Monday, January 22, 2018

Democratic or Authoritarian

You might not want to, but you probably remember the Bush administration’s Neo-Wilsonian democracy agenda. Considering how badly the Wilson administration did in its effort to make the world safe for democracy, you would expect future presidents to offer a different approach to foreign policy. And yet, bad ideas and specious ideals die hard… especially when implemented by people who lack basic competence.

You probably also remember the Common Core education program promoted by a High Tech billionaire who knew nothing about pedagogy and the Obama administration. Today, we are happy to report, the Trump Education Department just declared that Common Core has failed. It is officially dead.

Among the non-innovations coming to us from Common Core was the Platonic idea that authoritarian teaching methods are bad. In the Meno Socrates allowed his pupil to believe that he could learn geometry without it being taught, that is, without having to take it on anyone’s authority. It’s an enticing notion: you possess all knowledge but do not know that you possess it. Your teacher will help you to discover what you already know, and you will accept it unquestioningly because it was not imposed on you by any higher authority.

You might not want to think that this pedagogical technique contains the germs of democratic governance, but it is certainly more democratic than the authoritarian mode, practiced previously in America and currently practiced in the Far East.

In a Chinese classroom, the teacher’s authority is absolute can never be questioned. You might imagine that students who respect such authority are better behaved and you would probably be correct. Too many American schoolchildren are so undisciplined that they cannot learn anything. Moreover, as studies have suggested, it is easier to learn math and science by having the teacher teach it than to have students pretend that they can figure it out themselves. In the authoritarian classroom, children are told the rules, they memorize the tables, and they are drilled until they master the technique.

As it happens, said students generally outperform their American peers, but such is life. American pedagogues will retort that the Chinese authoritarian method produces robotic children who cannot think creatively. In the language of the tech world, such children will never be able to innovate.

Within this frame we report on a new study of technological innovation. The news, as Robert Samuelson reports in the Washington Post, is not good for us:

The National Science Foundation and the National Science Board have just released their biennial “Science & Engineering Indicators,” a voluminous document describing the state of American technology. There are facts and figures on research and development, innovation and engineers. But the report’s main conclusion lies elsewhere: China has become — or is on the verge of becoming — a scientific and technical superpower.

We should have expected nothing less. After all, science and technology constitute the knowledge base for economically advanced societies and military powers, and China aspires to become the world leader in both. Still, the actual numbers are breathtaking for the speed with which they’ve been realized.

We will console ourselves with the thought that we are still No. 1, but China is fast catching up. Uh, oh.

In several areas:

China has become the second- largest R&D spender, accounting for 21percent of the world total of nearly $2 trillion in 2015. Only the United States, at 26 percent, ranks higher, but if present growth rates continue, China will soon become the biggest spender. From 2000 to 2015, Chinese R&D outlays grew an average of 18 percent annually, more than four times faster than the U.S. rate of 4 percent.

There has been an explosion of technical papers by Chinese teams. Although the United States and the European Union each produce more studies on biomedical subjects, China leads in engineering studies. American papers tend to be cited more often than the Chinese papers , suggesting that they involve more fundamental research questions, but China is catching up.

The key is not that China has overtaken us, but that China, for having been significantly behind us, is gaining significant ground.

Why is this a problem? Samuelson answers:

One danger is military. If China makes a breakthrough in a crucial technology — satellites, missiles, cyberwarfare, artificial intelligence, electromagnetic weapons — the result could be a major shift in the strategic balance and, possibly, war.

Even if this doesn’t happen, warns the commission, China’s determination to dominate new industries such as artificial intelligence, telecommunications and computers could lead to economic warfare if China maintains subsidies and discriminatory policies to sustain its firms’ competitive advantage.

“Industries like computing, robotics, and biotechnology are pillars of U.S. economic competitiveness, sustaining and creating millions of high-paying jobs and high-value-added exports,” the commission said in its latest annual report. “The loss of global leadership in these future drivers of global growth” would weaken the American economy. Chinese theft of U.S. industrial trade secrets compounds the danger.

How can we catch up? Perhaps if Silicon Valley was not torturing its collective soul over diversity it could focus more intently on innovation. Not because it does not innovate, but because it could do better.

Samuelson adds that we should overhaul our immigration system in order to make it more merit-based. We should accept fewer relatives of current immigrants and focus on admitting those who have a higher skill level. Where have we heard that before?

Call it a wake-up call. Strangely, it coincides with a story in today’s Wall Street Journal. Chinese high tech innovators recently visited Silicon Valley. Their reaction will surprise you. It surprised me:

Silicon Valley has loomed large in China’s tech world in the past two decades. China’s internet industry started by copying Silicon Valley technologies and business models. That’s why there’s the Google of China ( Baidu Inc. ), the Uber of China (Didi Chuxing Technology Co.) and the Groupon of China (Meituan-Dianping). Some of the biggest Chinese internet companies, such as e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. , were funded by Silicon Valley money. Translations of best-selling books by Silicon Valley sages, such as “Zero to One” by Peter Thiel and “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz, became instant best sellers in China too….

But for most of the 18 entrepreneurs and investors, and especially for those in their 20s and 30s, last week’s visit largely failed to impress. To many in the group, northern California’s low-rise buildings looked shabbier than the glitzy skyscrapers in Beijing and Shenzhen. They can’t believe Americans still use credit cards and cash while they use mobile payment for almost everything back home, including settling bets for their Texas Hold’em games one night in Palo Alto.

As China’s internet industry has grown larger and its companies have become more competitive and confident, Silicon Valley’s allure is fading.

Rats Are Invading Paris

No one seems to know quite what to make of it, so we will just report the facts. The City of Lights, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, a leading tourist destination, Paris is infested with rats. I do not know for sure but I suspect that Paris has more rats than New York.

Of course, it seems slightly perverse for two cities to compete over how many rats they have. Apparently, it’s the food, tossed away by restaurants, that attracts the rats. So, Paris has more rats because it offers them better leftovers.

Anyway, the Daily Mail reports the story:

Horrific footage of a mass build-up of savage rats who ‘jump for the throat’ has caused shock in Paris.

Le Parisien, the French capital’s local paper, on Sunday published a video of scores of the creatures massing in a dustbin.

It was taken on the banks of the River Seine, in the centre of all the most popular tourist spots, including Notre Dame Cathedral and the Orsay art gallery.

This has been getting worse during the past year.

‘For the past year, there’s been a proliferation of rats in all areas bordering the Seine,’ a council worker says on the video.

‘A colleague told me that a rat jumped at his throat, and another towards his arm. To my knowledge, there haven’t been any bites for the moment, but we shouldn’t be waiting for a tragedy.’

What is the municipal government doing to solve the problem? It instituted an extermination program last September, budgeted at less than $2,000,000. If you honestly think that a couple of million euros will exterminate the rats,  you are dreaming:

A £1.4 million extermination programme was launched last September, with areas closed off during the killings, but it has by no means proved successful.

There are now so many rats that Roma crime gangs have been seen using dead ones to intimidate tourists while trying to steal from them.

For your information, Roma people are what we would call gypsies. 

Apparently, the rats are everywhere:

Tourists including hundreds from Britain regularly report sightings of the creatures all over the city, including gardens around the Louvre, and even scuttling along restaurant floors.

Council spokesman Mao Peninou said: ‘All the departments involved have faced the problem head on.’

Paris is the most popular tourist city in the world, and the biggest foreign visitor group are the British. 

Of course, we do not want to poison the rats. It would be environmentally unfriendly. Then again, rats are living beings. Rodent beings, but living nonetheless. How dare we think of exterminating them? 

At least, Parisians love all of God’s creatures equally and are committed to the environment.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Kids Say the Darndest Things

Here are a few thoughts to brighten up your Sunday. They could have appeared on the old television show: Kids Say the Darndest Things. They did not. They date to recently.

From the Daily Mail:

Parents have revealed some of the funniest and most offensive cards they have received from their offspring 

This mother was rather taken aback by their child's extremely inappropriate card 

While trying to make their mother feel better about her 'big butt' this child's card likely had the opposite effect 

This parent is likely to be over the moon to have avoided the old people's home for another year

It is clear that this youngster had major concerns about their family member going vegan 

Cleaning Out Foggy Bottom

To her limitless chagrin senior diplomat Gina Aberchrombie-Winstanley discovered that the Rex Tillerson State Department was not going to use America’s diplomatic talent to advance the feminist cause. She was so upset that she quit her job and wrote about it in the New York Times.

One appreciates that people have a right to use whatever name they want, but when your hyphenated politically correct name exceeds twenty letters, it’s time for a rethink. By that action, the woman exposes herself as an ideological zealot.

It’s one thing to denounce the current Secretary for abandoning his department’s traditional role. The press does this all the time. It’s quite another to see what it is that he is giving up. If GAW is an example, we have to agree that Tillerson is moving in the right direction.

GAW was formerly the ambassador to Malta. Now she has quit. She explains:

Professionally, after more than 30 years in the Foreign Service, rising to serve as an ambassador, I found myself working for someone who appeared not to understand or value the importance of diplomacy as an effective means of reducing violence in the world.

I saw colleagues ignored and denied assignments that would utilize their expertise. I saw colleague after colleague resign or retire early. Then in August, my dream assignment in the Office of Global Women’s Issues was withdrawn less than a week before my start date, and I was told, “We don’t want leadership for that office.” The role remains unfilled.

Being a minority female GAW seems to believe that she has a right to the position she wants. And yet, she wants a job advancing the feminist cause because she believes that it reduces violence in the world. In itself, that counts as a firing offense.

So, she quit the State Department. And she is complaining that our new president and presumably the Secretary of State—whose name she does not mention—have compromised her values. She does not mention that the president was duly elected and that she herself is behind the curve:

The values I shared and stood for overseas — fighting for the underdog, a fair shake for everyone, community action, integrity and tolerance — still have my focus and support, but now here, in this country.

I do not want to sound simple minded, and I do not know as much as she does about diplomacy, but her job as an American diplomat was to represent American interests around the world. Could it be that foggy bottom was infested with people who put their ideological commitments ahead of their service to the United States of America.

And, of course, when it comes to the merits and her achievement, we do not know whether she was a diversity hire or whether she earned her way up the diplomatic ladder. If we compare GAW’s whining about feminism with the full-throated defense of American interests offered by U. N. Ambassador Nikki Haley… we are happy to see her gone.

Anyway, GAW quit her job and went home to Cleveland. But then, she found herself constantly arguing with a woman who was nearest and dearest to her—one suspects it was her sister or a BFF. Naturally, she blames it on Donald Trump. It never crosses her mind that her feud has something to do with her own behavior, her own inability to negotiate differences and her own zealotry:

At home, however, the president has seriously disrupted my personal life. I learned shortly before the election that the woman nearest and dearest to me in life is a Trump supporter. The situation is so divisive that I cannot name her here.

We are struck that a trained diplomat allowed a close personal relationship to descend into such rancor.

Anyway, GAW writes:

I was driven by two conflicting needs: One, to understand how someone who I knew to epitomize integrity, nation before self and commitment to public service could support this president. Two, to ensure she stayed informed so that she did not spend one single day feeling good about her choice. I opened all our conversations with that reminder as a joke — but I wasn’t kidding. So I showered her with negative articles and invited her to send me positive ones. And we talked.

We talked by phone, and sometimes in person. Once, early on, we almost got thrown out of one of my favorite restaurants during a live and loud debate. But neither of us wanted to sever the relationship. So while we took some not-always-gentle abuse from each other, we mostly talked by text and email, which allowed for pauses between heated exchanges and timely silences.

So, a senior American diplomat has allowed the personal to become politicized. She cannot tolerate a friend or close relative who does not think what she thinks, who makes it impossible for her to feel that she is living in an echo chamber. The interactions become hostile and antagonistic, barely bearable:

Over the course of the past year, we exchanged views every few days on the political happenings in this country. Truces were called for birthdays, holidays and joint vacations. Things were too tense to spend Thanksgiving together, and we weren’t in the same place for Christmas.

We didn’t just talk about politics. We kept talking about children, husbands, our brothers, my next professional step, books, favorite TV shows and movies. My husband shushed me from time to time, and her husband cautioned her about taking a trip with me, but we kept talking.

We have the advantage of shared experiences, love and familiarity, so there’s no room to demonize the “other.”

You read this and you have more faith in the managerial skills of Rex Tillerson.

Feminist Misandry

Nearly forty years ago anthropologist Donald Symons laid out the Darwinian theory of human sexuality in his book The Evolution of Human Sexuality. Arguing against the absurdist theory that human sexual behaviors were socially constructed Symons showed, scientifically, that male and female human behavior had a great deal to do with nature.

In so arguing Symons made good use of research studies into the behaviors of male and female homosexuals. After all, he and others reasoned, we could see a pure culture of male sexuality if we looked at the way male homosexuals interacted with other male homosexuals. Idem for female homosexuals.

Rather than bore you with data and statistics, I will summarize Symons’ conclusion with a quip. In his latest New York Magazine column, Andrew Sullivan explains:

The old joke applies: What does a lesbian bring on a second date? A U-Haul. What does a gay man bring on a second date? What second date?

Anyway, Sullivan argues in his column that differences between the sexes derive from nature, as much as or more than from culture. True enough, social customs play a role, but it is pure folly to follow the feminist ideologically driven argument, namely that it’s all a social construction. The problem lies in the “all.” To make all differences a social construction, to assume that, beneath the culture men and women are fundamentally the same, is to descend into anti-scientific idiocy. Those who adhere to this belief do themselves no favor when they pretend to be great lovers of facts. As happens with all ideologies, they will never allow a fact to disprove their belief. Thus, they have no use for facts.

Summarizing the current ideologically correct theory, Sullivan explains:

 All differences between the sexes, we are now informed, are a function of the age-old oppression of women by men, of the “patriarchy” that enforces this subjugation, and of the power structures that mandate misogyny. All differences between the genders, we are told, are a function not of nature but of sexism. In fact, we are now informed by the latest generation of feminists, following the theories of Michel Foucault, that nature itself is a “social construction” designed by men to oppress women. It doesn’t actually exist. It’s merely another tool of male power and must be resisted.

Scientists have researched the topic, nearly to death. Sullivan would have done better to refer to some of the research, but he prefers a television show called Planet Earth.

To each his own. He writes:

… the Planet Earth series … reveals that in almost every species, males and females behave differently — very differently — and there appears to be no “patriarchy” in place to bring this about at all. They know enough not to push their argument into places where it will seem to be, quite obviously, ridiculous. But it is strikingly obvious that for today’s progressives, humans are the sole species on this planet where gender differentiation has no clear basis in nature, science, evolution, or biology. This is where they are as hostile to Darwin as any creationist.

True and truer. Today’s progressives, people who take themselves to be of surpassing intellection, are fundamentally hostile to Darwinian science. I have, as readers of this blog know, made this point repeatedly. I am certainly not alone.

Sullivan suggests that the difference between the sexes is more about nature than about culture. His experience within the gay male culture has enlightened him:

My suspicion is that it’s more about nature than about society, and one reason I believe this (apart from all the data) is I because I’m gay. I live in a sexual and romantic world without women, where no patriarchy could definitionally exist, a subculture with hookups and relationships and marriages and every conceivable form of sexual desire that straight men and women experience as well. And you know what you find? That men behave no differently in sexual matters when there are no women involved at all. In fact, remove women, and you see male sexuality unleashed more fully, as men would naturally express it, if they could get away with it. It’s full of handsiness and groping and objectification and lust and aggression and passion and the ruthless pursuit of yet another conquest. And yes, I mean conquest. That’s what testosterone does. It’s also full of love, tenderness, compassion, jealousy, respect, dignity, and a need for security and a home. It’s men’s revenge on men.

Behaviors that women find to be offensive, appalling and traumatizing are normal within the gay male culture. The cause is testosterone. Who knew? This does not mean, Sullivan adds, that such behaviors should not be tempered, but they do not make men into subhuman and toxic monsters. Sullivan does not mention the power of oxytocin on women’s sexual response and behavior… but we can forgive him for the oversight.

He continues that the feminist war on men, the ongoing feminist denigration and demeaning of men, the raw, undisguised hatred of all things male, is politically self-defeating. Among the many reasons that Hillary Clinton lost the last presidential election, he suggests, was that she represented the man-hating side of the Democratic Party. And that men were not buying it. Worse yet, for Democrats, women were not buying it either.

…but nature will not be eradicated. And when left-feminism denies nature’s power, ignores testosterone, and sees all this behavior as a function entirely of structural patriarchal oppression, it is going to overreach. It is going to misunderstand. And it is going to alienate a lot of people. If most men are told that what they are deep down is, in fact, “problematic” if not “toxic,” they are going to get defensive, and with good reason. And they are going to react. So, by the way, are the countless women who do not see this kind of masculinity as toxic, who want men to be different, who are, in fact, deeply attracted to the core aggression of the human male, and contemptuous of the latest orthodoxy from Brooklyn.

For the record, “Brooklyn” refers to the headquarters of the doomed Hillary campaign. One implication of this is that doubling down on misandry, on disparaging males, is a bad electoral strategy. Time will tell whether the current wave of anti-male feminism will help the Democrats win elections.

Interestingly, within the gay male world, Sullivan finds many Trump supporters. They are siding with Trump and against the leftist feminists because these latter are at war with maleness, with who they are:

When I stumble across young male Trump supporters — and there are plenty of gay men among them — this is what they point to. They are defending their core being from left-feminist assault. Insofar as they are pushing back against the latest wave of feminist misandry, I’m not without some sympathy.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Revolution Comes to Silicon Valley

California is the poorest state in the nation. Yet, it is chockablock with very wealthy people, many of whom work in the High Tech havens in Silicon Valley.

All of the wealthy tech workers do not live in the Valley. Many of them prefer to camp out in overpriced abodes in San Francisco. Naturally, this creates a commuting problem. Companies like Google and Apply have addressed the problem by providing luxury bus service between San Francisco and their headquarters in Mountain View and Cupertino.

As it happens, some of those less fortunate resent these spoiled brats. They are not happy that they can no longer afford to live in the city because the rich kids from the tech world have priced them out of the market. Is it surprising, Tyler Durden writes on the Zero Hedge blog, that the peasants and peons and proles are now rebelling… by shooting at the tech buses?

Could the revolution be at hand?

The last week has seen six charter buses, ferrying Google and Apple employees from Silicon Valley to San Francisco, have been attacked on the freeway, smashing windows with rocks and BB guns.

Notably, there are no signifiers on the vehicles for the average passerby to really know for what and who they are used, but CHP Officer Art Montiel, who is investigating the matter with other law enforcement officials, says “it appears that they’re going after the unmarked tech buses,” according to SFGate.

The tech giants are on the case. They are now rerouting the buses. Surely, that will work:

Due to the potential targeting, the two tech giants decided to alter the usual routes, causing “an additional 30-45 minutes of commute time in each direction,” according to an email from “The Apple Commute Team” obtained by Mashable.

Tech firms operate free shuttle services between San Francisco and their offices in the Silicon Valley. The service, which is available only to the employees, has long been seen as a symbol of division between the tech workers and everyone else.

At least, these firms support diversity… except in their own ranks.

If the Sky Is Not Falling...

If you have entered the Chicken Little stage of human development and spend your time running around warning people that the sky is falling… you have a vested interest in calamity. If you predict that the sky will fall and the sky doesn’t fall, you look like a fool or a liar or a fraud. If you, a seasoned and somewhat dotty politician, announce that a specific tax reform bill will bring about Armageddon… you have an interest in precipitating the arrival of Armageddon.

At a time when the news on the economy seems very good indeed, and where the worst predictions about the Trump presidency have not come to pass, you can understand why Senate Democrats are trying to change the narrative… by shutting down the government. If their action can help bring about an economic collapse, they will happily rush out to the microphones and blame Trump. They will happily announce that they were right all along.

This morning Bret Stephens, having found sobriety, points out that the Democratic Party strategy of indulging in rhetorical hyperbole while predicting the imminent end of the world is a gamble on catstrophe.

In December this column warned that hysterical opposition to the Republican tax bill was a fool’s game for Democrats that could only help Donald Trump. Yes, there were things to dislike in the legislation, from both a liberal and a conservative perspective.

But it was not the moral and fiscal apocalypse its critics claimed. And its central achievement — a dramatic cut in corporate rates to 21 percent from 35 percent — was an economic no-brainer that many Democrats, including President Obama, had supported (albeit less steeply) just a few years ago.

Apple will not be the only multinational that will soon bring back gigantic profits to take advantage of new low repatriation rates. Microsoft holds $146 billion in overseas earnings, Pfizer $178 billion, General Electric $82 billion, Alphabet $78 billion, and Cisco $71 billion, according to estimates from the Zion Research Group. The total stash is about $3 trillion — by one measure nearly three times what it was just a decade ago.

Assume that just half of that money comes home to the United States. It’s still the equivalent of Canada’s entire gross domestic product. Not too shabby, especially considering all the hyperbolic predictions of economic doom that went with Trump’s election.

Democrats, Stephens continues, did not realize that the Obama economic recovery was anemic. They tried to run on prosperity at a time when the nation was not enjoying prosperity. Normally, they would have assumed that they could manipulate American minds to make them think that the economy was better than it was. Somehow or other, the propaganda machine failed. They seem to believe that they were outwitted by Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. A strange idea, indeed.

Democrats entered the 2016 election cycle on what they thought was the back of a strong economy. It wasn’t. Barack Obama presided over the weakest expansion in postwar history. The economy grew by 15.5 percent from the second quarter of 2009 to the second quarter of 2016. During the (slightly longer) Reagan boom of 1982-90, it grew by more than 38 percent. The failure to understand this meant a failure to appreciate the depth of American discontent. It helps explain how Hillary Clinton lost her unlosable election to a man whose central claim to office was that he understood business.

If the economy has improved under Trump, the Democrats have been running around saying that it’s all because of Obama. Considering that one major impetus of economic growth has been Trump’s dismantling of the regulatory state that Obama empowered, it’s a difficult case to make:

More recently, Democrats have convinced themselves that Trump is merely the beneficiary of Obama’s economic legacy. But how can the critics who previously assured us that Trump’s election would cause certain calamity now explain that he’s nothing but a lucky bystander to forces beyond his control? Had the economy tumbled over the past year his critics would surely have blamed him. It’s ill grace to deny him all credit when it’s doing so well.

“ill grace”… whatever would have made anyone imagine that the Democratic Party lacks grace or graciousness.

Apparently, Democrats are hoping that they can derail the economy and the stock market by shutting down the government. And yet, they have dug in their heels and hope to damange the economy in order to protect illegal aliens. It seems like a bad wager, especially since illegal immigrants themselves do significant damage to the economy:

Yet one gets a distinct sense that Trump’s relentless critics would rather bury the Apple news or look for the cloud within the silver lining. This is not a good look. If making confident but lousy predictions is one form of political malpractice, wanting things to fail is another.

The same goes for the looming government shutdown, which may have begun by the time you read this column. Democrats are placing a large bet that it’s a political showdown they can win. But what they are mainly doing is wrecking their chances of retaking the House or Senate by appearing to put the interests of DACA’s immigrant “Dreamers” ahead of the rest of America.

And, of course, rooting for the president to fail is also rooting for America to fail. Most Americans still have enough patriotism to revile anyone who seems to be trying to make America fail again:

… normal Americans — that is, those who hold the outcome of the next election in their hands — do not want him to fail. They want statesmanship, not schadenfreude.

Wouldn’t it be smart of all of Trump’s opponents to show they are superior to him in the former? And wouldn’t a good way of doing that be to abjure the latter, even if it sometimes means giving him some credit?

To be fair and balanced, Democrats and progressives do not really care about how the economy fares, this quarter or next quarter. They are playing a longer game. Their arena is not the marketplace of goods and services but the marketplace of ideas. They are fighting to control the American mind and to undermine traditional American culture. They are fighting for diversity. They worship the gods of multiculturalism. 

To their minds, victory consists in the election of a transgender state legislator in Virginia. They have declared war on merit and want people to be judged, not on the content of their character, but on their race, gender, ethnicity and sexual preferences. Then they go to war against any American who uses derogatory language. They will give you the economy if you let them control your mind and your speech.

Think about it. The economy is moving ahead. The stock market is moving ahead smartly. The Democratic Party thinks that the world is about to come to an end because Trump called a few nations shitholes.