Tag Archives: John Derbyshire

“The ‘Tribe-Moral Community’ United By ‘Sacred Values'”

John Tierney at NYT:

Some of the world’s pre-eminent experts on bias discovered an unexpected form of it at their annual meeting.

Discrimination is always high on the agenda at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s conference, where psychologists discuss their research on racial prejudice, homophobia, sexism, stereotype threat and unconscious bias against minorities. But the most talked-about speech at this year’s meeting, which ended Jan. 30, involved a new “outgroup.”

It was identified by Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia who studies the intuitive foundations of morality and ideology. He polled his audience at the San Antonio Convention Center, starting by asking how many considered themselves politically liberal. A sea of hands appeared, and Dr. Haidt estimated that liberals made up 80 percent of the 1,000 psychologists in the ballroom. When he asked for centrists and libertarians, he spotted fewer than three dozen hands. And then, when he asked for conservatives, he counted a grand total of three.

“This is a statistically impossible lack of diversity,” Dr. Haidt concluded, noting polls showing that 40 percent of Americans are conservative and 20 percent are liberal. In his speech and in an interview, Dr. Haidt argued that social psychologists are a “tribal-moral community” united by “sacred values” that hinder research and damage their credibility — and blind them to the hostile climate they’ve created for non-liberals.

Instapundit

Ann Althouse:

But let’s skip into the middle of the piece and think about the mechanisms of exclusion, these “sacred values” that displace scientific thinking. Haidt notes the example of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, back in 1965, who “warned about the rise of unmarried parenthood and welfare dependency among blacks” and “was shunned by many of his colleagues at Harvard as racist.”

Similarly, Larry Summers, then president of Harvard, was ostracized in 2005 for wondering publicly whether the preponderance of male professors in some top math and science departments might be due partly to the larger variance in I.Q. scores among men (meaning there are more men at the very high and very low ends). “This was not a permissible hypothesis,” Dr. Haidt said. “It blamed the victims rather than the powerful. The outrage ultimately led to his resignation. We psychologists should have been outraged by the outrage. We should have defended his right to think freely.”

According to Tierney, Haidt’s audience of social psychologists “seemed refreshingly receptive to his argument.”

A few even endorsed his call for a new affirmative-action goal: a membership that’s 10 percent conservative by 2020.

Affirmative action? Why not just stop giving affirmative action to liberals? I think that would get you way above the 10% quota… if you could do it. Ironically, talking “affirmative action” is inherently off-putting to conservatives. It’s more of those sacred values from the tribal-moral community that ward off outsiders.

Steven Hayward at Powerline:

I have a good friend–I won’t name out him here though–who is a tenured faculty member in a premier humanities department at a leading east coast university, and he’s . . . a conservative! How did he slip by the PC police? Simple: he kept his head down in graduate school and as a junior faculty member, practicing self-censorship and publishing boring journal articles that said little or nothing. When he finally got tenure review, he told his closest friend on the faculty, sotto voce, that “Actually I’m a Republican.” His faculty friend, similarly sotto voce, said, “Really? I’m a Republican, too!”

That’s the scandalous state of things in American universities today. Here and there–Hillsdale College, George Mason Law School, Ashland University come to mind–the administration is able to hire first rate conservative scholars at below market rates because they are actively discriminated against at probably 90 percent of American colleges and universities. Other universities will tolerate a token conservative, but having a second conservative in a department is beyond the pale.

John Derbyshire at The Corner:

What’s to be done? Get ’em reading National Review!

To overcome taboos, he advised them to subscribe to National Review and to read Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions.

By a friendly little coincidence, the current issue of National Review contains a feature article on Prof. Sowell.

Some said [Haidt] overstated how liberal the field is, but many agreed it should welcome more ideological diversity. A few even endorsed his call for a new affirmative-action goal: a membership that’s 10 percent conservative by 2020.

Ten percent by 2020? Hey, let’s not go overboard here, guys.

[And never mind Queer Literary Theory: If I’d been writing a few days later I could have cited Gay Math.]

[And-and, I should qualify having said “the New York Times of all places” with a word of tribute to their excellent Science section, which routinely publishes results from the human sciences that would cause apoplexy among the newspaper’s op-ed writers, if they bothered to read them.]

Ronald Bailey at Reason:

Haidt has given me a look at a good bit of the manuscript of his new book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (January, 2012), and I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about it.

I earlier wrote about some of the recent research that Haidt and his colleagues have done on The Science of Libertarian Morality. If interested, see how liberal social science bias works when it comes to demonizing conservatives in my 2004 column, Pathologizing Conservatism.

One more story, I was invited to speak at a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship seminar at MIT a few years ago. After I gave my spiel, we got to talking about for whom the 12 or so journalists were planning to vote in the upcoming 2000 election. As I remember it, the vote split 9 for Gore and 3 for Nader. I joked that perhaps the Knight program should invite me to join it for reasons of diversity. The puzzled head of program blurted out, “But you’re a white male!” I gently explained that I meant ideological diversity. He (also a white male) had the grace to look chagrined.

Megan McArdle

James Joyner:

That the university professoriate, particularly at elite institutions, is radically more liberal than the society at large is undisputed. The causes for the phenomenon are hotly debated.

Presumably, Haidt’s assertion that this lack of diversity skews research findings — and even acceptable topics for research — is more controversial. But it shouldn’t be. After all, it’s widely accepted within the academy, particularly the social sciences, that the longtime domination of the field by white males had that effect.

But it’s far from clear what to do about it. Women and racial minorities were actively discriminated against while the bias against conservatives is subtle and largely unconscious. Indeed, the fact that their professors are liberals who show disdain for conservative values doubtless discourages conservatives from pursuing the academic career path.

Should there be active outreach to conservatives? Maybe, although I’m dubious. Should liberal professors undergo sensitivity training in order to learn not to offend conservative students? Probably not.

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AIDS In Africa, George W. Bush And Lady Gaga… But Not So Much Lady Gaga

George W. Bush in WaPo:

Early in my first term, it became clear that much of sub-Saharan Africa was on the verge of catastrophe. In some nations perhaps a quarter of the population was infected with HIV. The disease was prevalent among teachers, nurses, factory workers, farmers, civil servants – the very people who make a society run. Drugs to treat the disease existed and were falling in price, but they could hardly be found in Africa. Whole countries were living in the shadow of death, making it difficult for them to plan or prepare for the future.

Our response began with an effort to reduce mother-to-child transmission of the virus – the saddest, most preventable aspect of the crisis. In 2002, America helped found the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria to encourage the concerted action of wealthy nations. In 2003, I announced the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), an ambitious bilateral program to confront the worst of the pandemic with speed and urgency. Members of Congress from both parties, leaders of African nations and outside advocates such as Bono became partners with my administration in a tremendous undertaking.

In all of these efforts, my concern was results. I was frankly skeptical of some past foreign assistance programs. In this crisis, we needed not only more resources but also to use them differently. So we put in place a unified command structure; set clear, ambitious, measurable goals; insisted on accountability; and made sure that host governments took leadership and responsibility. The results came more quickly than many of us expected. Early in 2003, there were perhaps 50,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa on AIDS treatment. Today, thanks to America, other donor nations and the tireless work of Africans themselves, nearly 4 million are. Fragile nations have been stabilized, making progress possible in other areas of development.

But the most vivid results, for me, had a more human scale. On World AIDS Day in 2005, two young children from South Africa, Emily and Lewis, came for a White House visit. They chased around the Oval Office before Emily did what many others no doubt wanted to do – she fell asleep in her mother’s lap during my speech. Both young children were HIV-positive but had begun treatment. I could not even imagine all that curiosity and energy still and silent.

I firmly believe it has served American interests to help prevent the collapse of portions of the African continent. But this effort has done something more: It has demonstrated American character and beliefs. America is a certain kind of country, dedicated to the inherent and equal dignity of human lives. It is this ideal – rooted in faith and our founding – that gives purpose to our power. When we have a chance to do the right thing, we take it.

On this World AIDS Day, considerable progress has been made. The United Nations recently reported that the world has begun to halt and reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS. However, considerable need remains. Every human life is precious, and far too many people around the world continue to suffer from the disease.

We still hope for an AIDS vaccine. In the meantime, there are millions on treatment who cannot be abandoned. And the progress in many African nations depends on the realistic hope of new patients gaining access to treatment. Why get tested if AIDS drugs are restricted to current patients? On AIDS, to stand still is to lose ground.

John Derbyshire at The Corner:

I wish George W. Bush would shut up and go away. He keeps reminding me what a fool I was ever to think that the man has a conservative bone in his body.

His Washington Post op-ed this morning illustrates the point. Titled “America’s global fight against AIDS,” it is filled with the kind of emoting, gaseous, feelgood cant about “hope” and “progress” that, if you want it, is in all-too-plentiful supply over at the liberal booth.

I firmly believe it has served American interests to help prevent the collapse of portions of the African continent.

Has it? How? Is any American more prosperous, secure, healthy, or happy because of our government’s efforts at AIDS relief in Africa? How would you demonstrate this? Is it not at least as possible that we have just stored up trouble for the future, as a person more familiar with Africa has written?

But this effort has done something more: It has demonstrated American character and beliefs. America is a certain kind of country, dedicated to the inherent and equal dignity of human lives. It is this ideal — rooted in faith and our founding — that gives purpose to our power. When we have a chance to do the right thing, we take it.

Wilsonian flim-flam. Americans, taken in the generality, are indeed distinctive in their character and beliefs. That distinctiveness has often expressed itself in efforts to improve the lives of people in far-away countries, as in the missionary endeavors to pre-communist China and elsewhere.

It is the most elementary error, though — and certainly one no conservative should make — to confuse private charity with state action. When governments are generous, they are generous with our money, after ripping it from our pockets by force of law.

If George W. Bush, or any other wealthy American, is moved by the plight of AIDS sufferers in Africa, he is free to discharge his feelings by acts of charity. If he were to do so, no-one — no, not even I — would begrudge him the smug self-satisfaction he displays in this op-ed.

There is, however, no virtue in a government official spending your money and mine unless for some reason demonstrably connected to our national interest. AIDS relief in Africa is not so connected, not in any way visible to me.

Kathryn Jean Lopez at The Corner:

We supported PEPFAR and I am glad we did. America gives foreign aid and George Bush made it better here. If you read his chapter in Decision Points about AIDS and Africa, he does a lot of praising and highlighting of the work of successful private programs PEPFAR has invested in.

And contrary to what you said in your post, Derb, the Bush administration looked to support programs that encourage behavior change — and Bush got blasted for that from the public-health crowd back in the day. Heaven forbid we support programs that work if they might involved the scarlet-a word (the ABC model)! Those are programs that have been grand successes there — as Harvard’s Ted Green demonstrates again and again in his research. And those are the programs that deserve and need support.

And having spent time with the former president recently, I can assure you he does not plan to shut up and go away anytime soon. He’s using his presidential center as an institute to promote human rights –  women’s rights and cyber dissidents in the Middle East and elsewhere, teacher (and principal) support and training here. Private support with a very public voice. It’s a call and duty and an opportunity to him.

Derbyshire responds:

Thanks for that, Kathryn. Thanks too to the 73 (so far) commenters on my original PEPFAR post. I don’t think that’s a record comment thread, but I think I can hear Jonah gnashing his teeth anyway.First I’ll correct an apparent error in Kathryn’s post. She writes: “contrary to what you said in your post, Derb, the Bush administration looked to support programs that encourage behavior change.”

I can’t see anything I wrote that is thus contrary. I wrote: “The subsidizing of expensive medications (the biggest part of our AIDS-relief effort, though not all of it) in fact has long-term consequences more likely to be negative than positive.”

According to Lyman and Wittels in that Foreign Affairs article I cited (which, a helpful reader tells me, non-subscribers can find in its entirety here, and which I urge all interested parties to read):

In fiscal year 2009, about 45 percent of PEPFAR’s budget was spent on treatment.

At 45 percent, “treatment” — wellnigh congruent with what I described as “the subsidizing of expensive medications” — is just what I said it is: the biggest part of our AIDS-relief effort.

Lyman and Wittels go on to note that:

That percentage will only rise in the years ahead as more people are treated and as those who have already begun treatment develop a resistance to first-line drugs and start needing more expensive second-line therapies. Thus, unless overall aid to Africa grows substantially — which is unlikely in these times of deficits and budget stress — PEPFAR, and especially PEPFAR’s treatment programs, will increasingly crowd out other health efforts.

In other words: You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

To deal with the comments: The substantive points (no, sorry, I don’t consider “Derbyshire is a jerk” or “Brits suck” to be substantive points) are those arguing that AIDS relief to sub-Saharan Africa is so a U.S. national interest. The main arguments are:

Public healthWith international travel cheap and easy, a high incidence of any infectious disease anywhere is everyone’s concern.

True; but this is properly the province of international agencies like WHO (the people who eradicated smallpox). PEPFAR is a needless duplication of effort. In any case, our first line of defense as a nation should be to deny visas to persons from affected areas, a thing Congress can do in half an hour, which costs our taxpayers nothing. (Likely, in fact, if you throw in externalities, less than nothing.)

Friends give you stuffBy showing our goodness and generosity to these afflicted nations, we cause them to love us and become our BFFs. We shall then have preferential access to their markets and commodities.

As Lyman and Wittels amply demonstrate, PEPFAR generates just what all other welfare programs generate: entitlement, resentment, and the Hegelian inversion of the giver-receiver relationship. Market- and commodity-wise, the current Race for Africa is easily being won by the Chinese, who don’t give a red [sic] cent for AIDS prevention.

Stopping the ChaosAll those AIDS orphans will grow up to be terrorists.

The argument goes that by saving lives through AIDS prevention/treatment we are helping prevent sub-Saharan African countries from turning into so many Somalias and Yemens.

This AIDS-terrorism connection seems to me a mighty stretch. How many of the several thousand terrorists on our current watchlists are AIDS orphans? (My guess: none.) Actual AIDS infection rates for Somalia and Yemen are 0.5 percent and 0.1 percent respectively, according to the CIA World Factbook.

The poverty/chaos/terrorism connection doesn’t seem to hold water anyway. The only terrorist from sub-Saharan Africa I can bring to mind is this one — a child of wealth and privilege (like Osama bin Laden).

This argument is hard to sustain even from a Bushite standpoint that the best hope for damping down terrorism is to spread democracy. PEPFAR is a hindrance to democracy-promotion, as Lyman and Wittels explain.

Peter Wehner in Commentary:

Here are a few facts that undermine Derbyshire’s case: (a) Africans have fewer sex partners on average over a lifetime than do Americans; (b) 22 countries in Africa have had a greater than 25 percent decline in infections in the past 10 years (for South African and Namibian youth, the figure is 50 percent in five years); and (c) America’s efforts are helping to create a remarkable shifts in how, in Africa, boys view girls — reflected in a decline of more than 50 percent in sexual partners among boys.

So Derbyshire’s argument that our AIDS efforts are “more likely to be negative than positive” because they will continue to subsidize and encourage “unhealthy, disease-spreading habits” is not only wrong but the opposite of reality.

There is more. Derbyshire’s view might best be expressed as “the Africans had an AIDS death sentence coming to them.” But in Africa, gender violence and abuse is involved in the first sexual encounter up to 85 percent of time. And where President Bush’s PEPFAR initiative has been particularly effective is in slowing the transmission of the disease from mothers to children. Perhaps Derbyshire can explain to us how exactly infants are complicit in their AIDS affliction. Or maybe he doesn’t much care if they are.

Let’s now turn to Derbyshire’s characterization that America is becoming the “welfare provider of last resort to all the world’s several billion people”: he is more than a decade behind in his understanding of overseas-development policy.

President Bush’s policies were animated by the belief that the way to save lives was to rely on the principle of accountability. That is what was transformational about Bush’s development effort. He rejected handing out money with no strings attached in favor of tying expenditures to reform and results. And it has had huge radiating effects. When PEPFAR was started, America was criticized by others for setting goals. Now the mantra around the world is “results-based development.” Yet Derbyshire seems to know nothing about any of this. That isn’t necessarily a problem — unless, of course, he decides to write on the topic.

Beyond that, though, the notion that AIDS relief in Africa is AFDC on a global scale is silly. We are not talking about providing food stamps to able-bodied adults or subsidizing illegitimacy; we’re talking about saving the lives of millions of innocent people and taking steps to keep human societies from collapsing. Private charity clearly wasn’t enough.

On the matter of Derbyshire’s claim that AIDS relief in Africa is unconnected to our national interest: al-Qaeda is actively trying to establish a greater presence in nations like Tanzania, Kenya, and Nigeria, which have become major ideological battlegrounds. And mass disease and death, poverty and hopelessness, make the rise of radicalism more, not less, likely. (Because of AIDS, in some countries nearly a half-century of public-health gains have been wiped away.)

Many things allow militant Islam to take root and grow; eliminating AIDS would certainly not eliminate jihadism. Still, a pandemic, in addition to being a human tragedy, makes governments unstable and regions ungovernable. And as one report put it, “Unstable and ungoverned regions of the world … pose dangers for neighbors and can become the setting for broader problems of terrorism … The impoverished regions of the world can be unstable, volatile, and dangerous and can represent great threats to America, Europe, and the world. We must work with the people of these regions to promote sustainable economic growth, better health, good governance and greater human security. …”

One might think that this observation very nearly qualifies as banal — but for Derbyshire, it qualifies as a revelation.

For the sake of the argument, though, let’s assume that the American government acts not out of a narrow interpretation of the national interest but instead out of benevolence — like, say, America’s response to the 2004 tsunami that hit Indonesia and other nations in the Indian Ocean. Why is that something we should oppose, or find alarming, or deem un-conservative? The impulse to act is, in fact, not only deeply humane but also deeply American.

Jeffrey Goldberg:

Ouch. You very seldom see someone vanquish an argument as conclusively as Pete Wehner destroys John Derbyshire’s absurd beliefs about AIDS in Africa.

Jonathan Chait at TNR:

Nice. It’s fair to say I’m not a huge fan of Wehner’s work in general. But in the narrow field of defending George W. Bush against unfair attacks, he’s quite effective. And Bush did have a couple decent policy initiatives — his Africa aid policy, and his general policy of attempting to split most Muslims against radical Islam rather than demonize the entire religion.

And focusing on the first few words of Derbyshire’s piece, Kathryn Jean Lopez at The Corner:

I confess to confusion at the reader comments here about how NR is a GOP flack. I, as one person among many at NR, believe George Bush deserves some credit and a little more respect than a shut-up-and-go-away post. But NR disagreed with the Bush administration on a whole host of issues. (I did, too.)

Republican administrations and officers could tell you all about their frustration with NR on a whole host of issues. Veterans of the Bush White House will not-so-fondly remember NR on faith-based initiatives, on No Child Left Behind, on the Department of Homeland Security, on Harriet Miers, on immigration . . . I could go on. He wasn’t the perfect conservative, but I think we knew that walking in. And I might add that even the perfect conservative wasn’t always perfect: Go back and read old issues of NR from the Reagan administration; we praised him when we believed he was doing what was best; when we believed he was not, we not only criticized and persuaded but, in some cases, led the opposition.

Mike Potemra at The Corner:

Count me an admirer of George W. Bush. So I was a little taken aback by the fact that the number of people who clicked “Like” on Kathryn’s defense of him was just as low – two — as the number of those who “Liked” my endorsement of Lady Gaga. But I am quite heartened to report that, of the conservatives who e-mailed me about my Gaga post – and by the way, many thanks for taking the time to do so! — the ones who supported my view significantly outnumbered the naysayers. This surprised me; I learned back when I was working in the Senate that people generally are more likely to take the time and effort to write when they are angry about something than when they like what you are doing, so if you actually get a preponderance of positive mail, that’s a really great sign. In any case, there are a lot of conservatives out there who agreed with me.

Perhaps something similar obtains in the case of conservatives and W.? Sure, there are things he did that were wrong from the general perspective of conservative orthodoxy, and many more from the perspective of the countless mini-orthodoxies of various sub-types of conservatism. But on the whole, I’d guess that a Silent Majority of conservatives (even if they, too, might object to some particular Bush policy) think he’s a decent fellow and are grateful that he was there for those eight years.

Jim Antle at The American Spectator:

Perhaps not surprisingly, I come down on John Derbyshire’s side of this debate: “I wish George W. Bush would shut up and go away.” Let’s stipulate that a number of his individual policies — including those expiring tax cuts! — were sound, that he was a decent guy, and that even in his faults he was not the uniquely malevolent figure that many liberals (and some paleoconservatives) make him out to be. On several big questions, his administration differed from Barack Obama’s in degree but not kind.

Although Bush did favor legislation that would have reigned in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, he also supported Community Reinvestment Act-style extensions of credit to the uncreditworthy to the same degree as Obama and Bill Clinton. He and his Federal Reserve appointees favored, or at least did nothing to stop, the loose monetary policies that helped inflate the financial bubble. He not only refused to cut domestic spending to pay for his post-9/11 anti-terrorism campaign but actually continued to increase it, paying for two wars on credit. When the financial collapse inevitably came, he responded by supporting the bailouts.

When it came to increasing federal spending, enlarging the national debt, growing the government, enhancing Washington’s role in health care, and encouraging state-managed crony capitalism, Bush may not be in the same league as Obama. But he definitely started the country on the path Obama has accelerated, reversing the fiscal discipline a Republican Congress once imposed on Clinton. And to the extent that his policies encouraged the housing and financial bubble, Bush helped pave the way for Obama and the Democrats to come in and push the country to the left in those areas where Bush was relatively conservative.

To absolve George W. Bush of these things is to make the case against Obama incoherent apart from mere partisanship. And it is to let Bush-brand Republicans off the hook for the political defeats that made an Obama administration, with special guest stars Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, possible in the first place.

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On A Magic Carpet Ride

Byron York at The Washington Examiner:

In a far-reaching restatement of goals for the nation’s space agency, NASA administrator Charles Bolden says President Obama has ordered him to pursue three new objectives: to “re-inspire children” to study science and math, to “expand our international relationships,” and to “reach out to the Muslim world.”  Of those three goals, Bolden said in a recent interview with al-Jazeera, the mission to reach out to Muslims is “perhaps foremost,” because it will help Islamic nations “feel good” about their scientific accomplishments.

In the same interview, Bolden also said the United States, which first sent men to the moon in 1969, is no longer capable of reaching beyond low earth orbit without help from other nations.

The Jawa Report:

.A couple goals missing from Obama’s new International Social Justice Department (formerly NASA) is anything to do with the atmosphere, space, or aeronautics. This makes sense, especially when considering job creation efforts don’t create jobs and economic stimulus comes closer to invigorating the rear sphincter valve than the economy.

Ed Morrissey:

Hey, maybe that’s why Obama hasn’t taken the Iranian effort to build a nuclear bomb all that seriously until now.  He just wanted Iran to make the Muslim world feel good about their achievements in science!  And it’s hard to do to that unless you talk a lot about outstretched open hands — and ignore a freedom movement that wants to depose the brutal tyrants who are trying to give the Muslim world a new “historic contribution.”

Actually, Muslim nations should be insulted by the idea that the US pays NASA to provide them with paternalistic and patronizing validation and self-esteem boosts. And they probably will be.

The problem Byron uncovers goes farther than just the Muslim outreach, though.  NASA has always inspired children and even bolstered international relations, but not because that was its mission.  It did those things by pursuing solid goals of exploration of space, which is why Congress funds the agency.  Those esteem-boosters came as a secondary result of actual achievement, not as an end in itself.  The Obama administration wants to turn this over onto its head by making NASA a bureaucracy dedicated to self-esteem which might at some point have a goal that has to do with exploration of space.

This is a recipe for failure on an expensive scale.  Congress needs to either get the White House to redefine its mission for NASA or cut off its funds until the self-esteem party is canceled.

John Derbyshire at The Corner:

That’s why we have a government space program! For the kiddies! (Which means, when uttered by a Democratic politician, for the teachers’ unions and ed-biz lobbies.) For our international relationships! (Heaven forbid we should keep to ourselves, for our own nation’s benefit, the technological wonders we develop. We must share them with the whole world!) To help Muslim nations feel good about themselves! (The Muslim world’s self-esteem is in tatters. It’s up to us to repair it! All those centuries of stagnation are probably our fault anyway.)

I had supposed that there were two different approaches to government-funded space exploration.

● There was the Gene Kranz view, as stated above. In this view, it is legitimate to use government money, even in large quantities, to enhance national prestige and pride.

● And then there was the Derb view, expressed to considerable reader outrage on this site here and here. My opinion is that beyond a few legitimate military and meteorological applications, government-funded space exploration is pointless extravagance and folly (even when “a glorious, soul-stirring folly”). Leave it to private enterprise.

Now I see that there is a third view.

● Our government-funded space exploration, as embodied in NASA, can serve the great Obamanian cause of infantilizing and feminizing us. Government funds are wisely and properly used in turning us into obedient elementary-school tots being lectured at by our wise, benevolent moral superiors on the wonders of “diversity,” sensitizing us to the feelings of different-looking peoples in far-away places, softening and erasing our gross brutish impulses to inquire, discover, explore, achieve, master (!), conquer, and win.

American history was, for a couple of centuries there, a contest between the frontiersmen and the schoolmarms. Well, that’s all over. The schoolmarms have won.

Flopping Aces:

What, pray tell, has space technology advancements got to do with Muslim and Islam in general, I ask myself. Why should our federally funded agency specifically reach out to Muslims for our space endeavors? And why should that magically improve relations? Are we assuming that they have a leg up on this technology, strictly because of their religious choice? Well.. yeah… that is if you’re interested in advancing ways to exploring to ways to pray in zero gravity, or eating space meals under Islamic rules, that is.

But then, in a more honest vein, we have the more stellar example of Ahmad Mahmoud, the son of immigrant Eqyptian parents who attended public schools in New Jersey, went on to major in Aerospace Engineering at Rutgers University. Mahmoud was awarded first place for his design project, Multi-surface Adaptable Touch Sensor, from Rutgers. He went on to a NASA internship, and then offered a full time position with the Cryogenics department.

Because he’s Muslim? No… because he’s exceptional in his field.

Scientists of all faiths and nationalities bond together, across the span of political BS, because they share common goals. And, in fact, Islam Online has their own webpage devoted to Muslims and space. There has been no barrier to their contributions in the industry, and indeed their presence in space itself, since man’s first foray’s into space. The first Muslim to crew the Discovery was in 1985 – Prince Sultan bin Salman AbdulAziz Al-Saud from Saudi Arabia, who acted as payload specialist to deliver the ARABSAT 1-B communication satellite into orbit. He was not only the first Muslim in space, but was the first who was royalty.

Why? Because he’s Muslim? Again, no. Because he’s exceptional in his field.

Gee… now how did that happen without this POTUS, exercising squatting rights in the people’s House? sigh… But still, this POTUS persists in playing the class warfare/”social justice” card, as if this is a pressing problem in our world’s aeronautical society. Yet how has this pathetic ploy of bowing, scraping and proffered olive twigs played in the Muslim world? Not much better than it has with our allies, whom this POTUS is busy alienating at every turn.

Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit:

Charles Krauthammer on Obama’s new NASA strategy:

“This is a new of fatuousness. NASA was established to get America into space and to keep us there. This idea of ‘feel good about your past’ scientific achievements is the worst kind of group therapy, psycho-babble, imperial condescension and adolescent diplomacy. If I didn’t know that Obama had told him this, I’d demand the firing of Charles Bolden.”

Don’t hold back, Charles.

Rory Cooper at Heritage Foundation:

Of course, the Democrat Party establishment, via their Media Matters outlet, were quick to point out that this hullabaloo is merely right-wing noise about the word “Muslim” which of course misses the point entirely, and merely tries to drown criticism of Obama with the age-old liberal mantra that everyone who doesn’t share their worldview is a racist. Substitute the word ‘Muslim’ for any other group, ethnicity or religion, and President Obama is still failing to comprehend that this is not what most Americans view as an appropriate role for NASA.

Congress should demand that President Obama and Administrator Bolden directly address questions on the future of NASA and his vision. President George W. Bush’s clearly laid out Vision for Space Exploration is obviously not a part of it. Under President Bush, NASA Deputy Administrator Shana Dale was charged with ensuring Bush’s vision would achieve his goal of transcending presidents and politics. She failed. Politics has never been more evident at NASA. We’re left with an agency in chaos and a president whose vision of America’s greatness lies in our humility, rather than our shining example.

NASA deserves better. America deserves better. All of mankind, who NASA has inspired for fifty years, deserve better.

Tom Maguire:

In other news, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in an interview with Popular Science, explained that chief among her priorities was helping Barack achieve his vision of putting a man on Mars.  Assuming, of course, that Dick Cheney is willing to go.

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The Written Records Of The Dead Horse

Claire Berlinski at City Journal:

When Gorbachev and his aides were ousted from the Kremlin, they took unauthorized copies of these documents with them. The documents were scanned and stored in the archives of the Gorbachev Foundation, one of the first independent think tanks in modern Russia, where a handful of friendly and vetted researchers were given limited access to them. Then, in 1999, the foundation opened a small part of the archive to independent researchers, including Stroilov. The key parts of the collection remained restricted; documents could be copied only with the written permission of the author, and Gorbachev refused to authorize any copies whatsoever. But there was a flaw in the foundation’s security, Stroilov explained to me. When things went wrong with the computers, as often they did, he was able to watch the network administrator typing the password that gave access to the foundation’s network. Slowly and secretly, Stroilov copied the archive and sent it to secure locations around the world.

When I first heard about Stroilov’s documents, I wondered if they were forgeries. But in 2006, having assessed the documents with the cooperation of prominent Soviet dissidents and Cold War spies, British judges concluded that Stroilov was credible and granted his asylum request. The Gorbachev Foundation itself has since acknowledged the documents’ authenticity.

Bukovsky’s story is similar. In 1992, President Boris Yeltsin’s government invited him to testify at the Constitutional Court of Russia in a case concerning the constitutionality of the Communist Party. The Russian State Archives granted Bukovsky access to its documents to prepare his testimony. Using a handheld scanner, he copied thousands of documents and smuggled them to the West.

The Russian state cannot sue Stroilov or Bukovsky for breach of copyright, since the material was created by the Communist Party and the Soviet Union, neither of which now exists. Had he remained in Russia, however, Stroilov believes that he could have been prosecuted for disclosure of state secrets or treason. The military historian Igor Sutyagin is now serving 15 years in a hard-labor camp for the crime of collecting newspaper clippings and other open-source materials and sending them to a British consulting firm. The danger that Stroilov and Bukovsky faced was real and grave; they both assumed, one imagines, that the world would take notice of what they had risked so much to acquire.

Stroilov claims that his documents “tell a completely new story about the end of the Cold War. The ‘commonly accepted’ version of history of that period consists of myths almost entirely. These documents are capable of ruining each of those myths.” Is this so? I couldn’t say. I don’t read Russian. Of Stroilov’s documents, I have seen only the few that have been translated into English. Certainly, they shouldn’t be taken at face value; they were, after all, written by Communists. But the possibility that Stroilov is right should surely compel keen curiosity.

For instance, the documents cast Gorbachev in a far darker light than the one in which he is generally regarded. In one document, he laughs with the Politburo about the USSR’s downing of Korean Airlines flight 007 in 1983—a crime that was not only monstrous but brought the world very near to nuclear Armageddon. These minutes from a Politburo meeting on October 4, 1989, are similarly disturbing:

Lukyanov reports that the real number of casualties on Tiananmen Square was 3,000.

Gorbachev: We must be realists. They, like us, have to defend themselves. Three thousands . . . So what?

And a transcript of Gorbachev’s conversation with Hans-Jochen Vogel, the leader of West Germany’s Social Democratic Party, shows Gorbachev defending Soviet troops’ April 9, 1989, massacre of peaceful protesters in Tbilisi.

Stroilov’s documents also contain transcripts of Gorbachev’s discussions with many Middle Eastern leaders. These suggest interesting connections between Soviet policy and contemporary trends in Russian foreign policy. Here is a fragment from a conversation reported to have taken place with Syrian president Hafez al-Assad on April 28, 1990:

H. ASSAD. To put pressure on Israel, Baghdad would need to get closer to Damascus, because Iraq has no common borders with Israel. . . .

M. S. GORBACHEV. I think so, too. . . .

H. ASSAD. Israel’s approach is different, because the Judaic religion itself states: the land of Israel spreads from Nile to Euphrates and its return is a divine predestination.

M. S. GORBACHEV. But this is racism, combined with Messianism!

H. ASSAD. This is the most dangerous form of racism.

One doesn’t need to be a fantasist to wonder whether these discussions might be relevant to our understanding of contemporary Russian policy in a region of some enduring strategic significance.

[…]

troilov says that he and Bukovsky approached Jonathan Brent of Yale University Press, which is leading a publishing project on the history of the Cold War. He claims that initially Brent was enthusiastic and asked him to write a book, based on the documents, about the first Gulf War. Stroilov says that he wrote the first six chapters, sent them off, and never heard from Brent again, despite sending him e-mail after e-mail. “I can only speculate what so much frightened him in that book,” Stroilov wrote to me.

I’ve also asked Brent and received no reply. This doesn’t mean anything; people are busy. I am less inclined to believe in complex attempts to suppress the truth than I am in indifference and preoccupation with other things. Stroilov sees in these events “a kind of a taboo, the vague common understanding in the Establishment that it is better to let sleeping dogs lie, not to throw stones in a house of glass, and not to mention a rope in the house of a hanged man.” I suspect it is something even more disturbing: no one much cares.

“I know the time will come,” Stroilov says, “when the world has to look at those documents very carefully. We just cannot escape this. We have no way forward until we face the truth about what happened to us in the twentieth century. Even now, no matter how hard we try to ignore history, all these questions come back to us time and again.”

The questions come back time and again, it is true, but few remember that they have been asked before, and few remember what the answer looked like. No one talks much about the victims of Communism. No one erects memorials to the throngs of people murdered by the Soviet state. (In his widely ignored book, A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia, Alexander Yakovlev, the architect of perestroika under Gorbachev, puts the number at 30 to 35 million.)

Indeed, many still subscribe to the essential tenets of Communist ideology. Politicians, academics, students, even the occasional autodidact taxi driver still stand opposed to private property. Many remain enthralled by schemes for central economic planning. Stalin, according to polls, is one of Russia’s most popular historical figures. No small number of young people in Istanbul, where I live, proudly describe themselves as Communists; I have met such people around the world, from Seattle to Calcutta.

We rightly insisted upon total denazification; we rightly excoriate those who now attempt to revive the Nazis’ ideology. But the world exhibits a perilous failure to acknowledge the monstrous history of Communism. These documents should be translated. They should be housed in a reputable library, properly cataloged, and carefully assessed by scholars. Above all, they should be well-known to a public that seems to have forgotten what the Soviet Union was really about. If they contain what Stroilov and Bukovsky say—and all the evidence I’ve seen suggests that they do—this is the obligation of anyone who gives a damn about history, foreign policy, and the scores of millions dead.

John Derbyshire at The Corner:

Some years ago I exposed the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Dead Horses to National Review readers. The SPCDH exists to prevent the flogging of what are, according to them, dead horses — for example, the evils of Communism. “Good heavens, are you conservatives still banging on about that? Everybody knows all about it. It was all publicized to death years ago. Sorry, old chap — you’re just flogging a dead horse.”

If you don’t think that the SPCDH is a mighty force in the Western world, read this. Please. Sample:

Remarkably, the world has shown little interest in the unread Soviet archives. That paragraph about Biden is a good example. Stroilov and Bukovsky coauthored a piece about it for the online magazine FrontPage on October 10, 2008; it passed without remark. Americans considered the episode so uninteresting that even Biden’s political opponents didn’t try to turn it into political capital. Imagine, if you can, what it must feel like to have spent the prime of your life in a Soviet psychiatric hospital, to know that Joe Biden is now vice president of the United States, and to know that no one gives a damn.

Academic Elephant at Redstate:

Berlinski suggests that the root of the problem is a basic academic affinity with the tenets of communism and I’m inclined to think she’s right. In perhaps the same impulse that leads many denizens of the ivory tower to sympathize with Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro, there is a tendency to view Soviet communism as a flawed but still valid experiment. For those who believe in the basic soundness of Marxism, the catastrophic failure of the Soviet Union is an inconvenient truth made more palatable by the assertion that it was brought about by external factors. The line seems to be that the Soviets were no better and worse than we–different, sure, but perhaps we could learn from them and we certainly are in no position to judge.

This never-never land of moral relativism is shattered by the kind of cold, hard documents Berlinski describes. A picture emerges of a creeping evil that threatened to engulf the west even as we were attempting a rapprochement with it. And yet the response is a collective yawn–perhaps a delicately raised eyebrow, a hint of impatience with this unseemly attempt to rake up bygones. Look away. There’s nothing to see here.

Unfortunately there is all too much to be seen–from the psychiatric “hospitals” to the hard-labor camps to the execution chambers–all of which added up to an utter disregard for human life and dignity that is at least on par with the depravities of Nazism. Berlinski writes:

We rightly insisted upon total denazification; we rightly excoriate those who now attempt to revive the Nazis’ ideology. But the world exhibits a perilous failure to acknowledge the monstrous history of Communism. These documents should be translated. They should be housed in a reputable library, properly cataloged, and carefully assessed by scholars. Above all, they should be well-known to a public that seems to have forgotten what the Soviet Union was really about. If they contain what Stroilov and Bukovsky say—and all the evidence I’ve seen suggests that they do—this is the obligation of anyone who gives a damn about history, foreign policy, and the scores of millions dead.

As uncomfortable as it may be for those who think it’s progressive to keep Mao’s Little Red Book on their bedside table or favor the radical chic of a Che t-shirt, we need to expose and acknowledge the reality of Soviet-style communism that has claimed so many tens of millions lives. A good place to start would be recognizing it for what it was, and understanding its history. To their credit, Yale University Press has published some related volumes of late, although they have not picked up the material in Berlinski’s article. Hopefully they will reconsider and publish the Stroilov and Bukovsky archives as well.

Frank Warner:

There also is a transcript of an April 28, 1990, discussion between Gorbachev and Syrian dictator Hafez Assad in which Assad suggests that Iraq needs to expand its borders to be better positioned to “pressure” Israel. And Gorbachev agrees with Assad.

The world needs to see these documents, all of them translated in every language, if the human race is to learn anything from Communism in practice.

On a sympathy scale of 1 to 1 million, Communism gets 1 point for pretending to be for equality and against bigotry. (Historians go out of their way to give Communism that point.) But Communism loses that point for pretending, for enslaving and for being the most deadly ideology in the history of the world.

Yet who knows that? Do our children know that Communism killed 140 million people in the 20th century, and primarily in “peacetime”? Do even most adults know that? The history has yet to find its way to our history books.

Jules Crittenden:

Hey, I thought Gorbie was supposed to be a good guy. Turns out the splotch is more than skin deep. Of course, Vlad was supposed to be a good guy, too. George Bush looked into his soul, and … never mind. Quick show of hands. Who’s surprised?

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Filed under Education, History, Russia

Dedicated Followers Of Fashion

obama-tieliess

(We nicked both these photos from James Joyner.)

Joyner also did a lot of this round-up, but we’ll just repeat it here.

Jon Stonger wants to get rid of the tie:

So the tie is traditional. So are togas, and they look comfy. Why do we still wear the tie?

One possibility is that enough people think that a tie looks good, so it stays in fashion. I understand nothing of fashion (and don’t want to) but this doesn’t seem to make sense. Ties are worn far more often in the context of business or politics then they are by celebrities and movie stars. When you think about it, a tie is really just a colorful piece of cloth hanging from someone’s throat. It makes just as much sense to find shiny objects to stick in our hair or colorful feathers to shove up our ass.

Another possibility is that men just like to be choked. After all, some people like to be tied up, and this is just a different version of that. We’re even honest enough to call it a tie (same word as tying someone’s hands or feet) rather than ‘cravat’ (or ‘noose’). Perhaps I’m deviant because I don’t enjoy the sensation of pressure around my throat. Maybe everyone else gets their jollies from oxygen restriction.

Of course, if you’re going to play S&M asphyxia games at the office, it’s important to have everyone’s consent, and they certainly don’t have mine. If there was a necktie-safeword, I would use it.

I don’t think that most people find ties to be spectacularly fashionable. I don’t think most men find them comfortable. If you had a group of 100 men and you announced that starting tomorrow, all of them were going to have to wear goofy-looking strands of rope wrapped tightly around their throats in order to come to work, they would all refuse.

John Derbyshire has an ode to ties:

I shall be sorry to see the tie disappear. I still have my school ties (both regular and Old Boys) and my college tie. The latter is a replacement. I lost the original on my travels, and went to the tie shop for a replacement. This wasn’t just any tie shop, it was the tie shop, a wonderfully atmospheric old place in Southampton Row, west-central London. The proprietor was a very old man in my college days (mid-1960s); and he was still running the place, and still looked the same, 25 years later when I bought that replacement. It’s possible my imagination has embroidered the memory, but I could swear he used to wear a tail coat in the shop. He could get you any tie at all — club, regiment, school, college, guild, lodge, . . . Last time I was there, my father had just passed away. I asked the old guy if he could supply me with the tie of Dad’s old regiment, the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, already long defunct. He tottered over to an old wooden cabinet, pulled out a drawer, and produced the tie. I almost bought it as a memento, and now wish I had. It would of course have been grossly wrong of me to wear it, not having served in the KSLI myself.

Andy McCarthy at The Corner:

Derb, I’ve noticed that President Obama frequently forgoes the necktie — lately, even in public appearances. That reminded me — I have no idea why — that the Iranian regime has shunned the necktie ever since Khomeini pronounced it a symbol of Western decadence. I’ve always assumed that’s why Michael Ledeen is often pictured wearing a big, bold tie — you know, as a signal to the other conspirators.

Conor Clarke at Sully’s place:

I too have absolutely no idea why McCarthy would draw such a connection.

James Joyner

Amanda Terkel at Think Progress brings some artwork:

bushties

Terkel:

One of the right wing’s favorite petty complaints about the Obama administration is over its dress code. Former Bush chief of staff Andrew Card has said that President Obama has brought a “kind of locker room experience” to the White House. The Washington Times yesterday published an account from an “observant source” who complained that “[f]lip-flops, tennis shoes, unbuttoned dress shirts with ties, and casual wear are now in style at the White House. Razors are out for men. Many male staffers seem to shave every couple of days.”

The afore mentioned piece in the Washington Times by Jennifer Harper:

“The new Obama staffers, usually no older than 30 years of age, seem to have never heard that loose lips sink ships. Instead of tucking their blue or green White House badges discretely into a shirt pocket as Bush staffers did, the Obama staffers flaunt it in public. And their loud talk is always about shop. We recently listened to White house staffers in a pizza parlor on the 1700 block of G Street discussing details about forthcoming White House policy toward communist China. On another occasion, at Potbelly Sandwiches, we overheard White House staffers discussing details of the upcoming Russian summit and policy toward the Republic of Georgia.”

“The happening and hip Obama staffers look and act like they are on campus. On the afternoon of July 31, three White House staffers were at McReynolds Liquor at 1776 G St. The three loaded up boxes of wine bottles, hard liquor and several bags of ice and carried the party straight into the Old Executive Office Building. Another July day, other young White House staffers were seen carrying two cases of Bud Light out of the White House personnel office.”

“Flip-flops, tennis shoes, unbuttoned dress shirts with ties, and casual wear are now in style at the White House. Razors are out for men. Many male staffers seem to shave every couple of days. While it might seem cute and whimsical to have a young bunch take over the reigns of power, the world is more serious than these folks seem to realize.”

Matthew Yglesias:

A few points. One: Who cares? Second: In all my interactions with White House staff they’ve been impeccably dressed. Three: Who cares? Four: It’s actually incredibly irrational for men to be walking around wearing suits and ties in the DC summer. Five: Who cares? Six: On behalf of bearded Americans I’m offended by the implication that a man with some hair on his face can’t do a serious job. Our greatest president wore a beard!

Back to the necktie debate, Shorts And Pants:

Is your place a business ever “casual” in nature? Does your Corporate policy occasionally “bend” the rules of formal dress for the sake of a more “relaxed” environment? If so, you too can be the President of Iran! Get excited, America. Our President doesn’t always wear a neck-tie, which to some apparently makes him a terrorist.

WE SHOULD HAVE SEEN THE SIGNS COMING. Ladies and gentleman, the demise of National Review continues in full swing.

How many people will rise up in rage about this issue? The pitch forks will come out of the barn, and the next episode of Animal Farm shall commence in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. That’s a hell of a lot faster than a NASA launch.

Onward from neckties to shorts (see, that’s why we ended with shorts and pants, for the nice segue possibilities.)

michelle-obama-shorts

Robin Givhan at WaPo:

Obama, who joined the president and their two daughters for an excursion to the national park, looked like any other American tourist. Indeed, many sad-sack sightseers could take a few lessons from her style. The shorts fit her figure; she was not wearing a souvenir top that read: “My family went to Washington and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.” She was not sporting a fanny pack. Or wearing beaten-up rubber flip-flops. She looked fine.

But that doesn’t make the ensemble okay.

(Kind and civil enemies of fashion: Do I have more pressing concerns on my to-discuss list? Yes, I do. But I’m sandwiching this in between negotiating world peace and restricting short selling on Wall Street.)

[…]

The image of Obama in her shorts was strikingly modern. And for a long time, modern was not a word typically associated with the role of first lady. The women who have most recently occupied that nebulous position often seemed terribly constrained by its traditions, by the contradictory demands of the public, by the desire to do the nation proud and by the need to live a fulfilling and authentic life. Balancing all that is impossible, and so these women have cherry-picked some things that are inviolable and gone on from there. The public has been free to applaud or criticize each woman’s choices. The resulting analysis has had first ladies declared, among other things: elitist, dowdy and tragic victims of chauvinism.

Bringing up the subject of the current first lady’s shorts — indeed even admitting to noticing them — already has people booting up their laptops and taking big, gulping swigs of self-righteousness before firing off e-mails and tweets declaring the whole discussion pointless. But until the West Wing — and not the East — starts regularly fielding inquiries regarding china patterns, decorators and the menu for upcoming White House dinners and luncheons, the first lady will be burdened with matters of aesthetics. And her person remains the primary device in communicating her philosophy.

Anya Strzemien at Huffington Post:

When we asked readers on Monday whether it was appropriate for the first lady to wear shorts on Air Force One, nearly 13,000 opinions poured in. In response to the question “Does Michelle Obama have the right to bare legs?,” 59% of readers voted “Absolutely,” while 25% believed it was fine, but suggested she wear longer shorts next time. Only 17% said that shorts are inappropriate for a first lady.

Joan at Right Fashions:

The Obama’s were reportedly visiting the Grand Canyon. Sounds like a reasonable place to wear shorts, eh? I personally think she has a very keen sense of fashion, something that’s very refreshing after some of the frumpy First Ladies we’ve seen recently.

But who really thought the shorts were too short? Some feel it is the product of a slow news-month, and that there is really no evidence of any outrage over the shorts at all. One poll, conducted by the Chicago Tribune, found that over 80% responded that they were perfectly appropriate.

Claudine Zap:

No doubt about it. This story’s got legs. The first lady took a look-see at the Grand Canyon with her family this weekend while the rest of the country got a good look at her gams. Michelle Obama braved the blistering Arizona sun with an even braver style of shorts.

This winter we got a view of the fashionista-in-chief’s powerful arms, and now there’s proof that she’s got stems to match. The bare legs set off a firestorm of buzz on the Web, with looky-loos typing in “michelle obama short shorts” into the Search box.

James Joyner:

This is probably a no-win situation for Mrs. Obama.  Had she disembarked wearing a sun dress or linen Bermudas, critics would have scoffed that she was an elitist who didn’t know how to dress for a hike.

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It’s Tom Servo’s World, We Just Live In It

mac_vs_pc_tom_servo_crow

Gregory Clark, in WaPo, sees the future:

For much of the past 200 years, unskilled workers benefited greatly from capitalism. Before the Industrial Revolution, for example, skilled construction workers earned 50 to 100 percent more than unskilled laborers; today, that premium has fallen to 33 percent in the United States. The era of the two world wars, 1914 to 1945, was one of particularly sharp gains for the wages of unskilled workers, relative to the rest.

Why have the unskilled fared so well? After all, machines — whether steam engines, internal combustion engines or electric motors — have replaced people as deliverers of brute force. But even today they cannot replace many of people’s manipulative abilities, language skills and social awareness. The hamburger you eat at McDonald’s is still put together and delivered to you by human hands; even a fast-food “associate” deploys an astonishing repertoire of spatial and language skills.

But in more recent decades, when average U.S. incomes roughly doubled, there has been little gain in the real earnings of the unskilled. And, more darkly, computer advances suggest these redoubts of human skill will sooner or later fall to machines. We may have already reached the historical peak in the earning power of low-skilled workers, and may look back on the mid-20th century as the great era of the common man.

I recently carried out a complicated phone transaction with United Airlines but never once spoke to a human; my mechanical interlocutor seemed no less capable than the Indian call-center operatives it replaced. Outsourcing to India and China may be only a brief historical interlude before the great outsourcing yet to come — to machines. And as machines expand their domain, basic wages could easily fall so low that families cannot support themselves without public assistance.

With the march of technology, the size of a future American underclass dependent on public support for part of its livelihood is hard to predict: 10 million, 20 million, 100 million? We could imagine cities where entire neighborhoods are populated by people on state support. In France, generous welfare has already produced huge suburban housing estates, les banlieues, populated with a substantially unemployed and immigrant population, parts of which have periodically burst into violent protest.

Over at Sully’s Appel rounds up some blog reacts. Kevin Drum:

Of course, this is roughly the argument people made in the 19th century too: if machines can spin cotton and mine coal and harvest crops, what’s left for unskilled laborers to do? The answer, of course, turned out to be: something else. Productivity increased so dramatically during the Industrial Revolution, and with it the quantity of goods produced, that everyone stayed employed even though population increased and the labor content of most commodities went down. The nature of the work changed, but 10% of a thousand, it turned out, kept as many people employed as 50% of two hundred.

So is Clark just engaged in neo-Ludditeism? Maybe. But there really does seem to a fundamental difference between machines that take the place of muscle power and machines that take the place of brain power — though it’s hard to say for sure since we haven’t really seen what computers can do yet. Probably a lot more than most people think, though. Clark’s IVR transaction with United Airlines may seem trivial — an example of automated phone hell, in fact — but Thomas Newcomen’s atmospheric engine seemed barely worth the trouble too at the time.

Ryan Avent

Machine and robotic resources aren’t free; they’re resource constrained just like everything else is resource constrained. We have the tecnological know-how to replace millions of human workers with machines right now, but we don’t because the expense of building, programming, operating, and maintaining the machines is too great. It’s not worth it. As demand for human labour falls, the price of human labour will also fall making the hiring of humans more attractive. Meanwhile, as demand for robot labour increases, the price of robot labour will also increase (since the stuff robots are made of is scarce), making the use of a robot for any given task less attractive. There will then be some market equilibrium which will, in all likelihood, involve plenty of employment for low skilled workers.

Which doesn’t mean that machines can’t place downward pressure on unskilled worker wages. They clearly can; the rise of the computer destroyed the jobs of millions of semi-skilled clerks. Those people are still working today, generally competing with low skilled workers and earning less than they previously would have. On the other hand, the rise of computers has enabled them to get a lot more utility out of what they do earn.

Will Wilkinson:

Fifth, the piece is short-sighted. If robots can crowd out all low-skilled workers, there is no reason they cannot also crowd out all high-skilled workers. See Hanson. Would this be bad? Growth would proceed so rapidly that the returns to even small amounts of capital should be outrageously high. The gap will be between those with income from capital gains and those with none. To prevent this, some version of Clark’s recommendation might be desirable. I’d recommend Charles Murray’s scheme for replacing the United States’ social insurance apparatus with basic income grants and mandatory retirement and medical savings accounts. In a world of doubling-every-fifteen-minutes Hansonian robot growth, the portion of GDP necessary to fund universal grants sufficient to ensure a modestly lavish level of consumption would be so trifling that no one would even notice. For now, we should try to hasten the arrival of this post-human economy, in which case we should try to optimize incentives to innovation and growth. Higher taxes and higher levels of welfare spending is about the opposite of that.

Some other reactions. Pejman Yousefzadeh at New Clarion:

Wilkinson is quite right to point out the main problem with Clark’s argument; the contention that the poor are just too stupid to be able to adapt to the changing labor market, and have to be coddled by the rest of society. This is daft; as mentioned in Wilkinson’s post, we have already witnessed a tremendous degree of technological change in the labor market, and human beings of all stripes, classes, and income levels have adapted. There is no reason, after all, why the massive unemployment and significant setbacks to the prospects of the working poor should not have occurred already, thanks to the many ways in which technology has already changed and altered the labor market. And yet, we have not seen massive increases in unemployment, people have adapted, and there is no reason to think that they cannot adapt in the future.

Indeed, if there is anything to learn from human history, it is that human beings have a marvelous and powerful capacity to adapt to changes and challenges, and to overcome those challenges in ingenious ways. The Gregory Clarks of the world would have us ignore human history; preferring to panic us instead into approving higher taxes that would compensate for a supposed newfound inability on the part of human beings to adapt to the economic and social conditions in which they find themselves. This approach represents the worst kind of policymaking. It is also, sadly, all too typical of the rhetoric we hear nowadays from the port side of the political and economic divide

John Derbyshire at The Corner:

What Greg Clark omits to say is of course that the huge underclass we are accumulating through mass unskilled immigration, generous welfare policies, and the birthright-citizenship interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment will all be transformed into commodity traders, cardiologists, and green-technology engineering whiz-kids, just as soon as we get the educational system right. Which we indubitably shall, any … day … now …

Derek Thompson at The Atlantic:

Maybe this will all just be fine. The increased presences of computers and robots in creating automation and decreasing the need for labor will increase the need for new types of labor. In particular, the labor necessary for the creation, maintenance, and deployment of said machines. But this work is highly skilled, and there is good reason to believe that it will employ fewer people post machines than before.

Transformation of the skill level of that much labor is going to have large destabilizing effects. The last time we had such a transition of the skilling of labor we’d have to look at the Industrial Revolution in Europe. There we had a transformation from an artisan class into a deskilled, more productive class. This, from an economists point-of-view (but certainly not everyone’s), was a huge win for unskilled labor. This new change in the skilling of labor is not what is happening now. Now the economy is taking the labor of an unskilled class and replacing it with machines. In order for someone to take advantage of the new employment opportunities opening up it will requires a peculiar new type of skilling – the ability to create and maintain the new efficiency machines.

UPDATE: Paul Krugman

Reihan Salam

UPDATE #2: Reihan Salam and Mike Konczal at Bloggingheads

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Shuffling Off This Mortal Coil

Emily Nash in the Mirror:

The musician, who had been blind for 15 years and was becoming increasingly deaf, realised his existence would be unbearable without his steadfast partner of over 50 years.

So Sir Edward, 85, and wife Joan, 74, decided to go to a Swiss assisted-suicide clinic where they could die “peacefully” together.

Son Caractacus, 41, and daughter Boudicca, 39, were with them. He said: “They drank a small quantity of clear liquid and then lay down on the beds next to each other. They wanted to be next to each other when they died. They held hands across the beds. Within a couple of minutes, they were asleep and they died within 10 minutes.”

In a statement, the brother and sister added: “After 54 happy years they decided to end their lives rather than continue to struggle with serious health problems.

Tom Sutcliffe in the Independent

Alexander Chancellor in the Guardian

Rod Dreher:

What true thing can possibly be said about a culture that exalts ordered, ritualized and hygienic self-murder — especially of the non-diseased — as an act of valorous liberty, except that such a culture is in terminal decline? We recoil in horror from Islamic suicide bombers, as we certainly ought, but at least those malicious ghouls are killing themselves, and, in the case of their Islamist death-cult societies, honoring self-murder, in the service of some higher ideal. What’s our excuse? What’s our higher ideal justifying this obscene defilement of humanity, of the human person, of human solidarity, and ultimately of the image of God within us all? Autonomy? Comfort? We begin by murdering God, we end by murdering ourselves.

John Derbyshire at Secular Right:

I have never been very clear about the religious objections to suicide and assisted suicide.   The only time I tackled a religious colleague about it he launched into a “slippery slope” argument.   Well, I suppose some slopes are slippery, and some aren’t. I can’t see this one as being particularly slippery.   In any case, slippery-slope is not a religious argument.   What is the religious argument?  Are there any secular ones, other than the slippery slope?

Erin Manning:

And if you are not a believer, if you see man as nothing more than an accumulation of carbon who is every moment gathering pain as he heads inexorably toward oblivion, then the lack of outcry at the news of someone’s act of euthanasia probably pleases you. I can understand that–but what I can’t understand are those who wish to reconcile euthanasia with faith, particularly Christian faith. So far, Christians who openly support physician assisted suicide or other forms of euthanasia remain in the minority, but there are some who advance the argument that euthanasia is compatible with Christianity–and there are others who have adopted a “personally opposed, but…” line of argument which promises to do as much to prevent euthanasia as that argument did to reduce abortion.

Andrew Stuttaford, here and here:

John, when it comes to something that is quite literally a matter of life and death, I think that the slippery slope argument has rather more force than is usually the case – any changes to the existing legislation would need to be drawn up very carefully indeed. The concern that people might be bullied into ‘choosing’ death is legitimate, as is the fear that medical staff might be compelled to assist in a procedure that they believe to be akin to murder.

That said, if we disregard the religious objections (and we should), the argument for change in at least one instance-that of the physically incapacitated individual who wishes to end it all but is unable to do so-appears to me to be irresistible. I’m not so worried about the able-bodied: they can almost always make their own arrangements, but the plight of, say, the paralyzed man who is desperate to die but has no realistic way of achieving that objective for himself, is truly hideous – and so are the laws that stand in his way. They should be changed.

UPDATE: A series of blog posts at Double X, including Nina Shen Rastogi, Kerry Howley, Hanna Rosin, Bonnie Goldstein and Amy Bloom

Samantha Henig at Slate

UPDATE #2: Chris Dierkes at The League

Will Wilson at PomoCon

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