Salute!

Let us Render a Proper Salute!

I saw this photo over at the Cold Steel Blog.



Like you, I assumed he was planning on cleaning that boar with that knife.

Nope. That's what he killed it with.

One of these:



Now that's a man.

Adjuncts

The Adjunct Professor:

Grade inflation continues apace, but the amount of time students spend studying continues to fall across the board. Some theories as to why this may be the case include this:

Mother Jones commenter Lisa argues, "Rise in numbers of temporary, adjunct faculty, who teach many, many courses, and are terribly vulnerable to course evaluations (that's me, by the way). One can only assign so much work and expect to be invited back to teach -- plus, if you assign it, you have to read it and/or grade it yourself, which, when you're teaching four or five classes on multiple campuses, becomes impossible. This has become the bulk of university teaching[.]"
How vulnerable are adjunct professors to student comments? So vulnerable that a professor of Catholic studies can be fired for teaching Catholic doctrine:
The University of Illinois has fired an adjunct professor who taught courses on Catholicism after a student accused the instructor of engaging in hate speech by saying he agrees with the church’s teaching that homosexual sex is immoral.

The professor, Ken Howell of Champaign, said his firing violates his academic freedom. He also lost his job at an on-campus Catholic center.

Howell, who taught Introduction to Catholicism and Modern Catholic Thought, says he was fired at the end of the spring semester after sending an e-mail explaining some Catholic beliefs to his students preparing for an exam.
His email has been published for consideration. It's not great as a teaching tool -- it's generally not good academic practice to say things like, "I won't go into details here but a survey of the last few centuries reveals..." in academic discourse. Cite your sources!

On the other hand, (a) he is teaching a Catholic doctrine, as a professor of Catholic studies, and he's broadly correct about the doctrine; and (b) he raises some good points about some bad thinking prominent in current American thought. It really is the case that we, as a culture, have trouble separating people and actions. We see this all the time; if a Bill Clinton does something wrong, rather than saying that we approve of him in spite of his misdeed (which we condemn), we say either that the misdeed proves he is a wicked man outright; or we rush to find a way to explain his misdeed so that it isn't wrong at all. Just a few examples I remember hearing at the time: 'He was just being a gentleman in committing perjury to protect a young woman's reputation'; 'He was under a lot of stress from all the good he was doing'; 'She was a stalker, so it was really the fault of the person I don't approve of instead of the one I do'; 'It was a private matter that should not be subject to public moral evaluation.'

That approach to moral thought impoverishes us, as we lose the ability to condemn even clear wrongs like perjury and adultery. We all remember the rush of the feminist leadership to stand with Bill Clinton, and smooth away the faults of his betrayal of his wife and abusive advantage-taking of a young woman awed by his power and position. It is just as harmful from the other side, however: those who use the misdeed to condemn the whole man end up missing his good qualities. I was guilty of this myself; with time to reflect, his positive qualities have become more apparent.

Honest attempts at teaching that kind of lesson to college students, who are still young enough to be full of fire -- likely to rage, at times, against things they don't like to hear -- means you will occasionally draw some negative comments. These may be quite fiery. Yet this is what tenure was for: to ensure that one could honestly teach even controversial positions without fear for losing one's job.

Tenure led to some 'untenable' consequences, especially in terms of finances, but it needs to be replaced with something that protects this basic idea. If we've come to the place that a Catholic professor of Catholic studies teaching an introduction to Catholic thinking can be fired for expressing Catholic doctrine, we've gone too far. Students were supposed to be challenged to think about these principles, not have their own prejudices catered to by the professor. If it were a Muslim professor of Islamic studies teaching an introduction to Islam, we wouldn't think of firing him for expressing agreement with some point of shariah, and nor should we. If we want to learn about why people believe in shariah and are willing to structure their lives around it, we need honest teachers.

It would also help if students weren't so convinced that the professor's job is to give them A's while making them comfortable. Since it's unlikely we will persuade the students to feel that way, however, the next best thing is to ensure that professors who hold them to high standards -- and who make real attempts to teach controversial or difficult subjects -- will not be fired for doing what is, in fact, their job.

A Revolutionary Battle

A Revolutionary Battle:

Via Red State.

A Kindred Spirit?

A Kindred Spirit?

My Chinese is still good enough to recognize that the first two characters read "Middle Ages." It's a collection of medieval music, apparently from a Chinese speaker with most excellent taste.

I have a Chinese-language book on the Vikings, to tie this in with the post below; as well as a French-language edition of the same book, which I bought because I could read only small amounts of Mandarin even when I was there encountering the language daily. (The book is available in English as well; but the French appears to be the original. Amazon does not appear to sell the Chinese edition, if it is still in print, but I still have mine.) I bought the Chinese version to loan to my students who were interested in Western culture and history; it was one of a very few books I ever found on the subject available in Mandarin.

It's good to see interest in these topics across the sea. Japanese and Western cultures harmonize on a number of points, but China had a very different cultural opinion on warriors. Witness the old Chinese saying, "You don't use a good man to make a soldier, just as you don't use good iron to make nails"! Yet the Beijing opera tradition, which has infected Hong Kong cinema (and, these days, everything everywhere) has invigorated Chinese interest in their traditional martial arts probably far beyond what it was during the Middle Kingdom's own Middle Ages.

UPDATE: If my Chinese friend should backtrack the link to his site, here is a video he might like that I don't think he has:

J.A. Dalza - Calata ala Spagnola from Valéry Sauvage on Vimeo.

Njal's Saga, First Week Discussion:


Image from here.

We are reading The Saga of Burnt Njal. This week we are to discuss sections 1-20. By the end of these sections, the two main characters of the saga are introduced: Gunnar and Njal himself. Let's look at their base descriptions, along with the notes provided.

Gunnar:

There was a man whose name was Gunnar. He was one of Unna's
kinsmen, and his mother's name was Rannveig (1). Gunnar's father
was named Hamond (2). Gunnar Hamond's son dwelt at Lithend, in
the Fleetlithe. He was a tall man in growth, and a strong man --
best skilled in arms of all men. He could cut or thrust or shoot
if he chose as well with his left as with his right hand, and he
smote so swiftly with his sword, that three seemed to flash
through the air at once. He was the best shot with the bow of
all men, and never missed his mark. He could leap more than his
own height, with all his war-gear, and as far backwards as
forwards. He could swim like a seal, and there was no game in
which it was any good for any one to strive with him; and so it
has been said that no man was his match. He was handsome of
feature, and fair skinned. His nose was straight, and a little
turned up at the end. He was blue-eyed and bright-eyed, and
ruddy-cheeked. His hair thick, and of good hue, and hanging down
in comely curls. The most courteous of men was he, of sturdy
frame and strong will, bountiful and gentle, a fast friend, but
hard to please when making them. He was wealthy in goods.


ENDNOTES:

(1) She was the daughter of Sigfuss, the son of Sighvat the Red;
he was slain at Sandhol Ferry.
(2) He was the son of Gunnar Baugsson, after whom Gunnar's holt
is called. Hamond's mother's name was Hrafnhilda. She was
the daughter of Storolf Heing's son. Storolf was brother to
Hrafn the Speaker of the Law, the son of Storolf was Orin
the Strong.
Njal:
There was a man whose name was Njal. He was the son of Thorgeir
Gelling, the son of Thorolf. Njal's mother's name was Asgerda
(1). Njal dwelt at Bergthorsknoll in the land-isles; he had
another homestead on Thorolfsfell. Njal was wealthy in goods,
and handsome of face; no beard grew on his chin. He was so great
a lawyer, that his match was not to be found. Wise too he was,
and foreknowing and foresighted (2). Of good counsel, and ready
to give it, and all that he advised men was sure to be the best
for them to do. Gentle and generous, he unravelled every man's
knotty points who came to see him about them. Bergthora was his
wife's name; she was Skarphedinn's daughter, a very high-
spirited, brave-hearted woman, but somewhat hard-tempered. They
had six children, three daughters and three sons, and they all
come afterwards into this story.


ENDNOTES:

(1) She was the daughter of Lord Ar the Silent. She had come
out hither to Iceland from Norway, and taken land to the
west of Markfleet, between Auldastone and Selialandsmull.
Her son was Holt-Thorir, the father of Thorleif Crow, from
whom the Wood-dwellers are sprung, and of Thorgrim the Tall,
and Skorargeir.
(2) This means that Njal was one of those gifted beings who,
according to the firm belief of that age, had a more than
human insight into things about to happen. It answers very
nearly to the Scottish "second sight."
We can see, as Mike noted, that parentage and families are very important: we don't just learn about the personal qualities of our heroes, but about their parentage on both sides of the family. The notes say what the original listeners would have known, about which families and to what great historic heroes their parentage may tie them.

What did you think of the first week's readings? Next week, we'll do the next section, 21-37.

You're Bound to Pass Sooner or Later, So Here's Your Diploma

Fake Tests, Fake Schools

The Texas Education Agency must be staffed with refugees from the Enron smoke-and-mirrors factory -- except that the Enron guys were reputed to be "the smartest guys in the room," whereas these people in TEA are . . . I can't even describe it. You be the judge:

A Texas legislator grilled a TEA hack last week about how Texas students who had failed every single question on a standardized ("TAKS") test could have been scored as "passing." These passing scores evidently caused the number of schools ranked as first- or second-rate in the state's four-tiered system almost to triple in a single year. How did this work?

Simple. Instead of old-fashioned grading, they used the new "Texas Projection Measure." Under this measure, "nearly half the 1 million TAKS tests that had been failed [were counted] as passing for the purpose of rating schools and districts." You might think this had something to do with counting a performance as passing on the ground that it at least was an improvement from the even more dismal performance of the year before. Alas, no. The measure "looked only at last year's scores and, based on a formula devised from thousands of prior results, projected that children who pass reading or math [tests] were likely to pass other tests in future years." In other words, we'll pass you because this formula says that if you passed a test in subject A, you're very likely to pass a test in subject B at some point in the future.

It gets worse. The formula is not even based on identifiable trends in low-performing students in situations where improvement has been documented in the past. No: the formula is based on overall trends among all children who take the TAKS test, from the ones who ace it down to the ones who flunk it. In general, kids do tend to do better on tests from year to year, thank goodness. However, if you consider only the kids who flunk a particular test, the "Projection Measure" is about 50% accurate in predicting that they'll eventually pass that same test. So the thinking apparently is, since about half the kids who flunk can be expected to do better at some point in the future, why not go ahead and count all of them all as "passing" right away?

The author of the article wonders about the same question that so often engages us here: lunacy or malice? Could Texas education officials really be stupid enough to buy this kind of metric, or are they cynically manipulating any and all data in furtherance of the one true aim, which is to maximize funding?


But, as one commenter noted, what's the real difference between this and the system of vague expectations of future merit that resulted in both Barack Obama's Oval Office and his Nobel Prize? Wishin' makes it so.

Yay 10th

Yay, 10th Amendment!

Or, a gay "marriage" ruling I might be able to support.

We all know that marriage as an institution has nothing to do with homosexuality. Saying this is not an expression of prejudice, but a simple statement about an institution that is as old as mankind. It has been practiced in many different ways in many different places, but never in human history until the current generation did anyone think it could be, or ought to be, applied to one's same-sex lover.

Many of us generally oppose attempts to revise or undermine the basic institutions of society; as an instinct, we believe that such institutions are what hold up the world. This is at the heart of the revised Constitutionalism that underlies the Tea Party movement.

Nothing is more important to that movement than to get the Federal government to respect the traditional, intended limits on its power. Supporters of an ever-expanding Federal government believe, I think, that they are on the side of the Federal government. This is not so. Continual revising of the social contract undermines that contract. The chief danger to the Federal government, as to the Republic at large, is that it will expand until it must be resisted; that it will revise the social contract so often that a majority of Americans become alienated from that contract, and no longer believe it applies. If the Federal government holds to its traditional and Constitutional limits, it might last a thousand years. If it refuses, it may not last out this generation.

On the other hand, the same people often wish to have substantial liberty from institutions: freedom to associate with them, and freedom for the institutions to uphold their own standards independent of the passing whims of society; but not a requirement that individuals be subject to those institutions. One can marry or not, for example. If you don't like the terms, don't.

So here comes a movement that balances two of those instincts against the third. It offers a vigorous and much-to-be-desired rebirth of the 10th Amendment!

However, it undermines the institution of marriage by redefining it so far from its original core purpose -- that of establishing new families to provide wealth and security for the next generation -- that it is undefinable. Further, it will require all of us to play by someone else's rules: under Full Faith and Credit, what we end up with is not "each state may determine the laws of marriage," but "the lowest-common denominator will apply everywhere." Freedom of association is not being respected; what is disguised as a state sovereignty ruling actually undermines the ability of states to uphold the traditional standards. What it really does is empower any state that wishes to undermine those standards.

As Dad29 points out, there's no reason to believe that the 10th will be applied in this way anywhere else; this seems to be special pleading for gay "marriage," when viewed in context of Federal jurisprudence.

However, as Volokh points out, the same arguments could be applied to destroy the unconstitutional health care regime being imposed. And, actually, a whole lot of unwise Federal regulation falls under this heading.

So... do we get behind this or not?

Anti-B

Anti-Business:

The White House has had it.

The White House has launched a coordinated campaign to push back against the perception taking hold in corporate America and on Wall Street that President Barack Obama is promoting an anti-business agenda.
To fight back against this perception, the President has backed a new round of corporate tax cuts, grants for new small businesses, and begun combing the books for onerous regulations to repeal by Executive Order made a speech in which he says he's not anti-business. He has also instructed aides to make similar remarks whenever they are in front of cameras.

That should be enough, don't you think?

Ants & Grasshoppers





"The Austerity Contagion"

Bill Bonner, writing at the "Daily Reckoning" site I've been enjoying lately, asks what will happen if all the world's grasshoppers start acting like ants:





An economy can go on like this - softly, gently destroying savings...quietly bankrupting the government - for many, many years. That could be what is coming now.
But wait. The US Senate refused to extend unemployment benefits. Even in the US, Republicans are talking about "austerity." Paul Krugman is hopping mad, referring to a coalition of the "heartless, the clueless and the confused" that is refusing to go along with his "spend, spend, spend" agenda. All of a sudden, the Americans seem to be catching the "austerity" bug, too. Uh oh ... this could be a disaster for everyone. If everyone saves, who will use their savings? Who will spend? Who will keep the wheels of commerce turning? Who will keep the lights on in the malls and the grills hot in the restaurants?

What will happen if all the grasshoppers suddenly become ants ... and all of them go on a rampage of financial prudence? Wouldn't it cause a new economic Dark Age for the whole world?

Part of his answer is that deleveraging -- working through the debt realistically instead of kicking it down the road -- is worth doing despite the cost.

Insurgence

Insurgence:



To go with the music, this thought: "To be alive is to be a murderer."

First, Let's Enslave All the Doctors

Calling Doctor . . . Doctor . . .?

Joseph Rago has an interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal today about the Massachusetts universal coverage plan as a miniature preview of the wonders that are in store for us under ObamaCare. A Massachusetts appeals board has just shown surprising sanity in overturning an insurance commission's denial of 235 of the 274 insurance premium increases that had been requested by the state's insurance industry. The insurance carriers had trotted out that stale old free-market argument that the increases were necessary to cover their expected claims over the coming year. They were still operating under the quaint economic principle that an insurance company ought to have sufficient reserves to stay in business, even if that makes them appear unfeeling about their policyholders' household budget strains. As Mr. Rago notes, the insurance commission "was in effect ordering the carriers to sell their products at a loss." He also identifies a key question:

An entitlement sold as a way to reduce costs was bound to fundamentally change the system. The larger question—for Massachusetts, and now for the nation—is whether that was really the plan all along.

Meanwhile, he reports,

Richard Moore, a state senator from Uxbridge and an architect of the 2006 plan, has introduced a new bill that will make physician participation in government health programs a condition of medical licensure. This would essentially convert all Massachusetts doctors into public employees.

(Emphasis supplied.) Or, in other words . . . where did all those doctors go that we used to have in Massachusetts? How come I can't get an appointment?

Weren't there primitive tribes who lamed their doctors so they couldn't leave?

I had no idea this even happened.

Amedeo Guillet, who died on June 16 aged 101, was the Italian officer who led the last cavalry charge faced by the British Army.

Early in 1941, following outstanding successes in the Western Desert, the British invasion of Mussolini's East African empire seemed to be going like clockwork.

But at daybreak on January 21, 250 horsemen erupted through the morning mist at Keru, cut through the 4/11th Sikhs, flanked the armoured cars of Skinner's Horse and then galloped straight towards British brigade headquarters and the 25-pound artillery of the Surrey and Sussex Yeomanry.
Wow.

Irrationality

Economics As a Mystery Religion

I've felt as if I were drowning in irrationality all day. I've been trying to conduct an online discussion with a bunch of people who believe that Social Security -- indeed, the entire welfare state and debt structure of the United States -- is hunky-dorey. To begin with, I found it virtually impossible to get across the idea that, although this may seem a very, very wrong, unpleasant, and inconvenient result -- Social Security will inevitably be degraded and then dismantled. The first 20 times I tried to say so, I got back the furious reaction that these benefits are a debt, a honorably incurred debt, and it would be wrong if the people expecting their benefits did not receive them.

I don't disagree, of course, but I don't see how that changes the odds that it's going to happen. "But we really are going to need that money," they'd say. Yes, I'd agree, it's going to be bad. And it doesn't change the odds that it's going to happen. "But it wouldn't be fair to expect us to do without them." No progress.

I did, at length, come to a point where we could define the difference between me and them as the belief, or doubt, that Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and unfunded federal, state, and local pension obligations, which together amount to over $500,000 per American household, can all be absorbed without the U.S. defaulting on a single one of these obligations even in part. I myself doubt whether it can be done, no matter how hard we tighten the screws on the rich people, unless we recklessly risk the health of the economy and the currency and court a fate like that of Greece. They, in turn, believe this is no problem at all, and only a mean person would say it is.

Here's the part I need help with. One commenter had this explanation for why it was all going to be possible, even without raising tax rates. The problem is, I literally cannot understand a word of the following. I'm hoping someone here can help:

I don’t think they have to turn the screws on the rich a little harder. I think they can just mark up the account balances to match the needs, and I don’t even think that, I know that. It’s a factual statement. I don’t even think the government needs to tax at all, except for to manipulate the money supply to soak up excess liquidity that might be in the market. In fact, I know that as well. It’s not a guess, it’s the way it is. We don’t operate our policies around those foundational realities, but it doesn’t make them any less real. . . . Debt and deficits just don’t mean what you think they do in a modern-money world, and they’re not indicators of the things you think they are.

I'm certainly no economist. Is this pure nonsense, or something like a respectable branch of the science?

Natural Libertarians

"Natural Libertarians"

Some people apparently react from the heart on these matters; these are my people. Not shockingly, the story comes from the Great State of Georgia.

In the radio interviews I did after the publication of my new book, its alarming title, The Next American Civil War, received much attention. Some interviewers thought it was simply wacko. Others were more sympathetic, but argued that I really meant a war of ideas. But this is not what I really meant. I was referring to the clash between two radically incompatible attitudes towards life—a far more serious clash than mere intellectual debate. Ideas can be changed much more easily than our fundamental attitude. In fact, few things are more difficult to change.

On one side of the clash are the people like those who visited the libertarian booth in Tucker, Georgia, and whose attitude was: “Hell, no, nobody owns me.” Perhaps some of these people have joined the Tea Party movement, but I suspect most have not. Yet they still remain natural libertarians, who instinctively place their locus of control within themselves. Like Rotter’s internals, they resist any effort by others to manage and control their lives.

On the other side of the clash are those who stand to benefit from encouraging others to rely on them instead of relying on themselves. Those who seek to exercise power and influence over others will naturally be hostile to the independent attitude of the natural libertarian, simply because this attitude is ultimately the one thing that stands in the way of achieving their own ambitions to rule, manage, and govern others. Today, far too many people in governmental circles, in our universities, and among the custodians of mass culture all share the goal of encouraging ordinary men and women to stop being self-reliant, cease to think for themselves, embrace their status as victims of circumstances, and to blame others for their own misfortunes instead of rousing themselves to overcome difficulties, as Frederick Douglass did.

The stakes in this clash are enormous. Natural libertarians find themselves in a desperate struggle to keep alive the traditions of independence that have shaped and molded their attitudes. They see themselves battling forces that seek to create a state of helpless codependency among their fellow citizens. Often, like the natural libertarians of the past—for example, our own revolutionary ancestors and the seventeenth-century English parliamentarians who resisted Charles the First—today’s natural libertarians display a paranoid tendency to imagine that wicked men are conspiring to rob them of their liberty.
I suggest you read the rest of this piece.

Brains and Killers

Brains and Consciousness:

A Neuroscientist you may have heard of, James Fallon, reveals two things: first, that his family includes a number of murderers, including alleged killer Lizzy Borden. Second, that his brain scan says he's a psychopath.

"And I took a look at my own PET scan and saw something disturbing that I did not talk about," he says.

What he didn't want to reveal was that his orbital cortex looks inactive.

"If you look at the PET scan, I look just like one of those killers."
So he tested this with another marker that reveals murderous behavior.
Along with brain scans, Fallon also tested each family member's DNA for genes that are associated with violence. He looked at 12 genes related to aggression and violence and zeroed in on the MAO-A gene (monoamine oxidase A). This gene, which has been the target of considerable research, is also known as the "warrior gene" because it regulates serotonin in the brain. Serotonin affects your mood — think Prozac — and many scientists believe that if you have a certain version of the warrior gene, your brain won't respond to the calming effects of serotonin.

Fallon calls up another slide on his computer. It has a list of family members' names, and next to them, the results of the genotyping. Everyone in his family has the low-aggression variant of the MAO-A gene, except for one person.

"You see that? I'm 100 percent. I have the pattern, the risky pattern," he says, then pauses. "In a sense, I'm a born killer."
But he isn't, of course, a killer at all. Not only that, he doesn't have the impulse control problems -- one doesn't succeed at neuroscience if one cannot delay gratification, and he has a wife who's known him since he was 12 and feels entirely comfortable with him.

He has a theory that you need a third factor -- abuse.
Significantly, he says this journey through his brain has changed the way he thinks about nature and nurture. He once believed that genes and brain function could determine everything about us. But now he thinks his childhood may have made all the difference.
With respect to the scientist, that's not a convincing answer. It would be adequate to explain the presence of a gene in someone with no wicked impulses; but it doesn't adequately explain the brain scan. A gene may be a predisposition to developing in a certain way; untriggered, that potential may simply not develop.

A brain scan, though, shows what is happening in your brain right now. His brain really is showing low activity in the impulse-control region; and yet his impulse control is perfectly fine.

This suggests that brain activity isn't as closely related to consciousness as we have come to believe. Indeed, the leading theory in "philosophy of mind" is close to his own "genes and brain function... determine everything" about our conscious experience; or as that is put in philosopher-speak, "mental states supervene on brain states."

It may be that we aren't looking at the right part of the brain scan; it could be that "happy childhood" people have another part that is more active than "unhappy childhood" people with the same markers. In that case, his theory could prove out.

The alternative is that there is something to the mind besides the brain. That's always been my sense of where the truth lies; but it will be something of a revolution among both scientists and philosophers if it proves out.

The Government Is Making Us Fat

I'm thinking of putting in for compensatory damages. A Canadian university study finds a correlation between cigarette taxes and obesity. Just as you might have suspected, forcing citizens to stop smoking by making it too expensive merely causes them to gain dangerous amounts of weight. I predict a fat tax next.

Kindness to Widows

Kindness to Widows:

Not always a good idea.



Found today in the tomatillo patch.

Hitch a Ride with the Next Russian Supply Ship

The National Aeronautic
Self-Esteem Administration

Speaking to al-Jazeera on a recent trip to the Middle East, National Aeronautics and Space Administration head Charles Bolden heralded a new age in international space relations:

When I became the NASA Administrator . . . [Obama] charged me with three things: One was he wanted me to help re-inspire children to want to get into science and math, [second,] he wanted me to expand our international relationships, and third, and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science, math, and engineering.

Bolden also said that in the past, NASA had worked with countries that were capable of space exploration, but now Obama has

asked NASA to change . . . by reaching out to "nontraditional" partners and strengthening our cooperation in the Middle East, North Africa, Southeast Asia and in particular in Muslim-majority nations.

So we won't be restricted by the need to work with countries that actually can explore space, but can expand to those that can't.

I applaud this escape from hidebound tradition. It's not the Muslim countries' fault they aren't capable of space exploration, and it's time to end the pale male hegemony. If we ever need a landing strip again, we may need one of these countries to provide it. Even if we don't, what's more important: our space program, or helping predominantly Muslim nations feel good about their accomplishments many centuries ago? Also, the diplomatic mission is bound to be cheaper, and it will get NASA out of the way while the private sector knuckles down.

Bankers with Pitchforks

Wall Street and San Francisco Are Revolting

Per today's Washington Post, contributions to the Democrats' House and Senate congressional campaign committees from New York are off 65 % from two years ago. The drop-off is attributed to relentless Wall Street bashing.

Although the overall drop is only 16%, the trend is much sharper among big-dollar ($1,000+) donors, down to under $50 million from over $80 million. The New York area accounts for half of that big-dollar-donor drop: $24 million then vs. $9 million this year. In 2008, 28% of Democratic House and Senate committee donations came from the New York area, including 20% from Manhattan alone. This year, New York accounts for only 10% of the total.

Contributors in San Francisco aren't much happier, with donations falling by 34%. Fundraisers explain the drop there by disaffection with overly conservative Democratic initiatives.

The Romans Took Themselves Out

The Romans Took Out Themselves:

A post from the Anchoress, who is guesting at Hot Air. Eric's point is her own.

It goes with this video.

Threats and the Tea Party

Threats & the Tea Party:

What I find very interesting about this poll is not the top-line finding, which tells us that the Tea Party is much more concerned than other Americans about the massive debt and the size of the Federal Government. I'm not even interested in what Hot Air notes -- that there is minimal difference in Tea Party supporters' and opponents' opinion on racial matters.

What interests me is the subject of percentages that view a given issue as an "extremely serious threat" to the future of the country. It's worth noting that only 49% -- under half! -- of Tea Party supporters view the size and scope of the Federal Government as an "extremely" serious threat.

What I find more interesting, though, is that there is no issue -- no issue -- that a majority of non-supporters find to be such a threat. Only 44% of those who are neutral feel that the government's debt is a such a threat, and that is the very largest level reported among non-Tea-Party-supporters. Among Tea Party opponents, no issue approaches a majority; only "health care costs" even achieves a third (33%). The Tea Party supporter is even more concerned about that issue! 41% feel that is an extremely serious threat.

Confer all of that with this set of papers on genetics and political leanings. The upshot of these studies is that conservatives are far better at recognizing threats in the environment -- but are also more likely to produce false positives of threats. Liberals are much less likely to correctly recognize that there is a genuine danger, but also much less likely to falsely perceive a threat.

That seems odd in the wake of eight years of hearing about how BushCo was about to overthrow the nation; but it does line up with these polling results. (A further refinement: looking at the table comparing "Tea Party supporters" and "Republicans," we see that Republicans are also much less worried about things -- and therefore, much less conservative on this model.) Tea Party supporters are more deeply concerned than liberals about even the issues that concern liberals. There are only three issues where the numbers flip, and Tea Party opponents are more concerned: the size of corporations (just under a third for opponents, with about half as many supporters being concerned); the environment and global warming (opponents: 30%/ supporters: 13%); and racial issues (17%/13%).

Yet even here, the liberal concerns are not great. On the three issues of greatest concern to Tea Party opponents, only one of them achieves a bare third of respondents. Two-thirds of respondents in the "opponents" category see no extremely serious threats to America at all. Over half of neutrals see no extremely serious threats to America at all.

One is tempted, at this point, to post a whole bunch of graphs that illustrate the deadly dangers to the nation; but the point is, if the conjecture is right, doing so wouldn't matter. People are predisposed to worry about these things or not. If they aren't, they won't worry no matter how ugly the graphs are. If they are, the graphs could be rather less ugly than they actually are, and would still produce concern.

This may illuminate the "incompetence or malice" debate, which is ongoing. Part of the competence issue could be the ability to recognize the harm being done. Another potential anti-malice line of argument: they really just can't see how dangerous their actions are, how badly they're harming the nation and undermining its foundations; or yet another, that at least some of the "malice" readings are false positives.

Den Beste Speaks

Malice or Incompetence? Den Beste Speaks

Everyone who has read blogs for a long time knows the name of Steven Den Beste. He isn't answering the question of malice versus incomptence, but he is raising it.

Poodle

Poodle:

I wasn't going to say anything about the Gore business, because frankly I don't want to talk about Al Gore; I can't muster the interest. However, I have to admit that this Taiwanese news animation does a remarkable job of conveying the story even when you can't speak the language. I hadn't really thought of animation as a good tool for the news: it's too easy to tell a misleading story even with actual video! Still, as long as you don't put any faith in the notion that things happened as depicted, this depiction does at least convey the content of the accusation in very clear terms.

Since we're doing an animation today, I found this one while following a link from Cassandra's page. Some of you who like animation may find it amusing.

ObamaCare

Voters Still Don't Like It

Per Rasmussen, 78% of Republicans believe ObamaCare will be bad for the nation, as do 66% of unaffiliated voters. But 67% of Democrats believe ObamaCare will be good.

I don't understand why the levels of support are veering around so wildly. There's nothing obvious in the news to explain it. The smoothed-out overall trend looks slightly discouraging for ObamaCare enthusiasts who were hoping that voters' initial enraged reaction would moderate when we "find out what's in the bill."

Another Enlightening Fact

Another Enlightening Fact:

From Professor Bainbridge, this:

A 2004 study of the results of stock trading by United States Senators during the 1990s found that that Senators on average beat the market by 12% a year. In sharp contrast, U.S. households on average underperformed the market by 1.4% a year and even corporate insiders on average beat the market by only about 6% a year during that period....

Under current law, it is unlikely that Members of Congress can be held liable for insider trading.
This is a failure of justice -- perfectly in accord with the law, for the lawmakers are the ones who are manipulating the law to their advantage. When law and justice sharply diverge, there are consequences.

Fisking The Declaration of Independence

Fisking the Declaration of Independence:

Snide pretentions of superiority and intentional misunderstandings are the order of the day. What if they had been, in Jefferson's time?

Well, you may as well read through it. Just expect to hear the same arguments fielded soon, for we are going to be having many of the same debates in the next few years.

We've begun, actually. Consider:

"You can’t simultaneously complain that he’s providing too much government and not enough. Pick one."

Who among us hasn't heard one or another on the Left say something like, "Well, this BP thing sure shows the case for Big Government, doesn't it?" The idea of Constitutionalism is ignored: that it is not a case of "big" versus "small" government, but of government restricted to its proper place and role. The seas have always been the Federal government's responsibility: they have the right to maintain a navy, and to set maritime rules, and rules governing letters of marque and reprisal, and so forth. It was clearly the Founder's intent that the deep waters should be a Federal concern.

The government has abandoned all traditional restraints and limits, and as a consequence it cannot, or will not, perform its actual duties. Or, as T99 put it:

"If the entire federal bureaucracy did not exist and not one penny of federal funds was available, the cleanup process would be helped instead of hindered."

Calvin Coolidge


















Progress

I wouldn't have guessed who said this:

About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers.

It was Calvin Coolidge.

Grand Old Flag















On a Slightly Brighter Note

Here's an obsessive painting project after my own heart. The building covers 3.5 acres and is near Hobby Airport in Houston. It took a couple of weeks to paint.

Mexican Meltdown

When Democracy Blows Up

I failed to find anything inspiring today, other than this nice picture of fireworks. So here goes with the bummer stuff. Today is election day in 14 of Mexico's 31 states. Twelve states will try to elect governors. Things aren't going well.

Last Monday, the man favored to win the governor's seat in Tamaulipas, just south of the Texas border on the Gulf Coast, was killed in an ambush on his campaign car. His brother has replaced him in the election. A mayoral candidate in the same state was shot dead in May. Over 550 electoral officials have resigned. In the state of Sinaloa, on the West Coast of Mexico just off the southern tip of Baja, the campaign headquarters of a candidate for governor were attacked with bombs this week. Nearly 23,000 people have been killed since Mexican President Calderón launched a military crackdown on organized crime over three years ago.

On Thursday, 21 people were shot dead in a battle between rival drug gangs in the state of Sonora, about 12 miles over the border from Arizona, "along a known trafficking route for drugs and illegal immigrants."

What we are seeing in the last couple of years is a much more gruesome kind of killing, beheadings, dismembering, hanging corpses up on highway overpasses, all of that, with messages left by the cartels, all of that to send a message, either to the law enforcement authorities, who would go after them, or to their rivals or to the local government. . . . [W]e're starting to see some Mexicans even talking about, well, maybe it would be better just to make a deal with some of the cartels. . . . A lot of candidates have just stopped campaigning.

The most amazing thing to me is that the news reports generally add that this is the worst violence in Mexican elections "since 1994." Gosh, has it been that long since the last collapse of civilization? Also, I've just about given up trying to figure what might distinguish one Mexican party from another, since concepts like "right" and "left" seem to have lost all meaning down there. Per the Wall Street Journal, the current trend in distinguishing between Mexican parties is to focus on the number of voters who would never consider voting for them:

A survey by the Mitofsky polling group showed the PRI is now the country's "least rejected" political party, with only 19% of Mexicans saying they would never vote for it. Some 30% said they would never vote for the PAN [Calderón's "conservative" party], and 38% would shun the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, which has been hurt by internal divisions and a hard-left faction that has turned off middle-class voters.

This is what it means when we let inmates take over the asylum. Happy Fourth!

There's Always Somebody Better

There's Always Somebody Better:

Via PowerPoint Ranger: