Friday, July 31, 2009

Good Government? A Challenge to Readers (Revisited)

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This is a shot across the bow of the statist ship. Or perhaps a Socratic-style taunt. It poses, in any case, a question (or is it a thought-experiment?) that wants an answer.

This is a challenge that, given the wholly pernicious initiatives of the present administration -- healthcare reform, cap and trade, stimulus doles and nationalization of the private sector -- seems to have more urgent relevance than it did at the time of first posting.

The challenge is simple enough, really. It is this:

Cite an example of a serious problem in contemporary society -- social, political or economic -- that is not caused by or exacerbated by government.
To date this challenge has elicited few comments, and no satisfactory answers in any forum. But in this era of trope and chains -- well, who knows?.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Marxist Obama

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Which is simply calling a spade a spade. While I can only guess at Barack Obama's motives, and motivations -- who he is as a man -- what he is, behind the evanescent mask of language, is plain enough.

He is a Marxist. 1. To elaborate I would add, consequently anti-American 2. and devoutly anti-capitalist.

Now the president's liberal (and robot conservative) defenders will object to the term -- arguing, as is their custom, only at the margins -- but the evidence is plain enough. His earliest and subsequent associations point us toward making that judgment, but his words and the policies he favors can leave no doubt. Obama's policies and his stated intentions to re-shape America (the world, if it cooperates) reflect clearly those of Marxists past and present.

Besides definitional objections, certain 'conservatives' who carry the memes of the 60's (comity at any cost) will say there is nothing to be gained politically by using the term. That may be so, but, as the left amply demonstrates, denying the truth of a matter does not make the truth go away. Denial is a refuge of comfort, but it carries danger. 3.

I make my case by examining Mr. Obama's policies, pronouncements and actions in the context of his work.

Foreign Policy. Honduras provides a telling current example of the president's views. Here the president chooses to view the lawful (constitutional) ouster of President Zelaya as a coup. It is hard to imagine a reason other than his wish to preserve congenial relations with Zelaya's communist allies, the Castros and Hugo Chavez and his contempt for democratic government. The popular uprising against the theocracy in Iran -- a provocative sworn enemy of the US -- barely drew Obama's notice. He has been hostile toward toward the only fully functional democratic government in the Middle Easy and our traditional ally, Israel.

The US Economy. As famously and unintentionally revealed in a recorded statement to 'Joe-the-plumber' Mr. Obama believes that justice is achieved by the redistribution of wealth. He encourages class warfare by his words and taxation policies. He has seized private business, abrogated the sanctity of contracts by fiat and uses every means further to accrue power to the federal government. The obscene 'stimulus' package, the drive toward socialized medicine and the devotion to taxing by 'cap and trade' in response to the mythical anthropocentric global warming are designs to destroy the US economy. Obama's repeated claim that he intends to rebuild the economy "from the bottom up" fairly boggles the mind. Paving the Road to Serfdom is a shovel-ready job.

Obama's Church. Liberation Theology is a religious denomination created in Latin America about 50 years ago. It is the result of a Faustian bargain between leftist Catholics and Marxists designed to suit their mutual purposes. The publicized preachments of Rev. Wright
supported by his colleague, Father Pfleger, are not aberrations, but rather the mainstream of the politicized church. And doubtless congenial to Mr. Obama.

There is much more to be said about President Obama, but I want to confine myself to the case at hand. If he succeeds in his pernicious objectives -- domestic and foreign -- the future, as game theorists say, will cast no shadow.
1. The matter of political definitions is not an easy one. It is complicated by the fact that Marxist nations and movements have, absent any structural or philosophical change, taken to calling themselves Socialist -- presumably because the term is seen as more benign. But by far the greater problem is the fact that no combination of political, social and economic systems and the ideas that drive them will precisely fit a general definition. I view Marxism as the political heritage of the theories of Marx: dialectical materialism, critical theory of capitalism and revolutionary theory. Ideas that form a consistent thread from Gramci to Alinsky. To be sure the lines between the various surviving forms of collectivism blur, but the Marxist strain -- the most virulent -- tends to unify them.
2. "American" in the sense of the Founders and of history through the middle of the last century. -The America he may be for is a Utopian construction, centrally planned.
3. Denying the existence of a threat -- small, medium or existential -- is to yield the means and readiness to combat it. A herpetologist who calls a rattlesnake by another name and attributes to it innocuous qualities is unlikely to enjoy a long career.
The avoidance of properly descriptive language often makes us feel safer. I was once a jury foreman in a murder case. The case was simple and the evidence clear, but one juror could not agree with the verdict. "I understand the evidence and the law, but when I look at the defendant I just can't believe he's a murder."

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Presidency: Above Obama's Pay Grade

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Last night's preemptive prime-time performance was an exercise in vagueness, evasion, dissembling and sophistry. He preached the liberal vision to the media choir, but he did not inform.

Perhaps the dog ate his homework. Whatever the case, He was clearly (and typically) unprepared with the facts or details ("specificity") of even the fundamental issues bearing on the healthcare (now called 'insurance') 1. reform he ardently advocates.

In his opening remarks he offered the standard complaints about the economy he inherited and congratulated himself on progress contradicted by evidence. The American economy, he asserted, cannot compete in this century; that's because we have not reaped the (illusory) windfall of good jobs that will inevitably follow from investments in clean energy. He went on to note poor graduation rates, how much money is spent on healthcare and claimed that his reforms would (somehow?) be an integral and essential part of a new, robust economy.

It is plain that Mr. Obama is comfortable with his grand, statist Utopian vision; less so that he understands economics, Western history, human nature writ large and individualism in contrast to collectivism. When he speaks the sheer breadth of his empirically incorrect assumptions is stunning.

Under certain circumstances, the President's rhetorical style -- speaking confidently in sweeping generalities, using class and group stereotyping, offering anecdotal strawmen to inspire sympathy or condemnation -- is effective. Those favorable circumstances consist, simply, in not being called to account. On the rare occasion that one of his generalities or assumptions is timidly challenged, he simply replies with more generalities and assumptions. Because he is quick to show a subtle, masked anger (a new meaning for 'bully pulpit'), he tends to intimidate those who question him.

Which brings us back to the press conference. The questions about healthcare reform remain not only unanswered but increasingly muddled.

A few observations.

In connection with costs Mr. Obama said they would not be borne "on the backs" of the middle class. That phrase is generally attested to collectivists who believe that the economy is a zero-sum game. It is not.

The president, using his customary anecdotal strawman, advanced the idea that physicians are driven by financial considerations (an unnecessary tonsillectomy) rather than the welfare of the patient. If that is true, what evidence do we have? An example of stereotyping and assumption.

Based on the information of record, the Cambridge police officer who arrested Prof. Henry Gates acted prudently, legally and with admirable restraint. Mr. Obama -- having admitted he didn't know the facts -- was quick to seize the moment to voice a litany of racial canards not apposite the case, and condemn (as chief law-enforcement officer) the intelligence, motives and lawful actions of Sgt. Jim Crowley. As is often the case, the Bible (if nothing else, an insightful and enduring study of the human condition) offers a terse and cogent bit of wisdom: He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him. 2. In the case at hand the presumption of shame may be without merit.

This press conference ('presser', now viral among media) demonstrates a significant contrast between Mr. Obama and recent former presidents. They were interested and in easy command of the issues at hand; he was not.
1. Lexical morphing in the service of obfuscation

2. Prov. 18.13

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Frog Fantasy: A Case for Healthy Skepticism

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No, this is not about the Frog Prince. Rather, it is a cautionary note about politicized science and equally politicized supportive op-eds.
Readers will recall the frenzied cries from the left bemoaning the wanton destruction of nature by a greedy and callous entrepreneurial society. Instant the amphibian equivalent of the Noble Savage -- the noble frog. A defenseless victim of the depredations of unrestrained and pernicious capitalism, the frog was elevated in status (at least for the ad hoc polemic of the moment) to the finest of God's creatures. How could we so long have ignored his pain?

With that wonderful mixture of outrage, moral superiority and frantic worry about eschatalogical implications so often found among self-anointed elites, Nicholas D. Kristof tells us (NYT) It's Time to Learn from Frogs: "Some of the first eerie signs of a potential health catastrophe came as bizarre deformities in water animals, often in their sexual organs." Having set the stage he continues, "Frogs, salamanders and other amphibians began to sprout extra legs. In heavily polluted Lake Apopka, one of the largest lakes in Florida, male alligators developed stunted genitals."

This is terrible! What can be the cause? Mr. Kristof, in due course, explains: "Apprehension is growing among many scientists that the cause of all this may be a class of chemicals called endocrine disruptors. They are very widely used in agriculture, industry and consumer products."
He goes on to paint a picture of the horrors portended for humans: genital deformities, misshaped sexual organs and cancer, early puberty in girls, obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes, effects on male and female reproduction, breast development and cancer, prostate cancer, neuroendocrinology, thyroid, metabolism and obesity, and cardiovascular endocrinology, brain development and sperm counts.

Now this is scary stuff; it scares researchers too: “Among some scientists, there is real apprehension at the new findings — nothing is more terrifying than reading The Journal of Pediatric Urology…” and a Johns Hopkins professor tells us: “It’s scary, very scary.”
Mr. Kristof concludes with this exhortation: “Those deformed frogs and intersex fish — not to mention the growing number of deformities in newborn boys — should jolt us once again.”

Which brings back – full circle -- to the frog.
An interesting article by editor Matt Walker appeared in Earth News on June 25 – fortuitously three days before the Kristof piece in the Times. The Headline reads: Legless frogs mystery solved. Mr. Walker cites Stanley Sessions, …“an amphibian specialist and professor of biology at Hartwick College…”, who says:
“Deformed frogs became one of the most contentious environmental issues of all time, with the parasite researchers on one side, and the 'chemical company' as I call them, on the other… There was a veritable media firestorm, with millions of dollars of grant money at stake [bolding mine].”

Prof. Sessions, working with Brandon Ballengee, a colleague at University of Plymouth in the UK, found that the problem was not unique to the US. After further collaborative study and observation, they discovered that dragonfly nymphs were snacking on tadpoles – the tasty bits, such as extremities and eyes. A fascinating short video (embedded in the article) persuasively seems to confirm their findings.

Matt Walker concludes, saying: "Sessions is careful to say that he doesn't completely rule out chemicals as the cause of some missing limbs. But 'selective predation' by dragonfly nymphs is now by far the leading explanation, he says."

So we cannot yet know the true effects of endocrine disruptors; they may turn out to be as devastating as Mr. Kristof and the scientists he cites predict. Whatever the case I think we may imagine that the “millions of dollars of grant money will no longer follow the frog.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Pat Santy Quits Her Blog. I’ll Miss Her

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Dr. Patricia Santy is a practicing psychiatrist and a prolific, though careful, conservative writer with a good command of politics, economics and social phenomena. To say that her resume is an impressive is to master understatement.

I first came to her blog, Dr. Sanity, in the course of researching narcissism (about which more, perhaps, in a future blog). I found a wealth of information in her own work and a number of useful links to good resources on the subject. I returned several times to her website and found that she brought valuable insights and knowledge to a wide range of subjects (the threat of Islam, Liberalism, government and private madness...), that she wrote well on topics of interest to me and, above all, that she's fun to read.

Now I am not enamored of the field of psychology (nor any of the "soft" sciences, save economics) because, in my experience, practitioners who write and speak tend to wrap their prose in obscurity and jargon and proceed from unwarranted assumptions (facts would be nice) to sweeping conclusions even less warranted. Worse, their prose is stultifying (APA writing guidelines?) and opaque. But what I discovered in Dr. Santy’s writing was a consistent clarity, a congenial style and -- best -- she elevates psychology to what it should be: disciplined, statistically and clinically tested observations of human nature not wanting in common sense.

Although Dr. Santy has decided to quit blogging (temporarily, one hopes), I recommend visiting her site, enjoying the archives, and following the many good links she has put up.
In her July 6 posting she explains her reasons for retiring her blog.

God bless Pat Santy. And, as I said in the header, I'll miss her. I won't be alone.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Fruits of K12 and Low Pop Culture

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The real sadness regarding the two vignettes that follow lies in the fact that they are so unexceptional.
A young woman tells us what is important in her life and identifies her concerns.
And, as Mary Grabar observes, a young man shows his fealty: “I thought of the people I saw on the MARTA train I took to downtown Atlanta that afternoon, especially the young man accompanied by a scantily clad young woman and three little children. He wore braids and a pendant with a photo of Obama. I would have bet money that he, like many of the students I have taught at my community college, did not know who Hitler was, much less Mussolini.”

It is well that the Founders are dead.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Palin Resigns: Defeat or Strategy?*

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Most pundits on both sides of the political divide seem to agree that the Alaska governor has capitulated. Being somewhat contrarian by nature I'm not ready to call for taps signaling the end of Gov. Palin's political career. But prediction is shaky enough when one knows the salient facts, so I won't hazard one.
What bothers me is the fact that I see her as the proxy (Joe-the-plumber writ large) for conservatism. Anyone who rises to prominence as a symbol of the right can expect the potentially ruinous assaults by the media and the largely corrupt legal system, themselves now proxies of the left. Political intimidation is meant to induce fear. That fear, I believe is very real, and I think it does much to explain the growing timidity of the Republican party. In today's America political correctness is more about cowardice than comity or principle.

So if Sarah Palin is, indeed, out of the picture, who will replace her? Is there a farm team for new conservative leadership?

Which, perhaps ironically, brings us to the tea parties. These widespread public assemblies have two advantages: they are large and amorphous, meaning they are not clearly defined groups with formal structure that can be individually identified and singled out for Alinsky-style destruction or “reform”, and they are numerically large, which weakens the credibility of ridicule. Join them, support them. Too many proud nails may be too much for the liberal hammer. They may contain the seeds of new leadership.

This posting began as a comment to: (hostile territory)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Awful Specter of Standards*

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To the extent that the problem of hypocrisy can be reduced to a simple cause I would submit that it rests – for conservatives -- on the adherence to standards, writ large. For liberals it is something else entirely.

What kinds of standards? Those traditional in Western culture, particularly – but not exclusively – normative ones: standards of social behavior, decency, honor, objective truth, intellect, principle, language and performance in one’s endeavors. Adherence to standards is, in a word, discipline. Standards that motivate, on the one hand, and constrain on the other.

The petulant, adolescent rebellion of the 60’s was an overt rejection of traditional standards and attendant norms. And it was a wholesale rejection, somewhat reminiscent of the phenomenon that followed the French Revolution. Agin’ what is and for what ain’t. Although he rebellion may have been driven more by demographics than ideology, many of the ‘new’ ideas it internalized had been brewing for half a century

I think that a case can be made that a desire for constraints and a natural sense of good and bad, right and wrong inhere, hard-wired, in human nature, and are probably associated with survival. If they are deliberately ignored or willfully denied one is exposed to nagging phantasms of loss and guilt. A post-Kierkegaardian nihilism. Enter here the specter of standards – not quite destroyed -- to remind the left of the existential angst that eternally besets them.

Conservatives, by definition, embrace tradition, and they are represent a constant scold to the left for their forfeiture of essential structure. Though we often fail to meet them, they are still our standards. This may explain why the left is so hostile to established religion (not in the Constitutional sense) and to the military, where tradition and discipline are foremost.

The left holds the amoral high ground.

Having foresworn intellectual discipline the left trades on emotion – the lowest common denominator. By “lowest” I do not mean least important, but rather least governable, for it operates at the limbic level. It is infantile, requiring no standards beyond the operative and strategic ones of empathy or anger that a situation may demand. It seeks its own ends (power) without any scruple save the primal, self-affirming need to believe they – persons and ends -- are good.

And so we return to hypocrisy. Better, perhaps, “hypocrisies”, since the hypocrisy of the left is qualitatively different from that of the right. For the right hypocrisy lies in articulating standards and failing through weakness to meet them; for the left hypocrisy is simply the pretense of owning standards. Employed as a means to power, It is a weapon taken from the arsenal of the right and used against it. Otherwise it is without meaning. As there can be no shame without honor, so there can be no hypocrisy without standards.

As the experience of the 20th Century illustrates, the political victories of the left may be ultimately hollow, Pyrrhic and haunted, but they are extremely pernicious. As to liberals, better they be true hypocrites.

* ---------------------
Note: this post is a near-verbatim reprint of a comment submitted to PJM, Victor Davis Hanson on 07/02. Here is the link.