We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

These four separate craters were man made, or to be honest, created by a bunch of government union drones, not refilled with blacktop or marked with an orange cone. The question is whether this is utter incompetence, blatant indifference, spite or a business transaction between government drones and local tire dealers. Luckily, government traffic engineers have been too swamped to properly time the lights on Chestnut Street for the last 20 years, so no one can travel faster than 15 mph anyway. Government lessens the pain of their ineptitude through their ineptitude in another area.

Jim Quinn

Linked to by the amazingly industrious and non-drone-like Instapundit, in this case in the person of non-drone Ed Driscoll.

Harvard – Jacks of all trades (and Jills, and ‘Julls’*) but Master of none

The University of Harvard has decided to eliminate the job title of ‘Master‘, (but not the degree title) for certain members of staff after protests that the title had connotations of slavery, although they maintain that there is no connection between the protests and the change, and degrees at ‘Master’ level are unaffected.

Harvard has not accepted that the use of “master” was a link to slavery, but it has responded to a campaign for a name change.
It will mean a change in job title for 24 members of staff – but will not affect other uses of “master”, such as a master’s level degree.

Of course, with one apparently trivial point conceded, other demands continue:

Student campaigners are also calling for a change in the official seal of Harvard Law School, with a sit-in being held this week.

The seal includes the coat of arms of 18th Century college donor Isaac Royall, who as well as establishing the college’s first professorship in law, was a notoriously brutal slaveholder.

Well yes, seals belong on the shore, in the seas, or perhaps at Lake Baikal etc., so I find some common (seal) cause, and harbour no ill-will.Seal

Otherwise, I have to say that I know next to nothing about American Universities, and I could not name the (5?) members of the ‘Ivy League’ with any certainty, but I do sense in this a canary dropping drowsily off its perch in the coal mine of self-referential academia as the flatulence builds up, with no outlet for its escape.

* Inclusive terms for those who are not ‘Jacks’.

Update: Harvard Law School has yielded to protests about its crest, which I assume is the same as the ‘seal’ issue. A flock of these, they are.

Death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

The governor of Texas says:

Justice Antonin Scalia was a man of God, a patriot, and an unwavering defender of the written Constitution and the Rule of Law.

Vox News says:

Replacing Scalia with a liberal justice would tilt the balance of power on the Supreme Court in a significant way, giving liberals a majority for the first time in decades.

Don’t blame us, we were only in charge at the time

“Yes, you hear constant denunciations of institutions, parties, leaders, donors, lobbyists, influence peddlers. But the starting point of the bipartisan critique is the social, economic and geopolitical wreckage all around us. Bernie Sanders is careful never to blame Obama directly, but his description of the America Obama leaves behind is devastating — a wasteland of stagnant wages, rising inequality, a sinking middle class, young people crushed by debt, the American Dream dying. Take away the Brooklyn accent and the Larry David mannerisms and you would have thought you were listening to a Republican candidate. After all, who’s been in charge for the last seven years?”

Charles Krauthammer.

Of course, for a certain type, criticising Barack Obama for presiding over the messes of the past few years is unthinkable. He was going to make the sea-level drop, remember.  And anyway, what happened was all the fault of Dubya, or “bankers”, or the Chinese.

All this leads me to link to an excellent essay by Gene Healy of the CATO Institute, penned a few years’ ago, called The Cult of the Presidency. The office of President matters far too much than it should for the sanity of Americans, or indeed other parts of the world. It could and should matter a lot less. The very term “in charge” ought to be questioned: we should not treat a country as big and complex as the US, full of people with different aims and ends, as a single corporation under a CEO who is, allegedly, “in charge”.

Juan Peron and Hugo Chavez won the N.H. Primary?

Seriously guys, did the 1st of April come early this year? Boy oh boy, and I thought UK politics was messed up. I was considering tagging this under “humour”, but there is nothing funny about large numbers of people taking Donald “Peron” Trump and Bernard “Chavez” Sanders seriously.

A good day in Iowa

There were six coin tosses in Iowa last night – to determine contested delegates in various parts of Iowa.

And Hillary Clinton’s people won all of them. Against the rather stupid socialist from Vermont – and his innocent-minded helpers (who do not seem to understand what sort of people they are dealing with).

Hillary Clinton reminds me of David Hume’s picture of a human being – a creature (according to Hume) whose passions always reduce reason to a “slave” (Hume’s fellow determinist Martin Luther used the word “whore” rather than “slave”). Mrs Clinton appears to have no conscience – no “moral sense” or “moral reason”. And neither do her servants. At least not about big things – such as, when Secretary of State, selling American influence (and secrets – who cares about dead intelligence officers?) for cash for the Clinton Foundation – a “charity” piggy bank for the family and associates of Mrs Clinton. And not about small things – such as Iowa Caucus coin tosses.

There is a seamless vileness about Hillary Clinton – if there is a straight way of doing something (big or small) and a crooked way Mr Clinton will always choose the crooked way – on principle.

“What do you mean I wiped the e-mails on my sever? Do you mean with a cloth or something?”

On the Republican side the three leading candidate were as follows:

The person who came third (Marco “Fox News” Rubio) basically argued that government had only got too big in the “last seven years” – and that taxation and government spending levels were about right under President Bush.

The person who came second (Donald “Juan Peron” Trump) argued that a “better manager” was needed for an even bigger government.

And the person who actually won the Iowa Caucus argued that government was much too big, and had been for a very long time. And that, for a start, 5 Federal Government Departments and 25 Federal Government Agencies should be abolished.

For example all energy subsidies should be abolished – including “mandates” for ethanol. To argue this in IOWA was supposed to be the kiss of death.

However, Senator Ted Cruz won anyway – which I did not expect.

Senator Cruz refused to give in or to sell out.

No doubt the establishment will continue to try and undermine Ted Cruz – seeking a return to the big government “Compassionate Conservatism” of President Bush.

But Iowa was a victory – whatever comes after.

A good day.

Ted Cruz wins in Iowa

Ted Cruz has won in Iowa. How happy should I be? How significant is it? Will he really abolish the IRS and “do away with the departments of energy, commerce, education, and housing and urban development.” For all those things I could forgive him an awful lot of anything else I might disagree with him about, and many other issues become non-issues anyway, given a strong enough economy.

Charles Murray on how facts don’t change minds (and some related thoughts of the sort he would probably approve of)

I have been reading Charles Murray’s book, Coming Apart.

I recommend this book, but I doubt that I myself will be reading every word of it, and certainly not every number. This is because I am already convinced by Murray’s basic thesis, which is that that America is becoming increasing divided along class lines. The temptations of government welfare, just as you would expect, have enticed the poor into self-destructive habits far more than the rich, because the rich, being rich, are insulated by their riches from these temptations. The rich have also resisted the temptation to smash up their families and raise their children out of wedlock, even as they mock those who still proclaim such notions in public. When it comes to family values, says Murray, the rich ought to be more ready to preach what they practice. All this strikes me as very true.

I was particularly struck by this, which is how Part III (“Why It Matters”) begins (p. 238 of my Penguin paperback edition):

The economist Maynard Keynes, accused of changing his mind about monetary policy, famously replied, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” The honest answer to Keynes’s question is “Often, nothing.” Data can bear on policy issues, but many of our opinions about policy are grounded in premises about the nature of human life and human society that are beyond the reach of data. Try to think of any new data that would change your position on abortion, the death penalty, legalization of marijuana, same-sex marriage, or the inheritance tax. If you cannot, you are not necessarily being unreasonable.

So it has been with the evidence I have presented. A social democrat may see in parts 1 and 2 a compelling case for the redistribution of wealth. A social conservative may see a compelling case for government polices that support marriage, religion, and traditional values. I am a libertarian, and I see a compelling case for returning to the founders’ conception of limited government.

In other words, as Perry de Havilland never tires of saying: metacontext, metacontext, metacontext.

Keynes himself changed his mind a lot less than he said he did, I think.

Like Charles Murray, I am a libertarian. But like Murray, and unlike many libertarians, I also believe that old school married parenthood is the best setting in which to raise children, even if, like all other libertarians, I absolutely do not believe that old school married parenthood should be legally compulsory or that any alternatives to it should be legally forbidden. I am not myself married, but a lot of my best friends are libertarians who are married and who are now raising children. They are my friends not just because I like them, but because I admire what they are doing. I love to attend weddings, and have become good at photographing them. Partly this is because I just have, and because I especially like to photograph the many other amateur photographers also present. But I also love weddings because I strongly believe in what is promised at and accomplished by such ceremonies. So, I like Charles Murray’s general ideological attitude to life.

But, I also strongly agree with Murray about how hard it can be to change such ideological attitudes. In particular, merely spraying facts around the political landscape does not necessarily change it very much. Rather does it merely, as Murray says, confirm in the minds of all who hear these facts that they have been right all along about what needs to be done about them.

But this does not mean that minds cannot be changed. Facts, if they are overwhelming enough, can make a difference, especially to people who are young enough still to be making up their minds. But when communicating with such people it is essential not to confine yourself only to facts, however overwhelming they may seem to you. You should also engage at the ideological level. You should state the metacontextual conclusions that you want people to arrive at.

If this does nothing else, it at least enables people to realise that they are in this or that metacontextual team, and to help to make that team a little bit stronger.

It is one thing merely to be a libertarian. You will make a lot more difference to the world if you also realise that a libertarian is what you are. Being a libertarian means have a much more restricted idea of what governments should compel and forbid than tends to prevail nowadays. But it does not mean refraining from having and expressing opinions about how to live wisely.

Is Donald Trump destroying Hillary Clinton?

Having here, as we do, lots of American commenters who are knowledgeable about the details of American politics means that it makes little sense for us Samizdatan Brits to be telling Americans about American politics. But it makes perfect sense for the likes of me to ask questions about American politics. And my question to all American readers who choose to care about it is: Is this true?

This being a Breitbart piece by John Nolte in which he claims that Donald Trump has, pretty much instantaneously and single-handedly, destroyed Hillary Clinton, by flinging at her the accusation that she is an enabler and political ally of a serial woman-destroyer. This mud has been floating around for decades. Everyone has known it. But thanks to Trump and his mastery of the social media, this mud has now, finally, been made to stick. For a quarter of a century the corrupt American mass media have been protecting the Clintons from all this. Now, that protection has been obliterated, by Donald Trump.

If that’s true, then good – very good – for Donald Trump. I have all the obvious doubts about this bizarre man that others have expressed, here and elsewhere. But, one of the basic rules of civilisation is that the rules made by big people, and indeed the basic rules of behaving decently, should apply to big people as well as to little people. The idea that the king is above the law is the very essence of lawlessness. And in the person of “The Donald”, says Nolte, this idea – that the rules apply to the big person that is Hillary Clinton – has finally being applied to and is having serious consequences for this appalling woman, if not in an actual court of law, then at least in the court of public opinion.

Nolte further argues – his piece is entitled “Bernie Sanders Rising Because Trump Annihilating Hillary Clinton” – that the rise of Bernie Sanders is not really a rise; it is merely the collapse of Sanders’s rival for the Democrat nomination, Hillary Clinton.

But: Is all or any of this true? I really look forward to hearing what our commentariat has to say.

Samizdata quote of the day

In a way, then, Palin’s speech was the perfect endorsement for Donald Trump’s campaign: an incoherent mess of angry, resentful sentiment, delivered in a way designed to provide the maximum in media spectacle. Palin effectively—and, okay, somewhat poetically—captured and amplified the identity-politics-driven nonsense that feeds both the candidate and his supporters.

Peter Suderman

In the interests of balance…..

The other day I linked to an item about Donald Trump’s economic illiteracy. Today, there is an item in the Daily Telegraph by Emma Barnett (whoever she is). She piles on Trump for the endorsement he has received from Sarah Palin. Her article is about how deranged most American voters, and by extension, much of the political class, are and is. But the article itself is an example of a different kind of stupidity, mixed up with a generous loading of condescension and superciliousness. And I just loved this about the approach Brits are supposed to take to what is going on Stateside:

If the US political stage were solely split between the reasonable wings of the Democrat Party, a socialist Bernie Sanders and hawkish Hillary Clinton, we’d probably be better able to relate.

So let me get this straight: the UK would be fine with an election between an economically illiterate fool (Sanders) and a probable criminal (Clinton). OK, we currently have an official opposition led by a terrorist-supporting sub-Marxist (Corbyn) and a government led by a patrician Tory of mixed accomplishments (Cameron), although “call me Dave” is probably not as venal, or as congenital a liar, as H. Clinton (we are talking in relative terms, in case people object that DC isn’t particularly honest). So yes, there is much about American politics that a lot of Brits, marinated in mixed economy juice and decades of socialism, cannot relate to, but please, don’t let’s assume that we’d all be quite content with a race between Sanders and Clinton for ultimate power any more than most Americans would.

Oh and by the way, if H Clinton is “hawkish”, I am not sure how that assessment fits with the running sore that is the siege on the Benghazi Embassy, and her behaviour over said.

 

How Hollywood portrays the 2008 financial crash, ctd

As The Big Short unfolds its racing narrative and the protagonists come to curse the authors of the disaster, and as the movie ends with the epilogue text running up the dark screen, we hear investment bankers, stockbrokers, and rating agencies condemned as pure frauds—criminals who should not have escaped jail. We never once—I know that this defies belief, given what has been published about the crisis—we never once hear government mentioned. Not the Federal Reserve, not the government-created, government-backed Federal National Mortgage Association or the Federal National Mortgage Association [Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac], not the legislation pressuring banks to make subprime loans. Not one word. A Martian somehow hearing and understanding this movie would not know that government existed—except for a few mentions of how government regulatory agencies were asleep at the switch. Capitalism, the private sector, through greed, stupidity, and sheer denial, brought on this epic collapse of the U.S. economy and endangered the world financial system, which had to be saved by governments.

It is impossible to see this as an innocent error. Perhaps in 2010, when Michael Lewis published his book—possibly, and I am stretching, here—a writer might have focused on the direct, immediate locus of the tragedy and missed its essential cause. But by 2015, when this film was completed and released, dozens of books and articles had laid out explicitly, irrefutably the role of government as enabler of the crisis. I might mention the account by a leading banker, John A. Allison, who went through the entire experience, managed his bank to save its depositors from the disaster, and then told the story in The Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure [McGraw-Hill Education, 2012]. There are many other accounts, such as “Who Really Created the Global Financial Crisis”? The Big Short is told as though they do not exist.

Walter Donway, writing in the Savvy Street website (which I heartily recommend).

It is worth noting that portrayals of how financiers operate are not always bad or glaringly lacking in context. As mentioned on this blog before by Brian Micklethwait, one of the best movies made about the crisis has been Margin Call, starring the likes of Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Irons. That film does not seek to claim that bankers are all evil bastards masterminding, well, evil, like a lot of jumped up Bond villains who are evil because that is what they are. Rather, it shows a lot of flawed, not always admirable but very human, well, humans dealing with a fuck up as well as they can. Even Wall Street, the Oliver Stone movie of the 1980s, is pretty good to the extent that the “Greed is good speech” contains some pretty serious truths (alas, undermined by what Gordon Gekko says later about how business is about a zero-sum game, which it isn’t). It seems the fundamental failing of The Big Short (written by Michael Lewis), both in the book, and the film made about it, is what it leaves out, as Walter Donway correctly notes. There is no fundamental explanation of why the crisis happened. Ask someone why the crisis happened and they blather on about “bankers” or “greed” gives us as much information about developments as when a person tries to explain the origins of the First World War by saying “warmongering”, “Kaiser Bill” or “bayonets”.

I might see the Big Short, but given my own Scrooge-like approach, will buy the DVD when it comes out cheap, or via that capitalist marvel Amazon Prime, to which I now have access. (Woot!)