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Showing posts from August, 2011

Rick Perry: Anti-science because liberals like it

National Review's Rich Lowry defends Rick Perry against the "anti-science smear":
Perry’s offenses against science consist of his statements on evolution and global warming, areas where “the science” is routinely used to try to force assent to far-reaching philosophical or policy judgments unsupported by the evidence.

Unless he has an interest in paleontology that has escaped everyone’s notice to this point, Perry’s somewhat doubtful take on evolution has more to do with a general impulse to preserve a role for God in creation than a careful evaluation of the work of, say, Stephen Jay Gould. Perry’s attitude is in the American mainstream. According to Gallup, 40 percent of Americans think God created man in his present form, and 38 percent think man developed over millions of years with God guiding the process. Is three-quarters of the country potentially anti-science?

Similarly, Perry’s skepticism on man-made global warming surely has much to do with the uses to which th…

Today in inequality reading: Can middle class marriages be saved?

In a July column with Ben Boychuk, I suggested the growing American inequality of the last 30 years probably had something to do with the fact that more Americans are "opting out" of marriage:
One of the prime benefits of wedlock is the economic security that comes from partnering. But such security has been increasingly difficult to come by: America's median household incomes have stagnated since 1980, even though many more households now have both a mother and a father working outside the home. That stagnation is easy to attribute to conservative policies that have steered more money to rich individuals and big corporations at the expense of workers.

In other words: It's much harder to raise a family. No wonder more middle-class Americans are "retreating from marriage," choosing cohabitation or divorce over the increasing economic strains of commitment. That assertion was greeted with some skepticism, but now I've got some backing from Don Peck in his…

What kind of history are they teaching at Bowdoin College?

In an otherwise fascinating overview of the Great Courses company in City Journal, Heather Mac Donald takes pains to contrast the company's market-driven approach of bringing the canon to its audience to the overly PC approach to curriculum taken by actual colleges. Here's a typical example high in the piece:
This past academic year, for example, a Bowdoin College student interested in American history courses could have taken “Black Women in Atlantic New Orleans,” “Women in American History, 1600–1900,” or “Lawn Boy Meets Valley Girl: Gender and the Suburbs,” but if he wanted a course in American political history, the colonial and revolutionary periods, or the Civil War, he would have been out of luck. A Great Courses customer, by contrast, can choose from a cornucopia of American history not yet divvied up into the fiefdoms of race, gender, and sexual orientation, with multiple offerings in the American Revolution, the constitutional period, the Civil War, the Bill of Rights…

Netflix Queue: 'Bodyguards and Assassins'

The movie that "Bodyguards and Assassins" reminds me most of is Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ." Like the Gibson flick, "B&A" seeks to tell an origin story—instead of a religion, we're looking at the birth of modern China—and sanctify it through bloody martyrdom.

The year is 1906, and we're in Hong Kong. Real-life revolutionary Sun Yat-Sen is expected to visit soon to plot a series of uprisings that will result in the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and usher in, as the characters say, a "people's republic." They also call this a democracy—and we even hear a quote from Abraham Lincoln early on. To aid his cause, a small group of men commit themselves to protecting him from an assassination plot, by any means necessary.

I won't spoil the details of how they succeed—if it's a spoiler to you that Sun Yat-Sen doesn't die, then read your history, son—but suffice it to say that there are many intricate fight sce…

No anthem: Good for Goshen College

Mennonites represent:
Tiny Goshen College in Indiana has banned the "The Star Spangled Banner: at all sporting events because the Mennonite school's president considers the National Anthem's words to be too violent.

The 1,000-student school had already banned the words last year, but the band could still play the music for patriots in attendance. Now, the school has banned the song entirely, according to NBC Sports.NBC Sports actually misses a really critical part of the story: Goshen didn't play the anthem for decades—and had only done so in recent years after pressure was brought to bear by a right-wing radio host.

Full disclosure time: I'm a lapsed Mennonite. Graduated from a Mennonite Bretheren college. I have friends associated with Goshen.

I'm no longer a complete pacifist. But, within the Christian tradition, Mennonite pacifism makes a lot of sense to me: it follows the admonishment of a Jesus who warned Peter to put away his sword. The folks at Goshe…

Those authoritarian Tea Partiers

In the wake of a North Carolina study proclaiming that the Tea Party movement contains both libertarian and authoritarian elements, Ben and I debate whether or not freedom-loving Tea Partiers have a bit o' dictator in them. My take:
It's obvious that the Tea Party mixes authoritarian and libertarian instincts. Candidates running on its platform surged to success in 2010 on a platform of lowering taxes and reducing government regulations. But when they entered Congress and state legislatures around the country, what they did instead was start to take away other people's rights.

A woman's right to an abortion? The House of Representatives tried to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, while legislatures in states like Kansas rewrote licensing rules to make it nearly impossible for abortion clinics to operate.

A worker's right to collectively bargain? Gov. Scott Walker in Wisconsin famously spearheaded the effort to take that right away from the state's public…

Josh Rosenau on liberalism and optimism

My friend Josh Rosenau picks up on that John Derbyshire post, and offers some thoughts about my pessimistic liberalism:
Liberals and (sensible, pre-teabagger) conservatives generally recognize the issues Joel raises. Some people sometimes suffer in unregulated markets, wars hurt some people, and majoritarian influence can have pernicious effects, especially on racial, religious, ethnic, and sexual minorities.

Conservatives who are willing to grant any of those premises, though, essentially throw up their hands. They'll grant that markets aren't always good for everyone, but they'll insist that government intervention would just make it worse. Or sure, Jim Crow laws are an affront to American standards of decency, but government can't just impose integration on the South, we just have to leave it for folks to sort that out on their own. And so forth.

In other words, both sides acknowledge the facts on the ground, an acknowledgment which Joel considers pessimistic. But w…

The 'depravity of the poor'

Another reason I'm liberal—because, frankly, I don't want to be like this guy:
It is simply a fact that our social problems are increasingly connected to the depravity of the poor. If an American works hard, completes their education, gets married, and stays married, then they will rarely — very rarely — be poor. At the same time, poverty is the handmaiden of illegitimacy, divorce, ignorance, and addiction. As we have poured money into welfare, we’ve done nothing to address the behaviors that lead to poverty while doing all we can to make that poverty more comfortable and sustainable. David French, I suspect, has the causation backwards. Being poor makes it difficult to make good life choices.
Last December, Princeton economist Dean Spears published a series of experiments that each revealed how “poverty appears to have made economic decision-making more consuming of cognitive control for poorer people than for richer people.” In one experiment, poor participants in India perfor…

I am a pessimistic liberal

Over at The Corner, John Derbyshire repeats an argument I hear from time to time.
Liberalism is optimistic. It is a doctrine of progress and improvement. (Why do you think they call themselves “progressives”?)I can't speak for others who call themselves liberal, but I think my liberalism has generally stemmed from a deep well of pessimism. Just to pluck out three examples...

• I think that over time, an un- or under-regulated market will accrue all or most of the rewards to the people who already have the most resources, generally squeezing workers who actually do much of the wealth creation in that market.

• I think that, without a government to step in and safeguard everybody's rights, majorities will generally stomp on the neck of minorities—be they racial, religious, or sexual minorities.

• I think that when we go to war abroad, lots of people whom we never think about get killed. That it generally costs more and lasts longer than we're promised.

So I favor regulated …

Paul Krugman is expected to defend or repudiate something he never said

As we know by now, Paul Krugman didn't actually praise Tuesday's earthquake as a potential source of economic stimulus, but conservative critics of Krugman find it truthy enough that they're continuing to push the meme. Here's Steven Horwitz:
1. As Roger Koppl pointed out on Facebook, Krugman only denies having said it, he doesn't deny that he agrees with that statement.
Hey: Can we agree that it's insane for somebody to make up something a person said, then expect that person to publicly state whether they agree or disagree—as though the onus is on the person who had their identity stolen to defend statements they didn't push into the public arena in the first place? If that's where the debate is going, we're all going to disappear up our own asses fairly quickly.

Hey, I heard Steven Horwitz say "It's OK to lie about anything as long as it makes a Democrat look bad." Now, I didn't actually hear that, but gosh—he hasn't denied t…

How can we tell which scientists are right about climate change?

On the surface, Kevin Williamson sounds reasonable here:
Scientific disputes are highly specialized, and meaningful participation in them requires a great deal of non-generalist knowledge. I’m generally skeptical of argument from credential, but there’s a time for it. For instance, a great number of scientists have a particular view of global warming. Richard Lindzen has reservations about that view. Professor Lindzen is an atmospheric physicist a full-on professor at MIT. Your average politician is not packing the gear to get in the middle of that fight. I’m not. Chait isn’t, either. Is Lindzen not a real scientist? Is he a kook? Is Jonathan Chait going to make that case? Given two scientists with different opinions about climate forecasting, why exactly ought I to consult Jonathan Chait, or Jon Huntsman? But here's the thing: We laypeople don't have to referee a dispute between two scientists. We can look at what the broader scientific community has to say about the topic. An…

Yes, that's exactly what we meant when we said Rick Perry is anti-science

Rick Perry's Sophisticated Campaign Machine | The Weekly Standard: "While his critics have been eager to dismiss the Texas Governor as anti-science, the The New York Times takes a look at an upcoming electronic book, "Rick Perry and His Eggheads: Inside the Brainiest Political Operation in America." The book's author shows Perry's approach to politics is at once rigorously scientific and unconventional."

Pennsylvania public workers not overcompensated

News from EPI: Pennsylvania public-sector workers not overcompensated, EPI study finds: A new Economic Policy Institute study released today finds that full-time state and local government employees in Pennsylvania are not overcompensated, when compared to otherwise similar private-sector workers.  Pennsylvania public employees’ hourly compensation costs are a statistically insignificant 2.1 percent lower than that of private-sector employees.That's a local note, but it's consistent with the findings of most similar studies. Republicans are trying to paint public workers as unfairly and grossly overcompensated, but generally speaking, they're not.

E.J. Dionne is delusional this morning

His column reads like a fit of pique, instead of the usual smart commentary from a columnist who knows how the real world works.
President Obama has only one option as he ponders a world economy teetering on the edge: He needs to go big, go long and go global.

Obama should not be constrained by what the Tea Party might allow subservient Republican leaders in Congress to do. He should state plainly, eloquently and in detail what he thinks needs to happen. Neither history nor the voters will be kind to him if he lets caution and political calculation get in the way.Ah, surely Dionne must be coming up with a laundry list of ideas that depend on executive action instead of a recalcitrant Congress! Let's hear them!
Going big means immediate action to boost the economy, even though this will increase the short-term deficit. His proposals to continue the payroll tax cut, extend unemployment insurance and enact patent reform are good, but they are not enough.Wait. Pretty sure those items wo…

Free lunch for all those rich kids in Detroit public schools

Via Rick Henderson, I see that Henry Payne is trying to stir up class warfare against the rich at National Review ... by taking aim at a program meant to help the poor. Specifically, it's a federal program that would provide free lunch to every student in Detroit's public schools, whether or not they qualify for free or reduced lunches.

The post is called "Richie Rich's Free Lunch," and it gets populist from there:
Funnily enough, they failed to mention the recent $4.5 billion expansion of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which will now provide free lunches to ALL — rich and poor, needy and non-needy — of Detroit’s 65,800 public school-students. (Detroit is one of three pilot programs starting this month for a free-for-all that will ultimately cover similar districts nationwide.)

This new program is part of Obama’s orgy of spending, a binge that has ballooned the federal budget by 25 percent since his inauguration. But the program’s logic is even more insane tha…

How to respond to urban violence?

Ben and I talk about the Philadelphia "flash mobs" and the London riots in this week's Scripps Howard column. I argue that recession-era austerity isn't just cutting the safety net—it's also undermining our ability to police our cities:
Urban violence is nothing new but American city-dwellers are used to the problem being mostly contained to poor, largely minority areas of our cities. The recent incidents in Philadelphia, Chicago, and Kansas City are notable for one commonality: they took place in those cities' glitzier shopping districts, "good neighborhoods" usually untouched by strife.

Cynicism is easy; violence only matters when it happens to the white and well off. But the perception of increased violence, fair or not, can create a negative feedback loop that has real effects on a city and its prospects. Think of New York in the 1970s; it took decades for the city to make a comeback.

So while we need to plug away at underlying social ills -- and…

Still here...

...obviously, I'm still posting the column once a week. But most of my energy this summer has gone to recovering from surgery. One more surgery in September. I want to get back to writing regularly, but this has proven to be quite the ordeal. Hope I'll see you soon.

Is it time for a balanced budget amendment?

That's the Scripps Howard column topic this week. Ben and I note: "The current proposal -- introduced by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., -- would require the government to spend no more than it takes in, but it doesn't stop there. It would limit government expenditures to 18 percent of the gross domestic product, and require a two-thirds majority of Congress to approve any tax increase. The government could depart from those guidelines only when the country is at war."

My take:
Tea Partiers and conservatives make a big show of their fealty to the Founders, but the proposed balanced budget amendment is a big slap in the face of Alexander Hamilton.

Hamilton, after all, urged Americans to adopt the Constitution precisely because it gave Congress unlimited power of taxation.

Limiting that power, he said, would leave the central government weak and toothless, unable to provide for the common good. He knew what he was talking about -- the Articles of Confeder…

About that FDA-sponsored SWAT team at Rawesome Foods

Stuff like this makes me think about becoming a weirdo libertarian:
A multi-agency SWAT-style armed raid was conducted this morning by helmet-wearing, gun-carrying enforcement agents from the LA County Sheriff's Office, the FDA, the Dept. of Agriculture and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control).

Rawesome Foods, a private buying club offering wholesome, natural raw milk and raw cheese products (among other wholesome foods) is founded by James Stewart, a pioneer in bringing wholesome raw foods directly to consumers through a buying club. James was followed from his private residence by law enforcement, and when he entered his store, the raid was launched.

Law enforcement then proceeded to destroy the inventory of the story by pouring the milk down the drain and / or confiscating raw cheese and fresh produce for destruction.Understand: food safety regulations exist for a reason. Nobody's very happy when grandmas start dying of E coli because they ate bad spinach. At the same time,…