Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Failure Is Its Own Reward

Inexplicably, Megan McArdle has decided to--once again--explain why she was wrong about nearly everything. The post is easy to overlook, as it is under a large photo and tucked beneath a fold. She's done this before and her latest recital is more of the same, although thankfully without the self-serving explanations and shrill insults towards people who find war to be a bad idea, generally speaking.

Over time it's become clear that McArdle has little to say and scant desire for growth or reassessment. No matter what the circumstances or how wrong she's been, she does very little analysis of where she went wrong and no analysis of why she was wrong. She merely says, I Wuz Wrong, a trivial little title for a trivial little mistake of supporting the killing tens of thousands of people. Her "explanation":

Reason the First: I was not Saddam. That should have occurred to her far, far earlier than it did. McArdle does not tell us why she thought she could read minds; perhaps it never occurred to her that she couldn't. Perhaps she has spent her entire life anticipating the sudden onset of psychic powers and merely jumped the gun a little. Either way, her bad.

Reason the Second: I forgot the entire history of WWII, substituting my own imaginary scenario of WWII in my head instead. I forgot the books I read, the classes I took, the movies I saw, the newspaper articles I read, the discussions I engaged in. All of them, gone. Poof! There goes WWII, down the memory hole as if it never existed and had to be recreated from scratch. Perhaps she confused playing WWII on the computer with the real WWII, and her role-playing in Imaginary Europe with Really Real Europe. Either way, History fail.

Reason the Third: I was insufficiently empathetic enough to imagine what it would be like to be invaded by a foreign country.

We liked the French for giving us military help during the Revolution. Now imagine that France had invaded in order to liberate us from the British. Even if they really did eventually leave, this would have had much worse results. Looking back, my confidence in our liberatory powers seems terribly callous, and it doesn't really do the dead Iraqis much good that I'm sorry for it.

Did France hang George Washington? Did France shell Boston, New York and Philadelphia? Did France fire the militias and send them back home penniless? But hey, who could possibly hate an American? Or American meddling in their affairs? Besides the Saudis who flew airplanes into the World Trade Center, of course. American Exceptionalism fail.

So much for our little wars. On to her economic decisions.

She predicted the housing bubble, but since it was nearly her only correct prediction and she has said that her boss at the Economist said we were in a housing bubble, I'm going with bowing to authority instead of analytical brainpower. She said she didn't know how bad the banking and housing situation would get, but that's because she has always ignored the negative effect of securitization.

7) I believed that securitization mitigated risk by spreading it around, rather than enhancing risk by reducing transparency.


From Wikipedia:

The traditional mortgage model involved a bank originating a loan to the borrower/homeowner and retaining the credit (default) risk. With the advent of securitization, the traditional model has given way to the "originate to distribute" model, in which banks essentially sell the mortgages and distribute credit risk to investors through mortgage-backed securities. Securitization meant that those issuing mortgages were no longer required to hold them to maturity. By selling the mortgages to investors, the originating banks replenished their funds, enabling them to issue more loans and generating transaction fees. This created a moral hazard in which an increased focus on processing mortgage transactions was incentivized but ensuring their credit quality was not.[95][96]

Securitization accelerated in the mid-1990s. The total amount of mortgage-backed securities issued almost tripled between 1996 and 2007, to $7.3 trillion. The securitized share of subprime mortgages (i.e., those passed to third-party investors via MBS) increased from 54% in 2001, to 75% in 2006.[80] American homeowners, consumers, and corporations owed roughly $25 trillion during 2008. American banks retained about $8 trillion of that total directly as traditional mortgage loans. Bondholders and other traditional lenders provided another $7 trillion. The remaining $10 trillion came from the securitization markets. The securitization markets started to close down in the spring of 2007 and nearly shut-down in the fall of 2008. More than a third of the private credit markets thus became unavailable as a source of funds.[97][98] In February 2009, Ben Bernanke stated that securitization markets remained effectively shut, with the exception of conforming mortgages, which could be sold to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.[99]

She says she believed what the Fed told her, what the SEC told her, and what the banking industry told her. She makes absolutely no mention of her bad habit of believing whatever she's told by her favorite authorities, so she most certainly will continue to make the same mistakes. Self-awareness fail.

McArdle blames Fannie and Freddie for "distorting" the market and calls them toxic. Yet she also acknowledges that they were not the problem. It's utterly incoherent, but it will please conservative readers who don't think. Logic fail.

McArdle lists other things she got wrong, but I won't bore you with them. Basically her lack of judgement, introspection and core knowledge meant that she got a lot wrong, but being a hack means that you can be wrong all the time as long as you are wrong in the right way.

McArdle does not figure out why she went wrong. She doesn't even ask the question. I hope, however, that she will at least come up with some new excuses, since I am running out of new ways to snark on the old ones.

Bonus Jane Galt blogging: July 6,2004

Children, gather round. I have something very, very difficult to tell you. You aren't going to like it, I'm afraid. None of us likes it -- it makes us all very unhappy. But it must be faced, just the same.

You see, difficult as you will find this to believe, politicians lie. All of them lie. Even nice politicians who agree with us, and are smart, and have really good hair and a nice speaking voice, lie. They lie frequently. They lie about the outcomes of their policies, and they lie about their reasons for enacting them. They lie about their past accomplishments, and they lie about their future plans. In the vast soulless meat market that is our political process, the guy who gives the most misleading impression, without actually getting caught in an out-and-out falsehood, generally wins.

Welcome to adulthood. Sorry I couldn't break it more gently.

July 12, 2004--six days later

While I was away, the "Bush lied" meme seems to have pretty convincingly blown up, although of course Josh Marshall has tried a hail mary pass, arguing that it's really all a fabrication of that well-known Right Wing Spin Machine, the Washington Post.

I feel somewhat vindicated in my repeated insistence that while I was (and remain) willing to entertain the notion that the Bush administration was stunningly incompetent, I am not willing to entertain (without proofs an order of magnitude better than those so far offered), that Bush & Co. are uniquely venal, dishonest, and manipulative. Dishonest and manipulative are the entry requirements for politics, the sound byte being a horrifically poor means of communicating anything useful. And venality is surprisingly rare among politicians--almost all of them could be making more money doing something else, and George Bush certainly doesn't need any more money than he already had before he ran for office.

Oh, I see. All politicians are dishonest except for the politicians in my tribe. They really can convince themselves that they are exceptions to every rule, can't they?

Authoritarian fail.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Brought To You By Kleenex Tissues And K-Y Jelly

Let's take a look at what Ross Douthat liked best about Glenn Beck's Restore America To The 19th Century rally.

In a sense, Beck’s “Restoring Honor” was like an Obama rally through the looking glass. It was a long festival of affirmation for middle-class white Christians — square, earnest, patriotic and religious. If a speaker had suddenly burst out with an Obama-esque “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” the message would have fit right in.

Well, it's very nice of Douthat to make that perfectly clear. The rally was a restoration of a world without people with darker skin, people with different religions, people who are poor, in the public sphere. And those who are allowed into the White World must show proper deference. The right has been livid for decades that they can no longer intimidate and threaten the powerless in public and is dying to return to those days. The crowd at a tea-party--oops, I mean mosque protest--in New York practically had a mass orgasm while running off a Black man they thought was Muslim. They don't want to see Black people or gays or sexually active women or Hispanics or Muslims. They want to pretend they don't exist. They want to be exactly like everyone around them, with exactly the same car and house and schools and fast food restaurants and stores and churches. Anything different is a threat. Anything at all. It's that pathetic.

But whereas Obama wouldn’t have been Obama if he weren’t running for president, Beck’s packed, three-hour jamboree was floated entirely on patriotism and piety, with no “get thee to a voting booth” message. It blessed a particular way of life without burdening that blessing with the compromises of a campaign, or the disillusioning work of governance.

How wonderful it is to be relieved of the burden of consequences, of reality, of responsibility! Their way of life is exalted as the one and only right way to be, without any nagging questions about how their wants will affect others. They don't want to know that their power is based on the exploitation of others. They don't want to be criticized, they want to hear God Bless America, the Greatest Country In The World And Of All Time!

These middle-class White Christians are Blessed. God approves of what they do and who they are. And just to prove it, they gather by the tens of thousands so everyone around them is alike, as far as the eye can see.


So they can pretend that they are the source of all that is good in America and that everyone else is the source of all that is bad. So they can say what they want to say without reservation, without worrying that someone would be offended when they use racial slurs or demonstrate callousness and spitefulness. It's all us white folks together, all of whom know that God likes us best. We are the greatest country on earth, we are the most moral, freedom-loving people on earth, and God loves us and rewards us and will let us live forever so we never have to be afraid or alone or die. Jesus Hallelujah!

For a weekend, at least, Beck proved that he can conjure the thrill of a culture war without the costs of combat, and the solidarity of identity politics without any actual politics. If his influence outlasts the current election cycle, this will be the secret of his success.

The "thrill of a culture war"? Nice of Douthat to admit this as well. They enjoy this war, just like they enjoy all wars. They want to fight, to strike back because they feel mistreated, neglected---abused. It provides an emotional release for built-up anger and resentment against the forces trying to kill them off. Too bad they're attacking the wrong people, but nobody ever said they were smart. (Except for themselves, of course.)

It's also very decent of Douthat to admit that they don't want to pay the price for their White Christian triumphalism. They want to attack and smash and grab without being criticized for it. "The solidarity of identity politics" is just another name for tribalism, and Glenn Beck's rally was little more than an orgy of mass mutual masturbation, the self-soothing ego-stroking of a people who refuse to admit that they have engineered their own destruction and cannot stop its course.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Reason's Matt Welch demonstrates the ease with which a corporate shill refuses to believe and/or admit he is a corporate shill.

Here is the basic and apparently horrifying fact: There are millions of people, including me, including the Kochs, including people who have never heard of the Koch family, who feel some basic bedrock affinity for the notion that that government is best which governs least. There are a thousand disagreements about the details, but that American tradition is real, and sporadically potent. As it gathers strength in advance of November (and hopefully long beyond), it will be interesting–and so, so pleasurable–to watch people continue criticizing what they can't understand.

It's not that they're shills--they're just patriots. You just don't understand. There's nothing wrong with taking money from polluters to help them get away with polluting. Or porn money. Or tobacco money. Nothing! It's American to want to get rid of all regulation so that corporate power can grow unabated. It's American to accept money from any source, no matter how corrupt. It's small government. They're helping people by lowering taxes! They deserve praise.

They deserve money.

It's Class Warfare Day!

Shorter George Will: Black culture [code words for immorality and shiftlessness] is to blame for Blacks' economic problems.

People like him tell whites that liberal culture is to blame for their problems. They tell religious people that non-religious (or other-religious) people are to blame for their problems. They tell the poor that Hispanics are to blame. They tell everyone that gays are to blame. And people eat this stuff up with a spoon.

Which is fortunate because we've read this column dozens of times before from many, many different pundits. How nice it is to make a good living tossing off a little missive before heading out to Maine or the Cape for the weekend.

As I've said before, every time the right throws a tea party the left should throw a better one. You must provide a competing authority to neutralize an authority.

Too bad we don't have one. We'd rather drown in their bathtub.


No doubt because of the article on the Koch brothers in The New Yorker, Muckety Maps has up a map that must be seen to be believed. Note the Aspen Institute, whose chairman of the board is also the chairman of the board of Teach For America, which Megan McArdle often praises.

AEI, Cato, Heritage, Federalist Society, Americans For Prosperity Foundation (funds tea-parties; formerly was called Citizens for a Sound Economy Foundation, which merged with Empower America to create FreedomWorks, also a tea-party funder).

Thousands upon thousands of well-paying jobs as half-assed hack writers and media pundits. Jobs that pay for very nice middle class lives, the kind that are disappearing by the thousands. You can have a nice little house.

Isn't it charming? Don't you wish you could afford it?

You can afford adorable little cars.

Hug me, I'm British!

And all you have to do is what you would do anyway-comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted! You'll go on tv and make lots of money and have wonderful things, and best of all you'll know that everything you have is due entirely to your own specialness, your inherent beauty and brains and, well, sheer class! You're no common whore, you're an Audrey Hepburn whore, Holly Golightly, who goes lightly from restaurant to plane to tv studio to your homey little pied-a-terre in the heart of a nearly fashionable area of DC. And while you enjoy the spoils of your labor you can rest assured that you need never feel guilty or responsible, since everybody says the poor are that way because they are lazy and immoral and, frankly, smelly.

My God, isn't life wonderful?

Reason Has A Staff Meeting

Saturday, August 28, 2010

K-Lo Tweets

‘How about protecting our littlest sisters in the womb on equality day?’

August 27, 2010 5:57 P.M. By Kathryn Jean Lopez
Palin in Florida yesterday.

Maybe those little sisters want equality when they leave the womb as well.


K-Lo Tweets: The Elmer Gantry Edition

Kathryn Jean Lopez is twittering the Glenn Beck rally, and evidently hasn't felt so...uplifted since Miss Carrie Prejean publicly declared her support for denying Americans their civil right to wed.

beck: "we must not get lost in politics"
2 minutes ago via web .

beck embraces churches, temples, mosques "not preaching hate or division"
2 minutes ago via web .

"we learn from the past and ask for redemption... we have today to make a difference"
5 minutes ago via web .

glenn beck looks to inspire an eight year old in the crowd to be the new george washington or martin luther king jr.
5 minutes ago via web .

while rallying people on politics -- real threats to freedom and founding principles -- beck focuses on the fact politics ain't everything
6 minutes ago via web .

"we can disagree on politics. we can disagree on so much ... what we do agree on is God is the answer"
7 minutes ago via web .

beck rally is a mixture of religious revival, campaign rally, & 4th of july country music concert. it's pretty american, in other words.
12 minutes ago via web .

beck rally is exactly the mood americans need to be in approaching nov. well, and right now, the next minute, and the morning after ED too.
13 minutes ago via web .

"the storm that is coming is not just an american storm but a human storm." america "must be prepared" to be the shelter in the storm again
15 minutes ago via web .

beck: the truth will make you miserable first, but then it will set you free.
16 minutes ago via web .

beck on "our sacred honor": "it means there are no lies in your life ..."
16 minutes ago via web ...."

In America, we demonstrate for LESS."
18 minutes ago via web .

reader quotes ralphreed on this rally from tv: "In Greece, they take to the streets and demonstrate for MORE Government handouts..."
18 minutes ago via web .

(sounds like rep jim jordan & others wanting to do crazy things like balance the budget.)
19 minutes ago via web .beck on this moment, now:

"one generation must sacrifice for the next"
20 minutes ago via web .

beck's all about sacrifice.
20 minutes ago via web .

beck's all about reliance on divine providence.
20 minutes ago via web .

beck on "we the people": " do you think they were using the wrong side font? That was code! They knew we would forget!"
22 minutes ago via web .

find out what you really truly believe. it's the only way you can have firm reliance on it.
24 minutes ago via web .

never let your prayin' knees get lazy
25 minutes ago via web .

he sounds like a brice lee song
26 minutes ago via web .

beck talks about the importance of prayer... and adults letting children see its importance in their modelling
27 minutes ago via web .

repchaffetz was on fnc talking faith, hope and charity a few ago. seem to be beck talking points for the day. he got them from another Guy.
27 minutes ago via web .

likens americans to apostles asleep at gethsemane
30 minutes ago via web .

glenn beck likens himself to the guy on the titanic who saw the iceberg and pointed it out to the ship
31 minutes ago via web .

"the poorest among us are some of the richest in the world" glenn beck, sounding like robert recter
36 minutes ago via web .

cnn views this as a foxnews rally on the mall, doesn't it?

I very seriously doubt that K-Lo knows Beck's Mormonism doesn't believe in the Holy Trinity. They believe that Jesus actually was a separate and distinct person. That is not Christian theology, of course. Not that she will care.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Shedding A Tear For Humanity Again

You know what? You don't get to glorify the working man and make trenchant social commentary on industrial exploitation when you are doing your damndest to destroy the working man.

Fanning The Flames Of Hate

Glenn Greenwald, former Constitutional lawyer:

There are few more bitter ironies than watching the Republican Party -- controlled at its core by the very business interests responsible for the country's vast and growing inequality; responsible for massive transfers of wealth to the richest; and which presided over and enabled the economic collapse -- now become the beneficiaries of middle-class and lower-middle-class economic insecurity. But the Democratic Party's failure/refusal/inability to be anything other than the Party of Tim Geithner -- continuing America's endless, draining Wars while plotting to cut Social Security, one of the few remaining guarantors of a humane standard of living -- renders them unable to offer answers to angry, anxious, resentful Americans. As has happened countless times in countless places, those answers are now being provided instead by a group of self-serving, hateful extremist leaders eager to exploit that anger for their own twisted financial and political ends. And it seems to be working.

It is indeed difficult to believe that the country will so quickly return to power the same Republican Party -- in an even more warped and primitive form -- that virtually destroyed the U.S. over the last decade through a mix of extreme corruption, recklessness and lawlessness. But nothing is more foolish than underestimating the dangers that come from this mix of economic oppression and the aggressive fanning of racial and ethnic resentments.

Peter Suderman (Mr. Megan McArdle), "Former" Rat-Fucker, from 2008:

John Carney touches briefly on an idea that’s been gnawing at me the last few weeks: the brewing anti-corporate sentiment on the right. For a long time now, the Republican party has been the party of business, but I’m not sure that’s bound to last forever. In fact, I wonder if the right won’t revive itself to some significant extent on a tide of anti-corporate sentiment. Sounds nuts, right? Permit me to try to sketch out this (admittedly half-baked) idea.

Right now, the GOP coalition is, at the minimum, very fragile (for some astute discussion on this, see this BHtv discussion between Matt Welch and Ramesh Ponnuru). And, in general, the right has been less than forthcoming with new policy ideas or wholly new messaging, especially on domestic policy, a handful of exceptions like Ramesh, Ross, and Reihan notwithstanding. I think it’s entirely possible we’ll see some sort of implosion on the right following this year’s election. If this happens, some restructuring will be in order. Where does the party, and the conservative coalition to which it’s long been attached, go from there?

Well, one possibility is that the right uses social issues and national defense not as wedge issues but as ways of gaining the trust of the middle class, and then learns how to govern on the domestic front in a way that’s roughly acceptable to the middle and lower-middle class. Libertarians won’t like this much, and those on the far left will of course be frustrated, but there’s at least a potential for a coalition there.

On the other hand, what if the GOP fumbles around for a while, fails to develop a coherent message, continues to shout “Reagan!” in place of proposing policy, fails to find fresh political talent, and loses a series of elections, to the point where many begin to predict permanent minority status? Meanwhile, the Democrats spend the next decade or so getting used to power in Washington. A lot of their agenda involves finding new ways to regulate various industries. As this happens, industry, looking for influence, naturally begins to fund Democrats and Democratic lobbyists more heavily (corporate donations are already shifting away from the GOP), and rent-seeking becomes even more prevalent on the Hill. It won’t be long before Democrats, regulators, and the lobbying world have a very cozy relationship.

This opens up the opportunity for the right to exploit the anti-corporate outrage in middle America — outrage we can already see boiling up in the crusades against earmarks (handouts to donors and corporate interests), against CEO pay, against hedge fund tax rates and oil company profits. But instead of running the traditional anti-corporate campaigns, which mainly focus on taxing and regulating big-business, the right runs against the way liberal politicians have gotten into bed with corporations. It’s against the Washington favor-racket, against back-room politics, against collusion between business and government. This pleases libertarians somewhat and, if done properly, keeps low-taxers in the fold.

Of course, some will turn the message into a purely anti-corporate one, but if done with a bit of skill, it uses anger at the way corporations influence the government to fuel a separation of the two rather than additional layers of easily gamed regulation. Maybe you even end up with corporations trying to distinguish themselves as good citizens by publicly refusing to have lobbyists or to take subsidies, regulatory favors, etc — starting, obviously, with Whole Foods, run by the self-proclaimed libertarian, John Mackey.

The result is that you end up with a weird sort of libertarian populism, and maybe, just maybe, you trace it back to the (presumably failed) McCain campaign, arguing that McCain’s honor economics — for low taxes but also deeply set against corporate influence and sleazy government deal-making — is what got it all started. The time is obviously not right for this. But five years down the road, or ten, if the GOP is still struggling and business has largely left them anyway, why wouldn’t they abandon their corporate wing and try something crazy? The sentiment is there for anyone who can figure out how to tap into it.

Shorter But Still Hopelessly Ideological Megan

I will write two longer posts (on Koch and stimulus) when (or if) I have more time, but here's some shorters for now. Megan McArdle's been prolific.

Shorter 1: I'm not defending Tom Delay, but here's my defense of Tom Delay: He is innocent of breaking the law. I will not mention the other charges pending against him, or that the article I link to mentions that it is extremely difficult to get enough proof of a congressman's graft.

Shorter 2: Nyah, nyah, I told you credit card rates would rise if they were forced to reform. You should have let them rip you off with outrageous fees instead.

Shorter 3: I am linking to a post that says green houses aren't green. I am not telling my readers that my husband works for Koch-funded climate-change deniers.

Shorter 4: I bought a house right before a widely-predicted drop in prices but it's too late to do anything about it so I made the right decision.

Shorter 5: I love my Kindle. I will not mention that my employer has a deal with Kindle.

Shorter 6: Health care reform is bad!

Shorter 7: Academia is bloated. (And won't give her hack friends jobs.)

Shorter 8: Regulation is bad. (I actually agree with her point regarding the monks' caskets, but when you only point out bad consequences of regulation and never good, you're too ideological to be trusted.)

Shorter 9: Concern troll is concerned.

Shorter 10: I don't think presidents can affect the economy very much. I will not mention Bush or his wars or his bailouts or his tax cuts.

Shorter 11: The Wall-Mart model is swell.

Shorter 12: If I pretend that banks always tell the truth I can call Naomi Wolf an idiot.

Shorter 13: Here are my father's (the former construction industry lobbyist) thoughts on labor unions.

Shorter 14: It's okay when corporations make strategic defaults. I will not mention that I said it's not okay when people make strategic defaults.

Shorter 15: Leave Alan Greenspan alooooooooooooone!!!!! Sob!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Another Brick In The Wall

Digby outdoes herself:
Of course the real question is why on earth did the administration pull this cadaverous joker [Alan Simpson] out of his own cushy, federally funded retirement to head up the ill-conceived deficit commission in the first place? The only generous reason I can think of is that someone thought that he would sabotage it,

Oh no! We've been stopped by an enormous wall! Can't see through it, can't see over it, can't see under it!
but there's no evidence they want to do that.

The appointment is the evidence. Digby sees Obama sabotage his Catfood Commission, yet still can't believe he's obeying the elite who put him into office because he wants to obey them.
And in this era of batshit insane politics, counting on some right wing kook to discredit anything is a very risky thing to do --- even they must know that.

So you have to assume that Simpson's fulfilling his designated role. He will make a deal. All he asks is that the geezer parasites, current and future get it out of their heads once and for all that this society should provide some basic security for everyone.

So close, yet so far. All it takes is one teeny, tiny step to make it through that wall. One little push.

I'll help.

Obama does not care about you. You are not his friend. You are not his constituent. He does not have warm and shiny feelings for you. He does not want you to live long and prosper. He wants to make a lot of money and get a lot of respect. He wants to prove before the entire world--and by that we mean the daddy who abandoned him--that he is both Special and Fits In. And like all authoritarians, all hurt children who bury the pain, he is perfectly willing to make a few small sacrifices to get what he wants.

And we are those small sacrifices.

Digby can't see over the wall. If she did, she wouldn't be part of the liberal tribe anymore. So she stops thinking. Just like that--she comes to a screeching, rubber-burning, head-rocking stop. She doesn't let herself see the blindingly obvious.

Yes, lesser of two evils and so on and so forth. But at the very least, we should not lie to ourselves. At the very least, let us admit that we are screwed, so we can turn from the party of investment banking to the party of the poor and dispossessed. Even if we remain powerless we might finally help a few people in the process.

K-Lo Tweets

Kathryn Jean Lopez, that endless source of entertainment:

was it something i said? after coming on to shania twain, my lead out on www.bennettmornings right now was gregorian chant
about 1 hour ago via web

Oh, K-Lo. First comes the sinning, then the praying. But don't keep us in suspense; did Twain turn you down?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Savvy Tribe Is Savvy

David Brooks tells a horrifying tale of human suffering.

[meow meow meow]

[Fanny] Burney’s struggle reminds one that character is not only moral, it is also mental. Heroism exists not only on the battlefield or in public but also inside the head, in the ability to face unpleasant thoughts.

Let's take a look at Brooks.

Not exactly Gladiator, is he?

You know you're in trouble when the elite start talking about suffering, because it will not be theirs. It seems modern society is self-indulgent and has self-esteem, both of which are equally bad.
In this atmosphere [of self-esteem], we’re all less conscious of our severe mental shortcomings and less inclined to be skeptical of our own opinions. Occasionally you surf around the Web and find someone who takes mental limitations seriously. For example, Charlie Munger of Berkshire Hathaway once gave a speech called “The Psychology of Human Misjudgment.” He and others list our natural weaknesses: We have confirmation bias; we pick out evidence that supports our views. We are cognitive misers; we try to think as little as possible. We are herd thinkers and conform our perceptions to fit in with the group.

So the problem is that we depend on the herd to tell us what to think. We believe what we want to believe, and ignore what doesn't fit in with what everyone else is thinking or what we don't want to see. Naturally Brooks decides that the source of this problem is that we are so well satisfied with our own opinion that we don't bother with anyone else's. This is all well and good except for one little problem: We change those home-grown, self-satisfied opinions to fit in with everyone else. People who have Brooks' type of preening self-esteem don't do that. Look at Megan McArdle; she is satisfied with an Authority Of One, and while she does not form her own opinions, once formed they are fixed forever.

But Brooks, servant of the power elite, cannot or will not admit that people err when they submit to Authority, of course. Another reason must be found, one that flatters the elite and condemns liberals, for liberals are seen by the elite to be suffering from far more self-esteem than they deserve. Very generally speaking, liberals are seen as people who want to help other people, and who then feel good about themselves for being good people. This is vanity and ego to the elite, who claim these characteristics for themselves alone.
But, in general, the culture places less emphasis on the need to struggle against one’s own mental feebleness. Today’s culture is better in most ways, but in this way it is worse.

The ensuing mental flabbiness is most evident in politics. Many conservatives declare that Barack Obama is a Muslim because it feels so good to say so. Many liberals would never ask themselves why they were so wrong about the surge in Iraq while George Bush was so right. The question is too uncomfortable.

Brooks, court jester of the Savvy Tribe, is above both liberals and conservatives. This is practically the definition of this tribe: those who despise the stupidity of the right and the pacifism of the left. Note that stupidity and pacifism are both seen as evidence of mental feebleness. The elite, they tell themselves, are neither weak nor stupid, and thus Libertarianism was born, suckled by oil and gas money until it grew into a sickly, deregulation-obsessed child.
There’s a seller’s market in ideologies that gives people a chance to feel victimized. There’s a rigidity to political debate. Issues like tax cuts and the size of government, which should be shaped by circumstances (often it’s good to cut taxes; sometimes it’s necessary to raise them), are now treated as inflexible tests of tribal purity.

What is the connection between tax cuts and victimization? Another characteristic of the Savvy Tribe is the inability to flesh out arguments, which is not surprising since they start with a problem, skip analysis, and go straight to a solution that just happens to help the elite and make them feel good about themselves.
To use a fancy word, there’s a metacognition deficit. Very few in public life habitually step back and think about the weakness in their own thinking and what they should do to compensate.

Wow, that is so true. All those foolish people out there who never think, never see the weaknesses in their arguments because they refuse to acknowledge anything that doesn't fit into their world-view. Who supported war without considering real-world consequences, who threw their support behind bought-and-paid politicians, who attacked the poor for being victims of the elite. Can you believe those people?
A few people I interview do this regularly (in fact, Larry Summers is one). But it is rare. The rigors of combat discourage it.

Larry "Women have 78% percent of the brains of a man." Summers? Larry "What 7.7 million in Wall Street payoffs?" Summers? Larry "We are all Friedmanits now." Summers? That guy?
Of the problems that afflict the country, this is the underlying one.

No, the underlying problem is the slavish habit of obedience and submissiveness, of tribalism that forbids dissent. It is elites who pay their servants to whip the other servants and tell them that they're bad and wicked and lazy and deserve to poor. It sure as hell isn't self-esteem.

One day, David Brooks will be carved up and fed to the elite as the Sunday Roast, while they all exclaim at how pink and tender the meat is, and how soft the brains.

Free Ride

Megan McArdle, MBA, can't understand why airlines are charging more fees.

But how do you explain the fact that they used to simply put you on the next free flight if you missed your plane, but now charge you hundreds of dollars for the privilege?

Because the free market doesn't mean goods and services are free? Airlines want to maximize profits? Rising jet fuel prices?

The free hand of the marketplace took hundreds of her dollars out of her pocket, but that's okay because now her behavior will modify and she'll never miss another plane, or she'll find another airline that won't raise prices when the others do, which ought to be easy. Any attempt to restrain the practices of the free market will result in millions of deaths. Also.

ADDED: McArdle in the comments: (Thanks, Clever Pseudonym!)

[...] I recently missed a flight because of a traffic jam, and they charged me a $150 change fee, plus the "fare difference"--i.e. what I would have been charged had I booked the flight that day. The plane was far from full. Since the seat was a wasting asset, this was a matter of "because I can".

Our little darlin' of deregulation should realize that other people will just laugh at you when you suffer the consequences of the policies you advocate.

BONUS! Flashback Megan, from July, 2008:

Like everyone else, I hate the delays and various indignities of flying. On the other hand, I like the fact that it's costing me $100 to fly to Tampa to pick up my car in two weeks; absent deregulation, that trip would cost a lot more than twice that amount. I think it's telling that complaints about deregulation of the airlines come almost entirely from three groups of people:

1) People who have no idea what they are talking about
2) Affluent people
3) People who fly a lot for work

The third group, especially, would like to basically cut the bottom out of the market, so that coach is a vastly more pleasant experience. They don't care that this will raise prices, because they aren't paying for the tickets--most of them probably don't particularly care if this means that they fly less. But of course, the only way to raise the level of service is to raise the cost, which means a lot of people who don't have jobs that send them hopping from city to city wouldn't be able to fly at all. Remember the Brady Bunch trip to the Grand Canyon? You young people may not remember, but that's what all family vacations used to look like. You may climb into the back of a station wagon for a two day trek to Canada, but I'll take flying, thanks awfully.

Suck up those fees, sister! Would you rather have a regulated airline or one that is kicking itself because it doesn't yet offer pay toilets? (Now that's a captive market!)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

K-Lo Tweets

Why do I hear f-u within seconds of stepping onto nyc ground nearly everytime? It's not the welcome home I yearn for.
about 1 hour ago via mobile web

Because New Yorkers don't like it when you hold them up so you can bless the turnstile.

Coming Out For Priests

I don't have time to cover this interview just now, most unfortunately titled "Planting Priestly Seeds." But here is a bit of Kathryn Jean Lopez interviewing a woman who wrote a book called Where Do Priests Come From?, another most unfortunate title.

Lopez: What’s the hardest thing to convey about faith to children?

Ficocelli: I think the hardest thing to convey about faith to our boys is that we don’t always understand God’s ways. Things don’t always turn out the way we would like.

Lopez: The most rewarding?

[Elizabeth] Ficocelli: But the most rewarding thing to convey to them is that we as parents are not the end-all, be-all. God is ultimately in charge and he has our best interest in mind. All we have to do is be obedient and trusting, discerning and courageous enough to follow where he is leading. When we do that, it is freeing and brings us true joy.

And they will never connect that unquestioning obedience, demanded by the Church, to the Church's fatal flaw, the structural problem that gave birth to monsters.

They're Perfectly Reasonable People

Shorter James Joyner: I can't understand why tea-partiers are afraid to visit certain parts of DC. It can't be racism because I'm afraid of those areas too, and they have no reason to go to these places anyway.

Shorter Megan McArdle: The tea-party warnings about DC are overwrought but not racist because they're right about the crime.

Underneath the bullshit is fear. Fear is understandable because we have been manipulated into racial disputes by the ruling elite for centuries, but if you don't know or won't admit what it is, you will try to find stupid and harmful (to other people) ways of dealing with it. Admit that you're afraid of Black people or shut up about how reasonable your fear of Black people is.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Situational Ethics

Somewhat shorter Ross Douthat: Gosh, Wally, wasn't the 1950s just swell? Sure they cheated at baseball back then too, but it was sports cheating at its best. Why don't we just forgive that scamp Roger Clemens for the sake of auld lang syne?

For a man who makes his living as a moral scold, it sure is odd to see him advocate ignoring the breaking of Charlton Heston's Ten Commandments. But maybe he just makes allowances for any situation that doesn't include a woman voluntarily having sex.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Assessing Failure--It's Their Fault

Megan McArdle shouldn't have all the fun. Let's see how Matthew Yglesias, one of our elite prognosticating pundits, assesses failure--namely, his failure to realize that invading a foreign country for no reason might not be a good idea.
In response to my post on Howard Dean’s wise February 2003 speech about Iraq a few correspondents have asked me to revisit my own war thinking in 2002. I’m not a huge fan of this kind of exercise because I think it shades into excuse-making, but in retrospect you can think of four strands of argumentation:

It will only be excuse-making if Yglesias makes excuses. But on to the explaining.
1. Erroneous views of foreign policy in general: At the time, I adhered to the school of thought (popular at the time) which held that one major problem in the world was that the US government was unduly constrained in the use of force abroad by domestic politics. More forceful intervention in Haiti, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Kosovo had all been called for. This led to a general predisposition in favor of military adventurism.

I'm sorry, what? We don't have enough military adventures abroad? We don't meddle in other countries enough? Wasn't the blow-back from, for one, setting up the Shah in Iran a hint that unforeseen consequences seem to accompany such decisions? Yglesias went to The Dalton School and Harvard. Didn't he read enough history to understand that we bomb people for our own selfish political reasons, not because we are Mike The Friendly Irish Cop to the world? What's the use of going to Harvard if you learn nothing except American Exceptionalism?
2. Elite signaling: When Hillary Clinton, Tom Daschle, Dick Gephardt, John Kerry, Joe Biden, John Edwards, etc. told me they thought invading Iraq was a good idea I took them very seriously. I knew that Carl Levin & Nancy Pelosi were on the other side, but the bulk of the leading Democratic voices on national security and foreign policy issues were in favor of the war. So was Tony Blair. These were credible people whose views I took seriously.

If they had told you to quit and help the poor, would you have taken that seriously too? Some elites did say that Saddam's nuclear ambitions were contained. Why did you not believe them, or Pelosi or Levin? Of course, this is an indication of authoritarianism either way. Brought up to think of himself as a decider, not a follower, he still believes what he is told by his elite, while telling himself he's making an educated decision. It's their fault, because under authoritarianism, the followers are not responsible for their own decisions--that responsibility is abdicated to the elite, absolving the follower of any responsibility. (Remember, it's possible to be both an elite and an elite follower.)

3. Misreading the politics: It seemed to me that the political consequences to George W Bush of invading Iraq to disrupt a nuclear weapons program and then discovering that there was no such program would be disastrous. Presidents do have access to secret intelligence, and it seemed nutty to me to suggest that the administration would be engaged in a massive, easily-debunked-after-the fact lie. Similarly, I didn’t take all the democracy-talk very seriously but the “better than Saddam” humanitarian standard is a low bar and I figured Bush wouldn’t be doing this unless he said some reasonable plan for extricating our forces and stabilizing the situation.

Why? It's not like Bush was competent. Anyone who followed his career or read a book about him knew better. In Texas we watched him play solitaire in the Governor's mansion for five years. We knew, although like Yglesias, so many people were thrilled at the idea of the Republicans coming back to power, people of dignity and responsibility and ethics that they didn't care. Why, they can't possibly be stupid or venal! They're just like me!

Funny how that worked out. Unless you're Iraqi, of course, in which case it's less funny and more deadly and tragic.
4. Kenneth Pollack: The formal case for war that I found compelling was Kenneth Pollack’s “The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq.” I discuss this book in some detail in my own book, but to make a long story short its argumentative structure is badly flawed. Roughly speaking he says “if we invade Iraq and a pony shows up, that will be better than the alternatives, therefore invading Iraq is better than trying to muddle through.” Which is great, except we’re missing the pony! This problem is what Robert Farley’s Jedi Principle is about.

You went to fucking Harvard. How can you not recognize a badly flawed argument? Just like McArdle, he assumes that people like him are the ones who deserve to make the decisions, are always right, and will make the right--that is, smart and moral--decision. Pollack was CIA. He went into the decision already convinced or ready to convince others that it was invasion or nuclear fallout. He waved away facts that contradicted his argument. One-sided arguments are the favorite method of the propagandist. Or don't they teach that at Harvard?
So that’s that. You can, however, always get more psychological.

Try to stop me.
I was 21 years old and kind of a jerk. Being for the war was a way to simultaneously be a free-thinking dissident in the context of a college campus and also be on the side of the country’s power elite.

The Savvy Tribe. The one that's so much more elite that it's better than conservatives or liberals because it's so educated and piercingly analytical.
My observation is that this kind of fake-dissident posture is one that always has a lot of appeal to people.

Why, Yglesias? Have you ever asked that question? Everyone wants to feel superior to others. The more inferior we feel, the more we insist that we are superior. And when you are told your whole life that you are superior, any doubts must be quelled at all costs or You Don't Belong to the rich, famous, powerful, glorious, wonderful elite.
The point is that this wasn’t really a series of erroneous judgments about Iraq, it was a series of erroneous judgments about how to think about the world and who deserves to be taken seriously and under which circumstances.

And what was that error? This entire exercise is useless unless he understands why he chose to support the elite--a certain elite, the ones who exercised their power over others, who invaded countries, who murdered people. Not the elites who wanted peace. If he doesn't understand why he identifies so much with the powerful, he will continue to make knee-jerk decisions which support the elite over those they harm. Which he has, far too often.
Anyways, one thing that’s always puzzled me is why other war supporters were so slow to turn against it.

You don't understand it because you don't do the painful work of self-evaluation and rejection of outside sources of self-esteem. You can't see that they all desperately wanted to be right, to be part of the tribe, to be on the winning side. Even now they can't admit that they were had by liars and murderers. That their elite are anything but. That everything they've built their lives and careers on it is a lie, a self-serving, self-flattering, self-enriching lie.
As I intimated in this morning post, notwithstanding any of the above considerations it was clear to me that something was badly amiss as soon as Bush/Blair/Aznar pulled the plug on the inspections process. By a couple of months later, it seemed pretty clear that there was no scary WMD program and also that there was no real plan for what to do. But it seems to have taken all the way until 2005-2006 for “this was a mistake” to become a conventional view even though no really important new information became available during the interim.


All those people we killed or sent running for their lives. And we got away with it. We have very little problem living with what we've done. It's not our fault--it's theirs--whoever they is.

On to Iran!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Selective Perception

To you, it's an egg. To me, it's the freebird of the marketplace.

Let's take a little look at how ideology shades reporting. When a propagandist sees a news event or interpretation of a news event from another reporter or commentator, he will disregard facts that contradict his or her emotion-based and/or bought-and-paid ideology. He fits the event into his pre-established network of ideas and emotions, and anything that doesn't fit is simply glossed over or ignored.

Megan McArdle reads a report about loans and 401(k)s. She sees that more people are taking out loans on those 401(k)s, and reacts.

Via Felix Salmon, I see that over 20% of Fidelity 401(k)s now have loans out against them. Since Fidelity is one of the biggest players in the space, it's reasonable to assume that this tells us something about the state of American 401(k) plans.

Felix points out that anyone who's planning to take a loan against their plan should be less heavily weighted in stocks. This is true, but I'd like to make a different point: you should not plan to take a loan against your 401(k)....401(k) loans are especially tempting in a down economy like this, when it may be hard to get other kinds of credit. Unfortunately, they're also especially risky. If you lose your job, you're probably going to have to pay the loan off in full, immediately--or have it count as a withdrawal from the account. If you are younger than 59 1/2, that means you'll owe income taxes on the full amount, plus a 10% penalty. ...If a 401(k) loan is the only way to avert something truly catastrophic--foreclosure, the death of your child from an operable brain tumor--okay, go ahead. But they are a bad idea for anything less pressing (and I include things like school tuition in the "less pressing" category). It's all too easy to end up in a deeper hole than you were before.

So far, so good. It's not a good idea to take out loans for "less pressing" expenses because of penalties. Anyone could agree with that.

But the rising rates of loans and withdrawals show more people have turned to their savings to cover basic expenses, McHugh said. She added that second-quarter rates tend to be higher as parents look for ways to cover college tuition.

Again, so far so good. But McArdle ignored the end of the article, the part that implicitly states that people are suffering in this economy, the economy McArdle said would not go into a recession, let alone a depression. The one that McArdle said is recovering.

Nevin Adams, editor at, a site for the retirement-planning industry, said the results were somewhat surprising since other plan providers had reported falling rates of loans and withdrawals recently.

But since Fidelity serves many smaller businesses and more varied geographies than do competitors, it may have come across a trend sooner than others, Adams said.

"Unemployment benefits have been running out for people, and it's possible they're seeing a double-dip of withdrawals from people trying to make ends meet," he said.

It is very much in her best interest to shift blame on the individual for the financial industry's gutting of the economy. This is the best of all possible economic systems in the best of all possible worlds, she insists. People are borrowing money against their retirement to save their homes and keep their kids in school because they no longer have any income. McArdle reads that, yet her next article on the issue says the following:

In general, the point at which you're kiting debt--using home equity or the 401(k) to pay off credit cards or bad car loans--is the point at which you are in serious financial trouble. While transforming the debt to lower-interest rate forms can seem like salvation, it's not the answer. For one thing, the lower interest rates come with greater risk--of losing the house or your retirement savings, rather than your credit rating. For another, it won't work unless you get serious about controlling your money. I've watched colleagues do it (not at the Atlantic), and invariably after they refinanced the house, the credit card debt started to creep up again. Many financial counselors and personal finance gurus say the same thing.

Suddenly, it is personal irresponsibility that is to blame for the economy, not Bush's tax cuts and unfunded wars and globalization and the unregulated shadow financial industry. It's not job loss, it's too many self-indulgences. All you need to do is practice some personal discipline. Some---austerity.

Bankruptcy may be the solution to excessive unsecured debts (it's not for tax debt, and almost never for student loan debt unless you're totally and permanently disabled; if you have those kinds of debts, then you just need to work something out with the relevant authorities.)

I know that bankruptcy doesn't discharge student debt, but it can discharge tax debt. If you owe the IRS money you can declare bankruptcy to pay it off under certain circumstances. I'm not sure if she's talking about something else or is just wrong. Either way, McArdle ignores the article's mention of unemployment in favor of the half-true version in which people are drawing down on their 401(k)s for daily expenses; are in debt because they are irresponsible.

In general, the point at which you're kiting debt--using home equity or the 401(k) to pay off credit cards or bad car loans--is the point at which you are in serious financial trouble. While transforming the debt to lower-interest rate forms can seem like salvation, it's not the answer. For one thing, the lower interest rates come with greater risk--of losing the house or your retirement savings, rather than your credit rating. For another, it won't work unless you get serious about controlling your money. I've watched colleagues do it (not at the Atlantic), and invariably after they refinanced the house, the credit card debt started to creep up again. Many financial counselors and personal finance gurus say the same thing.

Bankruptcy may be the only answer. But even before you contact a bankruptcy attorney, you need to sit down and get serious about your money. Get out your bank statements and look at all your expenses, including the cash withdrawals. Look at your fixed costs, and see how much that leaves you for variable expenses like food. You may simply be overspending on crap, in which case I am a big fan of the cash budget, and have been since my early days as a broke young journalist with monstrous student loan payments. Cash provides automatic discipline; it's hard to rationalize overspending when you can see just how little is left for the rest of the month.

Or you may have excessive fixed costs. If the fixed costs don't leave you enough room for food, utilities, and sundries like car repairs, then you need to bite the bullet and shed some of them. That may mean letting go of a treasured car, boat, or house. Even more painfully, it may mean coming up with cash to pay the difference, if the asset is underwater. Again, if it's bad enough that you need to kite debt, it's bad enough that you need to be an adult and let the beloved, debt laden possessions go.

It's just a matter of personal responsibility. Even if your asset is underwater, you must pay it off. (Unless you're a corporation.) Shame on you for taking out a loan on your 401(k) to pay your Starbucks bill. If McArdle were forced to defend herself she would probably say that since it is too difficult to know how many people are unemployed and how many are just greedy consumerists who spend all their money on houses, cars, or consumer goods, the little people must suffer during these hard economic times and give up their beloved, debt laden possessions. The bankers, however, are a different story.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Thanks Of A Grateful Nation

No one who achieves success does so without acknowledging the help of others. The wise and confident acknowledge this help with gratitude. ~Author Unknown

That little scamp, Megan McArdle, is such a scatterhead! She's been pulled off her epic deconstruction of Elizabeth Warren (Day 29 and counting) to pour over reports of teacher incompetence in Los Angeles. She prefaces her new topic with a post on one of her pet peeves; schoolteachers, and how much they suck. As a former schoolteacher I recognize one of my pet peeves, a student who thought that his or her teacher was stupid and lazy. Attitudes are easily misinterpreted and anecdotes do not do reality justice, however, so let's look at the issue in McArdle's own words.

The unhappy corollary of [unionization] is that the metrics will not only tend towards simplicity and ease of measurement; they will also tend to reward mediocrity. Again, this is not an accident of history. A collective bargaining unit run by a "majority rules" system is always going to look for a system that rewards the median or modal worker, not the best.

A merit pay system can work in one of two ways. It can benchmark teachers against the average, and reward the people who achieve the most improvement. Or it can set some minimum standard and give a bonus to any teacher who bests that standard. (You could set three tiers, or what have you, but the concept is basically the same).

In my opinion, the first system is probably going to best maximize productivity (though this is an interesting discussion for another blog post). But it would never pass a union vote, because the majority of teachers wouldn't benefit from it, and those who did would have to work harder. The second system might pass. But the union would make heroic efforts to water down the benchmarks until the majority of their members were receiving at least some "bonus" pay.

But compare either system to what now exists in our nation's schools. Every single teacher can stay on for years unless they do something direly wrong. Every single teacher can get a useless education degree, which basically requires a pulse. They have a system that spreads benefits absolutely evenly among all their members.

Teachers are inevitably mediocre people, since their unions only want mediocrity because teachers are lazy and want to be paid for incompetence.

We should pay teachers much more than we do. Right now, they take a substantial portion of their "pay" in the form of near-total job security. People like this benefit. But in most cases, they shouldn't have it, because it has predictable effects on performance--particularly when it is coupled with a pay scale that relies on measurable but not very useful traits like advanced degrees (totally useless) and seniority (the benefits of experience eventually level off). The only thing teachers have a financial incentive to do under this system is keep their butts in the teacher's chair, and acquire useless degrees from programs that mostly teach students how to sit through long and pointless classes.

The obvious thing to do is to strip the protections and up the pay, while using merit metrics to determine how that pay is allocated. But the union has very good reasons to resist this. For one thing, depending how you implement it, you'll substantially reduce the role that the union has in setting salaries, and thus its value to the membership. For another, more than 50% of their membership are, definitionally, average or below-average. Merit pay is probably not a good deal for them. Especially if they've spent valuable years of their lives acquiring useless M. Ed. degrees.

On a life-cycle basis, merit pay is only good for the minority of teachers who can produce outstanding results early and often. The rest used to have the comfort of knowing that they would eventually get to the top if they just ground away long enough. Hopefully, we can overcome this if we throw in enough money to sweeten the deal--as we should, anyway, if we want to attract great teachers. But it's a grinding battle everywhere it's been fought.

Teachers don't want to improve because they are lazy. Teacher are stupid, with undergraduate degrees that anyone with a pulse could get, useless advanced degrees, and limited ability to improve themselves. Mind you, this isn't all teachers. McArdle approves of Ivy League teachers. She just dislikes inner city teachers.

Teacher's lobby for kids when it happens to coincide with their interest. Unfortunately, in urban areas, it often doesn't.

I should probably clarify that I'm talking about twenty, maybe thirty failing urban school districts/agglomerations in the United States. I could care less whether Scarsdale has a powerful teacher's union that negotiates triannual ten month paid leave in Hawaii. And the problem in rural areas is not the teacher's unions, it's the geographic fact of no possible competition, and often the net outmigration of educated people who might make good teachers.

They are really, really lazy.

But in those urban areas, the teacher's unions are a big honking problem. This is not some crazy right wing opinion about unions in general; it is a specific problem with public employee unions. The cops and firefighters have their own issues, about which I will happily wax lyrical some other day, but in the end most of them boil down to getting paid ridiculous amounts of money to do no work. If the laziest ten percent of New York's teachers spent all day drinking coffee and doing "literature review", this would be a fiscal problem, but not a desperate one. The problem is, we stick the teacher's union's problems in our classrooms.

They don't want to use the best teaching methods. But they're not just lazy. They don't want to spoil all the fun of teaching disadvantaged children in poor school districts.

They resist changes to their work practices that the best evidence (see Ayers, Supercrunchers) seems to show works with disadvantaged kids: rote memorization, and phonics. These replace the tools that upper middle class give their kids earlier--even if you went to a whole language school, if you're reading this blog it's a safe bet you had phonics, too, when your parents taught you to "sound it out".

McArdle is saying that poor children are not taught to sound out words. Because their teachers don't think it's creative.

Unions also give teachers power to resist changes that make their jobs less fun. I think the teachers genuinely believe that these changes are bad; but I also think that they strenuously resist learning anything to the contrary. There is really good evidence for the benefits of direct instruction in teaching disadvantaged children. But direct instruction moves the teacher into being more of a technician and less of a creative professional.

Direct Instruction is the purchase of instructional materials from a corporation, which will be delivered to the student via anyone off the street. Teachers obviously must control the State Board of Education curriculum process, especially in Texas, which is very influential in textbook adaption. And has no teachers unions with any power.

In conclusion, teachers suck. So what does McArdle think will solve the problem of sucky teachers and incompetent school districts?

I want a voucher system not because I have it in for teachers, but because I want a school system that is more responsive, child focused, creative, outcome-oriented, and effective. I think that schools that have to meet basic standards and treat parents like customers are more likely to be this way than government monopolies[...].

The solution is to treat schoolchildren like customers and privatize their schools, handing over control to corporations to run at a profit. Because of the free hand of the market and market equilibrium and Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan and Ayn Rand. I must say, it's a tremendous coincidence that the fact that public teachers suck fits so perfectly with Megan McArdle's economic ideology. It's like a miracle!

By the way, what kind of a student was McArdle?

Don't get me wrong, I know that undergrads love [easy] classes. I too took Human Sexuality, along with a number of other fluffy courses designed primarily to allow me to get an A for staring dreamily out the window and occasionally dashing off a paper that mirrored the most trivial philosophical discoveries of whatever Beat poet or PoMo deconstructionist had formed the professor's intellectual framework. However, the fact that most undergraduates would like to spend their four years getting as little for their parents' money as possible, does not mean that the university is obligated to abet them in this pursuit.

Yeah, we thought so.

ADDED: In the comments we discover that the bad teacher described in McArdle's post was a in "typical rural, conservative district" and "This particularly teacher's family has been in the community for generations, she's married into another old family, family on the good 'ol boy power structure." The problem was not unions or Democrats or "inner city" teachers; it was the conservatives taking care of their own, getting them jobs and protecting them when their incompetence is revealed. McArdle should have related to the teacher, not sneered at her.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ross Douthat Is A Shining Beacon On A Hill

Oh my God! It's the end of the world! Watch where you put those paws, mister!

Evidently Megan McArdle is much too busy with her Detroit trip to blog, so let's take another look at Ross Douthat and his continuing effort to force everyone to be just like Ross Douthat.

The main objective of any serious social conservative, in the end, should be to restore a particular sexual ideal among heterosexuals, not just to forestall the redefinition of the institution of marriage to include gays.

It's all about the vagina with our Ross . Sex, sex, sex. That's all the man ever thinks about. Sex and God, sex and Muslims, sex and marriage.

By the way--this has nothing to do with anything, it just popped into my head--Catholics are forbidden to masturbate. It must be very frustrating. But back to Douthat.

What does Douthat's "main objective" entail?

The goal should be a world where the struggle to defend marriage is understood primarily as a struggle against divorce and out-of-wedlock births and premarital promiscuity, and not just a world where the law offers a particular distinction to Newt Gingrich’s third marriage that it doesn’t afford Ellen DeGeneres and Portia DeRossi.

Let's take divorce first. Douthat thinks that everyone should not be able to divorce. If you marry a child molester, or spendthrift, or adulterer, or cold, cruel person, you should not be able to divorce him. If you marry a woman who does drugs in front of the children, lets her boyfriend in the house when the husband goes to work, is a spendthrift, is mentally ill, you should not be able to divorce her. Even if you have no children you should not be able to divorce. That is what Douthat considers ideal.

Perhaps he would make allowances, but after that it's just a matter of degree, isn't it? Much like the abortion debate, it's all or nothing. But why? Why is divorce, of all things, something that's existed since antiquity, one of the Holy Trinity of Official Pillars of Marriage? We are forced to guess, since Mr. Douthat coyly refuses to say. God. His god, to be specific. What God hath wrought, let no man rend asunder. But it's a bit awkward to tell the world, "My Catholic religion forbids divorce and all political laws should support my religious laws so everyone lives just like me." The non-Catholics disagree, and even the Catholic Church has assimilated to the point of offering annulment so Catholics can remarry and stay in the Church.

If there is another reason for Douthat's decision to claim that divorce should be illegal, he can't be bothered to give it so it must not be important.

And if all that social conservatives can ever hope to accomplish is to keep homosexual couples from getting marriage licenses, then there’s a case to be made for living with the public redefinition of the institution, taking the older ideal private, and trying to rebuild a thicker culture of marriage from the ground up.

How? Don't leave us hanging! By breeding, building an army of Catholics one pregnancy at a time? Mind control? Hypnosis?

The whole idea of rebuilding a culture of marriage is hilarious to this woman. From your first pink blanket to your Bride Barbie to your Easy-bake Oven to lipstick to Seventeen to Cosmopolitan to a whole genre of romantic films--our whole society is centered around the culture of marriage. It's bred into us. Why does he think gays want it too? But like the hysterical and fearful mosque maniacs, Douthat just can't stand the idea of anyone different soiling his sacred traditions. It would just hurt his feelings too much.

Let me put it this way: If tomorrow, without much outcry or opposition, the United States of America actually legalized polygamy, and straight Americans began practicing plural marriage in large numbers, my interest in the fight against legalizing gay marriage would drop away to zero. That isn’t going to happen, obviously. But the mass heterosexual abandonment of the marital ideal may have put us closer to that situation than some gay marriage opponents want to admit.

Aww, Ross, that's just lame. The "dogs and cats living together!!!" defense? Please.

And remember, you're also talking to a generation of libertarians who grew up on Robert Heinlein, and think a dozen hot wives is no less than they deserve.

The other pillars are out-of-wedlock births and premarital promiscuity. Poor Douthat doesn't realize that those two pillars are the best friends marriage ever had, and are responsible for a huge percentages of marriages. Just like Douthat wants.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Twit Tweets

Kathryn Jean Lopez:

amazingly i got through security here at columbus airport with a copy of david limbaugh's crimes against liberty, with obama on the cover.
about 2 hours ago via web

You mean the Liberal Police (Obama Squad) didn't pick her up, torture her until she sang "We Are The World," stuff her full of birth control pills and drop her off in a gay orgy? What is this ObamaNation coming to?

Standing Athwart History Yelling "Doh"

Ignore the glassy stare. K-Lo hasn't been the same since she saw the pope in person.

We are all astonishment that Miss Kathryn Jean Lopez, she who has so often and with such passive-aggression attacked The New York Times, agrees to soil her reputation and place herself in its evil clutches by appearing on its pages. She has said that they push pro-choice stories, they are "moved by adulterous connections" (whatever that means), and seldom passes up a chance to denounce how liberal they are. Isn't she afraid of what contact with such a virulently liberal newspaper would do to her soul? Doesn't she care about eternal damnation at all, or did vanity and ambition seduce her into accepting their offer to appear in its sleazy silk pages, reeking of liberal sexual abandon and the fluids of moral decay?

Evidently not.
On Aug. 13, President Obama held a Ramadan dinner at the White House and announced that “this is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakeable.” This is a statement I absolutely agree with, and I wish that Western countries would be inspired by the hat tip to our founding principles.

Which is why she wants to eliminate religious freedom for everyone else; so she is free to enforce her religious beliefs and rituals on everyone else. Remember, freedom means nothing if you aren't free to take it away from other people.
When you’ve taken as many positions on as many issues as Obama has, you start to lose your credibility..

I think she's having an Ovaltine-induced hallucination here. John Kerry was the flip-flopper, Obama is the socialist menace who can't wait until we're all living under Sharia. Get with the program, girl.
The president went on to say, “I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances.”

I agree with that, too. I’m a Catholic who sees threats to religious liberty increasing here at home -- largely by judicial legislative fiat -- and I'm earnest about ensuring its protection for us all.

The woman wouldn't know a fiat if it ran her over. She, like Jonah Goldberg and the rest of her dim-witted brethren, does not understand what judges actually do. Let's hear Goldberg's view of the legal issues involved.
In any decent society, tolerance must work both ways. If the majority is expected to show respect for a minority, the minority must also show some tolerance for the values of the majority. I’m no strict majoritarian – one with right on his side is the majority as far as I’m concerned. But this isn’t a clear-cut issue of right and wrong. It’s more complicated than that. It’s about deference and decency and common sense.

That's right, the law doesn't even figure into it. It's all about his feelings, and if they are being deferred to. It's all about feeling superior to others, feeling swollen with immoral pride and vanity, being the biggest kid on the block that can shove everyone around and make them thank you for it. More Jonah:
Indeed, listening to all of this talk about “crowd” politics from liberals these days, you get the distinct impression that there are a lot of 20-something liberal bloggers, MSNBC talk-show hosts, and newspaper editorial writers who honestly believe that they are not only better than the American public but that they are in fact the duly anointed conscience of this, our embarrassingly backward and bigoted nation. They must stand ever vigilant, lest America’s deep reservoirs of hatred and bigotry burst their levees and spill out through the sluices of the Republican Party.

There is nothing we can say or do that will get them to acknowledge their natural human faults, their immorality based on lack of empathy, or their lack of ability to reason and advise. Nothing. They are damaged people, who are easily manipulated and who take out their anger and fear on everyone around them. Corporate America merely added political advertising to corporate advertising, and the same people who bought granite countertops because everyone else had them or drove to Nascar races covered in corporate advertising, eagerly and easily voted for/bought the latest political product. And God's Littlest Missionary, who bought everything she was ever told by parent, priest or political party, is given space in the New York Times to tell us that we are only free if we can deny other people their freedom.
But I also think that to build an Islamic center near ground zero is an imprudent move. If Islam had a pope, he might advise the Cordoba House developers as much, just as the late Pope John Paul advised Polish sisters not to build a convent at Auschwitz (my friend Bill McGurn wrote well about this in The Wall Street Journal). It is not a surrender of freedom to be sensitive. It is, in fact, a reverent exercise of freedom.

For her. Not them.
President Obama, of course, did not say any of this at his Ramadan dinner. Instead, the following day, he said: “I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making the decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right people have that dates back to our founding.”

He was addressing the legal issue, the irrelevant one, instead of the important issue, which is how conservatives feel about themselves. Silly man.
How can President Obama navigate this contentious issue given the opposition of Senator Reid and other Democrats?

How can anyone go against the tribe? How? Sweet Jesus, doesn't he understand that if you don't have someone telling you what to do at all times, you'll explode in a sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll-fueled murderous rampage?
The quick answer is that he could change his position very easily, since he doesn’t have one. But when you’ve taken as many positions on as many issues as the president has, you start to lose your credibility.

Yes, Obama went from supporting following the law to supporting following the law. Lopez cannot see this because for her the only law is obedience to authority.
For Democrats facing tough elections, President Obama's shifting stance will be of little help.

If the president were to try to clarify himself a third time to say that he thinks a Hamas-endorsed Islamic center near ground zero run by an imam who cannot bring himself to condemn the terror group is inappropriate, then we might have a semblance of leadership on our hands. But reread President Obama's Cairo speech. I’m not holding my breath.

Lopez's fears are more important than the law. All Muslim people are terrorists. All Muslims are our enemies. Obama is trying to impose Sharia law on the US. Obama is a Muslim.

William F. Buckley must be so proud. As the model for conservative deportment, his bigotry, dishonesty, and rampant public abuse of anyone he personally disliked has created a party of war-mongering, immoral idiots spouting rhetoric with no connection to reality.

And the so-called liberal New York Times published their work, takes their ideas seriously, and advocates for their wars and starvation taxation. It publishes Lopez next to Glenn Greenwald, as if a woman who cannot edit, write a coherent sentence, or think is an adequate response to a constitutional lawyer. But what else can they do? Anyone with even a shred of intelligence, morality or understanding has left the party, and simple-minded neurotics like Lopez, Goldberg, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are the best they can do.

Note: Joke removed because it sounded too familiar.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Prince And The Showgirlman

TBogg reminds us that it's been a while since Megan McArdle promised to deliver Part II of her epic destruction of Elizabeth Warren; in fact, it's been 26 days. Nearly a month has gone by, a long, hot summer month of little news or government activity. Since everyone and his brother are taking vacations at this time, now would be the perfect opportunity, at least for McArdle, but fortunately she has delayed her magnum opus. We hope she waits until September when school resumes, and bored housewives have a lot more time to sharpen their knives, tie on their bibs, and anticipate the feast to come.

Meanwhile, we must find our entertainment where we can. And it seems that News Corp., which is owned by Rupert Murdoch, Saudi prince Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and others, has donated a million dollars to the Republican party. What can the Republicans expect from their Saudi patron?

Q: Do you think the world's perception of Islam is misunderstood?

Prince Alwaleed: Oh, yes, for sure. After 9/11, the world changed, and Islam came under attack. You had all these terrorist acts on U.S. soil committed by Muslims and Arabs and Saudis. So I don't really blame the West for being worried about Islam. But you cannot generalize and say all Arabs or Muslims are terrorists. All the discussion has been around the Somali guy who tried to bomb the [Northwest (DAL)] airplane, but his father...

Q: ...Turned him in.

A: This guy represents Islam. He went to the U.S. Embassy and said, "My son is a terrorist in the making. Please take care of him." This guy represents me and all my 1.3 billion Muslims. Not the guy with the bomb. Islam means peace. That's the irony of it.

The prince has been less discreet in the past.

World Trade Center attacks
In October 2001, following the World Trade Center attacks, New York mayor Rudy Giuliani turned down a $10 million donation from Al-Waleed for disaster relief after the prince suggested the United States "must address some of the issues that led to such a criminal attack," and "re-examine its policies in the Middle East." However, Giuliani interpreted his statements as drawing "a moral equivalency between liberal democracies like the United States, like Israel, and terrorist states and those who condone terrorism."[8].

In 2002, Al-Waleed donated 18.5 million British pounds ($27 million) to the families of Palestinians during a TV telethon following Israeli operations in the West Bank city of Jenin. The telethon was ordered by Saudi King Fahd to help relatives of Palestinian martyrs. The Saudi government said the term "martyrs" referred not to suicide bombers but to "Palestinians who are victimized by Israeli terror and violence." However, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council said that "some money will go to the families of suicide bombers. " [9][10][11]

He is, however, not a fan of Iran.

Q: You know the President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, well. Does Syria intend to play a positive role in the peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis?
A: My friend Bashar al-Assad wants the Palestinians to live in peace with Israel. I can assure you that Bashar is going to play a very big role in getting the peace process moving.

Q: What stands between an accord between Syria and Israel?
A: A small piece of land—the Golan Heights. It's very technical and could be resolved if there is a will from the Israelis. Bashar just wants his land back, period. The Golan is Syrian.

Q: What is your assessment of the possibility of something happening between Israel and the Palestinians?
A: I believe the Middle East is the core problem. The terrorist acts and all these things are really side effects. [The situation] needs to be resolved as soon as possible. I think that if Israel wants to have peace, they can have peace within a month or be honest with you.

Q: But just last week there was some shelling from Gaza into Israel.
A: Israel is a dominant force in Middle East. We all know that it has the biggest military. It has nuclear bombs. So Israel is untouchable. Now, if Israel can get its house in order and have...

Q: What do you mean by get its house in order?
A: The Netanyahu government does not want to have peace with the Palestinians.

Q: So your answer to the conflict in the Middle East between the Israelis and the Palestinians is that the United States must pressure the Israelis to do more? That's your answer?
A: That's right, because all the power is in the hands of Israel. They have the land in their possession. They have Jerusalem in their possession. Everything is in their hands.

Q: What should be done about Iran?
A: I think the United States has to take a very firm position against Iran...really just box them in and give them an ultimatum. Right now what's happening in Iran reminds us of the pre-revolution era of the Shah.

Q: Will Ahmadinejad survive?
A: The way he's handling his opponents is really very savage. We don't know how this thing is going to end. But at this stage, you must engage with Ahmadinejad until we see what happens.

Murdoch, in turn, owns part of the prince's media company.

In late February, News Corp. purchased a 9% stake in Alwaleed's Arab media and entertainment company Rotana, valuing the company at $770 million.

No doubt we will immediately see the yapping lapdogs of the right attack Fox News' owners for supporting Islamic studies programs in the US and supporting Palestinians over Israelis. On the plus side, the prince wants to weaken Iran, which will make the Fox viewers happy. Fortunately for Murdoch, his followers are perfectly able to both hate the prince for helping Palestinians and love the prince for hating Iran. Where there is no cognition, there is no cognitive dissonance.