The 80-foot blackboard in the bomb shelter

Hiroko Tabuchi of the New York Times on Monday published an article on the Koch Brothers killing a public transit proposal in Nashville. I read it, expecting something revelatory, and came away thinking that the case against the proposal was plausible and that Tabuchi hadn’t really described the case for it. He just waved his hands and said “Koch” a lot.

National Review’s Kyle Smith now has a pitch-perfect send-up:

The half-awake citizen may be unaware just how dexterously the arms of the Kochtopus have reached into every precinct of American life. Not one mile from my home stands a particularly egregious example: the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, home to the New York City Ballet. Koch put up $100 million toward renovating the theater, but consider his ulterior motives. Theaters like this one use a lot of floor wax. At intermission they serve drinks in plastic cups. Their seats are covered with upholstery. These are all byproducts of petroleum. Get the picture?

Look deeper. Just a couple of miles east of the Koch Theater there’s an actual Koch hospital: the New York–Presbyterian David H. Koch Center, a 740,000-square-foot ambulatory-care center that opened its doors this year with the aid of another $100 million Koch gift. Charity? No. Bonanza! The Kochs sell all kinds of items used in hospitals — medical devices, electronic components, and even hands-free paper-towel dispensers and stuffing for pillows. In 2014, David and Charles Koch gave $25 million to the United Negro College Fund. Don’t see the connection? Educated black people read more. The Kochs own Flint Group, one of the world’s largest suppliers of printing ink.

Wake up sheeple! I have all of these connections diagrammed out on the 80-foot-wide blackboard I keep in the bomb shelter. You go unprepared for the Kochpocalypse if you choose. I won’t.

The latest dastardly Koch scheme was exposed on Monday, and for this we must thank Hiroko Tabuchi, a climate-change reporter for the New York Times. In classic 80-foot-blackboard fashion, Tabuchi laid out the devious conspiracy for us.

Using a front group called Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which deployed a sneaky election-rigging tactic known as “talking to people,” the Kochs destroyed a proposal for a light-rail system in Nashville, thus keeping commuters in their gas-guzzling cars and hastening the end of the world via global warming to protect the Kochs’ interests in the barbaric, malevolent seatbelt industry. Actual sentence from the piece: “One of the mainstay companies of Koch Industries, the Kochs’ conglomerate, is a major producer of gasoline and asphalt, and also makes seatbelts, tires and other automotive parts.”

The dots connect themselves! …

Koch. Scapegoat. But I repeat myself.

René Girard rocks!

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Simpler than “as simple as possible”

We are back to Paul Valéry’s maxim: “Everything simple is false. Everything complex is unusable.” In the world of computer modeling, this is known as Bonini’s paradox: The more realistic a model is, the more it becomes as complex and difficult to understand as the real world; the simpler and more user-friendly a model becomes, the less accurately it represents the underlying system. Mass democracy and mass media on the American model work to impose on the complex reality of American public life the simplest possible model of politics, aggregating all of political reality into two variables: Us and Them.

Another way of putting this is that the unstated task of cable-news journalism on the Fox/MSNBC model — along with practically all political talk radio, 99.44 percent of social media, and a great deal of inferior writing about politics — is transmuting intellectual complexity into moral simplicity. Even that isn’t quite right: The moral simplicity offered by the “Everybody Who Disagrees with Me Is Hitler” school of analysis is a false simplicity — simplicity for the truly simple, as opposed to what Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. described as “the simplicity on the far side of complexity.”

(Kevin D. Williamson)

Of course, Williamson has examples, including from “inferior writing about politics” from two of our premier national newspapers.

UPDATE: Immediately after writing the above, I turned to another article which, if true, is rather terrifying in light of the more obvious truths Williamson notes.

The leader of the free world still begins his day by binge-watching cable news until 11 a.m.; still spends official meetings nattering on about anything other than the subject at hand (even when said subject is how to ensure that this year’s hurricane season does not result in mass death this time around); and, most critically, still cannot be bothered to learn the pertinent facts about a given situation, before dictating a policy response to it.

One of the president’s chief complaints about H.R. McMaster was (reportedly) that the former national security adviser had the temerity to brief him with “a PowerPoint deck dozens of pages long, filled with text” — rather than “simple, short bullets, or a graphic or timeline.” White House aides have grown so desperate to get the commander-in-chief to ingest the most remedial information about the geopolitical affairs he’s mindlessly disrupting, they’ve whittled the bullet points in his briefing book down to “basically slogans,” one administration source told Axios.

(Eric Levitz, Trump’s Briefing Book Includes ‘Screen Grabs of Cable-News Chyrons’, New Yorker)

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Journalism in a Nutshell

Same basic story, two headlines:

I might leave it there, but I’ll attest from personal experience that the Washington Post headline is truer, the National Review headline an indicator of early-onset amnesia in Ms. Timpf. It’s hard to write truthfully about a prickly über-narcissist without sounding petty.

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Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

(Sir James Fitzjames Stephen)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

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Sins of the fathers

[T]he public debate about how Congress ought to respond to this latest mass shooting is guided by two broad principles. Dubious on their own, they are even more witless when combined. The first is the idea that the most important thing is to “do something.” The second is that we ought to look to high-schoolers for the answer.

This in no way diminishes the barbarity of what happened to the Parkland students. It is, however, to insist on the obvious: As terrible as their experiences were, the attack gives them no special insight into the complex array of public policies that might have prevented the slaughter.

… Is it really so unreasonable to insist that those pushing specific legislation or regulations provide evidence that the something they want done will in fact produce the results they claim?

It’s not just conservatives who have doubts. In an October 2016 article in GQ, the Guardian’s full-time gun-politics reporter conceded she was “shocked by how little evidence there was behind some of the most prominent gun control policies.” The year before, right after the San Bernardino killings, the Washington Post fact checker backed Mr. Rubio’s claim that gun laws would not have prevented any of the major shootings the nation had seen in recent years.

(William McGurn, Our Childish Gun Debate, Wall Street Journal)

I agree with every word of that, but I’ve been disturbed for years by the anti-legislation trope that, in effect, “there’s nothing effective we can do because there already are so many guns out there.” A case against gun control by David French took substantially that tack:

  1. Do people have a right of self-defense?
  2. Does that right include that the self-defense be effective?
  3. If so, you mustn’t ban AR-15s because they are in common use, only law-abiding citizens will yield them up in compliance with a ban, and such a citizen, defending against a criminal’s AR-15, is relatively ineffective if they’ve got something less.

The logic speaks for itself. Few deny the right of self-defense. The whole premise of trying to ban AR-15s is that there are so many of them and they’re so lethal. So only by denying the right to effective self-defense can most people support such a ban.

[Aside: If anyone from the left coast is reading this, I’d also caution you that people who live far from the police station in flyover country, not to mention those who live in rural areas and need to deal with varmints, will not be amused by a ban. Remember “bitter clingers’? Now they’re known as Trumpistas.]

I have no solution to the conundrum, but I now have a convenient myth to explain how we got here (“here” being zillions and zillions of guns protected by the Second Amendment): America’s original sin got us here. It’s especially convenient since, unlike the demonization of the NRA, it’s plausible:

The real reason the Second Amendment was ratified, and why it says “State” instead of “Country” (the Framers knew the difference – see the 10th Amendment), was to preserve the slave patrol militias in the southern states, which was necessary to get Virginia’s vote. Founders Patrick Henry, George Mason, and James Madison were totally clear on that . . . and we all should be too.

In the beginning, there were the militias. In the South, they were also called the “slave patrols,” and they were regulated by the states.

In Georgia, for example, a generation before the American Revolution, laws were passed in 1755 and 1757 that required all plantation owners or their male white employees to be members of the Georgia Militia, and for those armed militia members to make monthly inspections of the quarters of all slaves in the state. The law defined which counties had which armed militias and even required armed militia members to keep a keen eye out for slaves who may be planning uprisings.

By the time the Constitution was ratified, hundreds of substantial slave uprisings had occurred across the South. Blacks outnumbered whites in large areas, and the state militias were used to both prevent and to put down slave uprisings. As Dr. Bogus points out, slavery can only exist in the context of a police state, and the enforcement of that police state was the explicit job of the militias.

(Thom Hartmann, The Second Amendment was ratified to preserve slavery. H/T Lindsey Nelson on Facebook)

It’s tempting to “go full Jeremiad” and revert to Jonathan Edwards’ “Angry God” as the proximate cause of the gun plague and school shootings.

But I don’t know that we need that hypothesis. Sin ramifies. Sow the wind, reap the whirlwind. Poetic justice.

Pick your proverb. The dots connect intuitively for me, even if it’s difficult to articulate.

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Personal cybersecurity

You report on digital privacy, health and education technology. What are your most important tools for doing your job?

We’re living in a surveillance economy where sites and apps can track and categorize our every online move. In that ecosystem, encrypted communication services have become some of my most important reporting tools.

For people who would rather not reach me through my corporate Gmail account at The Times, I use ProtonMail, an encrypted email service. I also use Signal, an encrypted text messaging and calling service. And I do some online research through Tor, a browser that masks your online address so sites can’t track your physical location. I also use DuckDuckGo, a search engine that doesn’t store your search history.

(Natasha Singer, New York Times, product hyperlinks added.)

Check, check, check, check. But I don’t know which acquaintances use ProtonMail and Signal, which limits usefulness.

She also uses Disconnect. (Strokes chin thoughtfully.)

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Porns

Michael Brendan Dougherty suggests a parallel between fake news and the fake sex of porn:

In one domain of human life, the political, we’re expected to be entirely sober, civic, and lacking in prejudice. We’re supposed to avoid what is coarse and coarsening. And the code that programs our media experiences needs to reflect those same commitments. In the next open tab, judgments about coarseness and its effect on the rest of society are openly sneered at. The heart — or some other organ — wants what it wants. Our culture-makers seem to believe in a neatly cleaved human nature. In one realm, we can expect ourselves to act as angels, and do the disinterested thing. In another, perhaps to let off some steam, we must give the Devil his due.

But perhaps the defenders of porn should consider that the common purveyors and sharers of fake news across social media are also engaged in a form of self-abuse, combined with titillation, and fantasy life. They no more believe that Barack Obama is running guns to ISIS than that the surgically enhanced 30-year-old woman in a plaid skirt is a very bad Catholic-school girl. It’s just a reality they prefer to envision. One where they can gaze into a backlit screen, click around, and imagine they aren’t wasting their lives clicking around on a backlit screen.

(Michael Brendan Dougherty, Fake Love, Not News)

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Meticulous truth-tellers

Alastair Roberts, a smart fellow, has a smart take on the viral video of BBC’s Kathy Newman beclowning herself in an interview with Jordan Peterson.

I’ll assume you’ve watched the video and thus will omit most of Roberts’ summaries of Jordan’s message:

Peterson’s message is that men need to grow up because the world needs powerful men, and because women need powerful men. Men’s power is something that they have to offer the world and also something in which they should find meaning and dignity. And men’s power is good for women too.

Just how counter-cultural this message is merits reflection, not least as an indication of part of what is wrong with our world. Within society today, men are increasingly taught that their power is toxic and problematic, that they need to step back to let women advance. The sort of male spaces in which men develop and play to their strengths are closed down and the sexes integrated. The suggestion that the male sex rather needs to step up and play to its strengths, and not just function as meek, compliant, and deferential allies to women, is one that instinctively appalls many. ‘Powerful man’ is seldom heard as anything but a pejorative expression.

While Newman and others like her tend to perceive gender relations primarily in terms of the frame of competitive and largely zero-sum relations between individuals in a gender-neutralized economy, where male strength will almost unavoidably function as an obstacle and frustration to women and their advancement, Peterson asks the crucial question: ‘What sort of partner do you want?’

Just how threatening the development of powerful men is to our society and how invested our society has become in stifling men and discouraging their strength is illuminating, and the responses to Peterson are often telling here—both the instinctive resistance of many women to the prospect of more powerful men and the immense hunger of young men for a maturity they feel they lack.

A society that needs its men to be weak will ultimately prove to be frustrating for both sexes. Here the interpersonal dynamics of the interview are illuminating. Newman seems to be expecting to deal with another man-child who is acting out against the matriarchal forces in society, some puerile provocateur like Milo Yiannopoulos, perhaps. Encountering a manly adult male instead, she seems to be wrong-footed. By the end, she appears to be charmed by Peterson, despite herself.

(Emphasis added)

Elsewhere, Roberts and Rod Dreher noted Peterson’s commitment to truth-telling and his meticulous care with his words.

The first time I consciously noted that there are meticulous truth-tellers in the world, and that they stand out from the pack of logorrheic guys-at-the-bar, professional blatherskites, “puerile provocateurs” and televangelists, was when I read Dag Hammarskjöld‘s Markings (which, by the way, I highly recommend).

We need more meticulous truth-telling, and Peterson is getting some reward, in the coin of the age (celebrity) for modeling it.

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We develop heart and mind in parallel, that the mind will protect us from the wolfs, and the heart will keep us from becoming wolves ourselves. (Attributed to Serbian Patriarch Pavle)

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Any stick will do …

A most strange complaint was channeled through NPR’s All Things Considered Monday.

Although 90% of deportations under Donald Trump have been to Mexico, Guatamala, Honduras and El Salvador, some of the other 10% are up in arms:

“It’s really indiscriminate. ICE, in their aggressive tactics of detention, are going after the Irish as much as they’re going after any other nationality,” says Ronnie Millar, director of the Irish International Immigrant Center in Boston.

Irish visa overstayers have been swept up in the administration’s nationwide immigration dragnet. Under strict new rules, anyone here illegally is a target — whether they’re convicted of a crime or not. In 2017, ICE deported 34 undocumented Irish, up from 26 the year before. The numbers are tiny compared with the 128,765 Mexicans ejected from the country last year, but in Boston’s closeknit Irish community the wave of arrests is big news.

Tommy O’Connor, a bartender at the Green Briar Irish pub, says his undocumented Irish customers are wary these days.

“It makes everyday life more difficult,” he says. “For a simple traffic stop they can be deported.”

He tells the story of a prominent local Irish immigrant, John Cunningham, who went on camera with an Irish TV crew last year talking about his fear of living illegally in Boston. Weeks later, ICE arrested him and sent him back to Ireland.

“It was a shock because it wasn’t during a traffic stop, he was arrested in his home,” O’Connor says. “It means it could happen to anybody because he was a very well known figure in the Irish community.”

Millar, director of the Irish International Immigrant Center in Boston, says that Irish immigrants are “on high alert.”

“They have no confidence that the color of their skin provides any protection for them,” he says.

“[N]o confidence that the color of their skin provides any protection for them ….” “Racist.”

“Discrimination.” “Indiscriminate.”

Any stick will do to beat a dog.

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“While saints are engaged in introspection, burly sinners run the world.” (John Dewey) Be a saint anyway. (Tipsy)

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Why I’m not a Libertarian

Reason is a libertarian monthly print magazine covering politics, culture, and ideas through a provocative mix of news, analysis, commentary, and reviews.” Thus saith the sponsored link in my search results.

[I]t’s shortsighted when publications like Reason Magazine scoff at law enforcement’s attempts to curb child trafficking by implying that runaways are more safe with pimps than with child protective services, basing this conclusion on the fact that that’s what trafficked, manipulated sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds say when asked.

Yes, Reason. I can’t think of another serious publication that would report on the Weinstein trafficking allegation in this way: “In this case, Weinstein is accused of using a fraudulent employment opportunity to lure Noble to his hotel room for what he hoped would be quid-pro-quo sex and what turned into a sexual assault.” It appears we have a national problem these days with hoped-for quid-pro-quo sex turning into sexual assault. All those dashed hopes.

Reason has long defended prostitution and turned a blind eye to the trafficking in the sex industry, preferring to champion rights for “sex workers.” And again this past spring, the magazine’s associate editor Elizabeth Nolan Brown penned a cover story accusing the FBI of policing sex in their attempts to save trafficked victims. “Most of the minors found in these crackdowns are not selling sex because someone is forcing them into it,” Brown urges, “but because they have no other palatable options to get by. They need shelter, cash, better care, legit employment, and better prospects all around.” Seemingly blind to how having limited options is fertile ground for coercion and exploitation, Brown paints an empathetic picture of a man named Irick Oneal who was prosecuted for trafficking a fifteen-year-old runaway who says she didn’t want to go back to CPS. Elsewhere, she describes trafficking prosecutions like this: “U.S. prosecutors announced federal indictments against a Missouri man accused of driving an 18-year-old sex worker across state lines and a pair of cousins whose initially consensual pimping of three adult women (including one of the defendants’ girlfriends) had turned abusive.” I suppose the pimp’s hopes were dashed here too.

Such statements reveal an agenda to portray prostitution as based on consensual relations at all costs—even at the cost of overlooking children being sold into slavery. It’s hard to think of another explanation that would gloss over the value of removing a thirteen-year-old girl from traffickers and instead bemoan the arrest of numerous prostituting adults caught in the same sting. “Authorities are routinely taking money set aside to stop child sexual exploitation and using it to find and punish adults, many just a few years past childhood themselves, for private sexual activities,” Brown decries. Who exactly did she think was exploiting the children, if not adults? 

Somewhere along the way, Brown and Reason lose sight of the value of that thirteen-year-old girl. Somehow it’s more important to protect profits than to stop the rape of a girl. Somehow, that girl’s repeated sexual assault, stolen liberty, and damaged health became a cost of doing business, for which the surrounding adults are not accountable.

According to Reason Magazine, if more adults are arrested than minors rescued, it means the entire effort to stop child trafficking is a failure or a farce. It doesn’t strike them as curious that the so-called “sex workers” aren’t fazed by trafficked minors in their midst. Perhaps Reason doesn’t want to investigate that further, because then they’d see that most people working in the sex industry came from backgrounds of sex abuse under eighteen as well. They’d see that many of them also first stumbled into the industry at thirteen or fourteen too. Perhaps many in the sex industry aren’t appalled by child abuse, not because it’s only happening to a rare few of them, but because it’s what most have experienced themselves.

(Harvey Weinstein Isn’t Unusual: Sexual Abuse and Trafficking in the United States)

At my advanced age, I’ve had many reminders why I cannot resolve my political ennui by declaring myself Libertarian. Reptilian reductionism ranks high among those reminders, and I cannot bring myself to think that the evil of sex trafficking is less that the evils sometimes wrought in trying to stop sex trafficking.

And in case you’re wondering: Yes, I went to the source and didn’t just trust Witherspoon’s summary of how Reason was treating sex trafficking.

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“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

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The Golden Globe deflection

Deflection as a media strategy has become an art form. Its purpose is to avoid answering a charge by misdirecting it and confusing the issue. It’s often used during crisis.

There are classics of the genre. After Princess Diana died in August 1997, the British press came under severe pressure, accused of literally driving the poor half-mad woman to her death. The paparazzi had chased her like jackals, raced after her car in the tunnel, surrounded it, and taken pictures after the crash. Fleet Street hunkered down in confusion, perhaps even some guilt. Then some genius noticed Buckingham Palace wasn’t flying a flag at half-staff. The tabloids rushed to front-page it: The cold Windsors, disrespecting Diana in death as they had in life. They shifted the focus of public ire. Suddenly there was no more talk of grubby hacks. Everyone was mad at the queen.

The best deflection has some truth in it. . The Windsors were a chilly lot …

I thought of all this last weekend as I watched the Golden Globes. Hollywood has known forever about abuse, harassment and rape within its ranks. All the true powers in the industry—the agencies, the studios—have one way or another been complicit. And so, in the first awards show after the watershed revelations of 2017, they understood they would not be able to dodge the subject. They seized it and redirected it. They boldly declared themselves the heroes of the saga. They were the real leaders in the fight against sexual abuse. They dressed in black to show solidarity, they spoke truth to power.

They went so far, a viewer would be forgiven for thinking that they were not upset because they found out about Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, et al. They were upset, as Glenn Reynolds noted on Twitter, that you found out, and thought less of them. Anyway, they painted themselves as heroes of the struggle.

Deflection is brilliant, wicked, and tends to work.

(Peggy Noonan)

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“No man hath a velvet cross.” (Samuel Rutherford, 17th century Scotland)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.