Friday, March 22, 2019

Light posting for the next few days

Events are in the saddle again. Feel free to make this an open thread.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Full display

Readers of this feature will remember that I was, during the 2016 election, in the NeverTrump camp. I hated being there, because I did not want Hillary Clinton to be president, either, but I had serious misgivings about Trump's demeanor and assumed he was going to do irreparable damage to the conservative cause.

Once he was elected, I took a "wait-and-see" stance. I also stopped being a NeverTrumper, because what was the point? In the 2+ years of his presidency, he's really helped to clarify a few things, to wit:

  • His opponents on the Left are unhinged
  • His opponents on the Right range from unhinged to cynical, sometimes both (a good trick, by the way, but watch Bill Kristol some time if you doubt this assertion)
  • Nothing that the mainstream media says about Trump can be taken at face value
A liberal college-era friend of mine made an astute comment about Trump. My friend, who has struggled with mental health issues, objects to the "Trump is mentally ill" tropes that seem to be back in the air, now that Mueller looks to be a disappointment. He said this:
Apparently, [George] Conway thinks diagnosing Trump will some how confirm or nail down some "secret" about him. Trump is already on full display. We don't need psychiatry.
And that's spot-on. Trump has been on full display his entire adult life. What you see is what you get. So, having viewed the display of Trump, and the circus that surrounds him, what do you make of the display? 

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Orange Man reminds us

That's too much work and we're in a hurry.

Received wisdom

So what causes a guy to shoot up a mosque? It's not a what, it's a who:
In his rambling, 70-page manifesto, the Australian white supremacist who massacred some 50 Muslims in New Zealand last week cited, as inspirations, British Union of Fascists leader Oswald Mosley, the People’s Republic of China, a videogame called Spyro the Dragon, fellow white supremacist terrorist Dylan Roof, and the Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Bering Breivik. Conspicuous by her absence from this list was Chelsea Clinton.

Someone should tell New York University students Leen Dweik and Rose Asaf. “This, right here, is a result of a massacre stoked by people like you and the words that you put out into the world,” Dweik told the former First Daughter outside a memorial for the dead, in a video that instantly went viral. “Forty-nine people died because of the rhetoric you put out there.”
Right here in River City. Based on the available evidence, I'd always thought the next interesting thing Chelsea Clinton said would be the first interesting thing she said, but apparently I've not been paying enough attention. There's more:
For those of us who consider Chelsea Clinton a cringe-inducing banality, that she could be accused of anything so momentous, never mind a racist slaughter in the Antipodes, was puzzling indeed. And so it was with great curiosity that I read the Buzzfeed piece in which the pair explain their actions. In it, they accuse Clinton of having “stoked hatred against” all Muslims, everywhere, with a single tweet criticizing just a single one, Ilhan Omar. When the Democratic congresswoman complained about lawmakers being forced to pledge “allegiance to a foreign country,” she wasn’t repeating a hoary anti-Semitic trope which has instigated all manner of desecrations and violent attacks and pogroms. No, according to these NYU coeds, exemplars of American higher education as impressive as those Yale students who screamed at a distinguished professor for hours over Halloween costumes, Omar was “speaking the truth about the massive influence of the Israel lobby in this country.”
It always comes back to Ilhan Omar. If you want to know who has real power, understand who cannot be criticized.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

The merit of the meritocracy

So what makes the college admissions scandal so infuriating? It's the realization that, in the end, our best and brightest aren't. Even wobbly Jonah Goldberg sees it:
It’s also a searing indictment of the value of an elite college education in the first place. None of these parents seemed remotely concerned about whether their kids could hack it once they got into their dream schools — and rightly so.
It's an open secret -- once you are in an elite college, you get to stay and you get to graduate. You don't have to worry about academic standards, particularly. Harvey Mansfield, a venerable professor at Harvard, notes that the average grade there is an A. And he has a system for dealing with grade inflation:
Mansfield described how, in recent years, he himself has taken to giving students two grades: one that shows up on their transcript and one he believes they actually deserve.

“I didn’t want my students to be punished by being the only ones to suffer for getting an accurate grade,” he said, adding that administrators must take the lead in curbing the trend.
That's an admission of defeat. It also should cast doubt on the value of the credential that Harvard provides. But it doesn't. It should be difficult to earn an A in a college course; in my personal experience and the experience of those near to me, it is. But members of my family don't attend Harvard. Perhaps we're better off because of it.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Watch the world burn

Paris is burning again:
French yellow vest protesters set life-threatening fires, smashed up luxury stores and clashed with police Saturday in the 18th straight weekend of demonstrations against President Emmanuel Macron. Large plumes of smoke rose above the rioting on Paris' landmark Champs-Elysees Avenue, and a mother and her child were just barely saved from a building blaze.

French police tried to contain the demonstrators with limited success.
Limited success has been the French way. There's more:
Yellow vest groups representing teachers, unemployed people and labor unions were among those that organized dozens of rallies and marches Saturday in the capital and around France.

Protesters dismiss Macron's national debate on the economy as empty words and a campaign ploy by Macron to gain support for the European Parliament elections in May. Protesters are angry over high taxes and Macron policies seen as coddling business.

"Those who participated in this great debate are mostly retirees and upper middle class, meaning Macron's electorate, even though we understood this great national debate was supposed to respond to the yellow vest crisis," lawyer and protester Francois Boulo told Europe-1 radio.
The two takeaways?

  • Great debates are mostly crap; and
  • There will be no response that threatens a bureaucrat's rice bowl
The yellow vests aren't coherent themselves, of course. But they aren't going away.

Saturday, March 16, 2019


The smartest thing I've read about the massacre in Christchurch, from Andrew Klavan:
When tragedy or atrocity strikes — as it just did with the mosque shootings in New Zealand — thoughts and prayers are not just an expression of compassion. They are, more importantly and more wisely, an expression of humility and helplessness. They are a way of saying: “There is nothing we can do in the face of this wickedness but we stand in solidarity with the victims and ask God to comfort their families in their sorrow.”

Almost every other reaction is absurd. To suggest you have the solution to the eternal problem of evil in the form of addressing your pet peeve or of blaming and attacking your political opponents is disgraceful. It is to use the bodies of the slain for a soap box. It degrades you and insults the victims.
When I pray, I am asking for God's help. I'm not necessarily asking for His help for me, but in the main what I'm really asking for is help in understanding the greater meaning of what I've experienced. In my own experience, I don't always get the answer I want, but I invariably get an answer, even though it can take a while to sink in. That's the nature of discernment.

From what I have read about the massacre and the incoherent series of beliefs put forth in the killer's manifesto. Klavan gets to that, too:
It is likewise absurd to extrapolate from the murderer’s philosophy in order to condemn philosophies that may have something in common with it. There are psychopaths on the right and left. I assume that, right and left, we all stand against them. I am a small-government, classical liberal American conservative. I think the Democratic party has lost its collective mind. But I am more than willing to stipulate that Ted Cruz and Chuck Schumer, Jim Jordan and Nancy Pelosi can all agree that murdering innocents at their prayers is bad. This is not where our disagreements lie.
We'll have plenty of time to discuss our disagreements in the next few years. But thoughts and prayers are still in order.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Values, they say

Surprising, but not surprising:
On Wednesday, the far-left smear factory Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) fired its co-founder and former chief litigator, Morris Dees.

"Effective yesterday, Morris Dees’ employment at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) was terminated," SPLC president Richard Cohen told The Montgomery Advertiser in a statement on Thursday. "As a civil rights organization, the SPLC is committed to ensuring that the conduct of our staff reflects the mission of the organization and the values we hope to instill in the world. When one of our own fails to meet those standards, no matter his or her role in the organization, we take it seriously and must take appropriate action."

Dees, 82, co-founded the SPLC in 1971. The organization gained a reputation for taking the Ku Klux Klan to court and then it started labeling and tracking "hate groups." In recent decades, it started listing conservative and Christian organizations along with the KKK, and last year it settled a defamation lawsuit for $3.375 million.
We will follow this one closely.

Horror in Christchurch

We don't talk about New Zealand much in this feature, but we must today. An Australian man, who apparently had accomplices, decided to shoot up a mosque in Christchurch:

Forty-nine people have been killed and at least 20 wounded in shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described one alleged gunman, who had Australian citizenship, as an "extremist, right-wing" terrorist.

A man in his late twenties was charged with murder and will appear in court on Saturday morning, police confirmed.

Two other men and one woman were detained nearby and firearms seized, Police Commissioner Mike Bush said.

He said police had determined that one of the people detained was not involved in the incident, and officers were working to understand if the other two were connected.

The shooting was the deadliest in the country's history.
The Daily Mail isn't the most reliable source of news around, but no one does a better job of gathering images, and the images are awful:

Names of other terrorists written on the weapon
You can see images of the gunman's bizarre manifesto at the link; I'll not post them here. We will learn more about this atrocity, and the people who committed it, in the coming days. At this point all I can say is this -- killing people indiscriminately in their place of worship is the mark of cowardice.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Thought experiment

A hypothetical that is likely true. . . .

If reports are accurate, the academic cheating scandal has been going on for nearly a decade. If that’s the case, it’s highly likely that students who were admitted under false pretenses have completed their educations and have graduated. Once they got there, they (theoretically) did the work required to earn a degree. Do you take away their diploma? Can you? And if you do endeavor to strip a student of a degree he has ostensibly earned, what does it say about the academic rigor of your institution and the value you provide?

When is a meritocracy not a meritocracy?

When you can buy your way in. And therein lies the resonance of the Varsity Blues case. One of the most reassuring fictions we hear is this: if you work hard and play by the rules, you can go anywhere. That's not true and never has been true, especially where higher education is concerned, but it's not news.

My alma mater is Beloit College. Beloit is a fine school and I received a good education there, as did my classmates. In the higher education world, Beloit is well regarded, but it's down the pecking order a bit from the top liberal arts colleges. In most of the rankings one sees, Beloit travels with schools like Lawrence, Knox, Kalamazoo, Earlham, Wooster, like that. If you were to slot Beloit among Minnesota liberal arts colleges, it would fall behind Carleton and Macalester and would be roughly comparable to St. Olaf, but a touch ahead of Gustavus, although St. Olaf and Beloit are very different places. I have worked with people who graduated from all of the Minnesota schools I've mentioned here and, qualitatively, there's no real difference in the education they received. As regular readers of this feature know, Benster is a graduate of Knox.

So why does it matter? The real value of a college isn't the education as much as it is the opportunities you get from being part of the alumni network. If you are a graduate of Beloit College, your resume will get reviewed, but if you are a graduate of Georgetown, or USC, you might get put higher up on the pile. And if the big boss knows what Hoya Saxa means, it could count a lot down the line. But are grads of these prestigious schools more talented? On the margin, yes, but it's not a sure thing. And that's what gnaws at people.

Be the solution

National Public Radio reports, with a straight face, the following:
Andrew Weissmann, the architect of the case against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, will study and teach at New York University and work on a variety of public service projects, including his longstanding interest in preventing wrongful convictions by shoring up forensic science standards used in courts, the sources added.
Emphasis mine. This Weissmann guy has spent his career specializing in wrongful convictions, as the invaluable Mollie Hemingway reminds us:
If Mueller had no effective supervision against the abuses of the above underlings, why would anyone trust him to supervise his good buddy Weissman, whom he picked to run lead on his probe of Trump? Weissman destroyed the accounting firm Arthur Anderson LLP, which once had 85,000 employees. Thanks to prosecutorial abuse, jurors were not told that Arthur Anderson didn’t have criminal intent when it shredded documents. The Supreme Court unanimously overturned the conviction, but it was too late to save the company.

Weissman also “creatively criminalized a business transaction between Merrill Lynch and Enron,” which sent four executives to jail. Weissman concocted unprecedented charges and did not allow the executives to get bail, causing massive disruption to the families before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed most of Weissman’s case.
The most direct way to prevent wrongful convictions is to remove people who pursue them. So it's good news, I guess.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Value Proposition

It's a tale as old as time -- gaming the system and selling indulgences:
Hollywood actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman are among 50 people charged in a $25 million college entrance exam cheating scheme, according to court documents unsealed in Boston on Tuesday.

The alleged scam focused on getting students admitted to elite universities as recruited athletes, regardless of their athletic abilities, and helping potential students cheat on their college exams, according to the indictment.

Authorities said the FBI investigation, code-named Operation Varsity Blues, uncovered a network of wealthy parents who paid thousands of dollars to a California man who boosted their children's chances of gaining entrance into elite colleges, such as Yale and Stanford, by paying people to take tests for their children, bribing test administrators to allow that to happen, and bribing college coaches to identify the applicants as athletes.
It's outrageous. You usually have to build a dormitory to get your kid into one of those places.

A year ago, we were approaching the endgame of this college admissions fandango. Fearless Maria had applications into a number of universities, including at least one of the elite schools named in this scandal. We would never be able to prove it, but it's possible that some kid, somewhere, got a slot in Coveted East Coast University that Maria might have received otherwise, were it not for this particular scam. Having said that, she is now attending a good university with a similar academic approach and rigor, only with a less prestigious zip code. And she's having a wonderful experience there.

The issue involved is straight out of Economics 101 -- scarcity. About 23,000 students applied to Coveted East Coast University last year, but only 3000 were admitted. The prize isn't the education, or the experience, or even the sheepskin credential you get at the end. The prize is access to the alumni network, which is the real leg up. If you can find your way into Coveted East Coast University, you might be classmates with a future senator or even President. You won't necessarily know it, but once you're in, it's a good bet. And once you are in, you usually get to stay, even if you like to party and don't necessarily crack the books that much. It's a Golden Ticket.

What's most interesting to me is that the universities aren't in the crosshairs about this, as the linked article from NBC News makes clear:
Lelling stressed that the colleges themselves are not targets of the investigation, which is ongoing. No students were charged, and authorities said in many cases they were kept in the dark about the alleged scam.
I don't believe this. At a minimum, the colleges looked the other way. But it's more splashy to indict an actress than an assistant director of admissions. And the corruption and moral rot in our higher education system runs far deeper than a few B list celebrities trying to buy their daughters into Coveted West Coast University. But that's another post.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Control problems

Nancy Pelosi is finding out that the gavel is a poisoned chalice:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was quoted Monday as saying she is not in favor of impeaching President Donald Trump, breaking from other Democrats who are eager to exercise their constitutional power to oust the president from office.

In an exclusive interview with the Washington Post’s Joe Heim, Pelosi said Trump is “just not worth it.”

“I’m not for impeachment,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said. “This is news. I’m going to give you some news right now because I haven’t said this to any press person before.”
Well, that's good to know. Do you think she's actually in control of her caucus, though? She just got rolled by the Big Three on the meaningless anti-hate resolution. She's not going to be able to move much of anything on her agenda, either. How's that working out for her?

Meanwhile, our neighbor Ilhan Omar is continuing to demonstrate her commitment to avoiding hate in her own inimitable style:
Freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., told Fox News on Monday that it was "silly" to compare President Trump with former President Barack Obama, adding: "One is human. The other is really not."
Dehumanize your opponents? That should satisfy everyone.