Randoms

July 31, 2013

John Gray on Machiavelli:

A world in which little or nothing of importance is left to the contingencies of politics is the implicit ideal of the age.

The trouble is that politics can’t be swept to one side in this way. The law these liberals venerate isn’t a free-standing institution towering majestically above the chaos of human conflict. Instead – and this is where the Florentine diplomat and historian Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) comes in – modern law is an artefact of state power. . . . Western governments blunder around the world gibbering about human rights; but there can be no rights without the rule of law and no rule of law in a fractured or failed state, which is the usual result of westernsponsored regime change. In many cases geopolitical calculations may lie behind the decision to intervene; yet it is a fantasy about the nature of rights that is the public rationale, and there is every sign that our leaders take the fantasy for real. The grisly fiasco that has been staged in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya – a larger and more dangerous version of which seems to be unfolding in Syria – testifies to the hold on western leaders of the delusion that law can supplant politics. . . .

The true lesson of Machiavelli is that the alternative to politics is not law but unending war. When they topple tyrants for the sake of faddish visions of rights, western governments enmesh themselves in intractable conflicts they do not understand and cannot hope to control. Yet if Machiavelli could return from the grave, he would hardly be annoyed or frustrated by such folly. Ever aware of the incurable human habit of mistaking fancy for reality, he would simply respond with a Florentine smile.

This is a mediocre essay on a very interesting topic: what will happen when economics discovers evolution? I can’t wait to find out. I expect support for unrestricted, mass immigration to be one of the first casualties.

– Ridiculous explanations for the fall of Detroit continue. My favorite is still Yglesias’ suggestion that it’s because Detroit doesn’t have any good universities. Does anyone write better progressive propaganda than Yglesias? These explanations have led me to one important realization – I actually have some reasonably strong principles. For example, you couldn’t pay me enough money to write shit that stupid under my own name. I never really considered myself a principled guy.

– A new project from Nydwracu and company.

– Nick Land has a two-part series on the Arab world, which is worth your time.

– In local news, you be interested in the YouTube series (some of which is shot very close to my home) which starts here

Comparing the rich and the poor.

– Mangan passes on a story from Japan. I was there a few weeks ago. It was super hot and most buildings (especially offices) were barely air conditioned due to energy shortages. No one seemed to mind at all (other than to be very apologetic to foreigners). If that happened here, no one would go to work.

– The benefits of monarchy.

– Imagine what we’d learn in school if we got rid of the dumb kids.

– Here’s a non-gay discussion of racial profiling from Rod Dreher. Regardless of what you think of all this, it’s silly to pretend that the average person will sacrifice his own security so that you can feel better about yourself and your ever-so-correct opinions.

Emigration.

– The consequences of copyright laws.

Why Christianity won’t save the West.

Radish covers Henry Maine.


Review of “This Town” by Mark Leibovich

July 26, 2013

This book purports to explain how Washington really works. In a sense it does – though only by omission.

The book is a chronicle of the most noticeable people in DC – the most “important” politicians, lobbyists, reporters, consultants, etc. From this viewpoint, you get great insight into what these people are doing. Unfortunately, you therefore get absolutely no insight into anything else.

For example, 10% of the book is devoted to Tim Russert’s funeral. This sort of event is extremely important to these people. A few pages are devoted to David Axelrod shaving his mustache. Also an incredibly important event, apparently. (By the way, Axelrod may be the only guy ever who looks like more of a perv without a mustache).

On the other hand, this book takes place during a time of momentous developments that go completely unmentioned. (The book basically covers the time Obama has been in office). A grand total of zero words are devoted to financial reform, Obamacare, or any other policy initiatives. One sentence would suggest that Tom Coburn really cares about the debt and another would suggest that Obama supported gay marriage from the start. Otherwise, it’s all parties, jostling for TV time, and other vapid stuff. As Leibovich notes,

There was little slog to it, as there is in so much of political office: the policy debates, the town meetings, the committee hearings, the constituent visits. Screw that. Press is immediate gratification. It’s where most politicians truly live, the realm of how others see and judge them, the hour-to-hour score sheet of their massively external definition.

In other words, in six years of chronicling the important events of the most notable and important people in Washington, zero words of the book are devoted to any processes that even remotely resemble a legislative, executive or judicial process.

You can come to Washington, achieve complete success and never actually have to govern anything, other than perhaps a campaign. Even when he discusses campaign, it quickly becomes about how people will be portrayed by HBO.

Through this massive omission, which – also tellingly – the author doesn’t even notice, you learn more about Washington than you do from anything that’s actually written in the book.

Leibovich’s thesis is that “This Town” is run by what he calls “The Club.” The Club consists of 500 or so of the most influential people from a collection of reporters, public figures, politicians, appointees, consultants and lobbyists. The group includes “formers,” i.e. former politicians that make lots of money “advising.” These people don’t perform any obvious function beyond self-perpetuating:

But their membership in The Club becomes paramount and defining. They become part of a system that rewards, more than anything, self-perpetuation.

In this case the initial focus on Tim Russert is instructive. He’s basically treated like a god by those in The Club, but what did Russert actually do? I have no idea – is being on TV and asking innate questions all that impressive? And the funeral itself makes Leibovich’s point that:

No matter how disappointed people are in their capital, even the most tuned-in consumers have no idea what the modern cinematic version [Leibovich doesn’t suggest that there is any other version] of This Town really looks like . . . It misses that the city, far from being hopelessly divided, is in fact hopelessly interconnected. It misses the degree to which New Media has democratized the political conversation while accentuating Washington’s insular, myopic, and self-loving tendencies.

Alternatively:

Political Washington is an inbred company town where party differences are easily subsumed by membership in The Club. Policy arguments can often devolve into the trivial slap fights of televised debate [Leibovich doesn’t suggest that they start anywhere else]: everyone playing a role, putting on a show, and then introducing a plot twist.

Leibovich does a very nice job demonstrating how insular and unchanging this class is. You can’t get rid of any of these people. Many haven’t held office in a decade and yet they hang around when Congress starts a new session.

Washington—like high school—used to be a transient culture. People would expect to graduate eventually or drop out. But almost no one leaves here anymore.

The book chronicles party after party and jostling for spots on TV, or whatever, but it’s probably at its best when Leibovich follows around some specific members of The Club, including: Bob Barnett, “the doorman to the revolving door”; Harry Reid; Tom Coburn, who initially seems the most outside of The Club, but apparently has a mushy-spot for his relationship to the President; Kurt Bardella; Richard Holbrooke; Tammy Haddad; Mike Allen; and Trent Lott.

An anecdote from his time with Lott is insightful:

[Lott’s] tone shifted when I mentioned that [Ted] Kennedy had kept a letter from Lott hanging in his Senate conference room. It was a thank-you note Lott had sent to Kennedy after Kennedy had purchased a painting for Lott on Cape Cod. “Really?” Lott said quietly. “Did Teddy really keep that hanging up? I had no idea.” There was a pause on the line, and it occurred to me that Lott was choking up.

There’s lots of stories like this. Club members are flattered that other members actually like them. It’s mutual flattery all the way down. There’s no other there there.

Once in The Club, you basically can’t get kicked out and it’s incredibly easy to monetize your status. For example, when General McChrystal “resigned” following a sexual scandal, some comments he made about the administration to an “embedded” reporter, he immediately started a political consultancy, got a book deal (courtesy of Barnett), ended up on the boards of a couple large corporations, taught a graduate seminar at Yale, and made $60,000 per speaking gig.

Leibovich has some interesting asides on the Obama administrations relationship with This Town. The administration fancies itself as more substantive than those in The Club. It wants to remain above it all.

On the other hand, everyone in The Club worships the administration (“comic levels” of sucking up, as Leibovich puts it) and Obama’s style seems to work really well for those in The Club (particularly the lobbyists the administration seems to disdain and then appoint to good jobs). It creates an odd and interesting dynamic that someone will eventually be able to explain. Leibovich at least identifies the potential story, even if he fails to follow-up very well.

Leibovich also criticizes the media’s role in The Club. Their membership in The Club creates constant conflicts of interest. Maintaining their status requires them to not actually conduct any . . . journalism. Any they can’t seem to get enough of glorifying themselves:

Perhaps more than anything, Watergate—and All the President’s Men—made journalists a celebrated class in This Town unlike in any other.

Near the end, Leibovich touches the third rail of examining The Club’s view of the electorate. In short, the view is characterized by disdain. As Leibovich puts it, the consensus is that “The basis of our democracy is Forrest Gump.”

Frankly, that seems about right to me. Perhaps it’s generous.

If you’re looking for an explanation of how the US is actually governed, you’ll get absolutely nothing out of this book. No one seems to have any beliefs or opinions of any kind, but they’d all be happy to develop which ever one you want if it’ll get them on the Meet the Press.

In that sense, the book begs a fascinating question: if the people that are supposedly running the country aren’t actually performing any of the functions of governing, who is?


Randoms

July 25, 2013

Derb has fun with some terrible commentary.

– JayMan on American nations.

Academia and Zimmerman.

Diversity. That’s a fun site, but all the maps start to look a lot like that one after a while.

Chekov on being civilized.

– GBFM keeps taking shots at Christian churches.


Review of “Shift Omnibus Edition” by Hugh Howey

July 23, 2013

I couldn’t resist the sequel, especially since the final book is coming out next month.

Actually these books are a prequel to the first set of books. The first set of books were post-apocalyptic. The first two in this new set take place prior to the events of the first set of books.

It’s tough to maintain the magic when you reveal the events of the actual apocalyptic-scenario, but Howey pulls it off pretty well. The third book in the new set brings the story back up to date.

Essentially all the unanswered from the first set of books are answered in a way that isn’t lame (which is pretty remarkable).

It should be noted that in addition to being an interesting sci-fi scenario, the books are actually really good. They’re ultimately about what it takes to survive and the hard decisions that accompany survival. Howey is also very good at revealing just enough to keep you very interested throughout.

I can’t say anymore, since that’d ruin the reading experience.


Randoms

July 23, 2013

– Ron Unz has another very good article up on race, crime and immigration. There’s really no reason not to read the whole thing. He covers race and crime:

Indeed, the race/crime correlation so substantially exceeds the poverty/crime relationship that much of the latter may simply be a statistical artifact due to most urban blacks being poor.

White and black voting patterns:

Empirically, the presence of blacks causes whites to vote the “law-and-order” Republican ticket, while the presence of Hispanics or Asians seems to have negligible political impact.

Immigration:

America’s ruling financial, media, and political elites are largely concentrated in three major urban centers—New York City, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.—and all three have contained large black populations, including a violent underclass. . . .

Thus, replacing a city’s blacks with immigrants would tend to lower local crime rates by as much as 90%, and during the 1990s American elites may have become increasingly aware of this important fact, together with the obvious implications for their quality of urban life and housing values. . . .

In May 2011 Bloomberg was interviewed on Meet the Press, and explained that if he had full authority, he could easily fix the seemingly insoluble problems of a city like Detroit at no cost to the taxpayer. He proposed opening wide the floodgates to unlimited foreign immigration on the condition that all the additional immigrants moved to Detroit and lived there for a decade or so, thereby transforming the city. I suspect this provides an important insight into how he and his friends discuss certain racial issues in private.

And New York’s ability to ignore the rules that other cities must follow:

Put another way, if America’s other cities with large black populations had somehow managed to achieve the same surprisingly low crime rates as New York City then most of the high racial crime correlations that have been the central findings of this article would disappear. Conversely, if New York City were excluded from our current national statistics, many of the existing racial crime correlations would exceed 0.90. These are objective facts and well-intentioned analysts who sharply criticize New York City policing methods should recognize that they may face some unpalatable choices.

None of these ideas are new to readers of Steve Sailer, but Unz documents them very well.

As with so many of Unz’s other articles, he says some strangely naive stuff. For example,

The topic of my article was “Hispanic crime” and my research findings were original and potentially an important addition to the public policy debate. Yet the black crime figures in my charts and graphs were so striking that I realized they might easily overshadow my other results, becoming the focus of an explosive debate that would inevitably deflect attention away from my central conclusion. Therefore, I chose to excise the black results, perhaps improperly elevating political prudence over intellectual candor.

I further justified this decision by noting that black crime in America had been an important topic of public discussion for at least the last half-century. I reasoned that my findings must surely have been quietly known for decades to most social scientists in the relevant fields, and hence would add little to existing knowledge.

If you can understand how he could simultaneously consider his findings explosive and well-known for decades, perhaps your IQ is as high as Unz’s.

Anyway, RTWT.

– In totally unrelated news, how to protect your kid in “urban” schools.

– Has anyone else noticed that every time a politician is actually acting like a libertarian, Reason calls him a racist? Maybe they should stick to writing about how awesome Somalia is.

– Detroit is an old subject around these parts, even if it’s suddenly interesting to everyone else. It’s worth pausing to consider the extent to which the fall of Detroit is another small bit of revenge from the Soviets.

The amount of totally retarded commentary on Detroit from the left is staggering. For example, Yglesias – who lives like 40 miles from Baltimore, home of Johns Hopkins University – thinks Detroit’s problem was lack of universities.

– Speaking of progressives beclowning themselves, their commentary on this map has also been pretty funny.

– The leftward drift of evangelicals.


Randoms

July 18, 2013

On Congress:

Congress is dominated by intellectual lightweights who are chiefly consumed by electioneering and largely irrelevant in a body where a handful of members and many more staff do the actual work of legislating. . . .

many members of Congress are politics-obsessed mediocrities who know little about the policy they’re purportedly crafting and voting on….

That strikes as perhaps a bit overly generous. Do some of the members do the actual work of legislating? I highly doubt it.

That’s more like it.

Spandrell, FTW.

– Heartiste suggests a back to Europe movement.

Zimbabwe news of the day.


Edification

July 18, 2013

Scharlach doesn’t think we should discuss the Zimmerman affair because it’s not edifying.

In a sense, he’s right. All of the discussion of the affair has been about the racial aspects of the story.

The real racial aspects of the story are wildly uninteresting. One black guy killed another black guy. If that was an interesting story, Chiraq or Detroit would be the most interesting place in the world. Instead, it’s racist to talk about either one. It’s hard to overstate how boring these facts really are.

(You have to admit it’s pretty funny that everyone who’s pissed off at Zimmerman for being a white guy this week was super concerned that the Supreme Court would take away his “right” to preferential college admissions based on the fact that he’s black a couple weeks ago. If diversity provides nothing else, it certainly provides a fair amount of humor).

Far from being an innocent young honor student, Martin was a criminal, probably the aggressor, and perhaps committing a hate crime himself.

(As an aside, is that the biggest I-told-you-so in the history of the internet there for Sailer? He perhaps had an unfair advantage since he somehow discovered an obscure book by an unknown author that explained much of what is currently happening 30 years ago and then again in another book that was published right as this case broke. Too bad the guy is so obscure – seems like his views might be worth soliciting).

In racial terms, this story is entirely dog bites man. (Here’s the opposite story, which I’m sure you’ve heard lots about).

Indeed, if instead of reading the reports of the incident in the papers, you had instead immediately jumped to the most racially stereotypical conclusions, you would have been much more correct. Yawn.

The media has demonstrated that they’re desperate to find evidence of white on black violence. The fact that this is the best they can do tells you all need to know about such violence – i.e. it doesn’t exist.

And this where Scharlach goes wrong. While the mainstream story is truly unedifying, the fact that the mainstream story exists and so completely contradicts reality is fascinating and illuminating on many levels.

If the mainstream media (even in the internet age!) can get people – lots of people – to commit acts of violence on the street based entirely on an obvious lie, what else can they do? What can’t they do?

The results would seem to suggest that “public opinion” is as clueless and easily moldable as ever. Perhaps more easily moldable than ever. As Fred Reed said:

But what persuaded me that humanity really did descend from monkeys, and would do well to ascend back to them, was the public´s near-perfect lack of grasp of anything involved in this national soap opera. From the vacant visages of over-coiffed network babes, from the empty minds and overhanging orbital ridges of anchor men, came a veritable Pacific of incomprehension. I was fascinated. Reasonable behavior is not very amusing. . . .

The coverage was so craftedly witless and dishonest that it was easy to suspect a conspiracy. Stupidity beyond a certain point can only be a work of intelligence.

We may be progressing beyond the point of that being true anymore, which is a scary thought indeed.