2014-02-27

Inverted Reality

This from VDH.
Losing a job is freedom from job lock. A budget deficit larger than in any previous administration is austerity. A mean right-wing video caused the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi. Al-Qaeda was long ago washed up. The Muslim Brotherhood is secular. Jihad is a personal journey. Shooting people while screaming Allahu akbar! is workplace violence. Unaffordable higher premiums and deductibles are the result of an Affordable Care Act. Losing your doctor and your health-insurance plan prove you will never lose your doctor and your health-insurance plan — period! Being a constitutional lawyer means you know how to turn the IRS and the FCC on your enemies. Failure is success; lies are truth.

2014-02-19

Online Dates, Patriots & Racism

On a recent Freakonomics podcast, Alli Reed discussed how she created a fake dating profile as a test to see whether guys on an online dating service really read her profile or were only interested in looks. As she describes it in the resulting cracked.com article:
In making this profile, I made sure my creation touched on every major facet of being truly horrible: mean, spoiled, lazy, racist, manipulative, and willfully ignorant, and I threw in a little gold digging just for funzies. I maintain that there is not a human on this planet who would read this profile and think, "Yes, I'd like to spend any amount of the fleeting time I'm given on my journey around the sun getting to know this person." This profile is my magnum opus; it will be engraved on my tombstone. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair:
She used her model friend's photo and in her attempt to make her fake persona seem as awful as possible, included in her profile such things as "On a typical Friday night I am: knockin the cups out of homeless ppls hands, its sooooo funny to watch them try to pick it all up lolllllll" and "The most private thing I'm willing to admit: convinced my ex i was pregnant and he still pays me child support lolololol"

To cement her racist bona fides, she added "keeping america american" under the topic "The six things I could never do without." On the podcast she explained, "To me, the worst person in the world is definitely racist. And keeping America American, to me, is sort of code for 'I don't like people who don't look like me.'"

And therein lies an interesting distinction in American culture today.

It is noteworthy that Reed sees patriotism as the expression of racism. But for some - I would guess most - patriotism is just love on one's country and/or a perceived set of values. No nefarious secret societies. No hidden agendas.

But some first assume others are racist and therefore everything those others do and say is either overtly or covertly racist. That is how during the 2012 election such words as angry, Chicago, constitution, golf, privileged, crime, welfare and professor were identified as racist "code" words. (Here, here) One can only conclude that words such as these are racist code if one first concludes, with or without evidence, that whoever is using such words is racist. Certainly people that the finger-pointer agrees with, or maybe even they themselves, have used such innocuous words, but they are excused from racist code accusations. Why? Well, because they just can't be racist. Nobody ever bothers to explain why that is so.

Generally speaking, no evidence of racism was ever provided, but rather, it was just assumed or asserted that the person or group was racist, ergo everything they said was outright racist or racist code. And of course, denying the accusation was further proof of the racism. This idiotic 'reasoning' works for many because no evidence was brought to prove the racism to begin with so none is needed to further the claim.

So it seems this is the case with Ms. Reed. There is nothing about the sentiment 'keeping America American' that is necessarily racist. Can she imagine George Washington hoping that the values that formed the new republic endure? Or is it possible that somebody today might hope that the better aspects that are perceived to be uniquely American continue on? Americanism is not tied to people who look similar as she suggests, it is a set of shared values. People of all races can and do share American values.

It is difficult to understand how somebody can make such a ridiculous leap from a wish that a particular set of values be retained to disliking others because of their physical features. By Reed's way of thinking, would a newly naturalized Muslim American be guilty of racism if she were grateful for the blessings of liberty bestowed by Americanism and wished for 'America to remain American'? She would, unless, of course, Reed is willing to limit this racist "code" behavior to a single race or group. And what could be more racist than that?

One wonders whether or not she would suspect code if a like-minded person, a close friend perhaps, lamented a shift in an American value that they embraced. One suspects that because Reed would likely assume good will and decency on the part of her friend that the notion of racist code would be dismissed out of hand. But on what basis does she assume bad motive or indecency for others? For it is only by attributing bad motive that she can conclude that code is at play. And on what basis is that judgment made? Is it based solely on disagreement on certain issues? Is there any evidence to back up her simplified, bigoted assertion?

And, by the way, of course the men were primarily motivated by a pretty picture. The only shocking discovery there is that anybody would be shocked to discover that.

2014-02-15

Power Corrupts

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.
John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, first Baron Acton
Jonah Goldberg notes that Lord Acton had something else in mind rather than how we normally interpret the quote as giving rise to moral weakness in the person who exercises power. Acton is not saying that power is corrupting of those who have it so much as he is saying power has a corruptible effect on the perceptions of the non-powerful. The paragraph from which the absolute power quote is plucked is from a letter that Acton wrote to Bishop Creighton:
I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.
David Henderson helps to explain: "If people think 'the office sanctifies the holder', then it's easier for the office-holder to get away with bad things." It is a version of Hans Christian Andersen's, The Emperor's New Clothes. Because those being swindled did not wish to offend or be seen as contrary to the Emperor, they acted in ways not becoming honest persons. This obeisance to power made the townsfolk in the tale powerless to resist the trickery of the swindlers who exploited other human characteristics such as the desire to fit in.

Goldberg continues, "Power corrupts the way that other people view the powerful. Acton was speaking about how, when historians write about popes, they tend to forgive all sorts of things that they would condemn in lesser men."

We see a variation on this altered perception when observing how the powerful are judged by others. Often, movie stars are 'cut slack' when they lead lives of debauchery or live with mistresses rather than a spouse. Those around them quickly explain why we should not judge, how it is just artistic quirkiness or that it is none of our business; that some indiscretions and oversights are permitted in support of genius. When under the influence of power's radiation, people stop judging powerful, famous and influential people in the same way that they judge their business associates, family members or friends. Dispensations are given in lieu of interventions.

Goldberg points to such things as Justin Bieber having a pet monkey as evidence of the resulting altered expectations. "If you had the kind of money where any wish could be granted and the job of everyone around you is to say, 'Yes,' you would get a monkey. And that is why you know things are going to go badly, because everyone is saying 'Yes' to everything." Prudence and discretion prevail among the non-powerful when they are not under the irradiating influence of the powerful. The setting aside of normal council and judgment of behavior by the non-powerful is just the very sort of corruption Acton was addressing. Lord Acton's observation instructs the non-powerful to be wary of the corrupting influence that power may have on their judgment and morality. The powerful are not the only ones susceptible to power's inveiglements.

This plays out in the political realm too. One might speculate on how this kind of obsequiousness played a role in President Obama not fully understanding that the Affordable Care Act's health exchange website's launch was doomed. The inevitable results are compounded when pride and arrogance of the powerful are coupled with 'honest old ministers' and 'trustworthy officials' who are vested in shared outcomes and are therefore even less likely to be well versed in critical appraisal of the actions of the powerful. Nobody wants to be the one to tell the Emperor that "he hasn't got anything on." Even less so if the powerful are enacting outcomes you agree with.

More and more, the press's ability to judge has conformed to Lord Acton's observation about the corrupting influence of power. But their shared ideology with the left causes them to swoon under the influence of leftist power while giving them extraordinary abilities to resist the deleterious effects of power on judgment when power is held by the right. The shared desire for specific outcomes further alters the Acton effect and they look less like the 'honest old ministers' and more like the old Hollywood fixers Eddie Mannix and Howard Strickling.

By way of the Amazon description of The Fixers: Eddie Mannix, Howard Strickling and the MGM Publicity Machine, some 'splainin':
Eddie Mannix and Howard Strickling are virtually unknown outside of Hollywood and little-remembered even there, but as General Manager and Head of Publicity for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, they lorded over all the stars in Hollywood's golden age from the 1920s through the 1940s--including legends like Garbo, Dietrich, Gable and Garland. When MGM stars found themselves in trouble, it was Eddie and Howard who took care of them--solved their problems, hid their crimes, and kept their secrets. They were "the Fixers." At a time when image meant everything and the stars were worth millions to the studios that owned them, Mannix and Strickling were the most important men at MGM. Through a complex web of contacts in every arena, from reporters and doctors to corrupt police and district attorneys, they covered up some of the most notorious crimes and scandals in Hollywood history, keeping stars out of jail and, more importantly, their names out of the papers. They handled problems as diverse as the murder of Paul Bern (husband of MGM's biggest star, Jean Harlow), the studio-directed drug addictions of Judy Garland, the murder of Ted Healy (creator of The Three Stooges) at the hands of Wallace Beery, and arranging for an unmarried Loretta Young to adopt her own child--a child fathered by a married Clark Gable. Through exhaustive research and interviews with contemporaries, this is the never-before-told story of Eddie Mannix and Howard Strickling. The dual biography describes how a mob-related New Jersey laborer and the quiet son of a grocer became the most powerful men at the biggest studio in the world.
When shared ideology and the Acton effect collide, morality appears to be whatever those in communion say it is. Because of the shared ideology of many in the media and the politically powerful left, today's 'news' media, reminiscent of the old Hollywood press, functions as the clean-up squad for the Democratic party. The fawning, equivocation and favorable interpretations on behalf of simpatico political luminaries induces fremdsch√§men in anyone who isn't a sycophant. The inclination toward moral weakness brought on by the Acton effect is, when combined with shared ideology, transmogrified to relativism that is morally hyper-vigilant toward those one disagrees with and morally indifferent to those with shared ideology.

So while Hillary assembles an elaborate defense of Bill's promiscuities and explains to Diane Blair why his affair might have been understandable and partially her fault because she didn't properly recognize his stress (victim blaming that would be excoriated by feminists the world around if uttered by any other), or while Bill and she haven't lived together for 15 years and largely live separate lives, we are treated to a sanitized contemporary hagiography that explains away behavior - that might be questioned if done by a close friend or relative - as the deep, sophisticated and complex actions of a modern woman pursuing lofty moral goals and that they are a deeply in love couple that have a happy marriage and home life.

The Fixers work diligently to present the story they want to present because aligned ideals and power conspire to corrupt the non-powerful's perceptions of the powerful. One expects this of the staff. But we should have higher hopes for a free and independent press.

2014-02-04

Disparate Impact

Disparate impact states that, regardless of intent, any adverse impact of a policy or action toward a protected group is discriminatory. In the workplace this might, for example, take the form of a written and oral civil-service exam for firefighters where white applicants pass at twice the rate of black applicants. Even though there may be no intent or discernible discrimination in the exam and it is only testing fitness for service, an exam can be thought to be discriminatory if, based on test results, no blacks and only a few Hispanics would be promoted.

Recently, Jerry Seinfeld was asked why his show doesn't reflect the racial mix found in society at large.



Seinfeld's response was appropriate: "People think [comedy] is the census or something, it's gotta represent the actual pie chart of America. Who cares?" But why couldn't this be the response for any endeavor? Unless somebody is actively trying to exclude a particular race or other protected group or a behavior is clearly biased, why is anybody worried about this at all?

Mona Charen examines how disparate impact is being used by the Obama administration to restrict disciplinary activity in schools.
In the school context, the federal government is now arguing that if a disciplinary rule results in more black, Hispanic, or special-education kids being suspended or otherwise sanctioned, the rule must be suspect. The “Dear Colleague” letter from the DOE and DOJ explains that a disciplinary policy can be unlawful discrimination even if the rule is “neutral on its face . . . and is administered in an evenhanded manner” if it has a “disparate impact” on certain ethnic and other groups.

Under the new dispensation, teachers, principals, and other officials will have to pause before they discipline, say, the fourth black student in a month. “How will this look to the feds?” they’ll ask themselves. Will the student’s family be able to sue us? A variety of solutions to the federally created problem will present themselves. School officials can search out offenses by white and Asian students to make the numbers come out right. Asian students are disciplined at rates far below any other ethnic group. Is this due to pro-Asian bias in our schools, or it because Asians commit many fewer infractions? Oops, there we go into territory forbidden by the federal guidelines.
Equality of outcome, not equality under the law, is important under disparate impact. Behavior and personal responsibility is of no concern. Disparate impact winds up being the antithesis of King's dream. Instead of judging character, practitioners of disparate impact spend all their time judging skin color.

And, of course, it is a system rigged for certain protected groups. As Charen notes, no concern is raised over the disparate impact to males, Asians and others that are not in protected classes. This oversight is not confined to the schoolroom. What if disparate impact were applied to the subject of abortions? As one website notes:
Minority women constitute only about 13% of the female population (age 15-44) in the United States, but they underwent approximately 36% of the abortions.

According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, black women are more than 5 times as likely as white women to have an abortion.
Why aren't those who are enamored of the disparate impact theory up in arms over this? Certainly the data demonstrate that blacks are over represented among aborted babies. Why doesn't this disparity indicate racist motives among those who agitate on behalf of "choice" and "women's health"?

It seems clear that if pro-lifers wanted to demagogue the issue, they would certainly make this disparity the centerpiece of their opposition to abortion. That they don't speaks to their desire to be fair, decent and not impugn the character of those they disagree with. The lack of concern also seems to question the veracity of the notion of disparate impact since the Obama administration is not pursuing "group justice" due to high black abortion rates.

To channel Seinfeld, apparently people think [fill in the blank] is the census or something and it's gotta represent the actual pie chart of America. Who cares?