Archive for the ‘Bamboozle’ Category.

20-week Baby in Utero

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Public School is a BARGAIN!

1. Table of the Day I

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During the 34-year period between 1980-2014, the number of public school students increased by 22.6% (and by 9.25 million). Over the same period, total staff headcount increased by 50.1% (and by 2.1 million), led by an 88.1% increase in school district administrative staff and followed by a 54.1% increase in instructional staff which included a 63.1% increase in school principals and assistant principals. The total expenditures for America’s public schools more than doubled between 1980 and 2014, from less than $300 billion 1980 to more than $600 billion in 2014 (both in 2015 dollars). On a per-student basis, the cost to educate a student in US public schools increased by more than 75.5%, from $7,204 in 1980 to $12,642 in 2014. Meanwhile, reading and math test scores for 17-year old public school students have been basically flat since the 1970s.

As my AEI colleague Andrew Biggs commented on Facebook about the table above: “If you think more resources will solve our educational problems….”

Friday afternoon links

Also seePublic School Is Often The Most Destructive Institution In American Life

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The Party of “Civil Servants”?

The economic interests attached to the Democratic party are fairly easy to identify: people who work for government at all levels. You may come across the occasional Ron Swanson in the wild, but when it comes to the teachers’ unions — which are the biggest spender in U.S. politics — or the AFSCME gang or the vast majority of people receiving a taxpayer-funded paycheck, the politics of the public sector is almost exclusively Democratic. And what they care about isn’t social justice or inequality or diversity or peace or whether little Johnny can use the ladies’ room if his heart tells him to — they care about getting paid.

Here’s an interesting point of comparison. When Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, he opposed gay marriage. So did Hillary Rodham Clinton, but Obama’s opposition was especially interesting in that he cited religious doctrine in support of his position: “My faith teaches me . . . that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. For me, as a Christian, it is also a sacred union — God’s in the mix.” George W. Bush, who was derided as a fundamentalist bigot by lifestyle liberals, never said anything like that. (Dick Cheney was well to the left of the Democrats on the question.) But there was barely a murmur of opposition to Obama’s staking out this ground “on the wrong side of history.” Social issues are for the naïfs.

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What is the Democratic party? Is it a genuine political party, or is it simply an instrument of relatively well-off government workers who care about very little other than securing for themselves regular raises and comfortable pensions?

If I were a progressive, I’d be curious about that.

What Is the Democratic Party?

Clerisy, Ozymandias, Statolatry

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Silicon Robber Barons

Silicon Valley’s power brokers want you to think they’re different. But they’re just average robber barons.

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The press [i.e., clerisy] enjoys excitedly praising tech titans by comparing them to fantastical and mythical figures. Zuckerberg is Caesar. Elon Musk, a wizard. Peter Thiel, who believes that he lives in the moral universe of Lord of the Rings, is a vampire. I do not know if these men believe that they have the supernatural powers the media claims. Maybe they do. I do know that they do not mind the perception, or at least have done nothing to combat it, even among those critics who believe that they’re cartoon villains.

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This might not be so bad if the phenomenon were limited to daft profiles by fawning magazine writers. But this Hegelian fan fiction is nowhere more potent than from the mouths of the Disruptors themselves. Mark Zuckerberg speaks in the voice of God. Shane Smith, by his own account, is the Stalin of Vice. Silicon Valley investor Carl Icahn was called “evil Captain Kirk” by fellow billionaire Marc Andreessen, before he was himself dubbed Dr. Evil by Rod Dreher, who has evidently not absorbed a cultural reference since 1999. When Elon Musk worries that Larry Page is hurtling toward AI without a sufficient appreciation of the risks, he calls it “summoning the demon.” Seamless CEO Jonathan Zabusky, a typical case, says his food delivery application for depressed millennials is “disrupting the paradigm” by showing people that “the era of the paper menu” is over. AirBnB’s mission statement laments “the mechanization and Industrial Revolution of the last century,” which “displaced” “feelings of trust and belonging”; their mission is to turn the world back into the “village” of simpler eras by encouraging longstanding residents of gentrifying areas to rent out their homes to monied travelers. Some firms are more modest: HubSpot, a marketing and sales platform, is merely on a mission to make the whole world “more inbound,” which is to say, more reliant on their blogging tips for small businesses.

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Let us state the obvious: None of these men are Roman Emperors, and they haven’t got the wherewithal to “blow up” anything but a stock market bubble. They are not Lex Luthors or Gandalfs or Stalins. Their products do not bring about revolutions. They are simply robber barons, JP Morgans and Andrew Mellons in mediocre T-shirts. I have no doubt that many are preternaturally intelligent, hardworking people, and it is a shame that they have dedicated these talents to the mundane accumulation of capital. But there is nothing remarkable about these men. The Pirates of Silicon Valley do not have imperial ambitions. They have financial ones.

The vast majority of Silicon Valley startups, the sort that project lofty missions and managed improbably lucrative IPOs despite never having graced the cover of The Economist or the frontal cortex of the president, work precisely like any other kind of mundane sales operation in search of a product: Underpaid cold-callers receive low wages and less job security in exchange for a foosball table and the burden of growing a company as quickly as possible so that it can reach a liquidation event. Owners and investors get rich. Managers stay comfortable. The employees get hosed. None of this is particularly original. At least the real robber barons built the railroads.

Like all slim ranks of oligarchy, the Silicon Valley billionaires hate and fear nothing more than ordinary people. This manifests itself in mundane ways, in their open, cartoonish class spite (why, they ask, must Innovators in San Francisco be burdened by the existence of homeless riff-raff?); it is revealed in their most contemplative moments too. Peter Thiel has said that when the history of the 21st century is written, René Girard will be remembered as one of its greatest intellectuals. Girard is best known for the contention that all human desire is mimetic, that not only aesthetic taste but even hunger and lust are modeled on the desires of others. Perhaps this is why Thiel does not believe that capitalism and democracy are compatible. We know which side he’s chosen. So long as he and his fellows can continue to exploit that same mimetic tendency to persuade people that they are superhuman and essential to their flourishing, his side will continue to win.

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If your enemies can convince you that they are an unprecedented species of madman, you will convince yourself that you need unprecedented weapons to fight back or that you may be better off just hiding in the forest. But you are not.

The rigged contracts and wage suppression, the racism and surveillance collusion (soon to be playing voluntary footsie with Donald Trump’s NSA, with further chicanery to follow), all these sins of Silicon Valley have come about and been overcome before in the short history of American capitalism. They require only the same weapons as before. Organization and agitation. Strikes and labor laws. The ordinary practice of radical politics. Some of these efforts have begun already, with militant organizing and unionization drives beginning to organize Silicon Valley laborers against their exploiters. But these movements require national and popular support, support that cannot begin until the pretense and terror of world-conquering wizards is abandoned and the truth is laid bare: These are only rich assholes, the same as they ever were. All that superman bullshit is just the cheap propaganda of the powerful, propaganda so thoroughly saturated in the American mind that its own inventors might believe it.

Valley of the Dolts

Moral preeners aided and abetted by the clerisy.

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Superman Politics

The Carrier bailout is awful, of course. It is a case of two politicians’ using public funds to bribe a business into doing things that benefit them personally and politically while creating no real long-term economic value. Pence, who dropped his free-market principles like the world’s hottest potato once he got within sniffing distance of presidential power, can burnish his populist credentials at the taxpayers’ expense, and Trump can get ready to flit on to the next publicity stunt.

But the emerging “Superman” politics here are truly poisonous. One of the genre conventions of superhero stories is the compression of all the world’s drama into the immediate presence of the hero — only his actions and intentions are relevant. People may be dying all over the world, but Superman saves Lois Lane. (Comic-book movies have lately subverted that convention by focusing on the collateral damage done by superheroes to the cities in which they live.) What that means in the context of our contemporary presidential politics is that no one takes any note of the fact that Carrier is not the only HVAC company in the United States or the only industrial concern in Indiana. Carrier has competitors that employ Americans, pay taxes, and produce real economic value, and they have been put at a relative disadvantage by the political favoritism extended to Carrier. What about them? They’re not on the stage, so they do not matter.

What is important to understand here is that this is not part of an economic-development agenda: It is theater. It is an adolescent fantasy of political power, and wherever Superman happens to land is where the action is. Nothing else is relevant. It does not matter that there is no broader logic at work: Small displays of efficacy can work to create an illusion of general efficacy. It is busyness as business.

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Trump’s big idea so far is spending $7 million of other people’s money to delay an embarrassing headline. Some deal. Some deal-maker.

Trump’s Superman Style of Politics

Cronyism has a new moral preener and Crony Capitalist in Chief.

Ozymandias

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Obamacare a Success!

There’s one thing for sure: no matter what happens, liberal cheerleaders of Obamacare will continue to act as if the law was an awe-inspiring success.

When Will Liberals Answer For Obamacare’s Failures?

Also see “Obamacare woes to linger long after Obama is gone

The conspiracy theory about the woefully misnamed Affordable Care Act is that the architects of Obamacare intended their program to fail, thus creating an opening for a so-called public option which would then be expanded to a full-on British-style government health-care monopoly. That’s a fun story, though it isn’t true.

The truth is worse: These idiots thought this would work.

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Obamacare was intended, in theory, to enhance competition. The Democrats were never quite clear on how that was going to work, but that’s what they said. In Philadelphia, the nation’s fifth-largest city, those shopping for health insurance have a grand total of two insurers to choose from. Until recently, the state of Pennsylvania had 13 insurers; today, it has eight.

It is worth keeping in mind that the people who brought you Obamacare want to apply the same model across the commanding heights of the U.S. economy.

Obamacare and the Fundamentals

Philosopher Kings, Clerisy, Ozymandias

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“Inequality”

Workers have choices, too, though some have more choices than others. But if you think that paying the CEO a lot drives down workers’ wages, wouldn’t you also think that other expenses would put downward pressure on wages, too? And which would produce the heavier pressure: $376 million for the CEO or $8.3 billion for the IRS?

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Hillary Rodham Clinton, embracing the Left’s current fervor for Hugo Chávez–style economic populism and nationalism (weirdly, “the Left” includes the Republican presidential nominee, for purposes of this discussion — bang-up job, Republicans!), complains about inequality, and offers as a partial solution higher corporate taxes. Businesses respond to changes in their expenses in different ways. But who do you think is likely to take it in the shorts if you jack up Apple’s tax bill? The designers and programmers who are being offered new six-figure jobs eight times a week at companies all over the country and all over the world, or the parking-garage attendant?

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Sometimes businesses go so far as to relocate their headquarters in response to taxes and other burdens; one way of doing that is the dreaded “corporate inversion,” in which a U.S. company uses a merger to relocate its legal domicile to some sweaty, exploitive, relatively low-tax Third World crap-hole . . . like Canada, the United Kingdom, or Ireland. Mrs. Clinton proposes to put a stop to that by enacting an “exit tax,” which is a really nice way of saying “ransom.” That might cause some trouble for existing businesses considering relocation, but what effect might it have ten or 20 years down the road? Do we really think the people who are smart, creative, and energetic enough to build the powerhouse corporations of tomorrow are going to be too stupid to figure out how to incorporate in Switzerland instead of Delaware?

Mrs. Clinton’s Blame Game

Ozymandias and Statolatry

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Mrs. Clinton

Mrs. Clinton’s nomination will have a similarly negligible effect on the lives of American women. It isn’t exactly a Muppet News Flash that women can run for high office in these United States: You can be Sarah Palin and be on a major-party ticket and be called a “c**t” by all the nice people who will be urging you to vote for Mrs. Clinton as a show of solidarity with women. You can be a woman and do a hell of a lot better job running PepsiCo than Mrs. Clinton did running the State Department. You can be a woman and be seriously considered for the Republican nomination in spite of a slightly short political curriculum vitae. You can be a woman and be a Marine.

If your daughter didn’t already know that she could grow up and make of her life whatever her dreams and abilities allow, and learned otherwise only upon seeing a dreadful politician take the next step in her dreadful career, that isn’t a failure of a patriarchal society. You’re just a bad father.

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If you think Mrs. Clinton “cares about women,” ask Juanita Broaddrick or Gennifer Flowers.

Making hay out of ‘making history’

Ozymandias

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Modernity, Scientism, and the ‘Sexual Revolution’

[O]ur current crisis is fundamentally metaphysical in nature. Modernity is a grand project of negation: the very order of being – as classically understood – has been shunned for theories that emphasize right praxis in time; history has become the lens through which things are assigned value. Fulfillment “lies in front of us, not above us,” and whoever speaks of eternal metaphysical truths is branded a reactionary.

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[Augusto Del Noce] regards the “eclipse of authority” characteristic of our age as the greatest reversal ever to have befallen humanity. Authority, at root, means to make something grow, but today it’s understood mainly as a form of repression – indeed as something that impedes growth. The wholesale spurning of authority has only ushered in a mad dash for power – a dreadful substitution.

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We moderns are allowed only one source of real knowledge – science – and so the void caused by the ban on metaphysics has been filled with a scientism. Del Noce asserts that such scientism is based upon hatred for religious transcendence. Intrinsically totalitarian, scientism is “an unproven radical negation of traditional values” and so must rely upon subjugating the will of its adversaries (since it cannot prevail by reason), and upon confining them in “moral ghettos.”

And scientism’s “point of arrival,” he explains at length, is none other than the sexual revolution. To cut a long story short, here’s how you know if you are on the wrong side of history: it’s no longer a question of class warfare (bourgeoisie versus proletariat) but whether or not you are prepared to wage war upon sexual “repression.” History is the judge, Marx once said, and the proletariat its executioner. That role has now shifted to progressives urging the “repressed of the world” to unite.

The social institution most culpable of transmitting repressive morality is, of course, the traditional monogamous family, and as Del Noce notices, “sexual liberation is not desired per se, but rather as a tool to break down the family.”

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A century ago both Mussolini and Gramsci spoke of “socialism as the ‘religion destined to kill Christianity’.” But it later became apparent that total revolution could only be achieved if Marxist revolution became sexual revolution. Or as the Surrealists recognized: “the decisive battle against Christianity could be fought only at the level of the sexual revolution.” In sum, the “erotic offensive” amounts to a “campaign of de-Christianization.”

Del Noce wouldn’t be shocked with the onset of the transgender phenomenon and the current mania for “self identifying” as something other – anything other (gender, race, species) – than what one is. It’s all part of what he saw as the secularization of Gnosticism (rather than of Christianity), whereby it is the self that creates, and freedom consists of negating “the given.” Add a touch of the Hegelian “elimination of the Divine image” and voila: you get the quest for liberation through the disintegration of every form of order, what he called the “great refusal” of 1968.

Given his diagnosis, it comes as no surprise that he doesn’t put much stock in political solutions to the real dangers we are facing.

Modernity as Metaphysical Collapse

Ozymandias

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Is there such a thing as a life not worth living?

As mentioned in yesterday’s post, Pope Francis recently lamented the obsession of modern society with perfect bodies. Although our first thought on contemplating this might be cosmetics and plastic surgery, he was actually speaking about our increasing rejection of the disabled and the sick.

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Is there such a thing as a life not worth living? Many in our culture seem to believe that there is. There has arisen the tragically ironic idea that death is a form of therapy, that an appropriate treatment for disabled unborn children is to kill them. Of course death is neither a treatment nor a therapy; it cannot be considered an acceptable solution for the one who loses his or her life. Yet this is often the advice that parents in this situation are given.

All of this “advice” and pressure goes a long way toward explaining why more than 90% of unborn children with a poor prenatal diagnosis are aborted. We in the Church cannot remain silent in the face of this; we must reach out compassionately to families experiencing such a crisis. Many of them are devastated by the news that their baby may have serious disabilities. Often they descend into shock and are overwhelmed by fear, conflicting feelings, and even anger towards God or others. Sometimes the greatest gifts we can give them are time, information, and the framework of faith.

Accepting the Disabled in a World Obsessed with Physical Perfection

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