Archive for the ‘Conservatives’ category

My New Favorite Judge

July 7, 2014

Would be Bush 41 appointee Richard Kopf*, a member of the Federal District Court bench for in Nebraska.

Why?

Because of this:

In the Hobby Lobby cases, five male Justices of the Supreme Court, who are all members of the Catholic faith and who each were appointed by a President who hailed from the Republican party, decided that a huge corporation, with thousands of employees and gargantuan revenues, was a “person” entitled to assert a religious objection to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate because that corporation was “closely held” by family members. To the average person, the result looks stupid and smells worse.

[h/t Talking Points Memo]

William_Hogarth_004

Judge Kopf elaborates:

To most people, the decision looks stupid ’cause corporations are not persons, all the legal mumbo jumbo notwithstanding. The decision looks misogynist because the majority were all men. It looks partisan because all were appointed by a Republican. The decision looks religiously motivated because each member of the majority belongs to the Catholic church, and that religious organization is opposed to contraception.

Kopf adds both in a disclaimer both truthful and politic that he is not saying that the majority in the Hobby Lobby decision were actually driven by the considerations that it really really looks like they were. But the point is made — and he adds the equally valid observation that there was no actual necessity for the Supremes to take the case in the first place. Such judicial passivism, he says, would have been better than this result.

In that context, the good jurist has the temerity to offer advice to his betters:

Next term is the time for the Supreme Court to go quiescent–this term and several past terms has proven that the Court is now causing more harm (division) to our democracy than good by deciding hot button cases that the Court has the power to avoid. As the kids say, it is time for the Court to stfu**

To which I say, Amen and Amen.

*As the TPM piece linked above reports, Kopf achieved a measure of — fame is not quite the word — notice for an earlier blog post advising young women lawyers how to dress for court.

**I do love the link that Judge Kopf kindly provided for his less internet-meme-familiar readers to that last term.

Image: William Hogarth, The Court, c. 1758. You’ve seen this one before, I know. I generally try to find a new image for every post, but this one so perfectly captures the contempt I feel for the current Court that I just keep coming back to it. Sorry.

It’s Tough To Be A Man In This Woman’s World

May 20, 2014

A quick follow-on to Doug J’s post below.

To point out the obvious:  in the new narrative of sexual violence on college campuses, conservative writers, like the one Doug J cites, like Ross Douthat, like the richly informed social commentators he references (McArdle rising from her Bloomberg obscurity! The American Enterprise Institute’s Caroline Kitchens…) find the heart of the story clearly in the true victims of the rape crisis:  the accused.

The complainants?  The default in this new/old conservative commentary is that the accusation of rape is simply a tool — a way to get revenge for one slight or another, or simply to impose matriarchy on a society that has already abandoned its men.  Because universities are so cowed by feminist moral relativists, no accused male stands a chance.

GENTILESCHI_Judith

Ummm….no:

Sulkowicz [a student at Columbia] said that she didn’t want to report her attack to the police because she was embarrassed and ashamed of what had happened to her.

“When it first happened, I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I didn’t even tell my parents. … I didn’t even want to talk to my best friend,” she said.

Sulkowicz decided to file a complaint against Nungesser through the University when she met two other women he allegedly assaulted. “I realized that if I didn’t report him he’d continue to attack women on this campus. I had to do it for those other women,” Sulkowicz said.

After Sulkowicz reported her assault to Columbia in April 2013, the University ultimately found him “not responsible”—the same decision it later gave the two other women who filed complaints against him, Sulkowicz said.

Sulkowicz has recently filed  a police report, and a DA is looking into the matter.  But the larger point is, I hope, obvious.

Rape is not a joke, a game, something that virtually everyone faced with the question of what to do after a sexual assault will bandy about.  (Sexual violence isn’t all rape, and rape doesn’t define the universe of such harm too, of course.)  Claims of rape are terribly hard on those who make them.  I’m stunned that I write these words at this late date, but folks on the right seem to have missed the bit where you talk to folks who actually know about sexual harm — so I guess we must.

I’m not saying an accusation is truth.  I’ve spoken with Title IX coordinators — and just received a briefing at MIT on my responsibilities as a graduate officer under that law — and there is no doubt that these are hard investigations to perform and difficult judgements (sometimes) to make.  Procedure is important; real commitment on the part of institutions to investigation is important; the establishment of a full suite of responses to help a victim of assault is vital and much more besides.

But the notion that the the risk of false accusation tops the list of concerns, and not paying due attention to sexual violence itself speaks volumes of the default to authority of the folks on the right.  Men deprived of power by an accusation are victims; the women who make up the vast majority of victims of sexual assault are the abusers for the act of talking out loud of the harm done to them.

This, friends, is how entrenched social power stays that way — or tries to.

Image: Artemisia Gentileschi, Judith Beheading Holofernes, 1614-20.

Schadenfreude: It’s What’s For Dinesh

January 23, 2014

Oh, the FSM smiled on me today:

Conservative author Dinesh D’Souza has been indicted on federal charges of violating campaign finance laws, the the U.S attorney in Manhattan announced on Thursday.

William_Hogarth_-_Soliciting_Votes_-_WGA11457

D’ Souza is accused of

“making illegal contributions to a United States Senate campaign in the names of others and causing false statements to be made to the Federal Election Commission in connection with those contributions.”

If I were a much better person than I am, I’d suppress the grin that seems to have pasted itself across my mug since I read that over at TPM.

Still smiling…

Image: William Hogarth, The Humours of an Election:  Soliciting Votes, 1754

Today in GOP Sociopathology

December 20, 2013

We’ve got two headliners today.

First up, child labor cheerleader Jack Kingston, a congressman from Georgia now looking for a promotion to the Senate, claimed that he’s no hater of the poor for saying this:

“Why don’t you have the kids pay a dime, pay a nickel to instill in them that there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch? Or maybe sweep the floor of the cafeteria — and yes, I understand that that would be an administrative problem, and I understand that it would probably lose you money,” Kingston said at a Jackson County Republican Party meeting, according to video surfaced by the Huffington Post. “But think what we would gain as a society in getting people — getting the myth out of their head that there is such a thing as a free lunch.”

But nah, that wasn’t aimed at shaming and constraining the poor, swears Kingston (R-eternally misunderstood).  Rather,

“This is not targeted to any one group,” Kingston said. “It would be very helpful for kids in any socio-economic group to do chores and learn the work ethic….I never did say poor kids.”

Over to you, M. Anatole France:

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The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.

And then there is that noted scholar of the Civil Rights era, Ian Bayne, a Republican candidate running for the nomination to challenge Rep. Bill Foster, an actual smart person and a Democrat representing Illinois’s 11th district.  Mr Bayne identifies the ties that bind two characters most observers of lesser penetration would never have uncovered:

“In December 1955, Rosa Parks took a stand against an unjust societal persecution of black people, and in December 2013, Robertson took a stand against persecution of Christians,” Bayne wrote in the email. “What Parks did was courageous.”

Bayne added in the email that “what Robertson did was courageous too.”

That would be Duck Dynast Phil Robertson, who, as we all know, is convinced that African Americans with whom he worked in the pre-Civil Rights era were, as he put it “Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”  And who says in the context of a current civil rights struggle, that gay men and women are bound not for equality before the law, but for Sheol:

“Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers–they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right. [via Ta-Nehisi Coates]

So, let’s recap:  Rosa Parks risks jail, bodily harm, quite possibly death to secure the minimal rights of citizenship for Americans who have been subjugated through a reign of terror for a century since the end of outright chattel slavery.  Some guy spouts hate at blacks and gays.

Just the same.

Ladles and Jellyspoons:  Your modern GOP.  A party that does not vomit out such characters cannot be allowed anywhere near the reins of power.

Or, as my man Cato would say, Factio Grandaeva Delenda Est

Image: Thomas Kennington, Orphans,1885.

Where Mike Huckabee Needs To Go

December 15, 2012

Mike Huckabee has never been what you might call my favorite person.  But it’s always depressing to see folks with influence plumb new depths.  By now, I’m sure you’ve heard he had to say about the Sandy Hook School shootings:

“We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools,” Huckabee said on Fox News.”Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?”

In other words:  Twenty-eight deaths, including the murder of twenty kids, was the fault not of the shooter, nor of a gun lobby that portrays military weapons as household tools.  Rather, said Huckabee, it was your fault and mine for having failed to appease his angry god by public worship in school.

Saying so is to implicate not just America at large in the crime.  It also adds up to a claim that those involved in the Sandy Hook Elementary School in particular were complicit in this massacre, for the banishment of one deity or another occured in that particular school too.  Lost a kid?  Too bad.  Shoulda prayed harder; shoulda held up a cross; shoulda, coulda, sorry old chum.

I can’t begin to write the rage and disgust I feel for that sanctimonious shit.  (Whether the word “shit” in that sentence applies to the man or the thought I’ll leave it to the reader to decide.) I want to say that it seems to me that there is a special place in hell Mike Huckabee.

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Unfortunately, I don’t think I can say that any more eloquently  than a howl and a “with a rusty pitchfork too!” kind of remark.  Fortunately, there are others who could and did describe exactly the appropriate fate for Mr. Huckabee — from one of whom, with your permission, I will now borrow.

Here’s one possibility that would satisfy my sense of justice:

The sides were crusted over with a mould/Plastered upon them by foul mists that rise,/And both with eyes and nose a contest hold./The bottom is so deep, in vain our eyes/Searched it till further up the bridge we went,/To where the arch o’erhangs what under lies./Ascended there, our eyes we downward bent,/And I saw people in such ordure drowned,/A very cesspool ’twas of excrement./And while I from above am searching round,/One with a head so filth-smeared I picked out,/I knew not if ’twas lay, or tonsure-crowned./‘Why then so eager,’ asked he with a shout, ‘To stare at me of all the filthy crew?’/And I to him: ‘Because I scarce can doubt/That formerly thee dry of hair I knew…

But perhaps that’s not miserable enough.  How’s this?

Then we descended from the bridge’s head,/Where with the eighth bank is its junction wrought/And full beneath me was the Bolgia spread,/And I perceived that hideously ’twas fraught/With serpents; and such monstrous forms they bore,/Even now my blood is curdled at the thought./Henceforth let sandy Libya boast no more!/Though she breed hydra, snake that crawls or flies,/Twy-headed, or fine-speckled, no such store/Of plagues, nor near so cruel, she supplies,/ Though joined to all the land of Ethiop,/And that which by the Red Sea waters lies./’Midst this fell throng and dismal, without hope/A naked people ran, aghast with fear—/No covert for them and no heliotrope/Their hands were bound by serpents at their rear,/Which in their reins for head and tail did get/A holding-place: in front they knotted were./And lo! to one who on our side was set/A serpent darted forward, him to bite/At where the neck is by the shoulders met./Nor O nor I did any ever write/More quickly than he kindled, burst in flame,/And crumbled all to ashes./And when quite He on the earth a wasted heap became/He on the earth a wasted heap became,/The ashes of themselves together rolled,/Resuming suddenly their former frame.

(Dante, Inferno, Canto XVIII, lines 106-121 and Canto XXIV, lines 79-106)

The translation’s a little old-fashioned, I know — but that’s what Gutenberg.org had on hand.

In any event, if I were a believer, I’d be hoping that Dante’s description of the torments of the damned is spot on.  And if it were then I would suggest to Mike Huckabee that he be afraid.  Very, very afraid.

Image: Pieter Huys, The Last Judgement, between 1555 and c. 1560

Republican Brains and Liberal Facts — A Conversation

June 13, 2012

I’ve just finished reading Chris Mooney’s latest, The Republican Brain, and I commend it to you all.  It’s Chris’s best, IMHO, intellectually (though not narratively) a sequel to his earlier best seller, The Republican War on Science. Or, perhaps more accurately, the new work is a response to that earlier one, an attempt to figure out why Republicans have become so (and increasingly) divorced from reality, why as a political movement, the G.O.P. has committed itself to so much that is, simply, objectively, wrong.

Chris and I will be talking about this later today as part of my monthly gig as a host for Virtually Speaking Science.  You can listen here at 5 EDT or later (after about midnight) to a podcast that will also be available through iTunes.  You can also join the live virtual studio audience in Second Life — throwing questions at us from either venue.

We’ll start with Chris’s argument: that a broad body of research from a variety of fields — psychology, cognitive science, evolutionary biology, and more — produces a reliable, reproducible nature and nurture account of systematic differences between conservative and liberal brains and minds.  In this account, conservatives act out of the quadrant of motives and neural systems that characterize “Closed” or resistant-to-new-experience personalities…and this renders them less able to respond to facts and/or argument that challenge essential beliefs. Liberals, or those who fall into the”Open” pattern do the opposite.

That’s the most simple minded cartoon of an inquiry into a lot of research that supports Mooney’s essential point:  there are fundamental attributes of how our minds work that shape whether or not we can accept or work very hard to ignore things like the reality of human-caused climate change, or the fact that tax cuts do not increase national revenue.

I find the book really persuasive on that score — but I do have a few points I’m planning to push Chris on.  One’s a historian’s thought — not so much a criticism, as a note that the vigor of reactionary denial of reality always ramps up at times of great change.  I’m thinking of a marvelous, if less-read-than-it-should-be book The Vertigo Years, Philipp Blom’s essayistic narrative of Europe’s schizophrenia from 1900-1914 — that tension between the legacy of Victorian assurance and the reality of massive cultural and social dislocative change.

As I noted in yesterday’s post, we’re smack in the middle of just such a period right now.  The Way It Used To Be is simply unavailable to whole swatches of society who are now terrified by what’s going on with technology, social life, culture, the hierarchy of privilege.  That terror invokes exactly the kind of neurological and cognitive response Chris is talking about — and I’d like to go more into the implications of history, of the contingencies of time and place, especially as they bear on his suggested solutions to the problem of a Republic in which close to half of the political class (and their supporters) are delusional.

The second point I plan to push him on is a bit of “both sides”-ery he permits himself.  He argues that the benefits accrue both from the virtues associated with the conservative mind — he mentions loyalty, decisiveness, perserverance, among others — and those tied to liberalism:  flexibility, openness to new information, invention.  My problem with this is that it is not a symmetrical opposition.  Decisiveness, for example, is an attribute that can accrue to either shoot-from-the-hip types or reflective ones; rejection of valid information or the disdain for expertise is not.  I can guess at what Chris might say, but I’m not sure…so I plan to ask.

That said, the most important part of the conversation, I expect, will be on what to do about the very real problem that the Republican Party now resembles nothing so much as King Canute’s court.  Chris has long argued for better framing of liberal and pro-science arguments, and in this book he points at the need to couch fact in great stories.  He doesn’t go deeply into this — most of the book is laying out the case for the reality of material differences of mind and brain between the ends of the political spectrum — but I think he’s right, and I want to go deeper into what that might mean.

In any event, check out the book, and come listen in (or the other way round).

Image:  Egon Schiele,Agony (The Death Struggle), 1912

“That’s funny, because I happen to have Mr. McLuhan right here…” Benjamin Franklin edition

April 20, 2011

I’m working on another volume in my Pequod-like pursuit of Megan McArdle* (see, after what went on here earlier today, I’ve got a Melville mindworm going), but just to show that I’m not dead yet, I thought I’d toss in a little lagniappe to a discussion begun here in John’s post of a day or so ago.

There, I learned that some idiot I’ve never before had the dystopic experience of encountering had this to say about the notion of an intellectual commons:

But Barton says that the Bible, Ben Franklin and the Pilgrims all opposed Net Neutrality because it violates the rights of huge corporations to charge higher rates and discriminate on content, calling it a “wicked” policyand “socialism on the Internet.”

Here’s David Barton’s own words on the subject, just to show that the snark version is, in fact, deadly accurate:

But we talk about it today because it is a principle of free market. That’s a Biblical principle, that’s a historical principle, we have all these quotes from Ben Franklin, and Jefferson and Washington and others on free market and how important that is to maintain.

Well, as it happens, I’m reading a really excellent book:  Common as Air by Lewis Hyde, which is, among much else, a detailed and beautifully written archaeology of what the founders — and Franklin primus inter pares — thought about ideas, ownership, and the commons.

One thing Hyde reminds us of is that Franklin himself did not claim ownership of ideas that he himself saw as the product of many, the inheritance of all, and the property of none.  He did not patent the lightening rod — instead communicating with David Hume, among others, to make sure that the world — at least those with access to learned journals — could make free use of both the research implications and the practical value of his investigations into the behavior of electricity. He didn’t try to hang on to the rights to the Franklin stove.

If he did choose to keep some trade secrets that advantaged the work that made him prosperous — the techniques he used to render early American paper money more secure against counterfeits — that was one exception against a life time of free public dissemination of discoveries and inventions that he understood to have been built on the work of predecessor and collaborators, to be improved upon still further by the efforts of strangers to come.  [FWIW -- I wrote about Franklin's role as a currency innovator in last October's American History. Sadly, the piece itself is not online, though I think a draft may show up in MIT's DSpace archive eventually.

You should all go get Hyde's book for yourselves, but just to shove Barton's ignorant lies back down his slimy, authoritarian-slime-filled cake-hole, consider this quote from the chapter Hyde titled "Benjamin Franklin, Founding Pirate":

Franklin believed that property should not command society, society should command property:  "Private Property..is a Creature of Society and is subject to the Cals of that Society whenever its Necessities shall require it, even to its last Farthing."  The contributions that private property makes to public needs are not, therefore, "to be considered as conferring a Benefit to the Public...but as the Return of an Obligation previously received or the Payment of a Just Debt."   (Common as Air, pp. 132-133.  The Franklin quote is from "Queries and Remarks on a Paper entitled 'Hints for the Members of [the Constitutional] Convention No II in teh Federal Gazette of Tuesday Nov 3d 1789.]

The shorter:  Franklin was down for net neutrality.

You can disagree with his argument, of course.  It’s a wingnut folly to accord the status of revolution to texts that they rarely, if ever read.  Mine are different pathologies, no doubt.

But while the fact that Ben Franklin said something does not make it inerrant truth, still, if I may, can I suggest to the Mr. Barton that before he yaps about what the founders thought about something, it might be a good idea to, you know, actually read what they had to say on the subject?

Just sayin….

*Absolutely no good can come of this metaphor.

Image:  David Martin, Portrait of Benjamin Franklin, 1767.  I’ve always loved this portrait for the fact that Franklin commissioned it while directing that he be painted with the bust of Newton watching over him.

Give The Man One White Chip*

April 15, 2011

Via the NYT we learn what constitutes “big” to a Republican congressman.  (No, children…don’t go there.)

(Hell.  This is the internet.  Go there if the spirit moves you.)

By now, just about everyone with a pulse and an interest in politics knows that the budget debate produced much more kabuki than actual cuts.  Rather the reverse in fact:

According to a Congressional Budget Office comparison, the bill would produce only $350 million in tangible savings this year, in part because cuts in domestic programs were offset by an increase of about $5 billion for Pentagon programs.

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When projected emergency contingency spending overseas is figured in by the budget office, estimated outlays for this year will actually increase by more than $3 billion.

There are longer term effects that restrain spending.  Albert Einstein is said to have said that the only true miracle in the universe is compound  interest.  That’s apocryphal, of course, but it is true that cuts in baseline expenditures in discretionary spending will propagate through the years to come:

The agreement does put the brakes on what had been a steady growth in spending by federal agencies. Future savings would be greater as the cuts took hold — a point Republican aides emphasized by noting that the plan is estimated to cut spending by $312 billion over the next decade.

Sounds like a lot of money.  At least, so says those members of the GOP, who quail before the wrath of the pitchfork brigade that they’ve turned into their base.  Hence nonsense like this:

“Big stuff,” said Representative Tom Price, a Georgia Republican and leading conservative.

Yeah, I know.  A billion here and a billion there and pretty soon you’re talking real money.

Except that $312 billion, for all that it could buy is …

__

…a rounding error — or an example of the kind of numerical trick that confidence men use to gull the unwary, the inattentive, the numerically illiterate.

I’ve beaten the drum elsewhere for the importance of getting minimal quantitative reasoning into the electorate.  I’m not talking much math here.  I’d be happy if we got folks using arithmetic on a daily basis  to test claims like Price’s above.  If the country could do that, then there are lots of cons that would become brutally obvious, even to folks as frightened of numbers as tools of reason as our Village press corps.**

Hell, Price isn’t even trying to hide the tell:   that really big, scary number $312 billion. Sitting there, all by itself like a fresh cow patty steaming on a patch of meadow grass.   Everyone here knows what’s wrong with this:  it ain’t the numerator that matters.  It’s the denominator, dawgs.

And this is where both Obama and the Democrats, and the in-the-bag-for-big-money GOPers (most of the Congressional caucus) made marks of the Tea Party.  Even though we don’t know what the 2012 budget will be, much less spending levels of a decade hence, we can still construct a pretty good picture of the whole load of nothing going on:

Just work through a wholly unrealistically low set of assumptions on spending over the next decade.  Take level budgets from the FY 09 request — George Bush’s last budget — of $3.1 trillion.  That’s below expenditures by about a trillion, by the way, for a variety of reasons, and it is substantially under today’s numbers, which are, of course, the baseline for future cuts.  But hey — let’s make the GOP look as good as it can.

So multiply $3.1T by 10, and you get -the implausibly low figure of $31 trillion.

Price’s “big stuff” — $312 billion — is 1% of that fictitious total. One [more] minor war over the next decade and it’s gone.   A few disasters.  An economic downturn, with its upward pressure on social welfare expenditure.  And so on…

Big stuff.

Oh — by the way, I sent a draft of this post to an economist friend of mine  as a check against slips of my calculator or my logic (not an American, btw, so someone who can look at this with at least some a- or be- mused distance).  He reminds me that it is always useful to contextualize public finance numbers by a per-capita measure.  Given that the most recent population figures show the US as home to just a skosh over 310 million people, the projected budget reductions of $312 billion work out to no more than $100/person.  In my friend’s words:

I think most people can see that is not a gnat’s fart but it’s not going to solve anything. Put another way it’s of the order of 1/500 of GDP in round terms.

Consider this another episode in Percentages:  How Do They Work?…

Or else, see it as a reminder of what the GOP is really all about.  Hint:  it ain’t the deficit.

*This title comes from story I heard once, no vouching for its accuracy, about the time some industrialist — a metals guy — came to Detroit to announce his company’s entry into the car business.  He told the assembled automobile journalists about his plans, and his willingness to spend what it would take to compete.

He was, he said, prepared to invest $25 million in the venture.

From the back of the room, an old car hack piped up:

“Give the man one white chip.”

**Numbers as fashion accessory — as above — that’s fine.  But actually thinking with them…

Images:  Victor Dubreuil, Barrels of Money, c. 1897

Gerard van Honthorst, The Cardsharps, before 1656.

April 11, 2011

Via TPM:

“It doesn’t address in any serious or courageous way the issue of the near and medium-term deficit,” David Stockman told [Brian Beutler] in a Thursday phone interview. “I think the biggest problem is revenues. It is simply unrealistic to say that raising revenue isn’t part of the solution. It’s a measure of how far off the deep end Republicans have gone with this religious catechism about taxes.”

Stockman is still on the wrong side of critical issues — the architect of the Reagan deficits loves him some entitlement pain…

…but, as Beutler reports, he

…breaks faith over taxes and the GOP’s unwillingness to slash defense spending. And he laughs off the notion that the plan will do anything about unemployment, let alone dramatically reduce it, which Ryan and his plan claim it will. “This isn’t 1980. It’s not morning again in America. it’s late afternoon, or possibly even sunset.”

Oh noes! Someone dares to suggest that America may be exceptional only in the self-inflicted wounds that mark its decline.

As soon as I recover from my attack of neurasthenia, I’ll be sure to bestow some appropriately framed certificate of Moore-ishness upon this miscreant’s head.

Image: Alejo Fernández, The Scourging of Christ, before 1543

Megan McArdle is Always Wrong: Reading Papers Is Hard edition.

February 16, 2011

(BTW: Apologies in advance for the length of this screed.  You can always think Playboy and/or wherever it was my junior senator offered his cheesecake and “read” it for the pix. ;)

I know that Megan McArdle is a bagatelle in the supermarket of awful opened by the current (and hopefully temporary) right wing ascendancy.  But even if there’s nothing she does that rises to the consequence of our recent theme, for example, in which the forced-birth, pro-rape party continues to advance its claims, she still finds her own ways to damage the Republic.  So please excuse yet another detour into the eternal sunshine of the McArdle mind.

DougJ has already written about her latest — how to describe it? — special attempt to bolster the long standing conservative attack alleging bias against conservatives in the academy.*

I’m completely down with his take on the matter, unsurprisingly, but here I want to add the dimension of McArdle’s continuing failure to attain minimal standards of journalistic competence.  (I’ve got some unfinished business on this btw, given her recent squib of rage at being called out on errors in kitchen history.  If boredom with the company of McArdle’s prose and the day job don’t overwhelm me, I’ll post on that in a couple of days.)  Here, I’m want to pound on the way McArdle misleads her readers on what is clearly a more consequential subject.


That would be her use of citations to scholarly literature that, if read, would reveal profound differences between what she says the research reveals and what in fact you find should you read the stuff yourself.

So, consider this from McArdle:

One of the things the legacy of racism has taught us is just how good dominant groups are at constructing narratives that justify their dominance.  Somehow, the problem is never them.  It’s always the out group.  Maybe the out group has some special characteristic that makes them not want to be admitted to the circle–blacks are happy-go-lucky and don’t want the responsibility of management, women wouldn’t deign to sully themselves in commerce, Jews are too interested in money to want to attend Harvard or go into public service.  These explanations always oddly ignore the fact that many members of the out-group are complaining about being excluded.
More troubling is that these volitional arguments are almost always combined with denigration: the out group is stupid, greedy, mean, violent, overemotional, corrupt . . . whatever. As indeed these arguments are when they’re deployed against conservatives in my comment threads.  In fact, it seems clear to me that many commenters have taken the underrepresentation of conservatives in academia as vindication of their beliefs–if conservatives can’t make it in academia, that proves that conservatives are not smart, and liberal ideas must be better.  This is possible, of course.  It’s also possible that academics are validating their own bias by systematically excluding those who disagree with them.
So while in theory, it’s true that you can’t simply reason from disparity to bias, I have to say that when you’ve identified a statistical disparity, and the members of the in-group immediately rush to assure you that this isn’t because of bias, but because the people they’ve excluded are all a bunch of raging assholes with lukewarm IQ’s . . . well, I confess, discrimination starts sounding pretty plausible.
When that group of people is assuring you that the reason conservatives can’t be in charge is that they do not have open minds . . . when the speed and sloppiness of their argument make it quite clear that they rejected the very possibility of discrimination without giving it even a second’s serious thought . . . well, I confess, it starts sounding very plausible.  More plausible than I, who had previously leaned heavily on things like affinity bias to explain the skew, would have thought.
Moreover, what evidence we have does not particularly support many of the alternative theories. For example, the liberal skew is strongest at elite universities.  This is not consistent with the notion that education is turning all the conservatives into liberals, or that they’re not interested in becoming professors.  I’d say it’s more consistent with the possibility that they’re disproportionately having a hard time getting hired, or retained.

I quote at length to avoid McArdle’s common dodge when caught in hackery that crucial context has been omitted that would reveal her ultimate wisdom.

So, here’s how I gloss the above, trying to ignore the “I never (emotionally) escaped seventh grade” affect of the passage.

She is saying that the dominance of liberals over conservatives in the academy is a fact.  Liberal academics and their defenders assert that mere numerical disparities do not require an explanation of bias or discrimination, but those who discriminate always say that.  Thus, because her commenters have told her that conservatives are excluded because they are stupid, this serves to confirm that liberal academics are simply educated versions of common or garden-variety bigots.  And because, in McArdle’s version her critics only make the worst arguments, this in turn makes the charge of active discrimination “very plausible.”

I leave to the commenters a full dissection of the problems of “research” and interpretation based on the ways in which McArdle presents her critics’ perspectives.  I’ll just say here one of the fundamental lessons we try to teach in our journalism segments of MIT’s Graduate Program in Science Writing is that when presenting views in dispute, the writer has the obligation to present opposing arguments in their strongest possible light.  This does not seem to be a part of the journalistic toolkit with which McArdle is familiar.

But all that aside, look to that last paragraph:  “what evidence we have does not particularly support many of the alternative theories (to bias).”

The “evidence” at that link is a study by two social scientists, Neil Gross of Harvard and Solon Simmons of George Mason University, titled “The Social and Political Views of American Professors,” distributed in 2007.  A reasonable person would, I think, interpret McArdle’s cite of this paper as claiming that Gross and Simmons’ research supports her statement that the most plausible explanation for the ratio of liberals to conservatives in the academy is bias.

I’m guessing folks know what’s coming next:

What happens when some unruly types (as they have done before) actually read the research in question — in this case a 70 page, 25,000 word article?

I’ve now read the whole damn piece.  I won’t burden you with every last quote I pulled (I stopped at about 2,500 words of excerpts) but it’s there if anyone wants to call me on it.  Here, I’ll try to keep  it down to a dull roar of passages that should have given McArdle pause.

So:  does the paper McArdle relies on for her claims of bias state that the academy is clearly overwhelmingly liberal?

No:

Where other recent studies have characterized the American college and university faculty as not simply extremely liberal, but nearly uniformly so (Klein and Stern 2004-5; Rothman, Lichter, and Nevitte 2005; Tobin and Weinberg 2006), we show that while conservatives, Republicans, and Republican voters are rare within the faculty ranks, on many issues there are as many professors who hold center/center-left views as there are those who cleave to more liberal positions, while the age distribution indicates that, in terms of their overall political orientation, professors are becoming more moderate over time, and less radical. [page 3]

What does academic faculty actually look like?:

Collapsing the data accordingly to a three point scale, we find that 44.1 percent of respondents can be classified as liberals, 46.6 percent as moderates, and 9.2 percent as conservatives.  Such a recoding thus reveals a moderate bloc that – while consisting of more liberal- than conservative-leaning moderates – is nevertheless equal in size to the liberal bloc. [p. 27]

Well, maybe that just reflects an aging, embattled cohort of moderation losing ground to ivy-covered radicals.  Or maybe not:

Table 4 shows that the youngest age cohort – those professors aged 26-35 – contains the highest percentage of moderates, and the lowest percentage of liberals.  Self-described liberals are most common within the ranks of those professors aged 50-64, who were teenagers or young adults in the 1960s, while the largest number of conservatives is to be found among professors aged 65 and older (though the age differences in terms of the number of conservatives are small, problematizing Alan Wolfe’s [1994:290] assertion that “the cultural war in the universities is a generational war.”)  These findings with regard to age provide further support for the idea that in recent years the trend has been toward increasing moderatism. [p. 29]

Is there nonetheless a monolithic culture of opinion in the classroom or on tenure review boards?

What overall conclusion can be drawn from our analysis of the attitudes items? What we wish to emphasize is simply that there is more attitudinal complexity and heterogeneity in the professorial population than second wave researchers have attended to.  It seems to us unlikely that a simplistic notion like “groupthink” – more of a political slur than a robust social-scientific concept – can do very much to help explain the specific configurations and distributions of attitudes our survey reveals. [p. 61]

Finally, is bias really the one best explanation social scientists see to explain the political landscape of American universities?    As discussed in Neil Gross’s paper with Ethan Fosse “Why Are Professors Liberal” (2010 – link at Gross’s webpage), the answer is again (guess!)…No:

For example, Woessner and Kelly-Woessner (2009) find that twice as many liberal as conservative college students aspire to complete a doctorate.  In interviews, Binder (2009) finds that conservative students at a major public university regard faculty members disparagingly and do not seek to emulate them in any way. Ecklund (forthcoming), studying the religiosity of academic scientists at elite schools, finds that high levels of religious skepticism result not from professional socialization, but from the greater tendency of religious skeptics to become scientists, a finding that echoes Finkelstein’s (1984) earlier review of the evidence. Gross and Simmons (2006), analyzing public opinion data, find that conservatism, Republican Party affiliation, and evangelical identity are associated with less confidence in higher education and diminished evaluations of the occupational prestige of professors. [p. 50]

There’s lots more, as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now.  But I think y’all get the idea:

There is,  contra McArdle, plenty of research out there on academic political attitudes.  That which she invokes, does not conform to the myth she wishes to advance here.  The specific paper she cites explicitly contradicts the thrust of her argument.

In other words, McArdle has chosen to deceive her readers.

That is, the issue here is not that she got simple, quanta of “fact” wrong.**  She advances few in this particular post, preferring instead to remain safely behind the deniability afforded by putting words in the mouths of anonymous interlocutors.  Here it is a matter of false reporting, claiming that research with which she asserts personally familiarity supports her case when, by any reasonable reading, it does not.

Such intellectual dishonesty has to be named and shamed. First and most important, of  course, because McArdle here advanced an attack whose aim is to discredit what academics have to say.  The existence of an even marginal voice independent of the right wing consensus is both a threat and emotionally intolerable.

Thus, I’d guess, McArdle’s “mean-girl” slashes against critics of her original post on this subject.  If it is liberals who are the racist scum here, no need to listen to any actual evidence they might advance on this or any matter.  And as for McArdle, so for the broader right-wing attack on independent expertise and the exercise of reason.

This is, of course, disastrous for a working democracy.

And its not good for The Atlantic either.  I suppose I shouldn’t care, but I do.  In the great scheme of things, the fate of that masthead may not matter much, but each time McArdle  misleads her readers to advance her cause it cuts away at the foundation of trust a reader may have in anything published there.

And when you get flurries of reports of bad journalism — think the latest Friedersdorf craptacular — it gets harder and harder to avoid the thought that the operation as a whole is losing its way.  There are great people who work there — I’ve named some of my favorites before, and I’m not going to keep calling out folks who are trying to produce good work in what must be an often difficult situation.

But the bottom line doesn’t change:  obvious, overt bad craft costs any publication something.  It may take a while for the rot to show, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t griping away at the foundation.  And while it’s none of my business, really, The Atlantic has given me enormous pleasure and food for thought over many years.  I’d hate to see it go the way of The New Republic.

*Here’s my recent take on what launched this latest salvo.  There is a deep history to all this, of course, with one possible start date coming with McCarthy, and another with the Nixon-Agnew attack on knowldege.  But this latest round is an offshoot of the culture wars, and in “scholarly” — sic — form dates back  a couple of decades, and has been pushed by the usual suspects, as reported in the study much referenced above:

It was in this context that a new wave of faculty studies appeared.  Where earlier studies had been thoughtful social scientific investigations, the new studies were closer to thinly disguised works of political advocacy intended to back up the charge of “liberal bias” in academe.  The first to appear and grab headlines – columnist John Tierney devoted an entire New York Times piece to it (Tierney 2004) – involved two interrelated inquiries led by economist Daniel Klein that were initially published in Academic Questions, the journal of the conservative National Association of Scholars.

**Well, she does, a bit.  According to the Gross and Simmons paper, elite universities are slightly less the hotbeds of liberalism that four year liberal arts colleges are, contra her assertion following her cite of this paper.  But the numbers are pretty close, and that claim is published elsewhere, so I’m not going to bang that drum this time.

[Cross posted at Balloon Juice]

Images:  Margret Hofheinz-Döring/Galerie Brigitte Mauch Göppingen, Women Talking in the Rain, 1963.

Pierre-August Renoir, Madame Monet Reading Le Figaro, 1872.

Paul Gaugin, Eve–Bretonne. (An alternate version of this scene is titled Eve–Don’t Listen to the Liar), 1889


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