Thursday, November 26, 2009

In Praise of Wikipedia (Mostly)

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As the title suggests, I have some reservations about Wikipedia, but, on balance they are few.
Criticisms of Wikipedia are numerous (1) and broad, but correcting as best one can for the uniqueness of the Wiki model, they are much the same as for traditional encyclopedias. The Wiki staff, itself -- refreshingly -- examines the matter at some length. For a good overview see this New Yorker article.

I find that on matters not in general dispute, Wikipedia is generally a convenient and reliable source. As is the case with traditional print encyclopedia, one must maintain a healthy skepticism, and, when in doubt, examine source documentation.

Since many contributors, presumably, are academics or academically oriented, one might expect a certain liberal bias. An interesting study of contributors finds them "grumpy" and "disagreeable", but I'm not certain what to make of that...

In summary, discounting my own and others' perception of liberal (or PC) bias, I find Wikipedia a welcome, useful and convenient resource with few serious shortcomings. Still, caveat emptor.

My last Google inquiry of "Wikipedia bias" returned in excess of 3M hits.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sarah Palin: Boring, Dangerous and Confused

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And now I find myself writing a fourth essay commenting on Sarah Palin. But it's not Palin herself who commands my attention so much as the predictably irrational elitist response to her. Indeed, my earlier postings (here, here and here) have dealt more with elitism than with Mrs. Palin.

A better expression of elitist animus than this video interview with Martha Stewart (1) is not easily found. Ms. Stewart's choice of words is instructive.

"Boring" Translation: she is unworthy of my attention (or that of my ilk).
"Dangerous" Translation: her view of the world threatens mine. She's so ordinary. (2)
"Confused" Translation: persons who do not think as I do are intellectually deficient.
"I wouldn't, I wouldn't watch her if you paid me." Translation: I don't know anything about her, and I don't want to. But that doesn't alter my opinion.

Unrelated to Mrs. Palin but characteristic of elitism is the opening statement in the interview.

"I think everybody should give back..." Translation: I made money in this disgraceful and unfair free-market, capitalist economy. Hear my (pro forma) words of atonement.

Summing up. Self-arrogated sense of superiority, strongly held opinion in tandem with ignorance and mock PC self-effacement.

1. I am an admirer of Martha Stewart's entrepreneurial achievements, her intellect and her work ethic, and I took her part in the contretemps with overbearing federal prosecutors. I do not admire her immense personal arrogance.
2. How can a person be seen as at once boring and dangerous..? Why is she dangerous? "She speaks...she's so confused..." Dangerous behavior indeed.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sarah Palin: Disrobing the Left

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She's baaaack... Well, she never really went away, but her pre-print best seller, Going Rogue, has returned her to the spotlight. As Dracula might shield his eyes from a crucifix, so the left* scrambles for the cover of darkness.

What is it about Sarah Palin that so unhinges the liberal establishment? Why the hysteria that exceeds even Dubya-derrangement? While there are many things in play, I believe the preeminent one is the left's correctly perceived threat of exposure -- of unmasking, disrobing, tearing away the veil of hypocrisy, unwinding the swaddling of narcissism. Under Palin's gaze liberal elites feel suddenly naked and alone. Feel exposed as when a purveyor of fine art forgeries is confronted by the original. Faux meets real.

Palin has the temerity to be who she is -- without apology a practical, commonsense, constitutional conservative who stands her ground. Ready for all comers. Unforgivable.

The Palin fault line divides not only the political spectrum but also the human one of authenticity and pretense.

A Personal Note

I am not particularly sanguine about Sarah Palin as a potential candidate for the presidency, but I think she will have good effect in sorting the wheat from the chaff in the Republican Party, principled conservatives from the dodgy. I think she has, with deliberation, placed herself on a road to build credibility, knowledge and gravitas which may or not lead her to the White House.
Palin's expressed political opinions (closely akin to Fred Thompson's in my opinion) are congenial to mine, and I find little about her to criticize generally.
What I like best about Sarah Palin is her effect on the left, driving them to paroxysms of self-parody.
Regarding a possible presidential run, Victor Davis Hanson makes some good points in an article at PJM. That Palin will have to accumulate a body of knowledge superior to any opponent she may face, and she must deal with critics in her own party.

* I can't fail to add the unprincipled poseurs on the right. It is more about elitist culture than politics.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

American Socialism: Can It Be Stopped?

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Probably not. At least not by traditional methods of incremental change.

The problem is one of inertia. Regardless of who occupies the White House and congress, the enormous bureaucracies and career staff -- which if not uniformly ideological liberals -- are statists who favor the left's bias toward the constant expansion of government. In terms of political effect it is a distinction without a difference. That is unlikely to change given the fact that these firmly established institutions are loath to hire new applicants for employment who are conservative. (1)
Beyond the machinery of government (but connected) are the entrenched liberals in media, entertainment, organized labor and education who promote socialist principles. It is perhaps in education (K12 through graduate school) that the deepest and most lasting damage has been done. (2)

A resurgence of popular conservatism (or conservative populism) might "boot the rascals out", but the new lot would quickly find that, in fact, it has little real power to change or override the dominant bureaucracies and institutions.

Ugly Alternatives

We find ourselves at a place where popular revolt in one form or another may be the sole alternative that will drive political change. Methodologies would seem most likely to include the following: a widespread refusal to pay federal taxes; states firmly exercising the powers reserved to them under the Tenth Amendment and, finally, secession.

A tax revolt might have the most immediate effect -- a Cloward-Piven strategy turned on its head. (3) But, like belling the cat, it is fraught with practical difficulties. Given the general fear of the I.R.S., and the anticipation of draconian government reprisal, I think it would difficult or impossible to enlist the commitment of enough citizens -- particularly among the top five per cent of taxpayers -- to make the strategy work.
State exercise of Tenth Amendment rights seems more promising, and an increasing number of states are paving the way. The usurpation of powers reserved to the states is not new, but under recent administrations -- particularly the current one -- it has become blatantly aggressive, and it seems certain that the constitutional principle will be tested in the near future. In fact the testing has already begun, but it has not yet attained high-profile status.
Once a federal-state conflict (likely over medical marijuana, guns or universal healthcare) becomes the focus of news media attention, it will be interesting to see the response of federal government. We may reasonably expect that the initial tactic will be denial of federal funds to the offending state followed by the filing of lawsuits in federal courts. Assuming that a state refuses to be intimidated, what form of coercion might follow? And how would the state respond?
Which leads us to the possibility of secession -- the last and most parlous alternative to federal tyranny. I will deal with this in a future post that will attempt to make the case for secession and account for the probable consequences.

1. This series of articles by Hans von Spakovsky gives a revealing insider's account of institutional bias.
2. Whether wittingly, unwittingly or half-wittingly, educators have been drawn into the Gramscian mold of progressivism.
3. This strategy is designed to bring down government by overwhelming it with financial demands. A tax revolt would have a similar effect by depriving government of revenues.