Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Yes, the stupid party

Why It's Called "The Stupid Party": GOP Turns Fight Against The Horrors Of ObamaCare Into A Process Story

You know why the GOP loses a lot? Because it deserves to.

Yesterday a bunch of Republican Senators went around to the various Sunday shows and instead of talking about why it's imperative ObamaCare be repealed because of the damage it's doing, they decided to make it about how much they hate Ted Cruz. Some Republicans went as far as to offer Fox News Sunday Host Chris Wallace what he termed, "opposition research" on Cruz.
I think DrewM is right on two key points. First, too many of the Republicans in Congress talk of legislative minutia that is of interest only to insiders. As a result, they miss their chance to convince voters to support them.

Then there is the cowardice factor:

You know why Cruz is so popular? Because he's actually fighting. Maybe it's a losing fight, maybe it's a fight to raise money (though let's not pretend he's the only one doing that) or to raise his popularity (the sight of professional politicians accusing anyone of self-aggrandizement is too precious) but at least he's fighting.
The same thing happened when Rand Paul filibustered over the issue of Presidential authority to order drone strikes anywhere against anyone. Even non-libertarians had to admire his willingness to take on a tough issue.
That said, I think "fighting" conservatives are still fighting the last war in the effort to defund Obamacare. Their opposition is couched in ideological language and American's are not very ideological. Plus, our ideology does not enjoy the support it once did.

To wit:

The usual mantra of "No socialism, Free Enterprise!" just seems inadequate in the face of the current economic realities.

Key fact number one. As Obama moves toward "socialism", he does so at the behest of the "capitalists". It is not as if he is sending paramilitary gangs to take over successful, profitable businesses. Obama, like Bush before him, is compelled to act because the capitalists screwed the pooch, crapped the bed, and then muttered "maybe my bad" when their recklessness sent the financial system off a cliff.

The broad public knows this, and that makes it hard to win them over with cheap slogans about socialist bogeymen.

Conservatives and messaging

GOP future: It's not the "messaging"

Thinking about thinking, creativity and, innovation

Several recent items that serve as variations on a theme.

Who knew that the classic Eames recliner owes its origin to the US Navy’s search for a better splint in WWII?

All Technology is Assistive Technology

In 1941, the husband-and-wife design team, Charles and Ray Eames, were commissioned by the US Navy to design a lightweight splint for wounded soldiers to get them out of the field more securely. Metal splints of that period weren’t secure enough to hold the leg still, causing unnecessary death from gangrene or shock, blood loss, and so on.

The Eameses’ unpainted wood splint, curved at its edges to keep the leg from falling off, with a targeted set of slots and holes for tying secure restraints.

The Eameses had been working on techniques to mold and bend plywood, and they were able to come up with this splint designconforming to the body without a lot of extra joints and parts. The wood design became a secure, lightweight, nest-able solution, and they produced more than 150,000 such splints for the Navy.

Over the next decade, the Eameses would go on to refine their wood-molding process to create both sculpture and functional design pieces, most notably these celebrated chairs:

Graham Pullin, in his book, Design Meets Disability, cites this story as an example of a seemingly specialized design problema medical aid for disabled soldiersthat inspired a whole aesthetic in modernist furnishings. The chairs that launched a thousand imitators, and a new ethos of simple, organic lines in household objects.
I’ve posted before about David Gelernter’s ideas on creativity which I think apply here.

Killing Creativity

David Gelernter argues in The Muse in the Machine that creativity has three distinctive traits:

1. At base it “is the linking of ideas that are seemingly unrelated.”

2. It is not an incremental process, rather inspiration comes as a bolt from the blue.”

3. It occurs “in a state of unconcentration.” Hence, “hard work does not pay. You can’t achieve inspiration by concentrating hard, by putting your mind to it.”

Gelernter’s framework demonstrates why the nose-to-the-grindstone approach is a drag on creativity:

A. Ideas cannot be linked until the mind acquires them in the first place. Hence, study and reflection are critical.

B. It allows no time for broad study. Yet that is the only way to increase the chances that the right unrelated ideas will be linked. (As Jacques Barzun puts it, “abundant reading develops the original mind.” )

C. Intense focus allows no time for relaxation and reflection. There is not enough time spent in a state of unconcentration-- the state where inspiration occurs.

The mythic stories of scientific discovery support Gelernter's thesis. There are no better examples of the role of relaxed reflection than Archimedes in his bath or Isaac Newton beneath the apple tree.

Next we have an incisive critique of brainstorming:

Brainstorming Is Not Very Creative

Brainstorming has three serious flaws that prevent it from being very effective as an idea generation method: people shouting out ideas is less creative than people writing ideas individually; reserving judgment and prohibiting criticism reduces creativity; and decision makers tend to choose moderately creative ideas over highly creative ideas. The first is easily resolved. The second two are fatal. All three of these flaws have been found and tested through clinical research by individuals and groups that have nothing to gain by finding flaw with brainstorming. Let’s look at the research.
As the author notes the “no criticism” rule works against what we now know about how real creative collaboration works.

Peter Drucker wrote that, in his experience, when anything important was accomplished, it was by “a monomaniac with a mission.” Conventional brainstorming is a poor method to find such people. A delicate flower who cannot defend their idea is not the sort of relentless monomaniac who will drive a project forward in the face of the inevitable obstacles.

Finally, there is this:

It’s Not ‘Mess.’ It’s Creativity.

Our findings have practical implications. There is, for instance, a minimalist design trend taking hold in contemporary office spaces: out of favor are private walled-in offices and even private cubicles. Today’s office environments often involve desk sharing and have minimal “footprints” (smaller office space per worker), which means less room to make a mess.

At the same time, the working world is abuzz about cultivating innovation and creativity, endeavors that our findings suggest might be hampered by the minimalist movement. While cleaning up certainly has its benefits, clean spaces might be too conventional to let inspiration flow.
The minimalist office reflects an antiquated view of work and thinking. It might be fine for work that involves sequential, machine-like thinking (but wouldn’t a machine be even better?) but is wholly unsuited for the lateral thinking that Gelernter is writing about.

This calls to mind C. S. Lewis:

And all the time-- such is the tragicomedy of our situation-- we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that our civilization needs more 'drive' or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or 'creativity'. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. we make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. we laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the gelding be fruitful.
Which helps to explain the persistence of brainstorming exercises. Executives, having eliminated the prerequisites of creative thinking, must “bid the gelding be fruitful”. Even though the sessions provide little benefit, they at least provide the illusion of action.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Politics over excellence at U. Va.

A Record for the University of Virginia?

According to a story that appeared after the death of Ronald Coase, both Coase and James Buchanan were deliberately pushed out of the University of Virginia for political reasons....

The University of Chicago is said to hold the record for the largest number of Nobel Prizes won by its faculty. Judging by these account, UVA may hold the record for the largest number of (future) Nobel Prizes lost.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Well, well, well

Appeals court overturns DeLay conviction, acquits him

For the second time in the last few years, a high-profile corruption prosecution against a Republican member of Congress has collapsed. This time, it’s Tom DeLay that gets to celebrate, as an appeals court not only overturned his conviction but ordered an acquittal.

Good read

Lee Stranahan:

Duping The Idiots: The Left’s Frankfurt School Denialism

For a decade, the Southern Poverty Law Center and others on the left have been trying to hide and distract from one of the main origins of both radical academia and media hostility towards capitalism: the ideology of cultural Marxism and Critical Theory that arose from the Frankfurt School.

Political Correctness didn’t appear out of thin air…

The SPLC and others dismiss the facts about the German think-tank and its subsequent influence in America as a conspiracy theory. Understanding these attacks is an object lesson in how the left creates self-sustaining mythology by demonizing the people who dare expose their ideology while misdirecting their own followers as to the real story behind liberal ideas.

Like I said

Skip Bayless thinks you need to hear his opinion on everything. But he is not interested in what you think.

Skip Bayless, ESPN2 “First Take” co-host, may be the most hated man in sports

Bayless is stoic as he watches football and waits for Tebow to come in off the bench. He occasionally checks e-mail, but on this night he shuns Twitter. He has more than 1.1 million followers but mostly avoids reading the feedback there. On Twitter, the nice ones ask him to kill himself; the nasty ones say they’ll help him do it.

“It’s like the Wild West,” he says. “Every other response is a death threat.”

Why do journalists love twitter and hate blogging?

Twitter seems more useful as a way for insiders like Kurtz to extent their brand and magnify their voice.

The agony of the push media guild

That’s what the internet has done to the people who make their living in the old media. Once they lived in a quiet world where they talked and every one else listened. Their work was rarely criticized. Sometimes they heard but they did sometimes hear whispered praise or demurrals from other guild members but it was all very civilized.

Now, unfortunately, the great unwashed have a voice and the push media do not like what they hear.

He joked his way to an important truth

I think most big-time media personalities labor under the same delusion. They think they are smart, funny, and wildly popular. The horrible thing about the new media is that they (sometimes) find out that it just ain't so.

David Frum is a monster

Bryan Preston

The Fall of David Frum

There’s a malevolence to the way Frum trolls conservatives and exploits tragedy that precludes belief that adulthood would make a difference. He is an adult, who is also a nasty piece of work.
Let's not forget that Frum is a serial offender.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Six weeks that saved the world

Originally posted 10 August 2012

In this post, Rev. Donald Sensing makes a powerful case that 6 June 1944 is the most critical day in Western history:

The awful stakes of D-Day

There are many "pivot" days in human history, when the course of human events swung in a new direction because of discrete actions. It is hard to find another moment in all history when so much rested on an outcome of one day as rested on the success of the Allies' landings on Normandy. In military history, no other day in American history compares. The only single day that comes to mind for me right now is the day of the Battle of Marathon in 490 BC, when an Athenian army repelled a Persian landing force. The entire future of Western civilization and the idea of democracy itself lay in the balance. And yet even that may day not stand alone as D-Day does because the Persians persisted and the later battles of Plataea and Salamis were probably even more important. So there was no "one day" of paramount importance in the Persian War, even though it was almost certainly the most important war of ancient times.

The success at Normandy validated the strategic assessment of Churchill in the dark days of June 1940:
This is not the decisive point and this is not the decisive moment. That moment will come when Hitler hurls his Luftwaffe against Great Britain. If we can keep command of the air and if we can keep the seas open, we will win it all back for you.

It was an astute judgment but it seemed like wishful thinking to the French. Their generals assured the government that "in three weeks, England will have her neck wrung like a chicken." France made peace with Hitler and left Britain to stand alone.

There is no D-Day in 1944 unless Britain remains defiant and unconquered in the summer and fall of 1940. As Churchill understood, the first crucial battle in the liberation of Europe would take place in the skies over England.
The great French Army was very largely, for the time being, cast back and disturbed by the onrush of a few thousand armoured vehicles. May it not also be that the cause of civilisation itself will be defended by the skill and devotion of a few thousand airmen?

(Speech to Parliament 4 June 1940)

On 1 August 1940, Hitler issued Directive No. 17:
The Luftwaffe will use all the forces at its disposal to destroy the British air force as quickly as possible.

The RAF proved equal to the great challenge. Throughout the summer and fall they battled the Luftwaffe in hundreds of actions in the first great air campaign in history. The Germans never attained control of the air over southern England; without air superiority no invasion was possible.

On 15 September, Hitler put Operation Sea Lion-- the invasion of England-- on hold.

Der Führer had suffered his first strategic setback. Britain remained undefeated and unbowed. The great triumphs that came in the years that followed were only possible because of that momentous victory in 1940.
Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few

Like the battle of Midway, the Battle of Britain stands out from the most other military turning points in the modern era. Sedan, Verdun, Stalingrad and Normandy were struggles contested by armies numbering in the hundreds of thousands or even millions. The Battle of Britain was on an altogether smaller scale. A few thousand pilots and ground support personnel were the first and mainline of defense against Hitler and his war machine.

As Churchill put it:
The odds were great; our margins small; the stakes infinite

The free world can give thanks that England prevailed against those great odds.

This website let’s you follow the course of the campaign as it unfolded.

Battle of Britain Day by Day

Six weeks that saved the world (II)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Terry McAuliffe and his priorities

Bryan Preston:

9-11 Made Terry McAuliffe Feel Like a ‘Caged Rat’ Because He Couldn’t Fund Raise

When most Americans were unifying, mourning, focused less on politics than on keeping our families safe and avenging our losses, Terry McAuliffe was angry that the terrorist attack had gotten in the way of his fundraising soirees.
The man is a true patriot


Smart piece on Howard Kurtz's new show

Jack Shafer:

Kurtz moves from CNN to Fox with the same old song

After “Reliable Sources” host Howard Kurtz parted ways with CNN in June [2] and announced the move of his Sunday morning TV act to Fox News Channel, he had a chance to retool the media-news-and-criticism formula he purveyed on the network for 15 years. Instead, he has dressed his old CNN show in Fox bunting. In the Sept. 8 debut, he recruited members of the “Reliable Sources” stock company (David Zurawik, Nia-Malika Henderson, Lauren Ashburn, and Michelle Cottle) to chat with him about the week’s news. The new show even appears in his old CNN time slot, 11 a.m. The only new thing about the show is its name, “MediaBuzz.
I was surprised that Fox News just repackaged the old and lame "Reliable Sources" for their new media program.

Once again we see the Murdoch method at work: never let excellence get in the way of doing it cheaper. (See: Cable news, vox populi, and professional sleaze).

The Telegraph skewers John Le Carre

John le Carré: a painfully dated figure with the political views of a cartoonist

No, it is the glaring contradiction between the nuance and moral complexity of a le Carré novel and the jarring simplicity of his views, however sonorously he might express them....

For a master novelist, he talks about current affairs in the simple terms of a cartoonist. His opponents are lunatics and that’s that. One of his essays is entitled simply: "The United States of America has Gone Mad."

Siege of Vienna

First posted 12 September 2003

In the summer of 1683 the Ottoman Turks advanced up the Danube, occupied Hungary, and, in July, laid siege to Vienna. They had 200,00 men and over 300 cannon. The defenders of the city numbered less than 22,000 only 6,000 of whom were regular soldiers; the remainder were civilians pressed into service at the start of the siege.

The relief of the city was complicated by European politics. Louis XIV of France hoped to gain German territory on the Rhine while the Hapsburgs were occupied in the east. To that end, he worked to create am anti-Hapsburg alliance with Hungary and Poland which would deny Austria aid against the Turks. (Incidentally, the Ottoman artillery were commanded by a Frenchman, a former Capuchin no less).

By September, conditions were desperate inside the city- low supplies, disease, and weakening defenses. The Hapsburgs had raised a relief army of only 21,000. But, fortunately, Poland had spurned Louis's maneuvers and sent an army of 24,000 under their King John Sobieski.

On September 12, the two relief armies and the forces inside the city attacked the besiegers. The critical moment came in mid-afternoon when Sobieski sent his cavalry into the heart of the Ottoman camp. The battle became a rout. The next day the Polish king wrote his wife: "the Vizer took such hurried flight that he had time to escape with only one horse."

He also noted the Turks "left behind a mass of innocent Austrian people, particularly women; but they butchered as many as they could." Separate from that slaughter, the Ottomans had sent 67,000 Austrians east as slaves and 14,000 girls to the harems of Constantinople.

Sobieski's troops captured the Ottoman battle flag ("The green standard of the Prophet") in the fighting. This he sent to the Pope with the message "Veni vidi, Deus Vicit" ("I came, I saw, God conquered").

The lifting of the siege is usually marked as the turning point for the Ottoman empire. For centuries they had advanced against Europe, conquering the Byzantium empire, capturing lands in the Balkans and islands in the Mediterranean. After 1683 they began 250 years of retreat. (Funny how many of these critical turning points find the Poles fighting on the right side).

Today is the 330th anniversary of the lifting of the siege.