Archive for January 25th, 2009

January 25, 2009

In defense of Ben Stein

Yves Smith accuses Ben Stein of “ask[ing] us to feel sorry for wildly irresponsible people,” because of Stein’s New York Times column today:

Not long ago, a woman in California called me for advice. She is divorced, with two children, and has a series of interlocking financial problems.
She lives in a lovely home in a stylish inland enclave. It has an interest-only mortgage of about $2.2 million that requires a payment of $12,000 a month, very roughly. It was last appraised at $2.7 million, but who knows if it’s now worth anything remotely close to that price.
The woman, whom I’ve known since she was a teenager, has no job or other remunerative employment. She has a former husband, an entrepreneur whose business has suffered recently. He pays her $20,000 a month, of which roughly half is alimony and half child support. The alimony is scheduled to stop this summer.

Is Stein asking us to “feel sorry” for this woman? No:

What could I say? I did the best I could, but I had to tell her that she was on very thin ice.

This is the closest that Stein, a gracious human being, will come to saying, “Sweetheart, you’re screwed, blued and tattooed.” What Stein is saying — the moral of the story, as it were — is that even people we think of as “rich” can get themselves in over their heads. Here is a woman living in a mansion (even in California, $2 million buys a lot of house) and receiving nearly a quarter-million a year in alimony, and yet she is on the verge of bankruptcy.

Stein writes with a sort of Gestalt technique, allowing the reader to draw his own conclusions. He is too much the gentleman to say directly that this woman, his longtime friend, is an irresponsible twit. Rather, he turns without comment and begins relating his own father’s words of wisdom about the importance of such sturdy virtues as diligence, thrift and self-reliance — virtues his soon-to-be-impoverished divorcee friend quite obviously lacks.

The big risk in the Gestalt technique of essay-writing is that some people might miss your point, which Yves Smith does spectacularly:

Stein is trying to give us a morality tale of sorts, but his object lesson is so far removed from the most common manifestations of the debt disease that it sheds no light on the issue.

Smith is angry at Stein for using this rich woman as an example of a problem of which she is, in fact, a very good example: Anyone who lives above their means is at risk of disaster, however great their means may be.

Given that Stein’s larger (implied) point is that America’s tremendous wealth hasn’t prevented America from suffering an economic disaster caused by excessive debt, the woman he chooses as his example is an apt choice. And given that Barack Obama and the Democrats now plan to “fix” our problem with another $800 billion or so in deficit spending, it seems that Yves Smith is not the only one who has missed the moral of Stein’s story.

(Cross-posted at AmSpecBlog.)

January 25, 2009

Sound familiar?

“Within the intelligentsia, a derisive and mildly hostile attitude towards Britain is more or less compulsory, but it is an unfaked emotion in many cases. . . . English left-wing intellectuals did not, of course, actually want the Germans or Japanese to win the war, but many of them could not help getting a certain kick out of seeing their own country humiliated, and wanted to feel that the final victory would be due to Russia, or perhaps America, and not to Britain. In foreign politics many intellectuals follow the principle that any faction backed by Britain must be in the wrong. As a result, “enlightened” opinion is quite largely a mirror-image of Conservative policy.”
George Orwell

January 25, 2009

An odd hatred

For some odd reason, Ron Rosenbaum unleashes a torrent of abuse at Billy Joel. I don’t know why. Billy Joel was never a personal favorite of mine, but “schlock ‘n’ roll” seems unduly harsh.

Musically, he is versatile and clever, for example the Four Seasons send-up of “Uptown Girl” and the straight-out rock of “You May Be Right” are adequate rebuttals of the attempt of critics to pigeonhole him as a syrupy balladeer. The lyrics of “Only the Good Die Young” are extraordinarily well-crafted:

You got a nice white dress
And a party on your confirmation.
You got a brand new soul
And a cross of gold.
But Virginia they didn’t give you
Quite enough information.
You didn’t count on me
When you were counting on your rosary.

Perhaps it is the well-crafted quality of Joel’s music — and the high production values of the recordings — that offends Rosenberg, who professes himself an admirer of Dylan and Springsteen.

It’s the “authenticity” trip again, a marked tendency of certain intellectuals to prefer rock music that has such “street cred” trappings as hoarse vocals and a sloppy spontaneity. This is kind of like the marked preference of intellectuals in the 1950s and ’60s for jazz that was bebop, rebop or otherwise avante-garde. You can go back and read ridiculously pretentious critics debating “hot” vs. “cool” jazz and so forth. The one thing they agreed on was their disdain for the smooth arrangements and pop sensibilities of classic Big Band jazz.

“Anything, so long as it’s not popular” seems to be the critical theory of the intellectual class, and so Billy Joel is singled out for Rosenberg’s wrath. I could think of a lot of acts from the ’70s deserving more critical scorn — REO Speedwagon, say, or Supertramp — but those acts have not endured in popularity, with such a deep repertoire of hits, as has Billy Joel. Being the Gene Hackman of pop-rock doesn’t win you any credibility with the critics.

January 25, 2009

Gllibrand: Chuck’s girl

This is not encouraging:

Democratic insiders say the selection of Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand to fill New York’s vacant U.S. Senate seat showed the pivotal influence of senior Sen. Charles Schumer.
Gov. David Paterson selected the little-known congresswoman over candidates Caroline Kennedy, backed by President Barack Obama and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Andrew Cuomo, backed by Hillary Rodham Clinton and former President Bill Clinton.
But at the news conference introducing Paterson’s choice Friday, one big smile gave it all away, and it was on the Schumer’s face.
“Schumer was pushing her, he was really pushing,” said a Democrat on Saturday who was told by Paterson that Schumer favored Gillibrand.

So even though Paterson stuck it in the face of Obama and the Clintons, the enhanced influence of Schumer is not exactly something conservatives can cheer about. On the other hand, there’s this in the New York Times:

[S]ome of Mr. Paterson’s own advisers say their worst fears have been realized. A process that they had hoped would elevate the governor, demonstrate his statesmanship and introduce him to the nation instead damaged his credibility and divided his party. Its final days were by turns intensely secretive and astoundingly public, culminating with personal attacks on Caroline Kennedy from the governor’s camp that astonished the state’s political establishment.

A story that would have more credibility if Caroline Kennedy wasn’t rumored to be having an affair with the publisher of the New York Times, which was transparently in the tank for Senator Princess. So, of course, now that their candidate didn’t get the seat, they’re trashing Gov. Paterson.

January 25, 2009

It’s called ‘projection’

The media is so deeply infatuated with Obama, they imagine that Muslims must be, too:

Soon after the November election, al-Qaeda’s No. 2 leader took stock of America’s new president-elect and dismissed him with an insulting epithet. “A house Negro,” Ayman al-Zawahiri said. . . .
In the weeks since, the terrorist group has unleashed a stream of verbal tirades against Barack Obama, each more venomous than the last. Obama has been called a “hypocrite,” a “killer” of innocents, an “enemy of Muslims.” . . .
The torrent of hateful words is part of what terrorism experts now believe is a deliberate, even desperate, propaganda campaign against a president who appears to have gotten under al-Qaeda’s skin. The departure of George W. Bush deprived al-Qaeda of a polarizing American leader who reliably drove recruits and donations to the terrorist group.

Notice the “terrorism experts” to which the Washington Post writer attributes his own sentiments. In fact, he only quotes two sources — Georgetown lecturer Paul Pillar and SITE Institute founder Ritz Katz — in support of his thesis.

Yet his thesis (that Obama’s blackness somehow makes him an instant hero among Muslims) is really irrelevant to the war on terror. The anti-American and anti-Israel hatred among Hamas, Hezbollah and al-Qaeda are permanent, their raison d’etre, and the only way to make them stop fomenting hate and murder is to kill them — or kill enough of them that the scattered survivors are unable to organize further attacks.

You cannot appease a shark.

January 25, 2009

Wicked words

You’re going to burn in Hell for laughing at this:

The polygamy debate still continues but what most commentators will not ask is why almost every man with numerous wives has them all wear long, ugly dresses and heavy walking shoes.
Apart from the fundamental immorality and irresponsibility of the marital arrangement, what does this say about the man’s sanity? Surely wife No. 1 should be dressed as cat woman, No. 2 as naughty nurse, and so on.

Via Kathy Shaidle, who is evil.

January 25, 2009

The Keynesian millieu

Eric Scheske:

I don’t like the intellectual milieu from which Keynes sprung and its progeny that have saddled higher learning for the past 30 years.
Our universities are awash in theories and wrongheaded assumptions that were formulated in the first half of the twentieth century: Kinsey on sexuality, Picasso on art, Mead on anthropology, Freud on sex-obsessed psychiatry, Cage on music, Woolf on literature, Justice Douglas on law.
Keynes is cut from the same fabric as those thinkers.

Good point. Another good point:

I wish I had a beer for every beer I’ve drank.

Obviously, the man is onto something.

January 25, 2009

The problem with plethysmographs

You know this recently-reported research claiming that, when measured by plethysmograph, women seem to become aroused by watching monkeys having sex?

Maybe the plethysmograph is not measuring what the researchers think it’s measuring. That is to say, the reaction that researchers are classifying as “arousal” may actually be embarrassment, or perhaps “awww, what a cute monkey.”

This goes back to my skepticism toward Northwestern University psychologist Michael Bailey, who reported somewhat similar results in his notorious federally funded “porn arousal” research. The plethysmographic measurement of female arousal may simply be miscalibrated or misunderstood.

Female sexuality may be sufficiently subtle and complex that what are actually emotional (as opposed to sexual) reactions to visual stimuli are producing somatic changes that are picked up by the plethysmograph and then misinterpreted by researchers. So the real problem is in the interpretation of the data, and the “scientific” misconception of what is actually being measured. Just because a reaction can be detected by changes in the woman’s genitalia does not mean the reaction is sexual, per se.

A scientific mystery solved! Can I get my federal research grant now?

January 25, 2009

Spot the mismatch

This L.A. Times column by Mickey Edwards is like one of those elementary-school standardized test questions where you’ve got to figure out which item doesn’t belong in the list:

The Republican Party that is in such disrepute today is not the party of Reagan. It is the party of Rush Limbaugh, of Ann Coulter, of Newt Gingrich, of George W. Bush, of Karl Rove. It is not a conservative party, it is a party built on the blind and narrow pursuit of power.

Maybe it will help if we do it this way:

  • No. 1 radio talk-show host.
  • Author of six New York Times bestsellers.
  • Former Speaker of the House.
  • Former President.
  • Political strategist for former President.

So, on the one hand you have two politicians and a political strategist — people directly involved in the politics and policy of the Republican Party — and on the other hand you have a radio star and an author. Between these two groups, a vast chasm exists. Much that President Bush did, with the advice of Rove, was adamantly opposed by Limbaugh and Coulter, and sometimes opposed by Gingrich as well.

Trying to lump these five very different characters into a single category is not an answer to the question, “What’s wrong with the GOP?” Rather, it is a response to the question, “Can you name five famous people hated by liberals?”

Does Mickey Edwards actually listen to Rush Limbaugh? Does he have some specific criticism of Ann Coulter? What policies or strategies of Bush, of Rove, of Gingrich does Edwards mean to criticize? We don’t know. He just grocery-lists these five demons while lashing out at small-government conservatives (which raises the mystery of why someone named “Bush” is on his list).

It’s as if, after the 2002 mid-term elections brought disaster for Democrats, a liberal had said that Alan Colmes, Michael Moore, Tom Daschle, Bill Clinton, and James Carville were “what’s wrong with the Democratic Party” — and then announced they were voting for George W. Bush! (Edwards supported Obama.) What Edwards is doing, in other words, is a reverse Zell Miller, except that Miller actually had a coherent argument for his disaffection with the Democrats, whereas Edwards’ only complaint is that Republicans stopped winning elections.

Well, actually, that’s not his only complaint. On the one hand, his recent book strikes a libertarian argument against an “imperial presidency,” but on the other hand, vis-a-vis the economic crisis, in his L.A. Times column, he slams libertarian conservatives whom he condemns as advocating a do-nothing policy. So which is it? Does government have too much power (to fight terrorists) or not enough power (to fight recession)?

Never mind the contradictions. The point is that he, Mickey Edwards, is guardian of the One True Way. And it’s just a damn shame about those 386 overdrafts on the House bank, or he could have saved us from all this woe. Maybe when Jack Abramoff gets out of prison, he will have something meaningful to add to the tale of how the GOP departed from the One True Way.
UPDATE: The Edwards column made Quote of the Day over at Hot Air, generating more than 300 comments, including this by El Gordo:

I´m getting sick of the meme that we are against elites, ideas or science. It is Al Gore who put science in the service of ideology. It is liberals with Harvard degrees who impose cap-and-trade, the mortage ponzi scheme or the trillion dollar porkfest on our economy. What has Joe the Plumber done that is so terrible? What? Conservatism did not create the current mess.

Exactly. And why does Mickey Edwards get to be the guy who says “I told you so”? I don’t remember his name showing up on David Frum’s list of “unpatriotic conservatives” who opposed the Iraq invasion. I don’t remember reading any op-eds from Edwards warning about the credit dangers created by the Community Reinvestment Act (although others did warn about it). So, on the botched war and the botched economy — two major issues that have hurt the GOP in recent elections — so far as I can tell, Edwards was silent. And as to the Abramoff-inflicted “culture of corruption” issue, well . . . Edwards is in no position to throw stones.

January 25, 2009

Obama in his own words

“What I’ve done throughout this campaign is to propose a net spending cut…. What I want to emphasize … is that I have been a strong proponent of pay-as-you-go. Every dollar that I’ve proposed, I’ve proposed an additional cut so that it matches.”

Barack Obama, presidential debate, Oct. 15, 2008

Via Instapundit, this is pointed out by David Bernstein at Volokh Conspiracy in the context of Obama using the “I won” argument to bully Republicans into supporting his massive deficit spending proposals. Obama won on a campaign rhetoric of promising repeatedly to cut taxes for 95% of Americans, a proposal that appears to be DOA with Senate Democrats.

There was a time when politicians could get away with bait-and-switch politics. Woodrow Wilson campaigned in 1916 on the slogan “He kept us out of war,” and within a year of his re-election got us into the war. LBJ campaigned as the peace candidate in 1964, smearing Barry Goldwater as an irresponsible warmonger, even while planning his fatal “escalation” in Vietnam.

The rise of alternative media, however, has made successful political deception far more difficult. Bill Clinton campaigned in 1992 by promising “middle-class tax cuts,” a promise that didn’t even make it past his inauguration, and when he turned around and pushed a huge tax increase instead, he ignited a bonfire of opposition that still smolders to this day.

Amid accolades from the tingly-legged and weepy-eyed media, Obama’s administration is already beginning to emit an aroma that some of us old-timers recognize as the distinctive stench of Carterism. Last month, I remarked that the Blagojevich scandal resembled the Bert Lance affair in that it clearly contradicted the new president’s media-crafted image as a squeaky-clean reformer. And in yesterday’s crisis-mongering YouTube address, we got another whiff of Carterism: The president as national scold, telling us we’re “in the midst of an unprecedented crisis that calls for unprecedented action.” (Got Malaise? Or, better yet: Got Condoms?)

Yes, Obama won the election and elections matter. But winning an election as a tax-cutting deficit hawk and then governing as a budget-busting spendthrift liberal is a strategy doomed to failure, both as policy and as politics. It won’t work.

For those who were born too late and therefore are under the impression that the Seventies was a gloriously innocent time of day-glo colored discoball party fun fun fun, that decade was actually when the American character was sunk in neurotic depression. . . . And when Carter became president the fan that the shit had been hitting got turned up to high.

Anybody who thinks the situation is currently as bad as it can get is obviously too young to remember 1979, America’s annus horriblis. It’s amazing that some people have not yet learned the lesson that Carter so conclusively taught us: Whatever the problem, liberalism is never an effective solution.