In Which James Fallows Becomes A Conservative (And Misses The Point) – With Bonus Toby Keith Reference

James Fallows engages in a little goodnatured conservative-bashing in his column in the Atlantic today, and inadvertently touches on a point that’s genuinely interesting:

The TSA case, on which Douthat builds his column, is in fact quite a poor illustration — rather, a good illustration for a different point. There are many instances of the partisan dynamic working in one direction here. That is, conservatives and Republicans who had no problem with strong-arm security measures back in the Bush 43 days but are upset now. Charles Krauthammer is the classic example: forthrightly defending torture as, in limited circumstances, a necessary tool against terrorism, yet now outraged about “touching my junk” as a symbol of the intrusive state.

But are there any cases of movement the other way? Illustrations of liberals or Democrats who denounced “security theater” and TSA/DHS excesses in the Republican era, but defend them now? If such people exist, I’m not aware of them — and having beaten the “security theater” drum for many long years now, I’ve been on the lookout.

See, I see it differently (and I’m not talking about whether conservatives or liberals are more consistent in the way that Fallows is describing). In my view, the issue is simple. Liberals care most of all about “justice as fairness,” so the idea of targeting people or treating one class of people differently than others – whether because they are worse (more dangerous in this context) or better (less dangerous) – makes them uncomfortable. Conservatives feel uncomfortable with that notion of justice, and instead see justice as the (deserved) heaping of badness on wrongdoers. See liberal bete-noir Toby Keith:

Well a man come on 6 o’clock news
Said, “Somebody been shot, somebody’s been abused
Somebody blew up a building, somebody stole a car
Somebody got away, somebody didn’t get too far”
Yeah, they didn’t get too far

Grand pappy told my pappy back in my day son
A man had to answer for the wicked that he’d done
Take all the rope in Texas find a tall oak tree
Round up all of them bad boys, hang them high in the street
For all the people to see

That justice is the one thing you should always find
You got to saddle up your boys, you got to draw a hard line
When the gun smoke settles we’ll sing a victory tune
And we’ll all meet back at the local saloon
We’ll raise up our glasses against Evil forces singing
Whiskey for my men, beer for my horses

If you’re nodding your head in approval, you’re probably a conservative. If you’re shaking it in disgust…probably not.

That distinction is the consistent one that runs through the security commentary I read (and I read a lot of it). Mapping whether they approve/disapprove of the latest farce from the TSA, and whether their approval changes with the political winds, is certainly interesting – but in the end kind of useless if what’s being shown is the distinction between being a good AYSO coach and a good Texas Ranger.


Tonight at 9pm ET/PT the National Geographic Channel will be showing Restrepo – the amazing Sebastian Junger/Tim Carrington film that my friend Kanani helped promote to the military community.

It’s flatly an amazing film. For me, it was a window into my son’s life – one that neither my wife nor BG’s mom has yet shared.

We don’t have TV here, but we’ll get a DVD and do a showing for the family soon.

But you can – and should – watch it and be reminded that while our leaders dance in the marbled halls of Washington, young men (and women) are fighting a brutal war on our behalf half a world away.

Or just buy the DVD

Armed Liberal’s Thanksgiving 2010

So I’m wrapping up work and sitting down to go over my recipes and break them down into a shopping list; we’ll start brining the turkey and figuring out how to tidy the downstairs next.

Tomorrow afternoon, we’ll have my mom, my brother and his wife, our son Littlest Guy, and our friends Norm and Jill and an orphan or two. Middle Guy and his mom will drop by, and we’ll wind up the day in a food, conversation, game, and alcohol haze.

That’s the basics of the event, but it doesn’t say much about what it means.

Tomorrow’s a day when we’re supposed to be grateful, which always sounds kind of schoolmarmish – aren’t we supposed to be grateful every day? But – like Veteran’s Day which is a day when we get reminded about something, I’m happy to set the day aside.

Like many but not all in America and the world, we’ve been blessed this year.

We have a lovely home – and we’re current on the mortgage.

We have great neighbors.

I’m somehow, amazingly, luckily married to a someone wonderful.


Both TG and I are blessed with work. Interesting work, and more than we can really handle. So is Middle Guy, now that I think of it.

And the boys.


Biggest Guy is home from Afghanistan, hale, whole, and amazingly hearty. That’s many parents’ dream, and one that I know not all parents got this year.

Middle Guy is a year and a half out of college, and he’s more than self-sufficent – he’s found work and a life he seems to love. Every parent’s dream – and again, I know one that not every parent gets.

Littlest Guy is meeting the challenges of teenagerhood, and if we don’t brick him into a wall, is going to turn out just great.

We live in a world full of challenges right now. And for me, I think that’s a blessing too. We are all going to be challenged to see what we can do in the coming year, and I’m grateful for that…and worried, and hopeful, and scared.

C.J. Grisham posed something that hit me. As I said on Facebook, I’m not religious, but really felt the power of this paragraph:

Thanksgiving therefore is an affirmation of one’s relationship to God and not to things or to however well things are going, nor even to His blessings. Thanksgiving is a duty but not one that is negative or coerced. It is a voluntary expression of love and loyalty to God and His great project called Life. People do it, and Nations do it. Moreover, it is always the right thing to do, even when there’s not a lot that’s obvious to be thankful for.

Yes it is. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone, and thank you to the folks who write, comment, and visit here.

TSA Exemptions And The Powers That Be

So lots of people (me included) were irate when it was announced that certain “high-value” people would be exempt from the “scan/fondle your genitals?” question. We were wrong. Here’s the AP:

Cabinet secretaries, top congressional leaders and an exclusive group of senior U.S. officials are exempt from toughened new airport screening procedures when they fly commercially with government-approved federal security details.

Aviation security officials would not name those who can skip the controversial screening, but other officials said those VIPs range from top officials like Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and FBI Director Robert Mueller to congressional leaders like incoming House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who avoided security before a recent flight from Washington’s Reagan National Airport.

My response on Facebook? “I’m shocked!”

Then in my comments, a comment from someone who knows something about security:

ummm, I think there is a misunderstanding here. If they are protectees, the agents flying armed don’t go through security because they are cleared by other means. They cannot leave their protectee so all will take the flying armed route. It’s not because they are above the law, it’s because of the complications of traveling with a protective detail.

Crap. I hate it when a beautiful theory (or rant) is slain by an ugly fact.

But it is when it is, and I’ve gotta acknowledge it.

Give Everybody Eat!!

A parable for our times, courtesy of Joseph Heller, and Catch-22.

To Captain Piltchard and Captain Wren, the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade was a glorious pain in the ass, since it complicated their task of organizing the crews for each combat mission. Men were tied up all over the squadron signing, pledging and singing, and the missions took hours longer to get under way. Effective emergency action became impossible, but Captain Piltchard and Captain Wren were both too timid to raise any outcry against Captain Black, who scrupulously enforced each day the doctrine of ‘Continual Reaffirmation’ that he had originated, a doctrine designed to trap all those men who had become disloyal since the last time they had signed a loyalty oath the day before. It was Captain Black who came with advice to Captain Piltchard and Captain Wren as they pitched about in their bewildering predicament. He came with a delegation and advised them bluntly to make each man sign a loyalty oath before allowing him to fly on a combat mission.

‘Of course, it’s up to you,’ Captain Black pointed out. ‘Nobody’s trying to pressure you. But everyone else is making them sign loyalty oaths, and it’s going to look mighty funny to the F.B.I. if you two are the only ones who don’t care enough about your country to make them sign loyalty oaths, too. If you want to get a bad reputation, that’s nobody’s business but your own. All we’re trying to do is help.’

Milo was not convinced and absolutely refused to deprive Major Major of food, even if Major Major was a Communist, which Milo secretly doubted. Milo was by nature opposed to any innovation that threatened to disrupt the normal course of affairs. Milo took a firm moral stand and absolutely refused to participate in the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade until Captain Black called upon him with his delegation and requested him to.

‘National defense is everybody’s job,’ Captain Black replied to Milo’s objection. ‘And this whole program is voluntary, Milo – don’t forget that. The men don’t have to sign Piltchard and Wren’s loyalty oath if they don’t want to. But we need you to starve them to death if they don’t. It’s just like Catch-22. Don’t you get it? You’re not against Catch-22, are you?’

Doc Daneeka was adamant.

‘What makes you so sure Major Major is a Communist?’

‘You never heard him denying it until we began accusing him, did you?

And you don’t see him signing any of our loyalty oaths.’

‘You aren’t letting him sign any.’

‘Of course not,’ Captain Black explained. ‘That would defeat the whole purpose of our crusade. Look, you don’t have to play ball with us if you don’t want to. But what’s the point of the rest of us working so hard if you’re going to give Major Major medical attention the minute Milo begins starving him to death? I just wonder what they’re going to think up at Group about the man who’s undermining our whole security program. They’ll probably transfer you to the Pacific.’

Doc Daneeka surrendered swiftly.

‘I’ll go tell Gus and Wes to do whatever you want them to.’

Up at Group, Colonel Cathcart had already begun wondering what was going on. ‘It’s that idiot Black off on a patriotism binge,’ Colonel Korn reported with a smile. ‘I think you’d better play ball with him for a while, since you’re the one who promoted Major Major to squadron commander.’

‘That was your idea,’ Colonel Cathcart accused him petulantly.

‘I never should have let you talk me into it.’

‘And a very good idea it was, too,’ retorted Colonel Korn, ‘since it eliminated that superfluous major that’s been giving you such an awful black eye as an administrator. Don’t worry, this will probably run its course soon. The best thing to do now is send Captain Black a letter of total support and hope he drops dead before he does too much damage.’ Colonel Korn was struck with a whimsical thought. ‘I wonder! You don’t suppose that imbecile will try to turn Major Major out of his trailer, do you?’ ‘The next thing we’ve got to do is turn that bastard Major Major out of his trailer,’ Captain Black decided. ‘I’d like to turn his wife and kids out into the woods, too. But we can’t. He has no wife and kids. So we’ll just have to make do with what we have and turn him out. Who’s in charge of the tents?’

‘He is.’

‘You see?’ cried Captain Black. ‘They’re taking over everything! Well, I’m not going to stand for it. I’ll take this matter right to Major – de Coverley himself if I have to. I’ll have Milo speak to him about it the minute he gets back from Rome.’ Captain Black had boundless faith in the wisdom, power and justice of Major – de Coverley, even though he had never spoken to him before and still found himself without the courage to do so. He deputized Milo to speak to Major – de Coverley for him and stormed about impatiently as he waited for the tall executive officer to return. Along with everyone else in the squadron, he lived in profound awe and reverence of the majestic, white-haired major with craggy face and Jehovean bearing, who came back from Rome finally with an injured eye inside a new celluloid eye patch and smashed his whole Glorious Crusade to bits with a single stroke. Milo carefully said nothing when Major – de Coverley stepped into the mess hall with his fierce and austere dignity the day he returned and found his way blocked by a wall of officers waiting in line to sign loyalty oaths. At the far end of the food counter, a group of men who had arrived earlier were pledging allegiance to the flag, with trays of food balanced in one hand, in order to be allowed to take seats at the table. Already at the tables, a group that had arrived still earlier was singing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ in order that they might use the salt and pepper and ketchup there. The hubbub began to subside slowly as Major – de Coverley paused in the doorway with a frown of puzzled disapproval, as though viewing something bizarre. He started forward in a straight line, and the wall of officers before him parted like the Red Sea. Glancing neither left nor right, he strode indomitably up to the steam counter and, in a clear, full-bodied voice that was gruff with age and resonant with ancient eminence and authority, said:

‘Gimme eat.’

Instead of eat, Corporal Snark gave Major – de Coverley a loyalty oath to sign. Major – de Coverley swept it away with mighty displeasure the moment he recognized what it was, his good eye flaring up blindingly with fiery disdain and his enormous old corrugated face darkening in mountainous wrath.

‘Gimme eat, I said,’ he ordered loudly in harsh tones that rumbled ominously through the silent tent like claps of distant thunder.

Corporal Snark turned pale and began to tremble. He glanced toward Milo pleadingly for guidance. For several terrible seconds there was not a sound. Then Milo nodded. ‘Give him eat,’ he said.

Corporal Snark began giving Major – de Coverley eat. Major – de Coverley turned from the counter with his tray full and came to a stop. His eyes fell on the groups of other officers gazing at him in mute appeal, and, with righteous belligerence, he roared:

‘Give everybody eat!’

‘Give everybody eat!’ Milo echoed with joyful relief, and the Glorious Loyalty Oath Crusade came to an end.

Nov. 22, 2009

A year ago today, my son’s company suffered its first deaths in Afghanistan.

…I’ve been trying to write, myself, a poem about those ancient Japanese ceramic cups, rustic in appearance, the property at some point of a holy monk, one of the few possessions he allowed himself. In a later century, someone dropped and broke the cup, but it was too precious to simply throw away. So it was repaired, not with glue, which never really holds, but with a seam of gold solder. And I think our poems are often like that gold solder, repairing a break in what can never be restored perfectly. The gold repair adds a kind of beauty to the cup, making visible its history…

– Letter from poet Alfred Corn to poet Mark Doty on the death of Doty’s love.

For me, I’ve come with a certain age to realize that people can deal with tragedy by throwing their lives away, or by gluing themselves together and trying to pretend that the tragedy never happened (something that never lasts), or ultimately by soldering the broken places with gold – call it God’s love, the love of and for the departed, or just the gold of wisdom.

I hope someday that today becomes – for Rachel Nolen, and for the Atlas and Tynes families – a wound soldered with gold.

Until then, I hope that they know that they will never be alone today.

Space, Power Laws, and Inequality

I was trying to explain something to someone over dinner, and it seems interesting enough to be worth tossing up here for comment and exploration.

The question was why the growing inequality today?

And I had an idea. Basically, wealth has been unequally distributed since it’s been measured (see Pareto).

So within any economy, we have a power law distribution.

What used to be, however, was that there wasn’t much of a ‘global’ or even ‘national’ economy – there were local economies. These were effectively ‘cells’ in the larger economic organism, and most of the activity stayed within the cell.

The implication of this is a geographic field of small power law curves of wealth, with local car dealers, real estate developers, bankers, etc. at the top of the curve.

So the people at the top of these curves were prosperous, but not in the Gulfstream private jet league.

There were national and global networks with their own power laws, but they represented a relatively small component of the economy as a whole.

Got the picture?

Now dissolve the cells. And in the residual soup, build a new power curve, and make almost everyone part of that distribution.

Looks a lot like what we’re living with now, doesn’t it?

Now as an interesting question, in the past gilded ages, could we see similar transitions?

Warmists And Heresy

….and does Professor Judith Curry read Winds??

Over at Climate Progress, Professor Judith Curry, Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Tech, is getting slagged because she won’t tow the line.

Now there are about five different arguments that are made in this piece, and as I note below I’m just giving up on dealing with this issue any more.

But note this; my biggest problem with the warmists has been and continues to be three things:

1) they take a potentially (possibly even probably) real problem and act like it’s an absolute truth;
2) they generate that claim of absolute truth is ways that I find conceptually unsound;
3) at a root level, where there should be open discourse and what I believe ‘true scientific process’ to be, they act like cranks.

Let’s talk about 3) for a moment and then about 2).

Here’s someone (Curry) with pretty robust credentials in the discipline.

She steps off the reservation a year ago with her eminently reasonable “Manifesto” – published at Climate Progress. And now here’s Climate Progress talking about her yesterday:

Confusionist Judith Curry goes ‘wicked’ and mangles the work of Martin Weitzman
November 17, 2010

Climate change can be categorized as a “wicked problem.”[Note] Wicked problems are difficult or impossible to solve, there is no opportunity to devise an overall solution by trial and error, and there is no real test of the efficacy of a solution to the wicked problem. Efforts to solve the wicked problem may reveal or create other problems….

Xu, Crittenden et al. [Note] argue that “gigaton problems require gigaton solutions.” The wickedness of the climate problem precludes a gigaton solution (either technological or political).

Judith Curry abandoned science this year. She asserted I was “directly involved in Climategate”; James Annan explained “(S)He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense“; William Connolley eviscerated a recent paper on Antarctic sea ice (here), which notes, “The main problem with the paper is the uncritical use of invalid data”; and Bart Verheggen explained, “Her unfounded allegations are insulting for the whole profession.

One way humans make decisions, when there’s insufficient data, is by looking at the behavior of those who hold different positions. When I look at this kind of behavior – which isn’t designed to engage, advance human knowledge, or do anything except drive a heretic out into the darkness, it really doesn’t do a lot to improve my confidence in the people who are engaging in that kind of behavior.

In otherwards, warmists need to start acting more like Galileo and less like Urban VIII.

Finally, there’s my discomfort conceptually with the ways that they are attempting to drive “certainty” into climate arguments. Complex modeling tools are very useful in Mediocrestan, but – as the folks who brought us the recent financial Troubles have shown – not all that useful outside of it.

Things that happen inside “bounded reality” can be readily modeled and duplicated in a lab setting. Things outside simply can’t.

That’s the essence of Rittel and Webber’s claim, and that’s the perfect definition of a “wicked problem”. We’ve been saying AGW is a ‘wicked problem’ here for a long time.

Now because the models are weak, the problem is wicked, and the warmists are jerks, does that mean we just shrug? No, I think certainly not.

I can think of a bunch of sound reasons to minimize your emissions and to make that an area of emphasis – reduced dependence on ME oil, more secure infrastructure, local air pollution, etc. etc. Even just plain saving money.

Here’s Taleb on the issue:

1) Climate Change. I am hyper-conservative ecologically (meaning super-Green). My position on the climate is to avoid releasing pollutants in the atmosphere, on the basis of ignorance, regardless of current expert opinion (climate experts, like banking risk managers, have failed us in the past in foreseeing long term damages and I cannot accept certainty in a certain class of nonlinear models). This is an extension of my general idea that one does not need rationalization with the use of complicated models (by fallible experts) to the edict: “do not disturb a complex system” since we do not know the consequences of our actions owing to complicated causal webs. (Incidentally, this ideas also makes me anti-war). I explicitly explained the need to “leave the planet the way we got it”

Instead, I was presented as a “climate-change denier” (Lucy Mangan), and my environmental views summarized by “Climate change is not man-made” (Nicholas Watts).
A minimum of homework on the part of your staff would have revealed that I am one of the authors of the recent King of Sweden’s Bonham declaration on attitude to climate change.

I agree both when he says “climate experts, like banking risk managers, have failed us in the past in foreseeing long term damages and I cannot accept certainty in a certain class of nonlinear models” and that it’s a good idea to “leave the planet the way we got it.”

I’m going to resolve to stop kicking at the anthill that makes up the Warmist controversy and start focusing on interesting policy and technology options.

Meanwhile, I’ll suggest that others do what we’ve managed to do with some success – buy a NGV car if your commute permits it, and get PV solar for your house; with light subsidies it a break-even today, and as I think energy costs are headed up, it’ll be very valuable later on.

Fixing (no, no, not like that) California Republicans

I’m often asked by people – both Democrats frustrated that I won’t toe the party line and Republicans who are baffled that I still self-identify as a Democrat – why I don’t just ditch the party label and become a Republican.

(Note that this doesn’t just happen online; it happens in my real life as well.)

I’m pretty deeply attached to principles I see as fundamentally Democratic, and I’ve been a Democrat all my political life. But beyond that, I live in California, where our Republican Party is just – nuts.

And ineffective.

Nuts and ineffective is, as Dean Wermer once famously said, no way to go through life, So I don’t spend a lot of time trying to constructively criticize the GOP, because I’m not very interested in it.

But in reality, I ought to be – and a Republican Party that would even tempt someone like me would probably be a pretty strong party electorally. And if we had two strong parties here in California, my lame-ass but beloved Democrats couldn’t get away with the nonsense they too-often peddle and would have to grow up.

Calbuzz (which was dinged during the election as a vehicle for pro-Brown, anti-Whitman stories) has a pretty darn sensible post up today about what the California GOP might to be relevant.

So that there is a vigorous contest of ideas in California politics. Right now, Republicans are so trapped in their ideological hall of mirrors that they have become a distorted caricature of themselves. They can thump their chests and win big attaboys at the California Republican Assembly convention. But they utterly fail to reflect the impulses of the vast majority of California voters who tend to be fiscally conservative and socially moderate.

Republicans believe in smaller government, lower taxes, reduced regulation, economic growth, individual freedom and law and order, to name a few GOP values.

They should continue to stand and fight for all of those. But they need to build all that into a platform that begins with a realistic growth agenda. Investments in roads, bridges, dams and/or levees, water projects, schools and universities, redevelopment projects, ports – all these things and more – are wholly consistent with their philosophical world view. Their fixation on opposing everything the Democrats propose is hurting them more than it is helping them.

Republicans could become leading advocates of an economic rebound strategy that relies on Silicon Valley innovation, green jobs, high-tech research and development. They could integrate this with increased exports for a growing agricultural sector and a healthy and expanding service economy.

They don’t have to continually serve the interests of the wealthiest 2% of California families – they can focus of the struggling middle class. And they need to remember that California is not Kentucky or Alaska or any other state where the so-called “tea party” is a big deal. In California, tea party ideology is a non-starter.

I pretty much agree except for the last point – note that the Tea Party/GOP candidate for Assembly in my district won in every city except Los Angeles. And I think that “tea party” ideology is far from formed at this point, so it’s more than a little premature to declare it dead anywhere.

Check it out.


Kevin Drum et alia are mystified – just mystified – about why it is that business isn’t more…upbeat.

Why does the economy continue to suck? The LA Times is hosting a symposium on the topic today, and USC business professor Ayse Imrohoroglu says the answer is uncertainty:

Businesses don’t know what will happen to interest rates. They have trouble calculating what new workers will cost in light of potential new healthcare mandates and costs. They don’t know what will happen to tax rates, which could rise dramatically. They are uncertain about increasing financial regulation and the possibility of a carbon tax. And as if that isn’t enough, the soaring deficits and national debt raise very real questions about the federal government’s long-term ability to meet its debt obligations.

I’m kind of amused that the progressive, Keynsian bloggers are baffled by why business is so…po’ mouthed…these days. Here’s Keynes:

“Even apart from the instability due to speculation, there is the instability due to the characteristic of human nature that a large proportion of our positive activities depend on spontaneous optimism rather than mathematical expectations, whether moral or hedonistic or economic. Most, probably, of our decisions to do something positive, the full consequences of which will be drawn out over many days to come, can only be taken as the result of animal spirits – a spontaneous urge to action rather than inaction, and not as the outcome of a weighted average of quantitative benefits multiplied by quantitative probabilities.”

Business is moody. Consumers are moody. They’re moody for a reason, to be sure…and I get it that the left wants to claim that government has no part in the uncertainty. But that just makes no sense. People don’t parse the regulatory environment from the general environment, and they look, above all, to the government for leadership.

We’re pack animals, and our moods are communal. Given that, I don’t know how it is that Kevin gets to this:

The uncertainty meme is just mind boggling. Businesses always have a certain amount of financial and regulatory uncertainty to deal with, and there’s simply no evidence that this uncertainty is any greater now than it usually is. (It is, of course, entirely believable that business owners who spend too much time watching Fox or reading the Wall Street Journal editorial page might believe otherwise, but that’s a whole different problem – and one that Imrohoroglu should spend his time debunking, not promoting.) The only significant real uncertainty that American businesses face right now is uncertainty about whether there’s enough customer demand to justify hiring more workers and buying more equipment.