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February 04, 2011

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Why are some baseless theories crazy, while others become conventional wisdom?

Glen Beck's conspiracy theory about the spread of Islamic uprisings is unsupported by any evidence. Brendan rightfully calls it crazy.

OTOH most media are reporting that the uprising in Egypt came about simply as a reaction to the uprising in Tunisia. In effect, they're affirmatively reporting that there has been no conspiracy. That conclusion is equally speculative IMHO.

Here are a couple of examples where event that were thought to be natural and unplanned now seem due to deliberate intent. The Free Speech Movement that occurred when I was at Berkeley was attributed to a reaction against the Administration shutting down certain areas where student groups could promote their views. However. a book by one of the FSM leaders (David Horowitz) reports the FSM leaders had planned to create a student uprising. They used the Administration's action as an excuse.

In high school, I was taught that WWI was an unplanned reaction to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, given a world with systemic causes, include arms races and military alliances. However, a history book by Barbara Tuchman says that the cause of WW1 was that the Kaiser wanted war. He used the assassination as an excuse to get the war started.

Chait is an unfortunate spokesman against offensiveness; his article begins by calling Pete Wehner "Bush administration Minister of Propaganda".

Chait has a valid point that Limbaugh claimed Obama was actually trying to foment an economic collapse. I think Limbaugh's accusation is unjustified and ridiculous. However, it should be noted that Dems routinely accuse Reps of wanting whatever bad consequence the Dem's preferred government program is supposed to prevent. E.g., there was a recent example on this blog where a supporter of Obamacare accused an opponent of wanting some huge number of people to die.

Chait then jumps to a supposed connection: wanting intentional harm to Americans supposedly "dovetails" with the notion of Obama as an alien subversive. This supposed dovetailing is wrong. After all, Dems often accuse Reps of wanting intentional harm, yet they don't accuse Reps of being alien subversives.

The wrongest and ugliest part of Chait's article is his accusation that Limbaugh is a racial demagogue. If that were so, I don't think a black man would have been working as Limbaugh's sidekick for many years. I don't think Professor Walter Williams would agree to occasionally substitute for Limbaugh. I don't think Clarence Thomas would have consented to officiate at Limbaugh's wedding.

It's true Limbaugh asserts that there is widespread reverse racism. But, that's not because Limbaugh is a racist. It's not because he's playing on his audience's supposed racial paranoia. It's simply because Limbaugh actually believes that there is widespread reverse racism. Evidently Chait believes that reverse racism is rare.

If Limbaugh is correct does that make Chait a racist? Of course not. That would just make Chait wrong. And, if reverse racism is actually rare, then Limbaugh is wrong. However, being wrong doesn't make one a racist.

Obamacare is very complex. Few questions about it are black and white.

E.g. Does it "cut benefits that were previously provided to all people on Medicare"?

Since it does cut Medicare Advantage benefits, maybe this is true. OTOH not all people on Medicare use Medicare Advantage, so maybe that's not the type of benefit cut the question refers to. If this is the intended meaning of the phrase "provided to all people on Medicare", then the question seems designed to hide an area where benefits were unambiguously cut.

Take this example: Does Obamacare "allow a government panel to make end-of-life decisions for people on Medicare. In a sense, the Medicare law already does this. When a lack of money or a lack of available medical resources requires some real-world limits on benefits, some government panel decides how the money and medical resources are allocated. Obamacare may not specifically address this aspect of Medicare, but it doesn't undo it either. So, the question of whether Obamadare "allows" these end-of-life decisions is ambiguous.

A format purporting to test Americans' knowledge doesn't invtte a sophisticated discussion of uncertain and ambiguouse aspects. Rather, it reports as if these matters were unambiguously true or false. In short, for complex areas like this, the chosen format is a type of spin.

Another ambiguous question in the Kaiser survey asks whether Obamacare "creates a new government run insurance plan to be offered along with private plans". Of course, the law does not create any such federal plan. That was a major part of the negotiation when the bill was passed. OTOH the law expects the states to set up and operate its new insurance "exchanges", in conformity with with Washington's dictates about terms and prices.

Do these insurance exchanges constitute a "new government run insurance plan"? If Kaiser really wanted to educate the public, they would have explained these various aspects, rather than provide unhelpful answers that depend to a considerable degree on semantics.

I agree there are some wording issues with the questions.

Chait's impression that Limbaugh is a racist may be related to liberal "rules" regarding truths that may not be spoken. E.g.,

But academics can be selective, too, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan found in 1965 when he warned about the rise of unmarried parenthood and welfare dependency among blacks — violating the taboo against criticizing victims of racism.

"Moynihan was shunned by many of his colleagues at Harvard as racist,” Dr. Haidt said. “Open-minded inquiry into the problems of the black family was shut down for decades, precisely the decades in which it was most urgently needed. Only in the last few years have liberal sociologists begun to acknowledge that Moynihan was right all along.”

Similarly, Larry Summers, then president of Harvard, was ostracized in 2005 for wondering publicly whether the preponderance of male professors in some top math and science departments might be due partly to the larger variance in I.Q. scores among men (meaning there are more men at the very high and very low ends). “This was not a permissible hypothesis,” Dr. Haidt said. “It blamed the victims rather than the powerful. The outrage ultimately led to his resignation.

When Limbaugh says that black children were the instigators of the school bus fight, Chait probably sees that as blaming the victims, even though Limbaugh was accurate. In Chait's world, I suspect, blacks are always the victims. Similarly, pointing out widespread reverse racism would be seen by Chait as blaming the victim, even though Limbaugh might be correct.

IMHO, the liberal unwillingness to see things as they are does inadvertant harm to black Americans. E.g., Chait might call me a racist for pointing out that blacks lag whites in school by an amazing four years. Chait might call it criticizing the victim if one said that the main cause of this problem was black culture. However, if that's the reality, then programs focused elsewhere, e.g. on white racism, will fail to help black students.

There seems to be a lot of blogs out there on the left that were shredding Reagan's legacy on the cusp of his 100th birthday.

Some writer at the WaPo listed five myths of his presidency, and the one that stands out the most was trying to convince readers his approval rating only averaged 52%, thus diminishing his popularity. Never mind the fact that his approval was in the 30s up until 1983. Or the fact that he beat Jimmy Carter 51%-41%, and Mondale 58%-40% in the popular vote (or that Reagan won all states but Minnesota - a state he lost by 3000 votes).

I don't know, it's kind of sad.

Conservatives, for their faults, do canonize him beyond what he deserves. He wasn't a saint, nor infallible. After all, how could Reagan simultaneously end the Cold War with the USSR if communism was an inherently flawed economic system to begin with?

For what it's worth, I would have voted for Reagan if I could have. Then again, I don't vote anymore.

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