Stop Me If You’ve Heard This

Here’s a fine online edition of Philogelos, the world’s oldest joke book.

Gee, What A Coincidence

Megan McArdle comments on the Obama administration’s conveniently timed revamp of insurance-data collection:

I’m speechless. Shocked. Stunned. Horrified. Befuddled. Aghast, appalled, thunderstruck, perplexed, baffled, bewildered and dumbfounded. It’s not that I am opposed to the changes: Everyone understands that the census reports probably overstate the true number of the uninsured, because the number they report is supposed to be “people who lacked insurance for the entire previous year,” but people tend to answer with their insurance status right now.

But why, dear God, oh, why, would you change it in the one year in the entire history of the republic that it is most important for policy makers, researchers and voters to be able to compare the number of uninsured to those in prior years? The answers would seem to range from “total incompetence on the part of every level of this administration” to something worse.

I’ll go with “something worse”.

Settled, Schmettled

Here’s a calm and reasonable article about “climate change”. The author is Lennart Bengtsson, an impeccably credentialed climate researcher.

We read:

More CO2 in the atmosphere leads undoubtedly to a warming of the earth surface. However, the extent and speed of this warming are still uncertain, because we cannot yet separate well enough the greenhouse effect from other climate influences. Although the radiative forcing by greenhouse gases (including methane, nitrogen oxides and fluorocarbons) has increased by 2.5 watts per square meter since the mid-19th century, observations show only a moderate warming of 0.8 degrees Celsius. Thus, the warming is significantly smaller than predicted by most climate models. In addition, the warming in the last century was not uniform. Phases of manifest warming were followed by periods with no warming at all or even cooling.

The complex and only partially understood relationship between greenhouse gases and global warming leads to a political dilemma. We do not know when to expect a warming of 2 degrees Celsius. The IPCC assumes that the earth will warm up by 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celcius in response to a doubling of CO2 concentration. These high values of climate sensitivity, however, are not supported by observations. In other words: global warming has not been a serious problem so far if we rely on observations. It is only a problem when we refer to climate simulations by computer models.

There is no alternative to such computer simulations if one wants to predict future developments. However, since there is no way to validate them, the forecasts are more a matter of faith than a fact. The IPCC has published its expert opinion a few months ago and presented it in the form of probabilities. As long as the results cannot be supported by validated models they produce a false impression of reliability.

EU member states pursue a strategy of reducing the climate risk by reducing the use of fossil fuels in the shortest time to a minimum. Many citizens are risk averse and therefore support this policy. In addition, many citizens want to phase-out nuclear power, because it is also seen as too risky. To eliminate both nuclear energy as well as fossil fuels is an enormous challenge. Nevertheless, Germany and Switzerland have opted for such an energy transition. To pursue such a radical and perhaps risky energy policy, despite the limited economic, scientific and technical capabilities of the two countries is an enormous undertaking.

There are two things that need to be addressed in this context. Firstly, such energy transitions will, unfortunately, do little to reduce global CO2 emissions, since 90 percent of these emissions come from countries outside Europe. Many of these countries are likely to increase their CO2 emissions in the future, as their population increases and their top priority is to improve the living standards of their citizens. China is a special case. Its CO2 emissions have more than doubled in the last decade and are now about 50 percent higher than those of the United States. For various reasons, there are no alternatives to fossil fuels in the developing countries for the time being. Energy demand there is great. Currently, 1.3 billion people have no access to electricity. To reduce their own emissions easily and quickly, the OECD countries have outsourced some of their energy-intensive production to developing countries. In the national statistics, this looks good. Globally, however, not much changes, since the emissions occur simply somewhere else.

Secondly, the rapid transition to renewable energy has led to a considerable increase in energy prices in many countries, especially in Europe. This weakens the competitiveness and leads to a relocation of energy-intensive industries to countries such as the USA, where the energy price has dropped significantly by the use of shale gas.

It is no surprise that there are other forces that are driving rapid change. Because once government subsidies are involved, huge profits are available. However, before radical and hasty changes to the current energy system are implemented, there must be robust evidence that climate change is significantly detrimental. We are still far away from such evidence. It would be wrong to conclude from the report of the IPCC and similar reports that the science is settled.

Just trying to keep it fair and balanced, folks.

Endangered Species

Here’s a good piece by Jon Hinderaker on the Bundy affair.

And Then My Heart With Pleasure Fills

It’s just spring here in Wellfleet, and suddenly there are daffodils everywhere.

I love daffodils; they seem perfect to me. They sing of warm spring sunlight, and cool clear air, and dark fertile soil, and of beauty unvanquished. I’ve always thought that daffodils are pure joy.

I’ve written in these pages, from time to time, about some of the ideas I’ve encountered in my contact with systems of “inner work”. In particular I’ve mentioned the ideas that the Greek/Armenian mystic G.I. Gurdjieff brought to the West at the beginning of the last century: a distillation of the esoteric teachings of various Central Asian “schools”.

One of the ideas of this system is that we are ‘three-brained beings’: that within us are three very distinct centers of activity whose operation, in a perfected being, would be harmonized under the executive control of a single, awakened ‘I’ — but which, in our disordered state, just run along ‘willy-nilly’, quite separately and chaotically. These centers correspond, in simple terms, to the intellect, the emotions, and the drives and instincts of the physical body. In our usual state, sometimes one is in charge, sometimes another; sometimes they bicker and disagree. Often they just go about their business quite independently.

Why am I mentioning all of this here? Because I was reminded of something that happened to me, something that gave me some empirical data about all of this.

Many years ago, I was walking in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden with my mother-in-law Lily on a fine April day. We were arguing about something. (Lily, for all her talents and fascinating charms, is a stubborn and opinionated woman, and often a quarrelsome one, and of course readers of this blog will know that I have a scrappy streak myself.)

So: there I was, fully engaged in heated debate about some forgotten topic, and thinking about nothing else, when I became aware, quite gradually at first, of a strange feeling in my middle — a kind of warmth, not at all unpleasant. Eventually this spreading warmth became insistent enough for me to give it my full attention, and then I realized what it was.

While I was busy arguing with Lily, we happened to be standing in front of a little grassy rise, and bursting from the green grass were hundreds and hundreds of daffodils, positively singing in the warm April sunshine. (Here’s a picture of that very spot.) While my intellectual part, and my attention, were completely ensnared by Lily and the argument we were having, my emotional center, on this perfect spring day, was having a little dance-party with all those daffodils, without my even knowing it was happening.

My words trailed off as I began to understand what was going on, and after a minute Lily’s did too. We just stood there feeling happy.

I’ve never forgotten that experience. It was as if those daffodils needed to teach me something, then and there, and made sure I learned it. I thank them, every April.

Hate Speech

I just took an online survey called “How Stereotypically White Are You?” It offers a hundred criteria, and asks the respondent to check all that apply.

Most of them were things like “Have you ever listened to John Mayer while hooking up with someone?”

(The sort of questions I might have asked — “Have you ever solved a partial differential equation?” or “Have you ever watched a movie in a theater without talking?” or even “Have you ever sat quietly in a room, reading an old book?” weren’t there at all, curiously enough.)

Anyway, I managed to check seventeen items. (I recalled, for example, that I had once watched bowling on television.)

My result page said “Congratulations, you are NOT white!”

I have an ominous feeling about all of this. I fear it will not end well.

How Heartbleed Works

A simple explanation from Randall Munroe.


We’ve been hacked, it seems. Perhaps it’s that ‘Heartbleed’ business, although my understanding was that Bluehost, my hosting service, had not been affected.

Thanks to Matt Walker for leaving a comment on one of the (now deleted) spam posts to tell us that our RSS feed is corrupted also.

Our in-house team of cyberterrorism experts is investigating. We may need to go offline for a bit.


Brandeis University has rescinded its decision to award Aayan Hirsi Ali an honorary degree at this year’s commencement. You might have thought that a Jewish liberal-arts institution that was sufficiently impressed by Ms. Ali’s advocacy of women’s rights to offer her this honor wouldn’t be put off by her outspoken criticism of a culture that subjected her to grisly genital mutilation (the same culture that also relentlessly seeks the destruction of Israel and the subjugation of the Jews), but all that means is that the dhimmitude of the West has got a little farther along than you were aware of.

In case this comes as a surprise to you, here’s an even more depressing exhibit, from Sweden’s former “Integration Minister”:

“We must be open and tolerant towards Islam and Muslims because when we become a minority, they will be so towards us.”

As the linked article points out, this one may be “best example of Western Leftist Dhimmitude ever, combining defeatism, inevitability, false hope, and a fatal misunderstanding of Islam all in one sentence.”

So: what does the title of this post mean? It stands for a coinage of my own: Cultural Immunodeficiency Virus, the memetic plague that will be the death of the West.

Phase Transition

A story that’s making the rounds today concerns trending changes in the way people read. Here’s the lede, from today’s Washington Post:

Claire Handscombe has a commitment problem online. Like a lot of Web surfers, she clicks on links posted on social networks, reads a few sentences, looks for exciting words, and then grows restless, scampering off to the next page she probably won’t commit to.

“I give it a few seconds — not even minutes — and then I’m moving again,” says Handscombe, a 35-year-old graduate student in creative writing at American University.

But it’s not just online anymore. She finds herself behaving the same way with a novel.

“It’s like your eyes are passing over the words but you’re not taking in what they say,” she confessed. “When I realize what’s happening, I have to go back and read again and again.”

To cognitive neuroscientists, Handscombe’s experience is the subject of great fascination and growing alarm. Humans, they warn, seem to be developing digital brains with new circuits for skimming through the torrent of information online. This alternative way of reading is competing with traditional deep reading circuitry developed over several millennia.

I don’t doubt this is true, and I think it’s fair to be alarmed. It isn’t as if the things a person ought to understand about the world have got any simpler than they were in pre-Internet days; it’s just that we are no longer given the time we need to absorb them. In terms of the ideal-gas-law metaphor I proposed in an earlierpost, the container we live in has got so small that we collide with everything from everywhere; the temperature and pressure have gone up so dramatically that it’s hard for large, complex mental structures to form before they are battered apart by impinging, energetic particles.

The article in the Post seems a bit muddled, however, on exactly what’s happening to the human brain as a result. We read:

The brain was not designed for reading. There are no genes for reading like there are for language or vision.

This is an extraordinary thing to say, and it must almost certainly be false. Reading is such a powerful tool, and written language so ancient, that hundreds of generations of differential reproduction surely must have favored, by now, brains that have the knack for reading over those that don’t, at least in those populations where the written word is culturally important (and of course the written word will have become culturally important in those populations whose brains are wired more advantageously for reading.)

The muddle continues in the next sentence:

But spurred by the emergence of Egyptian hieroglyphics, the Phoenician alphabet, Chinese paper and, finally, the Gutenberg press, the brain has adapted to read.

The brain “has adapted”? What does this mean, if not that modern brains are innately different from preliterate ones? If not, then “the brain” hasn’t adapted; it’s just the same old brain in every generation, with the only difference being that some people teach their kids to use it to read. But the very idea that there is no genetic difference between brains that can and can’t read is absurd: we can’t teach dogs to read, after all, and the fact that some humans can learn to read at a very early age, while other barely achieve literacy even with intense effort, makes it obvious that there is some innate (i.e. genetic) difference between them. If the difference is innate, then it is almost certainly heritable, and if it confers even a slight edge in reproductive fitness, then over the course of hundreds of generations it would have resulted in significant adaptative change. So “there are no genes for reading” is, I think, obvious nonsense.

Having said all that, I don’t doubt that the brain can be trained to read in different ways — and I imagine that, as with other aspects of language acquisition, the way we learn in childhood has a profound effect on what we will be capable of for the rest of our lives. Failing to learn “long form” reading during this “imprinting” period, and learning instead to cultivate the shallow, transient sort of attention that one needs in a world of constant, brief distractions might very well mean that we never learn to think the long, deep thoughts that are essential to serious intellectual work; the world simply cannot be understood in 140-character crumbs.

There is more to this than mere reading, too: growing up bathed in constant, high-frequency impingement would interfere, I should think, with a child’s ever learning to control his attention at all. From the perspective of every esoteric tradition, every organized system of inner work from the Buddha’s to Gurdjieff’s, this is very worrisome indeed.

Creative Destruction

My Android phone just had a stroke, and I had to do a factory reset. I lost all my applications, which meant I had to go rummaging around to replace them.

It’s turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because I’ve found some nifty new ones, and after blasting away all the cruft that had accumulated over the past four years (yes, I have a four-year-old smartphone) the old beast is running much better.

Among the new apps I’ve just installed are a terrific new chess program called Droidfish, a marvelous little audio recorder called Easy Voice, and an app called SnapPea, which gives you direct access to your phone through your WiFi network. That last one is really great.

Also recommended: a task manager called WatchDog Lite, Google Sky Map, and HDR Camera+.

My favorite, though, is this one. I’ll bet I’m the only person you know who has it.


Too much social/political stuff lately. Will lay off for a while.

Another Witch-Burning

This time it’s Javascript inventor Brendan Eich, who failed to pull his neck in quickly enough as the Overton Window sped leftward. He was defenestrated today as head of Mozilla, for supporting a rational ideological position that every society on earth — and even Barack Obama himself — defended until just a couple of years ago. (Please forgive this mangled mish-mosh of metaphors.)

Have a heterodox opinion? Better keep it to yourself, if you have anything to lose. Your career is now fair game if you make unapproved comments or political donations.

Charles Murray Responds to HuffPo Vituperation

Recently the Huffington Post took a big swipe at Charles Murray, with all the intellectual rigor we’ve come to expect from the blank-slate universalist Left. The argument appears to be that he’s a racist, sexist old white guy, so everything he says must, a priori, be false, and therefore beneath refutation.

(When an idea is simply forbidden to be true, good people should steer clear of engaging it; tempting us to do so, after all, is how the Devil reaps his harvest of human souls. Just cover your ears, and pray a little louder. And notify the appropriate authorities.)

Murray pushed back (a little) today, here.


Zoomable panorama of the Milky Way.

“Wrong again, dear.”

What women want.



How the blow-fly flies.


Now that’s a rat.

Mate In 10!

– Warning: major time-sink.

WWI as bar-fight.

How is this man alive?

Aesop updated.

Good clean fun.

Elephants are racist!

Darkness at noon.

The Walled City of Kowloon.

Fair and balanced.

Chemotherapy For A Cold

Matt Ridley comments on the latest round of climate reports from the UN, here.

I present this simply in the interest of balance, of course. I find it necessary to reiterate our own editorial position on global warming “climate change” from time to time, so here it is:

1) The Earth may indeed be warming; it has warmed and cooled throughout its history, and has often been much warmer, and much colder, than it is today. We are currently in one of the “interglacial” periods of a continuing Ice Age. About a thousand years ago, we underwent a significant warm spell, during which time even Greenland became hospitable; this was of course long before human industrial activity could have had any significant effect on climate. Much longer ago, the Earth was warm enough for there to have been ferns in Antarctica. There has not been any statistically significant warming this century — but this does not mean that we are not in a long-term warming spell.

2) None of this should be understood to imply that present-day human activity cannot be exerting an influence on climate. It does mean that huge, completely natural swings of climate happen all the time, and will continue to do so, until we humans achieve such towering technological puissance that we can actually control the Earth’s climate. Anyone who suggests that we have this power already, however, is a fool or a liar.

3) Warming can have both good and bad effects. We tend to hear a lot more in the press about the bad than the good, but warming brings: increased agricultural yield through longer growing seasons in temperate zones and extension of arable land into higher latitudes; lower energy costs; access to resources currently inaccessible due to permanent ice; and fewer winter deaths (cold weather kills many more people than hot — not only directly, but also through influenza and other diseases, and accidents and other calamities caused by snow and ice). In addition, CO2, is what plants eat, so having more of it in the atmosphere also tends to increase agricultural output.

4) There can be no doubt that a great many people have taken this “crisis” as a foundation upon which to erect prominent careers and lucrative business interests, and have used it as a stalking-horse for the advancement of centralizing ideologies: politicians, bureaucrats, academic grant-recipients, film-makers and propagandists, “green energy” entrepreneurs, small nations eager to get their hands on the collar (and onto the pockets) of the big ones, and so on. Where there is so much to gain, there is good reason for wariness about vested interest, conflicts of interest, and ulterior motives. As I wrote in a post on this subject about four years ago:

My responses in these pages … generally reflect an inveterate wariness toward grandiose collectivist schemes, particularly when they assume the form of secular religions, complete with sanctimonious moralizing toward infidels and heretics — all of which the Global Warmist movement exhibits in spades.

Students of history need no reminding that progressivist ideologues like nothing better than a crisis, or an external enemy; they are just the thing for suspending those pesky individual economic and social liberties, and they provide an unbeatable rationale for collective action at the broadest possible scale. In times past the broadest possible scale was that of a nation, or a continent — but Global Warming, affecting, as it is alleged to do, the entire Planet, expands “broadest possible scale” to its literal maximum.

Sometimes crises come ready to hand. For example, Woodrow Wilson made splendid use of the Great War to impose, albeit briefly, a stifling statist regime here in America, in which many cherished freedoms were simply laid aside, and individualism itself became a grave moral transgression. FDR was similarly fortunate: the Great Depression, and then the Second World War, gave him everything he needed. His National Recovery Administration, under the stern leadership of Hugh “Iron Pants” Johnson (who actually distributed Mussolini’s writings to his staff) was a Fascist apparatus in all but name — as witness propaganda clips like this, featuring FDR and the Blue Eagle as only a compliant, complicit Hollywood could present them.

In quiter times, when the moment simply must be seized, crises can also be made to order. But whether bespoke or off-the-rack, crises have been essential, again and again, to the subductions and upthrusts of history’s seismic shifts.

To those modern reformers, then, whose eyes glitter with collectivist and redistributionist ambitions of Earth-girdling scope, a truly global emergency was needed. And by a splendid stroke of luck, they have found one.

5) The question before us, then, is what to do about all of this, which is a purely normative question about which reasonable people may disagree. Given everything presented above, though, and speaking just for myself, I must confess a positively heretical lack of enthusiasm for colossal political and economic interventions in response to this “crisis”, or for further abdication of national sovereignty and individual liberties to ambitious U.N. busybodies.

I know, of course, that for my sins I must bear the obloquy of the faithful, but there it is. Here I stand; I can do no other.

Our earlier posts on global warming are collected here.

Women At War!

I’ve written before (see here, here and here) about my mother-in-law, Lily Renée Willheim Phillips, who was born in Vienna, fled the Nazis in the Kindertransport, and made her way first to England and then to New York. Once she got here, she took up a job drawing comic books, working at a company called Fiction House until 1948 or so — the latter part of an era that has become known to aficionados as the “Golden Age“.

Lily is now 92, and still living in New York. She had long ago put her comic-book years behind her; to her it had never been anything more than a way to make a living, and she’d always been a little embarrassed about it. In her mind it was undignified work for a serious artist. Meanwhile, as far as comic-book fans knew, she had simply vanished.

In 2007, my daughter was surprised to see her grandmother mentioned online as a long-lost legend of the Golden Age with a sizable fan base, and so she contacted the author of the article to tell her that the mysterious Lily Renée was in fact alive and well. This was, apparently, a bit of a bombshell in the (by now enormous) world of comic fans, and the next thing you know Lily was onstage at ComicCon, written up in Newsweek, and generally found herself the toast of the town.

Now the woman my daughter originally contacted, Trina Robbins, has put together an online book featuring scans of Lily’s comics. You can download it here.


It’s lousy out: chilly and raining.

It occurred to me earlier, as I was taking note of this, that there are an awful lot of words for this sort of weather, all beginning with ‘d’: damp, dark, dispiriting, dreary, dull, dismal, disagreeable, drenching, dank, drab, doleful, dim, depressing, and probably some others I haven’t thought of.

Writing this down reminds me that there is similar cluster of words dealing with the various qualities of light, all beginning with ‘gl’. But that hardly seems appropriate on a day like today, so we’ll leave it for another time.


Patrick Buchanan’s been on a bit of a roll lately. In his latest, he invites us to look at this Ukrainian ruction from the Russian point of view.

Fair-Weather Friend

The political statistician Nate Silver recently predicted that the Democrats might lose the Senate this fall (insh’Allah). This has caused some consternation over on the Left.

Mr. Silver also moved his blog, recently, from the New York Times to ESPN. In an item published earlier today, he notes that this seems to have ruffled a feather or two also.

The Center Cannot Hold

In case you missed it, Venice has just voted to secede from Italy. It’s happening all over Europe: a backlash against centralization, a resurgence of identitarianism, and a yearning for local control. (It’s happening in America, too.)

When I was in Venice and Florence in 2012, it seemed that almost any conversation with the locals quickly devolved into an anti-EU rant, so I’m hardly shocked to see this in the news. We neoreactionary types are all about self-determination and ‘exit’ as important freedoms, and so the good people of Veneto certainly have my blessing. I think a ‘patchwork’ Europe of smaller, more homogenous states will be a happier place, and smaller polities will be able to arrange their affairs in ways that are better suited to their individual customs, folkways, and needs.

Patrick Buchanan, who understands the enduring pull of ethnonationalism better than most, weighs in on all of this, here.

The Heat Death Of The Universe

Back in February the New York Times Magazine published an article about the decline of eros in the modern-day marriage. The story noted a surprising fact: where there is less differentiation in gender roles, there tends to be less sex.

We read:

A study called “Egalitarianism, Housework and Sexual Frequency in Marriage,” which appeared in The American Sociological Review last year, surprised many, precisely because it went against the logical assumption that as marriages improve by becoming more equal, the sex in these marriages will improve, too. Instead, it found that when men did certain kinds of chores around the house, couples had less sex. Specifically, if men did all of what the researchers characterized as feminine chores like folding laundry, cooking or vacuuming — the kinds of things many women say they want their husbands to do — then couples had sex 1.5 fewer times per month than those with husbands who did what were considered masculine chores, like taking out the trash or fixing the car. It wasn’t just the frequency that was affected, either — at least for the wives. The more traditional the division of labor, meaning the greater the husband’s share of masculine chores compared with feminine ones, the greater his wife’s reported sexual satisfaction.

I said above that this was a “surprising” fact. The truth is, though, that until very recently this would have surprised nobody in the world, and it certainly didn’t surprise me. (It did seem to be a bit of a jolt, though, to the author of the article, which is itself completely, depressingly unsurprising.)

I have a friend named Bob Wyman; he was the founder of a startup company I worked for a few years ago. He’s a mighty smart guy. One of Bob’s pet ideas is that we can understand a great many things about the human and social world through the metaphor of thermodynamics; in particular he likes to say that everything that is good in the world tends to reduce entropy, while everything bad increases it. For example, war is bad. This makes sense, in Bob’s view, because wars take highly ordered systems — the social and physical infrastructures of nations — and reduces them to disordered rubble. Meanwhile, wars also kill people — and a living human body is a far more ordered arrangement of the substance of the world than a decomposing corpse. And so on.

It isn’t hard to apply Bob’s idea here. For any system to be capable of producing useful work, there needs to be disequilibrium, a difference in potential. For a mill-race to turn a water-wheel, the water must flow downhill over the wheel. If the water on one side of the wheel is at the same level as on the other — that is, the parts of the system are at equilibrium — then nothing will happen. When the potential gradient inside a flashlight battery reaches zero, the battery is dead.

And so it is in a marriage: when the two poles of that system are at equilibrium, you can’t expect to produce any electricity.

“Love makes the world go round”, the old saying goes. Well, making the world go round takes work. You’ll search in vain for any civilization, anywhere in history or anywhere on Earth, that didn’t understand that the duality of male and female — the eternal, and yes, sacred disequilibrium of yin and yang, of light and darkness, of sky and earth — is what makes that motor run.

Until now, that is.


Learn a card trick from Penn and Teller.

Credit where credit’s due.

– A survey of meteorologists on “climate change”.

Where the wild things are.

Unintended consequences of Britain’s welfare state.

Bead chains in action.

Why Intelligent Design retains its broad appeal.

Height and IQ.

The Museum of Imaginary Musical Instruments.

Feynman on a flower.

View from the top.

More wonders from Hubble.

Watch the change in popularity of given names over time.

– Waivers? No way. (From 2012.)

– For you chessplayers: an endgame gem.

– A nifty tool for taxonomists.



Boy, what a week. Not being a man of independent means, I still must toil for my daily crust, and this week that included a 24-hour-long workday spanning Tuesday and Wednesday (a software crisis in the Antipodes, now resolved).

I used to do a lot of those as a youthful studio rat, but for a man of my advancing years, they take a heavy toll on what M. Poirot used to call the “little grey cells”.

Back with something more substantial when the fog lifts. For tonight, though, all I have for you is this remarkable lass.

Between Two Chairs

Blessed is he who hath a soul,
Blessed is he who hath none,
Woe and sorrow to him who hath it in conception.

- Gurdjieff

Current Events

Well, it appears from yesterday’s referendum that the people of Crimea would rather be Russian. Vladimir Putin is glad to welcome them back to the Motherland.

The Obama administration, which didn’t want to see the referendum happen at all, imposed some punitive measures on a few Russian big-shots, but nobody over there seems to mind much.

Here’s one reaction, from a Russian television personality:

“Russia is the only country in the world realistically capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash,” anchor Dmitry Kiselyov said on his weekly news show on state-controlled Rossiya 1 television.

No need to bother, tovarich. Just leave that to the Democrats.


Meanwhile, local self-determination is busting out all over. Can’t imagine why.

*     *     *


In other news, it was a big day for astrophysicist Alan Guth, whose brilliant 1979 insight — that in the earliest moments after the Big Bang, the universe expanded, very briefly, at a staggeringly enormous rate — has received dramatic confirmation in recent observations. Learn more here.

*     *     *


Mitch Leigh has died. He’s the one who wrote the music for the 60′s Broadway hit Man of La Mancha, which featured a song I know you know: The Impossible Dream. (For the fullest possible effect, here’s Robert Goulet singing it at a Jerry Lewis telethon!) You can read his New York Times obituary here.

One thing about that obituary: Mitch Leigh started out as a composer of music for advertising. He was very good at it, and anyone my age who grew up in America will remember a lot of his melodies (this one, for instance). In my own eclectic recording career, I worked with many of the best jingle-writers in the biz, and I came to realize that there was generally more creative spark at any of the major New York jingle houses than in the whole Top 40.

So it got my Irish up to see this in Mitch Leigh’s obit:

He never apologized for working in advertising…

“Apologized”? Excuse me?

Oh wait, it’s the New York Times. Right. Never mind.

I knew Mr. Leigh slightly; he had a nice office, with a very serviceable little recording studio, on 57th Street in Manhattan, and sometime back in the mid-90′s I spent a month or so doing synth programming and mixing for a personal project of his, called Changing Times: a Jazz Symphony. (I still have a copy somewhere; I should give it another listen.) Mr. Leigh treated me very well, and paid me handsomely. He was an artist and a gentleman. May his heart lie peaceful and calm.

*     *     *


Finally, that Malaysian airliner’s still missing. Theories abound. Here’s mine: some people wanted a jet, and now they have one. I wonder what they’re going to do with it.

Family Matters

Our e-pal hbd*chick has just put up a fascinating post on the Hajnal Line.

The what?

The Hajnal Line marks a boundary between areas of Europe characterized by different marriage practices. Among hbd*chick’s primary areas of interest is the effect these differences have had on both culture and genome in historical time.

Hie thee thither and learn more.

It’s On

Over at VDare, John Derbyshire reviews A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History, a forthcoming book by chief New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade.

The book is important — a watershed, really. For the first time (that I’m aware of, at least), a major writer with impeccable Cathedral credentials brings squarely into mainstream discourse the full-blown scientific reality of human biodiversity (though apparently not without a cautious, and understandable, dispersion of what Mr. Derbyshire refers to as “squid ink”). Others have paved the way: E.O. Wilson’s 1975 book Sociobiology established a beachhead (at a personal and professional cost to Wilson that must have evoked the landings at Normandy), and Steven Pinker’s 2003 The Blank Slate secured some strategically important territory, but Wade’s book appears to be a push for the capital. It will be out on May 6th.

Read Derb’s review here.

The Minimum Wage, Part 2

A while back I agreed to comment on a New York Times editorial advocating a rise in the minimum wage. (The editorial, entitled The Clear Benefits of a Higher Wage, is here.)

The brief editorial’s main point is that a minimum-wage increase cannot be reliably expected to cause enough of an increase in unemployment to offset its benefits. In this earlier post, I took a look at the effect of historical minimum-wage rates on unemployment, and in my (admittedly cursory) survey of the data, was indeed unable to see any persuasive correlation. That said, however, this surely must depend on how high the minimum wage is set; if it were to be raised to $100 an hour, obviously a great many employers would go out of business, and a great many jobs would be lost. It may well be the case, though, that a minimum-wage rise of the amount currently proposed — to $10.10 an hour from $7.50 — might strike a tolerable balance in terms of jobs lost vs. more money for those not fired. As the minimum wage rises, however, and technology gets better and cheaper, the threshold at which automation becomes more attractive than human employees will naturally become lower — especially given the ever-increasing incidental cost and bureaucratic burden of hiring human workers. It will be more and more likely that this is what a ten-dollar-an-hour fast-food employee looks like.

A common criticism of minimum-wage increases as a means to assist poor families is that many of the people who earn minimum wage are not adults supporting such families, but teenagers or other members of families that are well above the poverty line (or both). The Times asserts that 90% of minimum-wage workers are over 20 years old, but according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this is simply false: the BLS puts the number under 20 at 30.9%, and the number under 25 at 55%. Meanwhile, according to the Congressional Budget Office, only 19% of minimum-wage earners have family incomes below the poverty level. The Times, understandably, doesn’t even comment on this.

We should note also that a great many of the nation’s poor are chronically unemployed; a policy that seeks to ameliorate poverty by raising the minimum wage obviously won’t help these people at all. Indeed, if anything it will hinder them, because it will make entry-level work that much harder to get.

Another consideration is that most minimum-wage jobs are entry-level, temporary positions. Most people earning the minimum wage — the estimates I’ve found are generally around two-thirds — are earning more a year later. But while individuals with minimum-wage jobs tend to move fairly quickly off the bottom rung, minimum-wage increases impose a permanent increase to employers in the cost of staffing these positions.

This brings us to the conservative’s principal objection to minimum-wage policy as a means of addressing poverty: it takes a public problem — the existence of the poor — and uses the compulsory power of law to foist it off onto an arbitrarily selected subset of the private sector. It’s a way for politicians to offer magnanimous sound-bites — “Give America a raise!” — while doing little except bossing private citizens around, interfering with the natural equilibria of labor markets, and placing yet another burden on employers, a burden that, as with all government regulation, falls hardest on small businesses.

Conservatives find this sort of thinking, always in evidence on the Left, particularly offensive. Winston Churchill once summed it up this way:

Some people regard private enterprise as a predatory tiger to be shot. Others look on it as a cow they can milk. Not enough people see it as a healthy horse, pulling a sturdy wagon.

It isn’t, after all, as if the public sector doesn’t have other effective solutions available; as the Washington Post argues here, addressing the problem through the Earned Income Tax Credit is both more effective at getting the results we want, and has the moral advantage of solving a public problem with public money. (At the very least, it would be a blessing to the half-million people who, by the CBO’s estimate, would be out of work as a result of the proposed minimum-wage rise.)

A further disadvantage of minimum-wage increases is that businesses will do what they can to pass along cost increases to their customers, which can cause a general price inflation. Worse, because so many minimum-wage jobs are in local service-industry businesses, particularly groceries and fast-food restaurants, such price increases are naturally borne in large part by members of the same low-income community that the wage increases are intended to help.

Although it is something of a digression, I also think it would be remiss to discuss the minimum wage without touching on its dark origins in the Progressive ideology that prevailed in the first part of the 20th century. The original aim of minimum-wage laws was not to lift the lowest stratum of the underclass out of poverty; it was to starve them out of existence. The idea was simple enough: one might hire a man of the lowest order for the most menial job at a pittance, and so enable him to scratch out a meager existence, but one that was livable by his rock-bottom standards; in doing so, you enabled the propagation of the least fit, to the detriment of society as a whole. E.A. Ross, a prominent Progressive intellectual and eugenicist (the two were generally synonymous), wrote that “the Coolie cannot outdo the American, but he can underlive him.” The idea of the minimum wage, as understood by the forward-looking intellectuals of the era, was simple enough: nobody, given the choice of hiring a superior or an inferior man for the same wage, would choose the latter, and so the least fit would gradually fade away. (Much the same logic was behind the Progressive crusade for freely available contraception among the lower classes; it was conceived, for want of a better word, as a way to lower the birthrate among the ‘unfit’.) A 1986 working paper by the CBO also acknowledges this effect, saying that the minimum wage will tend to cause employers to hire more experienced adults if they can no longer get teenagers at a discount, thereby depressing employment prospects for young people.

Finally, I have to say that the whole debate about a minimum-wage increase, and about how best to improve the prospects of low-skilled workers in America, seems a bit surreal when we seem resolutely committed to importing millions of bottom-rung immigrants every year. It seems almost childishly obvious that the very first thing we ought to do to improve the prospects for low-wage Americans is to turn off the spigot of cheap imported labor. Such is the power, however, of the unholy alliance between Republican business interests seeking the cheapest possible workforce, and Democrats seeking new voters and new clients for public services, that the prospects for American workers seeking to rise into the middle class are very bad indeed — and are going to stay that way, regardless of what happens to the minimum wage.

You Get What You Pay For

WSJ columnist James Taranto has a regular feature in his Best of the Web newlsetter, in which he posts news items where obvious cause-and-effect relationships are presented as baffling paradoxes. A typical such item might be a headline that says “Despite Historically Low Crime Rate, Incarcerations Are At All-Time High”.

He had a good one today, from an article by Heather Knight in the San Francisco Chronicle:

San Francisco spends $165 million a year on services for homeless people, but all that money hasn’t made a dent in the homeless population in at least nine years.

Baffling, no?

Comic Relief

I’m working late tonight, as I often do on Tuesdays. To ease my toil, I generally listen to classical music on Pandora; one of today’s highlights was the pyrotechnic allegro ma non troppo from the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso for Violin and Orchestra in A Minor, by Camille Saint-Saëns, as played by the incomparable, and instantly recognizable, Jascha Heifetz.

I couldn’t remember how long ago Heifetz had died, so I took a moment just now to look him up on Wikipedia. (It was 1987.)

The article contained two little anecdotes that I enjoyed so much I thought I’d post them here. The first took place at Heifetz’s Carnegie Hall debut, when he was only sixteen:

On October 27, 1917, Heifetz played for the first time in the United States, at Carnegie Hall in New York, and became an immediate sensation. Fellow violinist Mischa Elman in the audience asked “Do you think it’s hot in here?”, whereupon the pianist Leopold Godowsky, in the next seat, imperturbably replied, “Not for pianists.”

The second: somewhat later, Heifetz told Groucho Marx that he had been earning his living as a musician since the age of seven. Groucho’s repsonse: “And I suppose before that you were just a bum.”

OK — back to my oar, or I’ll get a taste of the lash.

PS — one more thing, from the One Eyed Man: jokes for intellectuals.

Shoulder-High We Bring You Home

It was a sad day today: the lovely Nina and I drove to Philadelphia to attend a memorial service for the twenty-eight-year-old son of some dear friends. The young man, who died suddenly and unexpectedly, had made a very deep and very positive impression on a great many people’s lives, and hundreds were in attendance.

Things like this are a shocking reminder of the evanescence and uncertainty of life, and the permanence of what lies beyond life. You would think that by my age I’d need no reminders of this, but the fact of our brevity, and of our insignificance in the immensity of time, is not an easy thing to bear — and so we do whatever we can to distract ourselves, to deny, to turn away, to forget, to hurry back to the waking sleep that we call ordinary consciousness.

From Marcus Aurelius:

Live not as though there were a thousand years ahead of you. Fate is at your elbow; make yourself good while life and power are still yours.

At the very end of Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson, Beelzebub is asked by his beloved grandson Hassein what would be necessary for the awakening and salvation of humanity, if indeed such a thing is possible at all. Beelzebub replied:

That every one of these unfortunates, during the process of existence, should constantly sense and be cognizant of the inevitability of his own death, as well as the death of everyone upon whom his eyes or attention rest.

Aurelius again:

Come back now to your true senses; recall your true self; awake from slumber, and recognize that they were only dreams that troubled you; and as you looked on them, so look now upon what meets your waking eyes.

Goodbye, Daniel.

And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.


While all eyes are on Ukraine, it would be easy to lose sight of an earlier U.S. foreign-policy triumph: Libya. Has it really been a year and a half since we stopped having to worry about how to spell ‘Khadaffy’? How time flies.

Anyway, in case you were wondering, it’s going straight to hell — which won’t surprise anyone, except perhaps the people who made it all possible.

For some reason, we haven’t heard much about Libya from Foggy Bottom, lately. I guess our work there is done.

Cage Fighter vs. Pajama Boy

OK, one more on the events in Ukraine, this time from DiploMad. (h/t to Bill Keezer.)

Key excerpt:

“Putin is a patriot; Obama is not.”


Here’s another good article about Putin’s play in the Ukraine (or just “Ukraine”; I can’t keep track).

Hey, This Is Easy!

From the Times:

WASH­ING­TON — The Oba­ma ad­min­is­tra­tion, strug­gling with con­tin­ued po­lit­i­cal fall­out over its trou­bled health care law, said Wednes­day that it would al­low con­sumers to re­new health in­sur­ance poli­cies that do not com­ply with the law for two more years.

The ac­tion is a re­flec­tion of the dif­fi­cul­ties the pres­i­dent has faced as he tries to build sup­port for the Af­ford­able Care Act, and the back­lash over his prom­ise — which he later ac­knowl­edged was over­stat­ed — that in­di­vid­u­als who liked their in­sur­ance plans could keep them, no mat­ter what.

Un­der pres­sure from De­mo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­dates, who are strug­gling to de­fend the pres­i­dent’s sig­na­ture do­mes­tic pol­i­cy, Mr. Oba­ma an­nounced in No­vem­ber a one-year re­prieve on the can­cel­la­tion of the non­com­pli­ant poli­cies.

But to­day’s ac­tion goes much fur­ther, es­sen­tial­ly stalling for two more years one of the cen­tral tenets of the much-de­bated law: that health in­sur­ance plans had to meet a ba­sic mini­mum stand­ard for care. The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion ap­pears to but­tress Re­pub­li­can crit­i­cism that the law was not ready for im­ple­men­ta­tion last year.

The ac­tion al­so helps De­moc­rats in tight midterm elec­tion races be­cause it avoids the can­cel­la­tion of in­sur­ance poli­cies that would oth­er­wise have oc­curred at the height of the po­lit­i­cal cam­paign sea­son this fall.

We’ve come a very long way, now, from the idea that Congress passes laws, and that those laws are, well, the law.

There is still, perhaps, some awareness in Mr. Obama’s mind that this sort of thing is deeply, fundamentally wrong, and wholly at odds with the nation’s founding principles; we can guess this because he still, for now at least, feels the need to offer a little spin, a little cover. His motivation here, we are told with a straight face, is not political, but is rather to “ease the transition” to the better world that lies just ahead — in, oh, 2016 or so. (The kindly Mr. Obama wouldn’t want us to be overwhelmed by all of Obamacare’s wonderfulness all at once; after all, given what we’ve been through with all those failed policies for the past couple of centuries, it might be too much for our weakened constitution.)

We were also reminded, reassuringly, that this latest diktat was pronounced only after “close consultation” with several members of Congress. (I haven’t yet found the part of the Constitution that says the Executive can rewrite duly enacted law provided he has “consulted” his political allies in Congress, but I figure it must be in there someplace. Otherwise, people would be rioting in the streets by this point, right?)

So yes, there is still a tinge of caution there, a sense that, as he’s so fond of saying, there will be “consequences” if he goes too far with this. I don’t for a moment imagine that it rises to anything resembling shame — not this man — but still, perhaps, there is a wariness about limits. If nobody sets any, that won’t be a problem much longer.

Anyway, soon he’ll really be able to get his groove on. This November will be the last time that Mr. Obama will have to worry at all about a national election. After that, he’ll have more flexibility.


XKCD is always clever, and often brilliant. I like this one in particular.

History? How Many Divisions Does He Have?

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about Vladimir Putin’s being behind the curve, history-wise. The reader who sent me that Ceylan Özbudak article yesterday, for example, said in his email to me that “territorial gain is an atavistic idea”, as well as saying that “I really question how strong supposed ethnic/historical affiliations are at this point in history, at least in a place like Ukraine as opposed to tribal Africa”. (This is a liberal friend of exceptionally high intelligence, but with whom, as you might imagine, I have various disagreements when it comes to politics.)

Why, our own Secretary of State delivered himself of the opinion on Sunday that “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion”, and today our President uttered the words I’d been waiting for, the words that for every decent liberal are in any debate the ace of trumps, the unreturnable serve, and the capture of the Snitch: he told Mr. Putin that he was “on the wrong side of history”. (Tremble!)

The problem is, I rather doubt that Mr. Putin gives a rat’s жопа about Mr. Obama’s concept of history, or about what lies on which side of it. He is, I think, aware instead that history is just what happens, and that what happens is more often the result of what powerful people do than what others may say. Was Alaric the Goth on the “wrong side of history”? Was Tamerlane, or Suleyman the Magnificent? I doubt you’d even have been able to make them understand the question.

History is not teleological. Utopians think it is. Vladimir Putin is no Utopian.

Her Knight In Shining Armor

Here’s a depressing commentary on, among other things, the quality of the modern American male (my emphasis):

Woman Going Into Labor Robbed in Anne Arundel County

– A woman reported to be in labor and her boyfriend were robbed in Annapolis as they headed to a hospital, police said.

The couple was confronted by three men with guns as they left an apartment on Copeland Street about 4:30 a.m. Sunday, police said. When the woman’s boyfriend fled, police spokeswoman Cpl. Amy Miguez said, the suspects tried to get the woman to let them into an apartment, but she didn’t have a key.

Maybe “reported to be in labor” meant that she was an AFSCME executive or something, but it’s a pretty sad story nevertheless.

Ukraine: Jottings

I haven’t said much here about the situation in Ukraine; it would be like shooting fish in a barrel to use this latest ruction as an opportunity to highlight the incompetence of this administration’s foreign-policy team, and anyway, others have beaten me to it. (I will, however, recall that during the 2012 presidential campaign, Mitt Romney pointed out that Russia was still our primary geopolitical foe — to which Mr. Obama, with the blithe self-assurance of the pathological narcissist, jeered in response that “the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back.”)

The most obvious parallel is with the Sudetenland, 1938, as many writers have pointed out.

Among all the things I’ve read about the Ukrainian affair in the past couple of weeks, there were two that I remember as being of particular interest: this blog post from Ara Maxima, and this entry from John McCreary’s NightWatch. Both are worth your time.

Just today a reader and old friend sent me this item, from the Turkish political analyst Ceylan Özbudak. (At the risk of sounding unprofessional, let me say right up front that Ms. Özbudak, besides being, no doubt, a keen political observer, is also one muy hot tamale. (Normally, of course, as a gentleman of the “old school”, I’d be the last person to discuss a prominent female intellectual in this way — but given the effort and expense she has obviously put into this, I’m sure she won’t mind my bringing it to your attention. She is manifestly not the sort to hide her light — or lights — under a bushel.)

In the linked article, Ms. Özbudak had this to say:

In an article in last week’s Russian Pravda, it was noted that if Ukraine was divided, then the status of the Crimean Peninsula – returned to Ukraine in 1954 by Nikita Kruschev, would be open to discussion, and that would include Turkey having a say in the future of Crimea.

The reference to this claim is the “Küçük Kaynarca” (Karlowitz I) signed 230 years ago. As per this agreement, signed by the Russian Tsarina Catherine II on April 19, 1783, the Crimean Peninsula was taken away from the dominion of the Ottomans and handed over to Russia. However, one of the most important provisions of this treaty was the debarment of independence for the Peninsula and outlawing its submission to a third party: Should any such attempt be made, then Crimea would automatically have to be returned to the sovereignty of Turkey.

While the pneumatic Ms. Özbudak herself clearly scores an eleven out of a possible ten, I can’t give her article full marks for accuracy. The Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca was signed in 1774, not 1783, and what Catherine did in 1783 was simply to annex the Crimean Khanate, not as per the treaty, but in violation of it. (It is also not the Treaty of Karlowitz, which was a different pact, also humiliating to the Ottomans, that was signed in 1699.)

As it happens I had just been reading about Küçük Kaynarca in an excellent book called Worlds At War, by Anthony Pagden. In it he wrote:

The treaty of Küçük Kaynarca had also stipulated that the sultan recognize the “independence” of the khans of the Crimea.It soon became clear, however, that this had been intended only as a preliminary to full annexation. This duly followed in 1783. For the Turks, as Volney commented later, the Russian occupation had … inflicted on the Ottomans “the misery of the humbling of an ancient grandeur.”

So Ms. Özbudak is drawing, I fear, more on her Turkish pride than on historical facts or contemporary realities when she imagines that the Russians will feel bound by this obsolete pact (that was itself violated by the Russians, with regard to the very territory now in question, less than a decade after its signing hundreds of years ago) to let the Turks have much to say about Crimea.

I have a feeling that what she’ll get instead will be something more like this.

One other thing about Ms. Özbudak — I couldn’t help but notice, at the bottom of the page, the following:

Ceylan Özbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. As a representative of Harun Yahya organization, she frequently cites quotations from the author in her writings.

Harun Yahya is a pen-name of one Adnan Oktar, who caught my attention a few years ago when he published the Atlas of Creation, a huge, glossy compendium of creationist hooey. He’s an interesting fellow: a “Sunni zealot”, and a fervent anti-Zionist, Koranic literalist, and author of a book called The Holocaust Deception. He’s also a handsome devil, as you can see here, and given that Ms. Özbudak “frequently cites quotations” of Mr. Oktar’s, I wonder if they don’t get along very well generally.

HBD 101

Given the popularity in recent years of books like Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate, and the ready availability of reference material on the internet — and given also the accumulated wisdom of the ages, the testimony of our own eyes, and simple common sense — it always comes as a bit of a shock to me to see how many people are still in the stupefying grip of what’s called the Standard Social Science Model, which Wikipedia describes as the paradigm that “the mind is a general-purpose cognitive device shaped almost entirely by culture”. You’d think that by now this would have taken its place alongside phlogiston and the luminiferous aether, but it’s as stubborn as kudzu.

As a public service, then (and being too lazy to write anything tonight), I’ll take this opportunity to plug one of the best bloggers on the subject of human biodiversity, who goes by the name ‘Jayman‘. For an opening salvo, here’s a post of his entitled All Human Behavioral Traits are Heritable.

For much more, browse the selections at HBD Bibliography.

Lastly, no survey of the topic would be complete without reading the incomparable hbd*chick.

The Minimum Wage, Part 1

There’s been a lot of argument lately about whether to raise the minimum wage, and I haven’t had much to say about it in these pages. But a comment in a recent thread got me digging into the topic more deeply than I had before, and so it’s time for a post about it, I think.

The subject came up almost by accident: our liberal commenter Peter K., a.k.a. The One Eyed Man, having made the audacious assertion that conservative thought was ‘mostly hokum’, offered to to take any conservative column or article of my choosing and expose its ‘fatuities’. I quickly chose one, more or less at random: a recent piece by Thomas Sowell on the minimum wage. I invite you to read it before proceeding.

Read More »


In a Takimag article called Useless Mouths, John Derbyshire looks at the road ahead, as technology displaces more and more workers.

I recall that this sort of gloomy forecast was common when I was a boy, but I think this time round it’s more on the mark. (Barring a Butlerian Jihad, that is.) Things have come a long way in the past half-century.

Service Notice

We’ll probably be offline for a few days.

Meanwhile, here’s something interesting to read.

Update: this is a good one too: with a hat tip to Bill K., a fine rant from VDH.

The Idols Of The Tribe

Our previous post touched once again on how liberal orthodoxy habituates its adherents to deny reality and suppress the expression of truth. One such truth is the near-total hegemony of liberal orthodoxy itself in the social sciences, and of course our leading liberal commenter has wasted no time in denying it. (As I said in the post, this is a perfectly natural meta-effect of the same underlying cause, and should surprise no one.) “For every Bowdoin“, he says, there is a “Liberty University”. (This is, of course, simply false, but as noted just above, that’s rather the point here.)

Having denied any preponderance of liberalism in academia, however, he then switched gears to defend it, on the basis that critical thinking is important in universities, and conservative thought is “sheer hokum”. (See how easy this is, once you get the hang of it?)

For today’s selection, then, we have a longish excerpt from an piece by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt (who is hardly a Bible-thumping redneck) in which he examines precisely this question. (I’ve bolded a few passages.)

If a group circles around sacred values, they’ll evolve into a tribal moral community. They’ll embrace science whenever it supports their sacred values, but they’ll ditch it or distort it as soon as it threatens a sacred value. You can see this on the right with global warming denialism. They’re protecting their sacralized free markets. But when sacred values are threatened, the moral force field turns on, and beliefs fall into line. We become intuitive theologians.

Is Social Psychology a Tribal Moral Community?

Has social psychology become a Tribal Moral Community since the 1960s? Are we a community that is bound together by liberal values and then blind to any ideas or findings that threaten our sacred values? I believe the answer is yes, and I’ll make 3 points to support that claim.

1) We have taboos and danger zones.

First, we have taboos and danger zones. We social psychologists are normally so good at challenging each other’s causal theories. If someone describes a phenomenon and then proposes a causal explanation, the rest of us will automatically generate 5 alternative causal explanations, along with 5 control conditions needed to rule out those alternatives. Except when any of these issues are in play. These issues turn on the force field, constrain our thinking, and deprive us of our ability to think of the full range of alternative hypotheses. It’s too dangerous for me to work through examples. I’ll just refer you to Larry Summers’ famous musings about why men are overrepresented in math and science departments at the nation’s top universities.

As on one of his 3 hypotheses, he noted that there is a sex difference in the standard deviation of IQ scores between men and women. He didn’t say that men are smarter. He didn’t say that men have higher IQs. He just noted the well known fact that the variance of male scores is larger, which means that there are more men at the very bottom, and at the very top. Might that contribute to the underrepresentation of women at the very top levels of science? If you’re standing outside the force field it’s a good hypothesis, certainly worth exploring. But if you’re inside the force field, it is not a permissible hypothesis. It is sacrilege. It blames the victims, rather than the powerful. The ensuing outrage led ultimately to his resignation as president of Harvard. We psychologists should have been outraged by the outrage. We should have defended his right to think freely.

2) A statistically impossible lack of diversity

My second point is that we have a statistically impossible lack of diversity in social psychology. This graph shows Gallup data since 1992. Self-identified conservatives have long made up about 40% of the American public. Self identified liberals have made up about 20%. So the ratio in America is about two to one, conservative to liberal. What’s the ratio in social psychology?

To begin calculating our ratio, I first turned to Google. I simply Googled the phrase “liberal social psychologist.” I got 2740 hits. Then I changed liberal to conservative, and got 3 hits. So it looks like a ratio of roughly 1000 to one, liberal to conservative. But it’s actually much higher than that because this first one is some guy on a dating site asserting that his father was the only conservative social psychologist; this second one is a typographical error; and this third one is a conservative blogger who is angry about liberal bias in social psychology, who writes … “we can further conclude that the possible existence of a conservative social psychologist is statistically insignificant.” So Google failed to uncover a single instance of a conservative social psychologist who is currently active.

I next conducted a small survey by emailing 30 social psychologists I know, spanning all levels from very senior professors down to grad student. I simply asked:… “Can you reply to this message with the names of any social psychologists that you believe are politically conservative?” There were 4 names mentioned one time each, but each of them was hedged with doubt, such as “I don’t really know, but she did work with Phil Tetlock.” So I won’t print these 4 names. Peter Suedfeld got 2 votes, and he definitely worked with Tetlock. Rick McCauley got 3 votes. The next most common candidate was “I can’t think of any conservatives.” And finally, it turns out there is a fair amount of agreement as to who the conservative is in social psychology, and its Phil Tetlock. So there you have it, we do have a conservative. That conservative blogger was wrong. Right?

Well, not quite. I wrote to Phil to ask him whether it was true, as widely believed, that he is a conservative. Phil wrote back to me, in characteristically Tetlockian fashion, and said: “I hold a rather complex (value-pluralistic) bundle of preferences and labeling me liberal or conservative or libertarian or even moderate is just not very informative.”

But I pressed on in my search for the wild conservative social psychologist, and I found him, hiding in a bamboo grove outside of Philadelphia. Watch closely: there he is. Rick McCauley, at Bryn Mawr College. Rick is the only social psychologist I know of who publicly acknowledges that he is politically conservative.

I am extremely fortunate that I got to know Rick when I was a grad student at Penn, because Rick was a friend of one of my advisors, Paul Rozin. When I first met Rick I was wary of him. I had heard that he was a conservative. I had heard that he supported the Viet Nam war. It was only after I forged a personal relationship with him that I got over my distrust. I had never before met an actual conservative professor, and it took me a while to realize how valuable it was to hear from someone with a different perspective. Rick is now one of America’s foremost experts on the psychology of terrorism. I am convinced that many of his insights have only been possible because he stands outside of the liberal force field.

But McCauley can’t be the only conservative in social psychology. If we did a poll of the whole field, we’d surely find at least, what, five percent? Well, this room is just about the best sample of social psychologists we’re ever going to find, so let’s see. If there’s around a thousand people here, we should have about 50 conservatives. That would be 5%. So please tell me, by show of hands: How would you describe your political orientation? If you had to choose from one of these 4 labels, which would you pick? How many of you would describe yourself as liberal, or left of center. [At this point, a sea of hands went up. I estimated that it was between 80 and 90% of the audience, and I estimated the audience size to be about 1000 people.] How many of you would describe yourself as centrist or moderate? [approximately 20 hands went up]. How many of you would describe yourselves as libertarians? [Twelve hands went up] And when I asked how many would describe themselves as conservative, or right of center? [Exactly three hands went up.]

As you can see, we have nowhere near 50 conservatives in this room, we are nowhere near 5%. The actual number seems to be about 0.3%. In this room, the ratio of liberals to conservatives appears to be about 800 to 3, or 266 to 1. So the speaker in the earlier talk was correct when he said, from this stage: “I’m a good liberal democrat, just like every other social psychologist I know.”

Of course there are many reasons why conservatives would be underrepresented in social psychology, and most of them have nothing to do with discrimination or hostile climate. Research on personality consistently shows that liberals are higher on openness to experience. They’re more interested in novel ideas, and in trying to use science to improve society. So of course our field is and always will be mostly liberal. I don’t think we should ever strive for exact proportional representation.

But a ratio of two or three hundred to one, in a nation where the underlying ratio is one to two? When we find any job in the nation in which women or minorities are underrepresented by a factor of three or four, we make the strong presumption that this constitutes evidence of discrimination. And if we can’t find evidence of overt discrimination, we presume that there must be a hostile climate that discourages underrepresented groups from entering.

I submit to you that the underrepresentation of conservatives in social psychology, by a factor of several hundred, is evidence that we are a tribal moral community that actively discourages conservatives from entering.

3) Closeted Conservatives

And this brings me to my third point, closeted conservatives. I recently came across this narrative, written by a young gay woman in 1985:

Until about a year ago, I was very quiet about my sexual orientation… I often didn’t understand the sexual jokes made by my colleagues… the people making the jokes thought that we all felt the same way, and I certainly wasn’t going to reveal that I disagreed. That would have been much too awkward.

JB was really the first person I talked to about my sexual identity. He made me feel more comfortable and seemed to want to hear other perspectives…. Since then, taking PT’s class opened up a dialog and others have shared more as well. Before I thought that I was completely alone and was afraid to say much because of it. Now I feel both somewhat obligated to speak up (don’t want others to feel as alone as I did) and also know that I have more support than I originally realized.

Compare that text to this political coming out narrative, which was sent to me last week, as I was searching for conservative social psychologists. One of my friends said, in response to my email survey, that he knew of two grad students who might be conservative. I wrote to each of them and asked them about their experiences in social psychology. Both of them said they are not conservative, but neither are they liberal, and because they are not liberal, they feel pressure to keep quiet. One of them wrote this to me. As you can see, it’s nearly identical to the coming out narrative.

In fact, it differs by just five words, because that’s all I had to change to convert this text… into this text, which I told you, falsely, was a coming out narrative from 1985. This is the text of the email that was sent to me last week, by a graduate student who is here in the room with us right now. She and other non-liberal students would like to come out of the closet, just as gay students wanted to 25 years ago. I think we have an obligation to help them.

Of course it’s a moral issue, and the moral argument about political discrimination is being developed by Richard Redding, at Chapman University Law School. But I’m going to set that aside. I’m not even going to make the moral argument. Rather, what I really want to emphasize today is that it is a scientific issue. We are hurting ourselves when we deprive ourselves of critics, of people who are as committed to science as we are, but who ask different questions, and make different background assumptions.

Here’s the email I got from the other non-liberal student:

I consider myself very middle of the road politically: A social liberal but fiscal conservative. Nonetheless, I avoid the topic of politics around work… Given what I’ve read of the literature, I am certain any research I conducted in political psychology would provide contrary findings and, thereby, go unpublished. Although I think I could make a substantial contribution to the knowledge base, and would be excited to do so, I will not.

This too is from a student who is in the room with us right now.

This how we like to see ourselves. We social psychologists are supertolerant free thinkers. We celebrate diversity and non-conformity. We boldly follow our science wherever it takes us, and no matter whom it offends. We care only about truth!

But in reality, we are a tribal moral community. In support of that claim, I made three arguments. I said that, because we have sacred values other than truth, we have taboos that constrain our thinking; we have almost no moral/political diversity; and we have created a hostile climate for graduate students who don’t share those sacred values. If these statements are true, then I think we must begin some serious discussions about how to turn off the magnet.

Battle Lines

Last year I wrote this about liberal orthodoxy’s unavoidable antagonism to truth:

A sine qua non for the modern liberal ideologue is a flair for living comfortably in a state of cognitive dissonance. This is made necessary by the internal contradictions of his worldview, and by its frequent, and calamitous, collisions with the social, political, economic, cultural, mathematical, and biological realities of the actual world.

That this reality-denying orthodoxy dominates, to the point of suffocation, our educational institutions has from time to time been a contentious issue in our comment-threads (which is in itself a meta-effect of the same cause, I suppose).

Well, then, here’s another exhibit for you, from the very heart of the Cathedral itself: the Harvard Crimson. It “puts the cards on the table”, clearly and without apology: when truth and ideology collide, truth must die.

We read:

If our university community opposes racism, sexism, and heterosexism, why should we put up with research that counters our goals simply in the name of “academic freedom”?

Instead, I would like to propose a more rigorous standard: one of “academic justice.” When an academic community observes research promoting or justifying oppression, it should ensure that this research does not continue.

It’s easy to understand the real threat that such research poses: not the justification of oppression, but the revelation that human groups actually do differ in nontrivial ways, that the stubborn differences in life outcomes among various human groups may in large part be due to these innate differences, and that therefore the systematic, malevolent “oppression” that they plan to devote their lives to eradicating, and that they have dedicated entire academic departments to vilifying white male Europeans for, might not exist at all. For the acolytes of this priesthood, then, such research poses not just a social threat, but an existential one.

The article is very clear and direct (and to those of you familiar with the history of the last century, will seem ominously familiar). We should thank the author, Sandra Korn, and the editors of the Crimson for publishing it. That they are comfortable enough to publish it, however — that, dear Readers, should disturb your slumber.

Where Yinz From?

I’m working late, so all I have for you tonight is this little quiz. Give it a go.

On Reaction

Julius Evola, from the opening pages of Men Among The Ruins:

Recently, various forces have attempted to set up a defense and a resistance in the sociopolitical domain against the extreme forms in which the disorder of our age manifests itself. It is necessary to realize that this is a useless effort, even for the sake of merely demonstrative purposes, unless the disease is dealt with at its very roots. These roots, as far as the historical dimension is concerned, are to be found in the subversion introduced in Europe by the revolutions of 1789 and 1848. The disease must be recognized in all of its forms and degrees; thus, the main task is to establish if there are still men willing to reject all the ideologies, political movements, and parties that, directly or indirectly, derive from those revolutionary ideas (i.e., everything ranging from liberalism and democracy to Marxism and communism)…

Strictly speaking, the watchword could then be counterrevolution; however, the revolutionary origins are by now remote and almost forgotten. The subversion has long since taken root, so much so as to appear obvious and natural in the majority of existing institutions. Thus, for all practical purposes, the formula of “counterrevolution” would make sense only if people were able to see clearly the last stages that the world subversion is trying to cover up through revolutionary communism. Otherwise, another watchword is to be preferred, namely reaction. To adopt it and call oneself “reactionary” is a true test of courage. For quite some time, left-wing movements have made the term “reaction” synonymous with all kinds of iniquity and shame; they never miss an opportunity to thereby stigmatize all those who are not helpful to their cause and who do not go with the flow, or do not follow what, according to them, is the “course of History.” While it is very natural for the Left to employ this tactic, I find unnatural the sense of anguish that the term often induces in people, due to their lack of political, intellectual, and even physical courage; this lack of courage plagues even the representatives of the so-called Right or “national conservatives,” who, as soon as they are labeled “reactionaries,” protest, exculpate themselves, and try to show that they do not deserve that label.

What is the Right expected to do? While activists of the Left are “acting” and carrying forward the process of world subversion, is a conservative supposed to refrain from reacting and rather to look on, cheer them on, and even help them along the way? Historically speaking, it is deplorable that a “reaction” has been absent, inadequate, or only half-hearted, lacking people, means, and adequate doctrines, right at the time when the disease was still at an embryonic stage and thus susceptible to be eliminated by immediate cauterization of its infectious hotbeds; had that been the case, the European nations would have been spared untold calamities…

Naturally, the term “reaction” intrinsically possesses a slightly negative connotation: those who react do not have the initiative of action; one reacts, in a polemical or defensive way, when confronted by something that has already been affirmed or done. Thus, it is necessary to specify that reaction does not consist in parrying the moves of the opponent without having anything positive to oppose him with. This misperception could be eliminated by associating the formula of “reaction” with that of “conservative revolution,” a formula in which a dynamic element is evident. In this context “revolution” no longer signifies a violent overthrow of a legitimate established order, but rather an action aimed at eliminating a newly emerged disorder and at reestablishing a state of normalcy. Joseph De Maistre remarked that what is needed, more than a “counterrevolution” in a polemical and strict sense, is the “opposite to a revolution,” namely a positive action inspired by the origins. It is curious how words evolve: after all, revolution, according to its original Latin meaning (re-volvere), referred to a motion that led again to the starting point, to the origins.

In conversation with my friends on the Left I often hear the phrase “the wrong side of history”; implicit in the use of this expression is the idea that it is the flow of history itself that ratifies changes in the condition of human society, rather than any higher and more permanent principle. The stark contrast between this view and that of the reactionary was borne home to me in two exchanges over the past weekend.

In the first, I replied to a remark made on Twitter about gay marriage. Someone had tweeted:

In 20 years, conservatives will be pointing out the positive effect marriage has on the gay community.

I replied:

And liberals will point out that opposition to gay marriage 20 yrs ago was just as strong as opposition to interspecies marriage is now.

In my mind this was a reductio ad absurdum, intended to show the lack of a limiting principle, and the folly of ascribing intrinsic wisdom to the entropic evolution of history.

A day later, the subject came up again, this time in private conversation with a dear, but very liberal, friend. I pointed out that, now that the ancient and universal understanding of marriage had been overthrown, marriage could defensibly become a relationship between a man and his goat.

She responded by reminding me that I was too mired in present-day attitudes, and that in a few decades it may well turn out to be considered perfectly acceptable for a man to marry his goat. What had been for me a reductio ad absurdum, then, was for her a perfectly plausible progression; in other words, it was her view that whatever such norms might become in the future, they are ratified, and justified, simply by virtue of their having evolved into whatever they will have become. This is the implicit meaning of “the wrong side of history”.

It seems to to me that “reaction” stands in relation to this worldview in the same way that position is related to momentum in quantum-mechanics: it is a complementary property of the human psyche. If we analyze the eigenfunction of a quantum particle so as to determine its position, we introduce uncertainty as to its momentum; by focusing on location, we lose sight of its motion. Likewise, we can understand the condition of a society either in terms of its location relative to an absolute frame of reference — i.e., to a set of immutable principles, or our concept of the sacred — or simply in terms of its momentum.


From Australia’s

New forms of discrimination, known as “neoracism”, are taking hold in scientific research, spreading the belief that races exist and are different in terms of biology, behaviour and culture, according to anthropologists who spoke at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Chicago.

This would be bad enough all by itself — but what makes the spread of this belief particularly worrisome is the fact that races exist, and are different in terms of biology, behaviour and culture.

Read the rest here.


Yep, they’ve been piling up again. (Just like the snow is supposed to do, again, here in the Outer Cape tonight.)

Life, and love, in Russia.

The GDP of American states and foreign nations.

Theodore Dalrymple on the suppression of dissent.

See above.

More from Russia.

The most beautiful rendition of the National Anthem you will ever hear.

– Magnus Carlsen crushes Bill Gates.

The arrogance and ignorance of hoplophobic liberals.

Amazing paper sculptures.

A spectacular new lode of Burgess Shale fauna.

The “science is settled”, so the observations must be wrong.

The bloom is off the rose.

Another nail in the blank-slate coffin.

From sky to sty.

Crazy ants.

Jim Donald on natural law. Excellent.

Benghazi update.