My Favorite Conservative TV Show
May 31, 2009, 1:32 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The Office (the American version) is one of the most conservative television shows I’ve ever seen. Here are three broad reasons.

The Boss

Although the show has an ensemble cast and multiple storylines/recurring jokes, everyone understands the central, overarching joke is that the boss, Michael Scott, is pathetically needy and lonely, and craves adulation and love from everybody. But I wonder why it’s not more widely noted how often he clutches at empty-headed PC nostrums, wannabe “cool” pop-culture references, Oprah-style confessional group sessions, and similar tried and true…shall we say…left-wing tactics for becoming popular and staying the center of attention.

In other words, Michael Scott understands what few lefties have the self-awareness to understand themselves: many left-wing principles are best understood as techniques for showing off the moral superiority of the person spouting them, so that he will convince others he deserve adulation (and authority). The differences between Michael Scott and the run-of-the-mill lefty are that (1) Scott doesn’t really believe in anything he’s saying, because he’s just repeating things he’s heard on (for example) TV; and so, relatedly, (2) he’s a spectacular (and hilarious) failure at the moral posturing part, because he’s inept and everyone sees through him.

But at least he is astute enough to have picked up on what are the main sales pitches the mainstream left uses for themselves, their brilliance, their superiority, and their claims to power. Even if this is not the show’s intent (and it would surprise me greatly if it were), you can read The Office as a biting satire of leftist thinking and its usage in popular culture – and politics. (Perhaps Obama is essentially a skillful Michael Scott.) A side effect of this taking down of PC leads to my next point.

The Individuals

Stanley is “the black guy” of The Office. At least this is what Michael Scott thinks. But everyone else, including Stanley, ignores that fact.

Although The Office is “diverse”, what they do consistently is to defy any PC notions of race, ethnicity, ‘identity’. The only person who consistently cares about those things, in hilariously inept and latently-prejudiced ways, is Michael. The rest of the individuals mostly just want to be left alone to do their thing, and no one is really that interested in the subject. Not only that, but to play up the various identities – which only Michael does – is consistently portrayed as lame and uncouth. Michael’s PC overtures – I would say, PC notions in general – are made fun of on The Office, over and over again. They have nothing to do with the reality of peoples’ lives. And what do all the characters want to do with their lives? Get married, buy homes, make families – these truly conservative institutions are widely respected and admired on The Office.

The overall effect is perhaps less a “conservative” point of view than a libertarian one. People are treated as individuals, with all their quirks. Race/identity is not ignored but neither is it the be-all and end-all of a person. Stanley is black, so what. He’s married to a white woman, so what. Oscar is gay, so what. Angela from accounting is, of course, a more classically “conservative” stereotype (something like a ‘religious fundamentalist’, albeit not quite) – disapproving of Oscar’s homosexuality, etc. – and that is made fun of too. One of the most vicious targets of barbs is Toby, the spineless dweeb from HR, in theory the office’s most natural purveyor of PC – that’s all he does after all, since he does nothing tangible or revenue-generating. This leads me to,

The Salesmen

A final, perhaps most significant reason the show strikes me as conservative is its treatment of business. Obviously it takes place in an “office”, but it’s worth mentioning that this is specifically a sales branch. The creators could have made this any kind of office. It could have been a government bureaucratic office of some kind, or some other place that is only about paper-pushing and form-processing, to try to make the usual points about office work we’ve already seen on Dilbert and Office Space. But what takes place in this office are primarily sales. The heroes and central characters are all salesmen. And being a salesman is treated with respect. We see them manning the telephones. We see them going on sales calls. Think about how rare this is on television!

What sort of jobs do we usually see on television? Lawyers, doctors and cops. People whose jobs are not necessarily about making a profit, but about bringing them into contact with “society’s problems” – which makes it easy to come up with new weekly storylines. These are roles that TV writers know how to write for, if only because there have been so many other lawyer, doctor, and cop shows, but also because such roles are sufficiently distant from the everyday lives of most people (which, of course, is part of their appeal) that you can just make stuff up and only a tiny minority would notice.

But when do you ever see salesmen on TV? When we do see a salesman, it’s likely to be the “used car salesman” character type, a wormy guy with a plaid jacket and no scruples. But on The Office the salesmen are all more or less decent people – well, except Dwight Schrute. But he’s the exception that proves the rule, because as contemptible and strange as that character is, sales is shown as the one area of life where Dwight can function normally. He’s the best salesman in the office! This is almost a paean to the beneficial role sales and business can have on society; just try to picture where Dwight would be in the world without sales.

To be sure, the show does get some mileage from occasionally joking about how this company and office are just middlemen – that they don’t make the paper they sell, they stand between wholesalers and business-side clients. But this fact is never used to smear the salesmen themselves. Indeed, in the world of The Office, sales is pretty much the coolest place to be – the corporate people in New York (while well-paid) are clueless and distant, often neurotic or troubled, a place where people flame out as often as they rise up; Michael the boss (and former good salesman; sales is “where he belongs”) is an idiot as a boss of course; accounting are boring nerds; and the warehouse guys are ok, but underpaid and unglamorous. The “coolest” character is Jim, a salesman. His fiancee Pam also recently moved up in the world – by demanding to be put on sales.

There is no hint of the lefty bias against profit-making or “putting profits over people”. Profits are shown to benefit people. Nobody on The Office could have a job without them (again, this sets it apart from doctor/lawyer/cop shows, doesn’t it?). Branches are closed without them. The lesson is clear. A recent storyline had Michael Scott splitting off and forming his own company with Pam and the temp. When they made their first sale they celebrated. When they sold their company for a nice sum they celebrated. As they should. But this was all “capitalism”.

Maybe my perspective has been screwed up by too much force exposure to PC nonsense, but think about it: How often do we actually see “capitalism” on TV, without a sneer, without cynicism, without portraying the profit-seekers as oily snakes?

The Office is a rarity. Intentionally or not, it’s a very conservative television show.

On Gay Marriage (With A Little Bit Of Physics)
May 30, 2009, 12:32 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

One rebuttal to the arguments for gay marriage is to simply point out that it already exists: homosexuals can already get married every bit as much as heterosexuals can.

‘Marriage’ after all is among other things just a legal union between a man and a woman. This says nothing about whether the man and/or woman in question enjoys having sex with let alone “is in love with” that woman and/or man. So yes, gays can get married right now. There is no impediment whatsoever. The way gays would do this is the same way everyone else gets married: find a willing partner, of legal age, of the opposite sex, and marry them. Elton John did it, for pete’s sake. Was that not a ‘gay marriage’? Oscar Wilde got married. Cole Porter got married. Rock Hudson got married.

All supposedly impossible because “gay marriage” hasn’t been legalized thus gays “don’t have the right to get married”.

“But that’s not fair!” you cry out. “You’re dodging the issue! Gay people only like their own sex, so if they married someone of the opposite sex, they’d be in a passionless marriage with a person they’re not sexually attracted to!” Aside from the fact that the obvious retort to this almost writes itself (“gee, you mean like 95% of married people?”), the deeper issue is that this notion of marriage – that it must involve and goes hand in hand with romantic love and sexual passion – is a rather recent and ahistorical invention. Marriage has not historically been only about romantic passion for heterosexuals, let alone homosexuals.

And by the way a large percentage of what we would now think of and label as ‘homosexuals’ probably did get married historically. The modern notion we have of ‘homosexuals’ is, itself, a recent invention – and a narrow, restrictive, fundamentally conservative one. The ancient Greeks are known for the cliche of older men who had both wives and young male lovers. The modern ‘progressive’ attitude would, I gather, be confused by this: “but that means the man is a homosexual! How can he be married!! That makes no sense!” Apparently Greeks didn’t subscribe to the binary, constricting, either/or placement into such narrow categories as supposedly progressive-thinking people do today.

Consider the sort of thought process behind the below exchange with Justice Powell in the ’80s that extremely-“progressive” left-wing blogger hilzoy cited approvingly a while ago, as some sort of gotcha example as to why Justices need to have understanding/’empathy':

Later the same day, [Justice] Powell came back to Chinnis [one of his law clerks] and asked, “Why don’t homosexuals have sex with women?” “Justice Powell,” he replied, “a gay man cannot have an erection to perform intercourse with a woman.”

This is what all right-thinking people believe, of course. How dense and backward Justice Powell must have been not to understand this! Why, everyone knows that a gay man CANNOT have an erection in the presence of a woman. It’s physically impossible! The laws of biology, or perhaps physics?, prohibit it!

Sorry, but that’s bulls**t. “Cannot”? Without getting too explicitly into the mechanics of sex, and stimulation, and erections…um, let’s just say I don’t believe that for one second. More to the point, it is disproven. Any study, or even a cursory glance at anecdotes of people with gay dads, will show that numerous “gay” people have had sex with members of the opposite sex. The idea that they “cannot” get the erection necessary to do so is not only a weird metaphysical superstition but a total denial of reality. When George Costanza on Seinfeld worried that if “it moved” when a man was giving him a massage, it meant he had latent gay tendencies, this was a hilarious and backward supserstition. We all laughed. But saying and believing that gays “cannot” get an erection, let alone have sex, in the presence of the opposite sex is the flip side of the exact same superstition. It indicates a belief in the idea that there is some sort of invisible or metaphysical “switch” that triggers inside someone that will somehow prevent the sexual act from taking place with the opposite sex if the person “is gay” (which, itself, is spoken of as if it’s a “switch”).

So, to summarize, throughout history it is quite common that people we now consider ‘homosexual’ got married, whether for the purpose of procreation, or property preservation, or simply having a ‘beard’. ‘Homosexuals’ weren’t placed in this separate category wherein conventional opposite-sex marriage was considered somehow physically or metaphysically impossible. Nor is it somehow physically or biologically impossible for people with generally homosexual sexuality to engage in the sexual, physical act of copulation with people of the opposite sex. So knowing all of this just makes it hard on my brain when people go around saying “gays can’t get married”. Um, what about the known, ironclad, historical fact that a lot of gays have gotten married and had heterosexual sex???

One aspect of the gay marriage argument does earn my sympathy. There is an equal-protection argument that has merit. Namely, married people get certain rights that nonmarried people don’t – actually though, I wouldn’t even dignify them by calling them “rights”, they are more like “conveniences”. Married people can submit their taxes as Married – Filing Jointly. (Whoop dee doo, such a thrill.) Married people can, um, adopt? Wait, so can unmarried gay couples. What “rights” are we talking about then? You often hear about “hospital visitation rights” – ok, fine, so married people can visit their spouse in the hospital, whereas when it comes to a gay unmarried couple, the nurses will viciously turn away a gay person from ever visiting his or her dying partner, at gunpoint. Actually, no, having worked in a hospital (with, of course, tons of gay people) I don’t believe for one second that really happens either. But whatever, let’s concede the point: being married probably does have some conveniences when it comes to dealing with government-style bureaucracies, paperwork, and such.

The rebuttal to my point above then would be a disparate-impact sort of argument: namely, yes, ok, gays could get married (to someone of the opposite sex), but this goes against their preference, so it’s not fair. In short: to gain access to certain bureaucratic conveniences, gays have to engage in an action they’re not predisposed, from birth or at least early on, to like. Having ‘marriage’ only be man-woman therefore has a disparate impact on homosexuals’ ability to access those conveniences.

That argument is true, as far as it goes. It does have a disparate impact: the thing homosexuals would have to do to obtain certain government conveniences – marry someone of opposite sex – by definition isn’t likely to be very appealing to them.

Boo hoo. As if all other government-supplied conveniences are somehow equally easy to obtain for every sort of person!

This isn’t exactly a civil-rights issue on a level with “I have a dream…”. But what the heck, if being able to check a box so they can be Filing Jointly on their taxes is that important to homosexuals, I say let’s go ahead and make that change.

But that is no reason to change the definition of marriage.

Ok What?

Ok what? Let me explain.

See, the other night, it was oh let’s say two and a half weeks ago, I had eaten too much homemade ghee-based Indian food at dinner and my half-awake dreams were twisted and surreal, yet incorporating real-world elements into a Lovecraftian monstrous hybrid vision. Most of the memories of these dreams were immediately etched out of my brain in an apparent effort at self-preservation, lest insanity take hold permanently.

But one dream element shines through brightly, like a thing that shines very very brightly. In this dream, you see, there was a pop-rock band. The members of this pop-rock band were, unbelievably and improbably and bizarrely:

  1. The kid from Hanson. He was singing, and somehow all grown up.
  2. Adam Schlesinger, songwriting genius behind Fountains of Wayne, on bass (?).
  3. One of the people from Smashing Pumpkins on guitar. That James Iha guy in fact. Totally random right?
  4. And on drums, none other than Bun E. Carlos from fricking Cheap Trick. (!!) Yes, that Bun E. Carlos. Really old presumably, but still rocking.

I could only guess at what sort of psychopathies could have led my brain to conjure up this unholy vision. Imagine my utter horror and disbelief, then, to discover that this band is REAL and that they are called Tinted Windows. How can this be? And what does it mean?

Some things cannot be explained. Some things just are.

Knock Off The Empathy Stuff
May 27, 2009, 12:16 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

All the news stories I saw mentioning President Obama’s Supreme Court pick made special mention of that quote from a while back where he said he would look for someone with “empathy”. The “empathy” debate has thus trickled up into mainstream news to the point where they feel obligated to make it part of the conversation.

Now look. I’m as fond of finding reasons to criticize the President as the next guy. And I’m guilty of harping on the “empathy” quote myself. But isn’t it time to give it a rest with the “empathy” thing? It was one quote he gave, in one answer, to one question, in a certain context. As far as I can tell, President Obama never said My One And Only Criterion Is That The Person Has Empathy, or anything akin to that. And as far as I can tell, this pick is perfectly qualified.

I think the “empathy” quote should have been discussed (as it was, and I participated), but then dropped. I’m tired of hearing about it.

It’s really time to drop it.

How Ridiculous It Is To Think The Left Has Left-Wing Goals

I liked about 2/3rds of this Max Boot post. There is a voice of reason behind words such as these (emph mine):

As I tried to make clear, the point of my post wasn’t to defend the Obama national security policy–although I think on the whole it’s been pretty centrist and sensible.

Much of the change from the Bush administrat[ion] has been rhetorical not substantive. For instance, Obama has made a big deal out of banning “enhanced interrogation techniques” like waterboarding but they had already been discarded by the Bush administration in its second term. Much of what the commentators object to (and that I object to also) are a continuation of President Bush’s weak policies toward North Korea and Iran. In some areas Obama is actually being more hawkish by authorizing more Predator strikes in Pakistan and by increasing our troop numbers in Afghanistan well beyond the levels previously authorized by Bush. He has also backed off his campaign rhetoric by delaying our withdrawal from Iraq.

However at one point he overreaches, when he says

Ask yourself this: If Obama doesn’t believe in a strong national defense, what does he believe in? Making America weaker? Helping our enemies?

This is the sort of sentiment I always place in the mental category of Anti-McCarthyist thinking. Anti-McCarthyism, you will recall, was/is the movement to characterize as loony and crazy and ridiculous the notion that anyone, ever, in any circumstance, could ever have been a “Communist”. In essence, Anti-McCarthyism is when you go around whining about “witch hunts” in situations where there really are witches. At its worst it is about misdirection and covering up for co-ideologues; at its best (i.e., in Boot’s case I believe) it is about trying to play nicey-nicey so as to seem “sensible” and so that people will like you. In either case it involves denying truth.

I think truths should be stated. So, I have responded. Here’s my response (since no one will read it there):

If Obama doesn’t believe in a strong national defense, what does he believe in? Making America weaker? Helping our enemies?

Am I the only one willing to actually come out and say “sure” and “sure” to these questions?

Obama, like most of the left, indeed believes in making America weaker and helping our enemies. (Except that “enemies” goes in quotes because we are not to acknowledge having any.) Why is this so hard to believe?

Put it this way: “national defense”, as the U.S. uses it anyway, is about autonomy of actions. When you have a “strong national defense” this means nothing more or less than that you have a large freedom of action in geopolitics. “Weak national defense”, then, means the opposite: you are more constrained by others and less autonomous.

This is indeed what the left wants. Why would you think otherwise?

Obama wants a minimalist national defense that removes a lot of possible actions from the field of play, takes them off the table as Things We Can Do. The people proposing those Things, therefore, will be disenfranchised and disempowered. This process will inevitably focus attention, spending, and political battlegrounds in the domestic arena. People (voters and policymakers) will focus less on achieving foreign policy goals of any kind and more on inward-looking, hedonistic, and insular goals (read, socialized health care and so on) – in other words, taking foreign policy autonomy off the table by engineering weak national defense will make more achievable, and indeed lead to, more left-wing governance and policies.

Yes: left-wingers want more left-wing policies and fewer right-wing policies. Is that supposed to be a big secret? Is it impolite to state the obvious now?

Cleveland Tourism Video
May 25, 2009, 8:17 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

“Who the f*** still uses a pay phone?”

Something I’ve wondered myself….

HT: 2 Blowhards

M. Age 4.75
May 24, 2009, 9:01 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags:

1. (Doing something dangerous at the playground) “I’m watch-outing.”

2. “Every grownup gets mad at people all the time.”

3. “Nobody can see the wind. Only angels and butterflies can.”

Breaking Bad
May 23, 2009, 7:23 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

To my mind the TV serial Breaking Bad, my new favorite show, is the logical successor to The Sopranos, in the way that it exemplifies the national zeitgeist. Breaking Bad is about a normal mild-mannered guy – Mr. White, a high school chemistry teacher – who, in order to pay his lung cancer bills & set his family up after his (he thinks) looming death, embarks on an attempt to use his chemistry knowhow to become the most badass meth dealer in New Mexico. It’s funny and strange, but most of all, it’s scary.

It’s not scary because of what happens. It’s scary because of what the show seems to be saying about our society. (Maybe TV shows just reflect the warped minds of the moral dwarfs who make them, and don’t say anything at all about our society, but it’s always fun to pretend they do.) And it’s scary because of how much I find myself liking it.

As I hint above, I place Breaking Bad in a tradition of gangster soap operas. There have probably been gangster soap operas going back to the gangster movies of the ’30s and before, but the concept really took off with the Godfather saga. Godfather is essentially a soap opera, is it not? Guys like those movies because there’s guy stuff – guns, and going to the mattresses, and all that – but think about it: what are all those (often embarrassing) scenes with Kay doing there? The stuff about the sister and her husband? All those fricking weddings? Was that not soap opera fodder? (And of course let’s not forget the almost nonstop embarrassment of Godfather 3….)

No, Godfather became such a monster success for a reason, and it certainly wasn’t because it was a one-dimensional, shoot ‘em up gangster picture with explosions that only guys liked. It had to have been, at least in part, because the chicks could find something to care about in the movie too. And that’s why it became so big. So big that it disturbed people. After all, here was America, the greatest country on earth, seemingly obsessed with the family life and squabbles of a set of murderous gangsters. Caring about them. Even (in some ways) looking up to them. At the very least, sympathizing with them, and understanding why they made the choices they did. What did this say about us? Did it say something bad, perhaps? I’m sure the Time Magazine articles practically just wrote themselves….

But man, those were the days. That was nothing. In the ’90s we got warmed up with Goodfellas, which had the most charming and fascinating gangsters we had ever seen. This culminated with its semi-ripoff The Sopranos, which was a mashup of Goodfellas with Beverly Hills 90210 and Married With Children: the gangster film reimagined as a weekly family dramedy. Now instead of a gangster character who like Vito Corleone was sympathetic but still coldly remote and fascinating in his alien ways, we got a gangster character who lived in the suburbs, watched John Wayne movies, picked up the morning paper, had jerk-off backtalking kids, loved backyard barbecue, and generally had the same problems we all had. The murderous gangster had finally settled into our neighborhood, and become our buddy. So much so that the makers of The Sopranos had to repeatedly (and increasingly, it seemed, in the show’s final season) remind us that this Tony Soprano we were welcoming into our living room was not in fact a nice cute cuddly teddy bear. America had not only started to sympathize with the criminal choice, America had started to fall in love with criminals.

So why do I view Breaking Bad as the logical successor? Simple. Breaking Bad takes the logic of the Sopranos and gives it one final tweak: he’s not a gangster who is a lot like us. He’s a guy who is a lot like us and decides to become a gangster.

All three exemplars of the gangster-soap genre make an argument to their audience, make a pitch to them, to win over their allegiance.

  • In Godfather the pitch was: “These people were born into a different sort of culture, with different rules. They may do bad things, but try to understand why: If you were in their circumstances, you might well make the same choices. Sympathize with them.”
  • With Sopranos, the seduction of the show lay in getting people to fall in love with, envy, and admire Tony Soprano in spite of themselves. The implicit argument presented was that he was a lot like us. “Gangsters are a lot like us. Same goals, they just go about them differently. Same problems, they just solve them differently (and in some cases, more effectively). Like them.”
  • In Breaking Bad the argument reverses the Sopranos approach: a nice normal guy becomes a gangster. “You could easily do this too, if you needed to.”

Let’s look at this more concisely:

  • The Godfather pitch: You can understand, given circumstances, why criminals do criminal things.
  • The Sopranos pitch: Criminals are, in many ways, a lot like you normal people.
  • The Breaking Bad pitch: You normal people are, in many ways, a lot like criminals.

Given the above progression we’ve seen, it should be clear why the implications of Breaking Bad are frightening. When watching, I find myself rooting for Mr. White, agreeing with Mr. White, and wishing I had the guts to be Mr. White.

That’s not good.

  • All particles might be mini black holes. Does this mean that all black holes are giant particles?
  • Arnold Kling says the only two elements of the political system are Progressive Corporatism and The Resistance.
  • Excellent, concise post at Tea with FT about the arbitrariness of capital requirements:

    If a bank regulator decided that the minimum capital requirements for the banks depended on how much some few specially designated fashion experts fancied the colour of the tie that the borrower´s chief executive officer wore; and that capital requirements so determined could then vary between a high of 12% of the loan and a low of 0.56% would you call this a free market? Of course not, not even if instead of the colour of ties what was used were the ratings of some vaguely defined credit-default risks.

  • Steve Sailer cracks me up: “Here are hardworking scientists carefully digging up stuff, but some Broadway musical expert implies that they are racist for finding it and publicizing it.”
  • George Will: “The [Obama] administration’s central activity — the political allocation of wealth and opportunity — is not merely susceptible to corruption, it is corruption.” (HT Cafe Hayek)
  • Did you know that if you pay off your credit card bills you’ve been “enjoying the equivalent of a free ride” compared to people who don’t? (HT Dr. Frank)


  • Mencius Moldbug on academics:

    Academia is a guild of talented and ambitious professionals who, by demonstrating their large and dextrous brains – not to mention their impeccable networking skills, and their infinite patience with the brown product of the cow – extract money, power, and/or status from USG [the U.S. Government].

  • Bryan Caplan on the Human Development Index (HDI):

    Scandinavia comes out on top according to the HDI because the HDI is basically a measure of how Scandinavian your country is.

The Honor Battle
May 22, 2009, 4:42 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

In some sense politics is just about deciding who will be honored. Honored in every sense of the word – honored by being looked up to, honored by others doing what you tell them to, honored by being given lots of money. Non-democratic politics includes gang wars and duels and assassinations, which are one way of deciding who will be honored. In democracy, when it’s working, this battle for honor takes place solely by constantly pleading for it from others and enlisting others to take up the mantle of doing same (this, we call “campaigning”).

This may be why political arguments in a democratic context – the sort of arguments we’re all supposed to be in favor of, as ‘what democracy is all about’ – so often don’t look honest or real to me. Because they are in some sense inseparable from special pleading, from the neverending seduction attempt that is “campaigning”. Why does this or that pundit hold that position, the one he has come up with such a carefully-constructed argument for? Ultimately, at the end of the day it’s because he wants this sort of person to be honored rather than that – and he thinks this position, and this argument for the position, will help him get there.

There are stylistic variations in how people can approach the honor battle however. Consider that even within a group of people all seemingly clamoring for honor in exactly the same way, there can be very different centers of focus:

  1. I want the people I like to be honored.
  2. I want the people I’m like to be honored.
  3. I don’t want the people I don’t like to be honored.
  4. I don’t want the people I’m not like to be honored.

Each of these represents a different sort of strategy for winning the honor battle. Do you try to grab honor for yourself and your friends? For some giant group which you hope includes you? Or on the flip side do you try to keep others from scoring honor slots, on this or that basis? In short: do you play offense or defense?

Which of 1-4 do you most strongly identify with? I’m a 1 & 3 sort of person, I think – 1 if I’m in a good mood, 3 if I’m in a resentful mood. Sometimes a little of 2 perhaps, if I’m feeling particularly whiny and entitled. What’s your mixture?

I suspect that modern political divides can be explained far better by where people lie along axes such as these than the ones we’re traditionally taught (left-right, etc.) Example analyses:

  • A lot of people voted for President Obama simply because he is black, and they are black – or at least they strong identify with his ‘identity’ on that sort of level (i.e. because he’s a “minority”, etc). Obviously those are 2’s.
  • The mainstream Republican who is sickened by the thought of ‘someone like Obama’ who is ‘a socialist’ in the White House, is really speaking from sentiment 4 more than any tangible views on ‘socialism’.
  • Bush-haters on the other hand were mostly 3’s. They didn’t like Bush because of who he was, his persona, but he became the President (honored) and so there you go: BDS.
  • Sentiment 1 will tend to be held by, say, a churchgoing conservative who wants low taxes so he has more means to support his family and help raise them to a good position in society. However, corrupt Wall Street and business types who use government to cut sweet deals for themselves and their friends are also 1 strategists.

Notice what’s absent from any of that analysis: “the issues”, or any sort of laundry-list of political positions or platforms that people favor or disfavor. I suspect that’s far less important than the battle for honor.

The up-side of this method of analysis is that it brings into sharp focus what are very different motivations, which may be masked by the usual method of political analysis. I already pointed out that strategies 1 and 2 are offensive while 3 and 4 are defensive. But there is also the fact that 1 and 3 are about the individual’s close circle (me, my family, and my friends), whereas in strategies 2 and 4 the focus is on exalting some ‘tribe’ or another (with the hope/belief of benefiting as part of that ‘tribe’). We can now rephrase my 1-4 more abstractly:

  1. Individualistic, offensive
  2. Tribal, offensive
  3. Individualistic, defensive
  4. Tribal, defensive

It might be interesting to try to plot the various parts of the ‘political spectrum’ on this 2 x 2 grid. I shall leave that as an exercise to the reader. To get you started: what group most obviously qualifies as 2’s? When might 2’s and 4’s get along? Answer in the space provided, and show your work….

Two Cheers For Hypocrisy
May 17, 2009, 2:04 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , ,

A very common and appealing way of arguing against someone nowadays, it seems, is to show they’re a hypocrite. If someone makes a claim about some principle, and you can show that (in some other respect in their life) they violate that principle, then they’re a hypocrite, and…your work is done. Pat yourself on the back for another argument won.

Let’s try that out. Say I’m a thief. I steal cars for a living. But I tell my 14-year-old son: “It’s not right to steal cars.” Well, but look what I do? I steal cars! Therefore I’m a hypocrite. So I must have been wrong in what I said: it must be okay to steal cars….

Er…wait. That didn’t quite work.

Let’s try another one. Our current President, President Obama, has acknowledged snorting cocaine. Our prior President, President Bush, also almost surely snorted cocaine at some point. So let’s examine the question: is it a good idea to snort cocaine? “I’m a naive young person just starting out in life. I need direction. I’m not sure which way to go. Mr. President: should I snort cocaine? Is that a good way to go? Is that a path to success, Mr. President?” How should the President answer me? Should he say “Yes, because I did, and look where it got me”? That seems like the wrong answer, if only statistically. But what if he says “No, snorting cocaine’s generally not a good idea, please don’t”. Then he’s a hypocrite (because he did it). And (therefore?) he’s wrong. But then he can’t say yes and he can’t say no. There’s no right way for him to answer.

Hmm. Something interesting has happened. By equating “hypocrite” to “wrong”, we find that there’s no right answer to a question of principle or behavior. Could this be the appeal of this method of arguing? Because it makes it impossible to give concrete moral advice?

The key here is that “hypocrite” is not the same thing as “wrong”. More to the point: showing someone’s a hypocrite is not sufficient to show that they’re wrong.

A lot of people nowadays seem to think that it is. It’s an almost universally-beloved method of arguing against someone. Heck, I catch myself doing it sometimes. And there are a zillion and one hacky ‘political’ Hollywood movies or TV-drama plotlines whose entire melodramatic conflict revolves around the Mean Moralist Conservative politician secretly having a mistress or drug habit or other vice, the exposing of which (through some adventure and derring-do from the heroes) somehow magically wins the argument, automatically dethrones the Hypocrite, and makes everything ok. Because Hypocrisy is the absolute worst thing there is. Hypocrisy (or at least, having that hypocrisy exposed) is the only surefire way to be literally excommunicated from civil society.

It’s almost as if people have forgotten how to conduct real arguments: lots of argument approaches are ruled out upfront due to PC, relativism, or similar reasons, so that the only arrow left in anyone’s quiver is ‘well at least we could try to find some hypocrisy somewhere’. The problem is that arrow doesn’t actually cut the way folks think it does. Or at least it shouldn’t. But somehow actually it often does: arguments work only and precisely when they convince, after all, and the ‘hypocrisy’ method seems to convince many nowadays, for whatever reason (mental laziness?). At the same time, the arrow is unreliable. Some charges of ‘hypocrisy’ stick and some don’t. Conservatives for example keep trying to stick, say, Al Gore with the ‘hypocrite’ label because he uses so much energy himself – and they just get swatted away. This is because ‘hypocrite’ is often a squishy, fuzzy enough charge that the listener can pretty much decide for himself whether to pay attention to it.

Except of course in clear-cut moral issues: if a public figure makes speeches decrying adultery, but has an affair, there’s no fuzziness and no avoiding the ‘hypocrite’ label. So this is an unreliable, illogical arrow that doesn’t really cut, but when it works it’s likely to work more often against a moral conservative.

Yes: now we start to understand the appeal of the approach, I think.

Please, if you ever catch me basing an entire argument on someone’s “hypocrisy”, call me on it. In fact let me just come out and say: I’m in favor of hypocrisy, when it’s appropriate. All things equal it’s of course better to change one’s bad behavior, but as (apparently) La Rochefoucauld said:

Hypocrisie est un hommage que la vice rend à la vertu

Or, as I’ve always heard it (not from La Rochefoucauld but from, I think it must have been, George Will), “hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue”.

Auto-Tune The News
May 16, 2009, 4:08 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Brilliant! I might actually be able to stomach watching news now.

The Stress Test
May 16, 2009, 2:56 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

Excuse me. Hello? Yes, you. That’s right. You, the one who’s reading this.

I’ve got an announcement to make: I’ve “stress-tested” you. I ran you through a model on a giant spreadsheet I built. It has 97 tabs and 143 VBA macros, of course it farms some of its calculations out to a Monte Carlo server. I made some assumptions, of course, but they are just common-sense assumptions. Assumptions about the future unemployment rate, the 2/10 year swap spread, the average velocity of a sparrow, the prepayment rate of manufactured-home residents outside Carson City Nevada, the radius of the moon, the box-office take of Spider-Man 4 if/when it comes out, the 2011 slugging percentage of Evan Longoria, the average number of Twinkies your next-door neighbor’s little nephew will eat over the next three years…you know. The usual stuff.

I’m sorry to have to be the one to break this to you, but according to my stress test, you don’t have enough capital. You need approximately $37.45 billion dollars of capital. That’s what the stress test said. And stress tests don’t lie. It’s scientific and everything. It’s right there on the spreadsheet in cell A1. $37.45 billion. And, well, you just don’t have that many. I’m not sure how many dollars of capital you do have, but I’m pretty sure it’s not that many.

Therefore, you’re going to need me to give it to you. Here you go. I just printed them up. Go ahead, smell ‘em! Nice, huh? Good. Now you’re all set. You’ve got enough capital. You didn’t before but now you do cuz I gave it to you so all is well. Don’t spend it now. Don’t do anything with it. You have to sit on it. You never know when I’ll be back to stress test you again and determine whether you have enough capital, after all. You need a certain amount of capital and that’s the amount. I computed it fair and square. Scientifically. The amount I just printed out and gave to you. Understand? Good.

There now, I think that just about wraps it–HEY WAIT A MINUTE. I just realized I’ve got a big stake in you now. In fact, I’m your #1 shareholder. Nobody else even comes close. You’ve taken A LOT of money from me. You know what that means?

You better do what I say. Everything I say. Starting now. And until further notice.

What? You don’t want to? You have the gall to complain, when I had to bail you out, and you took my money? The nerve.

What? You want to give the money back? Sorry, can’t do that. Because then you wouldn’t have enough. The stress test said so. And stress tests don’t lie. They’re scientific.

The Wolf Who Cried Wolf
May 15, 2009, 11:14 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , ,

Bloomberg: Obama Says U.S. Long-Term Debt Load ‘Unsustainable’

In other news:

  • Barry Bonds decries steroids in baseball, says they are ‘ruining the game’
  • Britney Spears speaks out against immorality, says starlets need to set ‘a better example for young girls’
  • Arsonist blows the whistle on fire-prone building techniques, calls it a ‘scandalous time-bomb’


HT Jules Crittenden, who has more

May 15, 2009, 1:48 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , ,

No original thoughts lately, so let’s just dump some links on all y’all.

  • Seth Roberts says the experts get it wrong on nutrition. My rule of thumb for nutrition is that whatever the conventional New York Times-reading chatterbox/busybody wisdom thinks is good for you, eat the opposite. If you hear chiding and tsk-tsking from others about how many “grams of fat” or “bad cholesterol” or (this, that and the other bogeyman of the Oprah-watching crowd) that the food you’re eating has, you know you’re on the right track and indeed whatever you’re eating will probably be discovered to be good for you sometime in the next ten years. So just eat, and smile, and laugh and laugh at their ignorance and envy – that’s what I do.
  • M. Simon digs up a comment in an Amazon review of von Mises: “…this continued fascination with anti-capitalism is rooted in emotionalism – particularly resentment, envy, jealousy, and self-doubt”. Envy in particular, I would say.
  • Llama Butchers notes Martha Quinn turns fifty, which blew my mind. The moment I read that is the exact moment that I stopped thinking of fifty as “old”. Martha Quinn is fifty. I understand it intellectually, but on some level it just seems literally impossible, like a violation of the laws of physics.
  • Corrupt on the inherent paradox multiculturalism:

    In academic circles, you pretend to care about other cultures because it’s an easy way to morally boost your ego. You’d never even consider the thought of actually living in Malmö and spending quality time together with people from different cultures, except for PR purposes–you want your all-white middle class refuge, after all. In working-class circles, immigrants actually integrate much easier, because there’s less drama and more practical interaction between people. [...] It’s funny how the most ardent multiculti-promoters live in classy, all-white neighbourhoods without the faintest of relationships to people from other cultures. In short, multiculturalism, like third world aid, is a surrogate theory for the ignorant and privileged to appear morally superior.

  • “Western Borg culture”, coins Big Lizards.

BONUS: Welmer explains why “it looks as though we’re stuck with housewives following the ancient art of Hindu temple prostitution for some time to come”.

Fair Game
May 12, 2009, 11:35 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

Anyone surprised by what that comedienne person said at that dinner thingy need only remind themselves where Rush Limbaugh is located in the Boyle-Prejean Matrix. Wrong opinions and non-beautiful: thus totally fair game (and his talent or lack thereof doesn’t matter).

Just like on any playground.

May 9, 2009, 2:23 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

One of the most beautiful and inspiring photos I’ve seen in a long time.

(seen here)

May 9, 2009, 2:02 am
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

I wonder who first thought of the idea of pushing all the small humans around on rolling beds (instead of just leaving them where they are, as we do with grown humans) while they are asleep?

If I fell asleep in the middle of a pleasant day and then woke up to find that someone had been rolling my bed in front of them along a lane in a park under some trees, I’d be….well wait. Actually that’d be pretty awesome.

Poor Conchords
May 7, 2009, 11:40 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: ,

They’re both in love with a sexy lady.

Two People, Two Beauties: The Boyle-Prejean Matrix

Interesting what two recent faddish news items, both involving previously-unknown women, says about the current state of our culture.

1. Susan Boyle – I’m sure everyone’s seen the clip by now. Short version: a woman who is physically unattractive and ungraceful walked onto the stage, and everyone laughed and gaped. Then she sang, and everyone was shocked by how beautiful her singing voice is. Now, the standard blog commentary on this event simply says that this is a story about ‘prejudice’, as in ‘see how wrong they were to judge her voice by what she looked like?’, the lesson being a standard don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover. But actually I don’t think it’s all that crazy that people associate physical beauty with musical ability (see this pretty songbird discussion). To me the real problem with the Susan Boyle incident was not that people doubted she’d have a good voice based on how she looked and acted, but the fact that people – grown people, allegedly adult people, in a TV studio audience, being recorded for an audience of millions and for posterity – were so fricking rude to her from the moment they first saw her. In short: She looks ugly, so it was okay to be rude to her.

And then there’s

2. Carrie Prejean, a beautiful young woman who gave a classy, intelligent and (until just a few years ago) completely normal answer to a question on gay marriage from someone calling himself “Perez Hilton”:

And you know what has happened to her since: she’s getting the full-on Palin Treatment. In this case, the studio audience was respectable while the rudeness came later: It has been lefty ideologue commentators, including most prominently Mr. “Hilton”, who have behaved like classless, intolerant, vulgar, rude pricks. Again there is a standard way to interpret the Prejean incident (as a sad commentary on free speech, say). But again, what interests me more is the rudeness, the scorn, the absence of decency.

In both cases we find people being treated as beneath contempt – as not meriting the slightest basic human decency – as, essentially, unpersons – unless and until they meet certain conditions. It so happened that Susan Boyle met those conditions by demonstrating an unsuspected and unlikely-seeming artistic talent. Carrie Prejean, meanwhile, excluded herself from those conditions by demonstrating an incorrect opinion.

We seem to have the following two matrices:


Which leads immediately to the following Boyle-Prejean Matrix:


The priorities for someone wishing to be treated decently are clearly:

  1. Conform to the correct opinions.
  2. Have some artistic talent of some sort that will impress people.
  3. Be beautiful.

At the very least, make sure you conform.

Or as Rush put it back in the very early 1980s, in their characteristically subtle way (note: no, this sort of thing was probably not what Neil Peart was referring to):

Growing up it all seems so one-sided
Opinions all provided
In the high school halls
In the shopping malls
Conform or be cast out
In the basement bars
In the backs of cars
Be cool or be cast out

Starting to see why I refer to it as high school politics yet? Face it. After high school, we don’t grow up. We’re just given more money and things to play with, in the process enabling us to become even more monstrous if we wish.

And some people do indeed wish.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 420 other followers