January 15, 2011

Good for Charles M. Blow

New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow deserves congratulations.
Tucson Witch Hunt

Immediately after the news broke, the air became thick with conjecture, speculation and innuendo. There was a giddy, almost punch-drunk excitement on the left. The prophecy had been fulfilled: “words have consequences.” And now, the right’s rhetorical chickens had finally come home to roost.

The dots were too close and the temptation to connect them too strong. The target was a Democratic congresswoman. There was the map of her district in the cross hairs. There were her own prescient worries about overheated rhetoric.

Within hours of the shooting, there was a full-fledged witch hunt to link the shooter to the right.

“I saw Goody Proctor with the devil! Oh, I mean Jared Lee Loughner! Yes him. With the devil!” 

As I've said before, conjecture, speculation, and innuendo in the immediate hours following an unexpected event are to be expected. The national press has obvious regional and race prejudices that boil to the surface when there are few facts at hand. Demonizing white Arizonans has been a major theme of the mainstream media since the spring of 2010, so it was inevitable that they would seize upon this seeming opportunity to reinforce the narrative.

What was truly dismaying was the doubling down on the original stereotyping once plenty of disconfirming evidence was available by later on on Saturday.
The only problem is that there was no evidence then, and even now, that overheated rhetoric from the right had anything to do with the shooting. ...

Great. So the left overreacts and overreaches and it only accomplishes two things: fostering sympathy for its opponents and nurturing a false equivalence within the body politic. Well done, Democrats.

Now we’ve settled into the by-any-means-necessary argument: anything that gets us to focus on the rhetoric and tamp it down is a good thing. But a wrong in the service of righteousness is no less wrong, no less corrosive, no less a menace to the very righteousness it’s meant to support.

You can’t claim the higher ground in a pit of quicksand.

In theory, no. In reality, you can often get away with a lot just by shouting angrily enough about how angry the other guys are.

January 14, 2011

Amy Chua, 24/7

A New York Times article picks up on Charles Murray's perception of Amy Chua's book on Chinese mothering:
But reading the book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” it can be hard to tell when she is kidding.

“In retrospect, these coaching suggestions seem a bit extreme,” she writes in the book after describing how she once threatened to burn her daughter’s stuffed animals if she did not play a piano composition perfectly. “On the other hand, they were highly effective.”

In interviews, she comes off as unresolved. “I think I pulled back at the right time,” she said. “I do not think there was anything abusive in my house.” Yet, she added, “I stand by a lot of my critiques of Western parenting. I think there’s a lot of questions about how you instill true self-esteem.”

Her real crime, she said, may have been telling the truth. “I sort of feel like people are not that honest about their own parenting,” she said. “Take any teenage household, tell me there is not yelling and conflict.” 

One thing you can say for Ms. Chua is that she's got guts. When I read her book World on Fire in early 2003 to review it, I learned something about current history that I had been totally uninformed about before. I was startled by Chua's passage below (which was reprinted in the Times of London late in 2003). Even as an avid consumer of the news, I had never heard these facts before I read Chua's book on market dominant minorities:
IN THE spring of 2000, a professor whom I’ll call Jerry White was furiously trying to finish an article on the debacle of Russian privatisation. Jerry and his co-authors had served as legal advisers to the Russian Government during the country’s mass privatisation process in the late 1990s. The article described how Russia’s pro-market reforms had gone horribly awry. Instead of dispersing ownership and creating functioning markets, these reforms had allowed a small group of industrialists and bankers to plunder Russia, turning themselves almost overnight into the billionaire owners of Russia’s crown jewels while the country spiralled into chaos and lawlessness.

It seemed to me that most of the key players in the privatisation of Russia were Jewish.

“Oh, no,” Jerry replied instantly. “I don’t think so.”

“Are you sure?” I pressed him. “If you look at their names . . . ”

“You can’t tell anything from names,” Jerry snapped, clearly not wanting to discuss the topic any further.

As it turns out, six out of seven of Russia’s wealthiest and, at least until recently, most powerful oligarchs are Jewish. The six Jewish businessmen most frequently called oligarchs are: Roman Abramovich; Pyotr Aven; Boris Berezovsky; Mikhail Fridman; Vladimir Gusinsky; and Mikhail Khodorkovsky [I recently read Khodorkovsky is half-Jewish]. The seventh oligarch, the only “full-blooded ethnic Russian”, is Vladimir Potanin.

The height of their influence was reached in 1996 when the Yeltsin Government hung on the verge of political and financial collapse. Already wealthy, the oligarchs collectively put forth the so-called “loans-for-shares” deal — now notorious, but at the time grudgingly endorsed by Western advisers and Russian economists.

Essentially, the oligarchs offered loans and political support to the Government in exchange for majority shares, at a fraction of their potential market value, in the behemoths of the Russian economy, a half-dozen massive enterprises breathtakingly rich in nickel, gold and oil deposits.

Despite the inevitable rumours, these men did not become billionaires through violence or mafiya tactics. Rather, they became billionaires by playing the game more effectively and ruthlessly than anybody else during Russia’s free-for-all transition to capitalism.

Russia’s incipient corporate economy operated in practically a legal vacuum at the time, with no laws prohibiting insider trading or other forms of self-dealing. “Russia has been looted all right,” says Chrystia Freeland, in Sale of the Century, “but the biggest crimes haven’t been clandestine or violent or even, in the strict legal sense, crimes at all. Russia was robbed in broad daylight, by businessmen who broke no laws, assisted by the West ’s best friends in the Kremlin.”

Chua, herself, is descended from the market-dominant Chinese minority that controls the economy of the Philippines.

Performance-Enhanced Punditry

This isn't the biggest issue in the world, but it's one I think about now and then: The opinion journalism business isn't a terribly hard field by most standards, but it does requires unnatural amounts of self-confidence to think that you have anything worth saying on a ridiculous number of random topics.

Now, most people in the business, I presume, drink coffee or colas for the caffeine for energy. 

What about attention deficit disorder drugs like Ritalin or Adderall? I haven't seen many references to these by pundits, but I was struck by a footnote or two in ESPN columnist Bill Simmons' Big Book of Basketball about all the ADD medication he took to pound out his huge book. (Note: He may have been joking.)

Finally, Andrew Sullivan wrote an NYT article eleven years ago about how he saved his career with a testosterone prescription. "My wit is quicker, my mind faster, but my judgment is more impulsive," which is something of an understatement. 

I would draw the line between Simmons and Sullivan, in that while Simmons can apparently outwork his competitors who aren't on ADD pills, the medication doesn't seem to warp his judgment. His Big Book of Basketball is terrific and very sensible. What Simmons appears to be doing is somewhat unfair to his competitors, but it's good for readers and the state of basketball punditry, as a whole.

What Sullivan is doing, on the other hand, is both unfair to his competitors and, far more importantly, injects random surges of hormonal hysteria into the national discussion.

I haven't read Sullivan much since he was pounding the Iraq war drums back in 2003, but it was pretty obvious at the time that his hormone therapy was playing hob with his judgment. The Atlantic should put a warning label on his blog, one that gets update round the clock to show you where in Sullivan's artificial hormone cycle he is, so readers can make their own informed judgments about, say, last Tuesday's pronouncement:
Very very very few people have contributed more poison and hatred and extremism to the culture than Rush Limbaugh.

In which he sounds like Lindsay Lohan on steroids.

Rush, of course, had his own very personal aids to enhanced performance.


An IBM computer the size of ten refrigerators will compete on Jeopardy:
Watson will be the third contestant in a round of shows to be broadcast Feb. 14-16, taking on Brad Rutter, who has won more than $3 million on the game show, and Ken Jennings, who set a record with 74 consecutive "Jeopardy" wins in 2004-05 in which he racked up more than $2.5 million.

Watson, about as big as 10 refrigerators, has had its software updated for "Jeopardy" so it can activate a signaling button of its own, just as its human competitors will have to do ...

When I was on Jeopardy in 1994, there was a short in my buzzer, so I'd have to press it five or ten time before I got credit for it. Gen. Schwarzkopf had the same problem as me on Celebrity Jeopardy, but being a more forceful personality, he stopped the show until they fixed it. A few years later, I went out to dinner with an old high school friend I hadn't seen in about 10 years. The first thing he said was, "Hey, I saw you on Jeopardy. What was wrong with your buzzer?"

I came in second, with something like $6,700, which would have been nice, but to my surprise, I found out that you only got to keep your winnings if you won the round. Second prize was supposed to be a trip to a Mexican resort, but it was contrived so it wouldn't really worth it (I'd have to buy four roundtrip tickets from Chicago to LA to use the flights from LA), so I never used it. So, the only thing I got for flying from Chicago to LA to compete on the show was the home board game version.

Jeopardy was a real cash cow for Merv Griffin.

They should have a new quiz show for old codgers like me who can't remember actual names anymore to see who can cover up for their senility best through fast Googling. For example, for about 15 years I've never been able to remember the name of the 1980s blonde actress who was in Never Say Never, 9 1/2 Weeks, LA Confidential, who bought a town, who lost a ridiculous amount of money in a lawsuit when she backed out of this bad movie about a woman who gets her limbs cut off and put in a box. But it only takes me about ten seconds to find the name ... Kim Basinger ... so it doesn't really matter except in the rare situations when I leave the house and talk to people.

January 13, 2011

Who? Whom?

On the VDARE blog, I helpfully fill in some of this morning's New York Times editorial:

Translating NYT Editorialese into English

The crafting of a New York Times editorial is an august undertaking requiring the judicious involvement of a distinguished body of thinkers selected for their wisdom and forbearance. So I feel privileged to be able to present excerpts from the NYT’s January 13, 2011 editorial, along with notes explaining more fully the thought processes behind this morning’s profound missive to an eagerly awaiting nation:

First, here are excerpts from today's New York Times:
Editorial: As We Mourn
We should take the president’s message to heart and rise above partisanship.

... Mr. Obama called on ideological campaigners to stop vilifying their opponents. The only way to move forward after such a tragedy, he said, is to cast aside “point-scoring and pettiness.” … It was important that Mr. Obama transcend the debate about whose partisanship has been excessive and whose words have sown the most division and dread. This page and many others have identified those voices and called on them to stop demonizing their political opponents. ...

The president’s words were an important contrast to the ugliness that continues to swirl in some parts of the country. The accusation by Sarah Palin that “journalists and pundits” had committed a “blood libel” when they raised questions about overheated rhetoric was especially disturbing, given the grave meaning of that phrase in the history of the Jewish people. ...

Earlier in the day, the speaker of the House, John Boehner, and the minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, issued their own, very welcome, calls to rise above partisanship.

And now some annotations:
Editorial: As We Mourn
We should take the president’s message to heart and rise above partisanship.
Please note that we of the New York Times Editorial Board aren’t using the famous Editorial We here. By “we,” we don’t actually mean “us,” we mean "you." You should rise above partisanship, you hate-filled, nauseating, vomitous, anti-illegal immigration Republicans. Don’t you realize how vile you are? Didn’t you see Machete?
As for our side, we’re always above partisanship. For example, when our Frank Rich, in his May 1, 2010 NYT column discussing SB1070, “If Only Arizona Were the Real Problem,” used the following terms in relation to you conservatives: “angry,” “virus,” “hysteria,” “vicious,” “bigoted,” “apoplexy,” “slimed,” “snarling,” “notorious,” “incendiary,” and “rage,” he was speaking out against divisiveness and vitriol. Your divisiveness and vitriol. Why can't you grasp simple concepts like that, you low IQ white trash?

Read the whole thing here

Charles Murray on Amy Chua and his ex-wife

Charles Murray picks up on something I only vaguely noticed and a lot of people completely missed about Amy Chua's notorious WSJ piece: there's a lot of Dave Barry in the style. Murray writes:
Amy Chua is a hoot. Her WSJ op ed about the superiority of Chinese parenting, a take from her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, has blogs around the world roaring at a woman who could be so cruel to her children. I was laughing out loud throughout, partly because she clearly was having the time of her life twitting the sensitive helicopter parents who can’t bear the idea that their wonderful child is stressed or criticized in any way whatsoever. I was also laughing because the mother of my first two children was half Thai and all Chinese, and it was all so familiar. The subject heading of the email attaching the Chua article to my elder two daughters was “Bring back memories?” My own archetypal memory is when my eldest daughter, then perhaps eight years old, came home with her first Maryland standardized test scores, showing that she was at the 99th percentile in reading and the 93rd percentile in math. Her mother’s first words—the very first—were “What’s wrong with the math?

Both children turned out great and love their mother dearly.

To get a little bit serious: large numbers of talented children everywhere would profit from Chua’s approach, and instead are frittering away their gifts—they’re nice kids, not brats, but they are also self-indulgent and inclined to make excuses for themselves. There are also large numbers of children who are not especially talented, but would do a lot better in school if their parents applied the same intense home supplements to their classroom work.

But ...

Read the rest here

The Chinese perspective on the PISA scores

Megan K. Stack of the LA Times reports:

... But even as some parents in the West wrung their hands, fretting over an education gap, Chinese commentators reacted to the results with a bout of soul-searching and even an undertone of embarrassment rarely seen in a country that generally delights in its victories on the international stage."I carry a strong feeling of bitterness," Chen Weihua, an editor at the state-run China Daily, wrote in a first-person editorial. "The making of superb test-takers comes at a high cost, often killing much of, if not all, the joy of childhood."

In a sense, this is the underbelly of a rising China: the fear that schools are churning out generations of unimaginative worker bees who do well on tests. The government has laid out an ambitious set of plans for education reform by 2020, but so far it's not clear how complete or wide-ranging the changes will be — or whether they will ease the immense pressure on teens in families hungry for a place in the upper or middle class.

"We have seen the advantages and the disadvantages of our education system, and our students' abilities are still weak," said Xiong Bingqi, an education expert at Shanghai's Jiao Tong University. "They do very well in those subjects the teacher assigns them. They have huge vocabularies and they do math well. However, the level of their creativity and imagination is low.

"In the long run, for us to become a strong country, we need talent and great creativity," Xiong said. "And right now, our educational system cannot accomplish this."

... But Zhang also pointed out the implied embarrassments of the examination results: The Shanghai students who triumphed in the tests enjoy the very best China's uneven schools can offer. Their experience has little in common with those of their peers in rural schools, or the makeshift migrant schools of the big cities, not to mention the armies of teenagers who abandon secondary school in favor of the factory floor.

And even in the rarefied world of the Shanghai high schools, teachers and administrators are concerned about the single-minded obsession with examinations.

At Zhabei No. 8, a public school on the northern edge of Shanghai's downtown, administrators spoke cautiously of the students' success in the international tests. Nearly 200 students took the exams last spring; afterward, they told their teachers that the questions had been simple.

"We are fully aware of the situation: Their creativity is lacking. They suffer very poor health, they are not strong and they get injured easily," vice principal Chen Ting said. "We're calling on all relevant parties to reduce the burden on our students."

I dunno. I've read a lot about creativity over the decades, but it's hard to measure reliably contemporaneously. For example, in Human Accomplishment, Charles Murray only looked at artists and scientists up through 1950 because more recent judgments were too unreliable. So I never know what to think when East Asians go on and on like this about their lack of creativity.

The Japanese poormouthed themselves over their supposed lack of creativity exactly like this several decades ago. Were they right? I still don't know.

January 12, 2011

She better have a lot of security guards

Here's the transcript of Sarah Palin's video released today:
Like millions of Americans I learned of the tragic events in Arizona on Saturday, and my heart broke for the innocent victims. No words can fill the hole left by the death of an innocent, but we do mourn for the victims’ families as we express our sympathy.

I agree with the sentiments shared yesterday at the beautiful Catholic mass held in honor of the victims. The mass will hopefully help begin a healing process for the families touched by this tragedy and for our country.

Our exceptional nation, so vibrant with ideas and the passionate exchange and debate of ideas, is a light to the rest of the world. Congresswoman Giffords and her constituents were exercising their right to exchange ideas that day, to celebrate our Republic’s core values and peacefully assemble to petition our government. It’s inexcusable and incomprehensible why a single evil man took the lives of peaceful citizens that day.

There is a bittersweet irony that the strength of the American spirit shines brightest in times of tragedy. We saw that in Arizona. We saw the tenacity of those clinging to life, the compassion of those who kept the victims alive, and the heroism of those who overpowered a deranged gunman.

Like many, I’ve spent the past few days reflecting on what happened and praying for guidance. After this shocking tragedy, I listened at first puzzled, then with concern, and now with sadness, to the irresponsible statements from people attempting to apportion blame for this terrible event.

President Reagan said, “We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.” Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state, not with those who listen to talk radio, not with maps of swing districts used by both sides of the aisle, not with law-abiding citizens who respectfully exercise their First Amendment rights at campaign rallies, not with those who proudly voted in the last election.

The last election was all about taking responsibility for our country’s future. President Obama and I may not agree on everything, but I know he would join me in affirming the health of our democratic process. Two years ago his party was victorious. Last November, the other party won. In both elections the will of the American people was heard, and the peaceful transition of power proved yet again the enduring strength of our Republic.

Vigorous and spirited public debates during elections are among our most cherished traditions.  And after the election, we shake hands and get back to work, and often both sides find common ground back in D.C. and elsewhere. If you don’t like a person’s vision for the country, you’re free to debate that vision. If you don’t like their ideas, you’re free to propose better ideas. But, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.

There are those who claim political rhetoric is to blame for the despicable act of this deranged, apparently apolitical criminal. And they claim political debate has somehow gotten more heated just recently. But when was it less heated? Back in those “calm days” when political figures literally settled their differences with dueling pistols? In an ideal world all discourse would be civil and all disagreements cordial. But our Founding Fathers knew they weren’t designing a system for perfect men and women. If men and women were angels, there would be no need for government. Our Founders’ genius was to design a system that helped settle the inevitable conflicts caused by our imperfect passions in civil ways. So, we must condemn violence if our Republic is to endure.

As I said while campaigning for others last March in Arizona during a very heated primary race, “We know violence isn’t the answer. When we ‘take up our arms’, we’re talking about our vote.” Yes, our debates are full of passion, but we settle our political differences respectfully at the ballot box – as we did just two months ago, and as our Republic enables us to do again in the next election, and the next. That’s who we are as Americans and how we were meant to be. Public discourse and debate isn’t a sign of crisis, but of our enduring strength. It is part of why America is exceptional.

No one should be deterred from speaking up and speaking out in peaceful dissent, and we certainly must not be deterred by those who embrace evil and call it good. And we will not be stopped from celebrating the greatness of our country and our foundational freedoms by those who mock its greatness by being intolerant of differing opinion and seeking to muzzle dissent with shrill cries of imagined insults.

Just days before she was shot, Congresswoman Giffords read the First Amendment on the floor of the House. It was a beautiful moment and more than simply “symbolic,” as some claim, to have the Constitution read by our Congress. I am confident she knew that reading our sacred charter of liberty was more than just “symbolic.” But less than a week after Congresswoman Giffords reaffirmed our protected freedoms, another member of Congress announced that he would propose a law that would criminalize speech he found offensive.

It is in the hour when our values are challenged that we must remain resolved to protect those values. Recall how the events of 9-11 challenged our values and we had to fight the tendency to trade our freedoms for perceived security. And so it is today.

Let us honor those precious lives cut short in Tucson by praying for them and their families and by cherishing their memories. Let us pray for the full recovery of the wounded. And let us pray for our country. In times like this we need God’s guidance and the peace He provides. We need strength to not let the random acts of a criminal turn us against ourselves, or weaken our solid foundation, or provide a pretext to stifle debate.

America must be stronger than the evil we saw displayed last week. We are better than the mindless finger-pointing we endured in the wake of the tragedy. We will come out of this stronger and more united in our desire to peacefully engage in the great debates of our time, to respectfully embrace our differences in a positive manner, and to unite in the knowledge that, though our ideas may be different, we must all strive for a better future for our country. May God bless America.

- Sarah Palin

This is an eloquent defense of America's tradition of free speech and debate. Further, it's a trenchant criticism of the Who? Whom? mindset dominant among the media oligopoly.

My main caveat would be that the truly reprehensible thing was not the establishment press unleashing their racial and regional prejudices "within hours," but their continuing to try to pound home the same hate-driven propaganda line, day after day, long after their initial response had been proven factually wrong.

Not surprisingly, Establishment pundits and reporters are sputtering with rage at Palin. For example, Matthew Yglesias's response is:
Indeed, Jews throughout America can join me in remembering when our ancestors fled Eastern Europe in order to live in a land where nobody would ever criticize us on television.

How dangerous is the lunatic fringe?

Not hugely, it would appear to me. There doesn't seem to be much justification for rounding up all the eccentrics, as is so often proposed after mass shootings.

The numerator of psycho killers like Jared Loughner doesn't appear to be large, and it may be shrinking due to better medications and the like. This story is big news for a bunch of reasons (e.g., the press wants to use it to launch Obama's re-election campaign the way Timothy McVeigh launched Clinton's re-election in 1995), one of which is that it's a man-bites-dog story: Members of Congress and judges don't get shot very often at all.

On the other hand, the denominator of people who suffer major mental problems at some point in their lives is very large.

As a small child, I recall seeing a black comedian on TV around 1967 or so telling a joke about how scientists say that 1 out of every 4 people are crazy... so think of 3 of your friends. They seem okay, right? So ... Congrats! (I can't remember who the comedian was ... perhaps it was Dick Gregory. God only knows what this fraction is for stand-ups.)

I remember being shocked at the time by the 1 out of 4 number. 

I'm not anymore. 

I'm not being snarky. I've personally known a huge number of people who have gone through at least one major mental health problem. It's not like one out of four people are crazy at present. But that one out of four  people will go through at least one sizable mental health episode during their lifetimes seems utterly plausible to me by now. The amount of suffering and sadness in this world caused by mental illness is immense.

What's more surprising to me now, and thus gladdening, is how many of these people have gotten better: some with medicine, some with therapy, some who knows how or why, but they've done it.

P.S. Jerry Pournelle writes
Allowing the non-violent madmen to live among us is a price of liberty; and allowing physicians and police to lock people away because they are mad is conceding a power to the authorities that often proves unwise, and sometimes is simply an adjunct to tyranny.

January 11, 2011

"Me got bullhorn. Me talk. You listen."

On Saturday, much of the establishment media class instantly responded to the shooting news based on their deeply held racial and regional prejudices: the killer was white and from Arizona, so therefore he must be one of those crazed, twisted, anti-illegal immigration Tea Party conservatives whose hate-filled rhetoric is so vile, disgusting, and loathsome that I just want to spit in their stupid, ugly Arizona Republican faces and then I want to crush their ... uh, what we're we talking about again? ... Oh, yeah, we were talking about how you can just tell from looking at the guy that he is white, and did you know he's from Arizona? Because we all know what that means!

But within a few hours, the evidence from YouTube and MySpace was clear: the typical national media pundits' prejudice had been wrong. Jared Loughner was not a conservative, he was a radical and, most importantly, he was obviously deeply mentally ill.

What has been fascinating is how A) So few have recanted and/or apologized and B) How many have responded to being wrong by shouting the same thing even louder in the hope that repetition can make their wishful thinking be remembered as the truth. For example, in Tuesday's New York Times, Adam Nagourney pounds the table harder:
by Adam Nagourney

[Republican Gov. Jan Brewer] is eagerly trying to defend a state whose reputation has been battered in recent years, particularly since the massacre here on Saturday. 

But fairly or not, Arizona’s image has been forged in part because of Ms. Brewer herself, who has been identified with the tough law aimed at illegal immigrants, budget cuts that include denying aid to people who need life-saving transplants and laws permitting people to take concealed guns into bars and banning the teaching of ethnic studies in public schools.

Arizona's image has been unfairly battered by, among others, Adam Nagourney, who has the bullhorn and has no intention of sharing it.

Or, in the Washington Post's Slate on Monday evening, long after the facts had been out, we read:
the big idea
The Tea Party and the Tucson Tragedy
How anti-government, pro-gun, xenophobic populism made the Giffords shooting more likely.
By Jacob Weisberg
Posted Monday, Jan. 10, 2011, at 6:30 PM ET

There's something offensive, as well as pointless, about the politically charged inquiry into what might have been swirling inside the head of Jared Loughner. We hear that the accused shooter read The Communist Manifesto and liked flag-burning videos—good news for the right. Wait—he was a devotee of Ayn Rand and favored the gold standard, so he was a right-winger after all. Some assassinations embody an ideology, however twisted. Based on what we know so far, the Tucson killings look like more like politically tinged schizophrenia.

It is appropriate, however, to consider what was swirling outside Loughner's head. ... It was the anti-government, pro-gun, xenophobic populism that flourishes in the dry and angry climate of Arizona. Extremist shouters didn't program Loughner, in some mechanistic way, to shoot Gabrielle Giffords. But the Tea Party movement did make it appreciably more likely that a disturbed person like Loughner would react, would be able to react, and would not be prevented from reacting, in the crazy way he did.

Huh? How do you know that, Mr. Weisberg? Jared Loughner was not shy about sharing his thoughts with the world. Or are you just projecting the angry thoughts in your own head onto the world?

What would it mean if, say, it turned out that every evening around the dinner table, the shooter's mother, a government employee for the last 23 years, had denounced the Tea Party and worried out loud that Republicans might take away some of her government pension? What if it turns out that a check of Loughner's web browser finds that he read many of the countless denunciations of Arizonans in the national press in 2010, and that he shared the fear and loathing of the Nagourneys, Weisbergs, Sullivans, Greenbergs, and Krugmans toward the average Arizona voter, that Loughner's craziness had been stoked by the national campaign of vilification against Arizonans? What would it mean?

Well, it wouldn't mean much. The bottom line is that the killer is a major league lunatic.

The real issue isn't one maniac's psyche, of course, it's what has been revealed over the last four days about the psyches of the people who have the media bullhorn. 

Andrew Sullivan calls for calm

Having endlessly "live-blogged" the Arizona shootings, Andrew Sullivan now is calling for a calm, rational, impersonal, civil discussion of the bigger issue, namely:

The Poison Of Limbaugh

Very very very few people have contributed more poison and hatred and extremism to the culture than Rush Limbaugh.

To understand Andrew Sullivan, you have to read his long article in the NYT Magazine in 2000, “The He Hormone,” in which he explained the powerful impact his prescription testosterone cycle has upon his judgment:
“Soon after I inject myself with testosterone, I feel a deep surge of energy. My attention span shortens. My wit is quicker, my mind faster, but my judgment is more impulsive. …

“Then there’s anger. I have always tended to bury or redirect my rage. I once thought this an inescapable part of my personality. It turns out I was wrong. Late last year, mere hours after a [Testosterone] shot, my dog ran off the leash to forage for a chicken bone left in my local park. The more I chased her, the more she ran. By the time I retrieved her, the bone had been consumed, and I gave her a sharp tap on her rear end. “Don’t smack your dog!” yelled a burly guy a few yards away. What I found myself yelling back at him is not printable in this magazine, but I have never used that language in public before, let alone bellow it at the top of my voice. He shouted back, and within seconds I was actually close to hitting him. He backed down and slunk off. I strutted home, chest puffed up, contrite beagle dragged sheepishly behind me. It wasn’t until half an hour later that I realized I had been a complete jerk and had nearly gotten into the first public brawl of my life. I vowed to inject my testosterone at night in the future.”

Trying to compete with Sullivan makes me feel like Ichiro Suzuki must have felt like trying to compete with Sammy Sosa.

"Did anti-Semitism factor into the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords?"

The mainstream media had been working themselves up into a frenzy of hatred over the last year against the voters of Arizona, ever since the passing of the state's illegal immigration bill. Thus, the press was primed to flagrantly misinterpret the Tucson Massacre.

From The New Republic, a story that let's you get a glimpse of the irrational attitudes that have so much impact over how The Narrative gets framed in the mainstream media.
A Gnawing Worry
Did anti-Semitism factor into the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords?
by David Greenberg
The papers have mentioned it mainly in passing. Had this happened a decade ago, I would not have fixed on this detail. But Gabrielle Giffords is Jewish. And her alleged assassin, Jared Lee Loughner, is reported to have admired Mein Kampf

He also admired the Communist Manifesto and To Kill a Mockingbird. Most of his reading list pretty much reflected the kind of books that get assigned in schools.
and claimed ties to the anti-Semitic hate group called American Renaissance. 

No, he didn't. That's a libelous hoax. As is calling American Renaissance anti-Semitic or a hate group.
Was this an anti-Semitic attack? There is no significant evidence to conclude as much, since we know hardly anything about the suspected killer. And yet, I’m confident that I’m not the only one today with a gnawing worry.

... The news of the years since September 11 has been full of more anti-Semitism than any decade in my lifetime, from the murderous kind in Mumbai and the banlieues of Paris to the “genteel” variety espoused by Caryl Churchill and Stephen Walt and John Mearshimer [sic]. Much of it has been blithely tolerated.

Walt & Mearsheimer?
 ... My point is not to place blame but rather to call attention to the chill in the air, the silent worry—harbored, I suspect, in more quarters than we will hear from in the news media.

Forty-two years ago, when Sirhan Sirhan murdered Robert F. Kennedy because of his support for Israel, Americans everywhere despaired that the nation was coming apart at the seams, but Jews felt no special sense of fear. Today, in contrast, for all the Tea Party extremism, the streets are still calm. And yet, the sense of anxiety felt specifically by the Jews of America is, I suspect, considerably more acute.

Contributing Editor David Greenberg is a professor of history and of journalism and media studies at Rutgers University and a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars for the 2010-11 academic year.

Both poor Rep. Giffords and the assassin have (reportedly) one Jewish parent, but why let facts get in the way?

UPDATE: The Jewish Telegraph Agency looks at Loughner's genealogy and rules out Jewishness for at least three grandparents, probably all four.

January 10, 2011

The Sane Assassin

To see just how crazy Jared Loughner is, it's useful, by way of contrast, to look at the Wikipedia page about Volkert van der Graaf, the leftist Dutch legal professional who assassinated anti-immigration Prime Minister candidate Pim Fortuyn in 2002. Here are excerpts:
During a second "pro forma" hearing on November 4, it was decided that the trial would be delayed while Van der Graaf was sent for seven weeks of psychiatric observation at the Pieter Baan Center, starting in the first week of January 2003.

In a press statement of November 23 the prosecution (Public Ministry) announced that Van der Graaf had confessed to the murder. He said that he planned it for some time beforehand and that nobody else was involved in the plans or knew about them. He said he saw Fortuyn as a steadily increasing danger for vulnerable groups in society. It was thereby a combination of Fortuyn's stigmatising views, the polarising way that he presented them and the great political power that Fortuyn was threatening to obtain. He saw no other possibility for himself than to end the danger by killing Fortuyn.

... The report from the PBC was complete by about March 21. It found that Van der Graaf could be held completely accountable for the killing. The report also stated that Van der Graaf had an obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, which explains his rigid moral judgements. Menno Oosterhoff, a child psychiatrist from Groningen, publicly suggested that the Pieter Baan Centrum may have overlooked the possibility that Van der Graaf has Asperger syndrome. Oosterhoff later withdrew his theory. The PBC report stated that nothing could be said about the chance of another similar crime occurring, since the disorder had nothing to do with the murder. Van der Graaf agreed that he was accountable and that he had compulsive urges. The outcome of the investigation ensured that he would receive a prison sentence and not "TBS treatment".

... During the trial, Van der Graaf described again his reasons for killing Fortuyn. He said how he had hoped that the leaders of other political parties would deliver substantial critique on Fortuyn, but that it never happened. Instead, Fortuyn had the talent to channel criticism so that it never touched him. He said again that he had never spoken to anybody else about his plan to act against Fortuyn, and only made a definitive plan to act on the day before the murder. He said that he was wrestling with feelings of regret for the killing, finding the killing of somebody morally reprehensible, but that on May 6 he had felt himself justified, wanting to fight the danger of Fortuyn, not his person. He explained that his lack of outward emotion was due to being somebody who didn't find it easy to talk about feelings. Asked about the danger of accidentally injuring somebody other than Fortuyn in the attack, he said that he had been confident that that wouldn't happen. ...

To the argument that Fortuyn would have been chosen through democratic means, Van der Graaf said that that was also the case for Hitler. Indeed he compared the rise of Fortuyn to the rise of Nazism in the 1930s.[1] In his final argument he said that he had acted from his conscience, but that didn't justify it, and that it was absolutely not normal to shoot somebody to death.

Van der Graaf also said he murdered Fortuyn to defend Dutch Muslims from persecution. He claimed his goal was to stop Fortuyn from targeting "the weak parts of society to score points" and exploiting Muslims as "scapegoats" in an attempt to seek political power.[3][4][5]

Basically, this guy just took seriously the stuff the EuroEstablishment had been saying about Fortuyn. Hell, some of the elites kept saying that Fortuyn had it coming even after Van der Graaf had gone and done it.

Mother Jones v. New York Times

In its top story on Tuesday, the New York Times continues to obsess over its own utterly discredited theory about the Arizona massacre. Adam Nagourney pursues the newspaper's year-old campaign of demonization against Arizona voters:
In Gifford's District, a Long History of Tension

This article was reported by Sam Dolnick, Katharine Q. Seelye and Adam Nagourney and written by Mr. Nagourney.

... Given its locale and its demographic mix, the Eighth District long offered a stage for a combustible mix of issues that have torn apart other parts of the country. But the divisions seemed particularly searing here. Because of efforts to more aggressively close California’s border with Mexico, Arizona has seen a surge of illegal immigration that has heightened tensions. “There was no question there were more and more illegal immigrants coming in,” said Mr. Kolbe, who had held her seat. “They were flooding in.”
Ms. Giffords was seeking re-election at a time when Arizona passed a tough law aimed at illegal immigrants, which Ms. Giffords opposed, and as the state faced a threatened boycott from parts of the nation for passing a law that many people saw as intolerant.
“Immigration, that’s the ingredient that makes Arizona unique in a very twisted way,” Mr. Grijalva said.

In sharp contrast, Nick Baumann of Mother Jones does good work interviewing a long-time friend of the Arizona shooter:
[Bryce] Tierney tells Mother Jones in an exclusive interview that Loughner held a years-long grudge against Giffords and had repeatedly derided her as a "fake." Loughner's animus toward Giffords intensified after he attended one of her campaign events and she did not, in his view, sufficiently answer a question he had posed, Tierney says. ...

Giffords was the target of Loughner's rampage, prosecutors say, and the sworn affidavit accompanying the charges mentions that Loughner attended a Giffords "Congress in Your Corner" event in 2007. The affidavit also mentions that police searching a safe in Loughner's home found a letter from Giffords' office thanking the alleged shooter for attending an August 25, 2007 event.

Tierney, who's also 22, recalls Loughner complaining about a Giffords event he attended during that period. He's unsure whether it was the same one mentioned in the charges—Loughner "might have gone to some other rallies," he says—but Tierney notes it was a significant moment for Loughner: "He told me that she opened up the floor for questions and he asked a question. The question was, 'What is government if words have no meaning?'"

Giffords' answer, whatever it was, didn't satisfy Loughner. "He said, 'Can you believe it, they wouldn't answer my question,' and I told him, 'Dude, no one's going to answer that,'" Tierney recalls. "Ever since that, he thought she was fake, he had something against her." ...

Obviously, this 2007 obsession was caused by Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, and SB1070 sending their thought rays of hate back from the future. 
Tierney notes that Loughner did not display any specific political or ideological bent: "It wasn't like he was in a certain party or went to rallies...It's not like he'd go on political rants." ...

Tierney, who first met Loughner in middle school, recalls that Loughner started to act strange around his junior or senior year of high school. ...

Tierney believes that Loughner was very interested in pushing people's buttons—and that may have been why he listed Hitler's Mein Kampf as one of his favorite books on his YouTube page. (Loughner's mom is Jewish, according to Tierney.) Loughner sometimes approached strangers and would say "weird" things, Tierney recalls. "He would do it because he thought people were below him and he knew they wouldn't know what he was talking about." ...

After Loughner apparently gave up drugs and booze, "his theories got worse," Tierney says. "After he quit, he was just off the wall." ... By early 2010, dreaming had become Loughner's "waking life, his reality," Tierney says. "He sort of drifted off, didn't really care about hanging out with friends. He'd be sleeping a lot." Loughner's alternate reality was attractive, Tierney says. "He figured out he could fly." Loughner, according to Tierney, told his friends, "I'm so into it because I can create things and fly. I'm everything I'm not in this world."

Since hearing of the rampage, Tierney has been trying to figure out why Loughner did what he allegedly did. "More chaos, maybe," he says. "I think the reason he did it was mainly to just promote chaos. He wanted the media to freak out about this whole thing. He wanted exactly what's happening. He wants all of that."

I think we have a pretty good understanding by now of the killer. So, why does the NYT continue to humiliate itself like this? Have you no shame, sir?

A certain lack of self-awareness

It was only natural during the early hours of Saturday for liberals to hope that the Arizona shooter would turn out to be their Marinus van der Lubbe. Yet, within a few hours, it was obvious that the killer was a long-term loon who didn't fit into the usual political categories. (VDARE has the facts. Link fixed.)

Those facts dissuaded quite a number of commentators, who have since moved on to gun control as their salient for squeezing some advantage out of the massacre. (Of course, in a country with 200,000,000 or so existing guns, gun control is hardly much of a deterrent to this kind of -- fortunately, quite rare -- homicidal maniac. Gun control can play a role in dissuading criminals who don't want to get caught, but not much of one in slowing down the few who have thought things through and don't care about consequences.) 

But, the editorial board of the New York Times, which led a campaign of opprobrium against the voters of Arizona for most of 2010 over SB1070, is trying to rewrite history through sheer control of the bullhorn. From the Monday edition, long after the facts were out:
Shooting in Arizona
Editorial: Bloodshed and Invective

Arizona should take the lead in quieting the voices of intolerance and imposing sensible gun control laws.

In  other words, No Tolerance for anybody we can't tolerate.
... It is facile and mistaken to attribute this particular madman’s act directly to Republicans or Tea Party members. 

But ... we don't care, so we're going to do it anyway:
But it is legitimate to hold Republicans and particularly their most virulent supporters in the media responsible for the gale of anger that has produced the vast majority of these threats, setting the nation on edge. Many on the right have exploited the arguments of division, reaping political power by demonizing immigrants, or welfare recipients, or bureaucrats.

Meanwhile, Paul Krugman is, not surprisingly, enraged about what he sees as a climate of hate.
Climate of Hate

When you heard the terrible news from Arizona, were you completely surprised? Or were you, at some level, expecting something like this atrocity to happen?

Who cares about facts? What is important is how Paul feels about things. Because Paul is such an even-tempered individual who always has a kind word for everybody, Paul is just furious -- furious -- about hate. Paul hates hate. Paul smash hate!

(By the way, it's instructive to compare press coverage of this massacre to that of the Omar Thornton massacre last August.)

Who's the leading leading man?

Movies made by Robert De Niro in the late 1970s include Godfather II, Taxi Driver, Deer Hunter, and Raging Bull. That's a pretty good stretch. 

From 1982-1986, Gerard Depardieu starred in (amongst much else -- he pretty much carried the French film industry on his broad back during the 1980s),  Return of Martin Guerre, Danton, and Jean de Florette.

From 2000-2005, Russell Crowe starred in Gladiator, A Beautiful Mind, Master and Commander, and Cinderella Man. 

These kind of halcyon periods for leading men (when they're both at the top of their acting and their movie star games) never last terribly long. Perhaps the star gets tired, or audiences just get tired of him. By the time you get around to realizing so-and-so is the top dog, he's probably over the hill.

Anyway, that's just an intro for my new movie review in Taki's Magazine, in which I give my guess as to who is the best right now.

January 9, 2011

Immigration controversy leads to political assassination

As I wrote on May 8, 2002
More than a few members of Europe's political establishment appear to believe that Pim Fortuyn -- the frank anti-immigration Dutch politician who was assassinated Monday, allegedly by a leftist activist -- had it coming.

... In response to his killing, El Mundo, a leading Spanish paper, cast much of the blame on the victim in convoluted but clearly angry prose: "A criminal response to the incendiary racist calls of these distant heirs of Nazism, introduces a terrible new element in a Europe that is fearful and harassed by demagoguery: that of vengeful violence, which can only engender more violence."

... Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel implied that the dead man had been just too darn democratic for a modern Euro-democracy: "Democratic parties have to campaign in a very cautious way, and in a balanced and serene way to try to orientate the debate toward democratic values.

... The Irish Times editorialized, "It is the very essence of democracy to allow anti-democratic views to be expressed." Apparently, trying to win an election on an anti-immigration plank is inherently "anti-democratic."

... Mainstream newspapers and politicians hinted that Fortuyn was a racist, a fascist or even a Nazi. The Irish Times went on: "Nevertheless the murder will serve to highlight the rise of the far right in European politics and may in the long run gain votes for those involved in simplistic, racially-motivated campaigns. Today, on the 57th anniversary of the defeat of fascism, such trends strike a sad note."

... Norman Lamont, the former Tory chancellor of the exchequer, wrote, "Britain has been fortunate to avoid the rise of extreme Right-wing, hateful politicians like Jean-Marie Le Pen and Pim Fortuyn, the Dutchman who was murdered in Hilversum."

... Aftonbladet, the leading circulation Swedish newspaper, weighed in with, "The brown parties of Europe have a new martyr." Brown was Hitler's color.

To quote from my VDARE article later:

Holland's flamboyant gay immigration reformer had been gunned down on the verge of what later proved  to be a major electoral breakthrough - just after Jean-Marie Le Pen's surprise second place finish in the opening round of the French presidential election had set off a continent-wide two-week campaign of virulent hatred toward immigration reformers.

When reports emerged that the leftwing lawyer who had shot Fortuyn was an animal rights activist, the European Establishment breathed a sigh of relief. The gunman was just some animal rights loony. Vilification of immigration reformers had nothing to do with it.


Well, guess what? The assassin, Volkert van der Graaf, finally made his confession in court this last week. And—what do you know! – he says he killed Fortuyn largely for opposing Muslim immigration.

The London Daily Telegraph reported:
"Facing a raucous court on the first day of his murder trial, he said his goal was to stop Mr. Fortuyn exploiting Muslims as 'scapegoats' and targeting "the weak parts of society to score points" to try to gain political power. He said: 'I confess to the shooting. He was an ever growing danger who would affect many people in society. I saw it as a danger. I hoped that I could solve it myself.'"

The Boston Globe noted:
"Van der Graaf said that he had sensed an increasingly unpleasant and anti-Muslim atmosphere in society after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States—a time when Fortuyn's star was beginning its meteoric rise. Van der Graaf said Fortuyn, 54, had tried to use that atmosphere for his own aggrandizement. 'I saw him as a highly vindictive man who used feelings in society to boost his personal stature. The ideas he had about refugees, asylum seekers, the environment, animals. . . . He was always using or abusing the weak side of society to get ahead.'"

Reported Expatica.com:
"Van der Graaf claimed, according to the Algemeen Dagblad, he was greatly influenced by politicians who compared Fortuyn with Austrian far-right leader Jorg Haider and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini."

"Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior"

Here's an article from the Wall Street Journal by Amy Chua of Yale Law School on Chinese mothers. She's from the Chinese economic elite of the Philippines, a "market-dominant minority" to use her term in the book World on Fire, which I reviewed for VDARE.com here.

I must confess that while I was reading the article, I thought it was by the author of The Joy Luck Club. But that is not Amy Chua, but Amy Tan. That's because the first story I ever read by Amy Tan was Two Kinds in The Atlantic in 1989, which is about what it's like to have a Chinese mother for a mother. It's well worth reading.