Wednesday, March 11, 2015
Why are there few conservative intellectuals? I guess George Will and the late Bill Buckley qualify but that's about it, as far as I can see. Thomas Sowell is a great treasure that we are lucky to still have with us (he is 84) but what he says flows directly from his academic background as a Chicago school economist.
And that brings me swiftly to my main point. Intellectuals are actually shallow thinkers. They are gifted amateurs who use popular knowledge -- or at least easily accessible knowledge -- to create new explanations of something or other. It is of course a talent to be able to do that but in the absence of specialized knowledge the conclusions reached are rarely profound or very innovative. And that is how Leftists think. They don't accept that they actually need to learn stuff. They think that they know it all already. They think the truth is obvious.
Conservatives, by contrast, are acutely aware of how complex and unpredictable the world is and so mostly confine their writing to matters where they have detailed knowledge. In my own case I often comment on economics -- but I am a former High School economics teacher. I sometimes comment on issues in psychology, but I have a doctorate in it.
I often talk about dubious research methods that I see in environmentalism and in the medical literature -- but I taught research methods and statistics for many years in a major Australian university and the thinking in both the medical and climatological literature violates some of the most basic principles about what research should be and do. And the statistics I see in climatology and in the medical literature are frankly ludicrous. Their errors could hardly be more basic -- ignoring statistical significance, assuming correlation is causation etc.
And I have in fact myself had papers published in the medical journals and I have also had research reports on environmentalism published in the academic journals. So I am NOT an intellectual. I have specialized knowledge in the areas that I write most about.
V.I. Lenin is quite a good example of an intellectual. He wrote at length about the issues of his day but without any evident benefit of detailed knowledge in any field. But he was bright. He even started out as something of a libertarian. He once wrote: “The bureaucracy is a parasite on the body of society, a parasite which ‘chokes’ all its vital pores…The state is a parasitic organism”. Lenin wrote that in August 1917, before he set up his own vastly bureaucratic state in Russia. He could see the problem but had no clue about how to solve it when he had the chance to do so.
How could he be so stupid? How could he do what he himself saw as a huge problem? Leftist stupidity is a special class of stupidity. The people concerned are mostly not stupid in general but they have a character defect (mostly arrogance) that makes them impatient with complexity and unwilling to study it. So in their policies they repeatedly shoot themselves in the foot; They fail to attain their objectives. The world IS complex so a simplistic approach to it CANNOT work.
At the time of the 1917 revolution, Russia was a rapidly modernizing country with railways snaking out across the land and a flourishing agricultural sector that made it a major wheat exporter. After the revolution agricultural production dropped by about one third and right through the Soviet era Russia never managed to feed itself. Europe's subsidized food surpluses were a Godsend to it. A lot of those food surpluses went East.
And Lenin really had no excuse for his stupidity. There were both writers and practical men in his era who DID understand how economies work and how to get the best out of them. Eugen Böhm, Ritter von Bawerk, was even a market-oriented economic theorist who was a practical man as well. He was the Austrian Minister of Finance in the late 19th century and also wrote a series of extensive critiques of Marxism. And the Austrian economy worked unusually well while he was in charge. But Böhm's ideas were non-obvious and even counter-intuitive from a layman's viewpoint and it was only a layman's viewpoint that Lenin had. How sad.
UPDATE: A few additional thoughts about Lenin's disastrous stupidity
Austria in general and Wien (Vienna) in particular was arguably the world's greatest intellectual and cultural center in Lenin's day -- so a prominent Austrian thinker and politician like Böhm should have come to the attention of Lenin.
And if that general context is not enough, the fact that Böhm was an influential teacher who politely shredded Marxism should have drawn Lenin's attention Austria-ward -- if genuine intellectual exploration had been of interest to Lenin.
And people forget that famous American "Progressive" thinkers such as Croly and President Woodrow Wilson had to be major inputs into Lenin's thinking. They had well-developed ideas about the importance of the State and were also enthusiasts for world government. Lenin wanted that too -- as Leftists do to this day. Bolshevism was to a significant extent American. Even Marx and Engels were fascinated by America. Marx wrote over 300 articles for American newspapers -- writing which was his main livelihood for a time. Did you know that?
Lenin was disappointed by "socialism in one country" but he and his successors made unstinting efforts to expand their reach. It took Ronald Reagan to terminate that.
The Liberal Circus
Lately liberalism has gone from psychodrama to farce.
Take Barack Obama. He has gone from mild displeasure with Israel to downright antipathy. Suddenly we are in a surreal world where off-the-record slurs from the administration against Benjamin Netanyahu as a coward and chickensh-t have gone to full-fledged attacks from John Kerry and Susan Rice, to efforts of former Obama political operatives to defeat the Israeli prime minister at the polls, to concessions to Iran and to indifference about the attacks on Jews in Paris. Who would have believed that Iranian leaders who just ordered bombing runs on a mock U.S. carrier could be treated with more deference than the prime minister of Israel? What started out six years as pressure on Israel to dismantle so-called settlements has ended up with a full-fledged vendetta against a foreign head of state.
Hillary Clinton likewise has gone from a rather run-of-the-mill liberal grandee to a political grafter. She apparently solicited donations from foreign government officials and wealthy foreign nationals to contribute to the Clinton Foundation — and this was while she was secretary of State conducting the foreign policy of the United States. If those charges are proven accurate, how could she ever be trusted to become commander in chief? Unfortunately, in the last year almost every cause that Hillary Clinton has taken up has been belied by her own actions.
Inequality and fairness? At time when students struggle under a collective $1 trillion-plus student debt, much of it because of universities hiking fees and tuitions above the inflation rate, Hillary has serially charged universities well over $200,000 for 30-minute boilerplate speeches.
Women’s issues? We learn that women on Senator Clinton’s staff once made considerably less than their male counterparts. Had Bill Clinton worked at a university, corporation or government bureau, his sexual peccadillos long ago would have had him thrown off the premises. The latest disclosures about his junkets with convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein are so bizarre that no one quite knows what to make of them — the would-be first female and feminist president married to a man who serially cavorted with a convicted sexual pervert?
Transparency? Consider the recent disclosures that Hillary knew almost immediately that the Benghazi killings were the preplanned work of terrorists and not due to spontaneous rioters angry over a video — and yet continued to deceive the public that just the opposite was true. The problem with Hillary’s scandals are not just that they reveal a lack of character, but that they are illiberal to the core on hallmark progressive issues of concern for equality, transparency and feminism.
We no longer live in an age of debate over global warming. It has now transmogrified well beyond Al Gore’s hysterics, periodic disclosures about warmists’ use of faked data, embarrassing email vendettas, vindictive lawsuits, crony green capitalism, and flawed computer models. Now Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, has taken the psychodrama to the level of farce in a two-bit McCarthyesque effort to demand from universities information about scientists who do not embrace his notions of manmade global warming. Where are the ACLU and fellow Democratic congressional supporters of free speech and academic freedom to censure such an Orwellian move? Finally, even the American Meteorological Society had to condemn the unhinged Grijalva for his bizarre efforts.
Attorney General Eric Holder came into office alleging racism and calling the American people cowards, and six years later is exiting, still blaming racism for his own self-inflicted failures. In between, Holder became the first attorney general to be cited for contempt by Congress. He stonewalled the Fast and Furious investigations. His plans to try terrorists in federal civilian courts were tabled almost immediately. He ordered electronic taps and surveillance on the communications of Associated Press and Fox reporters for supposed leaks. He ignored wrongdoing in the IRS mess, a scandal that continues to grow. He got caught using his government jet to take his daughters and their boyfriends to the Belmont Stakes.
But Holder will be remembered largely for his racialist tenure. He dropped a strong case of voting intimidation by armed Black Panthers at the polls. In congressional testimony, he referred to blacks as “my people”; anyone else — except Joe Biden — who had said the same would have been asked to resign. He promised federal action on Ferguson and the Trayvon Martin shootings — and then quietly backed off when the evidence for civil rights violations did not meet his own rhetorical excesses. The problem, he pleaded, was not that his targets were not guilty under the law, but that the law itself had to be changed to make them guilty. Holder claimed repeatedly that opposition to Obama was race-based, and he leaves office as a caricature of incompetence and racial divisiveness.
The IRS scandal likewise went from melodrama to farce. The president said there was not a “smidgeon” of corruption in the selective targeting of conservatives. Lois Lerner, the focus of investigations, pled the Fifth Amendment after having received over $100,000 in merit bonuses. When congressional investigators wanted to subpoena her computer records, IRS officials claimed both that her hard drive had crashed and that its data was unrecoverable. The latter proved untrue; but then so far so has everything the IRS has said. The only lesson is that any private citizen who replied to IRS inquiries in the manner that the IRS responded to public subpoenas would be jailed.
Debt? Barack Obama stated out in 2008 calling George W. Bush unpatriotic for piling up nearly $5 trillion in eight years; he may be on target to double that amount — and trump the combined red ink of all prior presidents. Obama raised taxes, slashed defense, and still ended up with over a $500 billion annual deficit, as he declared the age of austerity over.
So it has become with most liberal issues. The debate over illegal immigration has gone from arguments over closing the border to Social Security cash rebates to illegals and presidential threats to punish Border Patrol officers who enforce existing law. State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf assures us that poverty and unemployment are catalysts to terrorism, just as so-called Jihadi John, the psychotic ISIS beheader, is revealed to be a preppie British subject from the upper middle class. The president brags that gas prices have gone down because frackers ignored his efforts to stop them — and then vetoes the Keystone Pipeline.
The Trayvon Martin controversy descends from the purportedly preteen of released photos who was shot down in cold blood by a white vigilante into doctored NBC tapes, airbrushed photos, the New York Times’ invented rubric “white Hispanic,” the president weighing in on Trayvon’s shared racial appearance, girlfriend Rachel Jeantel’s explanation of Trayvon’s violence as a sort of homophobic act of “whoop ass” — only to be echoed by MSNBC talking head Melissa Harris-Perry’s ugly sanction of violence on Martin Luther King Day with the amplification of Jeantel’s term “whoop”: “I hope [Martin] whooped the sh-it out of George Zimmerman.” It would be hard for a satirist to make all that up.
Michael Brown goes from the icon of a “gentle giant” in vain calling out “hands up, don’t shoot” only to be gunned down by a white racist cop — to a thug who strong-armed a store clerk, walked out into the middle of the road under the influence and then attacked a police officer. Conspiracists once warned us that the government was buying up ammo to prevent private gun owners from purchasing it; now we learn that Obama by executive order may ban the most popular type of sporting ammunition. Is there one element of Obamacare that has not been modified, delayed, or ignored — from the employer mandate to the fine for noncompliance?
Why this descent into travesty?
The liberal left got what it wanted in 2009 with a supermajority in the Senate and large majority in the House, a subservient mainstream media, the good will of the American people, and the most liberal president in American history. It only took that liberal hierarchy six years to erode the Democratic Party to levels that we have not seen since the 1920s. Almost every policy initiative we have seen — whether climate change, foreign policy, health care, or race relations — has imploded.
The answer to these failures has not been introspection, humility, or reevaluation why the liberal agenda proved unpopular and unworkable, but in paranoid fashion to double-down on it, convinced that its exalted aims must allow any means necessary — however farcical — to achieve them.
The logical result is the present circus.
Another long-overdue hit at statins
Taking statins can increase your chance of developing diabetes by up to 46 per cent, research has shown.
The cholesterol-lowering drugs are thought to prevent the hormone insulin from working properly, which can trigger type 2 diabetes.
The risk, which is far higher than previously believed, has prompted fresh concern about the side effects of the pills.
The findings are particularly worrying as last year the NHS recommended that up to 17million adults should be on statins to prevent heart attacks and strokes.
The drugs’ rationing body NICE published guidance last July urging GPs to prescribe them to anyone with a 10 per cent risk of developing heart disease in a decade.
This represents around 40 per cent of adults in the UK, and academics said the advice was ‘foolhardy’ when so little was known about the side effects.
In the latest study, scientists from the University of Eastern Finland studied 8,749 men aged 45 to 73 over a six-year period.
Just under a quarter were taking statins when the study started. Some had only been on the pills for a few months, others for several years.
Over the course of the study, the scientists found that taking statins increased the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 46 per cent.
Their research, published in the journal Diabetologia, found that statins reduced the ability of insulin to break down blood sugar.
This is known as insulin sensitivity, and was on average 24.3 per cent lower in men who were taking statins.
The researchers believe that if insulin does not break down blood sugar, and the body’s sugar levels rise too high, then it can trigger type 2 diabetes.
They concluded: ‘Statin therapy was associated with a 46 per cent increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
'The association of statin use with increased risk of developing diabetes is most likely directly related to statins decreasing both insulin sensitivity and secretion.’
Dr Aseem Malhotra, a consultant cardiologist in London, said that contrary to the NHS guidance, healthy adults should not be taking statins, adding: ‘I personally wouldn’t take it or recommend it to friend or family member who is otherwise healthy but let them make up their own minds after giving them all the information.
‘Eating a handful of nuts or four tablespoons of olive oil may be a more effective way at reducing risk of a heart attack, stroke or death and without the side effects.’
Professor Peter Weissberg, Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said healthy patients prescribed statins to prevent heart disease should take the ‘lowest possible dose’.
He went on to warn that people with existing heart conditions should not stop taking the pills, saying: ‘It is important that people taking statins because of existing cardiovascular disease should continue to take them as the benefits will outweigh the risks.’
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Posted by JR at 1:37 AM