Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Preparing for life in the twenty-first century. Uh, and a half.

Why Americans distrust Obama’s refugee policy—Wednesday, November 25th, 2015
Paris See what you see

Don’t be afraid to see what you see.—Ronald Reagan (Reagan’s Farewell Speech)

Why is it politically helpful to call for a ban on all Syrian refugees? Because people have seen the government lie to them just in the last few months about “widows and children”.

Americans don’t distrust refugees. They distrust the federal government, because they have seen the federal government’s deliberate failures and deliberate lies about illegal immigrants.

No politician would be calling for blocking Syrian refugees if the Obama administration had not bypassed all normal entrance procedures to let in South American refugee “children” who were 18, 19, 20 years old and older.

It wouldn’t be politically feasible.

No politician would be calling for blocking Syrian refugees if we weren’t still looking at sanctuary cities going out of their way to not help track down and deport seriously criminal illegal immigrants who murder, rape, and steal.

If San Francisco’s and the President’s response to Kate Steinle’s murder had been “we have to do better to separate good immigrants from dangerous ones” instead of “you’re racist for thinking this murder has anything to do with illegal immigration” it probably wouldn’t be politically feasible to now oppose Syrian refugees.

We have an immigration system. But Americans justifiably don’t trust it to weed out the dangerous from the refugees because Americans aren’t stupid. They see, as President Reagan asked them to, what they see.

Should we be refusing Syrian refugees? No. But there is no alternative as long as the federal government refuses to do its job. This is what happens when people don’t trust the government.

We should have reformed the legal immigration system as soon as South American refugees started pouring into the country.

We should have reformed the legal immigration system as soon as it became more popular to break the law to get here than to follow the legal procedures.

We should have tightened our border security at the same time

Instead, in a world where every American goes into a database when they are born, when they get a drivers license, when they get a job and pay into social security, when they sign up for the Affordable Care Act, when they just get on a fucking airplane, the DC establishment is telling us it’s racist to want a database of refugees who are bypassing the normal immigration process.

The First Casualty—Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

The First Casualty seeks to fill two needs: to catalog the failures and successes of war reporting since it began as a recognizable form, and to analyze its failure to engage news viewers into ending war.

As a catalogue of press behavior and roadblocks in the major wars from the Crimean war to Vietnam, this is an extensive and useful tome. But analyzing the press’s failures and censorship’s failures, it gets lost. Even transparency seems to end up a failure when it comes to war reporting… but he never ventures beyond a superficial analysis. At the end of the Vietnam section, he repeats an earlier claim that perhaps the problem in Vietnam was the lack of censorship: journalists could go anywhere and interview anybody, but because the journalists would also print anything said, people were afraid to talk to them. So is one solution to bring back censorship? And one other potential solution: what was needed was a novelization of the war, to fictionalize it.

Vietnam, in Knightley’s telling, was an extremely transparent war. Almost any reporter could go and almost anyone could be a reporter. All you needed were two news organizations saying they’d buy your stuff, and the military would give you free transportation to Vietnam, semi-free C-rations (technically the military said they would keep track of rations and would want reimbursement, but according to Knightley they didn’t do so), and accommodations. Knightley’s main complaint is that having all those correspondents, especially the new film correspondents, tended to make it look like the war was under control. The problem with Vietnam in his view is that the sum of the facts did not equal the total of the war. It needed some fictionalization to make it more truthful.

Ultimately, is this book an argument that novelizations of wars should have equal or greater precedence that fact-based reporting? It seems a silly conclusion, especially given the lengthy section on Evelyn Waugh in Abyssinia, and yet, there it is given primacy of place in the final section. Reading the title and subtitle—The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist, and Myth Maker—I perhaps expected too much from this book. It wants to have it both ways and for the most part succeeds. On the one hand the war correspondent lies by showing war as exciting and dashing. On the other hand aren’t these reporters a dashing bunch of devil-may-care fellows!

Who wants the United States to lead?—Wednesday, November 18th, 2015
Liberty wakeup call

Quote courtesy Greg Gutfeld.

After the first or second Republican debate, some friends on Facebook took issue with Republican candidate complaints that under President Obama, the United States no longer attempts to lead the world in promoting peace and democratic values.

I must have missed something. I listened to almost every candidate in the Republican debate last night say “We’re going to lead the world again.” I have never, ever, heard ANY country say they wanted us to lead the world. Must have been napping.

This is a reasonable question, as long as it isn’t asked rhetorically. It’s true, the countries often don’t say it. But the people in a lot of countries do. I doubt my friends were napping during the coverage of the 2009 Green movement in Iran—they just forgot. But the Iranians haven’t. It wouldn’t have taken much leadership from the United States for that to end without bloodshed and with free speech improvements inside Iran, and the protestors knew this: they were asking the United States to get involved. I’m also pretty sure that the government in East Germany would have preferred that we not take a lead in world affairs, but the people of East Germany were well-served by our not accommodating the Soviet Union’s repression.

Imprisoned dissidents used to whisper from cell to cell the lead President Reagan took, that the Soviet Union would rather have been left alone.

More recently the government in Ukraine asked for us to lead, and there would have been much less bloodshed if we had; Russia would have backed down instead of invading. Instead there’s a low-level war still going on there, threatening daily to erupt into a full-fledged bloodbath.

It wouldn’t have taken bloodshed to side with the people of Iraq when they tossed their strongman in 2010. Instead we sided with the strongman who turned out to be too weak to stop ISIS. The people of Iraq would certainly have preferred that we lead, even while their government short-sightedly preferred that we retreat. If we had exercised leadership in Iraq, it’s entirely likely that ISIS would never have grown strong enough to perpetrate this weekend’s Paris attacks. The people of Paris, if they’re thinking about it at all after that horror, are probably wishing we had not retreated from the Middle East and allowed ISIS to grow.

Echo House—Tuesday, November 17th, 2015

I was worried, in the first few chapters, that Echo House would not live up to my expectations after reading The Congressman Who Loved Flaubert. It does. This is, in fact, very much a novel-length story from that collection, populated by the kind of people who can say, with a straight face, things like:

“If only the American people were as good and competent and compassionate as their government.”

This is a story of the political elite, the very elite, one of the men behind the stage pulling strings. His very name—Axel—says that he is one of the men other men pivot around. Like most of Ward Just’s short stories from Flaubert, however, it is also filled with sadness.

In fact, if someone were to describe the book to me, I would not expect to enjoy reading it. But I did: Just is a very good writer, the rare writer who can make sad Stranger-like protagonists interesting to read about.

Washington is a town of secrets, favors, and people who know where the favors are buried.

“You’re a lucky man, to know people who repay their debts.”

And he takes his characters seriously. When he writes about the dangers of communism, the insidious spread of Soviet hegemony and the leaking of freedom from the world, the perspective he writes from is one that believes it. Yet when a Pole warns a practical man that their estimates of Soviet oppression and mass murder is low by a factor of four, and the hearer disbelieves it, attributes paranoia and irrationality to the man, Just does not let his 1996-era knowledge that the Pole is right color his treatment of the practical man’s perspective.

The bulk of the story is about the people, however, not about the politics; the politics—the lead character is, as far as I can read between the lines, part of the initial group that started the OSS and continued it as the CIA—is there only as a backdrop to the semi-generational story. The book starts with Axel Behl’s father, and ends with his son, all living at Echo House. From some perspectives Axel is the main character; from others, his son Alec is the main character; the sense of Alex as a person is often filtered through Alec’s view of the man.

There are crises, but they’re all in the background, moving from decade to decade, generation to generation. It’s a great story, and beautiful to read.

Religious upbringing study uses odd definition of altruism—Wednesday, November 11th, 2015
Greedy planet

The more I have time to reflect on the University of Chicago’s religious upbringing altruism study, the more I think this study epitomizes the poor state of social science research today. When I majored in Psychology at Cornell thirty years ago, there was a fight in progress between people who wanted to find a way to turn psychology and sociology into hard sciences, using the scientific method, and those who wanted to keep it soft, barely even defining their terms let alone treating it as a real science.

From most of what I’ve been reading over the last year, it looks like the hard science faction lost, and badly. It’s not just that science reporting has gotten worse or even that the studies themselves are often impossible to replicate. It’s that the researchers don’t even understand what they are looking for, so that even if the study can be replicated, it still has no meaning.

That’s the religious upbringing study’s biggest problem. It doesn’t define what it’s studying. It purports to study altruism and judgmentalism, but it never describes what it means by those terms. These researchers seem to have wanted to study morality without caring what morality means. The result is that they don’t understand what they’re studying enough to make judgments on it, certainly not the sweeping judgment that religion is bad for the world.

In order to understand how they think of altruism and judgmentalism, we’re forced to backport a definition from their conclusions and from how they designed the study. Reading the study, it appears that what they mean by altruism is a willingness to be free with other people’s resources, a willingness to give to anonymous others without ever finding out who those others are or what they really need.

In other words, their definition of altruism sounds a lot like paying taxes and being a government bureaucrat. Altruism, according to the way they performed the study, means government bureaucrats giving taxes to the University of Chicago to perform social science research into the immorality of religion.

It calls to mind Thomas Sowell’s observation that it is always greed to choose where your money goes, but never greed to take other people’s money to hand out.

The Fisher Space Pen—Tuesday, November 10th, 2015
Fisher Space Pen

The Fisher Space Pen: looks nice, writes great.

About a year ago, after running out of ink one too many times in bed1, I wondered if anyone had ever made a pen that worked upside down. A quick Internet search later, and I discovered the Fisher Space Pen. It immediately went on my Christmas list, and come Christmas morning I happily found the original Astronaut model under the tree.

This is the first quality pen I’ve owned, so I’m undoubtedly biased by that. Up to now, the best pen I’ve owned was a PaperMate that cost about three dollars and change. I generally enjoyed the feel of that PaperMate, and looked for it whenever I was in a store that carried pens, but it sports the same problems that all cheap pens seem to have: it runs out of ink long before it runs out of ink, making it an unreliable partner in writing.

The Space Pen doesn’t run out of ink until there’s no more ink to use. At least, I’m assuming that’s the case—the cartridges aren’t transparent. But the ink lasts for a long time. But because the ink lasts until it’s gone, it’s important to have a spare handy. Unlike most pens where the pen not working just means it’s clogged or blocked, allowing you to coax a few more days out of it, when no more ink comes out of the Space Pen, it’s because there is no more ink. The ink cartridges for the Space Pen are under pressure, ensuring that all of the ink is used.

Mind you, that experience comes from all of one time having to refill since Christmas. And I’ve been using the Space Pen exclusively for writing since then.

That feature also means that the Space Pen writes upside down as well as it writes normally. Lying down in bed and writing on a notepad held above my head no longer runs the risk of the ink draining the wrong direction and writing grinding to a halt. Holding a notebook against a convenient wall and writing also becomes reliable for more than a few words.

Left believes atheists are wasteful bullies?—Thursday, November 5th, 2015

The left has recently been liking, sharing, and posting about a study from Current Biology that purports to show a negative association between religiousness and children’s altruism.

The conclusion that the researchers come to is pretty heavy:

Overall, our findings cast light on the cultural input of religion on prosocial behavior and contradict the common-sense and popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic and kind toward others. More generally, they call into question whether religion is vital for moral development, supporting the idea that the secularization of moral discourse will not reduce human kindness—in fact, it will do just the opposite.

The problem with the left using this study to say the world would be better off without religion is that it also shows a clear tendency of those without a religious upbringing to side with victimizers over victims. The researchers word the results as that “children who are raised in religious households frequently appear to be more judgmental of others’ actions”, but the actions were ones that caused “interpersonal harm”. From the description, the actions were the actions of bullies. It would be just as easy, if not easier, to claim that the study showed children from non-religious households side with bullies more often than children from religious households.

That, however, is not an interpretation that supports “secularization of moral discourse.”

Further, if you look at the graph the data indicates that Islam is worse than Christianity when it comes to altruism. The graph labels that difference as “ns.” for “not significant”, but it doesn’t tell us what the significance level is. But regardless of that, the graph doesn’t fit well with the comments that the left is leaving on the study, such as “I have seen stats that over 40% of Americans are evangelical Christians. I suspect they are the worst”.

Folks, you can’t pick and choose your study results. If you want to believe this study when it says Christians are less altruistic, you’re also going to have to believe that the non-religious are more likely to side with bullies—and possibly, that Islam is worse than Christianity when it comes to altruism. Certainly not the other way around.

Why is the media saying Sanders lost the debate?—Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015

A lot of my far-left leaning friends are confused about why media talking heads keep saying that Bernie Sanders lost the debate. A lot of the media is in Hillary Clinton’s camp, true, but a lot of them are openly pro-Sanders. And members of both camps say that Sanders lost.

Many journalists on both sides think socialism has never received a fair shake in the United States. They don’t seem to understand that socialism—especially the so-called Democratic Socialism that Sanders espouses, in which private industry remains free, mainly, to assist government—inevitably leads to cronyism and corruption. Socialism practically means cronyism and corruption.

They, the media, believe in a kind of magical socialism run by an angelic political elite, and that if socialism just received a fair hearing voters would approve it. That open hearing is what the pro-Sanders crowd—and a lot of the pro-Clinton crowd—hoped for in Bernie Sanders.

To an extent, I agree with them. Up to the debate, I thought it would be good for Sanders to be the Democrats’ nominee because Sanders could articulate an argument for socialism, it would receive a fair hearing, and one of the pro-freedom candidates in the Republican Party—Fiorina, Cruz, Carson—would provide an articulate argument in favor of freedom.

But the debate changed that. There were two ways for Hillary Clinton to win the debate: she could have provided a clear contrast between her progressive politics and Sanders’s socialism, or Sanders could fail to provide a contrast between Hillary and himself. That’s why his refusal to distance himself from her corruption was interpreted as a loss. The media talking heads are claiming that they think Sanders lost because he didn’t “bring the fight” to Clinton. That his compassionate absolution of the Clinton Foundation and State Department email scandal lost him the debate. But that narrative is lipstick on a pig. The pro-Clinton side doesn’t want to acknowledge her corruption, and the pro-Socialism side (which of course overlaps) doesn’t want to acknowledge the truth that Sanders spoke about their ideology. Because Sanders spoke an important and inconvenient truth when he condoned Clinton’s corruption and cronyism—that this is socialism.

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