October 31, 2005

Pictures of Key West During and After Wilma

These photos of Wilma's devastation are courtesy of a friend who stayed on the island during the storm, for want of better judgment. The pictures are of a place that people who have been to Key West might know--a local eatery called Louie's Back Yard--together with an absolutely awesome picture from my friend's balcony during the storm surge.

Louie's Back Yard

What's left of Louie’s Back Yard
My neice was a waitress there. One could sit on the deck, sipping something stronger than cola next to a huge Banyan tree, to watch the ships sail in and out of the channel at dusk:

Channel at Dusk

Here's a picture of the Back Yard during better times, with a couple of attractive locals:

Banyan Tree

Dog Beach

What's left of Dog Beach
As seen from what's left of Louie's Back Yard. Dog Beach was a small stretch of public beach, kept that way for the sake of the neighborhood's pooch population.

Storm Surge

This is a picture from my friend's balcony, taken as the storm surge was rolling in. Everything to the right of those posts ought to be landscaping and garden, not sea.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to The Jawa Report)

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October 30, 2005

Goodbye Harriet

Well, I was sympathetic to the Miers nomination for no better reason, really, than that it brought back my youth a bit. But to be honest, except for the fact that I was young my youth wasn't especially noteworthy. The decision made here is going to be between one guided by cronyism (or loyalty/friendship, to put it in a softer light) and outright elitism. Harriet was probably a 700 or so on the scale of logic, but not much more than a 500 in verbal ability, so she's tanglefooted. The next nominee will be at least a 700 in both verbal and logic/math, which is a good thing for the country. But at that level bear in mind that he/she won't be very cognizant of the common weal. Said nominee will have been in special classes from the time he (it will be a "he") learned to read, and may not have actually bought a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk in quite awhile. Sobeit; it's the very essence of the Jeffersonian ideal whereby the country is informed and led by a meritocracy composed of exceptional leaders and scholars emerging from the mass of humanity.

It is, a turning point.

The danger of a meritocracy is that it's always close to turning into a plain old oligarchy, because the perquisites of power are often the prerequisites of achievement. Well, that's the trend unless vigilance is able to keep the playing field level by rigorous adherence to merit, pragmatically conceived.

But though we are at a turning point, we are not at the apex of history.

In fact, the version of liberalism that guides the West is deficient in comparison to the version of totalitarianism that opposes it. One wouldn't think so, given our confidence that a misstep isn't even possible. The only segments of this culture that have begun the painful graduation from naive liberalism to demosophia are those that are in direct contact with the enemy, in Iraq, and those with whom they are in direct contact, in the blogosphere. No one else is even at the yawning and stretching phase of awakening.

And in such a situation an "end-around" is more than conceivable; it's almost inevitable. While we focus on Iraq, Iran torques and strains. The American Civil War, which pitted ancient contra-liberal institutions like slavery against the liberal ideals of the American Founding has become a World Civil War, or very near. The strategy of the enemy will not be to confront our strengths directly, but to exploit the divisions clearly manifest in our own domestic argument. This is such a certainty as to be beyond debate. Qutb's deepest insight was that the West was plagued by an "awful schizophrenia" that renders it weak and indecisive in the face of adversity. It ought to be at least sobering that our enemy knew us at least as well as we know ourselves, and if there's a flaw in his plan it has yet to make itself clear. He did, however, underestimate the core of the culture. He thought it resided in Harvard and 5th Avenue, the dolt.

But my hope is that, just maybe, the attention now paid to the innocuous lies and misrepresentations of Scooter Libby will raise the profile of Joe Wilson's lies, and people will be outraged by the fact that this debacle was all created by the misperception that Wilson had something of value to relate. What sort of covert agent, jealous of their own security, chooses to send a bumbling and untrained spouse into the heart of ones own turf, unless there's some other agenda? And how corrupt must a media establishment be, that it fails to even mention (in the 60 minutes of Meet the Press with Tim Russert) that almost nothing Joe Wilson ever said deserves the label of "truth?"

We are far more vulnerable than we seem...

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to The Jawa Report)

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October 24, 2005

Group-Induced Idiocy

Well, this should come as no surprise. Michael Ledeen concludes, in a recent article about about group-induced idiocy:

The moral? Don't be surprised when the administration bungles the presentation of the Miers candidacy. They can't even make a convincing case for defending our coastline. Or our soldiers.

This stuff is stressful not only for those of us compelled to watch it, but even more so for those compelled to implement it. A case in point:

Suddenly last week at the Red Cross the call agents started getting headaches and squeezing stress balls to deal with emotional overload. It was an epidemic. This was after almost two months of dealing successfully with victims at all levels of life and death distress, without getting much more than isolated emotional turmoil. What changed? Although people tended to blame the lighting and other factors the thing that actually created the stress was pretty obvious. It was the necessity of telling people who had been promised money they desperately needed (and by promise I mean everything up to and including what looks like a disbursal order) that there'd be nothing for them. Well, actually no one tells them that. They just refuse to tell them anything about the likelihood of getting that check they've been waiting for for three weeks, after sometimes spending up to 12 hours in line at a Service Center. But the implication of "don't call us, we'll call you" is pretty obvious.

So every few minutes a call comes in from someone wanting to "check the status of their case" who innocently believes that there's some master record of cases that's available to answer their question, and that the Red Cross would never renege on a promise... After fifty or so of these calls one starts to get a headache.

To be fair, Red Cross attempts to distinguish between those who are in real need from those who aren't by limiting disbursal to victims with at least partial catastrophic damage to their homes. But the fact remains that a promise once made isn't being kept. Institutionally the Red Cross has things set up so that it can use the "Sergeant Schultz defense," claiming to be ignorant of any promises made in the field. It gives me a headache just describing the mess...

Group-Induced Idiocy: Any situation where individuals are involved in formulating and implementing a policy that their individual common sense tells them is nonsense.

Assisting people during a disaster is rewarding even when it's frustrating, as any volunteer will tell you. Being deliberately evasive so as to help cover some bureaucrat's backside is stressful, in about the same way that the nonsense related in Ledeen's article must be stressful and demoralizing for those compelled to carry out such policy. They may not even be aware of the craziness, as it slowly drives them (and us) nuts.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to The Jawa Report)

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October 21, 2005

OK, that does it.

She fills out a questionnaire as part of the process for confirmation to the Supreme Court, and she can't do a spell check or find a decent editor? I don't care if she is a school mate, none of us would get away with that on an ordinary job application. God, how embarrassing!

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October 19, 2005

Abstinence vs. Indulgence

The two most immediately rewarding things humans can do take place in the face of temptation: abstinence and indulgence. But the quality of the rewards are not comparable. Abstinence builds upon and reenforces the empowering conviction that the world is ultimately and universally just, whereas at best indulgence tolerates, and at worst promotes, the conviction that the world is ultimately unjust or indifferent to evil (or that there is no evil). This is why the writings of the Marquis de Sade, for instance, open with a longish philosophical argument that nature and the universe are indifferent to evil, and that therefore evil is merely a human convention.

Terrorism attempts to merge the near-perfect abstinence of the Stoics (the founders of genuine liberalism) and the Christian martyrs with the indulgence of de Sade... and winds up entirely on the side of de Sade. Veiled within the justifications and grandiosly posturing rhetoric of Qutb, Bin Laden, Zawahiri and Zarqawi, claiming that they represent the manifestation of God's righteousness, is the very real conviction that God must either be indifferent, or as evil as their own darkest lusts. It is the ultimate cynicism, and little wonder that on some levels it finds itself allied with the western philosophical and ideological tradition that created both les indulgents and les enrages.

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October 17, 2005

First Question Concerning Enantiomorphism, With Profound Consequences for Shelby Foote's Theories About Union Constraints During the American Civil War:

And also for contemporary American geopolitical policy in the so-called "War on Terror."

So, just how do you tie one hand behind your back? I mean, as opposed to tying both of them?


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October 04, 2005

I Went To School With Harriet Miers

Don't tell anyone, OK? Around the time I entered SMU Harriet was choosing her major as mathematics. I just barely remember her. And by the time I'd flunked calculus twice, Harriet was filling out her paperwork for the Law School, as my best friend's girlfriend's older sister finished SMU Law School and launched her career as a Law Professor by doing strip tease shows at Kappa Sig parties. (Or, at least, that's the way the breathless sophomores told the story. Probably total hogwash.)

During that same year I watched the first Superbowl: the infamous "Deep Freeze" game that Dallas lost by a foot.

So, you know... I'm kind of an expert. And I think Harriet will ultimately be a better Supreme than Sandra Day. Call it a hunch.

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October 01, 2005

Why Bill Bennet's Statement Is Neither Racist Nor Lovely

Bill Bennet has apparently ruffled a lot of feathers recently by making the point that aborting all the black pregnancies in the land would reduce the crime rate. And the PC brigades are out in force attempting to cash in a little anti-conservative treasure. None of this is very encouraging, because everyone is thinking in terms of a broad fallacy. No one is bothering to make sense. Bennet obviously thought he was making a clear empirical point, using it to bolster a case that there are lots of things one could do to reduce the crime rate that would be more objectionable than simply putting up with crime. This was, in fact, one of the more subtle points of Seymour Martin Lipset's classic: American Exceptionalism: A Double-Edged Sword. Lipset's point being that it's our unwillingness to give automatic deference to authority that partly explains higher historical crime rates in the US, at least until Europe began to pass us in the robbery, burglary and home invasion category. And that if we changed that basic relationship to authority, the whole tapestry of our civilization could come unravelled... Compared to that, a high crime rate is a small price to pay.

Bennet's thinking probably went something like this: There's a high correlation between the percentage of black people in a population in the US and the crime rate. Therefore, if you reduce the percentage of black people you'd naturally expect the crime rate to drop. Makes perfect sense. It doesn't inherently have anything to do with race, because the same thing might happen if we reduced the percentage of short people provided there were some non-causal correlation between being short and being a criminal. And the not-so-obvious fallacy in this thinking is that the eventual crime rate of infants born today doesn't necessarily have any relationship to the current crime rate of their parents... especially if something fundamental changes. But it's not racist. It's just wrong. That is, believing that such a thing is coherent betrays a fundamental confusion in Bennet's thinking; but it's probably one that he shares with 99% of the public, including most blacks.

In the 17th Century, England was in the midst of a crime wave so destructive that it nearly ruined the culture. During that period there were many who believed that there was something about the cockneys that made them a "criminal class." People wrote a great deal about the phenomenon, as the prisons filled with convicts and the overflow were first placed on prison ships anchored permanently in the harbor. Then the ships filled, and the "assignment system" began to ship convicts to Australia, turning it into a continent-sized penal colony. England was in big trouble.

However, as Robert Hughes documents in his fascinatingly addictive book The Fatal Shore the Australian-born children of this criminal class became so law-abiding that if they were issued a summons to appear in court on such-and-such a day they'd walk a hundred miles barefoot just to comply. The crime rate of this generation was not only far less than their parents, but less than 1% the crime rate of England itself, including all those marvelous sterling families that had launched the fallacy of the "criminal class" to begin with.

The meme is that we assume the conditions creating the present set of circumstances will continue to produce the same results even if the context totally changes. And clearly, for the kind of thing that Bennet talks about to happen there'd be a HUGE change in context. That's why his extrapolation makes no sense at all. If we're allowed to think in terms of a fundamental change in context it would be just as reasonable to propose that the generation of blacks born on this day will end up as law-abiding Rethuglicans who see Ronald Reagan as their role model, rather than Martin Luther King, perish the thought. I daresay Bennet didn't even have a "criminal class" theory to fall back on. He just lacked the imagination to extrapolate from a trend that's producing more and more middle class black people who eschew the basic assumptions made by their parents. I don't think Bennet was racist. Not even slightly. He was just unimaginative and uninformed. And ironically he seems to have lacked sufficient faith in his own conservative principles that he could imagine them being spontaneously adopted by a black population thoroughly fed up with the prescriptions of the social democratic Left, which hasn't done diddly for blacks in two generations.

And the other fallacy is the one spontaneously adopted by our self-righteous Left, who not only don't comprehend the fallacy in Bennet's thinking (ascribing it to racism simply because they like the sound of it) but fearfully seem to make the same assumptions he does: that one can expect the same trends we've always seen even when the context is totally upended. It's perfectly logical to say that if presently-assumed trends continue unabated then a reduction in the proportion of black people in the population will reduce the crime rate, all else being equal. That is, it's logical except for the fact that the presently assumed trends are totally hogwash. A trend continues until it runs into its operational limits. It then runs out of steam, and changes. And how it changes is notoriously unpredictable because there's a bit of chaos involved. No one knows what will happen. Not Bennet. Not me. Not even Dr. Shackleford.

And that's why beauty is sometimes a better guide to the future than numbers.

(Cross-posted by Demosophist to Anticipatory Retaliation and The Jawa Report)

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