Their Lords And Masters

David Brooks takes a look at the stranglehold the elite has on the economy and deduces that the problem is "a devastating crisis of authority."
The United States is becoming a broken society. The public has contempt for the political class. Public debt is piling up at an astonishing and unrelenting pace. Middle-class wages have lagged. Unemployment will remain high. It will take years to fully recover from the financial crisis.

This confluence of crises has produced a surge in vehement libertarianism. People are disgusted with Washington. The Tea Party movement rallies against big government, big business and the ruling class in general. Even beyond their ranks, there is a corrosive cynicism about public action.

Brooks looks to British philosopher and theologian Philip Blond for guidance on how to deal with the failures of our society.
Blond argues that over the past generation we have witnessed two revolutions, both of which liberated the individual and decimated local associations. First, there was a revolution from the left: a cultural revolution that displaced traditional manners and mores; a legal revolution that emphasized individual rights instead of responsibilities; a welfare revolution in which social workers displaced mutual aid societies and self-organized associations.

The right keeps insisting that a cultural revolution took place in the 1960s, in which the Anglo-Saxon culture that made America the pinnacle of political, moral and economic achievement was rejected in place of dirty hippie culture, with its "do your own thing" philosophy. Back over in reality, where the rest of us live, we know that the only thing rejected was the authority of the elite, as minorities fought for equal treatment by the law and society. Our society didn't dissolve into communal living. We didn't stop making wars, earning money, creating families. We just made it harder for the dominant White culture to exclude everyone else. Conservatives, who by definition try to maintain the dominance of White males, were frightened by the loss of authority and power. The right has been hysterical about the dirty hippies who spoiled their ability to enforce dominance in public ever since, and has been livid at the idea of any of their privileges being given to the people they see as morally, mentally and socially inferior.
Then there was the market revolution from the right. In the age of deregulation, giant chains like Wal-Mart decimated local shop owners. Global financial markets took over small banks, so that the local knowledge of a town banker was replaced by a manic herd of traders thousands of miles away. Unions withered.

Not so fast, Skippy. You can call it a revolution in the feeble attempt to make it sound like a fight for freedom, but the "market revolution" was never anything but the elite's successful attempt to avoid any checks or balances on their unremitting greed. The free market revolution was a revolt against government regulation, the bane of the rich and soon-to-be super rich. Milton Friedman's belief in eliminating government regulation via eliminating taxes, an eternally winning campaign platform, merely shifted the burden of paying for the government to later generations, who would be stuck with the ensuing debt.
The two revolutions talked the language of individual freedom, but they perversely ended up creating greater centralization. They created an atomized, segmented society and then the state had to come in and attempt to repair the damage.

More rewriting of history. "The state had to come in and repair the damage" is a cute way of saying that Obama's backers had him give tax-payer money to the elite when they destroyed their own houses of business through their greed. No elite is supposed to suffer, ever.
The free-market revolution didn’t create the pluralistic decentralized economy. It created a centralized financial monoculture, which requires a gigantic government to audit its activities.

Oddly enough, that's what happens when you give all the power and money to a small group of people. They don't share the wealth and power. The "gigantic government" is not auditing the people who put them into office, it's busy waging wars that enrich arms dealers, making sweetheart deals, and securing natural resources for corporate use, all of which need the force and resources of the government.
The effort to liberate individuals from repressive social constraints didn’t produce a flowering of freedom; it weakened families, increased out-of-wedlock births and turned neighbors into strangers. In Britain, you get a country with rising crime, and, as a result, four million security cameras.

Gosh, it seems that individuals demanding equal rights leads to crime and a police state. Not rising inequality and the elite's growing stranglehold on the poor and powerless.

Brooks' solution is, naturally, more conservatism.
The task today, he argued in a recent speech, is to revive the sector that the two revolutions have mutually decimated: “The project of radical transformative conservatism is nothing less than the restoration and creation of human association, and the elevation of society and the people who form it to their proper central and sovereign station.”

Economically, Blond lays out three big areas of reform: remoralize the market, relocalize the economy and recapitalize the poor. This would mean passing zoning legislation to give small shopkeepers a shot against the retail giants, reducing barriers to entry for new businesses, revitalizing local banks, encouraging employee share ownership, setting up local capital funds so community associations could invest in local enterprises, rewarding savings, cutting regulations that socialize risk and privatize profit, and reducing the subsidies that flow from big government and big business.

To create a civil state, Blond would reduce the power of senior government officials and widen the discretion of front-line civil servants, the people actually working in neighborhoods. He would decentralize power, giving more budget authority to the smallest units of government. He would funnel more services through charities. He would increase investments in infrastructure, so that more places could be vibrant economic hubs. He would rebuild the “village college” so that universities would be more intertwined with the towns around them.

In other words, Blond would somehow take power from the powerful and spread it around. How is he going to convince the elite to share power? What do you think, Skippy?
America, too, is suffering a devastating crisis of authority. The only way to restore trust is from the local community on up.

I see. It's the poor's duty to restore the elites' trustworthiness. It's the responsibility of the powerless to stop worrying about individual rights, the bane of conservatives' existence, and worry instead about how the elite can get back all the power respect they had before the natives became so uppity. It's the poor's job to force corporations to pay their workers more, stop mergers and acquisitions, eliminate unfair corporate advantages, and eliminate corporate subsidies and bailouts. Somehow. Like Libertarianism, Brooks' pet ideas can't and won't work, but they do serve their purpose--telling the little people that their current straighted circumstances are all their fault, and if they just stopped worrying about their rights and quietly obeyed and respected their elite, none of this mess would have happened in the first place. After all, it works for religion--why not politics?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Your Lovin' Don't Pay My Bills

Megan McArdle is feeling the sting of public disapproval. Her commenters are pointing out that there is no excuse for defending tea baggers who are tormenting a sick man and McArdle simply can't figure out what all the fuss is about. After all, they were throwing money at the man. Money! How could anyone protest something as wonderful and special as money? What is human dignity compared to cold, hard cash?

No matter how frail his condition, could the fellow on the ground possibly have been seriously endangered by having two bills hurled his way?

I'd certainly be willing to take such harsh treatment from the nice folks at Progress Ohio.

McArdle can't even stand negative words on the internet, let alone someone screaming and throwing things at her. When her commenters point out that callous disregard for other human beings is a characteristic of sociopathy, McArdle rushes to defend herself.

The tendency of both sides in this debate to ratchet up the rhetoric until everyone who disagrees with you is a sociopath, and every protest is 1960's Birmingham, is getting ridiculous--and it demeans both actual people who suffered physical violence, and the intelligence of those around you. If you are that confident about your beliefs on this very complicated topic, then you cannot possibly be making a rational and informed decision.

Actually, this topic is very clear-cut, for once. Don't harass sick people. McArdle has to make it complicated to obfuscate the fact that she is supporting tea baggers once again. To do so, she has to make utterly moronic statements. Being confident might be an indication of lack of knowledge and logic for McArdle, but it is not for everyone. Beliefs becomes knowledge if the belief is true and justified by the facts. And it is not only possible but it is necessary to make choices in life because problems must be solved or they will get worse.

McArdle is a Libertarian because it enables her refuse to make a choice or a decision. She has so little confidence in her opinions (admittedly, for good reason) that she managed to find a political philosophy that let her endlessly give useless advice that will never be taken and for which she will never be held accountable.

Megan McArdle: You seem to be under the mistaken impression that I have a workable political program. I'm a libertarian. My political ideas are always unpopular.

She can look wise without actually having any wisdom and give advice knowing very well it will never be implemented. Since she doesn't expect any results or consequences, she can vomit out anything damn thing she wants, no matter how foolish, cruel, or ignorant. And when she is criticized, she can state that nobody knows anything ever, so her critics must be wrong.

McArdle didn't have to repost the video of the harassment and fluff the tea baggers. There's no upside to doing so in this case except to support and defend her friends. Why defend an indefensible act when you could have just ignored it? Doesn't the wide-spread criticism of her actions ever make her reconsider what she is doing?

Isn't it amazing how people who disagree with you never have any but the vilest reasons for their beliefs, and are always logically and factually incorrect to boot?

I guess not. Instead of addressing her mistakes of fact and logic, she sneers at her critics. Instead of trying to determine why people are saying she is callous, she dismisses the criticism with a few sarcastic words. McArdle to a commenter:

I find it interesting that *your* inability to imagine how anyone could possibly disagree with you about the utility or justice of a social program must mean that *I* have a problem with empathy.

Less sarcastically, "sociopath" is a social disorder, not a political one, and disagreeing with you about social policy is not a symptom. To put it gently, the belief that disagreeing with you might be a symptom of such a disorder suggests a few DSM-IV diagnoses of its own--Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and Borderline Personality would be where I'd start looking.

Except that oh, right, it's totally moronic to start diagnosing people I've never met over the internet, on the basis of statements I don't like, and without a degree in psychiatry.

If you disagree with her you are a narcissist, because you are sure you are right and nobody can ever be sure that they are right. Even the people who research the facts, logically work through the problem, and determine a course of action can't be confident enough in their intellectual capacity and hard work to actually make a decision. Decisions are too hard. Just as McArdle thought Saddam had WMD because she would have had WMD, McArdle thinks nobody can reason because she can't reason. And compassion is narcissism, for it is paternalistic to determine that someone is in need and should be helped.
Someone should have told God about Libertarianism. He could have skipped that whole Jesus thing and saved Himself the trouble of suffering and dying to save His children, who should have pulled themselves up by their sandal straps anyway.

No Heaven For You

You know how everyone says you can't prove a negative, and therefore it can't be proven that God doesn't exist? We now have proof.

From a comment by Mr. Furious at Balloon Juice:

As some of you know, I work in publishing… Last week the ASME (American Society of Magazine Editors) announced the finalists for the 2010 Awards—which is like the Oscars for magazines…

I just about spit my coffee out when I read this:

Nominees for Best Columns and Commentary—Recognizes excellence in short-form social, economic and political commentary, including humor
The Atlantic
James Bennet, Editor
For three columns by Megan McArdle
“Sink and Swim,” June; “Misleading Indicator,” November; “Lead Us Not Into Debt,” December

Really, Bennet? Over the last year, the three best columns in The Atlantic were McArdle’s?

There you go. I expect everyone to abandon their churches at once and spend Sunday helping their fellow man. Except McArdle, of course, who will spend the day visiting hospitals so she can throw things at the dying patients or scream insults at people in wheelchairs.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Where Are Pirates When You Need Them?

It seems that the recession has affected even the upper middle class, for there are still cabins available on the National Review Cruise.

Portugal. May. Riverboat. Political Panels. NR. Your Kind of a Vacation! Sign Up Now! [Jack Fowler]

Imagine three nights at a five-star Lisbon hotel, followed by a seven-night luxury sailing on the glorious Douro River (May 12 – 22). All the while you’re touring the beautiful countryside. And in between the fine dining and relaxing receptions, you’re enjoying numerous panel sessions discussing current events. Imagine

figuring out the 2010 elections with Dick Morris,
and with Ralph Reed,
discussing the administration’s 10-thumbed Middle East policy with former Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz,
and its jaw-dropping treatment of terrorists with former Attorney General Michael Mukasey,
exploring the state of Americas culture with acclaimed author and social critic Midge Decter,
and the state of conservatism with Wall Street Journal columnist Bill McGurn,
as well as National Review Institute president Kate O’Beirne,
discovering just how statist the EU is with European parliament member and Tory star Dan Hannan,
judging our military prospects in Afghanistan with Bing West,
dissecting major domestic and social trends with National Review Online Editor-at-large Kathryn Lopez,
and just how biased our media has become with National Review Deputy Managing Editor Kevin Williamson.
There are still cabins available — one for you, because face it: you just don’t want to miss this trip. (Did you know we cut cabin prices by $2,000?!) You can sign up immediately (and get complete information about all the wonderful excursions awaiting you) at

Be still my heart--Kathryn Jean Lopez is available for cocktail chatter! Or you can go toe-to-toe with Dick Morris, or discuss culture with Midge Dector, who can relate what it was like to live through the first Depression. The only thing missing is the presence of Jonah Goldberg in the bar, holding court with a brandy in one hand and a cigar in another, like one of the barnyard animals attending cocktail parties in a New Yorker cartoon.

Minorities need not apply, as poor Norman Podhoretz is easily frightened.

Assessing Failure: Institutional Abuse

Let's watch Megan McArdle try to think her way through a problem. She is, after all, one of the nation's Big Thinkers, on whom we depend to guide us through our current crises and give us solutions to our nation's myriad problems.

First, let's look at the back story.
Hundreds of allegations, many going back decades, of systematic child abuse by Catholic clergy have come to light this year across Europe.

The scandal has surfaced in Germany - Pope Benedict's homeland - Switzerland, Austria and the Netherlands.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Wednesday the only way to come to terms with it was to find out everything that has happened.

Earlier, scandals have rocked the Catholic Church in the United States, Canada, Australia and Mexico.
The sexual abuse of children by clergy is world-wide, and one must assume that it has always existed. If we want to end this practice, we must determine what caused it and how it can be eradicated. Fortunately we have our elite to help us understand and solve complex problems. Take it away, Megan McArdle!
I am by no means an expert on the Catholic Church, or Protestant ones. But what I know about the latter makes me curious about the sex scandals at the former. In the media, they're generally written about as a product of one of two factors: priestly celibacy and the authority structure of the church.

Ignorance is one of my favorite qualities in our elite leaders and problem solvers. Why look to experts, who have been corrupted with education, intellectual training, and facts, when you can look to naturally superior people who instinctively know all about a subject by scanning headlines on their Blackberry? You see, if you acknowledge that you are ignorant, your ignorance is negated, just like if you acknowledge that you have a conflict of interest, your conflict of interest is negated.

Now that we have dispensed with the need for facts on which to base our assessment, let's move on to the problem.
But as I understand it, Protestant churches also have these problems. And the problems get hushed up just the way they did in the Catholic Church -- or at any rate, as effectively. The difference is that rather than a central authority moving them around, the same effect is achieved in a thoroughly decentralized, emergent, spontaneous-order kind of way. A pastor (frequently a youth pastor) is accused of something terrible by one of his young charges. The congregation has no appetite for a scandal, which would expose parents and child to terrible public airing of their grievances. And anyway, these sorts of things are difficult to prove, particularly since predators often pick on troubled children. So the thing is hushed up, and the pastor is told to resign. He does . . . and gets a job at another church. After all, telling the other congregation why the pastor left could expose you to a lawsuit.

"As I understand it." Thank God we have intellectually superior thinkers to do our thinking for us. They have such superior thought processes that they don't even have to actually do any thinking; they just swallow problems and burp out solutions without any dubious intellectual activity mucking up the works.

McArdle's digestion determined that the problem is not institutional, because centralized religious organizations and less centralized religious institutions both had problems with religious leaders raping children. Evidently dismissing the centralized part of religious institutional actions negates the institutional aspect of the situation as well, because McArdle overlooks or ignores the consequences of the institutionalization of religion. And it seems that the problem is lawyers (not their paying clients) who spontaneously decide to sue organizations, thereby making them suffer and, naturally, take steps to relieve that suffering by protecting child rapists.
It's the clerical version of the "dance of the lemons" that is well-chronicled in urban school districts, where principals write good recommendations for bad teachers rather than go to the trouble of trying to get them fired.

Hey, child rape isn't all that bad anyway--it's like bad teaching. Can't get rid of them either, thanks to the stupid lawyers. Note, also, that bad teachers are in urban school districts, because minority urban teachers are worse than White suburban teachers.
According to Henke et. al. (2000), African-American and Hispanic teacher were more likely than Whites to work in schools with a high proportion of students eligible for the federal lunch program....Fifty percent of White teachers were hired by low-risk districts compared with 11% of Hispanic and 18 % of Black teachers. In contrast, 55% of African Americans were hired in medium-risk districts, whereas 60% of Hispanics were employed in high-risk districts. Hispanic students made up 70% of the students in high-risk districts whereas Black students comprised 20% in medium and high-risk districts. (From Studying Teacher Education: The Report of the AERA Panel on Research and Teacher Education.

So why is the media picking on the poor Catholic Church by discussing its perpetration and cover up of child rape?
It seems at least possible that the real reason the Catholic Church scandals are so bad is that the Catholic Church is one central institution that you can complain about.

What a surprise! McArdle makes an emotional argument that people are being mean to the Catholic Church, instead of assessing why it failed its members so horribly and consistently. Without explanation or factual support, McArdle simply states that the Catholic Church is being picked on, because it is, so there. McArdle was raised Catholic and unsurprisingly chooses to feel that criticism of the Catholic Church is worse than criticism of other churches because of anti-Catholic bias, as well as centralization.
Thousands of Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc churches across the country could have the same number of constituents, and the same number of abusers, but it wouldn't register as a central problem.

The New York Times and The Christian Science Monitor might disagree. They and many, many others examined the problem and determined that the decentralized nature of protestant churches make it harder to assess and report on abuse, while the central authority and, much more importantly, enormous wealth of the Catholic Church means that lawyers are more likely to accept requests by abuse victims to sue organizations with money than organizations without money. McArdle could find this out if she bothered to look, but the nature of elite opinion making and problem solving means that doing a gut check is every bit as good as reading article and books. It also leaves much more time for socializing, shopping, and sneering at the lower classes.
Just to be clear, I'm not saying that this is true -- I've been looking, but found no decent statistics on general clerical child predation. I just wonder if it isn't possible. Is there really something pathological about the Catholic church? Or are pedophiles attracted to professions where they have access to children?

It's odd that McArdle couldn't find any "decent" data, because the Catholic Church has eagerly and self-servingly been offering any proof they could find that child rape is not just a Catholic problem. "I just wonder" is supposed to be an adequate intellectual basis for McArdle's instinctive, authoritarian support for her Mother Church, and the real problem of authoritarian institutions exploiting their power over individuals is ignored. Instead, we hear that the problem is gays, or celibacy, or lack of information, not the unquestioning obedience given to authorities, and subsequent and inevitable abuses of power that result.

As long as people unquestioningly give religious institutions authority over their lives and especially their sexuality, they will be exploited. Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Failure Assessment: The Conservative Elite And Hollywood

David Brooks is not the only pundit making a plea for sympathy for the poor, victimized elite, who (through no fault of their own) utterly failed to realize that illegally invading another country for no reason might not work out to our benefit. Little Master Ross Douthat, heir to the New York Times pundit mantle, frets that people are losing sympathy for the elites' point of view. Dreadful shame about all that death and destruction, but what could one do, and the real tragedy is that Douthat can't go to the movies and imagine himself in the place of Sgt. Rock or Captain America.
Americans believe in evil, but we’re uncomfortable with tragedy. We accept that there are wicked people in the world, with malice in their hearts and a devil whispering in their ears. But the idea that many debacles flow from choices made by decent, well-intentioned human beings is more difficult for us to wrap our minds around.

This is apparent in our politics, where we’re swift to impute the worst of motives to anyone slightly to our left or right. It’s apparent in our popular culture, thick with white hats and black hats, superheroes and supervillains. But it’s most egregious where the two spheres intersect: in our political fictions, which are nearly always Manichaean, simplistic and naïve.

Ordinarily Douthat would be the first to embrace a Manichaean, simplistic, naive view of mankind, Biblical-based and utterly scornful of ambiguity. He would be the first to say that evil and good exist, and humanity is locked in an eternal struggle between the two. While complaining about the supposed pantheism of Avatar, Douthat said:
[...P]antheism opens a path to numinous experience for people uncomfortable with the literal-mindedness of the monotheistic religions — with their miracle-working deities and holy books, their virgin births and resurrected bodies. As the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski noted, attributing divinity to the natural world helps “bring God closer to human experience,” while “depriving him of recognizable personal traits.” For anyone who pines for transcendence but recoils at the idea of a demanding Almighty who interferes in human affairs, this is an ideal combination.

He was for good and evil before he was against it. Now he is on the wrong side of the divide, however, and we are told that the evil guy in the black hat really isn't so bad after all, he's really a decent guy who just happened to make a mistake out of good intentions.
But the film itself, a slam-bang account of the hunt for weapons of mass destruction, has the same problem as nearly every other Hollywood gloss on recent political events: it refuses to stare real tragedy in the face, preferring the comforts of a “Bush lied, people died” reductionism.

No, the tragedy is not that our elite lied, bullied, and self-deceived us into war. It's not the hundreds of thousands dead, the million sent fleeing for their lives, the children starved, killed, traumatized. It's not the destruction of a country. It's not the thousands of American dead, limbs blown off, children orphaned. The tragedy is that the elite can't fantasize that they are the heroes in the fictional version of reality that is constantly screening in their heads.
The narrative of the Iraq invasion, properly told, resembles a story out of Shakespeare. You had a nation reeling from a terrorist attack and hungry for a response that would be righteous, bold and comprehensive. You had an inexperienced president trying to tackle a problem that his predecessors (one of them his own father) had left to fester since the first gulf war. You had a cause — the removal of a brutal dictator, and the spread of democracy to the Arab world — that inspired a swath of the liberal intelligentsia to play George Orwell and embrace the case for war. You had a casus belli — those weapons of mass destruction — that even many of the invasion’s opponents believed to be a real danger to world peace. And you had Saddam Hussein himself, the dictator in his labyrinth, apparently convinced that pretending to have W.M.D. was the best way to keep his grip on power.

Fantasies. Lies told and retold until they have the false ring of truth. Self-soothing masturbation, to silence the voice of conscience that demands to be acknowledged but is constantly, compulsively ignored. The actual facts tell a different, less reassuring story, and are all but forgotten. The elite rewrites the story, recasting themselves as heroes or harmless dupes and complaining when everyone else won't play pretend as well.
But this opening act, and all the tragedies that followed, still awaits an artist capable of wrestling with its complexities. In “Green Zone,” everything is much simpler. “We” were lied to. “They” did the lying. The “we” is the audience, Matt Damon’s stoic soldier and the perpetually innocent American public. The “they” is the neoconservatives, embodied by a weaselly Greg Kinnear (playing some combination of Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Bremer and Douglas Feith) and capable of any enormity in the pursuit of their objectives.

How does our elite assess their failures of judgement and reason, empathy and logic? They cry that they are being victimized. They don't try to understand why they failed. They don't reassess the basis for their decision-making. They don't examine their biases and prejudices. They don't read and discuss dissenting opinions. They don't re-examine the facts and pin-point where they misinterpreted the data. They complain and whine and play the victim card. Nobody likes them and everyone thinks they're bad when they're really the good guys because they meant well, cross their hearts and hope someone else dies.
Such glib scapegoating looks particularly lame in the wake of last week’s Oscar triumph for “The Hurt Locker,” the first major movie to paint the Iraq War in shades of gray. But “The Hurt Locker,” of course, was largely apolitical. Throw politics into the mix, and there seems to be no escaping the clichés and simplifications that mar Greengrass’s movie — and Robert Redford’s “Lions for Lambs,” Oliver Stone’s “W.” and all the other attempts to bring the Bush era to cinematic life.

This isn’t just a Hollywood problem. Explaining “Why Americans Can’t Write Political Fiction” in a 2005 essay for the Washington Monthly, Chris Lehmann noted the long-running tendency in American letters to depict politics as the preserve of debased cynics and moral monsters. From Mark Twain’s “Gilded Age” and Robert Penn Warren’s “All the King’s Men” to their more recent imitators, our novelists have never been terribly interested in the actual challenges of political life. Instead, Lehmann suggested, they usually cast the entire mess as “a great ethical contaminant and task their protagonists with escaping its many perils with both their lives and their moral compasses intact.”

As it happens, this is a pretty good description of the arc of “Green Zone.” But it’s a lousy recipe for real art, which is supposed to be interested in the humanity of all its subjects, not just the ones who didn’t work for Rumsfeld’s Department of Defense.

Such radical sympathy, extended even to people who presided over grave disasters, is in short supply all across America at the moment. And Hollywood’s inability to handle political complexity plays only a small part in our ongoing polarization.

It's not that the elite was wrong. It's Hollywood that is wrong, for not understanding the goodness in the heart of the elite, who are tasked with the difficult responsibility of making decisions for everyone else. Naturally they will sometimes fail, but failure points the way to success, and how are the elite to succeed if everyone keeps pointing out their failures?

More Elite Assessments


David Brooks:

Once partisan reconciliation is used for this bill, it will be used for everything, now and forever. The Senate will be the House. The remnants of person-to-person relationships, with their sympathy and sentiment, will be snuffed out. We will live amid the relationships of group versus group, party versus party, inhumanity versus inhumanity.


South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint:

"If we’re able to stop Obama on this [health care insurance reform plan] it will be his Waterloo. It will break him," he said.

The inhumanity is the present health care system, not the lack of capitulation by liberals. Brooks has nothing to offer but sanctimonious pleas for civility, since discussing the facts of our health care system would make his pleas sound both ignorant and servile.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Assessing Failure

When Megan McArdle achieved one failure after the other in her life, instead of accurately assessing why she repeatedly made bad decisions, she decided instead to make failur-ade. The blogger who supported every bad decision she could find now lectures us on how to overcome failure.
It sounds like a dubious aspiration, but one of the more pressing priorities for America this decade is to preserve our cherished freedom to fail in this country. This freedom to fail may not have made it into President Franklin D. Roosevelt's famous declaration of the four freedoms that define America — it would have been bad karma on the eve of World War II — but it has long been one of the pillars of this country's exceptionalism. Call it the fifth freedom.

In the rambling and often irrelevant paragraphs that follow, McArdle explains that our systems are set up to handle failures because we study our failures and learn from the past. Unfortunately, McArdle adds, we are presently wasting our time "searching for bad guys instead."
Watch a hearing held before the House Financial Services committee, and you don't see legislators absorbing sound policy advice; you see them mouthing talking points and beating up on bankers. There isn't really much evidence that the "unsafe" financial products vilified by some proponents of financial reform played a large role in the meltdown. While exotic loans certainly helped make the bubble larger, there's no reason to believe that we could have avoided it entirely. But the architects of the proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency have made it very clear that they think they can tamp down bubbles by nudging people toward "plain vanilla" products. Many financial innovations eventually turn out to be bad ideas. But as with Edison's lightbulb filaments, the failures point the way to our successes.

As we can see, McArdle's assessment of the failure of the financial system is not based on the facts, on what actually happened. McArdle ignores the bad faith and illegal activities committed by bankers and claims they are being victimized and they did nothing wrong. She cannot defend their actions so she makes emotional arguments instead--bankers aren't really bad, and people are being mean to them. It wasn't that too many bad mortgages were written because they could be bundled, leveraged, given fake ratings, and sold--it's just that, eh, some financial innovations work, some don't, and the failures point the way to success. And any consequences of this free-for-all marketplace won't be too bad because we're exceptional that way.
And so rather than launch a quixotic war on failure, we should be using what we've learned to build a system that fails better: increasing the reserves financial institutions hold against a crisis, improving our tools for modeling system-wide risks, creating better mechanisms for winding down the operations of failed institutions without triggering a market panic, and making better provisions for the people who are hardest hit.

In other words, the elite should continue to do what they have been doing, the same thing that led to this financial wreck that McArdle so hopefully declares all but over. The same people who created this mess should take charge of the mess, tweaking here, tamping there, and the models based on permanently rising house prices will suddenly work correctly, and miracle cures for banks drowning in bad loans will arise from the ashes. Do the same, only better. Somehow.

Unfortunately our elite can't and won't think, and will not find miracles cures to clean up the messes they create out of greed and incompetence. Let us see how McArdle assessed her greatest failure, her support of Bush and his illegal preemptive invasion of Iraq.
Now, of course, I supported the war, so I can be expected to say something like what I am about to say. My only excuse is that I have been thinking hard about this, trying to pick out what went wrong, and I think that I am willing to admit where I was wrong. I was wrong to impute too much confidence to my ability to interpret Saddam Hussein's actions; I was wrong to not foresee how humiliating Iraqis would find being liberated by the westerners who have been tramping around their country, breaking things for their own reasons and with little regard for the Iraqi people, for several hundred years.

Yes, McArdle, who has never studied the Middle East in any fashion whatsoever, was certain that she understood the leader of Iraq and the psyche of its people. The type of elite arrogance that assumes it can make correct decisions based on nothing but self-regard is as enormous as it is self-destructive.
I was wrong to impute excessive competence to the government--and not just the Bush administration, but to any government occupation.

This is dishonest. Anyone who believes in American Exceptionalism believes we could win a war with a tiny country. We have the largest military budget in the world. McArdle is affecting a libertarian cynicism that will hopefully make her seem wise and neutral instead of deeply and consistently wrong.

This has not convinced me of the brilliance of the doves, because precisely none of the ones that I argued with predicted that things would go wrong in the way they did.

Here we are graced with more of the elite consensus; they care for nothing but their own opinions and those of their closest associates. McArdle does not identify the doves, so her remarks cannot be verified. She does not state what they said would go wrong, so we cannot check her statements against facts.
If you get the right result, with the wrong mechanism, do you get credit for being right, or being lucky? In some way, they got it just as wrong as I did: nothing that they predicted came to pass. It's just that independently, things they didn't predict made the invasion not work.

One thing came to pass; the war was a disaster, causing unnecessary death and destruction. Since that is the main thing, it should have been noted. It is also difficult to believe that McArdle never heard of Gen. Shinseki or any accurate criticism at all of the invasion. The only way McArdle could have missed hearing correct predictions would be if she never read or listened to anyone with a dissenting opinion.
If I say we shouldn't go to dinner downtown because we're going to be robbed, and we don't get robbed but we do get food poisoning, was I "right"? Only in some trivial sense. Food poisoning and robbery are completely unrelated, so my belief that we would regret going to dinner was validated only by random chance. Yet, the incident will probably increase my confidence in my prediction abilities, even though my prediction was 100% wrong.

Our elite are children, who embarrass us with their simplistic thinking and refusal to accept responsibility for their actions.
I'm trying to assess my decisionmaking process without developing a massive case of hindsight bias.


Many of the doves seem to be reconstructing their memory of why they objected to the war, crediting themselves with having predicted that the invasion would fail in this way. Many hawks are also reconstructing their memories to make themselves less hawkish. Fortunately, or unfortunately for me, I wrote my predictions down, so I know that I was an unabashed hawk, 100% convinced that Saddam had WMD.

The lesson that I can unequivocally take out of this is: do not be so confident in your ability to read other people and situations. Saddam was behaving exactly as I would have behaved if I had WMD, so I concluded that he had them. I will never again be so confident in the future.

At the same time, though, in a similar situation this shouldn't necessarily make me listen to the hawks next time. North Korea was behaving exactly like a country that had WMD, and it turned out that this was because they had them. What the doves would like to see the hawk's do--"I was wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong about everything, I am a stupid idiot, you are a brilliant figure with god-like omniscience"--is no better a guide to future decisionmaking than ignoring the fact that you were seriously wrong about the Iraq invasion. They are both ways of being completely stupid, not that this has stopped anyone.

McArdle's elite assessment of her failure to understand the repercussions of illegally invading another country is to point a finger at everyone else and say, "So what, he was wrong too!" Again she argues from emotion, not from fact, which is necessary because her knowledge of the Korean nuclear program is probably just as extensive as her knowledge of Saddam's WMD program. Her own bad decision making is glossed over by declaring that the anti-war crowd was just as bad.
When I look back at the decision I made, and I try to imagine making it without what I know now, which is that Saddam didn't have WMD, could I change it? I'm not sure. I don't see any way that I could have known, without actually checking, that he didn't have at least an advanced programme.

Amazing. Just incredible. McArdle couldn't physically check to see if Saddam was hiding a nuclear bomb under his pillow, so what the hell, invade anyway. She makes no serious attempt to reason logically or assess her past decisions impartially.
And even with the chaos now, had we found an advanced nuclear programme, most of the doves would be finding it much harder to argue that the invasion was a disastrous mistake. Perhaps even if he had had them we should have left him alone, but that's a difficult argument. And given the number of Democrats, including President Clinton, who clearly believed that we would find an advanced weapons programme, I have to conclude that without benefit of hindsight, the information painted at least a 50% chance that he had them.

You spins your wheel and you takes your chances. Actually, others take your chances and die, are dispossessed, or are plunged into illness, poverty, pain and chaos.
As I see it, doves have, in effect, benefited from winning a random game. Not that the result was random--obviously, there was only one true state of the world. But at the time of making the decision, the game was random to the observer, with no way to know the true state until you open the box and poke the cat. Having won a random game, they are now crediting themselves with brilliant foresight. And yet, if the hawks had won the game, they would be preening themselves on their analytical ability, and demanding that the doves prostrate themselves in an extensive grovel.

It's all about the elites, their vanity, their pride, their image of themselves. Making the right decisions is utterly secondary to maintain one's elite status and image.
That doesn't mean that my decisionmaking wasn't faulty. It was, in all sorts of ways, and I am trying to learn from them with proper humility. But I think the doves are crediting themselves with way too much analytical brilliance, which is fine to a point, but not so very fine that I am willing to turn over my decisionmaking to their allegedly more capable hands. World War II, after all, came in part out of learning lessons from World War I that weren't actually there. And the sight of doves saying, in effect, "I don't have to listen to you any more" does not make me sanguine that they are doing much better.

McArdle wrote this pathetic self-justification in 2007 and now she is back, older but no wiser, yet being paid a considerable amount of money by Time magazine to explain to us how the big thinkers and big idea men and women of our time will assess the failures that have been inflicted upon us, and tell us how to go forth and succeed, or at least to fail upwards as they always seem to do.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Success Through Failure

We will discuss Megan McArdle's "10 Ideas for the Next 10 Years" article in Time very soon, but in the mean time let's look at another of Time's Ideas. Christopher Hayes tells us that the problem with the stranglehold the elite holds over us is that we need better elite. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, but instead of realizing that authoritarianism is based on power inequality, exploitation, fear and submission, our authoritarian elite tell us we just need more authoritarian elites, only better. Because he cannot think beyond the bounds of authority, Hayes incorrectly assesses the current crises and comes up with ineffective ways of dealing with failure.
Such [poll] figures show that the crisis of authority extends beyond narrow ideological categories: Big Business and unions, Congress and Wall Street, organized religion and science are all viewed with skepticism. So why is it that so much of the country's leadership in so many different walks of life performed so terribly over this decade? While no single-cause theory can explain such a wide array of institutional failures, there are some themes — in particular, the concentration of power and the erosion of transparency and accountability — that extend throughout.


Of course, it's not really news that very gifted and talented people can make poor, even colossally catastrophic judgments. But the fact is, a complex society like ours requires many tasks to be performed by experts and élites, and tackling some of the most difficult and urgent problems we face requires repositories of authority that can successfully marshal public consensus.

We need experts but we don't need elites. Elite status is given, not earned, and therefore to be an elite is no guarantee of competence or desire to work for the common good. Any morally slothful dolt with money and connections can be part of the elite. Any half-educated, self-satisfied, opinionated blusterer can as well. Any vacuous elite-worshipping or vacuous self-worshipping barnacle on the ship of state can set themselves up as a wise and moral leader. The problem is not the experts, it is the elite who ignore the experts to attain their own agendas.
The élites' failures of the past decade should teach us that institutions of all kinds need input from below. The Federal Reserve is home to some of the finest economists and brightest minds in the country, and yet it still managed to miss an $8 trillion housing bubble and the explosion of the subprime market. If, say, the Federal Reserve Act required several seats on the board of governors to be reserved for consumer advocates — heck, even community organizers — it would have been harder to miss these twin phenomena.

A non-authoritarian might say that the bright minds deliberately out of greed and/or subconsciously out of class identification ignored all the facts. The failure was not the accidental isolation of wealth, it was the deliberate exclusion of anyone who might stop the elite from enriching themselves and their fellow elites at the expense of the powerless. The elite made choices and worked relentlessly to become so rich that nobody could hold them to account.
If there are heartening countertrends to the past decade of élite failure, they're the tremendous outpouring of grass-roots activism across the political spectrum and the remarkable surge in institutional innovation, much of it facilitated by the Internet. In less than a decade, Wikipedia has completely overturned the internal logic of the Enlightenment-era encyclopedia by radically democratizing the process of its creation. Farmers' markets have blossomed as a means of challenging and subverting the industrial food-distribution cartel. Charter schools have grown for the same reason; local school systems are no longer viewed as transparent and democratic.

In his misguided attempt to maintain the failing elites' failing status quo, Hayes dredges up the fake, powerless grassroots movements (the elite's cynical attempt to shift blame from themselves to the taxation powers of the government) and irrelevancies such as charter schools (the elite's cynical attempt to rid themselves of school taxes) and farmer's markets (the elite's cynical attempts to avoid the poisoned food they feed to those too poor to afford better). Hayes ought to know better but can't see beyond the need to justify the present system of wealthy-beyond-belief elites and the sheep they shear. Authoritarians ignore facts--income inequality, the revolving door between government and corporations, the amount of money poured int politics and the favorable laws that result from the lobbying. They want to believe that a group of superior people will take care of them, giving them what they want in exchange for a sense of belonging and purpose.
This, one hopes, is just the beginning. All these new institutions are inspired by a desire to democratize old, big oligarchic hierarchies and devolve power downward and outward. That's our best hope in the decade to come. For at the end of the day, it's the job of citizens to save élites from themselves.

And finally, the authoritarian tells the small and powerless that it is their responsibility to restrain the people who hold complete power over them. The inference is that if the elites let their greed drive them out of control, the poor have no one to blame but themselves.

Time is certainly outdoing itself with its 10 Best Ideas list. You would normally have to go to The Atlantic for this type of prescient wisdom, this caliber of Big Thinkers and their Big Ideas. How fortunate that when we just happen to find ourselves in this time of economic disaster, multiple wars and repression of freedom, we have such elite to use their uncanny ability to analyze and recover from failure to save us from their incompetence.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Village For Sale

What Megan McArdle tells you about the Kindle.

But even without format lock-in, the Kindle has some formidable advantages. Aside from the small problem of reading in the bathtub, the Kindle is simply a better (and pricier) version of a book: lighter, thinner, and much easier to read with one hand. You use it the way you would use a book, on park benches and long airplane trips. The Kindle doesn’t do much of anything else, but it is an excellent book replacement.

The iPad does a bunch of things, but none of them especially well. You can’t read it in full daylight, and its battery life is much shorter than the Kindle’s. With no true built-in keyboard or ability to multitask, it’s not a substitute for a laptop—and unlike my iPhone, it won’t fit in a pocket, take pictures, or make calls. Unless you need it for one of a handful of specialty uses, it doesn’t replace anything you already have; it’s just one more thing to carry. Apple’s gee-whiz design talents are compelling, but hardly infallible: consider the fate of the Newton handheld device, or Apple TV.

But perhaps the Kindle’s biggest asset is that it can bundle e-books with … actual books. If an e-book is unavailable through iTunes, tough luck. If a book is not available in Kindle’s e-book format, well, with one click I can have it shipped in a couple of days. The convenience of one-stop shopping for a book you really want is apt to be a powerful incentive to stay in Amazon’s domain during the transition from printed books.

What Megan McArdle does not tell you about the Kindle.

On December 4, Motoko Rich reported in the New York Times about a partnership between Amazon and The Atlantic to bring short stories to the Kindle, Amazon’s e-reader. The first two stories appeared in the Amazon Kindle store last Monday. Written by Edna O’Brien and Christopher Buckley, each story sells for $3.99 and is readable exclusively on the Kindle. (As of this writing, both stories are featured in Amazon’s Kindle Exclusives store.) Another story by Curtis Sittenfeld will go on sale in January. So far, then, we have three well-known writers, but Amazon promises that two new stories “by both well-known and up-and-coming authors” will appear each month.

(The article this quote comes from is very interesting.)

Maybe I expect too much and disclosing relationships is unnecessary in this multi-corporate world. Besides, David G. Bradley is an information broker. He stages what he calls "events" and "dinners" to give corporations media access. It's not about journalism, it's about setting up a toll road on the information highway.

Atlantic spokesperson Zachary Hooper told Talking Points Memo on Monday that "the corporate sponsor comes to us and says, 'We're interested in having a discussion on a certain topic.'" And some corporate sponsors, TPM reported, have included AstraZeneca ("Healthcare Access and Education”); Microsoft (“Global Trade”), G.E. ("Energy Sustainability and the Future of Nuclear Power"); Allstate ("The Future of the American City"); and Citi ("The Challenge of Global Markets").

When asked by TPM, Hooper declined to comment on how much a corporation pays to sponsor an event, so it is unclear if the Atlantic asks anywhere in the $25,000 to $250,000 range described in the [Washington] Post's flier that advertised for underwriting opportunities.

Corporations need a seemingly impartial way to shape public opinion. They pay Bradley to procure his pet journalists at the Atlantic, who moderate discussions on the corporations' interests and pass on the impartial, balanced information to the public. His journalists pass themselves off as idea people, problem solvers, the leaders of the new generation. Sages who can outline "a better policy model for thinking about failures at the individual and institutional level."

Well, they say it takes one to know one. Meanwhile, our nation still refuses to ignore the chronically, cravenly wrong and the hopelessly inept.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

K-Lo Goes To Confession: The Flu Is At The Door

K-Lo: Bless me Father (cough) for I have (cough cough) sinned. It's been ten (cough) hours since my last (coughcoughcoughcough)----.

Father: Kathryn Jean, are you alright? Would you like a glass of water? Maybe you shouldn't have come to confession.

K-Lo: (Cough) I had to go to church to pray to get well anyway (cough), Father. (cough) I have the flu and my chest really hurts and I feel woozy and I keep thinking I'm seeing "Mittens" but it's just the doorman. (cough) Who really doesn't like it when you run your fingers through his hair. (cough)

Father: Kathryn Jean, you should go home right now and have your mother call the doctor. God will understand if you miss confession today.

K-Lo: I can't go to the doctor, Father. Didn't you hear?

Father: Hear what?

K-Lo: (hisses) The Obamaination.

Father: The---?

K-Lo: Obama's (cough) health care plan.

Father: But what does the health care plan have to do with going to the doctor, Kathryn Jean?

K-Lo: I can't go to the doctor because Obamacare kills people, Father. They make you wait for days at the doctor's office and then the computer tells you that it can't afford to pay for your medicine because it has to pay for illegal aliens' health care instead. (cough)

Father: Many illegal aliens are good Catholics and the future life blood of the Church, Kathryn Jean. It is both our duty and our privilege to follow Jesus' example and help the poor and suffering.

K-Lo: I thought blessed are the poor means that the poor are lucky to be poor?

Father: No, Kathryn Jean, we've had this discussion before. Poverty is bad because it makes people suffer.

K-Lo: But I thought that suffering was (cough) good because it makes you more like Jesus?

Father: Jesus died to end suffering, Kathryn Jean. He taught us to serve God by helping our fellow man, for we all all God's children. Each act of kindness is an act of worship.

K-Lo: That's what I said. People should suffer so they will be like Jesus and be good.

Father: Kathryn Jean, have you been talking to Mr. Douthat again? I'm sure he's a fine Christian man but his theology can be a little confused.

K-Lo: No, Father, (cough) I promised his wife I'd stop calling and I kept my word. I just print out his articles and post them in my scrapbook that I decorated myself. Would you like (cough) me to bring it next time? It's not as big as my (cough) "Mittens" scrapbook but I finally got to use my glow-in-the-dark (cough) Our Lady of Guadalupe stickers and they look so pretty.

Father: Kathryn Jean, I know a very nice young lady doctor who will be happy to take care of you, and I know for a fact that she's a Republican doctor, not a socialist doctor.

K-Lo: But what about abortion, Father? Obama is killing little innocent babies by (cough) forcing their mothers to have socialist abortions that we pay for.

Father: Kathryn Jean, while I have many problems with an institutional bureaucracy telling people what they can do with their bodies and making their health care decisions for them, the government is not trying to force people to have abortions.

K-Lo: It kills old people by dropping death panels on them.

Father: Kathryn Jean, does that even make sense?

K-Lo: It kills new drugs because liberals hate money and want all the drug companies to die so the (cough) government can make socialist drugs instead, that won't work because they're always on strike.

Father: I don't' think----.

K-Lo: Father, I think the statue of Mary over there winked at me.

Father: Kathryn Jean, go home at once. I'll call you a cab.

K-Lo: But---.

Father: (firmly) Now.

K-Lo: Okay, Father, but only because Mary told me to. She wants me to be able to go ice fishing with her next week. (Yelling hoarsely) I'll do it, Most Holy Mother! I'll see the doctor and he'll heal me through your Loving Grace! You betcha!