Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Wonder Woman's Arm Pits

There's a controversy about Wonder Woman's arm pits. Some feminists are outraged that Diana shaves them. Here's some thoughts on that:

The character has been represented without excess body hair for decades.

Ancient Greek Women removed extra body hair (NSFW). Wonder Woman's culture is inspired by the ancient Greeks.

Many fashion trends, such as shaving, are as much about impressing other woman as they are looking good for men.

Men shave, too and much more often (and these days, men shave more of their bodies, too). I've seen speculation that both sexes are trying to preserve an adolescent look. Men shave world-wide including in cultures where women do not shave and this goes back thousands of years. There's something in the human makeup that makes us want to remove body hair. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Science and Dogma

Recently a student organization at Middlebury College invited Charles Murray to speak. Murray is considered a controversial speaker because he co-wrote the book The Bell Curve in the 1990s. His most recent work is about the effect that college recruitment has on income inequality. Rather than hear what Murray had to say or just ignore his talk, protestors shut it down and forced him to leave, injuring a professor in the process. The college paper published a letter from a guest contributor signed Nic Valenti '17 that gives some insight into the motivations of the protestors.

Nic begins with this:

I can understand the perceptions that would lead the AEI to invite a controversial speaker such as Charles Murray. Indeed, when I first arrived at Middlebury I was clueless to the systems of power constructed around race, gender, sexuality, class or ability, and found that when I talked about these issues as I understood them — or rather, as I didn't — I was met with blank stares and stigma rather than substantial debate. As a young bigot, I can recall thinking: "I thought at Middlebury I would get to have intellectual discussions, but instead it feels as though my views are being censored." However, as a first-year I had failed to consider a simple, yet powerful component of debate: not all opinions are valid opinions. I had fallen into the trap of false equivalence.

He then talks about a debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, a Young Earth Creationist, on the legitimacy of evolution. Naturally, Nye failed to convince Ham which seems to have infuriated Nic. That serves as a springboard into the controversy about Charles Murray:

And yet Charles Murray's views are even more dangerous than Ham's. Ham disavows a scientific theory; Murray disavows the fundamental equality of all human beings. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center: "In Murray's world, wealth and social power naturally accrue towards a 'cognitive elite' made up of high-IQ individuals (who are overwhelmingly white, male and from well-to-do families), while those on the lower end of the eponymous bell curve form an 'underclass' whose misfortunes stem from their low intelligence. According to Murray, the relative differences between the white and black populations of the United States, as well as those between men and women, have nothing to do with discrimination or historical and structural disadvantages, but rather stem from genetic differences between the groups."
This is an interesting juxtaposition and it shows how misguided Nic is about the world.

First of all, Nye didn't have a chance of convincing Ham. Nye was taking the scientific viewpoint which is that you go where-ever the evidence takes you. Ham was taking a dogmatic viewpoint that the Bible is to be taken as literally as possible and and evidence that says otherwise must be incorrect. I doubt if Nye ever expected to convince Ham. He was playing to the audience of people who might have been swayed by Ham.

So, on to Murray. Murray is not arguing dogma. He is a scientist and he is arguing in favor of an interpretation of the evidence. He uses genetics and statistics to make his case, both hard sciences.

Nic doesn't even bother to quote a dissenting scientist. Instead he quotes from the Southern Poverty Law Center which is not a scientific body by any stretch of the imagination. They are condemning Murray because they don't like the implications of his conclusions.

Nic doesn't realize it but he's in the same position as Ken Ham - he's spouting dogma against a scientist. If you look at Nic's earlier paragraph in this light you can see the parallels between it and a religious tract: "I was a sinner but I've received the word and I've been saved." Nic tells us that he came to college ready to debate issues but was indoctrinated.

This attitude explains the violence against a speaker. Science allows dissenting opinions to be voiced. They are then accepted or rejected on the soundness of their arguments. Dogma rejects all dissent out of hand and harshly suppresses heresy.

In late-17th century the Puritans in New England had a problem. The founders were sure they had been saved. But they weren't sure about their children. Salvation isn't hereditary and there's no visible mark to tell who is among the elect (the ones chosen by God). According to the Puritans. the only way to be sure was to constantly search your own soul and the souls of those around you for sin. That's what college campuses have become these days. The students are constantly searching each other's souls for and deviation from their dogma and engaging in ostentatious virtue signalling to prove that they are among the elect.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Kellyanne and the Gotcha photo

Earlier this week President Trump had a meeting with over 100 leaders of historically black colleges and universities. The press didn't run a picture of that. And pictures were taken. Here's one of Kellyanne Conway taking a picture with her phone.

Here's the picture that was run

Which was followed by criticism for Kellyanne for having her feet on the couch and fir sitting in the presence of the visitors. This is a "gotcha" picture. It had two purposes:

1) It keeps the press from having to report on Trump's outreach to a large group of black leaders.

2) It helps to discredit Kellyanne. The left hates her with a passion for orchestrating Trump's winning campaign.

Contrast this with eight years ago when CNN had a group of black kids singing and dancing in support of Obamacare.

That's why the press is no longer trusted.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Two Year Myth

Ever since the election I've been seeing people on the left talking about how Trump will be president for two years. The highest profile version of this I've seen to date is a column by former conservative Kathleen Parker. She says:

My "good" prediction is based on the Law of the Pendulum. Enough Americans, including most independent voters, will be so ready to shed Donald Trump and his little shop of horrors that the 2018 midterm elections are all but certain to be a landslide — no, make that a mudslide — sweep of the House and Senate. If Republicans took both houses in a groundswell of the people's rejection of Obamacare, Democrats will take them back in a tsunami of protest.

This is a total fantasy. There is no way that the Democrats can remove Trump from office, even in an unprecedented landslide. No chance at all.

Because Senators server six year terms, the people coming up for reelection in 2018 are the ones who last ran in 2012 with Barack Obama at the top of the ticket. The Democrats who won were riding on Obama's coattails and the Republicans who won were bucking a headwind. The numbers show that. The Democrats and independents who caucus with the Democrats are defending 25 seats. The Republicans are defending 8. That's long odds for the Democrats.

But, let's assume that the Democrats manage a clean sweep and win all 33 seats. That would give them 56 seats. Assuming that they also take the house and pass a bill on impeachment, then the Senate would have to vote on removing President Trump and that takes a 2/3s super-majority. They'd have to have 67 votes. Does anyone seriously think that 11 Republicans will join the Democrats in ejecting a Republican president? The best guide we have to go on was the impeachment of Bill Clinton which failed in the Senate because the Democrats refused to vote to remove him, even though there was no question that he was guilty of perjury.

And, even if the Democrats did manage to remove Trump, that just elevates Pence to the presidency. Are we to believe that they will find cause to impeach him, too, so that nancy Pelosi can be president (it goes without saying that they will also refuse to confirm a replacement vice president after Trump is removed).

So any hopes of removing President Trump involve a lot of wishful thinking.

But is it even rational to assume that 2018 will be a Democratic wave election? The White House changes parties regularly. Since World War II, it's switched every 8 years with two exceptions, both involving Reagan (Reagan defeated a sitting president and his successor was elected but only held the White House for a single term). The Senate has changed hands several times since the Republicans took it in 1980 but its shifts tend to take 6 years or longer. The Republicans have only controlled the Senate since 2014.

The House is a different animal. The Democrats controlled it continuously from the 1930s until 1994 with the exception of the Republicans controlling it twice, both times for single term in the 1950s. The Republicans finally won control of the House in 1994  after 40 years and kept it until 2006 then won it back again in 2010.

It's instructive to look at what was going on when the House changed hands. 1994 was partly a reaction to Bill Clinton's presidency but it also featured the Contract With America - a set of issues that the Republicans promised to vote on in their first 100 days. They delivered on their Contract, also, but it was mainly symbolic since the Democrats still controlled the Senate.

The Democrats took the House in two wave elections. The first, in 2006, was largely a reaction to the war in Iraq. The 2008 election was a reaction to the financial crisis. The Republicans formed the Tea Party in 2009 and took the House back the following year. Considering that the Democrats controlled the House for 58 out of 62 years then the House may be in a similar, long-term Republican period with short interruptions because of external events. If this is true then there is no pendulum to swing back.

There is good reason to believe this. The country in general tends to be center-right but in the last two decades people have self-selected so that the country is a sea of red with small clusters of urban-dwelling liberals. This makes it nearly impossible to draw competitive congressional districts. Ohio continues to be nearly 50/50 but the graphic below shows how the Democrats have retreated into only a few counties.

Even if we assume that it is possible to swing Congress back so soon, what will the Democrats' message be? Their post-election analysis rejected and moderation in favor of doubling down on progressive policies and identity politics. They have sworn to to all that they can to resist President Trump at every level. That satisfies their base but they already have the base's vote. A lot depends on how Trump's policies play out but the Democrats are taking a huge risk. They are convinced that Trump is a terrible president and that the rest of the country will eventually realize it. They have no plan B. If Trump succeeds or even muddles through then the Democrats will fail. 

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Elizabeth Warren (sort of) Gets It.

In a speech to the Democrats last weekend, Elizabeth Warren had some genuine insights.

Our moment of crisis didn't begin with the election of Donald Trump," she said. "We were already in crisis. We were already in crisis because for years and years and years, Washington has worked just great for the rich and the powerful, but far too often, it hasn't worked for anyone else."

"People don't just wake up one day and elect leaders like Donald Trump because 'hey, everything is awesome, but what the hell, let's roll the dice and make life interesting,'" she added. 

Democrats frequently enabled or participated in these trends, Warren said.

"Republican politicians have pushed one policy after another that has favored the rich and powerful over everyone else, and far too often, Democrats have gone right along," she said. "And no matter how extreme Republicans in Washington became, Democrats might grumble or whine, but when it came time for action, our party hesitated and pushed back only with great reluctance. Far too often, Democrats have been unwilling to get out there and fight."

She's exactly right when she says that people didn't elect Trump because they are satisfied. But she missed some important points.

Her biggest problem is her insistence that it's all the Republicans' fault.

This country is in an economic crisis. For more than 30 years, working families, middle class families, poor families, students, seniors have been squeezed harder and harder, and now they are at the breaking point. Republican politicians have pushed one policy after another that has favored the rich and powerful over everyone else, and far too often, Democrats have gone right along. And no matter how extreme Republicans in Washington became, Democrats might grumble or whine, but when it came time for action, our party hesitated and pushed back only with great reluctance. Far too often, Democrats have been unwilling to get out there and fight.

Warren needs to take a close look at her own party. They like to tell themselves that they are the party of the working people and not the rich and powerful but that's not how people outside the party see them. Who are their biggest donors? Wall Street, Hollywood and Silicon Valley. The super rich. And why do these super rich people donate to the Democrats if the Republicans are the ones pushing policies favoring them? Are these people crazy? Or maybe the Democrats have become the party of the rich while telling themselves that they still represent the poor.

Former President Obama likes to brag that he saved the economy but what he saved was Wall Street. No one went to jail. All of those companies that are too big to fail weren't broken up. Instead they were buttressed. Income inequality kept rising. The Fed pushed billions into Wall Street by lowering interest rates to an effective 0%.

Ideology rules the Democrats. When given a choice between jobs and ideology, ideology always wins. The XP pipeline may not produce all that many jobs but it is symbolic of how the Democrats think. Even after studies showed that it was safe and would not contribute measurably to global warming, the Democrats still killed it because it made the ideologists feel good.

First Obama and then Hillary came out against coal. Hillary actually said that she was going to put coal miners out of work. yes, she went on to say some platitudes about finding them new jobs in clean energy but they knew better than to believe that.

In every other recovery since WWII, small businesses have lead the way but not this time which is probably why the recovery was so weak. What happened to the small businesses? No one is sure but it's very possible that the mountain of new regulations the Obama administration created has something to do with it.

Then there was the Trans-pacific Partnership which Obama decided to call an agreement instead of a treaty so that he wouldn't have to get the Senate to ratify it. He did the same with the Paris Accords, too. Both were unpopular among working-class Americans.

So Warren is correct that people feel left out of the economy but she missed the fact that they blame the Democrats - on every level. The Democrats have become the party of the wealthy and the city-dwellers.

Trump is trying to change the economy and put jobs first. He may be wrong-headed but he's trying to help Americans.

And here's where Warren gets it completely wrong,

We are not the minority party. We are the opposition party, and we need to talk about the key difference between us and them every day—and we need to say it in the plainest possible way

She goes on to talk about all of the regular anti-Trump talking points. But she never talks about what the Democrats will do for the average worker. She never proposes a new economic agenda, just doubling down on the current platform. She never thinks about how that will look to the people who voted for Trump.

So she learned nothing from the election.

Friday, February 03, 2017

The Democrat's Dilemma

The Senate Democrats have a huge dilemma. They spent years complaining about Republican obstructionism in general and the last several months complaining that the Senate Republicans needed to "do their Constitutional job" and approve President Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court. But now that President Trump has nominated someone, the Democrats suddenly turned obstructionist.

There is no good reason for opposing Judge Gorsuch. He is eminently qualified and he will not tilt the court further to the right. There are some ruffled feathers on the left because Obama's nominee didn't get a hearing but the precedent of the opposing party stopping lame duck appointments goes back to 1992 and both Barack Obama and Joe Biden supported it as senators.

The main reason there is any controversy is that the left hates President Trump with a white hot passion. They don't want to see the Democrats in Congress cooperating with Trump on anything.

The problem for the Democrats is that it makes what the Republicans did against Obama look mild by example. The Democrats are raising the level of obstruction. This will haunt them in two ways. When they inevitably return to power, the Republicans will use every trick that the Democrats have used. In the meantime, the Republicans have every excuse to throw away the rule book and use the "nuclear option" - changing the rules by a simple majority vote. The Democrats already did this for everything except Supreme Court nominees, something they are surely regretting right now. Doing away with the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees will make it easier to confirm more polarized justices. That's one of those things that's only good when your side can do it.

So the Senate Democrats have strong reasons to allow Judge Gorsuch to be confirmed. But that will anger the base and will probably lead to some primary challenges.

For many Senators, there is no good choice. Doing the right thing will hurt them and doing the wrong thing will hurt the country. So they have a dilemma.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Obama to Trump

A had a few thoughts during Donald Trump's inauguration about the difference between him and former President Obama. The quick version is that Obama's main priority was trying to transform America while Trump's seems to be trying to help Americans.

The XP Pipeline is a perfect example. Studies said that it imposed no significant risks and that the amount of oil produced from it would not affect global warming in any measurable way. Blocking the pipeline stopped American jobs and hurt relations with Canada. But Obama did it anyway for symbolic reasons.

After the Sandy Hook shootings, there was a major push for gun control. None of it would have stopped the tragedy. It was just an excuse for gun control.

The regulatory state went into overdrive during the Obama administration with the EPA claiming control over such diverse things as automobile mileage which had previously been under Congressional control.

Obama claimed that he was forced to use executive orders to reform immigration law because Congress refused to act. The reason Congress didn't act was because the legislation was highly unpopular. Pressure from illegal immigrants depresses wages of American workers.

Obama seemed to give more support to the Black Lives Matters movement than to police officers who were killed directly because of BLM protests.

Obamacare may have insured millions who didn't have insurance, but it also stifled tens of thousands of small companies. In every previous recession, small businesses were responsible for most of the new jobs during the recovery. Without the hiring from small business, the recovery has been, at best, tepid.

The Obama administration and the Democrats in general went out of their way to be as harsh as possible on dissenters. In 2008, Obama felt that he could not be elected if he admitted he favored gay marriage and the State of California passed an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment. Regardless of that, any business that refused personal services for gay weddings was fined enough to put it out of business.

The same was true for religious exemptions for birth control under Obamacare. The Obama administration was very unforgiving in awarding exemptions.

I could go on. These are just examples off of the top of my head but they illustrate my point - that Obama and his administration valued conformity with its principles over the desires and well-being of the populous. This was especially true in coal country and managed to push a solidly blue state (West Virginia) to being solidly red.

All I have to go on so far from Trump is his campaign promises and his inaugural speech but he seems to desire to put American workers first, ahead of ideology. That is a huge change from the previous administration.