Archive for the ‘Columns’ Category

Krugman on Stilts

January 27, 2009

Tom Maguire notes this remarkable bit of Paul Krugman effluence:

Next, write off anyone who asserts that it’s always better to cut taxes than to increase government spending because taxpayers, not bureaucrats, are the best judges of how to spend their money.

Here’s how to think about this argument: it implies that we should shut down the air traffic control system. After all, that system is paid for with fees on air tickets — and surely it would be better to let the flying public keep its money rather than hand it over to government bureaucrats. If that would mean lots of midair collisions, hey, stuff happens.

This is a spectacularly specious argument, even for Krugman. Air traffic control, whether practiced by government employees or a private company, is a specialized task with predictable outcomes. To borrow a line from Don Rumsfeld, there are very few unknown unknowns: pilots and controllers are trained to use a specific set of rules for flight and established terminology to communicate with each other. By its very definition, air traffic control is not a chaotic system–if it were, we’d have all those plane crashes Krugman bloviates about.

Krugman is laughably trying to sell the notion that the American and world economies are just like air traffic control: everybody involved knows exactly what they’re supposed to do, there are no unknowns (don’t start with weather regarding ATC; that’s an observable and to a large degree predictable phenomenon, at least in a short time frame and on the large scale), and thus they can be readily manipulated by the smartest experts who went to all the right schools and who clearly know better than all you rubes out there who drive SUVs and aren’t Nobel laureates.

This, of course, is nonsense on stilts.

No professor, no cabinet secretary, no “expert” of any sort knows anything close to “everything” about the economy. That’s not a slam on any of the above; it’s just physically impossible for that much chaotic data to be assembled and comprehended by a single human mind–not least because the data is constantly changing. Suggesting that a few Democratic politicians and their minions in the federal bureaucracy are even remotely capable of “running,” much less fixing the global economy is at best foolish, and is at worst a dangerous lie intended more for consolidation of political power than actual economic benefit.

Krugman, whether he’d ever admit it or not, knows as much. Today’s risible comparison has nothing to do with economics and everything to do with partisan politics. He’s just spouting economic truthiness to build support for an Obama-Pelosi push to buy enough votes to get through several election cycles–and in that, at least, he’s on firm historical ground. Party-building with other people’s money was the one true legacy of the New Deal, and the one that Krugman and his elected allies are most interested in reviving.

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Frum(p)

November 6, 2008

David Frum has weighed in on the election aftermath from his current perch at Canada’s National Post. Frum’s prescription is basically for the GOP to jettison Sarah Palin and her backwoods ilk, and glom on to David Brooks’ “bobo” philosophy in hopes of connecting with the electorate via a “less polarizing” message. This, Frum pontificates, is the “only hope for a Republican recovery.”

Frum has quite a history of being the GOP’s self-appointed Chicken Little. Most famously, his tome Dead Right proclaimed the intellectual and electoral barrenness of conservatism in general and the GOP in particular, and offered Frum’s own prescriptions for the renewals of both. The blurb on the original edition’s cover read, “The great conservative revival of the 1980’s is over. Government is bigger, taxes are higher, family values are weaker, and the Democrats are in power. What will the Right do next?”

Hilariously, Frum’s question was answered just over two months after the August 1994 publication of Dead Right, when a back-bencher from Georgia led a Republican takeover of Congress that lasted for nearly a decade and a half. Along the way they stopped Bill Clinton’s wave of tax increases, killed socialized medicine, ended Welfare as a permanent dole, balanced the budget for a couple of years, and later cut taxes under an eight-year Republican administration. They also did plenty of other, less salubrious things, of course, but one can imagine how far Frum’s jaw must have dropped when his soothsayings of doom were proven wrong before Dead Right–well reviewed by no less than Frank Rich–had even been remaindered.

Frum’s next book, somewhat apologetically titled What’s Right, included a foreshadowing of Frum’s recent dismissal of Sarah Palin and the flyover country folks with whom she connected with so quickly. In an essay on the not-then-completed 1996 primary campaign, Frum concluded,

Maybe we should be worrying less about the existence of elites and more about their quality, less about their excess of money and more about their deficiencies of public spirit. Maybe we should worry that American society’s primordial hostility to elites, its determination to force those elites to disguise themselves and deny their inevitable influence, nourishes their irresponsibility and stunts their sense of public obligation. Maybe we should accept as inevitable that those who care the most about politics can most effectively sway the political system, and should worry instead that this political elite itself is so easily swayed by charm and a home-state accent.

(Emphasis mine.)

What’s funny about this and Frum’s later calls to respect the authori-tay of the NYDC political class is how he again manages to ignore the actual facts on the ground while grinding his axe against the rubes down in Mayberry. Eight weeks ago, despite all the buffoonery of the spendthrift latter-day GOP congresses, the unpopularity of the sitting president, and a gale-force media wind at the back of his opponent, John McCain was not only leading in the polls, the wildly-popular Palin nomination had even erased the Democratic margin in the generic congressional ballot.

That all fell apart, of course, but not because the GOP went hard-over in pandering to the Bubbas, but rather thanks to two specific factors, one preventable, one not. First, McCain’s aides put Palin in a box and suicidally refused to let her out for anything other than what any idiot out here in the sticks could have told them were traps: two hostile, edited interviews with old media bigwigs anxious to discredit this dangerous (to the Democratic Party) new player at all costs. Then things got immeasurably worse in mid-September, when the combination of a financial crisis (with deliberate, but of course unreported Democratic malfeasance at its heart) and McCain’s own Senate-bred response killed any hope (no pun intended) of defeating The Messiah.

None of the above, you’ll note, would have been addressed by Frum’s call to repudiate the GOP base and move on to… well, something, perhaps a nice dinner party with some of Brooks’ “bobos,” where no one ever mentions all those grubby folks out there who don’t subscribe to the New Yorker. While there’s no excusing the incompetence of the McCain’s apparatus or the limitations of the candidate himself, it’s hard to imagine how McCain could have done much better than he did, given the economic crisis that stuck a knife in his electoral chances at the worst possible moment. No amount of pandering to the elites or “new class” hipsters would have prevented that.

One might even say that Frum is… dead wrong.

The Day After

November 5, 2008

On The Day After, Jonah Goldberg’s column, “Now Govern,” is as good as a place as any to begin:

[N]ow the Democratic Party is for all practical purposes America’s super-majority party. It has complete control of the presidency and Congress. It’s time to put away childish things and govern.

If Democrats govern from the center, good for the country. If they govern from their instincts, good for the Republicans.

I strongly suspect we’re going to see Jonah’s Option Number Two out of a unified Democratic government. After effectively fourteen years out of power, I do not think this bunch can stop themselves from indulging their fundamental instincts, i.e., abandoning our allies in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, yanking up taxes, slashing defense spending, regulating anything that moves and subsidizing anything that doesn’t, trying to rig election and media laws to maintain their current majorities, and seizing and/or nationalizing 401(k) accounts.

The latter, should the Democrats actually be dumb enough to try it (it’s already being pushed by leftie academics and out-there Representative George Miller of, you guessed it, San Francisco), would be an instant Waterloo for Hope and Change, at least in Congress. That kind of lunacy would never pass in a million years, even with this congress, but simply trying it would make the 1994 backlash against Hillarycare look like a mild disagreement over restaurant reservations. Given Barack Obama’s history of having a tin ear to leftie radicalism and going along to get along with the Chicago machine, I think we can expect to see plenty of such nuttiness trotted out in the next 18 months.

Here’s another big red flag to watch out for. The price of oil has dropped by more than 50% since peaking on July 14. What happened on July 14? That was the day none other than George W. Bush lifted the federal ban on offshore drilling (what, you mean you never saw that connection noted in the press? Sur-prise, sur-prise, sur-prise). Bush’s action popped the oil price bubble, and it’s been in free-fall ever since. This, of course, will not do in the eyes of the Democratic Party, regardless of the damage expensive energy does to our economy or the benefits expensive oil bestows on the balance sheets of our enemies. Appeasing the “global warming” cultists is far more important, so look for the next Congress to re-instate the ban on Day One, and then watch as gas prices start leaping up towards $4 a gallon again.

Then sit back as The Savior and his media minions try and convince the rest of us it’s all for our own good. I’ll bring the popcorn for that one.

While I suspect Obama will be a disaster for this country, I confess to being rather relieved at not having to even pretend to defend a McCain Administration for four years. After championing “campaign finance reform,” mostly in a huff over being out-raised by George W. Bush in 2000, McCain richly deserved what happened to him, namely being crushed by a wave of private money while priggishly insisting on having the taxpayers foot the bill for his own campaign.

Obama’s fundraising was certainly not all on the up and up, but his campaign’s success should have the salutary effect of ending “public financing” as anything more than a goo-goo slogan in presidential politics. Whether it will also lead to the more realistic ideal of full disclosure, well, I’m not holding my breath. Anybody who thinks Obama’s no-rules credit card fundraising will be investigated by an Obama Justice Department or Obama appointees to the Federal Elections Commission is also welcome to stay up all night waiting for the Tooth Fairy, for all the good it will do them.

Back when McCain was pushing McCain-Feingold, he used to dismiss conservative opponents who brought up pro-Democratic media bias by asking, if the bias of his media friends against the GOP was so severe, how was Ronald Reagan ever elected? As McCain should have learned by now, the reason was that Reagan could buy airtime to go over the press’s heads, most notably in the 1980 election-eve special that ran on every broadcast network (sound familiar?).

McCain’s defeat now serves as an object lesson to future GOP nominees on not one but two fronts. First, 2008 has demonstrated conclusively that Big Media is not just biased, it is part and parcel of the other side. Five of the six networks with news divisions (counting taxpayer-funded PBS), along with virtually every major newspaper and all the news weeklies served as free opposition researchers and unofficial press offices for the Obama campaign. That’s all the next nominee needs to know about how to treat with all of those organizations: as hostile forces.

Secondly, and in no small part because no non-Democrat can count on the legacy media to accurately report on either a non-Democrat’s campaign or on their Democratic opponents, it’s very clear that future Republican nominees cannot afford McCain’s self-righteous posturing on taxpayer funding. As McCain’s campaign aptly demonstrated, if you do, you’re going to be buried by the combination of your opponent’s money and the media’s cheerleading for that opponent. Felicitously, this problem has a solution that appeals to conservatives and libertarians alike: just take responsibility for yourself and raise your own money. You’d better, because otherwise you might as well not bother running at all.

There was plenty wrong with McCain the candidate beyond not having enough money and having to campaign against the press and a financial meltdown (although it didn’t help any that the press obligingly failed to point out said meltdown was caused by deliberate policy actions of the Democratic Party). McCain has always been obsessed with his own biography and reputation, and like many a decorated politician before him, always seems amazed that it isn’t enough to win a national election.

McCain proved again why so few senators (and almost no long-serving senators) win the presidency. Having been in the legislative branch for so long, where he had the ability to pick and choose which issues to focus on and which to ignore, McCain was completely unable to define any kind of platform for his campaign beyond being a “maverick.” As Mark Steyn noted today, “maverick” is an attitude, not a philosophy. That stance won him points with the press when he was poking his own party and its base in the eye, but once electoral push came to shove, that same press corps left McCain out in the cold to mumble about minutiae and process. You almost felt sorry for the guy, but he only had himself to blame for not accepting the political facts of life. In addition, McCain was simply a bad campaigner who could not shake off half a lifetime of Senate “collegiality” reflexes to take a political fight to the other side, and worse, he lacks the personal discipline to stay on message for more than five or ten minutes.

While he almost certainly would have been better for the country than Obama will be, McCain probably would not have been an effective president, and very likely would have signed on to the media definition of “bipartisanship” (i.e., Republicans deferring to Democrats) on most issues, and he would have whined incessantly about being criticized for it. I can’t make myself shed any tears over McCain’s failure. To be blunt, I didn’t want either of these guys to become president, and the real shame is that both of them couldn’t lose.

It’s telling that the legacy media is still rushing to condemn the one big thing McCain did right as a candidate, which was naming Sarah Palin as his running mate. Despite the onslaught of fanatical anti-Palin invective that’s swept the airwaves and internet over the past two months, Palin shored up a conservative base that had little interest in voting for McCain beyond, “Well, he’d be better than the other guy.” Looking at the numbers today, it’s clear that Palin’s presence on the ticket played a major part in denying Obama the landslide-level victory that so many in the media were predicting 24 hours ago.

Which brings us to the Attack Of The Snobs.

Much of the revolt of the allegedly conservative NYDC pundits against Palin can be credited, I’m sorry to say, on little more than snobbery. The leading offenders are David Brooks, who’s spent the better part of the past two decades looking down his nose at the foibles of flyover country for the amusement of the Upper East Side, and George Will, who it ought to be remembered regularly dismissed one Ronald Wilson Reagan as an empty-headed rube as far back as the late ’70’s. Brooks and Will carry a lot of weight in the big media punditocracy, and their sniffy dismissal of Palin quickly became accepted wisdom in the Manhattan/DC media corridor, even while Palin was drawing record audiences both in person and on television.

This tremendous error, I strongly suspect caused by simple fatigue over having to defend an inarticulate Texan president against endless attacks in newsrooms, dinner parties, and various social situations (“Oh, no, I’m not going through that again”), is most likely going to backfire, and badly, on the legacy commentariat. I hesitate to join in declarations of Palin as “the next Reagan” (as Glenn noted, at Palin’s current age, even Reagan wasn’t Reagan yet), but like The Ron, Palin’s popularity and appeal to the country at large trumps any derision from The Better People Who Went To All The Right Schools by a vast margin. Pointing out that Palin in 2008 was not an exceptionally qualified candidate for vice president (even while her qualifications outstripped those of the current president-elect) was a reasonable criticism. Getting on a high horse about her being a hick from the sticks with too many kids and not even a whiff of Ivy League odeur most definitely was not, and the latter is not going to age well among the actual electorate.

Obama supporter Mickey Kaus noted after the veep debate, “Big loser, again, is Hillary. In two years Palin will be so much better she won’t even be in the same league.” I suspect that will also apply to Mitt Romney and probably any other Republican who’s imagining himself mugging for the cameras on a flag-encrusted stage 1460 days from now. The lone exception might be Bobby Jindal, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Jindal winds up playing second fiddle to Palin’s star power, just as Hillary got left behind by Obama. We’ll see, but at this remote date, a Palin-Jindal ticket looks like it’d have a hell of a lot of upside.

Why Ayers Matters

October 5, 2008

The media is atwitter today over Sarah Palin’s pointing out something they and their candidate of choice would just as soon went unnoticed: Barack Obama’s history with Bill Ayers, late of the Weatherman Underground. Given the lack of coverage over Ayers, to say nothing of his connections to Obama, one might well wonder, what’s the big deal? Why would anybody care whether Obama was friends with some ex-hippie who protested the Vietnam War, way back when Obama was just a kid?

The answers is: Bill Ayers was more than a ‘war protester,’ and more than simply a ’60’s radical (let’s face it, Obama couldn’t set foot in a college faculty lounge without running into plenty of those). He was much, much worse than any of that.

During the late 60’s and early 70’s, Ayers and his wife Bernadine Dohrn–who herself gets way too little notice in any current reporting–were far worse than simple anti-war protestors. They were very much on the other side, actively working for the defeat of America abroad in war and the murders of Americans at home. Among many other crimes, Dohrn traveled to Cuba in 1969, where she met with Huyhn Va Ba of the Vietnamese Provisional Revolutionary Government. In that meeting, Dohrn and other Weathermen agreed to “wage armed struggle” within the United States. In appreciation for their efforts, Huyhn gave Dorhn, and later Ayers, rings forged from the metal of downed American fighter planes.

One wonders whether John McCain’s A-4, downed in Hanoi in 1967, was the source of either ring. One also wonders whether Ayers and Dohrn were wearing those tokens of fraternal solidarity when they introduced Barack Obama to the political world from their home some 13 years ago.

The excuse is often trotted out that Ayers and Dohrn weren’t so bad, since the Weathermen were so incompetent at terrorism that they only managed to kill a few of their own ranks, in a 1970 explosion. That’s errant nonsense. The bomb that destroyed a New York townhouse, and less sadly, the three Weathermen who were inside it, was intended to be set off at an Fort Dix NCO club dance. If you think Ayers and Dohrn and the other surviving Weathermen who were complicit in that planned bombing ought to be considered guiltless because the bombing was botched, you must also think Richard Reid should be set free because he too was an incompetent terrorist, one dumb enough to try and set off his shoe bomb with a match.

Of course, Reid’s incompetence, and that of Zacarias Moussaoui, are not a mitigating factors, nor should they be. Reid and Moussaoui actually got off easy. Both deserve execution; instead, they get to spend the rest of their lives looking at a blank wall in Supermax.

If any member of the press corps had a single ounce of nerve, they’d ask Barack Obama why the same fate shouldn’t have been visited on his pals from Hyde Park.

I’m not holding my breath. When the press mentions Ayers at all, it’s in romanticized terms. Too many members of our political and media elite still look on leftist terrorists as heroes, more to their abiding shame.

The number years that have passed since Ayers’ and Dohrn’s Weatherman days are likewise irrelevant; there is no statute of limitations on terrorism or treason. Another of Obama’s political patrons, William Daley, Jr. of Chicago, has the audacity (if you’ll pardon the term) to shrug off Ayers and Dohrn, saying recently, “This is 2008, people make mistakes. You judge a person by his whole life.”

No, Mr. Mayor, you don’t. Not when those “mistakes” are major crimes.

To restate: Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn should be staring at blank walls in Supermax for the rest of their lives. They are not cute. They are not admirable. They are not innocents who were swept up in juvenile enthusiasms. They are traitors who consorted with America’s enemies during wartime. They are terrorists who bombed the US Capitol, the New York City Police Headquarters, the Pentagon, and who tried to set off a bomb that would have killed and maimed dozens of American servicemen, their wives and sweethearts.

I have no particular illusions as to whether Obama will ever seriously be asked (much less answer) questions about why he ever associated with these two criminals. His flip and misleading answers to date suggest that he considers the question radioactive (as well he should), but the press, in the tank for Obama’s candidacy and still full of romanticism for Sixties “rebels” is fully intent on giving him a pass. Yesterday an AP writer even made the risible accusation that criticism of the lily-white Ayers and Dohrn is somehow “racist” (and while I’m not and probably never will be a McCain fan, this kind of crap is one of the very best reasons not to vote for Obama; four years of hearing “Racism!” uttered as a defense against the slightest criticism is not my idea of a healthy political environment).

Obama’s opponents in the primaries didn’t dare mention (much less criticize) links to the Weathermen; they were too dependent upon the loony Left for funding and activism. So now it’s left to McCain and Sarah Palin to ask the questions that others wouldn’t.

Obama’s canned response that he does not agree with Ayers and Dohrn’s actions as Weathermen is not the point; for whatever it’s worth, I believe him (although I’m not sure I’d believe a similar denial if issued by Obama’s mentor, Jeremiah “God Damn America” Wright). The point is rather why any sane American would accept being in the same zip code with these two criminals, much less launch a political career from their living room.

Despite press and candidate protestations to the contrary, Stanley Kurtz of National Review has credibly reported that Obama and Ayers had a significant working relationship since at least 1995 (Kurtz, doing the work American reporters won’t do, had to force a FOIA request to gain access to paperwork on the foundation Ayers apparently groomed Obama to join; the deliberate attempt to hide records from the Annenberg Foundation was naturally not mentioned in a NY Times Ayers/Obama puff piece today). Based on Kurtz’s work, there’s no question that Ayers was far more than “a guy in my neighborhood” to Obama.

So, again, the question to Senator Obama: these people are not just terrorists and traitors, they’re admitted terrorists and traitors, and they’re even still boastful about what they did and why. So why on Earth did you ever so much as say hello to either of them, much less launch your career from their parlor? Are your own politics so radical that you didn’t think there was anything wrong with people who assisted your country’s enemies in wartime, or conspired to kill American solders at a dance?

What does it say about you, and with the Chicago machine that birthed you, and with the media that’s protecting you today, that none of the above seem to be even mildly troubled by the criminal careers of Billy and Bernadine?

Answer: nothing good. And that’s why those questions haven’t been asked. It’s also why those questions matter a great deal.

Back To School

September 5, 2008

A while back, a leftie friend asked me, “So if the media is so liberal and so all-powerful, how did Bush or any other Republican ever got elected?”

My answer (and I’m paraphrasing both sides of the conversation from memory) went something like this: Elections are different. Elections, especially presidential elections, are the unique times in our political lives when both sides have chances to go over the heads of the media and talk directly to the electorate.

This is not exactly new or innovative analysis, but it’s still accurate, and I’ll never cease being amazed at how many supposedly-smart people in the press forget or willfully disregard that fact of political life. Wrapped up in their own cocoon of elite consensus, the media never fails to be shocked when it learns that all the rubes out there beyond the screen… don’t agree with them.

And boy, did they get a reminder this week. Mama Palin not only made their lunch, she ate it for them, too.

It’s hard to imagine two candidates more tailor-made for diametrically opposed constituencies than Barack Obama and Sarah Palin. Urban sophisticate Obama is, as Mark Steyn perfectly put it, “the new black best friend they’d been waiting for all these years” for upscale white liberals–a class that includes practically all of the national press corps who spent the last week in a frenzy over Palin. Conversely, Palin the Alaksan hunter looks like Ted Nugent crossed with Margaret Thatcher and your best friend’s mom, with a powerful dose of homespun country-girl sass thrown in to boot. You couldn’t come up with a more diametrically-opposed pair if you tried.

Obama’s eat-your-tofu pretentiousness plays perfectly to a press corps that thinks its job is to educate the rubes, while Palin’s pretentious-as-dirt manner and freezer full of moose steaks couldn’t be more perfectly calibrated to rub an urban New Class reporter any more of the wrong way. Her happy warrior persona also strikes a sharp contrast with Michelle Obama’s angry whining about having to pay back her student loans.

The differences are stark, and the over-the-top reactions from the media are telling. To take one example, Joe Klein and his ilk see a “community organizer” as a valiant leader of the proletariat, but most people outside of government, academia or the press hear “community organizer” and think, “somebody who pesters the government for other people’s money.” For folks who aren’t marinated in elite liberal concensus, the first time they heard that Obama spent several years as a “community organizer,” most thought, “Why didn’t he get a real job?” I’m sure that never occurred to Klein, which is, of course, why he’s having one of his patented sniveling fits over Palin’s speech.

Roger Simon (the pretentious one who spent years at U.S. News, not the good one with the fedora) also went back to his room to pout after being criticized over the Palin feeding frenzy. I’ll start taking Simon seriously on this one just as soon as he can show me all his clips regarding the John Edwards scandal–and I mean the ones during the eight months when that story was an open but unreported secret among a press corps that swooned for Edwards long ago (or, alternately, as Ramesh Ponnuru wrote, “I for one am getting awfully bored by all those New York Times front-pagers on [Palin’s] son’s military service”). Simon also can’t understand why he’s being criticized–doesn’t everybody know that it’s the media’s job to expose evil–and that by definition, all conservatives are evil?

It’s been a very instructional week all around, and not a good one for the national press. Shame they won’t learn anything from it.

Crushing Of Dissent at Thesaurus.com

April 18, 2008

Long-time VodkaPundit readers will probably remember my buddy Lein Shory, or more likely Lein’s creation, the Irate Savant. For those who haven’t been around so long, the Savant blog was an experiment in blogging as a creative device–and a highly effective one. Based on the comments and emails Lein received, I’d guess at least half of his readership was convinced that the Savant was a real person.

Since wrapping up the blog in late 2005, Lein has been hard at work transforming the Savant’s story into a novel. I was fortunate enough to get to read an early draft, and I can say without prejudice that it is very likely to be considered the first landmark novel of the blog era–but that’s not the point right now.

As a quick glance back at the original Savant blog will tell you, Lein’s title character has a fondness for writing with a distinctly Buckley-esque vocabulary (don’t read any political content into that observation, as Lein and I occupy entirely different political hemispheres). In his seemingly-endless quest for additional obscure words with which to populate the Savant’s first-person prose, Lein has been using the popular Thesaurus.com site as a resource.

Then came last Monday. First, Thesaurus.com went down for a long stretch, and after it came back up, a remarkable number of words were gutted of synonym entries, and some were missing entries altogether. Nonplussed, Lein started to do a little Googling. Here’s what he found, as posted on April 9 at Jezebel:

An observant reader was pissed off enough at Thesaurus.com to tip us off to this, and we share her rage. If you search for synonyms for the word “weaker” two main entries come up: Female and lady.

Apparently the Jezebel post, as well as a similar rant at Feministing got the attention of Thesaurus.com’s corporate owner, Lexico. From a post on Lexico’s blog dated April 9, written by one Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD (whom I’m sorry to say is the editor and compiler of Roget’s New Millennium Thesaurus):

The synonym “weaker sex” appears in many thesauruses for terms like woman, lady, and female. It is considered an informal, possibly derogatory, synonym for those words. Due to the way our search technology works, a search for weaker appeared to suggest that it was a synonym for female and lady. This was incorrect and has been fixed.

We take your concerns about language and society seriously (this is, after all, our business) and after reading feedback on the entries for female and lady, we carefully reviewed our editorial decisions. In light of how our customers use Thesaurus.com on a daily basis, we chose to remove “weaker sex” as a informal/slang synonym from our site. The entries now describe current American English usage more accurately and we feel we’re providing more helpful suggestions for those seeking guidance on word choice from us.

A quick look at Thesaurus.com indicates that Dr. Kipfer did a lot more than just fix an ‘incorrect’ link in Lexico’s database. There’s a screen shot of the previous “weaker” entry at the Jezebel link above, and you’ll have to go there to see it for yourself, because if you go to Thesaurus.com today and enter in the word “weaker,” you get… nothing.

No entries at all. No synonyms, no antonyms, no Tiny Tims. There’s nothing at all listed under the word, except a query as to whether you’ve misspelled it (and you haven’t).

As Eddie Murphy once said in an entirely different context, “Well, that’s peculiar.” Let’s look around for a few other words, eh? How about… malefactor. Only three synonyms are listed today, and no other useful information, but if one goes looking in Google’s cache for the same word, one finds a multitude of options that have now vanished into the ether(net).

How about a few more? Try comparing today’s Thesaurus.com entry for, say, omnipotent (there’s nothing there, the word isn’t even recognized) to the Google cache version, where there’s a whole page full of stuff. You can see similar rather astonishing edits for reprobate (cached version here), inamorata (cached version here) and inimitable (cached version here).

So, what’s going on here?

I’m hesitant to jump right out and call this an outright Ministry Of Truth descent into Newspeak. Relational databases are very tricky beasts, and I’m perfectly willing to believe that Dr. Kipfer and/or her minions simply made mistakes in correcting word links within Thesaurus.com’s internal systems while they were ‘cleaning up’ this business of the “weaker sex.” I certainly hope that’s the case, as I really don’t want to live in a world where the editor of today’s Roget’s Thesaurus is in the business of sanitizing the language in the name of pacifying pressure groups.

With that understood, even if the intentional part of Thesaurus.com’s “cleanup” were limited to the “weaker” and “female” connection, this is still troubling stuff. I’d personally have no problem if references to “the weaker sex” were tagged as archaic (which is certainly true) or even “offensive,” which is also obviously the case to most modern eyes. I do have a problem with people who are supposed to be caretakers of our linguistic heritage taking it upon themselves to write words and definitions out of the English language.

Looking at the missing words above, it looks to my eyes like most references to male or female characteristics of those words have been hacked out (along with many other references that presumably were lost in the database shuffle along the way). I should note here that Thesaurus.com has not bothered to make such changes that would affect other political points of view (check out the current entry for “unprogressive,” if you doubt me), but hey, I don’t want them to go editing those entries, either! I just want my language back.

UPDATE: Curiouser and curiouser. As commenter Scott discovered, the source of the pre-April 14 cached links is Roget’s New Millennium Thesaurus (of which the aforementioned Dr. Kipfer says she is the editor), while the current links (at least those that link to anything at all) are referenced to “Roget’s II: The New Thesaurus.”

(I am compelled to wonder if Wesley Crusher is a contributor to the latter, but never mind that.)

So, what’s the deal here? Lacking any actual announcement from Lexico, is this all due to a switch in databases? And if so, why? The “Roget’s II” appears to be singularly lacking compared to the previous version… could Lexico just be trying to move users to the pay-per-view version?

Inquiring minds want to know, but either way, I thank Scott for his detective work.

How Do We Fight?

July 30, 2006

One of the more pressing questions in the ongoing war against Islamofascism is, how do we fight these people?

It’s not just an academic question. The opponents of classical liberal civilization have become adept at using the West’s principles against us. The Geneva Conventions, for instance, were originally designed to protect both civilian populations and members of lawful armies from mistreatment. Terrorists from Lebanon to Somalia to Afghanistan, with no small amount of help from jurists and journalists in the West, have learned to turn those principles on their heads, regularly using civilian populations as shields from attack, only to turn and claim “atrocity” when attacks are carried out against terrorists hiding amist civilians. They have also used the West’s legal systems as defenses, claiming rights to which they are not entitled under the letters of prior treaties, but accepting no responsibility for their own barbaric treatment of captured Western soldiers or civilians.

These conditions are not likely to change. Gunmen in Mogadishu learned early that Americans do not attack women and children; they quite literally hid behind civilian women while shooting at US troops as a result. What then can the response be from the civilized world?

For the Israelis, when Hezbollah intentionally locates its forces within civilian neighborhoods and next to technically neutral “UN peacekeepers,” the answer is to attack anyway, albeit after sending warnings to the civilian population to flee (imagine for a moment the leadership of al Queda or Hezbollah even contemplating taking the same measures). In a world without many easy answers, their decision is understandable, if still terrible.

The question still remains for us: how do we fight? We don’t want to stoop to the enemy’s barbarism, but it’s even less palatable to consider acquiescing to that very same barbarism. They must be defeated, but how, and at what cost, both to us or to innocents in between?

In the end, I’m afraid the answer is still the terrible one: unwillingly harming innocents in the crossfire is still preferrable to surrender–especially when surrender means subjugation at best and annihilation at worst. It’s an awful, awful choice, but it’s one we’re going to have to make many times over during the harsh years of the Long War.

Some Students Take Crip Classes–Stop The Presses!

July 17, 2006

If you ever needed proof that summer is indeed the silly season for college sports, watching the newspapers in Alabama and a few points north over the last few would have settled your mind. After weeks of rumor and speculation, and shortly following a post of mine right here at VP, Pete Thamel of the New York Times rushed in his story on

… well, on not much. But it’s July, and there’s nothing else for sportswriters to talk about, so Thamel’s overheated article has been causing quite a stir in print and one the air since late Thursday. As for the realities of the piece, without further ado, a Fisking. My comments are in bold.

For Some Athletes, Courses With No Classes
By PETE THAMEL
The New York Times
Published: July 13, 2006

A graphic popped up on James Gundlach’s television during an Auburn football game in the fall of 2004, and he could not believe his eyes.

One of the university’s prominent football players was being honored as a scholar athlete for his work as a sociology major. Professor Gundlach, the director of the Auburn sociology department, had never had the player in class. He asked the two other full-time sociology professors about the player, and they could not recall having had him either.

It’s actually not all that unusual for a student to go through an academic career without having had a particular professor, especially at a big school. I myself never took a single course taught by my department head at Auburn, in aerospace engineering. In my case, it wasn’t for any particular reason; my schedule just never worked out for one of Dr. Williams’ classes. Nice guy, but I didn’t even meet him until my graduate exit interview. I don’t think I ever met the head of the aerospace department at the University of Texas, where I earned my masters degree.

That said, there just possibly could have been a reason why Gundlach hasn’t met a good number of Auburn’s sociology majors. Examining Gundlach’s ratings on the RateMyProfessors.com website (free registration required) as posted by his former students, it’s clear that he wasn’t going to win any campus popularity contests, even before the Thamel article was written. We should ignore any postings from 14 July and beyond, as it’s likely they were generated by notoriety from the NYT piece; suffice to say Gundlach’s ratings were in the dumper long before most people had ever heard of him.

Granted, RateMyProfessors is at best an inaccurate measuring stick, but as any college student will tell you, the word about which professors are the real jerks gets around quickly, especially among close-knit student communities like, say, football teams. Here’s what former Auburn player and sociology major Derrick Graves had to say about Gundlach in Saturday’s Montgomery Advertiser:

“It only took me a couple of days to figure out that I needed to get out of there,” said Graves, who never took one of the directed-reading courses that prompted the article. “Me and (Gundlach) didn’t get along. I’m not going to get into what the problem was — I’ll just say that a lot of us didn’t agree with a lot of the stuff he was saying.”

A recent Auburn graduate and former Gundlach student says, “He hates sports… He thinks athletic scholarships should not be given. He also completely badmouths Auburn University and The United States of America every single day.” Among the overwhelmingly-conservative Auburn student body, it’s not hard to see how plenty of students would avoid the ponytailed avowed-leftie Gundlach, athletes as well as non-athletes.

So Professor Gundlach looked at the player’s academic files, which led him to the discovery that many Auburn athletes were receiving high grades from the same professor for sociology and criminology courses that required no attendance and little work.

Eighteen members of the 2004 Auburn football team, which went undefeated and finished No. 2 in the nation, took a combined 97 hours of the courses during their careers. The offerings resemble independent study and include core subjects like statistics, theory and methods, which normally require class instruction.

Speaking of statistics, let’s stop here and do a little math.

An undergraduate degree at Auburn requires about 120 semester credit hours (in the Sociology Department, it’s exactly 120 hours; here’s a .pdf file with the university bulletin). Eighteen players taking 97 hours over a minimum of four years (the norm is usually five for football players, who almost all take a “redshirt” year without playing in games) comes out to 5.4 hours per player, or slightly less than one-and-a-half hours in an academic year.

I am at a complete loss as to how numbers like that are at all remarkable. 1.34 hours a year? So what? Even if you take one hypothetical player and assume he took three times the average, that’s only 16 hours over a full undergraduate career, a paltry 13.4% of all credit hours. Again: so what?

The professor for those players and many other athletes was Thomas Petee, the sociology department’s highest-ranking member.

Let’s stop again here. It’s obvious from subsequent reporting in Alabama (but conveniently left out of Thamel’s article) that James Gundlach is not a fan of Thomas Petee. While Gundlach denies reports that he was passed over for promotion in 2002 to department head—a job that did go to Petee—Gundlach’s statements to the press over the last few days that indicate he does not approve (to put it mildly) of being Petee’s subordinate.

The feud between Gundlach and Petee appears to be rooted in run-of-the-mill office politics and rivalries. According to a rather fawning portrayal of Gundlach written by Alabama graduate Evan Woodberry for the Mobile Register,

[T]he conflict is clearly rooted in his academic department, an unwieldy collection of sociology, anthropology, social work, criminology and criminal justice professors.
Petee, a criminologist who researches homicide and policing, was elected chair by a voting bloc made up of criminology and social work professors, Gundlach said.

Gundlach said Petee exploited his influence as chair, teaching directed-reading courses in fields outside his expertise.

“Petee was teaching more upper-division students in his directed-reading sections of sociology classes than the three real sociology faculty were all together,” Gundlach said. “If you look at where athletes and other students were going, they were going to Petee’s classes. They weren’t going to the regular sociology faculty.”

Gundlach said he and other sociology professors were angry that easy classes were watering down their major.

“We have a person whose primary area is outside of sociology teaching sociology classes and giving our department the reputation of being easy,” he said. “That attracts people who are looking for an easy major and easy grades.”

I had never heard of either Gundlach or Petee before last Thursday. I didn’t take any sociology coursework in college, but I can tell you now what I would have told you on Wednesday: the concept of Sociology being an intellectually-undemanding major did not suddenly spring to life after 2002, when Petee was named Gundlach’s boss. That’s been an open not-very-secret at Auburn and most other campuses since subjective pseudo-sciences were added to university curricula.
(more…)

Auburn, Rumors, and the New York Times

July 13, 2006

Summer is the “silly season” for college football fans. With little to no actual news coming from a practice field or stadium, fans boil in their own juices during the long summer months, and anticipation for the upcoming season is often overwhelmed by the nursing of old grudges and festering of endless theorizing upon the evils of rival teams. This year, the ongoing volleys of accusations among followers of Auburn University (a faction in which I am counted) and the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa have been spiced up with a new player on the scene: The New York Times.

In or around early June, a reporter from the Times approached Auburn, stating that the paper wanted to do a story on AU’s new academic center for athletes. Auburn, which had recently been honored as the only public university BCS football program to earn top marks in the NCAA’s new assessments of academic performance, granted the request. According to an informed source at Auburn, upon arrival, the reporters, “came in asking to do a piece on the new academic center, and essentially backdoored their way in to do a piece on something else. The NYT’s initial contact and misleading [nature] of it leads me to believe that they had a specific agenda.”

According to other sources in and around AU, the Times is planning to run a story critical of athletes taking “independent study” coursework. The Times story remains unpublished at this point (the lead reporter is believed to be Pete Thamel, who co-wrote an article about athletic recruits at Auburn and other schools late last year), but the threat of its release and previous experiences with Times hit pieces moved Auburn to announce an internal investigation ahead of its publication. Thamel has not responded to an emailed request for information on his reporting.

Auburn’s press release reads, in part:

In May, a complaint was made through the Ethicspoint system alleging that a single professor gave grades to student athletes for courses that required little or no work.The Office of the Provost takes any concern related to academic processes at the University seriously. As a result, on June 5, I appointed a committee to investigate the anonymous claim. The work of the committee is not complete given the number of personal interviews that must be conducted.

The Committee will issue a report upon the completion of its work, and that report will be made public.

 

It is assumed, but not known, that this allegation is at least part of the unpublished Times story.

As regards the substance of this or other allegations, I am not able to draw any informed conclusions, in no small part because I have very little actual information. For now, at least, I know as much about the public accusations as you do: an anonymous complaint has been filed, and the university is investigating. Everything beyond that is an undulating mass of rumor, and your guesses are probably at least as good as mine.

That said, the actions of Times employees regarding the story, going well beyond the initial misrepresentations of the lead reporter, are frankly more interesting at the moment. They suggest at the very least that the Times has not approached or pursued the story in the manner of a disinterested observer.

Times staffer Warren St. John, the author of a hugely successful and critically-acclaimed book about his experiences as an Alabama fan, maintains a sports blog and has posted to the popular Tider Insidermembers-only message board for several years under the screen name “wsj.” I should note that there’s nothing at all wrong with that; to my knowledge St. John has long-since identified himself and his occupation to other posters on the site, and I don’t think there’s anything inappropriate about his participation in general at TI or other sports boards.

That said, St. John apparently leaked the existence of ongoing Times reporting on Auburn to fellow members of the TI message boards.

On June 29, “wsj” posted the following to “The Quad,” a TI section devoted mostly to political discussions. The context was ongoing controversy over the Times’ most recent decision to publish classified information about US methods of tracking terrorist funding. The Times’ actions in that case were not well-received among the board’s readership.

“I predict soon enough a bunch of you homers will be praising the NY Times’ reporting and if I’m wrong call me on it.”

I found the last to be a remarkable statement, given the Times’ famous reluctance to admit to work on unpublished stories. Times staffer David Cay Johnson flew into spluttering online rage recently when pro-blogger Cathy Seipp wrote about being contacted by a Times reporter on a political story, and published her own account before the Times reporter could go to press.

St. John, who also posted on June 22 that a female NCAA investigator had been spotted in Auburn, has not responded to emailed questions about this matter sent to his address at the New York Times.

Also on June 29, a TI member with the screen name of “OscarGrouch,” whose bona-fides were vouched for by the board’s moderator, posted the following:

New York Times AND the NCAA have been in the Barn [Auburn], doing investigations. Look for the NYT part of it to hit papers — including, I would imagine, The Tuscaloosa News — sometime late next week/two weeks from now.

The identity of “OscarGrouch” is unknown. By early this week, speculation was flying on various boards that the OscarGrouch missives had been posted by David Wasson, the executive sports editor of theTimes Company-owned Tuscaloosa News.

To put the accusations in a context relatable to those unfamiliar with the Byzantine turns of the Auburn-Alabama rivalry, an employee of the Tuscaloosa News spreading rumors about Auburn on an Alabama fan site would be roughly equivalent to, say, a Boston Globe columnist bragging on DailyKos that the Times was about to come out with a damning expose on George W. Bush.

When contacted by me by email, Wasson flatly denied being “OscarGrouch,” and I have no reason not to take him at his word. I went on to ask a number of follow-up questions, specifically, what involvement he’d had in any New York Times reporting on Auburn or Alabama, whether he’d ever posted to TI, and if he had, whether he’d identified himself to other posters.

Wasson declined to answer any of these questions. On the subject of New York Times reporting, he replied, “That information, if there is any information, is proprietary,” which came as a particularly delicious irony, given the Times Company’s record of revealing national security information. Secrecy is apparently for me but not for thee, so long as I’m an employee of the Times Company.

Wasson also declined to answer any further questions about his postings to message boards, saying, “Seeing as how any answers I could offer you will very likely end up on any number of internet fan sites, I respectfully decline to answer your numerous questions.”

When I replied, “I have indeed posted to the Bunker [an Auburn fan board] and other sites, I should note at all times under my real name. I fail to see how that makes any difference in this case, but I have found that people working in the mainstream press tend to be much keener on asking questions than answering them,” Wasson did not respond.

In a Wednesday interview with Birmingham columnist and radio host Paul Finebaum, Wasson said of TI, “I’m not going to say that I have never posted on there before,” and stated that he’d had an account on the site for over seven years. Regarding revealing information about any ongoing New York Times reporting, he said, “That information is pretty proprietary, and if it were to come out ahead of time, I imagine some people would be pretty upset about it.”

Wasson has not responded to questions about whether other Tuscaloosa News employees may have been involved in the unpublished Times article, or whether any had posted the “OscarGrouch” notes or other online rumors about Auburn. It’s not hard to see why AU fans are suspicious. As a Times-owned newspaper, Tuscaloosa News staffers could well be aware of an ongoing investigation into their hometown team’s biggest rival. The temptation to tell somebody about it could well have been irresistible.

When asked his opinion about the propriety of journalists posting rumors about opposing programs to fan websites Finebaum himself says,

I think it is highly inappropriate. If someone wishes to post under their real name – and I can’t imagine why anyone would – that’s okay by me. But to post under bogus names on subjects directly related to their profession is beyond imagination. What somone does in their private lives is one thing. In other words, if you want to get on a message board that deals with the breeding of poodles, then, who cares? It has nothing to do with your work.

However, to spread gossip about a college, in this case, Auburn, is off the charts. It’s especially wrong if you have posted some gossip you may have heard in your role as a journalist.

As I said above, I have no idea right now about how accurate any of the announced or rumored accusations may be. But given the considerable recent history of arrogancepoor judgment, and outright deceit on the part of the “newspaper of record,” I can safely say that it’s going to take a lot more than what Finebaum acerbically describes as “a take out piece in the [New York] Times.”

 

The Choices They’ve Made

May 21, 2006

I’ve had choices, since the day that I was born
There were voices, that told me right from wrong
If I had listened, I wouldnt be here today
Living and dying, with the choices I made.

–Billy Yates and Mike Curtis*

As noted elsewhere, Ray Nagin was improbably re-elected mayor of New Orleans yesterday. Glenn is unimpressed, but I think he and others are missing part of the mark on this one. He’s quite right when he says, “Louisiana’s political class isn’t just greedy — it’s greedy and stupid,” but Ray Nagin is not a part of Louisiana’s political class. That distinction belonged to his opponent, Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu, the brother of US Senator Mary Landrieu and son of the last white mayor of New Orleans, Moon Landrieu. This was only Nagin’s second election, and he campaigned the first time as a political neophyte running against the old corrupt machine of former mayor Marc Morial (the extra-legal machinations of which were, not coincidentally, the only reason Mary Landrieu was ever elected to the Senate).

I’m not here to defend Ray Nagin. I think he acted stupidly in the run-up to Katrina, his buffoonery in the aftermath speaks for itself, and I have low expectations for his second term. Frankly, after being in the city a couple of weeks ago, I was not expecting Nagin to win. Like a lot of bad choices Louisianans have had to make in the past, this election came down to incompetence (Nagin) vs. corruption (Landrieu and the old Democratic machine).

After seeing the state of the city and snails-pace of the recovery, I figured the scattered electorate would be happy to settle for a corrupt but quicker rebuilding process in the hands of the old guard. Add to that Nagin’s recent pandering to Al Sharpton racialism (he was originally elected with a strong majority of the white vote), I fully expected Landrieu to pull in almost all the white vote and enough of the black vote courtesy of the Democratic machine to win easily.

Instead, Nagin was re-elected. Whether the vote reflected a genuine disgust with old Louisiana politics or was more a case of choosing sides racially, I don’t know, and in the end it doesn’t matter. The scattered tribes of NOLA have made their choice, and they’ll have to live with the good and the bad.

Now for the hard part.

I’d mentioned something an oyster shucker said to me last week, “If the military had gotten here when they should have,” referring to the much-discussed ‘late response’ of the federal government after Katrina. His unstated follow-on was, I feel safe in assuming, ‘… a lot of bad things wouldn’t have happened.’

He was almost certainly right, but when you consider what that statement really means, it says a lot more about the state of New Orleans on August 29, 2005 than it does about the Feds. I’ve been through a lot of hurricanes in my life, but I’d never seen anything like the complete societal breakdown that occurred after Katrina.

Eloise in 1975 and Opal in 1995 both wrecked, shut down and isolated my hometown of Enterprise in south Alabama. They and other storms did even worse damage to a lot of other towns in the area. Nearby Geneva and Elba have both been flooded as badly as New Orleans was, and on multiple occasions. All of those towns have substantial black populations, and much of Geneva and Elba are as poor as poor gets. None of them ever needed the National Guard to step in and end a “Mad Max” reign of chaos.

(Just an aside here.)

(We’ve all read and heard innumerable complaints about how long it took the Guard to get in and start cleaning up. Let’s set aside the physical realities of mobilizing troops or traveling on shattered highways, and just assume for the moment, that oh, say 24 hours before Katrina had hit, George W. Bush had issued the following statement:)

(“My fellow Americans, a category-five hurricane is bearing down on New Orleans. Because of the high likelyhood of looting and violence, and because the local authorities are not competent enough to conduct an evacuation or to adequately shelter those who cannot evacuate, I am sending in the National Guard immediately to preserve order and public safety.”)

(Can you even imagine what the reaction to that statement would have been? But I digress.)

This isn’t fun to say, but it still has to be said. The worst destruction of Katrina was man-made. We can fix broken levees. We can rebuild flooded houses. We can’t, however, fix a broken society as easily.

Louisianans in general and New Orleanians in particular made too many bad choices for too long. They acquiesced to governmental corruption and incompetence with a shrug and the inevitable, “that’s just Louisiana.” They allowed an unfettered criminal class to fester and thrive, until it literally took over the city. They put too much trust in luck and “the great elsewhere,” as local author Chris Rose puts it, to bail them out when things were at their worst.

And so they lived and died with those choices.

Now it’s time for them to choose again. I can’t speak for the rest of the country, but what the heck, I’ll speak for myself and we’ll see who agrees.

Here’s the deal, Louisiana. We’re going to help you. We really are. You are our neighbors and our countrymen and our friends, and we love you today as much as we ever did, in spite of and in no small part thanks to all the weirdness and flaws down your way. It’s hard to see it from where you are, but we’re helping you now, in our slow and ponderous way. We’re not going to let it end like this.

But like every deal, this one has two parts, and I’m going to state yours very bluntly: You people are going to have to get your act together. You’re going to have to end a lot of the old ways of doing things. You’re going to have to get serious about corruption. You’re going to have to get serious about crime. You’re going to have to get serious about joining the 21st century economy. You’re going to have to pick up the trash and take care of your yard, and nag your neighbor to take care of his. Yes, all that is going to change you, and we know you don’t like to change, but you can’t go back now.

One thing I can promise you is, you cannot go back to the way things were Before. You have been down that road, and you know exactly where it ends.

* The definitive version of “Choices” was of course recorded by George Jones. The song’s been on my mind since I heard the Driskill Mountain Boys play it at Jazz Fest two weeks ago.