Friday, February 22, 2013

How we live now: The rule of the inept experts

A couple of days ago I linked to this post by Photon Courier:

Jousting with Shadows

And, almost always, today’s “progressivism” is about the transfer of power from individuals to credentialed “experts” who will coerce or “nudge” people to do with those experts have decided would be best.
That quote is especially apt in light of Joe Biden’s latest buffoonery:

Joe Biden’s Felony Self-Defense Advice

Following Vice President advice to fire warning shots will likely get you arrested on felony charges. Firing randomly Biden didn’t even state the shots should be fired into a safe direction could get those charges upgraded to assault with a deadly weapon or possibly manslaughter if those shots fired into the air in the dark hits and kills an innocent victim like Rachel Yoder.

Vice President Biden has given defensive gun use advice that may put those who follow it behind bars with a felony conviction. Is he remotely competent to be driving national gun policy?
The distinctive feature of coercive “experts” like Joe Biden or Joe Salazar is that they are credentialed, not proficient. They assume the right to make decisions for others, but that assumption is based on “media consensus” and insider back-scratching. It is not, demonstrably in the case of Biden and Salazar, based on proven expertise or knowledge.

Ours is an age of Knowingness Rampant.

Knowingness, of course, is not knowledge--indeed, is the rebuttal of knowledge. Knowledge was what squares had, or thought they had, and they thought that it was the secret of life. Knowingness is a celebration of the conceit that what the squares knew, or thought they knew, was worthless.
Given his history, it is surprising that the administration allows Biden to speak in public. In a healthy polity, he would be kept under tight wrapsthe political equivalent of the crazy aunt in the attic.

From Mark Steyn in 2008:

By contrast, Biden was glib and fluent and in command of the facts if by "in command of the facts" you mean "talks complete blithering balderdash and hogwash."
Or this gem:
Is Joe Biden a psychopath?
Biden's bizarre question angers father of Navy SEAL who died in Benghazi attack
VP made inappropriate comment to Charles Woods, father of SEAL Tyrone
Or this:

Joe Biden’s big lie

One reason for Biden’s continued viability is the exercise of raw media power. David Warsh notes one role the prestige press plays:

Newspapers reward their culture heroes and presidential favorites, penalize those with whom they disagree, further the activities of which they approve and ignore those which they do not.
A decadent liberal media has to praise a liberal leader like Biden or else the whole rickety structure might collapse.

In a bizarre way, supporting Biden enhances the self-image of reporters and editors

The MSM puts great stock in the value of its insider status. They know things that we outsiders do not. That allows them to see context and nuance that the dirty masses are blind to. What the public might think is favoritism is just superior knowledge. Because they know that Joe Biden is smart and Sarah Palin is dumb, it is AOK for pundits to mock the latter while ignoring the missteps the of Veep.
A number of years ago, a Biden gaffe came up on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” (“Where the Liberal Establishment lets their hair down”). It was only a brief mention because, as serial fabricator Mike Barnicle announced, “We know his heart is in the right place so we give him a pass”.

The assorted deciders at the table murmured their agreement.

As I said, Knowingness Rampant.

This is a mindset we’ve seen before, Stephen Koch, in his book Double Lives* describes how Willi Munzenberg worked to manipulate opinion leaders and built Popular Front support for Stalin’s prison empire:

Munzenberg wanted to instill the feeling, like a truth of nature, that seriously to criticize or challenge Soviet policy was the unfailing mark of a bad, bigoted, and probably stupid person, while support was equally infallible proof of a forward-looking mind committed to all that was best for humanity and marked by an uplifting refinement of sensibility.


Munzenberg provided two generations of people on the left with what we might call the forum of righteousness. More than any other person of his era, he developed what may well be the leading moral illusion of the twentieth century: the notion that in the modern age the principal arena of the moral life, the true realm of good and evil, is politics. He was the unseen organizer of that variety of politics, indispensable to the adversary culture, which we might call Righteousness Politics. 'Innocents Clubs': The very phrase suggests how the political issues Munzenberg manipulated came for many to serve as a substitute for religious belief. He offered everyone, anyone, a role in the search for justice in our century. By defining guilt, he offered his followers innocence, and they seized upon it by the millions.

· We really have to get this book on Kindle so click on the link and request that the publisher consider a Kindle edition.


The story Piers Morgan does not want you to hear

Rape Survivor: A Call Box Above My Head While I Was Being Brutally Raped Wouldn't Have Helped

Her attacker was James Biela, a serial rapist who raped two other women and murdered another. He attacked her at gun point in a gun free zone. At the time of the attack, Collins was in possession of a concealed weapons permit but was not in possession of her firearm due to university policies prohibiting carrying concealed weapons on campus.
About my headline:

Not surprisingly, CNN's Piers Morgan denied Collins' request to come on his show and tell her story.

What's the matter with California?

Communist killers like Fidel and Che are A-OK, but the US flag is verbotten?

California Dept. of Transportation: ‘Be Sure to Black Out the ‘United States’ and [the] Motto’

LeBard said no thanks and pursued yet another angle. Having learned that CalTrans had sanctioned — as a Transportation Art Program project — the building of Chicano Park in San Diego, where murals feature portraits of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, LeBard decided to reclassify his intended memorial as an art project. He called it, “A Tribute to the Protectors of Freedom.”

At first, CalTrans encouraged the idea. But then, perhaps inevitably, it determined that the words “United States” and “E Pluribus Unum” aren’t nearly so benign as the likenesses of communist revolutionaries; that, unlike such likenesses, the name of our country and the motto on our Great Seal — like our flag itself — have no place on our public lands.

Monday, February 18, 2013

How we live now


And, almost always, today’s “progressivism” is about the transfer of power from individuals to credentialed “experts” who will coerce or “nudge” people to do with those experts have decided would be best.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

An extraordinary life

'I intend to die in the harness': Chapman Pincher is still on the hunt for spooks

Fast approaching his 99th birthday, the insatiable hack is still working seven days a week. "I won't take a day off because it's a use-it-or-lose-it situation at my age and you lose it quickly. I intend to die in the harness, like the old war-horse.

"I've got this bug, you see, of wanting to know everything there is to know about the spy world," he says in a soft Yorkshire drawl, peering over the top of his spectacles. To this end, every day after breakfast with Billee, he checks his emails before setting to work. Right now he's finishing off the second draft of his autobiography – his 38th book – alongside some "ongoing research".
Why can't the US have journalists this interesting?

A deal and a half

A classic album collection at a bargain price.

I've been listening to it the last couple of weeks.

Friday, February 15, 2013

An inconvenient book (Part two)

Part one: Felt’s game

The problem with sources

Deep Throat is the most famous anonymous source in history. He gets trotted out to justify the passage of reporter shield laws. His name is invoked every time a favored reporter is criticized for using unnamed sources to make unverifiable charges.

“Deep Throat helped Bob Woodward break the Watergate cover-up. Unnamed sources help investigative reporters do the Lord’s work. So shut up!”

Now that we know Deep Throat was the FBI’s Mark Felt, we can make a searching examination of the actions and motives of this renowned source.

Such an examination shreds the conventional narrative and journalistic myth-making. As Max Holland notes, the dance of reporter and source is “a complex, adversarial but ofter symbiotic relationship.” The specific case of Deep Throat/Felt/Woodward is less a story of Fourth Estate virtue and is much more a “cautionary tale” for both reporters and readers.

The tale Holland tells is nothing like the movie version. Mark Felt is not an anguished truth-teller who relies on the press to save the Constitution from Nixon’s designs. Leak gives us a picture of a skilled bureaucratic manipulator who used a young reporter for his private purposes. Felt’s purposes had almost nothing to do with defending the Constitution. He was chiefly concerned with getting rid of L. Patrick Gray and getting himself into John Edgar Hoover’s old chair.

On one level, Woodward and the Post were dealing with problems faced by all reporters. As Scott Shane of the New York Times described his work: "I'm a journalist whose job it is to explain to others things he doesn't understand himself." Edward Jay Epstein put it this way in his 1975 book Between Fact and Fiction:

The problem of journalism in America proceeds from a simple but inescapable bind: journalists are rarely, if ever, in a position to establish the truth about an issue for themselves, and they are, therefore, almost entirely dependent on self-interested 'sources' for versions of reality that they report.

Indeed, given the voluntary nature of the relationship between a reporter and his source, a continued flow of information can only be assured if the journalist's stories promise to serve the interests of the witness.
Holland shows that Felt was not just a “self-interested source”; he was a dishonest one. His leaks were carefully calibrated to keep the heat on Gray. For instance, Deep Throat did not tell Woodward about the White House’s attempt to use CIA to stymie the FBI investigation. Nor did he reveal that Alfred Baldwin was cooperating with the Bureau and could tie the burglars to E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy. These were bombshells because they tied the White House to both the break-in and the cover-up.

Neither revelation served Felt aims so he let them remain secret. This fact alone is almost conclusive proof that Deep Throat’s agenda was not the Truth and that he saw Bob Woodward as something other than an ally in a crusade for Justice.

In an ideal world, Leak would be a required text at every school of journalism. The keepers of journalistic standards should convene panels of wise men to ponder its revelations and draw some useful lessons for reporters and editors. Back in the real world, however, the profession seems intent on ignoring this book.

Perhaps that should be no surprise. Woodstein’s Watergate reporting remains a foundational myth for the profession of journalism. Holland's research has revealed that much of the standard narrative is half-true at best and fraudulent at worst. Faced with that, the deciders have decided to avert their eyes and stick with the legend.

CSPAN has video of several talks Holland gave on this book, Mark Felt, and Watergate history. See here.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

An inconvenient book (Part One)

WELCOME Instapundit readers!  While you are here, why not check out the archives and maybe subscribe to this blogs feed?  (please?)

Part two: The problem with sources

Max Holland’s Leak might have been the most important book published in 2012. Combining painstaking research with a dogged determination to separate fact from myth, Leak is a careful examination of Mark Felt and his role in Watergate.

As Holland points out, such an examination is long overdue:

"As Christopher Hitchen's wrote in his review of The Secret Man, Watergate 'ranks as the single most successful use of the news media by an anonymous unelected official with an agenda of his own.’ Without a consensus about what that agenda was, there is a gaping hole in the center of the narrative."
For decades, the conventional portrayal of Mark Felt was Hal Holbrook in All the President’s Men. Deep Throat had no agenda beyond truth, justice, and the American Way. He talked to Bob Woodward because he had no choice: leaking to the Washington Post was the only way to stop Nixon and his minions from subverting the Constitution.

Holland shows that almost nothing about this picture is true. Felt had an agenda and it had nothing to do with revulsion at Nixon’s tactics. Deep Throat was a combatant in “The War of the FBI Succession.” Felt wanted to replace J. Edgar Hoover and he was angry that Nixon had appointed L. Patrick Gray as Acting Director after Hoover died.

Deep Throat’s leaks, then, were not a desperate attempt to reveal the truth. They were, instead, just part of the usual Washington game in which bureaucrats use reporters to undercut their rivals.

"Pushing Gray to do the right thing, in other words, cost Felt nothing but was bound to hurt Gray. And there is some evidence that Felt was simultaneously communicating to the White House that everything would be different if he were the director-- that he could accomplish what Gray was either unwilling or incapable of doing."
Holland has described Felt as an “Iago type character” in his relationship with L. Patrick Gray and the evidence supports that characterization. During the day Felt was the loyal G-Man helping his new boss stop the leaks which were driving the White House crazy (and jeopardizing Gray’s career prospects.) At night, Felt was leaking to his favorite reporters in order to undercut Gray and his other rivals for the top job.

That is reporters--plural. Felt did not start leaking after Watergate. He was an accomplished player in that game and fed information to multiple journalists.

This books shatters many of the myths and illusions that surround Watergate. It raises serious questions for both journalists and historians. Sadly, journalists have mostly ignored this book. As Holland notes, they have chosen to follow the lead of the editor in John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

CSPAN has video of several talks Holland gave on this book, Mark Felt, and Watergate history. See here.

"We're from the government and we are here to hurt you."

A serious column about a deadly serious subject:

And Your Little Dog, Too

(HT: Quinn Hilyer)

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

"So, why can't journalists fictionalize no more than screenwriters?"

That's the impertinent question Steve Sailer asks in the wake of the media coverage of Christopher Dorner's rampage.

How movies and videogames are more accurate about recent history than the newspapers

Sailer raises an important point about the myopia of newpaper people:

You might think that exploring the ties between rogue cops and some of the most notorious murders of the 1990s (Biggie and Tupac) would be a good way to sell newspapers, but selling newspapers has long been a lower priority than Shaping the Narrative.
For decades, newspapers could sell papers, grow profits, and shape the narrative without breaking a sweat. They owed their privileged position to the decline in competition and the rise of local monopolies. (See here.)

Now, that era of easy living has passed but no one in charge knows how to operate in a challenging environment. The problem is made worse by the power of the guild and the agency problem.

You have to wonder-- does this suggest that there is an opportunity for some enterprising iconoclast who is willing to flaunt the tired conventions and lame narratives?


I wrote about the LAPD and the MSM narrative here:


Worse than Jayson Blair

Radical chic in its dotage

Joseph Epstein:

Radical Unchic and the New York Review of Books

Long ago I claimed that NYRB contributors were mad dogs and Englishmen. Or could it have been that, though I have been a subscriber to the review from its beginning in 1962, last year I canceled my subscription?

I canceled my subscription, not in high dudgeon, the way outraged subscribers tend to do, but because the NYRB had been boring me a fine Matisse blue for at least a decade and maybe longer. The Englishmen among its contributors are now third-rate and the mad dogs have become entirely uninteresting dogs.
Roger Kimball:

The New York Review at 50

Where the Review once featured such A-list intellectuals as W.H. Auden and Hannah Arendt, at their recent 50th anniversary celebration the marquee names included Joan Didion, Daryl Pinckney (who?), and Daniel Mendelsohn.

Ho, I mean to say, hum.
The mighty may have fallen, but the NYRB was a powerful cultural influence for decades. How it achieved this position is an interesting case study.


In the pages of the NYRB, the great cultural figures in effect lent their imprimatur to the political radicalism. … The combination-- high culture admixed with radical politics-- made a fine blend upon which the bien-pensants in the media and academic life happily puffed. When I taught at Northwestern University, every two weeks the professorial mailboxes filled with fresh copies of the NYRB.
Linking politics and high culture proved to be a potent cocktail. The NYRB was only one of many culture warriors who mixed it and served it to an eager audience.

Robert Conquest recounts one example from the 1930s in explaining why Stalinism managed to gain such a foothold among the intelligentsia:

The Australian poet James McAuley wrote penetratingly of the pro-Communist phenomenon: 'During the thirties and forties Australian intellectual life became subjected to an alarming extent to the magnetic field of Communism. All sorts of people who would regard themselves as being non-Communist, and even opposed to Communism, in practice were dominated by the themes and modes of discussion proposed by the Communists, danced to the Communist tune, and had serious emotional resistances to being identified with any position or institution which was denounced by the Communists as "reactionary".' He adds that 'one reason for all this was that schools of thought genuinely independent of and opposed to Communist suggestion were in this country not well organized and publicly present. They lacked prestige, that magical aura which captures the minds of the young in advance of argument and establishes compelling fashions' [Reflections on a Ravaged Century]
“Prestige, that magical aura which captures the minds of the young in advance of argument and establishes compelling fashions” The young are not the only ones susceptible to fashion and fads. Stephen Koch describes how the Stalinists wielded every tool at their disposal to win influence during the Twenties and Thirties in his book Double Lives: Spies and Writers in the Secret Soviet War of Ideas against the West.

For instance, he notes that the Kremlin never thought of Red Hollywood as a propaganda vehicle. Instead, one of its key objectives was to attract movie stars to the right fronts and causes in order to “Stalinize the glamour culture.” Once thoroughly Stalinized, the glamour culture could be used to rally the public to what most suited Bloody Joe’s needs.

Every age, after all, has its low-information voters. Glamour and “sophistication” can sway them far easier than tedious arguments that use facts and logic.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

"In a crisis, the president went AWOL"

Powerful op-ed by William Kristol and Peter Wehner:

The Absentee Commander in Chief

And we learned one other thing: Messrs. Panetta and Dempsey both knew on the night of the assault that it was a terrorist attack. This didn't prevent President Obama, Secretary Clinton and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice from peddling a false version of events in the days and even weeks that followed, as the administration called the incident spontaneous, said there was no evidence of a coordinated terrorist attack and blamed the violence on an anti-Muslim video. So the White House, having failed to ensure that anything was done during the attack, went on to mislead the nation afterward.

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

A revealing Freudian slip

Piers Morgan lets the mask slip:

PIERS MORGAN: I have an interview coming up with two young women who wrote a piece in which they said they wanted the rights of the AR-15 weapon at home because they feared they would be attacked and they wanted a gun that would guarantee they would murder or would kill their attacker. How do you respond to that particular argument, which is they believe under their second amendment right they should be allowed an AR-15?
The fraud-tarnished former journalist sees no difference between "murder" and legitimate self-defense.

The conventional narrative misleads the public

If you want bigger government, you need to side with big business

The media too often see Washington battles as Big Business vs Big Government. This is usually not the case. Often it’s Big Business & Big Government vs. Small Business.

From 2008:

The greater sin of the elite media is the fairy tale version of Washington they foist upon their readers/viewers. In their telling of the story, the Party of Free Enterprise wages a vicious, partisan war against the Party Opposed to Big Business.

The reality is something far different. Liberal Democrats like Chris Dodd, Barack Obama, and Barney Frank received huge sums of campaign cash from Freddie and Fanny. Joe Biden watches out for the interest of credit card giant MBNA while his family dabbles in running hedge funds.

The fairy tale has been obsolete for decades. The Democrats made their peace with Big Business in 1975 when Phil Burton and Tip O’Neil realized that they could use corporate money to preserve their post-Watergate majorities.

Innovation: Lonely geniuses need not apply

Harvard Professor Finds That Innovative Ideas Spread Like The Flu; Here's How To Catch Them

"What we found was striking," Miller says. More than an individual work, the quality of relationships that a team had was a crucial--especially having someone on the team highly connected to the rest of the network. The most successful teams were the most interwoven, because as Miller says, "If you're doing great work back in a closet somewhere, it doesn't matter."

In this case, too, information--here the process of innovation--acts as contagion. Successful teams were able to spread their ideas through the organization, gathering commentary, criticism, and broader support. Movement of information from person to person and across departments advanced the innovation, Miller says, which couldn't have happened if it stayed on an island. "High-performing people tend to have strong connections, both laterally across departments as well as up and down the hierarchical chain."

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Hillary, Benghazi, and the continuing cover-up

Jonah Goldberg:

Hillary Clinton's dodgy testimony

A lot of people in Washington apparently forgot how good Hillary Clinton is at not telling the truth.

Wednesday, in her testimony before both the Senate and, later, the House, Clinton brilliantly fudged, dodged and filibustered. Of course, she's a pro. Clinton was slow-walking depositions, lawyering up and shifting blame when many of her questioners were still civilians down on the farm.
Terence P. Jeffrey:

State Dept. Publicized Names, Photos of Stevens' Benghazi Security Detail Before 9/11/12; Suppressed Their Identities Afterward

This remarkable about-face raises two questions: Why can’t the American people know the names--and hear the stories--of the heroic DS agents who fought the terrorists who attacked our mission in Benghazi? Why can’t these courageous survivors deliver their eyewitnesses accounts directly to the U.S. Congress?
It seems to me, this Watergate parallel still holds:

Now it certainly can be argued that there is no story because there is no scandal. Right now facts are scarce and the big picture is obscure.

The same thing was true of Watergate in 1972. Ben Bradlee worried that the Post might be on a fool’s errand. He was reassured by superlawyer Edward Bennett Williams:

If they’re [the Nixon campaign]clean why don’t they show it? Why are there so many lies? I’ll tell you why. Because you’ve got them.

Essential reading

Aaron Swartz Died For Piers Morgan's Sins

Piers Morgan’s Desperate Attacks on His Critics

Saturday, February 02, 2013

A feature not a bug

Sabermetrics goes to college:
Sabermetrics: The Dissertation!

(HT: Steve Sailer)

Interesting how sabermetricians differ from journalists when the subject is steroids. Great line: "at least for this crowd, the body is of little consequence."

I wonder, though, wasn’t this baked into sabertmetrics from its birth?

I read once that Bill James started crunching baseball statistics so he could beat his buddies at Strat-o-matic. (It was on the internet so it must be true.)

S-O-M is a great game, but it does reduce the athlete to a card full of statistical probabilities.

I think that Sabermetrics might owe some of its popularity to the rise of ESPN. The WWL fills the air (both radio and TV) with talk by people whose knowledge is a mile wide and an inch deep. Quoting statistics makes these superficial talking heads sound more expert.

Saying “Ryan Howard is really struggling” sounds obvious. Saying, “since the All Star break Howrd’s OPS is only 0.625” sounds like hard science.

A Nobel laureate's bleak take on his profession

Saving Economics from the Economists

In the 20th century, economics consolidated as a profession; economists could afford to write exclusively for one another. At the same time, the field experienced a paradigm shift, gradually identifying itself as a theoretical approach of economization and giving up the real-world economy as its subject matter. Today, production is marginalized in economics, and the paradigmatic question is a rather static one of resource allocation. The tools used by economists to analyze business firms are too abstract and speculative to offer any guidance to entrepreneurs and managers in their constant struggle to bring novel products to consumers at low cost.

When small really is beautiful

Think small

But automation and communication technology have evolved to the point that a large number of small units may be better, cheaper, or more efficient than a small number of large units. Consider supercomputers: until the 1990s, the supercomputer industry focused on increasing computing speed and capacity by building bigger, more specialized machines with greater processing power. “But by the mid-1990s it had become cheaper to network the capacity of CPUs and memory from large numbers of personal computers and computer workstations rather than relying on a single microprocessor,” van Ryzin notes. This shift from large to massively modular computing led to an abrupt collapse of the traditional supercomputer industry in the 1990s. Are we now on the cusp of a similar radical shift in other industries?

The researchers, who also worked with doctoral students Eric Dahlgren and Caner Göçmen, conducted a plausibility analysis to show why thinking smaller might be viable or even preferred. They conclude that many industries are approaching tipping points that will soon make transitioning to small modular infrastructure practical and cost-effective.

Diseconomies of scale