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January 31, 2012

Dangerous Ideas

After yesterday's Nature vs. Nurture post, spd reminded the Editorial Staff of an article we had pestered some of the Oink Cadre with many moons ago. What fascinated me was the notion that there are ideas (and I'm shifting the emphasis here slightly from facts to ideas) that we suspect have real merit, but which we resist because their implications challenge or threaten something we hold dear:

There are dangerous facts, the knowledge of which threatens certain people, institutions, the social order, and so forth. Must they be made public no matter what? I think as a general matter, the presumption has to be on the side of disclosure, but that’s not a mandate. That’s simply to say that the more “dangerous” a fact, the greater the discretion that must be employed when deciding whether or not to make it public. If a reporter in wartime gets a tip about troop movements, he doesn’t have the moral right (or, as it happens, the legal right) to broadcast that information. If a reporter discovers during wartime that a general is taking bribes from a defense contractor, the moral equation shifts. Many times people who believe facts dangerous to themselves should be suppressed do so under the excuse of the common good (I’m thinking about you, Your Grace). But the fact that authorities can and do abuse discretion to cover their own backsides does not mean that discretion itself is a discredited concept.

Five years ago, the science site Edge.org published a scientific symposium in which respondents — most of them prominent scientists and science journalists — answered the question: “What’s your dangerous idea?” The question was bounded like this:

The history of science is replete with discoveries that were considered socially, morally, or emotionally dangerous in their time; the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions are the most obvious. What is your dangerous idea? An idea you think about (not necessarily one you originated) that is dangerous not because it is assumed to be false, but because it might be true?

I had no trouble thinking of several such ideas. But there's an even more interesting twist on the notion of dangerous ideas that takes the form of arguments we dismiss out of hand when used to question a core belief, but embrace wholeheartedly when used to defend a core belief:

“’Anywhere in the world that social psychologists see women or minorities underrepresented by a factor of two or three, our minds jump to discrimination as the explanation,’ said Dr. Haidt, who called himself a longtime liberal turned centrist. ‘But when we find out that conservatives are underrepresented among us by a factor of more than 100, suddenly everyone finds it quite easy to generate alternate explanations.’”

Be sure to read the list of alternate explanations towards the end of the short article. Close to the top of my Dangerous Ideas list would be one promulgated by Dr. Haidt himself: that regardless of our ideological leanings, we arrive at moral judgments using our guts and employ reason after the fact to lend the appearance of dispassion or objectivity to what amount to emotional/aesthetic judgments.

Luckily for you, I can explain that away :) A big reason I write online is that having to justify my initial take on an issue often opens my eyes to arguments I hadn't considered. How much of what consider to be great ideas are really only our passions, dressed up for public display?

Discuss amongst yourownselves, you hypocritical racist, ignorant, inbred, snake handling Red Staters, you.... :)

Posted by Cassandra at 08:27 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Wrong Answer

One of my guilty pleasures is occasionally reading Dear Prudence, an advice column I find immensely gratifying because for the perennially unclueful, what goes around nearly always comes around to bite them in the tuckus.

One of my all time favorite questions came from a man who had pressured his wife of 4 years relentlessly to have sex with another couple. Eventually, the poor woman gave in and the two of them hooked up with another married couple and did what people generally do in these situations - have lots of hot, nasty monkey sex.

The husband wrote in with a heart wrenching dilemma: having cajoled, threatened, and pestered his wife into doing something she did not want to do, he was now tortured by recurring visions of his spouse screaming in ecstasy for 2 hours while another man had sex with her.

[thud]

Like I said, it's a guilty pleasure. But even I can't laugh at today's sad tale of woe:

Q. Friend Has Revised One-Night Stand Story: A friend recently called me and said she had a one-night stand after drinking too much. She was beating herself up over drinking too much and going home with a guy she met at a bar. I reassured her that everyone makes mistakes and didn't think much more of the account. However, since then, she has told many people that she was a victim of date-rape—that the guy must have put something into her drink . She spoke to a rape crisis line, and they said even if she was drunk, she couldn't have given consent so she was a victim of rape. She now wants to press charges—she has the guy's business card. I have seen her very intoxicated on previous occasions, to the point she doesn't remember anything the next day. I'm not sure on what my response should be at this point. Pretend she never told me the original story?

Leaving aside for a moment the utter inanity of people writing in to an advice columnist hoping she will let their conscience off the hook (or the amusing thought of a fiendish, would be date rapist who thoughtfully leaves his business card so the victim will have no trouble finding him), I am just stunned.

Pretending you never heard the original story is NOT an option here. We're talking about someone making a false criminal accusation that could land an innocent man in jail.

The right answer is to go to your friend and tell her that if you find out she has filed rape charges against this man, you will have no choice but to contact his defense attorney and offer to testify in his behalf.

**************

Just for you, spd!

Quite possibly the funniest thing I've read in ages.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:06 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

January 30, 2012

Random Gender-Related Links

A while back it seemed that everyone had something to say about the behavior of the men on that sinking Italian cruise ship. Depending on the agenda of the writer, the failure to adhere to "women and children first" was heralded as the fault of evil feminists, the beginning of the end of western civilization, or simply human nature.

At the time I wondered whether we'd see a similar analysis of the behavior of the female passengers and crew. This is only a single data point:

The body of Peruvian ship’s waitress Erika Soria has been recovered from the wreck of the Concordia. It has been revealed that as the ship went down, and Captain Schettino was busy being one of the first off the ship, the young Peruvian waitress, working on her third cruise, stayed back to help dozens of passengers into the lifeboats. The last time rescued passengers saw her, she was giving her lifejacket to an elderly man.

Three cheers for decency, no matter where it is found.

On a somewhat related note, I was intrigued by this article about a culture where women have the upper hand in most things and men are fighting for equal rights under the law:

Mr Pariat, who ignored age-old customs by taking his father's surname is adamant that matriliny is breeding generations of Khasi men who fall short of their inherent potential, citing alcoholism and drug abuse among its negative side-effects.

"If you want to know how much the Khasis favour women just take a trip to the labour ward at the hospital," he says.

"If it's a girl, there will be great cheers from the family outside. If it's a boy, you will hear them mutter politely that, 'Whatever God gives us is quite all right.'"

Mr Pariat cites numerous examples of how his fellow brethren are being demoralised. These include a fascinating theory involving the way that gender in the local Khasi language reflects these basic cultural assumptions.

"A tree is masculine, but when it is turned into wood, it becomes feminine," he begins.

"The same is true of many of the nouns in our language. When something becomes useful, its gender becomes female.

"Matriliny breeds a culture of men who feel useless."

I talk to Patricia Mukkum, the well-respected editor of Shillong's daily newspaper. She assures me that her heritage is only one of the reasons why she has risen to the level she has and points out that the tradition of excluding women from the political decision making process is still very strong in their culture.

As a mother of children by three different Khasi fathers however, she is the first to admit that their societal anomaly has afforded her ample opportunities to be both a mother and a successful career woman.

Making reference to the routine problems facing women just over the border in West Bengal, Miss Mukkum is resolute.

"Our culture offers a very safe sanctuary for women," she declares.

I found the second bolded portion of the article particularly interesting as apparently, excluding women from the political sphere has not guaranteed equal treatment for men. As a side note, it would also appear that a society run by women is not the egalitarian utopia it is so often conjectured to be.

A lot of people's smug assumptions are confounded here.

Finally, not gender related (except in the sense that I suspect my amusement is somewhat enhanced by having two x chromosomes):

I'm a rational anarchist.
I'm a market anarchist.
I'm an anarcho-capitalist.
I'm a crypto-anarchic small-L left libertarian Republican.
Really, I just like blowing stuff up.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:26 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Nature, Nurture, Or Both?

The "monogamy is unnatural" meme is a fairly widespread tenet among those who view [their own, but not other people's] biological urges as intrinsically good and self control as unnatural and harmful. But what if culture is intrinsic rather than extrinsic?

...culture is an adaptation, which exists because it conferred a reproductive advantage on our hunter-gatherer ancestors. According to this view many of the diverse customs that the standard social science model attributes to nurture are local variations of attributes acquired 70 or more millennia ago, during the Pleistocene age, and now (like other evolutionary adaptations) “hard-wired in the brain.” But if this is so, cultural characteristics may not be as plastic as the social scientists suggest. There are features of the human condition, such as gender roles, that people have believed to be cultural and therefore changeable. But if culture is an aspect of nature, “cultural” does not mean “changeable.” Maybe these controversial features of human culture are part of the genetic endowment of human kind.

This new way of thinking gained support from the evolutionary theory of morality. Defenders of nurture suppose morality to be an acquired characteristic, passed on by customs, laws and punishments in which a society asserts its rights over its members. However, with the development of genetics, a new perspective opens. “Altruism” begins to look like a genetic “strategy,” which confers a reproductive advantage on the genes that produce it. In the competition for scarce resources, the genetically altruistic are able to call others to their aid, through networks of co-operation that are withheld from the genetically selfish, who are thereby eliminated from the game.

If this is so, it is argued, then morality is not an acquired but an inherited characteristic. Any competitor species that failed to develop innate moral feelings would by now have died out. And what is true of morality might be true of many other human characteristics that have previously been attributed to nurture: language, art, music, religion, warfare, the local variants of which are far less significant than their common structure.

The implications of this dangerous idea would place Progressive public policy squarely in opposition to Science:

If we follow the evolutionary biologists, therefore, we may find ourselves pushed towards accepting that traits often attributed to culture may be part of our genetic inheritance, and therefore not as changeable as many might have hoped: gender differences, intelligence, belligerence, and so on through all the characteristics that people have wished, for whatever reason, to rescue from destiny and refashion as choice. But to speculate freely about such matters is dangerous. The once respectable subject of eugenics was so discredited by Nazism that “don’t enter” is now written across its door. The distinguished biologist James Watson, co-discoverer of the double helix structure of DNA, was run out of the academy in 2007 for having publicly suggested (admittedly in less than scientific language) that sub-Saharan Africans are genetically disposed to have lower IQs than westerners, while the economist Larry Summers suffered a similar fate for claiming that the brains of women at the top end are less suited than those of men to the study of the hard sciences. In America it is widely assumed that socially significant differences between ethnic groups and sexes are the result of social factors, and in particular of “discrimination” directed against the groups that seem to do less well. This assumption is not the conclusion of a reasoned social science but the foundation of an optimistic worldview, to disturb which is to threaten the whole community that has been built on it.

If morality is a natural survival strategy that confers tangible benefits on both individuals and groups, then it follows that government really should be in the business of encouraging moral behavior. That dangerous idea presents challenges for both progressivism and conservativism.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:28 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

January 27, 2012

Nagging In Marriage Is....

[fill in the blank]

I'm pretty sure your take will differ depending on whether you're a man or a woman. Men almost always talk about it as though it were something women do for no reason. And most women view it as a response to being repeatedly ignored/blown off - in other words, as a two-way dynamic in which neither party is without fault:

Nagging—the interaction in which one person repeatedly makes a request, the other person repeatedly ignores it and both become increasingly annoyed—is an issue every couple will grapple with at some point. While the word itself can provoke chuckles and eye-rolling, the dynamic can potentially be as dangerous to a marriage as adultery or bad finances. Experts say it is exactly the type of toxic communication that can eventually sink a relationship.

Why do we nag? "We have a perception that we won't get what we want from the other person, so we feel we need to keep asking in order to get it," says Scott Wetzler, a psychologist and vice chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Montefiore Medical Center in New York. It is a vicious circle: The naggee tires of the badgering and starts to withhold, which makes the nagger nag more.

Google's assessment of my gender notwithstanding, I take the latter view. If, when asked to do something, the other party responds by:

a) Doing it within a reasonable amount of time, which is NOT the same as "immediately",
b) Saying, "I can't/won't do that now but I will do it by [insert self-imposed deadline here]", and then following through, or
c) Says, "No, I won't do it",

.... there is no reason ever to bring the matter up again.

I don't like nagging. It does sometimes work (that's why women - and some men - do it). But the whole dynamic is dysfunctional: the nagging itself is disrespectful but so are the passive aggressive avoidance techniques that provoke the response in the first place.

My husband is the more consciencious of the two of us and I am the more laid back one. So he has more reason to nag me than I, him. But there are times when I have asked him to do something and for whatever reason, he doesn't get to it. When that happens, I usually try to choose a good moment to sit down with him and explain why whatever I've asked him to do is really important to me and that I just need to know when he might be able to do it, or if not, whether I should just hire someone.

The thing is, I don't ask him to do things very often and he doesn't ask me to do things for him. For the most part, when either of us wants something done we just do it ourselves.

So. Much. Easier. than getting all bent out of shape.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:49 PM | Comments (38) | TrackBack

Why Is Google Embracing Sexist Gender Stereotypes?

According to Google, the Blog Princess is an [older] man living in a woman's body:

Background:

Many websites are part of the Google Display Network, a service which enables Google to show ads on those websites. Now since Google wants to show you ads that are relevant to you and your interests, it doesn't want to select them just based on the content of the sites you visit. So it quietly keeps track of the types of sites you visit in the Google Display Network and on partner sites in order to discover what appears to interest you the most.

Now before you panic, you should know that — according to Google — no personal information is recorded during this tracking process.

Riiiiiiiiiiiiight....

I seem to remember some text parser years ago telling me that VC was written by a man. It's a good thing I'm secure in my womanliness.

[sob!!!!]

Posted by Cassandra at 12:32 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Well That Settles It....

Camel Predicts Giants Over Patriots In Super Bowl XLVI:

Princess, the star of New Jersey's Popcorn Park Zoo, has correctly picked the winner of five of the last six Super Bowls. She went 14 and 6 predicting regular season and playoff games this year, and has a lifetime record of 88-51.

Her pick this year: The New York Giants.

The Bactrian camel's prognostication skills flow from her love of graham crackers. Zoo general manager John Bergmann places a cracker and writes the name of the competing teams on each hand. Whichever hand Princess nibbles from is her pick. On Wednesday, she made her pick with no hesitation at all, predicting bad news for Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, even though the Las Vegas oddsmakers have New England favored by about 3 points.

Her only miscue in the big game was picking the Indianapolis Colts over the New Orleans Saints two years ago, indicating that even camels know it's generally risky to go against Peyton Manning.

Next up: Stuffed Marmoset Picks GOP Presidential Nominee. Remember, you heard it here first.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:16 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

January 26, 2012

Duuuuuude... (Part Deux)

Who swiped my bubble?

h/t Texan99, who is a snooty Cultural Elitist :p

Posted by Cassandra at 05:19 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

January 25, 2012

Newt Gingrich's Ethics and Judgment Problems

There's an old saying: in politics, perception is reality. Public perception regarding Newt Gingrich is that the former Speaker has, to put it mildly, ethical issues.

Despite frequent counterarguments that this perception is attributable to media lies and bias, it's not hard to see where it comes from. Mr. Gingrich is now on his third marriage. His serial adultery troubled potential conservative supporters (hard to blame that one on the media elite) enough that they demanded - and received - an utterly meaningless no-more-adultery pledge from the former Speaker. Having previously chosen to ignore not one, but two no-adultery pledges similar promises to his first two wives, how seriously should we take a promise made to total strangers?

Oddly, when money was involved Newt's aggressive "Have you no decency?" shtick was nowhere to be seen. Instead, the candidate meekly offered up another promise, the underlying assumption of which is that he cannot be trusted to obey his current wedding vows. What is such a pledge, if not an admission that his questionable judgment in personal matters is a legitimate concern to voters?

But then we're talking about a candidate who suggested that making millions of dollars buying up troubled companies and restructuring them is a shameful act best atoned for by giving the money back. When his opponent returned the favor by suggesting that money earned lobbying for taxpayer backed mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac should be returned, Mr. Gingrich belatedly discovered the weaknessnes in his former line of attack. But no matter - and no need to take responsibility! It turns out that Barack Obama made him say those awful things!

“It’s an impossible theme to talk about with Obama in the background. Obama just makes it impossible to talk rationally in that area because he is so deeply into class warfare that automatically you get an echo effect. … I agree with you entirely.”

- A True Conservative, explaining how Barack Obama forced him to say things he doesn't really believe.

Every candidate tries to create a brand: a simple message that communicates who and what they are. In Gingrich's case, the deep schism between his words and deeds sends a decidedly mixed message. "I'm a fighter. You can trust me to champion conservative ideas... unless of course I'm temporarily brainwashed by an Echo Effect emanating from the Oval Office... or asked for a politically correct, redundant pledge not to cheat on my wife."

In the Washington Examiner, Byron York takes on Newt's other ethics perception problem - his conduct while in office:

The IRS concluded the course simply was not political. "The central problem in arguing that the Progress and Freedom Foundation provided more than incidental private benefit to Mr. Gingrich, GOPAC, and other Republican entities," the IRS wrote, "was that the content of the 'Renewing American Civilization' course was educational...and not biased toward any of those who were supposed to be benefited."

The bottom line: Gingrich acted properly and violated no laws. There was no tax fraud scheme. Of course, by that time, Gingrich was out of office, widely presumed to be guilty of something, and his career in politics was (seemingly) over.

York's account, so far as it goes, is truthful but his arguments are disturbing on several fronts. They echo those of the Speaker whenever Newt's refusal to honor his wedding vows, his lobbying activities, or the turmoil he created as Speaker of the House during the Reagan (Oops! thanks for the correction, Don!) Bush years are raised. Questions of substance are deflected by accusations of media bias or petty partisan motivation. In the Examiner, York devotes the bulk of his defense to analyzing the motivation of Gingrich's accusers. But the salient question here is not whether Democrat-sponsored investigations were partisan in nature (duh...), but whether there was a reasonable basis for them. It is notable here that Gingrich's own characterizations of the investigation are demonstrably untruthful. The committee was not, in fact, partisan:

The ethics panel was far from a “partisan” committee. Three of the panel’s Republican members joined all four Democrats in the 7-1 vote to recommend that the full House reprimand Gingrich — on a single charge of misleading the committee.

York also failed to mention the disturbing fact that 88% of House Republicans voted to approve the sanction and $300,000 penalty. Clearly the vast majority of Newt's own party members were disturbed by his behavior. Are they partisan too? York also found it unnecessary to mention Gingrich's involvement in the House Banking Scandal:

When both were serving in the House in the early 1990s, Mr. Santorum said Mr. Gingrich resisted helping him expose abuses at the House-run bank. The extensive practice of members writing bad checks became a major scandal that rocked Washington and eventually led to ethical reprimands for 22 members of Congress, as well as convictions of four former members, a delegate and the House sergeant-at-arms.

...Neither Mr. Santorum and Mr. Gingrich mentioned Mr. Gingrich’s own vulnerability in the banking scandal — that he had 22 kited checks, including a $9,463 check to the Internal Revenue Service.

I'm fairly certain that if I kited a $9,000 check to the IRS, I would be in serious trouble with the law, but also with my own conscience. This is hardly a moral grey area. I've excerpted the article for the sake of brevity but I encourage you to read the whole thing. Gingrich's check kiting can not be breezily dismissed as mean spirited partisan attack or a minor breach of Byzantine House rules:

His 22 overdrafts including a $9,463 check to the IRS was a major issue in his re-election campaign that year and nearly cost him his seat which the then House Republican Minority held by a razor-thin margin of 982 votes that fall.

That kind of deflection is a problem as are selective, strategic omissions of the historical record.

Newt Gingrich rose to power by accusing prominent Democrats of ethical and moral lapses. When a politician does that, his own record had better be squeaky clean. He began his political career by going after House Speaker Jim Wright for a book deal that he claimed violated House rules. But Gingrich's own book deals soon drew similar - and utterly predictable - scrutiny. A second Gingrich book deal generated ethical questions from impertinent CNN news anchors his fellow conservatives:

Mr. Gingrich, who made his reputation attacking the ethics of Democratic lawmakers, also conceded that many Republicans apparently believed that the enormous advance gave the appearance of improperly profiting from the party's electoral success.

He said he had made his decision before Senator Bob Dole of Kansas, who will become the Senate majority leader next week, publicly criticized the proposed contract on Thursday. Mr. Gingrich said he had heard conflicting advice from friends and associates. But in the end, he said, he was convinced that the advance gave off the wrong signals.

He said he was particularly taken by the remarks of an "older precinct committeeman" in Lancaster, Pa., who was said to have told Representative Robert S. Walker, "Tell our new Speaker we all worked for this victory, and he should not take advantage of our efforts."

Mr. Gingrich said: "You know, sometimes you hear things and something you haven't quite gotten suddenly becomes clear. And I realized that we really owed it to every person who was on the team to say to them, "We don't want anyone at any level to think we're taking any advantage.' "

Mr. Gingrich, in a tone of amiable puzzlement, attributed the dispute partly to his own charged position in political life and partly to an "age of extraordinarily cynical, adversarial press, an age of a White House press corps that devoured Carter, tried to devour Reagan and lost, devoured Bush and are now working on devouring Clinton."

Mr. Gingrich's book deal has attracted a great deal of press attention, but it has come under especially strong criticism from some conservative columnists, including Robert Novak and William F. Buckley Jr.

In addition to whatever damage Mr. Gingrich feared the conflict could do to his legislative goals, a dispute over a lucrative book contract holds a special political edge for him. In one of his best-known attacks on Democratic ethics in the past, Mr. Gingrich helped bring about the downfall of a Democratic House Speaker, James Wright of Texas, in part by raising questions about Mr. Wright's sales of a vanity-press book, "Reflections of a Public Man."

Note that once again, Gingrich's judgment is being questioned, not by the snooty media elite, but by his fellow conservatives. Fast forward to 2011 to find the former Speaker embroiled in yet another controversy involving profits from one of his books:

Newt Gingrich has a non-profit organization focused on promoting leadership. That’s all well and good, except that the non-profit has also been sending a lot of money Newt’s way by buying up cases of his books, among other things.
A non-profit charity founded by Newt Gingrich to promote freedom, faith and free enterprise also served as another avenue to promote Gingrich’s political views, and came dangerously close, some experts say, to crossing a bright line that is supposed to separate tax-exempt charitable work from both the political process and such profit-making enterprises as books and DVDs. The charity, Renewing American Leadership, not only featured Gingrich on its website and in fundraising letters, it also paid $220,000 over two years to one of Gingrich’s for-profit companies, Gingrich Communications. It purchased cases of Gingrich’s books and bought up copies of DVDs produced by another of the former House speaker’s entities, Gingrich Productions.

In other words, Gingrich set up a self-licking ice cream cone. He can’t touch the money to his non-profit, but his non-profit can certainly be a customer for his other for-profit ventures. Which, while probably not technically illegal, certainly stinks.

A non-profit law blogger explains the issues involved:

...the report alleges that Gingrich founded and operated charities in a manner that necessarily benefitted his private profit-making entities and, to a lesser extent, his political ambitions. For example, the charity mentioned in the quoted text above purchased books and DVD's produced by Gingrich's for profit publishing companies and also paid for charter jets used by Gingrich to promote movies his private businesses produced.

...Charities must benefit someone in order to achieve a charitable purpose. But when that "someone" is an insider, the benefit seems less coincidental and more purposeful, as is the case when an insider "skims" profit for his own benefit.

This lengthy article outlines Newt's extensive intermingling of non-profit and for-profit ventures that seem to end up lining the former Speaker's pockets.

It's entirely fair to point out the media's notoriously uneven coverage of scandals involving Democrats and Republicans. It's also fair to note - as York correctly did - that ethics investigations are often launched for partisan purposes. But partisan motives don't necessarily mean there's no substance to allegations of misconduct. Nor does acquittal prove innocence.

Newt's accusations against Jim Wright were partisan in nature, so it's hardly surprising that they led to reciprocal scrutiny of Gingrich's handling of similar deals. The ensuing investigations and scandals cost American taxpayers money and created a useful distraction from the conservative agenda. His serial check kiting is unquestionably unethical. This is not even a grey area.

When a politician goes to Washington and uses his political contacts to make millions of dollars, that raises questions. When money is exchanged between tax exempt non-profits and for profit ventures that directly benefit said politician, people should be asking questions. Gingrich is hardly alone in this, but his conduct raises real questions - especially when his statements are contradicted by public records or he makes highly questionable claims:

In 2003, Gingrich gathered about two dozen Republican House members who opposed a $395 billion Medicare prescription drug benefit to pitch them on why they should support it, former Representative C.L. “Butch” Otter, who said he was in the room, said in an e-mail.

Otter, who supports Mitt Romney in the Republican presidential primaries and is now governor of Idaho, said it was “obvious” to him and others in the room that they were being lobbied. The meeting occured as Gingrich was building the Center for Health Transformation, which was seeking financing from drugmakers.

Gingrich has also bragged of killing legislation, often a goal of lobbyists. During a Dec. 10 Republican presidential debate, he said he “helped defeat” a proposal to lower carbon emissions known as “cap and trade” through a nonprofit advocacy group he founded called American Solutions.

’Influence Peddling’
“Gingrich’s boasting reveals, truly, what he was doing: He was working for and against specific legislation. That’s lobbying,” said Craig Holman, who pushes for tougher lobbying and campaign finance laws as a lobbyist for Washington-based Public Citizen. “When it comes to promoting or attacking or defeating legislation, that is influence peddling.”

Energy companies are among the top donors to American Solutions. The group took in more than $1.3 million from two of them, Peabody Energy Corp. (BTU) and Devon Energy Corp. (DVN), during the last two election cycles, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks political money in Washington.

The entanglement of Gingrich's empire of non-profit, not for profit, and for profit groups with lobbying is troubling to me. It may or may not be illegal but it is morally questionable, especially when millions of dollars flow from interested parties to an impenetrable network of tightly coupled 527s, non-profits, and for-profit enterprises.

When a politician deliberately chooses to question the ethics of his politican opponents, it should surprise no one if they retaliate in kind. If Mr. Gingrich sincerely believes ethics are important (as opposed to being merely a convenient weapon to bash his opponents with), we should expect his personal and professional life to meet the standards he publicly champions. He can't skirt the law or push the boundaries.

That is clearly not the case here, and while I have no objection to setting the record straight with regard to the eventual ruling of the IRS on the charges presented to them, I do object to selective airbrushing of the historical record. One of the biggest complaints conservatives had during the 2008 election was the media's odd refusal to vet Barack Obama. If we think this vetting process is important, we should not be too quick to dismiss vetting of Newt Gingrich's record by attacking the motives of anyone who dares to ask questions.

All politics is partisan. What matters is not the subjective motives of various actors, but the facts on the ground. It is a virtual certainty that a Republican president will be on the receiving end of relentless media scrutiny. I don't believe Newt Gingrich's record can withstand such scrutiny. At a time when conservative ideas must gain traction and credibility with the American public, the last thing we need is to be continually distracted with accusations and investigations of the type Mr. Gingrich found so very useful during the Reagan years.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:52 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Duuuuuuuuuude....

I've got a full day today, so I won't have anything new until probably later this evening but in the mean time the assembled villainry can weigh in on a creative plan from our Brethren in Christ to raise revenue and create jobs.

Who says the Dems don't know how to get this country back to work?

Posted by Cassandra at 06:41 AM | Comments (14) | TrackBack

January 24, 2012

Finally, A Solution Everyone Can Agree Upon...

... for the federal deficit, that is. The obvious answer is that Mitt Romney should just pay it off:

In releasing details of his tax burden for the past two years, Mitt Romney offered a small window into a vast wealth. The tax records show that the former Massachusetts governor made $42.6 million over the past two years and because most of it came from capital gains, he paid $6.2 million in taxes.

It would probably be cheaper than running for President. And it would certainly be easier on Stephen Green's liver.

Posted by Cassandra at 06:05 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

January 23, 2012

Good Candidate vs. Good Executive

This is one of the best things I've read this election season:

A would-be president has to be the C.E.O. of his or her campaign, with a flair for fund-raising, an eye for talent, and a keen sense of when to micromanage and when to delegate. This is the arm-twisting, organization-building, endorsement-corralling side of presidential politics, and not surprisingly it tends to favor insiders and deal-makers and old Washington hands.

But successful insiders and deal-makers are rarely comfortable with the more public, rhetorical, self-advertising side of politics. The great manager is unlikely to be a great persuader, capable of seducing undecided voters with his empathy, or inspiring them with what George H. W. Bush (who lacked it) called “the vision thing.” He’s also unlikely to be a great demagogue, capable of demonizing his enemies and convincing his supporters that they stand at Armageddon and battle for the Lord. The manager can play these roles, but there will always be a hint of irony, a touch of phoniness, a sense that he’d much rather get back to the inside game.

Nor do the gifts of persuasion necessarily overlap with the gifts of demagoguery. Quite the reverse: The politician who’s good at reaching out to the unconverted is usually mistrusted by his own base, and the politician whose us-versus-them rhetoric inspires devotion among ideologues rarely finds it easy to pivot to a more transcendent, unifying style. If Jon Huntsman had a little more Sarah Palin in him, for instance, or Palin a bit more Huntsman, one of them might have been the 2012 Republican nominee. But their respective gifts are rarely shared in a single personality.

Discuss amongst your ownselves.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:49 PM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

The Moral Hazard Effects of Current Economic Policy

Robert Samuelson explains how economic policies aimed at smoothing out the business cycle make the economy less stable in the long run:

Since the 1960s, the thrust of economic policy-making has been to smooth business cycles. Democracies crave prolonged prosperity, and economists have posed as technocrats with the tools to cure the boom-and-bust cycles of pre-World War II capitalism. It turns out that they exaggerated what they knew and could do.

There's a paradox to economic policy. The more it succeeds at prolonging short-term prosperity, the more it inspires long-run destabilizing behavior by businesses, banks, consumers, investors and government. If they think basic stability is assured, they will assume greater risks -- loosen credit standards, borrow more, engage in more speculation, relax wage and price behavior -- that ultimately make the economy less stable.

...The Fed slept mainly because ...It didn't recognize that its success at sustaining prosperity -- for which Greenspan was lionized -- might sow the seeds of a larger failure. It bought into an overblown notion of economic "progress."

...The Great Moderation begat the Great Recession. One implication is that an economy less stable in the short run becomes more stable in the long run by reminding everyone of risk and uncertainty.

I like to call this The Clue Bat Effect. Human beings are prone to optimism bias: the innate tendency to underestimate the likelihood of negative outcomes and wildly overestimate the chances of positive ones. The only real antidote to overoptimism is the giant clue bat of reality. Without constant reminders that things can - and do - go tragically wrong from time to time, there is nothing to counter our natural tendency to hope for the best and avoid preparing for the worst.

As this stunning graph suggests, government efforts to "smooth out" inevitable swings in the business cycle have not produced the intended results:

This sobering graph illustrates the folly of centralized planning that interferes with - or even outlaws - signals sent by the market to suppliers and consumers of goods and services. These signals (prices, profits/losses, etc.) may be artificially suppressed for a time, but they are effects rather than causes. And ignoring effects does nothing to address their root causes:

Early in the book, Sowell presents, as one of many examples, how rent controls in a number of countries during the post-World War II period resulted in reducing the supply and investment in new residential construction and in discouraging property owners from maintaining or improving their property. He then demonstrates how the abolition of rent controls dramatically increased the supply and quality of available homes.

Additional illustrations provide examples of government controls of other goods and services, almost invariably resulting in misallocation of resources, supply shortages, and a lower standard of living. For example, in the former Soviet Union, the control of output and the allocation of scarce resources by a central planning agency resulted in surpluses of goods left to rot in warehouses and in shortages that lowered the overall standard of living. In the United States and other countries, agricultural products have at times been purchased by the government to take them off the market and send prices higher. While this process may have benefited large agricultural enterprises, crops were often destroyed while pockets of starvation in the country were evident.

Sowell also has an interesting discussion of the role that profits and losses play in the success or failure of an enterprise. Profits and losses in a free market economy send signals to producers, whether they are using scarce resources efficiently or whether the resources should be used elsewhere.

The artificial suppression/distortion of signals and effects while doing nothing to address root causes lies at the heart of our current economic policy. The results, so far, have been disastrous. But more importantly, they illustrate the fundamentally dishonest basis for our current economic policies. The idea that people will make better decisions if government distorts or suppresses (excuse me, "protects us from") the very information we need to make smart, timely economic decisions deserves to be mercilessly mocked within an inch of its pathetic life.

On a completely unrelated note, thanks to Vanderleun at American Digest and David Foster at ChicagoBoyz for linking over the weekend. Lots of good reading at both sites. But then you knew that :)

Posted by Cassandra at 06:13 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

January 21, 2012

Out of Touch

Liz Peek asks why the media is so out of touch with the values of ordinary Americans:

In this cycle, President Obama is vulnerable – on our continuing high unemployment in particular and because people increasingly view him as not sharing traditional American values. The sympathetic the media is worried. Consequently, they have launched an all-out offensive against GOP candidates, especially targeting front-runner Romney and surging Newt Gingrich.

When it comes to Romney much of the withering criticism has nothing to do with policy, but focuses instead on the former Massachusetts governor's apparently infuriating wholesomeness.

In the New York Times last weekend, this irritation was on full display. Columnist Maureen Dowd makes fun of the young Romney’s affection for “The Sound of Music” (what is it about that musical that so annoys the left?) and disregard for The Grateful Dead.

She describes him as living in a “non-drinking, nonsmoking, suburban, uxorious bubble with Ann, revolving around Mormon rituals, Mormon couples, and the Mormon credo of strong, heterosexual, traditional families.” (In case you wondered, that’s meant to be a criticism.) “Uxorious” means having an excessive fondness for one’s wife – something that Ms. Dowd finds unacceptable.

She should know that rampant divorce and children born out of wedlock cost our country an estimated $112 billion in 2008; chances are the recession has driven that figure above $150 billion. Heads up- there are worse things than the enduring family.

In the same paper, Lee Siegel describes Romney as “the whitest man to run for president in recent memory.” In case that one leaves you scratching your head, Siegel explains that he means “the countless subtle and not-so-subtle ways he telegraphs that he is the cultural alternative to America’s first black president. It is a whiteness grounded in a retro vision of the country, one of white picket fences and stay-at-home moms and fathers unashamed of working hard for corporate America.”

He derides Romney for being “implacably polite, tossing off phrases like “oh gosh” with Stepford bonhomie.” In other words, shame on Romney for his decency, for having been happily married to Ann for decades and for earning a living. More important, shame on him for imagining that a great many Americans might aspire to do the same.

While I agree that the media are out of touch, I'm not sure they're as far apart from the prevailing culture as she believes.

I often don't understand modern culture. I don't understand the reality TV mind set that wants to see people lose their composure, lose their temper, air their dirty linen in public, do something - anything - "real". I don't understand the mind set that equates self discipline and self control with falseness or deception.

It should be no surprise to anyone that we all have thoughts and desires that are anything but praiseworthy.

To my way of thinking, it takes considerable courage to adhere to traditional values in a world that finds such standards amusing. Do people really think Mitt Romney is too stupid to know how quaint he sometimes appears to a world that no longer understands people like him? Does anyone seriously believe a man who has amassed millions and governed a highly complex (and very liberal) state doesn't "get" the clash of cultures? That he can't see how much easier his political life would be if he would just loosen up and join the race to the bottom that is American culture; trade his unpopular God and antiquated morals for a more flexible, urban viewpoint?

I am far from a perfect person. My speech is sometimes intemperate and my self discipline a continual work in progress. But I don't want Mitt Romney to be more like me. I don't need to see him lose his temper or climb down in the gutter with Barack Obama.

On the contrary, I wish I had the courage, confidence, and self discipline to be more like him.

Posted by Cassandra at 09:20 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

January 20, 2012

Friday Annoying Debate Question

So.... what did you all think of Newt's response to the question about his ex-wife's open marriage allegations?

I'm specifically interested in 3 things:

1. How would you have responded?

2. What do you think of the merits of his response? Was this an off limits topic, or is it relevant? If you think it was off limits, are such stories always off limits or would they be less objectionable to you if the media didn't hype sex scandals involving Republicans and soft pedal sex scandals involving Democrats?

3. Did Newt's response make you think better or worse of him?

Posted by Cassandra at 01:55 PM | Comments (25) | TrackBack

Another Reason for Rising Health Care Costs?

In an earlier post, we discussed the health care industry's 1 percenters:

When it comes to America's spiraling health care costs, the country's problems begin with the 5%. In 2008 and 2009, 5% of Americans were responsible for nearly half of the country's medical spending.

Of course, health care has its own 1% crisis. In 2009, the top 1% of patients accounted for 21.8% of expenditures.

Of course the high spenders in health care are predominantly elderly. Here's the opposite end of the spectrum:

In the past four and a half decades, the frequency of long-term impairments for newborns who survive complications has remained about the same, according to the research team, which was led by Michael Mwaniki of Kenya Medical Research Institute’s Center for Geographic Medicine Research. The scientists suggest that improved medical technology has “increased survival in neonates who would have otherwise died,” which cancels out advances in treatment for less severe cases.

Even in wealthy countries where health care is widely available, complications during pregnancy increase the odds a child will have a chronic disease later in life. In middle- and lower-income countries, impairment of a child can mean “major burdens on families and societies, and shortened life expectancy,” the authors write.

The common thread here is that advances in medical technology enhance longevity and survival but also increase the proportion of the population with serious (and expensive) medical conditions.

What to do? It is a puzzlement.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:11 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Democracy and the Disengaged Voter

As hesitant as the editorial staff are to encourage the "everyone who doesn't agree with me is an ignoramus" crowd, we found this interesting:

Why are democracies so vibrant even when composed of uninformed citizens? According to a new study led by the ecologist Iain Couzin at Princeton, this collective ignorance is an essential feature of democratic governments, not a bug. His research suggests that voters with weak political preferences help to prevent clusters of extremists from dominating the political process. Their apathy keeps us safe.

To show this, Dr. Couzin experimented on a rather unlikely set of subjects: fish. Many different species, such as schooling fish and flocking birds, survive by forming a consensus, making collective decisions without splintering apart. To do so, these creatures are constantly forced to conduct their own improvised elections.

The scientists trained a large group of golden shiners, a small freshwater fish used as bait, to associate the arrival of food with a blue target. They then trained a smaller group to associate food with a yellow target, a color naturally preferred by the fish. Not surprisingly, when all the trained golden shiners were put in one aquarium, most of them swam toward the yellow dot; the stronger desires of the minority, fueled by the shiners' natural preference, persuaded the majority to follow along.

But when scientists introduced a group of fish without any color training, yellow suddenly lost its appeal. All of a sudden, the fish began following the preferences of the majority, swimming toward the blue target. "A strongly opinionated minority can dictate group choice," the scientists concluded. "But the presence of uninformed individuals spontaneously inhibits this process, returning control to the numerical majority."

Of course, many political scientists have criticized this extrapolation from golden shiners to democratic government, noting that not all independent voters are ignorant—some are simply moderate—and that a minority doesn't always represent an extreme view.

Nevertheless, this research helps to explain the importance of indifference in a partisan age. If every voter was well-informed and highly opinionated, then the most passionate minority would dominate decision-making. There would be no democratic consensus—just clusters of stubborn fanatics, attempting to out-shout the other side.

I wonder how media bias or selective coverage of news stories plays into this scenario? If voters are truly disengaged or ignorant, it suggests that media spin is less important in determining the outcome of elections than we might think. But if the disengaged voter skims the news rather than reading in depth, one would expect media bias to have more of an effect given that headlines are often more extreme (or even unsupported by) the articles they introduce.

Finally, I can't help but wonder what role bias plays in voter behavior.

I'm re-reading Jonathan Haidt's The Happiness Hypothesis. In the opening chapters he reviews several studies of perception and bias. One that caught my eye was a simple experiment that suggests that verbal cues affect subsequent behavior. In this study, participants were asked to unscramble five words and form a sentence with four of them. Once they were done, they were instructed to get up and find the experimenter.

They found the experimenter in a hallway engaged in a conversation with someone else and refusing to make eye contact with (acknowledge) the waiting study participant. Here's the interesting part: the willingness of test takers to interrupt the conversation was correlated to the words used in the test they'd just taken. If their version of the test contained words related to rudeness, aggression, or bothering others, they were more likely to interrupt. If their test vocabulary was seeded with terms like respect or politeness, they were more likely to wait to be acknowledged.

A related study suggests that we respond to visual as well as verbal cueing:

On election day, where do you vote? If it's in a church, you might be inclined to vote more conservatively than if you cast your ballot at a school or government building.

... And the effect seems to hold, whether you’re Christian, Muslim or agnostic, progressive, independent or conservative.

The study found that when random people were surveyed in front of a church, they gave more socially and politically conservative responses than people surveyed while standing in front of a government building.

The shift in people's attitudes, the researchers suggest, was likely a result of visual priming—meaning that people who could see the religious building were, consciously or not, getting cues that influenced their response.

A third study (which I can't find right now) had people watch a video of a protest. They were then asked to rate how violent it was. The study found that our perceptions of how violent an assembly is were highly correlated with whether or not people agreed with the position advocated by the protesters. Study participants looking at the exact same films saw more violence in protests where they disagreed with the protesters than they did in protests where they sympathized with the protesters.

Over and over again during the primaries I've asked myself how a group of people who mostly agree with each other can see the candidates so very differently. I suspect our values, by which I mean the degree to which various shared beliefs are important to us are an important factor. But I also suspect we're reacting to the candidates on a more fundamental, gut level. Looking at the issues alone, I don't see all that much daylight between the candidates. When you stop to consider that none of them would have a free hand once in office, the differences become even slighter.

All of which leads me back to trust. We instinctively trust people who are like us and distrust those who differ from us. The real question is, on what do we base the decision of who to trust?

Posted by Cassandra at 06:20 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

January 19, 2012

Is Income Inequality Inevitable?

In a thought provoking post, Megan McArdle makes some points worth discussing:

I've said before that I don't care about income inequality per se, and that focusing on it seems more like institutionalized envy than sound policy. I care about the absolute condition of the poor--do they have the basics of a decent life? And I care about whether income inequality itself produces some sort of structural advantage in the political system. (I'm skeptical). But I don't care whether Bill Gates lives in a giant robot house that cost eighteen-squintillion dollars. What I care about is whether some kid is growing up in a roach infested shack with no heat--something that has basically nothing to do with the size of Gates' fortune.

On the other hand, income mobility is a very important issue. Regardless of how far the top is from the bottom, children born in America should have an equal chance to move from the latter to the former. This is especially important given that so many of the highest-paid jobs are also the most pleasant.

I'm less interested in Megan's main point than I am in the bolded statements excerpted above. Let's start with the first one:

I care about the absolute condition of the poor--do they have the basics of a decent life?

While I'm in general agreement with her here (I don't like the idea of starving children, seniors, or people of any description in America), the question of what constitutes the basics of a decent life is open to dispute. The idea that income inequality is bad per se rests on the dangerous assumption a decent life is not one where you have enough money to get by on, or even more than enough money to get by on.

The implicit assumption driving the income inequality debate is that a decent life is one where your neighbor doesn't have too much more than you do. The problem with this formulation is that if it's true, then government can't create a decent life for its citizens by raising their standard of living through government handouts.

When "a decent life" is defined as one where no one is allowed to have "too much" (too much income, too much profit, too much of anything), the only way to deliver a decent life is to reduce everyone to the same level.

Let's say the government were able to do that - equally distribute income so that no person or family had "too much" (whatever that means) more than another. Would such a policy eliminate economic insecurity or guarantee equal outcomes? Not while people remain free to make different choices about spending and saving:

One in three Americans would be unable to make their mortgage or rent payment beyond one month if they lost their job, according to the results of a national survey taken in mid-September.

Despite being more affluent, the poll found that even those with higher annual household incomes indicate they are not guaranteed to make their next housing payment if they lost their source of income.

Ten percent of survey respondents earning $100K or more a year say they would immediately miss a payment.

Now that is scary. I've written several times about how my husband and I lived below the poverty level for the first few years of our marriage. Despite being poor in the eyes of the federal government, we lived on one income. My husband attended college full time, and our savings account never dropped below $1000 - even when we had to pay a $700 non-refundable deposit for the privilege of not being turned away from the hospital when I went into labor, and even while paying $1900 in medical expenses out of pocket for my pregnancy.

We were able to meet these expenses easily and without using credit because we had developed the habit of saving. We did not spend every cent we earned and we never lived from paycheck to paycheck. What the linked article makes clear is that having "enough money" doesn't guarantee financial stability or security. If you don't have the foresight and self control to resist immediate gratification, your changes of moving up in the world are greatly reduced. Your inability (or refusal) to think ahead and plan for the worst makes you extremely vulnerable to bad luck.

One of the sad truths about both welfare and charity is that some people are their own worst enemies. Some parents, given more than enough money to live on, will choose to spend their income on recreational drugs. Despite having enough money to do otherwise, some people will choose to let their children live in Megan's roach infested shacks with no heat. Put this way, the real problem becomes clear. It's not money, but having the freedom to make bad choices.

The military provides a great illustration of how the freedom to make different choices produces unequal outcomes. Unlike the civilian world, in the military people of the same rank earn roughly the same income. Most people socialize with those of their own rank and in many cases military people live in housing, which equalizes large expenses like rent and utilities. Despite this, after a while you can't help noticing that some families are always short of money. Others manage quite well because they live within their means. And a select few (the 1 percent!) manage to build wealth through investment or even market speculation... all on the same income.

We knew one senior enlisted family who had 11 children. They lived in housing and to all outward appearances their standard of living was no lower than anyone else's. Their children were well dressed, well educated, and well mannered. The wife, unlike many military wives who claim not to be able to "get by" on their husbands' salary, did not work. They tithed 10% of their income and gave freely to charity.

Government can redistribute money from one citizen to another, but it can't force people to save for the future. There's no way to force people to budget and live within their means. So long as people are free to make bad decisions, equal incomes will not result in equal outcomes.

The second bolded point is important too:

"...income mobility is a very important issue. Regardless of how far the top is from the bottom, children born in America should have an equal chance to move from the latter to the former."

Once again, the notion of everyone having an equal chance is emotionally satisfying, but in the real world no two people have an equal chance of anything. We are unequal from birth. An ugly girl will not have an equal change of marrying. A clumsy and uncoordinated boy will not have an equal chance of being drafted by the NFL. A stupid person will never have an equal chance of being admitted to MIT. Even competitions between equally disadvantaged people will - due to luck, effort, or any number of other factors - inevitably result in unequal outcomes.

And there's nothing government can do to fix this. Nothing. Though it may be more accurate to say there's nothing government should do about it:

What could give rise to income inequality in the first place? Consider three males who graduated from high school in 1980 and worked full-time for the next three decades. (We use males and full-time workers only to abstract from variables such as changes in the gender composition of the labor force that could twist historical comparisons of earnings.) For one of them, education ends with high school, while the second gets a college degree and the third earns a graduate degree. In 1987, when these three were between the ages of 25 and 34, the average high school graduate earned $22,595, while a college graduate earned $31,631 and a holder of a graduate degree earned $36,667. But 20 years later, in 2007, the corresponding averages for male full-time workers ages 45 to 54 were $46,667, $88,242, and $120,391.

Unequal? Yes. But the increase in inequality arose because these individuals made different decisions about their education, not because tax policy favors the rich. In essence, economic inequality is another term for incentives that encourage investment in education—or, for that matter, starting a new business. Of course, most new start-ups fail, so there’s a lot of risk involved. But taxing the successful ones will not make failures less likely—and it will discourage the risky investments that are the engine of economic growth. Just ask your local lottery retailer if more tickets are sold when the prizes are large or when they are small.

The "We've got to make it easier for people to vote/go to college/major in STEM subjects..." meme has been popular in the news lately, but it proceeds from the faulty assumption that left to ourselves, we all make the same choices and it's only difficulty (or some other external force) that keeps people from getting ahead. The famous marshmallow test suggests otherwise. It suggests that the ability to resist temptation, defer immediate gratification, and plan for the future are critical to our ability to succeed in life:

These qualities are (generally speaking) strengthened by activities that teach patience, compromise, self denial, and the ability to evaluate tradeoffs. Examples include religious faith, participation in sports, and marriage.

Teachers are beginning to figure this out, but I'm not holding my breath waiting for government to follow suit.


Posted by Cassandra at 07:57 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Sleep Tight - Don't Let the Bedbugs Bite

One of the joys of being a grandma to two very busy little boys is rediscovering how much fun it is to read children's books.

My boys and I read all the classics, but also devoured silly books like "They Came from Aargh!". My sons were particularly delighted by books that encouraged them to face and make light of their fears, usually via what I can only call dark humor or mildly scary scenarios.

Of course nowadays I'd probably be arrested for child abuse for intentionally inflicting emotional distress just before bedtime, but my boys would have loved this book:

On balance, it's probably not surprising that both my sons have a slightly twisted sense of humor. How could they not?

What books did you enjoy reading to your children, and why?

Posted by Cassandra at 06:15 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

January 18, 2012

Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc?

Could the causal connection be any more clear? I think not.

1912: Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose/Republicans become the first national party to champion womens' suffrage. Shortly thereafter, the Titanic hits an iceberg.

Stupid/evil/chumpy white knights, not yet having read their copies of the feminist manifesto, heroically offer women and children first dibs on available lifeboat seats.

1915: A second ship, eerily similar to the Titanic, sinks. But this time it's every man for himself!

The makeup of the passengers and crew on both of them was similar, and the sinkings happened relatively close in time, the Titanic in 1912 and the Lusitania in 1915.

In their analysis, the researchers studied passenger and survivor lists from both ships, and considered gender, age, ticket class, nationality and familial relationships with other passengers. The differences emerged after a closer look at the survival rates.

On the Titanic, the study found, children were 14.8 percent more likely to survive adults, while on the Lusitania they were 5.3 percent less likely to do so. And women on the Titanic were 53 percent more likely to survive than men, while on the Lusitania they were 1.1 percent less likely to do so.

The implication, Dr. Torgler said, is that on the Titanic, male passengers went out of their way to help women and children.

From chivalry to "Dude, where's my lifeboat" in just three years. You've got to hand it to those horrid feminists... They're fast. And apparently quite effective.

There are two inescapable conclusions we can draw from this sad story:

1. We womynfolk have far more power than we ever suspected.
2. When bad things happen, it's a fair bet that Republicans are involved.

************

Update: Smitty eloquently defends a vanishing idea - we are all responsible for our own actions:

The traditional, mutually supportive roles of women and men are as simple as 2+2=4. Just because Andrea Dworkin and company came along and contended that arithmetic was an oppressive patriarchal regime, and that 2+2=5 is every bit as emotionally satisfying as the correct answer, does not an excuse make.

I am reminded of a quote from one of my favorite movies:

A king may move a man, a father may claim a son, but that man can also move himself, and only then does that man truly begin his own game. Remember that howsoever you are played or by whom, your soul is in your keeping alone, even though those who presume to play you be kings or men of power. When you stand before God, you cannot say, "But I was told by others to do thus," or that virtue was not convenient at the time. This will not suffice.

I'm also reminded of one of my favorite definitions of masculinity:

Manliness," he says, "is a quality that causes individuals to stand for something."

... Manliness, says Mansfield, thrives on drama, conflict, risk, and exploits: "War is hell but men like it." Manliness is often aggressive, but when the aggression is tied to the concept of honor, it transcends mere animal spiritedness. Allied with reason, as in Socrates, manliness finds its highest expression.

Manliness cannot be taken from a man, but it may be voluntarily surrendered. I thank God each day for men who utterly refuse to be defined by the actions of others.

Posted by Cassandra at 12:10 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

January 17, 2012

"Psssst.... It's Not Working"

Teachers experience their own teachable moment:

A growing body of research over three decades shows that easy, unearned praise does not help students but instead interferes with significant learning opportunities. As schools ratchet up academic standards for all students, new buzzwords are “persistence,” “risk-taking” and “resilience” — each implying more sweat and strain than fuzzy, warm feelings.

“We used to think we could hand children self-esteem on a platter,” Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck said. “That has backfired.”

Clearly not everyone reads the Washington Post:

As a dean at a rural community college in Illinois, I recently served as a judge for a history fair for seventh and eighth graders at a local school--an assignment that involved a real surprise. When the Social Studies teacher gave me the grading rubric, I saw only three categories: Superior, Excellent, and Good.

I asked the teacher what I was supposed to do if a presentation was bad or poor. She looked at me and said, with a straight face, "Good means poor." "How so?" I asked. "What kind of semantic gymnastics is that? Does that mean that superior is above average, and excellent is average?" She didn't answer the question, but said that the students worked really hard on their projects and the school didn't want any of them to feel discouraged.

.... This is why so many of our students come to us unprepared. They go through grade school and high school and are told that they are doing a superior, excellent, or very good job when in reality their academic performance is average, bad, or very bad indeed.

Another study suggests that underprepared students in technical fields rarely "catch up" with their peers:

Under one theory of affirmative action the goal is to give minority students an opportunity to catch-up to their peers once everyone is given access to the same quality of schooling. On a first-pass through the data, the authors find some support for catch-up at Duke. In year one, for example, the median GPA of a white student is 3.38, significantly higher than the black median GPA of 2.88. By year four, however, the differences have shrunk to 3.64 and 3.31 respectively.

Further analysis of the data, however, reveal some troubling issues. Most importantly, the authors find that all of the shrinking of the black-white gap can be explained by a shrinking variance of GPA over time (so GPA scores compress but class rankings remain as wide as ever) and by a very large movement of blacks from the natural sciences, engineering and economics to the humanities and the social sciences.

...An important finding is that the shift[s] in major appear to be driven almost entirely by incoming SAT scores and the strength of the student’s high school curriculum. In other words, blacks and whites with similar academic backgrounds shift away from science, engineering and economics and towards the easier courses at similar rates.

I can still remember going back to school at the age of 30. I hadn't cracked a math book in 12 years and I still remember - vividly - waking up in a cold sweat from nightmares about showing up for a math test utterly unprepared.

I spent a good 6 months reviewing basic algebra on my own before taking my first college math class and a good 2 hours a night working extra problems in order to get an A. What drove me was a feeling of inadequacy (not inability to learn, but the accurate perception that my math skills were poor and I was going to have to work very hard to overcome that).

It took 2 years and several A's in math before the nightmares stopped. I shudder to think how I would have done if I'd felt better about myself.


Posted by Cassandra at 08:46 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

When Grievance Politics Trumps Civilization

Well it didn't take long for observation #2 from the Women and Children Last post to be validated:

“This was not so much predictable as predicted. Women have methodically attacked the concept of male duty and honor through every possible means for the past ninety years, and now they are whining that they don’t get special treatment simply because a ship happens to be sinking. Why, exactly, should any man ‘prioritise women, expectant mothers and children’? On what grounds can they be reasonably expected to do so, those outdated traditional grounds that the schools teach is hateful, sexist, and bigoted? Those big, burly crewmen shoving aside women as they prioritized their own escape should have been wearing t-shirts that said ‘this is what a feminist looks like’. Enjoy the crash.”

As ye sow, so shall ye reap.

Wow. Just wow. Six dead and 29 missing in a tragic accident that (so far as I can see) is attributable to the cowardice, negligence, and poor example of the captain and crew - note carefully: to *some* men, not *all* men - and the reaction is, "Up yours, feminists/women - you got what you deserved"?

If a little boy is elbowed aside by an able bodied man and drowns as a result, has he "reaped what he sowed"? Alternate form of the implied argument is, "It's not the man's fault - those horrid feminists and their mind control rays made him do it!" Allow me to riff on the ubiquitous Heinlein quote:

Any society that allows morality to be defined down to the lowest common denominator will not long survive.

Using the bad behavior of others to justify your own misbehavior is the lowest of lowest common denominators. But that's not the only problem with the "as you sow" formulation. Let's examine the underlying argument (such as it is) more closely. Have women actually argued - for ninety years, no less! - that it is sexist for men to put women and children first? Have they argued that men have no duty to protect the weak in an emergency? I'm curious: where has this argument been made?

Some women, somewhere may have made this argument but have "women" (or feminists, for that matter) as general class of people made it? How many women would have to make such an argument to justify dereliction of duty by the captain and crew of this ship (not to mention able bodied adults of either sex pushing children aside and saving themselves first)?

If women (or feminists - the two terms seem to be used interchangeably, objections to broad brush stereotyping of men notwithstanding) are really arguing for perfect equality between the sexes, how do we explain feminist demands for special and/or preferential treatment?

The answer is, "They're not". It seems to me - and this is precisely what I have objected to so many times - that some feminists have argued for a double standard in which women are, on the one hand, viewed as being weak and in need of protection from aggressive men (sexual harassment laws, affirmative action laws, gender discrimination laws) but also, that there are no significant differences in our ability to protect ourselves (demands for women to be admitted to the combat arms, police, traditionally male jobs in equal numbers, physical and psychological differences between the sexes notwithstanding).

Who has been arguing that men should look out for themselves first? The only place I've seen this argument made openly is on the so-called MRA blogs. The argument I've seen made here (along with much ridicule of traditional masculine values) is that the family court system is so hopelessly biased against men that men are justified in essentially adopting a "Screw you - I'm going to protect myself first" attitude.

The interesting thing here is that there are huge logical inconsistencies in the complaints of both radical feminists and radical men's rights activists.

If you believe the biological differences between men and women are real, and that women are naturally better suited to child rearing (or that there is - in general - a closer bond between mothers and children than exists between fathers and children), then on what possible basis can you argue that the family court system is "unfair" and biased against men if more women than men get custody? Even before we examine the question of how many men vs. women ask for custody, the presumption that a "fair" system would automagically result in equal custody awards for fathers and mothers doesn't follow logically from the belief that men are better suited for some tasks and women for others.

Radical feminists have a similar problem, though I'm not sure they are arguing that women should always get custody. If you truly believe that men and women are by nature EQUALLY able to care for children (and further, that men should assume equal parenting duties), then wouldn't you want men and women to get custody in roughly equal proportions?

Note that I have not actually seen feminists arguing that they think women should always get custody. If they're arguing from genuine conviction, they should WANT men to get custody more because that would result in a more equitable sharing of parental duties and more freedom for women.

This is what happens when men and women engage in identity/victimhood politics: they end up defending things they don't really believe because in the end, they'll do/argue anything just to win the argument.

I really like Texan99's formulation of the problem:

"Women and children first" is the kind of simple, clear code of behavior that can persist when you're close to losing your mind. It's an old-fashioned short-hand for "Civilization and self-respect and our duty to God require us to consider self-sacrifice in the form of putting first the needs of the more helpless among us in an emergency." It may also have to do with saving the sex who can repopulate the tribe. It's painted with broad brushes and doesn't stop to calculate how many childbearing years are left to the old bag you're helping into the lifeboat. It does sometimes lead the old to sacrifice themselves for the young, the able-bodied for the handicapped. Maybe I'd like to see it evolve so that we wouldn't have to inquire, as Karen Blixen was said to have responded to the phrase "women and children first," "Is that one category, or two?"

When gender grievances and identity politics trump the survival of the species (or just plain common sense), we all lose.

Posted by Cassandra at 07:59 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

January 16, 2012

"Women and Children Last"

This may well be the most fascinating story I've seen in ages:

It was every man – and crew member – for himself. Survivors from the Costa Concordia spoke angrily yesterday of the nightmare evacuation from the stricken ship as women and children were left behind.

In the terrifying moments after the giant vessel began to list, fights even broke out to get into the lifeboats.

Men refused to prioritise women, expectant mothers and children as they pushed themselves forward to escape. Crew ignored their passengers – leaving ‘chefs and waiters’ to help out.

In heart-rending footage, recorded on mobile phones, British children could be heard shouting ‘Daddy’ and ‘Mummy’ in the melee.

As she waited for a flight home from Rome, grandmother Sandra Rogers, 62, told the Daily Mail: ‘There was no “women and children first” policy. There were big men, crew members, pushing their way past us to get into the lifeboats. It was disgusting.’

Mrs Rogers, a widow originally from Chester who has retired to Minorca, was sailing with her daughter Karen, 39, and seven-year-old twin granddaughters Emma and Chloe.

She said: ‘I want everyone to know how badly some people behaved. It was a nightmare. I lost my daughter and my grandchildren in the chaos.
‘I was standing by the lifeboats and men, big men, were banging into me and knocking the girls. It was awful. There was a total lack of organisation. There was no one telling people where to go.

‘And when we finally got into a lifeboat, people, grown men, were trying to jump into the boat. I thought, if they land in here we are going to capsize.

A few observations:

1. It's very tempting to turn this kind of story into some sort of uber metaphor for all the ills that modern society is heir to, but some temptations ought to be vigorously resisted.

2. The unwillingness of some subset of the men on this ship to adhere to the traditional "women and children first" will be blamed on Feminism in 10...9...8...7...

Never mind that these men also pushed ahead of children, some of whom were little boys. Those durned feminists are reaping the whirlwind now !!!11!!!.

3. If the purpose of women and children first is to ensure the continuation of the human race, it seems relevant to point out that the entire human race wasn't on this particular ship. Also, any woman past childbearing age isn't going to be much help when it comes time repopulate the planet.

If the purpose of women and children first is to give the physically weakest passengers the added advantage of a boat (on the presumption that men are physically stronger and hence more likely to be able to fend for themselves), it would seem that the progressive ideal of a level playing field is something of a hothouse flower.

4. The entire account reeks more of individualism eroding the sacrifice ethic than of anything having to do with gender....but I'm pretty sure both sides of the gender debate will see it what they want to see in it.

What say you?

Posted by Cassandra at 04:00 PM | Comments (49) | TrackBack

Words vs. Deeds

Well, the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they are ignorant, but that they know so much that isn’t so.

- Ronaldus Maximus

In the process of thrashing out who should be the winning candidate from the GOP field, I've seen a lot of assertions made that I don't agree with/don't understand. It may be that there are perfectly good arguments underlying these statements but in most cases, those arguments remain unstated.

This is why I keep asking, "What is reasonable for us to expect from a Republican if we win the Oval Office in 2012"? A lot of manifestly unreasonable expectations have been levied upon Barack Obama by the voters who elected him. Many quite reasonable ones went likewise unfulfilled. In many cases, the unreasonable expectations arose from vague and/or hyperbolic promises made by the candidate himself. No serious person should have believed Obama could heal the oceans, eradicate income inequality, make the entire world like us, or erase the very real and fundamental differences between conservatives and liberals. The President is not a magician: he just doesn't have that much power.

So I'm left with two questions:

1. What is reasonable to expect from a Republican President?
2. What's the best way to evaluate the trustworthiness of various candidates?

With respect to the first question, the next president will preside over a divided, dysfunctional government that hasn't passed a budget for over 1000 days. That's no accident, but rather a sign that the only choices left to us are going to hurt like hell. Because the benefits will be deferred and the pain almost immediate, they will be easy to demogogue and easy to demonize. Learning to stop kicking the can down the road will require a lot from the voting public.

It occurred to me that it might be instructive to look up the job description for the Presidency (as opposed to simply assuming I remember my high school civics courses accurately). I thought this was a pretty good summary of the duties of the President.

It's important to understand what the President does and does not have the power to do because every day I see people on all sides of the political spectrum crediting the President with things Presidents have little or no control over and blaming the President for [gasp!] things Presidents have little or no control over whilst largely ignoring the things Presidents actually do have control over.

My insistence on a candidate who has actual executive experience running a government is rooted in my belief that while past performance doesn't guarantee future performance, past deeds are a hell of a lot better predictor than campaign promises. So far, the evidence that Romney isn't a real conservative seems to be that a majority Democratic legislature passed a lot of progressive legislation on Romney's watch and many of his over 800 vetoes were overridden by the legislature.

Last time I checked, that's the way the system is designed to work. It seems to me that this argument is a bit of a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't one. As a practical matter, an executive presiding over a divided government can die on a hill he has no rational expectation of taking in order to make a point. As my esteemed spouse would say, "Well, that is certainly an approach."

Or he can say, "Hmmm... I seem to be outnumbered and outgunned. Is there room for negotiation here? Could a compromise give my side 1/4 of a loaf as opposed to none of the loaf? If so, what can I offer the other side to induce them to give me part of the loaf when we both know they can simply take the whole thing?"

This passage from a Boston Globe article underscores the difficulties of maintaining ideological purity under a divided government:

The Legislature unanimously overrode Governor Mitt Romney's veto of a minimum wage increase last night, rejecting the governor's view that the boost would hurt businesses and the poor.

The override means that the state's minimum wage will probably be among the highest in the country within two years. The legislation increases the $6.75-an-hour rate to $7.50 an hour on Jan. 1 and to $8 in 2008.

The vote, at shortly before 8 p.m., followed very little debate, and though it appeared all Republican members of both chambers abandoned the governor, an official roll call was not immediately available last night. The House voted 152 to 0 to override Romney, and minutes later the Senate voted 38 to 0.

...Business groups had lobbied against the minimum wage bill, saying it would reduce jobs.

``This could really hurt many small businesses," said Erin Trabucco, general counsel for the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, which represents about 3,000 retailers and restaurant owners. ``Retailers are going to be left with no option other than to reduce the number of jobs they're offering or raise consumer prices."

When Romney vetoed the bill last week, he said its ``abrupt and disproportionate increases" would hurt the economy. He countered with his own ``more modest approach," which would have increased the wage by 25 cents on Jan. 1 and subjected future raises to study.

What would you do in this situation? It's a good question that deserves a serious answer because, as I saw in a comments section somewhere this week, "Utopia isn't on the menu."

I'm a bit mystified by the argument that candidates who are willing to sue in federal court to overturn state election laws (this is a conservative position?) and - moreover - do so in an inept fashion that leaves the judge no real choice but to rule against them have demonstrated their conservative bona fides in a way that should inspire us with confidence in their ability to hew to bedrock conservative values in a far tougher arena:

In his opinion, Gibney says Perry, and the other candidates who joined the challenge, waited too long to bring the suit.

“They knew the rules in Virginia many months ago; the limitations on circulators affected them as soon as they began to circulate petitions,” he writes. “They plaintiffs could have challenged the Virginia law at that time. Instead, they waited until after the time to gather petitions had ended and they had lost the political battle to be on the ballot; then, on the eve of the printing of absentee ballots, they decided to challenge Virginia’s laws. In essence, they played the game, lost, and then complained that the rules were unfair.”

As this article outlines, numerous Republicans are on record as supporting the individual mandate - notably, Gingrich himself:

“I just wanna make one point that’s historical. In 1993, in fighting HillaryCare, virtually every conservative saw the mandate as a less-dangerous future than what Hillary was trying to do. The Heritage Foundation was a major advocate of it. After HillaryCare disappeared it became more and more obvious that mandates have all sorts of problems built into them. People gradually tried to find other techniques. I frankly was floundering, trying to find a way to make sure that people who could afford it were paying their hospital bills while still leaving an out so libertarians to not buy insurance. And that’s what we’re wrestling with. It’s now clear that the mandate, I think, is clearly unconstitutional. But, it started as a conservative effort to stop HillaryCare in the 1990s.”

Again, what would you do in this situation? Our understanding of issues evolves as events unfold and various arguments are made. Is this evidence of insufficient conservative ardor, or a natural byproduct of the collision between idealism and the real world?

It's difficult to examine issues in context of current events, but I think it's also vital to try to do so. Our options change with events. So I'm a bit mystified at the willingness to demonize changes of position in any candidate. A candidate who is incapable of adapting (or changing his mind) will not succeed in a world where the enemy always gets a vote and may well have more votes than you do.

Few issues are as simple as they are portrayed to be. We want simple, pure, black and white answers but I am very suspicious of candidates who seem too eager to provide them, nor am I willing to conflate caution or pragmatism with lack of conviction.

Posted by Cassandra at 01:48 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Health Care Inequality

These days, everyone's discussing income inequality: the gap between high income and low income people. The debate is full of shocking fact bytes like, "1% of Americans control 25% of the wealth", as though there were some sort of common "wealth pool" and those dirty, rotten 1 percenters were hogging more than their fair share at the expense of the rest of us.

Another topic much discussed these days is health care spending: of particular interest are the assertions that America spends more on health care than other nations, or that we need to "reign in" spending (bring it into line with what other countries spend?), though I've never been sure what "what other countries spend" has to do with "what we ought to spend". Their priorities may not be ours, and vice versa.

Odd, then, that we rarely hear the rhetoric of equality applied to the health care spending debate:

When it comes to America's spiraling health care costs, the country's problems begin with the 5%. In 2008 and 2009, 5% of Americans were responsible for nearly half of the country's medical spending.

Of course, health care has its own 1% crisis. In 2009, the top 1% of patients accounted for 21.8% of expenditures.

The figures are from a new study by the Department of Health and Human Services, which examined how different U.S. demographics contributed to medical costs. It looked at the $1.26 trillion spent by civilian, non-institutionalized Americans each year on health care.

The top 5% of spenders paid an annual average of $35,829 in doctors' bills. By comparison, the bottom half paid an average $232 and made up about 3% of total costs.

Aside from the fact that such a tiny fraction of the country was responsible for so much of our expenses, it also found that high spenders often repeated from year to year. Those chronically ill patients skewed white and old and were twice as likely to be on public health care as the general population.

Isn't it odd that when it comes to the equitable distribution of income (which last time I checked is the fruit of productive labor engaged in by individuals) such disparities constitute a grave social injustice that must be remedied?

But when the discussion turns to health care benefits, which are increasingly paid through public tax revenues rather than private savings, all of a sudden no one seems particularly upset about inequality?

"1% of Americans control 25% of the wealth"? Big problem.

"...the top 1% of patients accounted for 21.8% of expenditures"? No problem.

Apparently, unequal distribution of resources (per se) isn't really unfair. Discuss amongst your ownselves.

*****************************

Update: In the comments section, spd points makes a critical observation:

Was anyone else as stunned as I to learn that people in poor health, the elderly, women (who make up nearly two-thirds of those over 65) consumed the lion's [share] of health dollars spent?

To which I would respond,

Is anyone else as stunned as I to learn that 85-95% of folks in the top income quintile are married couples?

One frequently overlooked dimension of the gap between the "rich" and the "poor" is how much it is affected by marital status. As Chart 10 shows, only about 30 percent of all persons in Census's bottom quintile live in married couple families; the rest either live in single-parent families or reside alone as single individuals. In the top quintile, the situation is reversed: Some 90 percent of persons live in married couple families. In this case, equalizing the numbers of persons within the quintiles makes little difference; even after each quintile is adjusted to contain the same number of persons, 85 percent of persons in the top quintile continue to live in married couple families compared with one-third in the bottom.

This observation lies at the root of the inequality debate. In the case of income inequality, the argument has gone roughly like this:

1. Income inequality has increased over time.
2. This inequality is "unfair" (i.e., the system is rigged and must be changed).

Guess what else has changed over time? The marriage rate. Who gets (and stays) married these days? Increasingly, the upper classes. So what's the [government] solution for that?

Here's another thing that has changed over time: the proportion of elderly/retired folks in the population, relative to wage earners and payers of income and social security taxes.

If you buy into the [simplistic] argument that inequality itself constitutes hoarding or social injustice without stopping to consider possible reasons for that inequality, you're going to come to a faulty conclusion as to how it happened and what - if anything - needs to be done about it.

Posted by Cassandra at 09:28 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

January 15, 2012

Which Candidate Best Matches Your Political Views?

I've always enjoyed these things and am frequently surprised by the results.

Answer a series of 11 questions to see which presidential candidate’s views are most like your own. At the end, you can also roll over each candidates columns to see what their specific positions are.

Via Chart Porn.

Update: here's another one but the questions are far less nuanced. According to this one, Gingrich's positions align with mine 76% of the time with Romney, Santorum, and Bachman aligning with mine 72% of the time. Huntsman isn't even in the running.

Assuming this is an accurate assessment (not sure it is because the questions were so vague), a 4% difference in alignment isn't going to move me into Gingrich's camp if, in my assessment, he lacks the requisite experience and I don't trust him.

Amusing side note - not sure if you can see it in the graphic below, but virtually every single candidate has a yellow bar across his/her icon that says, "Lacks courage":

Aye chihuahua.

Posted by Cassandra at 08:38 AM | Comments (24) | TrackBack

January 13, 2012

Another Thing That's "Too Hard"

Being a leader:

After the talk, out of earshot from the soldiers and diplomats, he starts to complain. He starts to act very un-Obamalike, according to a U.S. embassy official who helped organize the trip in Baghdad.

He’s asked to go out to take a few more pictures with soldiers and embassy staffers. He’s asked to sign copies of his book. “He didn’t want to take pictures with any more soldiers; he was complaining about it,” a State Department official tells me. “Look, I was excited to meet him. I wanted to like him. Let’s just say the scales fell from my eyes after I did.

Pure. Comedy. Gold. But enough of that.

There are matters of grave national import that we should be discussing.

Posted by Cassandra at 10:11 AM | Comments (18) | TrackBack

January 12, 2012

We Don't Need Another Hero

Out of the ruins. Out from the wreckage.
Can't make the same mistakes this time.
Looking for something we can rely on
There's got to be something better out there.

And I wonder when we are ever gonna change?
Living under the fear
Till nothing else remains.

- Tina Turner

TRIGGER WARNING FOR RANTOPHOBIA. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Several weeks ago when The Real Conservative du Jour meekly volunteered to take an (utterly redundant and meaningless) no adultery pledge, I thought we had reached the veritable Shangri-La of Surrealism. But this pinnacle of pathetic disencluement was soon eclipsed by something even more bizarre.

I've been trying to figure out what bothers me so much about Newt Gingrich's impressive ability to talk out of both sides of his mouth. I've finally decided that my disgust has less to do with Gingrich himself than with our, and by "our" I mean Republican-leaning voters, odd belief that if we can just get the right person in the Oval Office, he will magically reverse over 75 years of steady growth in the federal government.

I have some doubts on that score, and so should you.

We seem to be taking that old chestnut about conservatives standing athwart history and yelling, "Stop" literally. Faced with runaway government spending and runaway government debt, it's a seductive fantasy. If only we could shout, "Enough!" - no need to discuss anything, no need for debate or compromise, the law be damned. I have a problem with this: I don't want a single person in either party to have that much power. And in point of fact the President of the United States doesn't have that much power under the Constitution. Our system of government was designed to ensure than no one branch and no one person would be able to bring about sweeping changes in the law without first building support for those changes.

Actually that's not true. SCOTUS seems to have that power and most conservatives would admit they aren't too happy about that state of affairs. Stop and think about this for a moment. We don't like that a nine person panel can enact sweeping changes to the law without going through the democratic process and the remedy to this problem is to give that power to a single person?

We didn't get where we are today without the acquiescence - the agreement - of a majority of the American people both liberal and conservative. Qui tacet consentire videtur, ubi loqui debuit ac potuit. The problem isn't Washington. It's us. Our silence. Our disengagement. And I fear, our unrealistic expectations and our willingness to buy fairy stories.

Our system of government was designed to force compromise between differing factions. The similarities between compromise and negotiation or trade are not accidental. Compromise is a barter system in which we give up something the other party values in exchange for something we value. Neither side gets 100% of what they want. This skill is one of the first things we teach our children. Over Christmas I watched my 4 year old grandson wrestling with the realization that he has to live in a world where other people's desires and rights must be taken into consideration. The toy he most desired at any given moment was the one in his little brother's hand, and the only way to get his brother to give up the coveted plaything was to offer his brother something he wanted just as badly.

Watching the GOP debates, one thing is clear: compromise is a dirty word. A candidate who is willing to work with the other party cannot be trusted. We want a leader who will stand firm - who refuses to budge - and the candidate who talks the most smack about how he is different from every politician who has ever gone to Washington only to discover (who knew?) that the enemy has a vote too is the one we trust the most.

It has been said that politics is the art of the possible. Why then, are we so willing to believe politicians who promise what both we and they know to be impossible (i.e., that we can effect sweeping change without getting at least some members of the other side on board)? Where is the credible argument - the precedent - for this belief?

Incrementalism got us where we are today and incremental change - small, sustained nudges in the direction of fiscal sanity - is the only course that doesn't violate everything we claim to believe in as conservatives. I can already hear the objections: that's too hard! Governing ourselves will join the long list of things I've seen conservatives claiming are "too hard", too expensive, too risky of late. No longer worth the trouble.

Marriage.

Parenting

Being "forced" to take out loans you can't afford to pay back.

The common element in all these endeavors is the acknowledgment of tradeoffs. The truth is that life has always been difficult, expensive, risky. It is arguably less so now that it has ever been; than it was for our parents and grandparents. We have unimaginable abundance and choices our forebears could not have dreamed of, and our response to this is that everything is too hard. We dream of a return to how things used to be (without the tiresome necessity of living as previous generations did, of course). We would like the benefits without the drawbacks; all of the freedom modern life affords and none of the risks and restrictions of a time when young men and women asked permission before marrying, when they did not have the freedom to divorce, when women could not even own property in their own right, or vote, or decide whether motherhood or a career would take priority in their lives.

We don't need a hero who promises a quick turnaround or a permanent reversal of our present course. No politician - not even a dictator -can deliver those things permanently. Change is the one enduring constant of life and we have no choice but to adapt. We live in a country where people have deep disagreements about the proper role of government and the notion that any politician of either party can unilaterally override the objections of those who have a different vision ought to scare the hell out of us.

Government of the people, by the people, and for the people is a hands on business. What's required is not a leader who magically fixes things for us by fiat, but the self discipline and will power to fix them ourselves.

Self reliance is hard work. I hope it's not too hard for our modern sensibilities.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:30 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Refusing to Take Responsibility for Your Decisions Isn't "Conservative"

“It’s an impossible theme to talk about with Obama in the background. Obama just makes it impossible to talk rationally in that area because he is so deeply into class warfare that automatically you get an echo effect. … I agree with you entirely.”

- A True Conservative, explaining how Barack Obama forced him to say things he doesn't really believe.

If you think it's hard to be a real conservative with Obama lurking in the background, how will you do when he's facing you onstage during a debate?

And they ask me why I drink.

Posted by Cassandra at 05:04 PM | Comments (20) | TrackBack