Rabbi Akiva, “The cold equations”, and “The gods of the copybook headings”

There is a Talmudic passage (Bava Metzia 62b, reference via http://www.dvar.org.il/the-obligation-of-self-sacrifice) concerning the hypothetical of two men in the desert, of which only one has a water flask. (Like law school today, the Talmud is big on hypotheticals.) There is not enough water for both to survive, but enough for one.

R’ Ben Petura said that it was better that both should die than that one would see the death of the other. R’ Akiva, however, overrules him, saying that the man with the bottle should drink the water, quoting Leviticus 25:36 ‘Your brother’s life is with you’

Elie Wiesel is reported to have commented on this: “Rabbi Akiva was very hard, very hard on the survivor.”

I was reminded of this while reading the classic, chilling short SF story “The Cold Equations” by Tom Godwin. The first time I read it, I was shaking all over, and it still elicits a strong emotional response whenever I read it.

Briefly, here’s the plot. A survey party on an alien planet sends out a distress message that they are about to die from a plague, and that their supply of vaccine has been destroyed in a natural disaster. The nearest source for the vaccine, a spaceship in hyper transit, sends out a shuttle into normal space to deliver it. The shuttle has a precisely calculated amount of fuel for a one-way trip (the pilot will, nolens volens, have to join the survey party), with a negligible margin for error. After he has left, he discovers a stowaway: a young girl who was hoping to pay a visit to her brother on that planet.

If he leaves her aboard, both they and the seven people awaiting the vaccine will die. There is no way to hand off the vaccine in-flight. The pilot gets on the (presumably hyperspace) radio and runs through all possible options with the mothership, and all conclude that the only ‘solution’ is an extremely unpalatable one: for the girl to be jettisoned into space — for her to die that eight others shall live. Even for the pilot to do the chivalrous thing and sacrifice himself is not an option, because she doesn’t know how to pilot the shuttle and cannot be taught quickly.

The story is a heart-rending one to read precisely because it is devoid of sentimentality. Eric Flint, who has been editing Tom Godwin’s work posthumously for republication, points to the implausibility of the shuttle being sent out with no margin for error on the fuel. And anyone reading this who is not heartless hopes for a ‘deus ex machina’ solution to avoid the heartbreaking end.

But of course, that would have defeated Tom Godwin’s purpose, which as far as I can discern was twofold. First, it was to present a moral dilemma akin to that of R’ Akiva, but with the stakes changed from “one vs one” to “one vs many”.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, to express his view of the Universe as a cold, uncaring place that has no particular interest whether the laws governing it are emotionally comforting to human life. And where nobody can ignore ‘the cold equations’ in the long run, or the Universe will present the bill.[*]

The famous Kipling poem, “The Gods of the Copybook Headings”, expresses this latter thought. Its full text can be read here.

 

A ‘copybook’, I am told, is the British English term for a preprinted book in which elementary school pupils learned penmanship by copying out short phrases — usually pithy proverbs, sayings, or admonitions. Interestingly enough, both Glenn Reynolds (an American law professor better known as the “blogfather” Instapundit) and yours truly (likewise born on the seam line between Boomer and Gen-X) interpreted “copybook headings” as something else, namely column sums on a balance sheet. And passages like these sure admit of such a reading:

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

 

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.
[…]
And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

“The gods of the copybook headings” or “the cold equations”: They are neither good nor evil. They just are, and we ignore them at our greatest peril. No matter how much those of us of a liberal temperament (some of whom may actually be conservatives by conviction) might like it to be otherwise, the Universe (and human nature) are what they are, not what we would like them to be. And of course, like in science or engineering, for every “cold equation” we know there are ten, or a hundred, that we don’t know.

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,
But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome…
[*] I note in passing that Godwin’s writings display a fascination with human survival in inhospitable environments. This bio wonders whether this stems from Godwin earning his keep as a surveyor around the Mojave Desert.

Chesterton’s parable of the fence

The British writer G. K. Chesterton is probably best known to the general public as the author of the “Father Brown” series of mysteries. Among English-speaking Catholics, he is also well known as an apologist for their faith. Agree or disagree with his views, friend and foe recognized his intellect.

In one of his apologetic works (“The Thing”, quoted here, and discussed here from a different religious perspective) he coined an interesting parable:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.

Meaning no disrespect to Chesterton’s splendid prose, allow me to paraphrase and elaborate in plain(er) contemporary English.

Suppose you are walking along a road and see it blocked by a fence. Is your first impulse: “this fence is oppression! We must tear it down!” Chances are you are a left-liberal “progressive” — especially if you flip 180 degrees to “we must keep the fence, and saying otherwise is hate speech!” after being told that the fence was erected by or at the behest of one of your mascot groups.

Is your first impulse rather, on seeing or suspecting that the fence was erected by the state: “down with the state! down with the fence!” Then, if told that the fence was erected because there was a cliff behind it, or quicksand: “it is my dog-given right to drive off a cliff or into quicksand if I choose to do so, and the state has no business making such a fence!” Chances are you’re a doctrinaire big-L Libertarian. (A more sensible libertarian might advocate tearing down the fence but putting up warning signs, saying “proceed at your own risk”.)

Or is your first impulse that the fence is sacred just because it has always been there, and we must not question why? Chances are you are a reactionary.

Or, finally, is your first thought: “Hmm, that fence wasn’t put there overnight by leprechauns. We must find out how that fence came to be and why. It’s quite possible that the fence was built for reasons that are no longer relevant, and that we can safely tear it down; it’s also possible that the fence is still sorely needed. Until we have a straight answer to this question, let’s not mess with it.” That is what it means to be a conservative. Not to be afraid of anything new, not to oppose reform or evolution —  but to go about it cautiously and thoughtfully, and mindful of the Law of Unintended Consequences.  A conservative with libertarian sympathies (like myself) may err on the side of allowing people to make their own mistakes rather than “protecting them against themselves” — but still would not tear down the fence unthinkingly. I might be more rash, if I were alone on a desert island. But in the immortal words of John Donne:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

 

 

 

Preference cascades and the fall of the Ceaucescu regime

The protests in Iran seem to be getting bigger. I can’t help being reminded (though this may be wishful thinking) of the 1989 protests in Rumania and the subsequent downfall of its dictator Nicolae CarpathiaCeaucescu.

The regime was deeply unpopular following an austerity program that had Rumanians scrambling for the most basic necessities, while the Inner Party, of course, enjoyed everything imaginable. Yet the Securitate (the Romanian secret police) maintained the most repressive police state of all the Eastern European regimes, and its grip on the people was supposed to be unassailable.

Then protests broke out in the Transylvanian town of Timisoara, in support of a Protestant pastor named László Tökés who belonged to the Hungarian minority of Transylvania. At the time, I did not think this would be a cause for the Rumanian majority — but it triggered a “preference cascade“. Suddenly, all sorts of people who loathed the regime and their circumstances, but feared to speak up realized they were not alone — and that the others around them had just been keeping their heads down. Thus one regional protest, not immediately suppressed, lit off a firestorm.

It’s unclear when exactly the tipping point occurred, but apparently, the defense minister was fired by Ceaucescu for not having issued live ammunition to the troops sent to suppress the Timisoara protests. His successor either did not care to sully his hands with mass slaughter to contain what had meanwhile grown to national protests, or he realized that the troops had changed allegiance and would disobey orders to fire on protesters — or perhaps both.

At any rate, second-tier elements of the regime then realized Ceaucescu was doomed, had no desire to share his fate, and made a deal with one of the protest leaders (a hydro-engineer and former head of a technical publishing house named Ion Iliescu). Within days, the grotesque dictator and his even more grotesque wife ignominiously escaped in a helicopter, then in a commandeered private vehicle, then ultimately handed over for arrest. Following a brief kangaroo court session, they were executed by firing squad on Christmas Day. Earlier, propaganda slogans had been aimed at the protesters to go home and enjoy the Christmas repast — whether these admonitions were more cynical or pathetic is hard to decide. At any rate, the Rumanian people did thus get their Christmas gift.

The transition to democracy (at first under Iliescu) was messy, but eventually, Romania left the nightmarish regime behind and has recently achieved a modest measure of prosperity, though much remains to be done.

Incidentally, what became of László Tökés? As it turns out, he had a political career later, and eventually became deputy chair of the European Parliament.

Will elements in Iran at some point similarly realize the mullahcracy is unsustainable, and engineer its downfall? Will this pit the army against the Revolutionary Guard? The mind wonders…

The embassy move to Jerusalem: less changes than you might think

“Sinterklaasdag” (December 6, St. Nicholas Day) presents are neither a Jewish nor an American tradition, but today US President Trump announced that the US recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and that he is instructing the State Department to start moving the embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem.

1600px-us_embassy_tel_aviv_6924

Predictably, doomsayers and useful idiots of the Caliphate are claiming the world will end—while in fact [sarcasm] this moves clearly proves collusion between Trump and the Russians, since Russia recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital six months ago.[/sarcasm]

But jokes aside, what does this move change? In practice, less than you might think.

(a) The US already has a pretty large diplomatic presence in Jerusalem, with at least four locations that I can think of: a consular office in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem; another on Agron Street in West Jerusalem (near the Great Synagogue); a third in the Arnona neighborhood, in what used to be “no man’s land” between the 1949 armistice and the 1967 Six-Day War; and an America House next to the YMCA. [State reportedly also owns a plot of land in the Talpiot neighborhood, which could be a potential embassy site.]

(b) The initial decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem was taken 22 years ago by Congress, in the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which was approved on October 24, 1995 by overwhelming bipartisan majorities of 374–37 in the House and 93–5 in the Senate.  (Roll call vote 734Roll call vote 496,) Then-President Clinton refused to sign the Act — which was an embarrassment for him as well as for the Rabin-Peres gov’t in Israel at the time — but with a veto-proof majority, it passed into law anyway on November 8, 1995.

According to the terms of the act, if the embassy had not been moved by a May 31, 1999 deadline, the State Department would see its construction and upkeep budget for overseas missions cut by 50%. The Act did leave one loophole: the President may sign a six-month waiver, renewable indefinitely, for the sake of national security interest. Clinton, Bush 43, 0bama, and Trump all have done so, Trump just once when the previous waiver expired.

Apparently, he will sign again in order to prevent State getting partially defunded, but he has given instructions to start the process of moving the embassy. Fox reports that “some 1,000 employees” will need to be moved: the mind wonders whether this was a blooper on Fox’s part, or whether the US truly needs such a massive mission in a relatively small country—any halfway competent spy novelist will of course nod in recognition.

(c) The Jerusalem consulate already operates at near-parity with the consular section of the Embassy in Tel-Aviv: certain consular services, for instance (such as those related to Social Security) have been centralized in Jerusalem, while certain others (such as visas) are only available in Tel-Aviv. (The US also maintains a smaller consular presence in Haifa, while some countries maintain consulates in smaller cities — e.g. France in Ashdod and Netanya, with their sizable French-Jewish communities.)

In short: while Presidential recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (rather than Israel’s economic nerve center Tel-Aviv) is of great symbolic value for friend and foe alike, the practical implications on the ground are quite limited. Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat quipped that all the Americans needed to do is clear an office at the Consulate where the ambassador could sit; in practice, ambassadors don’t move alone, and the migration is likely to take years.

UPDATE: in the wake of Trump’s announcement, the Czech Republic followed suit

And here, at the website of the Mann/Shinar architectural bureau, are some architectural renderings of the Arnona ‘annex’ to the Consulate in Jerusalem.

3kkk

Some little ‘annex’. Commissioned in 2003, during Bush 43’s first term.

UPDATE 2: Six months ago, Northwestern U. international law professor Eugene Kontorovich wrote in a prescient Wall Street Journal op-ed:

If Mr. Trump nonetheless signs the waiver, he could do two things to maintain his credibility in the peace process. First, formally recognize Jerusalem—the whole city—as the capital of Israel, and reflect that status in official documents. Second, make clear that unless the Palestinians get serious about peace within six months, his first waiver will be his last. He should set concrete benchmarks for the Palestinians to demonstrate their commitment to negotiations. These would include ending their campaign against Israel in international organizations and cutting off payments to terrorists and their relatives.

 

 

 

 

 

If it keeps on raining…

 

 

The other day I heard a strange and wonderful cover of a blues classic, performed by Tool vocalist Maynard James Keenan’s second band.

A delta blues purist might get an even bigger stroke than they would from Led Zeppelin’s famous version. But precisely because of the change of context, and Maynard’s emotional yet understated delivery, the song hit me like a hammer.

The original was written about the 1927 Great Mississippi Flood, the most destructive river flood in the history of the USA, which made hundreds of thousands homeless. Many of those were black, and joined the Great Migration from the agricultural South to the industrial cities of the Northeast and Midwest.

But the metaphor of a levee about to break speaks to me on a number of levels.

There is the general sense that insanity and inanity in the political system and the popular culture have reached a level where the rest of us feel like we are drowning in derp and d-baggery. Exhibit, well, T: My Beautiful but Evil Space Mistress’s article on the left’s long post-election tantrum.

At another level, the Harvey Weinstein scandal (and another shoe about to drop) show that the depravity of some beacons of popular culture has risen to such levels that even with the help of a fawning, compliant press it can no longer be contained. “When the levee breaks, you’ll have no place to stay.” Not that it came as a great surprise to anyone familiar with the inner workings of certain industries.

My friend “masgramondou” comments here on the peculiar “bootlegger and Baptist coalition” (or is that a CAT coalition: cads and Tumblristas?) that has arisen in an attempt to change the subject. (Mayim Bialik learned the hard way what happens when you deviate from the party line.)

At a third level, one sees something more hopeful. The ever-increasing shrillness of the would-be opinion makers and virtue signalers in politics, media (but I repeat myself), academia, and popular culture are causing ever more of us to “cut the cord” and tune them out entirely. Too many alternatives are available nowadays, and if none are to our liking, the entry barriers to creating our own have never been lower. (The flip side, of course, is the ever greater challenge to stand out from the crowd of creators.)

Are we at a tipping point, and is a return to sanity near? “And grace and good sense will be found in the eyes of G-d and man” (ומצא חן ושכל טוב בעיני א׳ ואדם), as it says in the Grace After Meals. May it happen speedily and in our days.

Rush, “Between the Wheels” – A song for uncertain times

 

You know how that rabbit feels
Going under your speeding wheels
Bright images flashing by
Like windshields towards a fly
Frozen in that fatal climb
But the wheels of time just pass you by…

Wheels can take you around.
Wheels can cut you down

We can go from boom to bust
From dreams to a bowl of dust
We can fall from “rockets’ red glare”
Down to “brother, can you spare?”
Another war
Another wasteland
And another lost generation

German Elections II: Up is down, down is up

Browsing through German election updates in Die Welt over lunch, I got a feeling it isn’t just the US that has entered Robert Heinlein’s “Crazy Years”. (see my previous post)

  • Various virtue-signalers are of course hand-wringing about the “extreme right” AfD. The actual NS-nostalgists of the NPD, however, polled less than 0.5%, worse than the satirical Die Partei. (As explained by the article in Die Welt: under German law,  a party must poll at least 0.5% nationally to be eligible for certain subsidies.)
  • It is, however, clearly true that the AfD is riven by a power struggle between two camps: a “right-liberal” one around Frauke Petry that is pro-free-market, Euroskeptic, and populist, and a “national-conservative” camp currently led by former CDU politician Alexander Gauland. The latter camp appears to include some truly unsavory elements, presumably “entryists” from the extreme right.
  • Now Frauke Petry and her husband Marcus Pretzell [sic] are leaving AfD, citing its “radicalization”, and just bought a new internet domain Die Blauen (the blue ones – in Europe blue has traditionally been the color of classical liberalism). She herself was elected to the Bundestag directly (about half the seats are constituency seats) so she doesn’t have to vacate her seat.
  • This leaves Alice Weidel as the co-chair representing the party’s “right-liberal” wing.  Weidel, a Ph.D. economist who speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese, works as a management consultant to startup companies and… is an overt lesbian who lives in a domestic partnership with a Swiss filmmaker of Sri Lankan origins. The couple have a second residence in Biel, Switzerland and raise her partner’s two biological children together. [How many leftie heads have exploded yet?] Weidel is opposed to same-sex marriage and adoption, as well as what she calls “pushing gender idiocy on prepubescent children”, but says she “supports lifestyles other than the traditional family” as well as, naturally, domestic partnerships.
  • Lest you think that the AfD (which may well implode) is the only party riven by internal contradictions: the Greens have pretty much for all their existence been divided between a “Fundi” (fundamentalist Green) extremist wing and a pragmatic “Realo” wing. Coalition negotiators for the Greens are having to placate both camps.
  • And as if this weren’t enough headaches for Merkel (at this point I feel almost sorry for her): her Bavarian sister party the CSU is now signaling that their presence in her coalition is not to be taken for granted. They are quite nervous about regional elections next year, and are in particular demanding an upper limit on refugee admissions. The Greens, for their part, have indicated that this is a nonstarter for them.

As the SPD had earlier announced it was taking the opposition cure following its historical nadir this election, Merkel’s options are basically reduced to a “Jamaica Coalition” of CDU/CSU (black), FDP (yellow), and Greens. But the latter is increasingly looking like an exercise in squaring the circle.

And I would not rule out an internal coup against Merkel by the right wing of the CDU.

 

German elections: One more such “victory” and Merkel is undone

The national elections in Germany took place. As expected, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats are still the largest party and she is looking at a fourth term in office. However, as King Pyrrhus is supposed to have said, “one more such victory and I am undone”.

 

german elections 2017
[Screencap from the Frankfurter Allgemeine website. Black=Christian Democrats; Red=Social Democrats; Blue=Alternative for Germany (populist right); Yellow=Free Democrats (classical liberals); Purple=The Left (former East German communists); Green=The Greens; Sonstiges=remaining/others.]

Both the major parties, the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats, are at their nadir since WW II. The third largest party is now the populist right-wing, anti-immigrant, anti-establishment Alternative for Germany, which in the former East Germany placed second [h/t: masgramondou] and in the state of Sachsen (Saxony) actually became the #1 party! The other major winner are the classical liberal Free Democrats — the junior partners in many postwar federal governments — who have made a great comeback since the last election when they did not make the 5% electoral threshold. Barney the purple communist dinosaur and its green belly both maintained their strength.

 

Bundestag 2017
Preliminary seat distribution in the Bundestag (709 total seats). Voter turnout: 76.1%

 

The logical coalition partner for Merkel might seem the SPD (continuing the present coalition), perhaps with support from the FPD in a “national flag coalition” (black-yellow-red). However, the SPD decided to go lick its wounds and take the opposition cure. This leaves the so-called “Jamaica coalition” (after the colors of the Jamaican flag) of CDU, FDP, and Greens. “Two years at most for Jamaica,” says a headline at the Frankfurter Allgemeine, as such a government is prey to many obvious internal contradictions.

The AfD itself seems to be riven by an internal power struggle between populist-right and far-right wings. Party leader Frauke Petry has even announced she does not wish to be part of the AfD faction in parliament, leading to calls for her to step aside.

[At this latter link is also an interesting interactive graph showing voter flow between 213 and 2017 elections. For instance, about one-third of all FDP voters this time are defectors from the CDU/CSU, while one-quarter of all AfD voters did not vote in the previous election.]

“Interesting times,” in the ancient Chinese sense of the word…

UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers!

UPDATE 2: AfD-chairwoman Frauke Petry and her husband Marcus Pretzell, regional AfD chair in North Rhine-Westphalia, intend to quit the party.

And Horst Seehofer, chairman of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party CSU (Christian Social Union), is calling on Angela Merkel to “draw personal consequences” from the historically poor showing of the CDU and step aside. National Review speaks of “Merkel’s Nightmare Victory” [h/t: Jason B.]

UPDATE 3: see my next update here

 

 

A Precious Narrative By Cedar Sanderson

From a 1909 speech “Le libre examen en matière scientifique”  (Free inquiry in matters of science) by the mathematician, physicist, and philosopher of science Henri Poincaré:

Thought must never submit, neither to a dogma, nor to a party, nor to a passion, nor to an interest, nor to a preconceived idea, nor to anything whatsoever but the facts themselves—since for thought, surrendering means ceasing to exist.

[La pensée ne doit jamais se soumettre, ni à un dogme, ni à un parti, ni à une passion, ni à un interêt, ni à une idée préconcue, ni à quoique ce soit, si ce n’est aux faits eux-mêmes, parce que pour elle, se soumettre, ce serait cesser d’être.]

 

According To Hoyt

A Precious Narrative

By Cedar Sanderson

Storytelling is woven into human DNA. Even the discovery of DNA’s shape is enrobed in a thrilling tale of deceit and betrayal – with a sexist twist, of course. We tell our stories every single day. Some of us are very clearly aware of the delineations between fact and fantasy, and make our living spinning narratives others enjoy reading for the fun of it. Other people lose the boundaries between fiction and their own desires, and that’s where it starts to get, for lack of a better word, problematic.

I would argue that in order to exist in this world full of contradictions, some people must create an insulting narrative to keep them from confronting the harsh realities that surround them. Without that precious blanket (and you may also envision a thumb firmly inserted for sucking on) they might have to face truths they…

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A speech for all seasons

We all are faced, at times, with speech we find not merely objectionable but outright repugnant.

Those who call for bans on “hate speech”, however, are wise to remember that not only are “hate speech” laws subject to mission creep (as Canadian critics of radical Islam or of “same-sex marriage” know all too well) — they create a dangerous legal precedent that one day, when the shoe is on the other foot, may be turned against the very people who instituted the bans in the first place. The proper answer to “hate speech”, then, are not “hate speech laws”, but better speech.

The following words were put into the mouth of Sir Thomas More by the playwright Robert Bolt, in his “A man for all seasons”. For all that, they are no less a speech for all seasons.

Roper: So now you’d give the Devil benefit of law!
More: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you — where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat?

This country’s planted thick with laws from coast to coast — man’s laws, not G-d’s — and if you cut them down — and you’re just the man to do it — do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then?

Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake.

Palookas, palookaville, the palooka party, and etymology of the word

 

Commenter “buzzsawmonkey” posted the following in a discussion on PJMedia. Agree or disagree, the metaphor is rather colorful.

“The Republicans are what Orwell called “a permanent and pensioned opposition.” They are the inflatable doll in the passenger seat that enables the Democrats to drive in the carpool lane.

More properly, they are the Palooka Party. They see their role as taking dives for the Democrats for the guaranteed short money, as a palooka fighter in a 1930s pulp-fiction story would take a dive for [the] kid being groomed by the gambling syndicate for a shot at the title. The Republicans’ job, as palookas, is to make it look good—put up a flurry of opposition before getting showily knocked out in the sixth round.

Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan don’t want to govern—nor do the other palookas in their party who voted to put them where they are. They want to go back to the safe business of taking dives for the guaranteed short money.”

The last sentence echoes this quote from the movie “On The Waterfront” (1954):

Terry: It wasn’t him, Charley, it was you. Remember that night in the Garden you came down to my dressing room and you said, “Kid, this ain’t your night. We’re going for the price on Wilson.” You remember that? “This ain’t your night”! My night! I coulda taken Wilson apart! So what happens? He gets the title shot outdoors on the ballpark and what do I get? A one-way ticket to Palooka-ville! You was my brother, Charley, you shoulda looked out for me a little bit. You shoulda taken care of me just a little bit so I wouldn’t have to take them dives for the short-end money.

Charlie: Oh I had some bets down for you. You saw some money.

Terry: You don’t understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let’s face it. […]

The word “palooka”  appears to have been coined in the 1920s by Variety sports writer Jack Conway, as a term for “a mediocre prizefighter”. Wikipedia (caveat lectorclaims it was derived as a kind-of spoonerism from the ethnic slur “Polack”. However, the talk page for the article suggests a much more plausible etymology: the Italian word pagliuca (a Southern dialect diminutive of paglia=straw or chaff), i.e. “little straw [guy]”. It’s hardly a stretch to assume that Mafiosi engaged in match-rigging would have referred to the designated loser as a pagliuca —which an English speaker unfamiliar with Italian would have transliterated as something like palooka.

A more modern form of “designated loser” would be the Washington Generals against the basketball exhibition team, the Harlem Globetrotters. Indeed, that very metaphor can be found online in a US political context, in both directions.

 

Independence Day post: An unintentional back-handed tribute to the USA

Via “masgramondou”, comes a mindblowing story. Sure, it’s VICE, so full of SJW virtue signaling and hand-wringing. But in a nutshell: there are lawyers for illegal immigrants who are actively trying to get their clients incarcerated at Riker’s Island in order to avoid deportation.

Let that sink in. They would rather sit in jail in the USA than be free outside the USA. Only in America, folks.

Happy Fourth of July! Don’t miss these tributes by Sarah Hoyt and Nicki Kenyon.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OLxcpKQcw4

The three lefts

It is a tragicomic spectacle to watch the left descend ever deeper into a pit of insanity — and more recently to see them “eating their own”. Case in point: this blog post this blog post (via Nicki Kenyon) about how a left-lib professor at Evergreen State U. had to go into hiding after criticizing some of the latest hard-left lunacy. Or the HuffPaint blogger who cheered North Korean mistreatment of Otto Warmbier (RIP) because at least in one place his “white privilege” didn’t help him. (No, I will not link to this evil spew.)
But of course, “the left” is no more a monolith than “the right” is. Leaving aside nuances of social/economic/religious/… left (some of which are specific to local contexts), at a more abstract or “meta” level, we can see three large streams within the left, distinguished by their epistemology (approach to knowledge).
The first, and the oldest, is the rationalist/constructionist left, or what I might call “the gnostic left”. Here we find the orthodox Marxists and the like. Like some hardcore theoreticians in the physical sciences, they are so in love with theoretical purity and logical consistency that they cannot be bothered with inconvenient “experimental” observations (cf. the famous story of Engels offering to show Marx around a factory, and Marx declining). Indeed, they remind me of the Gnostics of old, who considered the physical world intrinsically corrupt and thought truth could only be found in proper doctrine. How ironical, for a movement that waves the flag of “dialectical materialism”.
There are few people who despise communism and its fellow travelers more than I do—yet at least in principle, the old-school hard left still subscribes to rational thought. Hence a hard leftie like physicist Alan Sokal (a onetime Sandinista) may find himself a strange bedfellow with conservative critics of postmodern flimflam after thoroughly punking a postmodern “scholarly” journal.
The second kind of left is what I would call the “empirical, pragmatic left”. Historically, this is where you found social-democratic parties in Europe, and to some degree the labor movement in the USA—these are the kind of people we might think of as “old-school liberals”. They had little patience for theoretical mumbo-jumbo or any messianic visions of class struggle followed by perfect society: they arose against specific perceived injustices and proposed concrete solutions. This is the kind of left the liberty-minded among us have a common language with. In many cases, we may actually agree about the disease if not about the cure–and many of the solutions proposed by that left seem oblivious to the Law of Unintended Consequences, or to Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy. Still, this is the wing of the left with which a dialogue is possible. It is also the part of the left from which people most readily cross over to the populist right. Their natural home is the Democratic Party, but an increasing number of them have become ripe pickings for Trump-style populism—some of us may argue about whether this is a good or a bad thing, but again, we speak the same language to some extent. For example, I can read this essay by Camille Paglia and nod in agreement much of the time, with only the occasional eye roll at which candidate she supports.
Then finally there is what I call the “irrationalist left” or “postmodern left”. While even the most cynical members of the first two waves will pay at least lip service to the concept of objective truth, the postmodern left explicitly parts with the very concept, even as a platonic ideal — everything becomes a struggle of competing narratives, and of asserting the primacy of one narrative over the others. (Devout Christians might think of the Roman procurator Pontius Pilatus as the first postmodernist?) Logical consistency is wholly irrelevant to the irrationalist left, which leaves them free to seek alliances that even the most jaded old-school leftie gags on. “Feminists for Sharia” (seriously, an article in the PuffHo the other day sold that line #singularityOfStupid) , “Qu**rs for Palestine” (seriously, when actual homosexuals there seek refuge in Israel?), … you name it.
If a policy to “help” a marginalized group, in fact, ends up hurting said group, that might give an empirical leftist pause, while a gnostic leftist may try to gainsay your evidence, cherry-pick data, or twist himself into rhetorical knots to prove black is really white. The irrational left simply does not care. “Peacock issues” that are great for grandstanding while benefiting very few people (preferably checking as many “oppressed group” boxes as possible) also have great propagandistic value for them—the more disruptive on others, the better.
Peel away the postmodern verbiage, the Gramscian tactics, and the virtue signaling — and at the dark heart of the irrationalist left, you will find but one thing — a raw, mutant-Nietzschean “Will To Power”. With this wing of the left, dialogue resembles the proverbial chess game with a pigeon — except that pigeons are content with strutting on the chessboard and defecating on it, rather than engaging in vicious tactics (professional blackballing, character assassination, no-platforming speakers, outright violence) not just against adversaries, but even against people who see themselves as their allies.
Anyone who wants to successfully fights a war for any length of time cannot help adopting some of his enemy’s successful tactics. It was therefore inevitable, for good or bad, that some activists on the right would end up adopting mirror-image SJW/SJZ tactics, such as we have seen with the latest “D. Julius Trumpcaesar” kerfuffle. However, it behooves us to heed Nietzsche’s warning (in “Beyond good and evil”):
“He who fights monsters must watch out that he does become a monster himself. And when you stare into an abyss for [too] long, the abyss also stares back at you.”
(Wer mit Ungeheuern kämpft, mag zusehn, dass er nicht dabei zum Ungeheuer wird. Und wenn du lange in einen Abgrund blickst, blickt der Abgrund auch in dich hinein.)
As for the “will-to-power left”:
wages of overreach are Trump 2

UK Elections: Emperor Mong strikes [UPDATED]

I remember thinking when Theresa May called early elections, “Don’t get cocky, kid” and “Leave well enough alone”. But the lure of polls predicting a supermajority must have been irresistible as the dread Emperor Mong (or his civilian avatar, the Good Idea At The Time Fairy) whispered in her ear. The apparent complete descent into lunacy of Labour under [expletives deleted] Jeremy Corbyn must have made a Tory victory seem inevitable.

emperormong
“Of course you’ll win a supermajority if you call early elections now. Bwuhaahaa!”

So she couldn’t leave well enough alone, and plunged ahead. Now the results are essentially complete, and she has… a hung parliament. [Full data here]

Counterintuitive as this seems: despite gaining 5.6% of the votes, her party saw a net loss of 13 seats (19 gained, 32 lost). (Sounds familiar?)

Labour gained a whopping 9.6%, though much a quarter of its actual gain of 31 seats came at the expense of the equally-looney left SNP (which lost 19 seats).

The UK Independence Party (formerly the 3rd largest party) was nearly wiped off the electoral map, dropping from 12.7 to 1.9%. Its number of seats in Parliament stayed unchanged: zero. (Such are the vagaries of first-past-the-post constituency voting: the Scottish National Party commanded a mere 4.8% of the vote in the previous election but returned 54 seats — as it is regionally dominant.) Presumably, many of the UKIP voters defected to the Tories or staid home, but in the age of chaos, nothing is impossible, not even defection to Labour 😉

The current 3rd largest party Liberal Democrats lost 0.4% of the vote and increased their parliamentary representation from 8 to 12.

Northern Ireland/Ulster returned 10 Democratic Unionists (=Protestants) and 7 Sinn Fein (=Irish Republicans), while Plaid Cymru (Welsh separatists) have 4 seats. The Greens have one seat, plus there is one seat listed as “Other”.

Masgramondou” just drew my attention to this: https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/…/scotland-bright-spot…/

“Amongst the many sentences I never thought I would type, I can add this: Scotland is the only bright spot for the Tories. The great Scottish Conservative comeback is underway.”

We are living in the year of Kek, the Age of Chaos, or [my preferred term] Heinlein’s “Crazy Years”.

UPDATE: now with just 4 seats left (Kensington +3 in Cornwall, all previously Tory) we are at:
315 Conservative
261 Labour
35 Scottish National Party
12 Liberal Democrats
23 “Others”, of which 18 in Northern Ireland (10 Protestant Unionists, 7 Irish Republicans, and 1 Independent), 4 Welsh separatists in Wales, and 1 Green in Brighton. The Unionists might be a viable partner for the Tories.

UPDATE 2: only 1 constituency left, Kensington: just 35 votes separate the Tory and the Labourite. A secondthird recount is to take place, probably on Saturday. Full results of 649 out of 650 constituencies via BBC:

318 Conservative (-12)
261 Labour (+29)
35 Scottish National Party (-21)
12 Liberal Democrats (+4)

10 Democratic Unionists (+2) [=Northern Irish Protestants]
7 Sinn Fein (+3) [=Northern Irish Catholics/Republicans]
4 Plaid Cymru (+1) [=Welsh separatists]
1 Green [in Brighton]
1 Independent [in the North Down constituency in Northern Ireland]

Parties exiting Parliament: In England, UKIP [-1]; in Northern Ireland, SDLP [-3] and Ulster Unionist Party [-2].

UPDATE 3: it is quite revealing to break down gains and losses by the constituent countries of the United Kingdom:

England: Tories -21; Labour +20; LibDem +2; UKIP -1

Scotland: SNP -21; Tories +12; Labour +6; LibDem +3

Wales: Tories -3; Labour +3;  LibDem -1; Plaid Cymru [=Welsh separatists] +1;

N. Ireland: Democratic Unionist Party +2 and Ulster Unionist Party -2 — these are two rival Protestant parties which now effectively continue as one; SDLP’s remaining 3 seats went to Sinn Fein (=Irish Republicans); Independent MP Lady Sylvia Hermon (ex-UUP) retains her North Down seat.

UPDATE 4: Labour got the Kensington seat on 3rd recount, with a margin of 20 (twenty) votes. 

And if “Theresa Mayday”s troubles weren’t big enough: Ruth Davidson, the head of the Scottish Tories and flush from her resounding victory in Scotland, is now threatening to separate the Scottish party from the English one if the mulled coalition with the DUP goes through. The latter are socially conservative and specifically opposed to “same-sex marriage”, while Ruth Davidson is openly lesbian and engaged to another woman. Then again, if the DUP and Sinn Fein (once literally mortal enemies) can have have a good working relationship, agreeing to disagree on traditional marriage seems quite small potatoes in comparison…

 

“Deplorables” as a “geuzennaam” (linguistic reappropriation)

Today the 45th President of the United States will be inaugurated. I did not vote for him, and many of my friends voted not for him as much as against his opponent. I wish the new POTUS strength, guidance, and clarity of vision, as any POTUS has his work cut out for him right now.

His supporters, both the enthusiastic and the reluctant, are referring to themselves as “Deplorables”, or even, with a pun on a musical and classic novel, “Les Déplorables“. This is actually a classic example of “linguistic reappropriation” at work: Trump’s opponent, Hilary Clinton, had referred to Trump supporters — or indeed to the half of the country that doesn’t vote D — as “a basket of deplorables”. Trump supporters rallied around the insult and took it up as a “nom de guerre” (battle name). [I still believe that was the moment she lost the election.]

This phenomenon is actually quite old, and the Dutch language even has a word for such an insult reappropriated for self-identification: “geuzennaam“. The term goes back to the 16th Century, during the Spanish rule over the Lowlands.

In Brussels, on April 5, 1566, a group of several hundred minor nobles marched to the palace of the Spanish governor, at the time Margaretha Duchess of Parma (an illegitimate daughter of Charles V), in order to present a writ of grievances against the Spanish administration in general, and its brutal repression of Protestantism in particular. (Protestant public sermons, so-called “hagepreken” [hedge preachings], were a capital offense.)

When the Duchess was upset at this disturbance — the wedding feast for her son being in progress at the time — her counselor, Charles de Berlaymont, is supposed to have said, “fear not, Madam, they are nothing but beggars” (N’ayez pas peur Madame, ce ne sont que des gueux.). The petitioners got wind of the term, and promptly called themselves “les Gueux” in French, “de Geuzen” in Dutch. The term stuck and quickly carried over to all opponents of Spanish rule. The bloody repression of the Geuzen by the Duke of Alba would bring on the Eighty-Year War as well as the Dutch Revolt (in which the modern Kingdom of the Netherlands was born).

Some prominent historical examples of “Geuzennamen” in English are “Tories” and “Yankees”. In Middle Irish, Toraidhe meant “outlaw, robber”, and the term was applied as an insult to English loyalists and royalists of various stripes. Somehow the name stuck, and since the 19th Century “Tory” is used by friend and foe to refer to a member or supporter of the Conservative Party.

In the US colonial era, “Yankee” was originally a derisive term for Dutch Americans. Several etymologies are possible: “Jan Kees” (pronounced Yan Case, informal name for “Johannes Cornelis” [John Cornel], two very common Dutch first names), “Janneke” (little John), a corruption of “Jonkheer” (Dutch for “squire”, cf. the German cognate Junker and the origin of the town name Yonkers, NY). During the American Revolution, the British and loyalists made fun of the revolutionaries as “Yankee Doodles”: the song (based on a much older melody) predictably became a revolutionary anthem, and is now a staple of the US military marching band repertoire. Later the term was, of course, reappropriated again…

“Redneck” is another such term. Originally it referred to the sunburns people with light skin color acquire when working fields in the Southern US without adequately protecting themselves from the sun (cf. the cognate Afrikaans term “rooinek” used by the Boers for South Africans of Anglo origin). It then became an insult to Southern whites and their allegedly retrograde ways, then was reappropriated by them as a self-identification.

Languages changes constantly — even as human nature is remarkably unchangeable. And speaking of change: Today we celebrate the end of what has arguably been the most dysfunctional and divisive presidency in the history of the US. As I wish his successor well, I do remember Pete Townshend’s classic lyrics:

I tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We won’t get fooled again…

Dystopic on: “Technocrats and the Worship of Intelligence”

Consider this post to be something of an expansion on the concept of the Brahmandarins. Technocracy is one of those things which sounds perfectly good on the surface, but can lead to absolute tyranny in short order. For those who are unfamiliar with the term, technocracy is, in essence, rule by technical elites. For instance, your media would be run by trained, credentialed journalism experts. Politicians would be groomed and educated to be leaders from an early age. You could not, for instance, be President if you did not attend the proper schools, earn the proper certifications, and demonstrate a certain set of requirements, like IQ, or perhaps an impressive set of grades in your debating classes. […]

Naturally, none of these technical elites would need to consult with you and I on these matters. If you are not one of the elite, you would need to be quiet and accept the rulings of your superiors.

The flaws in technocracy are very obvious, to any who care to see them. First and foremost is the matter of trust. Even if we were to concede that the trained, technically-minded elites were better than the hoi polloi, how could one be assured that they were not pulling the wool over the people and taking advantage of them? After all, just because you’re intelligent doesn’t mean you’re honest.

Similarly, being able to design and build rocket ships does not confer upon you the ability to manage and run organizations of rocket scientists. It’s a known problem among STEM folks, and a problem I suffer from personally, that technical ability and management ability are often mutually exclusive. I couldn’t manage brothel in Thailand with a US Navy aircraft carrier in port. But I can write and engineer software all day long. The intelligence and talent I possess is suited for certain things, and ill-suited for other tasks. Nobody would ask me to be a therapist, that’s for sure.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, technocracy denies a voice to the peasantry. We’ve tried that before. We call it feudalism and those feudal elites were called nobles. They knew themselves to be more intelligent and better-suited for leadership than those dirty plebs. Why, they could afford a costly scholarly education for their children, when desired, and the rag-wearing farmhands could not. And there was the Divine Right of Kings to consider, also.

What prompted this screed?

Go read the whole thing. Eric S. Raymond earlier explained how escalating complexity makes technocracy even less viable than before .

Of course, technocracy or, more generally, transnational oligarchic collectivism [*] are the wet dreams of all too many Brahmandarins who fancy themselves as the ‘anointed‘ oligarchs.

 

[*] a portmanteau of John Fonte’s “Transnational Progressivism” and George Orwell’s “Oligarchic Collectivism“.

Neologism of the day “peacock issues”

“Mr. Open Source Software”, Eric S. Raymond, penned this must-read open letter to the D party to please get its act together , lest they consign themselves to complete irrelevance.

I’m starting to be seriously concerned about the possibility that the U.S. might become a one-party democracy.

Therefore this is an open letter to Democrats; the country needs you to get your act together. Yes, ideally I personally would prefer your place in the two-party Duverger equilibrium to be taken by the Libertarian Party, but there are practical reasons this is extremely unlikely to happen. The other minor parties are even more doomed. If the Republicans are going to have a counterpoise, it has to be you Democrats.

Donald Trump’s victory reads to me like a realignment election, a historic break with the way interest and demographic groups have behaved in the U.S. in my lifetime. Yet, Democrats, you so far seem to have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.

The whole long essay is a must-read that I cannot do justice by selective quoting. Unfortunately it will fall on deaf ears among those who need it most.

In passing, ESR coins a new term:

Speaking of virtue signaling, another thing you need to give up is focusing on peacock issues […] while ignoring pocketbook problems like the hollowing out of middle-class employment.

Again, this advice has nothing to do with the rights or wrongs of individual peacock issues and more with a general sense that the elites are fiddling while Rome burns. For the first time since records have been kept, U.S. life expectancy went down during the Obama years, led by a disturbing rise in suicides and opiate addiction among discouraged unemployed in flyover country. A Democratic Party that fails to address that while it screws around with bathroom-law boycotts is willfully consigning itself to irrelevance.

“Peacock issues” are related to Thomas Sowell’s use of the term “mascots” and to “virtue signaling“, as ell as to the psychological concept of a proxy. They are issues that affect only a very small number of people (and that could be addressed ad hoc with fairly little effort) but are priceless as feathers to preen, and flags to wave to ‘rally the troops’ and instead push a sweeping agenda. Any actual benefit to the people involved in the peacock issues is secondary, if not outright irrelevant.

The use of “peacock issues” is of course not limited to the Brahmandarin political left  — they have just become egregiously addicted to the tactic in recent years.

 

Trump and the rage of the Brahmandarins™

[These somewhat rambling observations were originally posted as a Facebook note.]
In recent weeks, we have witnessed ever-more cartoonish examples of Trump Derangement Syndrome. Even those of us who have been sharply critical of Trump (such as www.thelibertyzone.us)  are staring on with a kind of revulsed fascination as our chattering class descends ever deeper into the pits of insanity. So do those who merely voted against Hillary rather than for Trump, such as the razor-sharp “Dystopic” or the underrated historical novelist Roy M. Griffis.
I move professionally in circles where lib-left “virtue signaling” is taken for granted, especially inside the US. (Academia outside the US, while no less in the grip of a collective moral superiority complex, at least tolerates dissenters to some degree.)
As I was perusing Trump’s cabinet list in the Times of London the other day, I was struck not so much by the names — some ‘feck yeah!’, some ‘well, OK’, some ‘meh’ — as by what wasn’t there. The ‘Brahmandarins™’ had been left behind, as it were. Allow me to expand.
Traditional society in India has myriad little jatis (“births”, freely: castes), but they ultimately derive from four (plus one) major varnas (“colors”, freely: classes). While caste membership and profession are more fluid than generally assumed by Westerners, these five major groupings do exist to the present day, and are mostly endogamous. From top to bottom, the varnas are:
  1. Brahmins (scholars)
  2. Kshatryas (warriors, rulers, administrators)
  3. Vaishyas (merchants, artisans, and farmers)
  4. Shudras (laborers)
  5. Finally, the Dalit (downtrodden, outcasts — the term “pariah” is considered so offensive it has become “the p-word”) are traditionally considered beneath the varna system altogether, as are other “Scheduled Castes” (a legal term in present-day India, referring to eligibility for affirmative action).
The upper three varnas bear some resemblance to the three Estates of the French ancien régime: clergy, nobility, and the bourgeoisie (le tiers état, the Third Estate). American society used to be a byword for social mobility (“the American dream”) — but a stratification has set in, and it takes little imagination to identify strata of Dalit, Shudras, and Vaishyas in modern American society. The numerically small subculture of military families could be identified as America’s Kshatryas. So where are the Brahmins? (No, I’m not referring to the old money Boston elite.) And why am I using the portmanteau “Brahmandarins” for our New Class?
In India one was, of course, born into the Brahmin varna, and they actually delegated the messy business of governance to the varna below them. In China’s Middle Kingdom, on the other hand, not only was the scholarly Mandarin caste actually the backbone of governance, but in principle anyone who passed the civil service exams could become a Mandarin.
Originally, these exams were meant to foster a meritocracy. Predictably, over time, they evolved to select for conformity over ability, being more concerned with literary style and knowledge of the classics than with any relevant technical expertise.
Hmm, sounds familiar? Consider America’s “New Class”: academia, journalism, “helping” professions, nonprofits, community organizers, trustafarian artists,… Talent for something immediately verifiable (be it playing the piano, designing an airplane, or buying-and-selling,… ) or a track record of tangible achievements are much less important than credentials — degrees from the right places, praise from the right press organs,…
The New Class should be more like the Mandarins rather than the Brahmins, as in theory (and to some degree in practice) 1st-generation membership is open to people of all backgrounds. Heck, that includes even this electrician’s son here 😉
In practice, however, this class is highly endogamous, and its children have an inside track on similar career paths. (Charles Murray’s “Coming Apart” made this case to a fare-thee-well.) Thus one finds 2nd and 3rd generation New Class members, whose outlooks on life tend to be much more insular and collectively self-centered than that of their 1st-generation peers. (It is important not to over-generalize about one’s fellow human beings: some of the fiercest fellow ‘renegades’ I know were to the manor born.) In that respect then, the New Class does resemble the Brahmins. Hence my portmanteau “Brahmandarins”.
Engineers (whose academic training at even second-tier colleges is much more rigorous than that of the journalism major at a big-name school) are arguably closer to artisan Vaishya than to Brahmandarins. They need to build things that actually work, you know.
Now how does this tie in with Trump and his cabinet? In the last several Presidential elections, Brahmandarin D candidates (Obama, Hillary) were pitted against Kshatriyas (McCain) or Vaishyas (Romney, Trump). While the D party used to be one with which particularly Shudras (laborers) could identify, over time it has increasingly become a patron-client coalition of Brahmandarins and Dalits. Kshatriyas overwhelmingly lean R, while Shudras and Vaishyas (other than high finance) became increasingly disaffected from D and either moved to the R column or tuned out of politics.
Sometime in 2008, I had an eye-opening encounter at a fundraiser for a scientific cause. A lawyer for a major donor, after various patronizing remarks after our scholarly pursuits, told some of us in intimate conversation that of course we should support Obama. (Interestingly, the usual appeal to ethnicity was not made.) One of us asked the lawyer what would be his ‘performance benchmark’ for a successful presidency. Tellingly, the otherwise so voluble lawyer was left at a loss for words. Eventually, his argument boiled down to ‘Obama is one of us’. Which “us”? Not scientists, obviously. Nor Jews, obviously (the lawyer, my colleague, and myself are all Jewish). No — Brahmandarins, members of the New Class.
Peggy Noonan recently coined the phrase “patronized by our inferiors”. At the time I couldn’t come up with anything as concise and withering, but the whole framing of the argument struck me as a hybrid between the Cosa Nostra and “mean girls” cliques at the middle school my daughter was then attending. Around the same time, I discovered Thomas Sowell’s priceless “Vision of the Anointed” whose subtitle “Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy” could be emblematic of the entire phenomenon. A critique that had built itself up in my head, in inchoate fashion, was laid out here in concise, crystal-clear prose.
Fast-forward to the present. In the last several Presidential elections, Brahmandarin D candidates (Obama, Hillary) were pitted against Kshatriyas (McCain) or Vaishyas (Romney, Trump). Unsurprisingly, Brahmandarin presidents tend to appoint cabinet and senior aides from among the Brahmandarin caste, while Trump’s appointments came almost exclusively from the Vaishyas (Exxon CEO Tillerson for State, various other execs), and Kshatriyas (Mattis, Flynn, Kelly). It doesn’t matter that most of these people have real-world achievements to their names than a Robbie Mook type can only dream of: they are “ignorant” (read: insufficiently subservient to New Class shibboleths), “hate-filled”, etc. — All short-hand for “not one of us”.
For those same people who keep on prating about how open they are to foreign cultures (the more foreign, the better to “virtue-signal”) are completely unable to fathom the mindset of their compatriots of a different caste: they might as well come from a different planet as from a different country.
There’s only water/In a stranger’s tear
Looks are deceptive/But distinctions are clear
A foreign body/And a foreign mind
Never welcome/In the land of the blindYou may look like we do
Talk like we do
But you know how it isYou’re not one of us!

[In response to the FB note, “Dystopic” honored me with his own observations.]

UPDATE: “Tamara W.” comments on Facebook:

Charles Murray’s book “Coming Apart” talks about the combination of geographic isolation (segregation by income/politics), elite schools (public and private) where their children all socialize, ideological conforming by the “elite” institutions all creating an elite population that has prime access to top corporate jobs, NGOs, government positions under Democrats. They base morality as adherence to the ideology and thus see all who disagree as evil/stupid and look down on those beneath them as at best unenlightened/uneducated and at worst people the world is better off without.
Then they actively discriminate against conservatives and the middle and working class, seeing them as “not a culture fit” or actively deprecating them.
 UPDATE 2: I’d be remiss not linking Angelo Codevilla’s classic “The ruling class“. Yes, the Brahmandarins are a gentry, not an elite — and “credentialed” is not the same as “educated”.
UPDATE 3: welcome, Instapundit readers!
UPDATE 4: Two more good reads in response:
(a) Fran Porretto at  Bastion of Liberty weighs in and links his early 2014 blog post about Class And Caste In Twenty-First Century America. Read the whole thing.
(b) “Remodern” artist Richard Bledsoe looks at the Brahmandarins and their effect on the art scene
“not only the ideological, virtue signalling style of art, but also the self-absorbed, alienating products of the Ivory Tower approach, status symbol art made to cater to the expectations of elitist curators, trophy hunting collectors, and other art snobs.”
He then recounts how the neo-figurative “remodernism” and “Stuckism” movements arose as a grassroots reaction.

Michael Barone: “Double negative” voters decided election

The always incisive psephologist (electionologist, if you like) Michael Barone has lots to say about the US Presidential election. One point stands out, both in deciding the outcome and in why so many pollsters had it wrong.

Normally, “double-positive” voters — those who rate both candidates positively — break along party registration lines, and so do “double-negative” (or “they both s*ck”, if you like) voters.

But while the “double-positives” behaved largely as expected this year,

 According to the exit poll […] 18 percent of voters were “double negatives,” that is, had negative feelings toward both Clinton and Trump. Of these 18 percent, 49 percent voted for Trump and only 29 percent voted for Clinton, with 22 percent saying they picked another candidate or not answering.

[That] split as a percentage of the entire electorate was 9 to 5 percent, a 4 percent margin. Assume that was the split in each target state, rather than the 7 to 7 percent under my default assumption. If you subtract 2 percent from each close state from Trump’s percentage and add it to Clinton’s, you have Clinton carrying Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which have 101 electoral votes. That would give Clinton a 329-209 majority in the Electoral College. As Nate Silver pointed out on FiveThirtyEight.com, that’s a big difference.

In retrospect, observers (and the Clinton campaign!) might have had a better understanding of the election if we had all drilled won and looked more closely at the preferences of the “double negatives.” My hypothesis why they split for Trump: it was a change year, and most “double negatives” wanted change.

Barone also discusses the astonishing incompetence with which the Clinton campaign was led. For instance, Hillary did not make even one appearance in Wisconsin after the primaries, as the campaign assumed that state (which hadn’t gone GOP since Reagan) was in the bag anyway. Elsewhere, it was pointed out that rural voter outreach was delegated to a single staffer sitting in Brooklyn. Also:

The 70-year-old Bill Clinton apparently repeatedly advised Clinton campaign chairman Robby Mook and others to campaign in white working class areas. The 36-year-old Mook spurned — perhaps ridiculed — his advice. None of this going after men who wear trucker hats unironically; let’s show Brooklyn-type Millennials that supporting Hillary is really cool.

Also, how productive was the use of media celebrities?

My guess is that these days, when practically all entertainers are liberal Democrats or farther left, it doesn’t strike most voters as worthy of any attention when several of them appear for a Democratic candidate like Hillary Clinton. All the more so at a time when the entertainment aimed at universal audiences, like 1930s and 1940s movies and 1950s and 1960s TV, is extinct, and when entertainers appeal only to niche audiences.[…] How many undecided voters or low-propensity-voting Democrats in Pennsylvania even know who Lady Gaga is? How many are impressed that actors in “The West Wing”, whose last new episode aired in 2006, support Hillary Clinton? I get it that entertainers can draw large audiences, and I get it that Hillary Clinton (to judge from photos) loved these event. But how did they actually help her campaign?

And in his trademark deadpan fashion:

[Hillary] may have been the first nominee (I don’t know if anyone has done the numbers) to appear at more private fundraisers than in public campaign rallies. One reason for all those fundraisers was to get more money to pay for ads on television — even though technology gives viewers many ways to avoid them these days. Another reason may be that the candidate just loves to spend time with admiring rich people in rooms ready to be photographed for Architectural Digest than she does in often tacky public venues filled with a regrettably large proportion of ordinary people.

Ouch. There’s much more at the link, and Michael Barone announces future updates.

UPDATE: Implicit in Barone’s remarks is that Trump underperformed Romney in some red states, while he obviously outperformed him in battleground states. (Thus, his popular vote totals are close to Romney’s, see my previous post.) Trump’s overall campaign budget was something like a third of Clinton’s, but apparently very well targeted.

Related: Obama twists the knife in Hillary Clinton’s disastrous campaign. The moneygraf:

“You know, I won Iowa not because the demographics dictated that I would win Iowa,” Obama said Monday. “It was because I spent 87 days going to every small town and fair and fish fry and VFW hall, and there were some counties where I might have lost, but maybe I lost by 20 points instead of 50 points.”

Some thoughts on electoral college vs. popular vote election

As it stands, while Trump has won a resounding victory in the Electoral College (on track for 306 electoral votes vs. 232), HRC is on track to win a slim plurality (about .5%) of the popular vote. This will be the 5th time in US history that this happened, and the 2nd in my lifetime.

Some now decry the very existence of the electoral college. The reasons for its creation by the Founding Fathers — in a federal republic wary of ‘dictatorship by the 51%’ — have been discussed at length by others. I will confine myself to some practical observations.

1. Any ‘first-past-the-post’ system (FPTP) system can produce outcomes like this: theoretically, it is possible for the Tories or Labour in the UK to win a plurality of the popular vote and a minority of House of Commons seats. [There is no direct election of the Prime Minister in the UK.] As a concrete example of what happens in another FPTP system, the following graph illustrates the actual difference between percentages of the popular vote and of the House of Commons in the 2015 UK Parliamentary Election: the inner piechart represents popular vote, the outer piechart elected MPs.

A few observations:

  1. the difference between Tories (blue) and Labour (red) is greatly amplified in the number of seated MPs;
  2. the Scottish National Party (yellow) has way more seats than its share of the popular vote
  3.  the UK Independence Party (purple) barely has any representation in the Commons despite pulling a much larger share of the popular vote than the SNP.  (The SNP enjoys regional dominance in Scotland, without significant presence anywhere else.)

According to Duverger’s Law in political science, FPTP systems tend to produce two-party regimes. (In turn, of course, both major parties tend to become coalitions of groups that in a proportional representation system would set up shop for themselves.)

Currently, the US Presidential Election is effectively a variation on the above piechart, with 538 electors getting appointed across fifty-something constituencies — 48 states, DC, and the peculiar arrangements for the two remaining states of ME and NE.

2. Of course, both parties adjusted their campaign strategies to the current system, focusing their efforts on battleground states and spending fairly little effort on states that are solidly in their or the opponent’s camp. In a competition for the popular vote, both sides would have run very different campaigns, with much more of a focus on CA, NY, and TX, and less on small-population battleground states like New Hampshire.

Conversely, many people would change their “tactical voting” habits in a popular-vote system. Many who live in “safe” blue or red states (we’re registered in TX) but are unhappy with both major candidates now will stay home or vote third party (in this cycle, most such votes went to the Libertarian ticket) or even for joke candidates like Vermin Supreme. On the other hand, if they are living in battleground states, they feel some pressure  to not “waste their vote” on a third-party contender, and thus hold their nose and vote for the lesser of two evils. In a single-district popular vote election, they would have no such incentive.

Methinks, a popular vote race would on balance produce a much larger vote for 3rd-party candidates (Libertarian, Green, hardcore Conservative,…) at the expense of the two major parties. Indeed, somebody who fails to obtain the D or R  nomination might be more inclined to run as an independent.

It is not at all clear that HRC supporters would get the outcome they desired in a declared popular-vote election (as distinct from retroactively processing a FPTP election outcome as PV). How would a PV election between HRC, Bernie Sanders running as a Socialist or Independent, Trump, and Gary Johnson (plus lesser candidates) turn out? It’s a hypothetical, but to say election of HRC would not have been assured would be an understatement.

NB: France, where the President holds power comparable to that of the POTUS, in fact instituted a runoff election between the two top vote getters, two weeks after the initial election. The contender who places third in the initial round often becomes something of a kingmaker by endorsing one or the other of the runoff candidates.

3. Moreover, if we’d start electing the POTUS by popular vote totals, why stop there? Why not go all the way to proportional representation at the federal level? Elect the House by popular vote tally? Or, failing that, at least by State rather than congressional district? This would put an end to gerrymandered districts, but also dilute the importance of the two major “uniparties” as smaller parties would suddenly find themselves holding the balance of power in the House. Some of us would even applaud this; on the other hand, parliamentarians in such a system are much less personally beholden to their constituents.

Summarizing: those HRC supporters, Trump haters, partisan Democrats, and (but I repeat myself) MSM journalists who suddenly have discovered the virtues of the popular vote might be singing a quite different tune if this were actually implemented systematically, rather than conveniently applied ex post facto to the present unpalatable outcome.