With Apologies to Dr. Johnson, I Refute it Thus

Over the past few days much has been made about a study published by a couple of professors, one at Princeton and the other at Northwestern.  They’ve conducted some sort of study about “public policy” initiatives and changes from 1981 to 2002, which income quintiles supported or opposed them, and whether they were actually adopted.  Their conclusions, at least as presented by the BBC, are to the effect that the U.S. is an “oligarchy,” in which “economic elites and organised groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.”  Their conclusions are based on what is described as a “multi-variate analysis” and they do in fact reports some interesting findings.

Before we get into the substance of the study, let’s note a couple of ironies.  The authors of the study are professors at two universities both of which can legitimately describe themselves as elite.  In the U.S. it so happens that professors from elite universities, and the institutions themselves, exercise a fascination with the policy-making industry out of all proportion to their numbers.  Secondly, the BBC link above is to a blog that calls itself “echo chambers,” which is about as unconsciously self-descriptive of the left-wing mainstream media (but I repeat myself) as anything I’ve heard.  They too exercise an influence out of all proportion to their numbers or their intellectual or moral stature.  It is as much due to them that we have Dear Leader as our president now, a man about whose moral and intellectual antecedents we still know next to nothing, seven years after he burst onto the scene and was adopted as the Messiah by precisely operations such as the Beeb.  It is the singular lack of interest in what happened on September 11, 2012, that is the reason why we still don’t know who left a United States ambassador to die in Benghazi.  It is to the nattering classes that we can thank our lack to this day of an answer to the question so not-famously posed by the Secretary of State whose job it was to protect that ambassador: “What difference does it make at this point?”

The full study is available here.

The authors themselves describe their data and methods as “imperfect.”  “Shoe-horned into a mold” might be a better description, but for the moment let’s leave it as it is.  One of the authors has been for many years compiling a data set that consists of answers to polling questions.  In order to be usable at all for the present purposes, they needed to identify answers that met four criteria:  “dichotomous pro/con responses, specificity about policy, relevance to federal government decisions, and categorical rather than conditional phrasing.”  In other words, respondents had to give a yes/no answer to a policy question that was specifically identified and not hedged about with if/and/but/whether.  Moreover, the surveys from which the answers came needed to break the respondents out by income/wealth level.  The authors identified 1,779 such data points.  Of course, since the polls in question weren’t all conducted by the same outfits, they had to massage the income/wealth data a bit to reduce them to a common denominator, so to speak.  Through sundry statistical techniques they were able to isolate the “affluent” (90th percentile), the median (50th), and the very poor (10th percentile).  The paper doesn’t describe how they accomplished that but I’m willing to accept they got it right enough to be useful.

Right up front they acknowledge one problem with their definitions: in 2012 dollars you can report $146,000 and still be in the 90th income percentile.  That sounds like a great deal more than it is.  Let’s start with the fact that it’s $146,000 in reported income, which (to borrow a line from molesworth) as ane fule kno is an entirely different animal than cash you get to see, even if only to pay tax on it chiz chiz chiz.  Just by way of personal example:  For 2013, for every dollar in gross income I reported on my 1040 and paid tax on, I had cash gross income of just over $0.685.  At lower income levels that difference is going to get materially smaller, although for self-employed lower income quintiles it will still be significant.  Add in (subtract, in other words) the tax lick, a not extravagant house payment, a couple of kids in private school (for any of several reasons) or with some sort of special need or special talent which needs addressing, a car payment or two for a mid-range sedan and a “family” car, expenses of commuting, some self-employment taxation, and the other expenses of self-employment, and you can burn through $146,000 very fast and never be free of hoping you can find the dollars to pay next quarter’s tax payment.

The authors don’t think their characterization of modesty as wealth to be a problem, because the policy preferences of the 98th percentile (the top 2%) correlate more closely (r=.91 vs. r=.69) with the rest of the top ten percent than they do with the 50th percentile.  Interesting, but they’ve left out the answer to a question your ordinary cross-examiner would pose to them:  How do the preferences of the next 8% (that is, the 90th through 97th percentiles) correlate with the 50th percentile?  I’ll leave to the reader’s own opinion just how meaningful a 22% gap in correlation coefficient is when you’re measuring something like “policy preferences.”  I’d also point out that r=.69 means that over 47% of the variation in the top 2% preferences can still be explained by variation in the 50th percentile’s preferences.  I find it difficult to suggest that when two groups that far apart on the income spectrum Agree on Stuff almost half the time, in a society as enormous and heterogeneous as America’s, it’s at all helpful to characterize that as evidence of predominating “elite” policy preferences.  This is of course just my opinion, but the authors’ data highlight to me what is an extraordinary amount of convergence about policy preferences across enormous swathes of the American population, a convergence that is nothing short of astounding when you consider the fantastic ranges of social, economic, geographic, and ethnic variation among us.

Measuring individuals’ preferences in relation to enacted/non-enacted policies is problematic enough.  The authors here get much further off the reservation when the issue becomes measuring the effect of organized groups of individuals.  And by the way, I lump into “organized groups of individuals” all voluntary associations, from the American Bar Association to the Chamber of Commerce to the National Education Association to the Sierra Club to the AFL-CIO to the Roman Catholic Church to General Motors and Sun Microsystems.  There is no logically meaningful basis on which to distinguish a shareholder from a union card holder from a congregant from a dues-paying member of the WWF.  Each willingly associates himself and his efforts (represented by his money or some portion of it) with those of other people with whom he imagines himself to share some commonality of interest.  Period.

The authors do not seem to realize that.  They (in Appendix 1, on page 30) divide the organizations they look at into “business and professional organizations” and “mass-based organizations.”  They then take a big ol’ swig of Kool-Aid and recognize a third category of interest group, which they do not code as being either business- or “mass”-based.  Those three are the National Education Association, the National Governors Association, and “universities” (you know, like their own).  Really?  The NEA is somehow different from the AFL-CIO, the UAW, the Teamsters, all of which are lumped into “mass”-based interest groups?

The authors’ blind spot about the nature of organizations goes deeper.  They lump the U.S. Chamber of Commerce into “business and professional interests,” implying of course that it’s Citigroup driving the cart.  Had they drilled down to find out more of whom the C of C is representing they might well have observed how much of the membership is of tiny businesses, mom-and-pop outfits.  Even the vaunted American Trial Lawyers Association (or as it now tries to call itself, the American Association for Justice) has for its members overwhelmingly small firms and solo lawyers.  Yes, there are some enormous plaintiffs’ shops out there, and some huge insurance defense firms.  But the vast majority of its membership consists of the three guys with their shingles out two blocks off main street.  And by the way, the median incomes of lawyers in private practice isn’t that far off what your garden-variety public school teacher makes, especially when you factor in the economic effect of summer vacation (I saw a number of years ago a figure of just under $40,000, at a time when our little country school system was paying roughly that for a teacher with six or eight years’ experience).  And so forth.

On an even more basic level, in determining how to characterize these groups’ efforts — are they to be counted with the oligarchs or with the “masses”? — they might have asked themselves a basic question about the American population:  What percentage of working Americans are at least partially self-employed?  About a decade or so ago I saw the figure 35%.  Hmmm.  That puts a bit of a different color on the horse, doesn’t it?  If you actually ask yourself whose interests are these organizations representing (you know, kind of a critical threshold question for whether these data make any sense at all), you find that while they might be of assistance to the kind of people who backed President Wall Street, they’re also very, very much of assistance to the family of five sitting two pews behind you in church.  Because when you make it harder for ordinary people (you know, that 50th percentile) to buy a house, what you’re doing is making it harder for the members of the National Association of Realtors (one of our authors’ “business interest groups”) to make a living, which means that you’re making it harder for the mother of that family to use her realtor’s license to make some money on a part-time basis while the kids are in school.  Here we might also observe that close to half of all small businesses are owned by women.  Yep, boys and girls:  “Business interests” are women’s interests.  And while not a woman, I’d wager that most women would trade being able to make a decent living being their own bosses for having to shell out $25 a month for birth control pills, Sandra Fluke notwithstanding.

But how did the authors come up with their list of associations to score in the first place?  That was really scientific.  Rather than doing the grunt work of figuring out the total resources devoted to promoting or fighting a particular issue, they used a proxy.

“Fortunately, however, Baumgartner et al. found that a simple proxy for their index – the number of reputedly “powerful” interest groups (from among groups appearing over the years in Fortune magazine’s “Power 25” lists) that favored a given policy change, minus the number that opposed it – correlated quite substantially in their cases with the full interest group index (r=0.73).”

Let’s ponder that.  They outsourced that portion of their thinking to Fortune magazine.  Sort of as if the International Panel on Climate Change decided that getting to the raw data was too much work, so they’d just see what Popular Science had to say about it, and go from there.  But there’s more:  This proxy index “correlated quite substantially” with the full interest group index.  R=0.73, after all, guys.  Wait?  Remind me what was r as between the Top 2% income group and the 50th percentile?  Wasn’t that r=0.69?  Why yes, yes it was.  So we may say that the policy preferences of the Top 2% “correlated quite substantially” with the policy preferences of the median, no?  I refer Humble Reader to my remarks about the convergence of opinion across income groups.  Does that support or contradict the theory of America-as-oligarchy?  Let’s hear it from the authors themselves:

“It turns out, in fact, that the preferences of average citizens are positively and fairly highly correlated, across issues, with the preferences of economic elites (see Table 2.) Rather often, average citizens and affluent citizens (our proxy for economic elites) want the same things from government. This bivariate correlation affects how we should interpret our later multivariate findings in terms of “winners” and “losers.” It also suggests a reason why serious scholars might keep adhering to both the Majoritarian Electoral Democracy and the Economic Elite Domination theoretical traditions, even if one of them may be dead wrong in terms of causal impact.”

I’ll let the reader slog through the specific findings of the paper.  My quibble is not with the outcomes of their statistical model, but rather with the usefulness of the model itself.  It confines itself to asking whether, when various income groups and interest groups supported or opposed a particular policy, that policy actually came to pass.  “Our dependent variable is a measure of whether or not the policy change proposed in each survey question was actually adopted, within four years after the question was asked.”  But how do you determine whether, if something “passed,” it was the question that was posed?  “We want healthcare reform!”  OK.  Do you want socialized medicine, or the “Affordable” Care Act as originally proposed, or the act as it was actually passed, or some fundamental changes to the current system not involving a federal-level take-over?  Homosexual marriage?  How many different potential “policies” are there actually out there?  “Immigration reform”; let’s think of all the possible ways in which you could “reform” America’s present bastard system.  Unfortunately our authors don’t do a very good job of explaining how they coded whether a specific “policy” was enacted or not.  They also don’t explain how they accounted for whether a specific part of a policy that might have been of critical importance to a particular segment of their income/interest groups got enacted.

Finally, and in terms of drawing useful conclusions about whether “elites” are running the show or not, the entire model ignores a central fact about the United States, viz. its divided sovereignty.  It makes a tremendous difference where you live in the United States on a host of issues that are of tremendous importance in the day-to-day lives of Americans.  In fact it makes not a small difference where within a state you live.  I’m going to suggest that in order to be useful, in the sense of getting an idea of whether “ordinary” Americans actually get to run their own show, or are buggered around by Them Awful 1%ers, you can’t weight all of the authors’ 1,779 issue points the same, and you can’t weight those the same as the issues that occur at the state and local levels.  What matters more to our 50th percentiler in his life today, after all:  Whether CAFE standards are increased to 42 m.p.g. by 2025, or whether Common Core is crammed down his local school system, or whether his local grocery store sells wine, or whether, as a solo house-framer he’s now required to pay $8,500 per year for worker’s compensation insurance for himself?

Yesterday morning on my way in to work, I saw an interesting sight.  A song bird, a tiny little song bird, was dive-bombing a crow.  The battle paralleled the center stripe of the street, so I got to see it play out.  This crow must have outweighed his attacker by a factor of at least ten.  I mean, the crow just dwarfed the song bird.  And yet that tiny little song bird ran his country ass off.  It was obvious what was happening.  The song bird had a nest of eggs to protect.  He had a Big Dog in the Hunt.  The crow was just after breakfast, and if he couldn’t crack open that nest’s eggs, somewhere else he’ll find others.  Or even something to eat other than eggs.  I’m going to suggest that metaphor is not unhelpful in trying to make sense of the authors’ data.  Individuals and organizations will pour tremendous effort into attending to what is important to them.  They may agree or disagree with any particular thing to a greater or lesser degree, but their determination to carry their preferences is going to be a function of its importance to them.  I may strongly disagree with federal policy X (or mildly disagree).  But whether I put my back into getting my way is going to be a function of what difference it makes to me.  I just don’t see that these authors’ data or model accounts for that fact of life, and that failure to account for it seriously undermines its utility in understanding the world I see around me.

Now, let’s see if we can come up with some data points on Undeniably Major Issues that might tend to falsify the authors’ hypothesis that elites exercise a significant independent influence on federal policy-making and the rest of us proles don’t.  Because after all, as Popper teaches us, you can’t say something is true if it cannot be false, but you can say something is not true if you can show it to be false.  Since what we’re talking about is something as squishy as “policy preferences” and degrees of support/opposition, we’re not going to get a scientific refutation.  But we might look around for something that is both Extremely Important on Any Objective Basis, and which is inconsistent with the authors’ conclusions.

One which immediately comes to mind is the current battle over amnesty for all the illegal immigrants tooling about the place.  The wealthy and the business interests favor it.  After all, Juan from Ciudad Juarez is not going to be competing with the authors of this paper for a comfortable seat in the faculty lounge; he’s going to put Joe Six-Pack out of work.  Juan will go to work for the homebuilders, not in competition with them.  Granted, we don’t at the moment have an outcome on this, but I think you can derive some meaningful thoughts on our authors’ hypothesis from the number of congresscritters who are running from amnesty like scalded dogs.  If the paper’s hypothesis is correct, that elites and “business interests” exercise a major moving force over federal policy decision, while Us Proles and “mass-based” groups don’t, then we’ll see some significant form of amnesty passed, and passed soon.

One day Dr. Johnson and some friends were discussing one of the then-recent philosophical arguments that the physical world isn’t real, in the sense that what we see we only think we see.  It’s all conception, not reality.  The question arose of how to refute that argument.  Johnson observed, “I refute it thus,” turned, and kicked a nearby large stone so hard his foot bounced off it.  If the United States was truly an “oligarchy,” in which “elites” ran the show for their own benefit, how do you explain that, since 1986 the share of all federal tax dollars paid by that nefarious, oligarchic top 10% of income earners has increased from 54.6% to 70.6% in 2010?  And it’s not that they’re paying a larger share of a smaller tax bill, either.  By 2010 the federal government was consuming a proportion of the country’s GDP (over 23%) not seen since 1946, when we’d just started de-mobilizing from fighting a two-front world war.  That nasty ol’ top 10% is paying a 29.3% greater burden of tremendously larger bill.  In fact, as of 2009, a year in which continued a trend of a declining share of total income by the top percentiles, “The top-earning 5 percent of taxpayers (AGI equal to or greater than $154,643), however, still paid far more than the bottom 95 percent. The top 5 percent earned 31.7 percent of the nation’s adjusted gross income, but paid approximately 58.7 percent of federal individual income taxes.”  Those top-fivers are paying in taxes nearly twice their proportion of the income.  By the way, note further that in 2009 it took only $154,643 in nominal dollars to get you into the 95th percentile.  We see further evidence of the “oligarchic” tendencies of American society in the fact that,  in 2009, “[T]he top 1 percent no longer pays a larger percentage of total income tax than the bottom 95 percent.”  Aw.  Isn’t that just awful?

That’s a pretty sorry-assed oligarchy we’ve got here, if it can’t keep itself from getting increasingly plundered over years and decades.  I defy the authors of this article, and I even more defy all the out-of-breath reporters, at the BBC and elsewhere, to demonstrate any other recognized oligarchy in which the “ruling elite” that runs rough-shod over the toiling masses permits itself to be used so shamelessly as a piggy-bank.

I could go on about all the other respects in which the authors’ data and model do or do not help us think about what kind of society we have in the U.S. or what kind of society we ought or want to have.  But I’ve got to go make some of that $0.6855-per-dollar-of-reported-income.  Suffice it to say, thus, I refute it.

When You Make Yourself a Doormat

People will wipe their feet on you.  That advice was given to my mother and her sister by my grandmother decades ago and repeatedly shared with me over the course of my childhood.  In this respect I should observe that my grandmother was the oldest of eleven children.  Her parents wanted her to quit school after 8th grade and go to work in a cigar factory.  She refused and finished high school.  She then worked her way through U of Michigan’s School of Public Health (they and Johns Hopkins were the only two in the country back then) on her knees, as a maid.  At some point she met my grandfather, a World War I veteran and Harvard law grad (I’ve got his diploma, signed by Dean Pound . . . it’s tiny and is printed on what appears to be extremely flimsy paper).  She never lost the edge her youth and young adulthood put on her.

My grandmother was full of good Midwestern German wisdom (which I’ll take over Sonia Sotomayor’s any day), a great deal of which got shared with me over the years.  Expressions like “tarted up like Mrs. Astor’s cab-horse” and “driving your hogs to a poor market,” and of course the old chestnut, “if you don’t take care of what you have, you’ll never have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of.”  Or the Depression-era “Use it up; wear it out; make it do; do without.”  The title and opening line of this post were another one.

All of which is an introduction to an article which appeared recently in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.  It’s a report on a letter written by a young female police officer in Bochum, in the Ruhr Valley area.  It’s not as bad there as it once was, when the Krupps and the Thyssens ruled the roost and it was hard to see the ground from an airplane at 5,000 feet on an otherwise “clear” day (there’s a distressing picture in Wm. Manchester’s The Arms of Krupp, taken of Essen from the air, and you can’t see much beyond smokestacks poking through the gloop).  It’s not even as bad as when Günther Wallraff went undercover as a Turkish immigrant in Ganz Unten.  But it’s still a pretty grim part of the world.  And as is typical of most grim parts of the world, those strata of society that are dysfunctional, fractured, marginal, and unstable drift there.  In Europe that means, most prominently among other groups, Muslim immigrants; specifically, it means unassimilated Muslim immigrants.  We’ve all heard about the no-go zones in London and other large British cities, and we recall the news video of the Paris suburbs burning for days on end.  Germany’s got its share of such problems.

Here in the United States we’ve got our own immigration problems.  What makes America’s immigration issues different from Europe’s is that a great deal of our dynamics of non-assimilation is driven by the fact that the immigrants are here illegally.  Because they’re here illegally they dare not — in many respects could not even if they wanted to — approach the formalities of American life and integrate into larger society.  This is ironic, of course:  Illegal immigrants are all over the place, living in plain sight, and yet through conscious policy choices of administration officials they are not “seen.”  The immigrants understand that could change in a heartbeat.  It is precisely the same logic which leads gun owners to resist things like registration.  “Oh, we’re not wanting to take your guns; we just want to gather data.”  Right.  And what happens when the Powers That Be decide to do something more than just gather data?  The illegal immigrants know that all it would take would be an administration that decided to enforce the law and suddenly having that fixed address and being on the property tax rolls becomes not a badge of acceptance, of success, of having got on the train at last and heading forward.  It becomes a how-to-find-me-and-send-me-back-where-I-risked-my-life-to-flee.  Ditto the bank account; ditto the health insurance policy.  And so forth.

So here in the United States we have created politically and legally a ghettoization of a group of immigrants.  Let’s be honest about this:  For many players in the market and in politics the existence of this 10-plus million strong marginalized, vulnerable group of people suits them just jim dandy.  Because the continuation of their presence here is dependent on the government’s conscious policy choice not to go after them, they are beholden to whatever party <cough, cough!> promises to continue that policy.  And so they turn out in droves, carrying signs many of them can’t read, all pre-printed by sundry astro-turf “community organizers,” to boost one particular party.

By remaining unassimilated the illegal immigrants remain deprived of the language of commerce, of advancement, of the knowledge of how to navigate the paths to prosperity that seem to be found so readily by legal immigrants of all groups (including the legal immigrants from the same countries as the illegals).  They are therefore dependent upon the mountebanks within their own ranks to “represent” them to the other side of that artificially created and maintained divide.  This dependence produces political power and money for those hucksters.  [There is a reason that so-called “bi-lingual education” has always been popular with the immigrant political class and — historically at least — extremely unpopular with the actual immigrant parents themselves.  They know exactly what the score is, and most of them understand that “bi-lingual education” means “we’re going to keep your children illiterate in the language of the place where they live, so that they too will remain poor, vulnerable, and dependent on us.”]

By remaining unassimilated the illegal immigrants are self-outlawed.  “Outlawry” in olden times was not what it has come to be viewed as today.  Today when we describe someone as an “outlaw” we think of someone who does as he pleases, usually violently and flagrantly, and keeps on doing it until he’s caught.  At which point he suddenly becomes very keen on upholding the processes and substance of the law, at least insofar as presumptions of innocence, due process, right to counsel, right to confrontation of witnesses, and prohibiting cruel and unusual punishments are concerned.  Suddenly our brazen “outlaw” who professed contempt for all us milque-toast drudges in our daily slavery to The Man becomes the most law-abiding, upstanding citizen among us.  Back in the day an “outlaw” was someone who had been formally placed beyond the protection of the law.  It was a judicial sentence to be Cain, but without God’s mark to protect.  As Cain feared would be the case with him, every man’s hand was raised against the outlaw and he had no recourse.  Welcome to the world of an illegal immigrant.  Your boss decides he’s going to pay you $3.75 an hour?  Yeah, go report him to the Department of Labor.  You’ll be on the next bus to Tijuana.  Missing OSHA-mandated safety equipment?  Tell that to the sheriff’s deputies who are there to arrest . . . you.  Don’t like working a fourteen-hour day?  How long are you going to have to work when they send your butt back home?

In Europe, and especially in Germany, the problem isn’t illegal immigration.  They’re all there, more or less, according to law.  In fact in Germany many of them are the descendants of immigrants who were invited (I’m tempted to say “lured”) to what was then West Germany, way back when the post-World War II labor shortage was beginning to pinch.  Huge numbers of those earlier immigrants and their descendants have melted into the fabric of German society.  Many more of the recent arrivals haven’t.  And they have no interest in assimilating.

From what I see in the news, a parallel society is developing, a society in which, if you’re Muslim, you live by different rules than the surrounding society.  If you get cross-ways with someone else, you settle your differences outside the ordinary processes of the law.  If someone seriously transgresses, he is punished, not by the lawfully constituted authorities but rather by what amounts to elders.  That is, of course, unless his victim’s clan gets to him first.

That’s what this police officer was writing about.  She herself is of Greek ancestry, but was born and grew up in Germany.  The article doesn’t say when her people came to Germany.  She went to the Gymnasium, graduated, and became a police officer.  She’s got ten years’ service under her belt.

She was called to respond to an incident (the article doesn’t say of what sort) and the Turkish man who had called the police refused to deal with her.  He insisted on dealing with a male police officer.  That’s precious.  Law enforcement as à la carte menu.  Her experience that day was just another in a long line.  According to her letter, she and her colleagues are daily confronted with immigrant perps, mostly Muslim, who “do not have the slightest respect” for the police.  Apparently she gets to see it from both sides.  To the Turks she’s just another German cop; but even though born in Germany, she’s still first-generation, and cannot but feel awkward when so much of the public disorder is identifiably associated with immigrants, at least some of whom are like herself first-generation.

“Where have we got to?” she asks in her letter, “Have we gone so far that the German police and the state have negatively to adapt themselves, and we have, in certain life- or duty-situations, to give up our democratic understanding?”  In her experience gentleness does not work with these people, who have “zero respect” for the police and for German law in general.  Only “earnest” sanctions, such as fines, reduction or withdrawal of public assistance, or prison will get their attention.  Public assistance?  Yep; in Germany, as in France and Britain, the same dynamic plays out that we got to see with the Tsarnaev brothers in Boston:  Those who would destroy the state, violently, are in fact generally to be found in the hand-out line.

At the risk of understatement, this police officer’s letter, written to her trade union magazine, struck a chord with her colleagues.  “Countless” (so the FAZ) of her fellow officers responded to her letter, the overwhelming majority of them with sympathy and praise.  And of course their own stories.  Among them are it seems not a few of supervisors advising line cops not to file complaints for insults, physical resistance, or bodily injury from immigrant perps.  It just causes trouble is the philosophy.

In October, 2010 Chancellor Angela Merkel came right on out and said it:  the mutli-cultural experiment has been “an absolute failure.”  So what gives?  Although he was dismissed from the Bundesbank for his troubles, Thilo Sarrazin’s 2010 book Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany Does Itself In), in which he made the mistake of pointing out that, among all immigrant groups, the Muslims accounted for the overwhelming proportion of demands on the state’s welfare and criminal-justice systems, found deep resonance among the population at large (the link is to Der Spiegel’s English-language site, and is an article that pre-dates his firing).  What is the source of the disrespect, if a large majority of the ethnic German population takes umbrage at the Muslim immigrants’ attitude?

I’m going to suggest that the Muslims’ actions are a rational response to the world they see around themselves.  Our letter-writing police officer hints at the root of the problem:  The consequences of lawless behavior are not such as will gain the respect of someone who does not share an innate sense of respect for Law in general.  It’s not hard to understand, really.  As my mother used to explain it to me when I was a child, “You can do the right thing for the right reason, or you can do it for the wrong reason.  The right reason is that it’s the right thing to do.  The wrong reason is that I will wear you out if don’t do it.  So you’ve got a choice; you can do it for the right or the wrong reason.  But you’re going to do it.”

What’s happened across Western society is we’ve watered down the second half of my mother’s choice.  Sure, it’s not uniform.  Here in the United States, or in at least some parts of them, we actually do physically punish people who step out of line.  We make them go live in confined quarters with unpleasant people, live under the constant watch of people who get to tell them what to do, and we make them do it for years on end.  But even that degree of punishment is watered down.  Go find someone who’s worked as a prison or jail guard, and ask them what it’s like to work there.  Having urine thrown in your face is a common experience; so also is the experience of seeing the guy who threw it essentially get a pass.  Elsewhere in Western society, if you look at the sentences for what any reasonable person would describe as heinous crimes, it’s laughable.  Or, rather, it would be laughable if it weren’t so pathetic.  The FAZ routinely reports sentences of five years or less for stuff that falls into the bury-him-under-the-jail category.  In fact, it’s not unusual to see reported sentences for property crimes exceed those for homicide.  What?

How seriously a system takes its rules can be measured by the consequences for their violations.  If in a baseball game you swing a bat at anything but a baseball, you get ejected.  Bet on baseball and your career is over.  Forever.  Ask Pete Rose.  In football, if you put your helmet down and spear the quarterback, you’re going to get to peel several thousand dollars off your hip and it’s going to be a while before they let you play again.  When the salary differential for starting players and bench-riders is as large as it is in professional sports, losing that starting slot even for a few weeks can make millions of dollars of difference to your career.  In Texas, if you kill someone in cold blood, or while committing a violent felony, they’ll sentence you to die.  And they’ll actually strap you down and kill you.  At West Point (at least at one time this was true) if you got caught telling a lie, or lifting someone’s property from his desk, or cribbing on an exam, you were standing out in front of the front gates within 24 hours.  Those institutions took their rules seriously.

Why should a group of outsiders, who choose to remain outsiders, have greater respect for a system of rules than that held by the “insiders”?  Historically Germans have nurtured a famous cultural awe of Rules.  It’s got them (and most of Europe) in hot water over the years.  It’s still there, too.  But it’s certainly not genetic, which is to say that human nature in Germany isn’t, over the long run, going to turn out to be materially better or worse than anywhere else.  And that means that, unless the Germans are willing to make a conscious effort to do so, people there will be little better than they ought to, if that.

The robustness of punishment as a back-stop for virtue is that it does not depend for its efficacy on any action or attitude from its object.  Or at least not on anything more complex or variable than aversion to pain and suffering.  “Rehabilitation” as a penal principle requires you to assume that (i) it’s possible, and (ii) a particular criminal is willing to be rehabilitated.  Relying on ordinary mortals’ respect for the Law to produce orderliness in society requires you to assume that (i) large numbers of people agree with the Law, and (ii) large numbers of people will willingly comply with the Law even when not directly under the watch of law enforcement.  I will state that those are universally unrealistic assumptions.

I will also state that, in the specific context of Muslim immigrants to Europe it’s not only unrealistic as an assumption, but it’s directly contradicted by the very words and deeds of the immigrants in question.  Large numbers of those immigrants view Western society, its pluralistic values, its permissive approach to individual behavior, and its tolerance of dissent with nothing short of contempt.  They not only don’t respect the Law as they find it in Germany; they hate it.  And if they can observe that their flaunting of it will result in no physical or financial consequences for them, why on earth should they not flaunt it?

The Blogfather has repeatedly observed, in connection with the different treatment of Christians versus militant Muslims by the Western legacy media, that the central point of distinction is that Muslims will slice the throats of those who offend their sensibilities while Christians do not.  As he’s also frequently observed, incentives work, even perverse incentives.  Over millions of people and across countless trillions of individual decisions made daily, you get more of what you reward or don’t punish, and less of what you punish or don’t reward.

Western society has lain down, and Islam is proceeding to wipe its feet.  Can we be surprised?

On a final note, I’ll observe that one of the ironies of Germany’s situation arises from, of course, its particular history.  The whole point of the Nuremberg Laws was legally to exclude Jews from German society.  It was their policy that Jews could not be Germans.  This was even though by 1933 the Jews were highly assimilated (in fact, by World War I the majority of marriages among German Jews were exogamous).  There’s a wonderful if sad book, The Pity of It All, which follows German Jewry from 1743 to the Nazi take-over in 1933.  Prussia emancipated its Jews in the 1780s.  Just 150 years later all the progress was obliterated.  Nowadays they want these Muslim immigrants to become “German,” and it’s the immigrants who spit in their faces.

Paul Fussell (RIP) had it Right, Once Again

One of my favorite reads since the mid-1980s has been Paul Fussell’s Class.  In fact, I’ve liked it so much I’ve lent it to multiple friends, which is why I’m on my sixth or seventh copy of the book.  Not all my friends are as punctilious about returning loaners as one might like.  [Pointless aside:  Sometimes when I like a book well enough, I’ll just give copies to my friends.  I’ve bestowed several copies of The Most of P. G. Wodehouse and Life at Blandings on the deserving select, and when The Joy of Drinking came out I just ordered about eight copies up front and played Santa Claus.]

Fussell’s book shines the light on the fascinating clues about and intersections of status strata in a society that — aggressively at times — insists it has no class system.  As Fussell points out, that very insistence is one’s first clue that (i) there is such a system, and (ii) its contemplation makes people very, very uneasy.  The book, which he later described as tongue-in-cheek, is both outrageously funny and painfully insightful.  Ever since reading it I’ve paid attention to things like “prole jacket gape,” the separation of a man’s suit jacket from his neck and shoulders.  Even more than the exhibition itself is the failure to realize it as an issue.  Sure enough, in almost every instance in which I’ve observed it, the wearer has been someone who, either from personal acquaintance or by other visual or aural clues I can tell is someone who does not wear a jacket with any sort of regularity. 

The upper and lower strata don’t come in for very much ragging in Fussell.  The fellow on Buckley who, as Fussell recounts, kept saying, “pro-MIS-kitty” and, “I am a prole,” at the same time comes in more for regret than censure.  The ones whom Fussell flays from stem to stern, so to speak, are the middles, the ones who are desperately and pathetically ambitious to climb a rung or several, all while terrified of slipping down one or more pegs (to mix a couple of metaphors).  As The Blogfather would say, read the whole thing.

For today’s purposes Fussell’s most important observations concern the nearly-unbridgeable chasm that separates those Americans whose young men were sent to die in the mud of Vietnam from those whose youngsters sat the war out on indefinite student deferments (here it helps to understand that Fussell had been an infantry lieutenant in World War II, and sufficiently badly wounded that he was classed permanently partially disabled . . . although he was slated to take part in the invasion of the Japanese home islands).  He also points out in the segment on work and its class implications that all work can divided into two broad groups: (i) those occupations where the material threat of death, dismemberment, or permanent disabling injury is a normal part of the daily life; and (ii) those where that threat is absent.  As he points out, what would America say if every week several dozens of college professors were maimed or killed in front of their classes?  What would be the uproar if after twenty or so years of dentistry a dentist’s arms and hands could no longer hold his instruments because of various work-induced trauma?

All of which is to say that Victor Davis Hanson has once again driven the ten-ring.  The poor O-pressed students at Dartmouth have finally had enough of the “micro-aggressions” that come with spending four years at a country-club style elite university, enough of the attacks on their fragile sensibilities that arise from “racist, classist, sexist, heterosexist, trans-homophobic, xenophobic, and ablest structures.”  No, seriously; someone actually wrote those words in that order . . . and thought himself “speaking truth to power.”  Their precious little “bodies are on the line.”  Do tell.

The downtrodden have presented written demands (in a 72-point manifesto; Martin Luther in launching the Reformation could only manage 95 theses) to the administration for the amelioration of their condition.  The Wall Street Journal reports:

“The demonstrators had a 72-point manifesto instructing the college to establish pre-set racial admission quotas and a mandatory ethnic studies curriculum for all students. Their other inspirations are for more ‘womyn or people of color’ faculty; covering sex change operations on the college health plan (‘we demand body and gender self-determination’); censoring the library catalog for offensive terms; and installing ‘gender-neutral bathrooms’ in every campus facility, specifically including sports locker rooms.”

Prof. Hanson does his usual masterful job of exploding these fatuities.  And before one looses the charge of hypocrisy against Hanson, it’s useful to bear in mind an anecdote he’s shared of the day he returned from Stanford, a freshly-minted Ph.D. in classics.  His father, a farmer as had been his grandfather before him, greeted him in the driveway with (I’m speaking from memory here) a ladder and the observation that there was a shed that needed a new roof.  I’d wager Hanson’s had more barked knuckles and squashed thumbs over the years than the Dartmouth student body has seen. 

As Hanson points out, these shattered hulks of micro-aggression victims are the creatures of the very “oppression” that they claim to decry.  Their world — a world in which a Dartmouth degree is a magic decoder ring that can open doors shut to 99.99998% of their peers — can only exist by reason of the fact that those peers are not able to attend a school like Dartmouth.  Put very plainly, you can only be elite in comparison to something or someone else.  It’s those someone elses that the professor invites us to contemplate: the guy atop the tractor in 105-degree heat, or the 19-year-old infantry private in some flea-bitten, sand-blown hell-hole in Iraq or Afghanistan, or the 60-year-old manning a cash register at Wal-Mart near the tail-end of a full shift, gamely trying to remain cheerful amid the crush of humanity.

You don’t have to accept the postulate, as the “Occupy” movement purports to do, that somehow these little snot-nosed whiners at Dartmouth have caused the misfortune of those of whose existence Hanson so unceremoniously reminds us.  In fact they didn’t, and neither did those who are paying the freight for them to get their certified-organic cotton, manufactured-in-a-workers’-cooperative-paying-a-living-wage panties in wad over the horrors of not being able to ogle the sweat-stained bodies of one’s fellow students of both sexes.  But for them to pretend to misfortune in the circumstances of their daily lives, all while enjoying the up-side of a brutal and life-long invidious comparison to all those Someone Elses is monstrous.

A number of years ago Jacques Barzun, a Frenchman who fetched up teaching at Columbia for 184 years or so, wrote a book, From Dawn to Decadence, a history of Western civilization from 1500 to the present.  While it’s sometimes difficult to avoid the impression that the book’s unwritten alternative sub-title is something along the lines of “How the French Invented Civilization and Everyone Else was Just Along for the Ride,” it’s still a mighty read and I highly recommend it (to go along with all the other books about how nation X, Y, or Z “saved civilization” or “invented the modern world”; I’ve got books on my shelves making or suggesting such arguments for the Irish, the Scots, and the Germans . . . and of course Barzun’s plea for the French; I have to wonder if any such books making the Chinese and/or Japanese cases are available in translation).  At any rate:  This nonsense at Dartmouth, engaged in, encouraged, and funded by the “elites” of our present society, are precisely the decadence in Barzun’s title.

God save the mark.

The Blame Game

The other day I was chatting with someone (yes; people do occasionally talk to me).  My interlocutor was describing a video, or newsclip, or some representation seen of the private-sector computer geeks who were called in to fix the Healthcare.gov website.  You know, the website that, four years after its authorizing statute was passed, and after a $600+ million contract (to a Canadian company that had already been fired for incompetence in similar capacity for I think it was Ontario) still couldn’t do what it was intended to do.  Apparently one of the persons in the video expressed the thought to those assembled that “we’re not here to blame; we’re here to fix.”

The statement to me was that this was such a wonderful approach and one worthy of emulation across human existence because “blaming” someone else is to “absolve” oneself from the “responsibility for fixing it.” 

With reference to the superficial aspect of the computer geek quoted by the person I was chatting with, I’ll observe:  Congratulations.  You have a keen grasp of the obvious. 

But that’s not my point.  My point begins with the observation that my opposite number in this little chat has over the past years let pass almost zero opportunities (on the contrary, has strained mightily to invent them) to blame (i) Geo. W. Bush; (ii) Republicans in any office; (iii) anyone harboring any sympathy at any level to the Tea Party organizations; and, (iv) pretty much every breathing human who is not affiliated with sundry far-left — way far-left — political organizations for everything from unusually warm/cold weather to fluctuations in the business cycle to the Iranians wanting to nuke Israel to Israel announcing they weren’t going to stand for it to . . . well, you get the point.  In short, assignment of responsibility, by which I mean the attribution of a position in which the person to whom attributed could either have helped or hindered the observable consequence in issue, is made without any intelligently articulable basis, and on the basis of political affiliation.  The Koch brothers, who buy, sell, and refine petroleum, are eeeeeeevvilllll, because racism.  And shut up.  Besides, diversity.  George Soros, a major stakeholder in a Petrobras deep-water oil field, is a saint incarnate.  Even more to the point, the person with whom I was chatting has no more understanding of the internet, or computers, than the family dog.  I say that with complete sincerity; I know this person and I know their family dog.  Daylight does not show between them on this subject.

All of which is an insufferably long way of saying that my interlocutor had no meaningful basis on which to evaluate the statement so praised.

I pointed out that the mere act of identifying What Went Wrong necessarily implies a determination of in whose hands thing went wrong.  Events, especially events such as these, simply do not happen in a vacuum.  Building a website is not an organic process where one puts into operation processes the outcomes of which play themselves out independently of human intervention.  You might not “blame” someone for a crop failure (I lied: you can jolly well blame Geo. W. Bush and the Republicans) because there are multiple factors that go into making a crop which operate and interact with each other and which are entirely beyond the ability of any person (other than Geo. W. Bush and the Koch brothers) to control, or even influence.  The Healthcare.gov website fiasco was a series of conscious, affirmative decisions each last one of which had to be made by a specific human or group of humans.  So the ACA’s website failure was wholly unlike a crop failure caused by drought.  “The crop failed because it didn’t rain enough.”  “Who decided how much it would rain?”  To say that Healthcare.gov crashed because it was, for example, incapable of handling the ordinary traffic it needed to necessary implies the question, “How was it determined how much traffic it had to handle?” (you’ve got to answer that question because you don’t want to follow the same decisional rules and replicate your problem: garbage in, garbage out).  And asking how that determination was made cannot be answered without finding out who made the decision, and how.

But I was wrong, you see:  Even that limited inquiry is to seek to “absolve myself” from “responsibility” for fixing what’s wrong. 

I pointed out that identifying those responsible for a particular mess is important if only for the reason that you do not want to hire them again to create another mess.  This is of course especially true when the pool of vendors to accomplish a particular Task X is minuscule.  Gentle Reader will recall the uproar when Halliburton was awarded a no-bid contract to re-build Iraq.  Well, that was a legitimate concern to express.  The problem of course was that there were and are very few companies out there who have the expertise, the size, and the resources to re-build an entire country and its infrastructure.  And not all of them are American; Halliburton is.  The Canadian company that got the Healtcare.gov contract was awarded it on a no-bid basis.  Of interest in this particular case is that the company in question had already been fired from one huge IT project in Canada (I think it was for the Ontario government, but please don’t quote me on that).

But no:  That, too, was just a smoke-screen to evade “responsibility” for doing something positive.

Had I not run out of time for this little head-exploding conversation (had to leave), I could have pointed out that, when you’ve spent over $600 million on a four-year project that isn’t even close to being functional for any critical task, the people who ponied up that money have a damned good right to know who took them for a ride.  Governments are trustees; what they hold they hold (at least in theory; I know better than to confuse theory with the actual world) not for themselves but for their citizens.  Accordingly all governmental decision makers have an affirmative duty to engage in the exercise of finding out what went wrong, or right, and assigning blame or praise accordingly.

But most of all, without responsibility there can be no accountability.  While we’d all like to assume that government employees and government contractors will always Go The Extra Mile, always give 115%, always ask of themselves what they can do to make themselves better and less burdensome . . . we all know that’s not how human nature is wired.  The depressing truth is that we’re no better than we ought to be, the vast majority of us.  That’s so universally the case that when we meet someone who actually does do all those things or more, we revere him or her and (inwardly, at least) hang our heads in shame. For most of us, the most immediate motivator is a high regard for the consequences that will be visited on us if we fail to perform.  And by “consequences” I don’t mean just financial consequences.  The determination that you will never let yourself be known as a sloppy plumber, or a framer who can’t build a house square, level, and plumb is every bit the moral equivalent of grinding it out so that you don’t get sued or fired.

When you add to ordinary human nature the opacity of modern government work (either within or on a contract basis) you get a brew that is toxic to civic life unless powerful antidotes are prescribed and regularly consumed.  This isn’t, by the way, anything new under the sun.  I like maritime history; I’ve got shelves and shelves, most double-stacked, of books on the subject.  For hundreds of years it was just standard practice to pawn off on the navy short weight of rotten meat, contaminated flour, defective water casks.  Even Admiralty officials made a handsome living stealing timber and cordage, selling them on the black market, and re-supplying with second-hand or cast-off supplies.  Samuel Pepys in the mid-1600s made his bones down at the Admiralty by cracking down on precisely those habits.  Later in the Soviet Union the practice of tukhta (sometimes spelled “tufta”) was such an integral part of Soviet life that Solzhenitsyn described it as one of the pillars on which the entire Gulag existed.  Even later, in MiG Pilot, the story of Viktor Belenko’s Soviet Air Force career and defection to the West, you can find stories about warplanes unable to fly because the ground staff has drained the alcohol from the cooling systems to drink or sell.  Even after the Soviet Union was dead and gone (at least until Smart Diplomacy™ came along to give it another shot), you could stay in a Moscow apartment house where there would be rotting garbage in the stairwells, for days on end.  Adam Hochschild in The Unquiet Ghost describes exactly that experience.

I would — were I to finish my conversation — observe to my interlocutor that Pepys did not make such headway as he did by piously intoning that he wasn’t there to fix blame but rather to see that the Royal Navy got anchor cables that wouldn’t part in a storm.  He made progress by finding the thieves and getting rid of them.  The Soviet Union never did manage to learn to deal with the broad absence of a sense of ownership of one’s responsibilities.  It was the ground crews’ jobs to see that their aircraft could get into the air.  They didn’t, and nothing happened.  It was someone’s job to carry out the garbage in Hochschild’s apartment building.  And he didn’t, and nothing happened to him either.  It was the job of the Gulag administrators to account for — correctly — the cubic meters of timber belled in the taiga, to pour concrete without rubbish contaminating it, to make bricks that would not fall apart in a matter of a few years.  And they didn’t, with the result that within three years of Stalin’s death the system of large-scale slave labor essentially fell to pieces.

In short, failure of accountability has real-world outcomes.  Serious outcomes.  Outcomes that can literally bring down a superpower.  Remember that there was not a single foreign boot on Soviet soil in 1991.  There was not so much as an infantry platoon poised to invade.  Not so much as an unarmed hostile airplane occupied its airspace.  It had legions of well-wishers (including Dear Leader) throughout the world.  And in the absence of all of that it literally shut up shop and went out of business.  Just like that.  I can’t think of a single other instance in all of recorded human history where that’s happened (althogh I suppose you could make something of an argument that Czechoslovakia did the same thing, but that was not a bankrupt state falling apart but rather two pretty distinct ethnic groups mutually deciding they no longer wanted to be lumped in together, as had happened to them after the Great War).

I recently read Margaret MacMillan’s The War that Ended Peace.  It’s a book-length treatment of the few years before the war.  In fact, the war itself takes up only the epilogue.  MacMillan’s central question is why, when so many crises had come and gone without going over the edge, did things go so badly wrong in summer, 1914.  It’s a good question and one any scientist would ask himself.  If I’ve observed X on Y prior occasions, with a range of outcomes ech time excluding Z, and suddenly I get Z, what was different?  Of the points MacMillan makes, the one that is most pertinent to this post is that the switch-points, the triggers, the places at which those paths that could have lead to peace or war went one way rather than the other, were all specific decisions made by identifiable people.  People who had options, who could have done one thing and determined to do another.  It was a consious decision by a small number of men to accept no resolution with Serbia that did not involve war.  It was Kaiser Wilhelm’s personal statement to Count Hoyos that gave Austria-Hungary the famous “blank check.”  It was Nicholas II’s choice to threaten war on Serbia’s behalf.  It was a long-thought-through feature of the Schlieffen Plan to violate Belgian neutrality for the sake of avoiding the French border fortifications.  It was a bitterly-contested question in the British cabinet and in Parliament whether to deliver that ultimatum to Berlin when Belgium was invaded.  Each and every one of those decision-points has known names associated with it.

Is it irrelevant to call those names?  Was it irrelevant to do so in 1919?  History has seen the consequences of Germany being called out for its role in starting the war.  Of all the Versailles Treaty’s objectionable points, the one that rankled more than nearly any other was that war-guilt article.  Why?  It was the stated basis for the reparations claims, but then the reparations could have been demanded in any event.  I suggest that it was the consciousness of guilt that made it so repugnant.  You can pay the reparations.  You can re-conquer lost territory.  You can negotiate down all the material clauses of a bad agreement.  You can even just give the world the Bronx cheer and re-build your military.  But it’s the accountability that sticks:  You did this; you caused this; we are not going to pretend that you did not cause this, and you can never un-cause it.  I will suggest that it was the sense of moral outrage at that war-guilt clause, the having it rammed down their throats what their leadership had done, that so altered Germany’s moral awareness that fourteen years later it could go to the polls and return the Nazis to power.  Relative morality is a siren song, and it can’t be very surprising that Germany succumbed to it.

Would we nowadays?

You can sermonize about “avoiding having to take responsibility for fixing the problem” until you’re blue in the face, but unless you hold accountable those who made the problem you will always have more problems than you can take responsibility for fixing.  Worse, over time they will become problems which deteriorate to the point of no longer being fixable.  Worse even still, without the naming of names, without the holding accountable of those who are responsible, we subvert that sense of morality which is in the final analysis the basis of free government.  I didn’t figure that out myself, either.  That point figures prominently in Washington’s Farewell, a highly instructive essay on several levels, as I’ve noted before, here.  “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. . . .  It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?”

It is thus altogether well and proper that we should ask who made a pig’s breakfast of Healthcare.gov, how they did so, and how they came to be in a position to do so.  Not to do so is to be, in Churchill’s wonderful expression, “neutral as between the fire brigade and the fire.”

And From the Department of You Can’t Make This Up

It’s getting alarmingly close to the point at which we can declare that the system of government-run schooling in the United States has officially gone off the rails. 

In New Jersey, a 7th-grader was suspended, strip-searched, compelled to give urine and blood samples for drug-testing, and sent to get his head shrunk.  For?  For twirling a pencil in his fingers.  In a way that some other child alleged “made him uncomfortable.”  Turns out the child alleging discomfort may have been bullying the pencil twirler; at least that’s what the suspended child is reported to have alleged.  Some educrat responded to criticism that it’s the school system’s “policy” to act stupidly “investigate” and “do our duty” whenever a child’s behavior “raises red flags.”  Like, you know, twirling a damned pencil.

I agree with Bryan Preston over at PJ Tatler:  This nonsense is not going to stop until the educrat class has to begin pondering whether any idiotic jack-boot treatment of students will or will not perhaps cost them their livelihood, their house, their retirement.  For the life of me I cannot understand the logical basis for claims of immunity for what can only be described as a child’s civil rights (and by the way, such immunity exists nowhere in the law; it’s purely a judge-concocted doctrine, one group of government workers covering for another).  Would we tolerate this behavior from, say, the staff at Home Depot towards its customer?  Why then would we tolerate it from an adult schoolteacher to a child?

Here I ought perhaps to point out that I have zero problem at all with corporal punishment in schools.  I and all my fellow students grew up knowing the (simple, short, and common-sense) rules and knowing that if I broke them I’d earn myself a trip to the hallway and three of the best, administered in drumhead court-martial fashion.  Don’t start fights.  Don’t break school property.  Don’t talk back to the teacher.  Don’t you dare strike a teacher.  When the teacher tells you to sit down and be quiet, you sit down and be quiet.  Don’t throw food in the cafeteria.  Stay in your classroom  unless the teacher gives you a hall pass.  If you’ve got a pocket knife, keep it in your pocket.  Don’t bring an actual gun to school.  Seriously, those were just about the only rules you had to keep in mind.  Many is the time I’ve sat around, at age 45+, and traded stories with others in my age bracket about whippings we took and whippings we witnessed.  And you know what?  Not a damned one of us was warped by the experience, not even a little.  None of us is or ever was any more saintly than the average run of the mill, or noticeably more stoic than normal.  Break the rules, take your punishment like a man, and go on with life.  And years later you can sit around drinking a beer and laughing about it all.

But this foolishness about “making others uncomfortable” just smacks of the 1930s Soviet Union, when wrapping a fish in an issue of Pravda that had Stalin’s photograph on it could earn you a “tenner” in the Gulag.  Or observing that a Parker pen (Western product) wrote well.  Those aren’t made-up, either.  The first is related in Solzhenitsyn, and the latter — in sarcastic fashion — in Dolgun.  Complain about the quality of boots they sell in the stores?  Counter-revolutionary agitation: Ten years.  Solzhenitsyn tells a joke:  A guard asks a prisoner what his term is.  “Five years.”  For what?  “Nothing at all.”  The guard responds, “You lie.  The punishment for nothing at all is ten years.”

The Blogfather has repeatedly observed that, with imbecility not only running rampant in our schools, but actually running our schools, the question has to be asked whether entrusting a child to your local public school system could be characterized as parental malpractice.  A child gnaws a pop-tart — a pastry, fer cryin’ out loud — into the shape of a gun.  Suspended.  A six-year-old kisses a girl in his class.  Charged with sexual assault.  A child brings a key-chain to school, on which is a tiny pendant in the shape of a gun.  Suspended.

The radical left long ago figured out that lawfare and mob action work.  Irrespective of the merits of your cause, if you can threaten others with bankruptcy, with years of litigation, with its discovery, its depositions, its time wasted in lawyers’ offices, its emotional drain, then you can force them to change their behaviors in ways you’d never be able to if you had to rely on mere persuasion or even legislative action.  To borrow a maxim from Saul Alinsky, one of Dear Leader’s heroes, pick your target, freeze it, polarize it, personalize it.  If you dig around in enough public records, you’d be able to find the names and addresses of every single educrat involved in that disgrace in New Jersey.  They need to be sued, and every dismissal appealed and appealed again.  Their houses need to be picketed, morning and night.  Their political donations need to be identified and aired.  Their pictures need to show up on billboards.  They need to be accosted in every restaurant they go to eat.  If they so much as show their faces at a little league ballgame they need to have swarms of angry citizens in their faces.

It’s time, as Dear Leader encouraged his acolytes, to punch back twice as hard.

You Know Things are Getting Deranged When

You read an article like this, and you look at the April 1 dateline, and for the life of you it is impossible to decide whether it’s an April Fools gag.

Alas! a quick Google search reveals that the recently-concluded White Privilege Conference, held in Madison, Wisconsin, was all too real.  The “Stories from the Front Line of Education” workshop actually happened; it’s listed as #17 on the current workshop #2 schedule for March 27, here (if you screwed up and missed it, maybe because you couldn’t tear yourself away from the pearls o’ wisdom on offer at “If Elephants Could Talk: Reducing the Stress of Whiteness in Face-to-Face Relationships,” you had another shot at Ms. Radersma’s confessions as Item #2 on March 29).  I dunno; maybe it’s just my “alcoholic-like” whiteness but I have a hard time seeing how requiring students to master ideas like the conservation of momentum, Newton’s laws of inertia, the periodic table, or subject-verb agreement is or can be racially-tinged.  Grammatical number existed as a concept for centuries before the first sub-Saharan African was oppressed by anyone from beyond that continent.  The notion that differential equations either (i) are oppressive, or (ii) have a peculiarly racial component savors more than just a tiny bit of Trofim Lysenko.  The Thirty Years War was objectively important for any of several reasons, not the least of which was the cultural scarring of Central Europe, scarring which was pregnant with implications for how German society evolved and responded to the experience of Napoleonic conquest.  Not a bit of that has anything to do with anyone’s skin color, and yet it’s impossible to get your hands around 20th Century world history without looking very closely at what happened in the area that became Germany, and why.  Unless the suggestion is that darker-skinned students ought to go through life ignorant of such matters, I don’t see how asking of them that they absorb at least the outlines of that information is “oppressive.”

Enough about Ms. Radersma.  While we’re looking at some of the other workshop topics (many held in “Halls of Ideas” <excuse me while I go wipe the snot off my face from that last heave of laughter>), let’s not overlook the presence of the old stand-by, viz. it’s all the Jooooossssss’ fault:  “Jews, Class, Race and Power: How it’s all connected”.  Oh dear.   As if the rest of the conference weren’t sufficiently drool-inducing, from the Get ‘Em While They’re Young Brigade, we offer this gem (#13 on the March 29 schedule): “Exploring Intersectional Identity in Early Childhood (birth-age 8)”.  You can’t make this stuff up.

What you also can’t make up, and what is truly alarming, is the list of sponsors and hosts whose logos are proudly displayed on the conference website.  It includes the Wisconsin Council of Churches, the Sinsinawa Dominicans, and the Wisconsin Conference of the United Methodist Church.  There are also a few outright tax-funded operations, from the U of W Eau Claire to the University of Northern Iowa, and a laundry list of taxpayer-subsidized — because “charitable” — enterprises, like the Sierra Club (huh? Since when do trees and wildlife have “race” or “class” implications?  I’m unaware that a grizzly bear has ever “privileged” any person of any description when it gets sufficiently hungry or angry.) and what appear to be several private colleges.

So if anyone out there gives to the organizations sponsoring this tripe, you need to bear in mind that your money is funding presentations on “Jews, Class, Race and Power: How it’s all connected”.  I’m going to suggest that you might want to reconsider where you direct your charitable inclinations.  Do you really want to support nonsense like this that’s a half-jump, if that, away from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion?