Monday, December 19, 2016

This story is not going away

Friday, December 9, 2016

Improper ascendant

This clearly fits the bill, as described in Federalist 68. And it's far from the only reason the electors should act.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Book note: Earth in Human Hands

Planetary scientist David Grinspoon's book Earth in Human Hands: Shaping Our Planet's Future, which I mentioned recently, has been published, and is well worth readers' time. I say this based on partial but compelling information, having not yet finished reading my review copy; but I have certainly read enough to say this is an important, timely and thought-provoking work.

It is also one that will spark some controversy, perhaps along the lines of the ideological shake-up I've anticipated, in which stock answers from left and right become less predictable as environmental problems grow along with human capacities to possibly do something about them. In his final chapter (I jumped ahead) "Embracing the Human Planet," Grinspoon is critical of environmental doomsaying such as accompanied incorrect reports a couple years ago that NASA had predicted civilization's collapse.

"If this human bashing and doom prophesizing is tactical, I think it's backfiring. It's more likely to become a self-fulfilling prophecy than to rouse people to action," writes Grinspoon. He continues:
"Currently I feel that spewing misanthropy and random anti-human sentiment is just as dangerous as emitting CO2 into the air. It is the opposite of activism. I know that people spreading these messages mean well. They want to shock others into realizing the effect we're having on the planet, but there is a real danger of unintended consequences, of encouraging people to give up. Spreading messages of doom is a form of inactivism."
Me: While passages such as that may discomfit environmentalists, I should add that there is much to discomfit others, including anyone who's gung-ho for some hands-on geoengineering. Also, because Grinspoon's a planetary scientist, this book has a strong element of celestial perspective, as well as anecdotes about Carl Sagan and other space-focused luminaries. As I suggested in my earlier note, about this book and David Biello's The Unnatural World: The Race to Remake Civilization in Earth's Newest Age, questions about what humans should do on a large scale and for the long term are getting more important every day.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Not just words

Recommended reading: "In Defense of Trump Panic," by Benjamin Wittes, at Lawfare blog.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

He who lives by the lie

There's been a great deal of consternation, bordering on despair, about Donald Trump's tendency to tell brazen lies, and the willingness of many of his supporters to believe those lies (or at least to not care that they are lies). Here, for example, is Damon Linker (note: I've been critical of Linker recently, but consider him one of the best observers of our current political troubles): "Donald Trump's true lies"; excerpt:

Trump and his de facto allies in the fake news business aren't trying to propagandize the country with a coherent counter-truth that stands in opposition to a reality of indisputable facts that can then be marshaled to puncture and dispel the official disinformation campaign. On the contrary, they're acting in ways that deny the distinction between truth and lies altogether, transforming the public sphere into an anarchistic free-for-all permeated by a constantly churning swirl of claims and counter-claims, with no authority able to establish or maintain the standing needed to debunk any of it. You have your truth (InfoWars) and I have mine (The New York Times), and who's to say which is right? The dissidents from past totalitarianisms were able to puncture ideological lies by appealing to a common truth that was concealed or obscured by propaganda. But in the world Trump is working to build — a world of epistemological chaos, in which every party and faction has its own "truth" and a slew of media outlets to spread and promote its distinctive set of "facts" — the greatest impediment to the unlimited exercise of government power will have been removed, or at least badly degraded.

Me: I agree with all of that, and perceive the same danger Linker does. But I also see a ray of hope. Political leaders and movements that disseminate and thrive on lies ultimately collapse when they come upon some aspect of reality that they couldn't perceive or comprehend from within their own bubble. Hitler might well have won the war if he hadn't driven away (or worse) so many Jewish and other scientists who knew something about the emerging science of nuclear physics. The Soviet Union, for all its military power, spent its final years desperately trying to clamp down on samizdat that could be transmitted by fax machines. North Korea proved its adeptness at information warfare with the Sony hack, but remember it did so out of fear that some comedy could undermine its rule.

Donald Trump lives by the lie; his political career will die by the lie. At some point, even some of his more credulous followers will realize they've been had; that he's made them pathetic and absurd; and they will be angry. At some point, his indifference to reality (he can't even be bothered to get regular intelligence briefings) will leave him unprepared for some situation--perhaps some crisis created by foreign leaders to test him. He can deny global warming all he wants, but the streets of Miami already flood at high tide and his own coastal properties cannot be protected forever by walls, let alone by blather. There seems to be no bottom to the lack of intellectual integrity of some of Trump's enablers, such as Newt Gingrich, Ph.D., but others will jump ship when they see the shoals approaching. (Actually, Trump would be foolish not to see Newt would jump ship, out of expediency, not integrity.)

Things can get a great deal worse before they get better. But truth will out. The question is when.

UPDATE: See also "Trump’s Lies Destroy Logic As Well As Truth," by Jeet Heer.

UPDATE: For a professional fact checker, the Trump years should be interesting.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The electors should choose Pence [updated]

Damon Linker worries about "The dangerous scheme to deny Trump the presidency." Excerpt:
It began with an online petition launched in the hours immediately following Donald Trump’s shocking victory in the general election. Yes, Hillary Clinton lost the Electoral College, the argument ran, but she won the popular vote (by a large and still swelling margin). That justifies asking electors to abandon Trump and switch their support to Clinton when they vote on Dec. 19 to make the outcome official. This is a terrible idea guaranteed to spark a constitutional crisis.
He similarly opposes the idea that the electors should choose a Republican alternative to Trump:
Yes, Trump poses a very serious threat to the country and its liberal democratic norms, but he is not the root of the problem. His millions of passionate supporters are. Among other things, these voters rallied to Trump because they responded to his message that the country's political and economic system is rigged against them. Denying the presidency to their preferred candidate after they'd been told for weeks that he prevailed in the election would confirm every conspiracy they ever entertained. That would be civic dynamite.
Me: Much as I'd personally like to see John Kasich or Mitt Romney get chosen by the electors, and though their doing so would be constitutionally valid, I recognize the danger Linker describes. So, a solution: the electors should choose Mike Pence. He's far from my first choice for president, and in some respects his policies may be worse than Trump's, by my lights; more socially conservative, in particular. But, crucially, he does not bring the egregious perils of self-dealing and conflict of interest that Trump does; has not engaged in demagogic behavior that violates democratic norms; has shown no affinities for foreign dictators; and overall evidences little risk of turning America in an authoritarian direction.

As for the Trump voters, remember they are Trump-Pence voters, and surely there are millions of them that have misgivings about the current situation and would be happier with the switch I'm advocating. As for Trump himself, he could present all this as a fantastic triumph whereby he set America on the right track, handpicked its next president and remains a power to be reckoned with in case the new administration veers too far from his vision. So, do it, Hamilton electors; and never let threats of riots interfere with legitimate constitutional processes.

UPDATE 11/24. An interesting poll from Quinnipiac. It shows about as much polarization as you'd expect regarding Trump--and less regarding Pence.

Let me point out, lest I be seen as some kind of romantic, that I would be very surprised if anything like what I proposed in this post comes to pass.

UPDATE 11/26: But is it so unlikely? After seeing this tweet, I wonder.

UPDATE 12/5: I can defend my Pence idea on the grounds that it's the one most likely (least unlikely) to work, among the strategies for blocking Trump in the Electoral College. However, defending Pence himself on anything like substantive grounds is not possible, as this makes clear.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Worse than you think

This problem won't go away until the current president-elect resigns or is forced from office. Moreover, it's worse than just some waste of money. Kleptocracy is a step toward an authoritarian state. (So is intimidation of the press, also readily apparent.) And of course, Trump's defensive feint that "everyone knew" he had such interests is the height of hypocrisy, given that he didn't release his tax returns. Recommended reading: "Trump's Businesses Represent an Impossible Conflict of Interest," by John Cassidy in The New Yorker. Excerpt:

The mask's off

I've written about Richard Spencer and the white nationalist alt-right a few times on this site. See here, here and here. And watch this.
UPDATE: See this interview, in which Spencer comes across as ill-informed, on top of his other problems.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The delivery of fake news

I hate to sound like a Tom Friedman-type columnist who draws sweeping conclusions from a conversation with a cab driver, but I'm thinking about the guy who delivered groceries to my house in the evening on Election Day. It was not yet evident that an upset was in the making, but there were some early ominous signs on TV. The grocery driver was from Egypt, a young guy who had become a U.S. citizen. He told me he was a Trump supporter and didn't want a woman to be president. He told me that Hillary lies a lot. I told him that Trump lies more, and he seemed genuinely surprised, asking me for examples. He told me Hillary had sold weapons to ISIS, apparently to make money.

Even though I thought I'd been following the election closely, I had not heard anything about Hillary selling weapons to ISIS. It turns out this was a staple of the fake news that inundated voters during the late weeks of the campaign. So a double lesson learned. One, be aware that some immigrants are going to vote on the basis of illiberal ideas from their countries of origin. And two, know that some people--many people, it seems--are going to be taken in by sources that I, as a fact checker, would want nothing to do with (and which in fairness are not always easy to recognize as such). In short, assume there are quite a few ignorant people out there. It worked for the president-elect.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Russian vote

Keep an eye on this story. It's the Achilles Heel of the Trump administration.


Sometime during the recent campaign, I conversed on Twitter with Bruce Bartlett, the former Reagan administration official turned GOP critic, and expressed dislike for his "plan" for this year's political season, which had stages such as "Vote for Trump to be nominee" "Trump loses" "Make sure crazies get the blame" and then, blessedly, "Get a better political party" or some such. I told him I'd remind him of this if the "Trump loses" part of the plan doesn't work out. I guess I don't have to. Here's from his Facebook page on Nov. 15 (click to enlarge):

Me: I disagree with him now too. Too much is at stake for sulking in your library.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Too optimistic?

Some recommended listening. Also linked in the tweet below, which has gotten a lot of notice.

Also see: "Let's Have a Fresh Start."

Friday, November 11, 2016

Within a year?

I recommend this David Brooks piece, particularly the ending.

Me: People who are interested in building a new political party should be getting very busy right now. My own earlier thoughts on what such a party should be like are here. I'll have more on that going forward.

UPDATE: I originally titled this "Within a Year? Let's Hope So," but then decided that rooting for a constitutional crisis is not my way.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Steady and strong

Well, I was wrong about a lot of things, but I don't think I was wrong in thinking a Trump presidency would, and now seemingly will, be a disaster. For now I will leave you with this from Tom Nichols, who has become my favorite commentator on the 2016 election (and whose upcoming book The Death of Expertise I just received in advance copy form and will read with great interest):

UPDATE 11/9 12:23PM: I will add this:

Monday, November 7, 2016


"It's a long way till November 2016," I wrote on Aug. 15, 2015, in a post in which I broke a onetime promise not to write about Donald Trump; took a somewhat prescient view that he just might win the Republican nomination; and gave a brief, preliminary explanation of why I'd never vote for him.
Will I vote for Trump? Not a chance. His egomania and abrasiveness, cynical populism, lack of governing experience and vagueness about what he wants to do, along with the handful of policy-related ideas he has stated, disqualify him by my lights. And I speak as someone who's found him interesting and even somewhat sympathetic for a long time. I recall reading Jerome Tucille's biography of him some [three] decades ago (!).
Do I think Trump has any chance of winning the GOP nomination? Yes, though I would certainly bet against it. Do I think he has any chance of winning the presidency? A slim one, but not negligible. If he won the nomination, his credibility by that point would be considerable; and it's not as if the Democrats have a frontrunner currently whose viability looks to be assured going forward. But the likelihood that Trump would lose in a general election has sparked some genuine agonizing on the right, and it's kind of funny to watch conservative pundits suddenly embrace the pragmatic electability criteria they spent the past couple of cycles disparaging.
I'll now go further, a day before the election, and say I'm highly confident that he won't win, and am far more grateful for that now even than I would've been back in the summer of 2015. I don't know what this man will do post-election (such as the much-predicted Trump TV) in a desperate effort to remain the center of attention, and I don't doubt that he's already done serious damage to our country's institutions, including especially the Republican Party of which I'm now a proud ex-member. But tomorrow as I vote for his imperfect opponent, my main thought about Donald Trump will be a straightforward one: good riddance.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Book note: The Unnatural World

Here's a book that's well-timed, both for the thankfully soon-to-come end of the current political season and, on an incomparably bigger scale, for the new geological era, the Anthropocene, that (some) scientists think is just getting under way as humans emerge as a powerful force on the Earth: The Unnatural World: The Race to Remake Civilization in Earth's Newest Age. It's by David Biello, a friend via my freelancing at Scientific American (he's now a curator at TED).

I have not read all of the book yet, instead skipping around idiosyncratically with particular attention to the last two chapters, which respectively focus on carbon capture and space exploration. On the former, David gives a clear-eyed sense of what a difficult problem it is to put CO2 somewhere other than in the atmosphere, while describing various scientists and ideas that aim at doing just that. On the latter, he rightly rebuffs any notion that we can solve environmental problems by escaping from them into space, while defending the very real value of space science and technology for understanding and potentially addressing problems on Earth.

In the past, I've speculated about how right vs left attitudes on climate disruption might change as the issue becomes less about whether there's a problem and more oriented toward what to do about it. The current political campaign has given little reason to think the subject is going to be treated with the broad-based seriousness it deserves anytime soon, even though what happens after the imminent GOP cataclysm is anyone's guess. However, over time, the kinds of topics discussed in David's book--how do and how should we use our growing ability to change the world--will become increasingly central to our lives and our politics. The Unnatural World offers a fascinating avenue into that future.

Incidentally, another upcoming book looking at such topics is Earth in Human Hands: Shaping Our Planet's Future by planetary scientist David Grinspoon. May these two books give some much-needed attention to the large-scale and long-term matters on which our progeny's fate depends.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Why the GOP should break up, post-Nov.

If mad scientists in a lab had tried to design a monster that could destroy the Republican Party, it's hard to see how they could have come up with something better than Donald Trump. Not only did he gain the nomination by appealing to all the worse impulses of a primary electorate addled by talk radio and cable TV; not only did he debase the other candidates who ended up endorsing him, leaving only some dignity for those handful who passive-aggressively declined to make an endorsement; not only did his abominable personality, record and positions set the party up for what will be a defeat of historically disastrous proportions in November; not only did he enable the racism and authoritarianism of the alt-right to become a significant part of Republican ideology and culture; but he also cut off avenues whereby the party could potentially have reformed itself, by convincing a number of moderates and reformicons that underneath the squalor, bluster and stupidity of Trump and Trumpism are some ideas that should be preserved and developed in a future remaking of the party.

Last May, I became an ex-Republican, shedding an identity I'd held since the early 1980s (i.e., my entire adult life), and thus relinquished my onetime hopes of helping in some small way to improve the party; instead I began musing about what a future party I might want to be part of would look like. A Bloomberg poll that just came out reinforces for me that it is realistic and advisable to think of a future in which the GOP is no longer one of two major parties, and perhaps no longer in one piece.

Consider this bit of polling data (click to enlarge):

This is a party divided, to say the least. A majority--barely--thinks the Trump-Pence ticket was a good enough idea that one of the two people on it should be the party's champion going forward. Among those who don't, there's no consensus as to who the leader should be, or by extension what direction the party should go. (From what I can tell, by the way, these names were suggested to the poll respondents, as opposed to being responses to an open-ended question. In a differently structured question, I wouldn't be surprised if Rubio or Sasse or any number of others had made the cut.)

Now, despite what I said earlier about no longer wanting to help the Republican Party, I also do not want the political system to be dominated by one party, and as a centrist independent I am not particularly sympathetic to that party, the Democrats, even though this year I will vote for their candidates against Trump and against my awful congressman, Scott Garrett. So, focusing on what would make for a healthier political scene, I suggest the Republican Party do something that, as it happens, could turn out to be an electoral winner for some, which is: break itself up.

Trying to hold the fractious and angry GOP coalition together has now become an impossible undertaking that involves simultaneous minority outreach and white identity politics; knee-jerk hostility to immigration and trade and a pro- or at least balanced approach to immigration and trade; firmness toward Russia and supplication toward Russia; libertarianism and authoritarianism. Not even a political genius could do it, let alone the people who plausibly will be running the GOP.

On the other hand, the party can't be broken into numerous fragments without being fully destroyed, and so I would suggest just two. Let's call them Federalists and Nationalists. The Federalists could be something like what I sketched out in my new party post months ago. It would be a coalition of conservatives and moderates, essentially unified by a pronounced aversion to the ignorance and irresponsibility of Trumpism. The Nationalists would be for those who think Trumpism was, in some substantial way, a good thing. Alt-right extremists would gravitate to the Nationalist Party, dreaming of their ethnostate, but so would many others who don't espouse racism but do think Trump hit on something valuable in his trade and immigration policies or other aspects; some people considered moderates might be among them.

I am not predicting this will happen, but the coming electoral cataclysm makes it more plausible than prospects for revamping the party system have been in our lifetimes. And as difficult as forming and building these new parties would be, it may well be less so than holding together the Republicans. Speaking for myself, I would be likely to join something like the Federalist Party, if it came into existence; by contrast, with the view from 2016, I see little prospect of ever wanting to rejoin the GOP.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Trump's likely post-November bust [updated]

A lot of interesting political stuff to read today, especially focused on prediction. First, there's this dark vision from Damon Linker: "After Trump loses: An ominous American future imagined." Excerpt:
President Clinton made clear that she intends to lift the nationwide curfew and withdraw the National Guard as soon as possible. But there is no evidence that the unrest is receding. Trump TV now mixes attacks on the rioters and defenses of the cops with equally venomous denunciations of "lawless Hillary." Donald Trump, Jr. speaks openly of running for president as the champion of "the people" against the "tyrants and thugs" who are ruining America. Though he also warns in ominous tones that the president will do anything and everything in her power to stop him — including calling off the election altogether. Which only stirs up the militias, which only prolongs the period of martial law.
Well, maybe. But there are some reasons to think the political and media influence of a post-defeat Trump is going to be rather limited. One is that right-wing media is already a pretty densely packed -- and just plain dense -- place, in which Trump TV or such would have a significant product differentiation problem. That point is made by this Brian Beutler piece in The New Republic: "Donald Trump’s Media Conglomerate Already Exists." Excerpt:
If and when Hillary Clinton becomes president, the right-wing media, which has brooked some dissent from a handful of anti-Trump conservatives, will reunite in opposition to Clinton’s agenda, her nominees, and perhaps even the idea that she should be impeached.
When she inevitably logs victories against Republicans in Congress—by reshaping the Supreme Court, for instance, or avoiding impeachment—it will be treated as capitulation by the conservative media, which will promote savior figures who, like Trump, promise to succeed where the Republican establishment failed. Those figures will become the Republican Party’s de facto future leaders—including, perhaps, its next presidential nominee—unless current ones figure out a way to break the cycle that spat out Trump for good. But between Drudge and Limbaugh and Breitbart and Fox News and their useful feeders like Gateway Pundit, they have their work cut out for them. The elbow room that existed for Trump within the party does not exist in its crowded market of media organs.
Next consider this piece, also at TNR, by Jeet Heer, who sketches out bleak prospects for Trump in various areas of life, post-election: "Citizen Pain." Excerpt:
In sum, post-election Trump is likely to become poorer and more socially isolated. Like Sarah Palin, the Republican vice presidential nominee in 2008, he might keep wading into current politics on social media, as a way to keep his name alive. But Palin’s star quickly faded after her ticket lost the election and, months later, she resigned from the governorship of Alaska. Guest appearances on Fox News, and a single season of the TLC reality show Sarah Palin’s Alaska, weren’t enough to keep her in the mainstream limelight. Similarly, Trump without a political movement will be a toothless loudmouth. The media will stop paying attention to him, and it will drive Trump to despair.
And finally there's this in Newsweek by Kurt Eichenwald: "A People's History of Donald Trump's Business Busts and Countless Victims." This piece makes no effort at prediction, but rather just traces Trump's history of failed ventures and abandoned partners. Extrapolate that forward and one can imagine a Trump political and media movement ending up on the garbage heap with Bonwit Teller's sculpture panels, noted in a telling anecdote from the very beginning of Trump's high-profile career. Excerpt:
The exterior they were destroying was an architectural masterpiece—bronze, platinum, hammered aluminum, glazed ceramic and tinted glass that shimmered like jewelry. Many New Yorkers had hoped the grandest portion would survive; curators from the Metropolitan Museum of Art had asked the developer to carefully remove the two bas-relief sculpture panels so they could be restored and put on public display. But that afternoon, the laborers, acting on orders from the developer, smashed the 50-year-old art deco panels into a rubble of stone, pebble and dirt.
The desecration horrified Manhattan’s art community, but the developer, a brash 34-year-old named Donald Trump, dismissed the criticism—pretending to be his own spokesman, “John Barron,” as he talked to reporters by phone. Saving the panels would have cost him $32,000 each, he said, and delayed work for a few days on his $100 million project, Trump Tower. Besides, he declared, he knew more than the curators—the panels had no artistic merit and little financial value.
I was worried Trump had a real shot at the nomination and even the presidency back in August 2015. Could be wrong but I'm less worried about his post-November capacity to further debase the political system. As for the Republican Party, he's done immense, even crippling, damage to that already, a legacy that won't fade away anytime soon.

UPDATE 7:11 PM: The alt-right, or at least Richard Spencer, is projecting an air of confidence in its own future (supposedly regardless of Trump's prospects). There may be some whistling in the dark there, though, in that the movement is intertwined with a candidate who's going to be a worldwide laughing stock. More on that some other time. Meanwhile, see this piece by Sarah Posner at Rolling Stone; and for background on the alt-right, see my posts here, here and here.

UPDATE 10/20: This article "Trump TV is definitely coming: Be afraid! But what the hell will it look like?" plays up the likelihood of Trump TV, only to conclude by saying it will be Web-based, which in my opinion underscores the idea that it will amount to little, especially given the older demographic of Trump's current audience.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

A Trump withdrawal draft

Here, for free, I offer Donald Trump a speech for withdrawing from the presidential race. Note: this is a work of fiction, and moreover, it does not represent my own views, but rather is the sort of thing Trump could say if he wants to get out in some face- and brand-saving way:

My fellow Americans,

I entered this race to make America great. And make no mistake, this campaign has been a tremendous step in rebuilding American greatness. We have brought people into the political process who were sitting it out before. We've gotten attention for issues and problems, such as immigration security, that the elite establishment truly did not want to be addressed. We've shown that business as usual won't fly anymore and that the people are fed up with living in a country that's a laughing stock.

The media often tried to make all this about me, but it was never about me--it was about the United States of America. And that's why I'm going to put America first with the decision I'm announcing today. I am withdrawing from the race, because a fair competition is no longer possible. Unethical media are working with our political opponents to make this election about ill-considered things I said long ago and other distractions that have no relevance. I am not going to let that happen.

As a candidate, I've already made one presidential-level decision, which was the selection of my running mate. I stand by that decision and now support Mike Pence as the Republican nominee. I will return to being a private citizen and building a fantastic business, and will weigh in on politics when I see things that need to be said so together we--all of us--can fix real problems in America. Now, join me in supporting my choice as next president of the United States, Mike Pence.

Thank you very much, and let's make America great again.

UPDATE 10/9, 3:30PM: Of course, it was a fanciful idea, requiring Trump to have some semblance of honor. Or as David Frum puts it:

UPDATE 10/15: A few days ago I signed Scholars and Writers Against Trump.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

On the ever-changing nature of whiteness [updated]

Update 11/6/16: The twitter post linked below, by some racist with handle @Mac_Tire_ , is no longer accessible. Also, for more on this overall topic, I recommend Sarah Kendzior's piece "How do you become 'white' in America?" Update 11/11: Interesting: the tweet came back.

Nick Gillespie has an excellent piece at Reason, "Will We Build a Wall Against Chinese Immigrants, Too?" on the historical illiteracy and ethnic arbitrariness of trying to preserve an America as a country predominantly (let alone exclusively: see "ethnostate") for white people. Excerpt:

When my maternal grandparents (and as many of their relatives who could scrape together the money for a steerage-class ticket) showed up in America in the 1910s from god-forsaken southern Italy (a very distinct place than practically Austrian/French/Swiss and hence semi-legitimate northern Italy), they weren't white. No, they and their dusky skin, short bodies, and (obvious!) lack of intellectual capacity and impulse control were a big part of The Passing of the Great Race, or the pollution of the Nordic blood that defined true Americans, in Madison Grant's influential, idiotic thought. One of the great achievements of the 20th century (for my family, at least) was that my parents, born of Italian parents on side and Irish immigrants on the other, emerged as fully white and American within 40 or 50 years of being born. It only took suffering through the Depression, really, and supplying infantry members in World War II and Korea....
What counts as "white" has always been fluid and fraudulent, but it often (always?) comes at the expense of some new out-group.

Me: I recently wrote about the genetic history of how light skin became common in Europe in the first place; in short, the key genes spread through mating with dark-skinned people. That fact alone shows the absurdity of the alt-right Weltanschauung (that's German, by the way, for the benefit of today's defenders of European heritage). But all this only hints at the problems the alt-rightists will have in trying to build a movement (let alone a country) that's all-white and only-white. Look at the item below, now circulating on white nationalist twitter. I for one question how well the "Spanish" guy in row 2 is going to fare in a strictly "white" vanguard, and I have doubts about the "Italian" and "French" guys as well, leaving aside the absurd stereotypical additions to the latter.

[Added screenshot 11/7/16.]

On the other hand, maybe that idiotic tweet is more open-minded than a lot of alt-right thinking, which tends to implicitly exclude self-described white Hispanics as being white. (If you were to include them in projections, the supposed problem of U.S. whites declining from majority into mere plurality looks likely to never even occur: click to enlarge table.)

So much for "white genocide." And here's a bit of history from a previous time a group of people thought they could defend the "Western world" while dropping such Western values as pluralism and democracy. It's about the Battle of Stalingrad, from The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (click to enlarge):

UPDATE 10/8: Some more relevant material, updated, here.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Some history and genetics for the alt-right

I watched much of the alt-right press conference today. Whereas I recently gave some credence to Richard Spencer's claims about the movement's growing influence, I'm starting to wonder if maybe Hillary's denunciation dragged it from the shadows before its leaders were ready. The conference, with its shaky live streaming punctuated by online comments from rabid bigots, reinforced that impression. The content of the presentations also didn't strike me as likely to win many converts. Here's one tidbit about the proposed white ethnostate, as reported by Mother Jones (click to enlarge):

Me: I don't know how Episcopalians like me fit into this, but I suspect when they have a Jewish last name and partly Jewish ancestry, again like me, their status in the ethnostate would be dubious at best. It's clear that many alt-right foot soldiers are disgruntled at such waffling as their leaders show and instead prefer a straight to the gas chambers policy.

But I'll stay on the relatively polite level of discussion of Spencer and Taylor, and point out that "Jewish" and "European" have, to say the least, some overlap in terms of history and heritage. Consider this archaeological story from today: "Explore This Mysterious Mosaic: It May Portray Alexander the Great." Spoiler: it's in an ancient synagogue.

But let's go further back into the past and away from the "Jewish question" on which alt-rightists may be somewhat divided; what they all agree on is the crucial distinction between whites and non-whites, and that Western civilization was a product of whites and can only be sustained by whites. So, let's look at "How Europeans Evolved White Skin." Excerpt from a 2015 article in Science (click...):

Me: The key genes for light skin were spread by light-skinned people mating with darker-skinned people. If there had been an alt-right back then to stop this miscegenation, the skin color they prize might have remained an oddity of people around the Motala archaeological site, or died out altogether. And by the way, read this about "How a Gene for Fair Skin Spread Across India." The genes that contribute to whiteness are found in people of various pigmentations all over the world (and even in white tigers).

The alt-right prides itself on being the ones who've taken the "red pill" that lets you see things as they are. But to uphold their ideology requires averting one's eyes, avoiding learning many uncomfortable facts of history and biology that don't fit the story. And when I hear the alt-right's ideologues saying that their all-white society would have maglev trains and explore Jupiter and so on, I say that those things are more likely in a society that doesn't hand out trophies for the color of your skin.

UPDATE: Related matters here and here.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Carbon suggestion for Gary Johnson

Here's Gary Johnson backtracking on his seeming support of a carbon tax or fee, in an interview by Nick Gillespie at Reason:

Me: If Johnson is really open to ideas, he should consider the carbon fee and dividend proposal put forward by the Citizen's Climate Lobby. It is guided by the principle stated by one prominent supporter, George Shultz, that "It's not a tax if the government doesn't keep the money," as the revenues would be sent back to households as checks. It would deal with the international aspect by using border adjustments, which are import fees on products from countries that don't have carbon pricing. It is a proposal that has been around for several years, and it would be nice if people running for president of the United States actually knew something about it.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Science needs saving from The New Atlantis [updated]

In the 1960s, "curiosity-driven" scientists took some soil samples from Easter Island. They ended up discovering the drug rapamycin (named after the island's name Rapa Nui), the importance of which--relevant to subjects ranging from cancer to Alzheimer's to longevity--is unfolding even now decades later. These scientists had no idea such a substance was in the Easter Island soil, and there were some twists and turns on the road to identifying and elucidating the drug. Read more here.

I bring this up in response to an essay in the conservative journal The New Atlantis "Saving Science," by Daniel Sarewitz, which argues that the "free play of free intellects" as scientific ideal is a "lie" that wastes time and resources generating esoteric and unreliable results, and that science ought to be far more oriented toward applied research. I'm all for applied research, but the attitude espoused in this essay would never have led to the discovery of rapamycin and, more broadly, would foreclose any number of avenues of research that may have practical benefits that are totally invisible at the outset.

We live in a world that does not always reveal its secrets in compliance with some bureaucratic program and timetable. Moreover, we live in a world that doesn't always comply with political ideology. One effect of the New Atlantis piece, and plausibly a motivation, is to reassure conservatives that the vast gap that has emerged between science and conservatism in recent years is nothing to worry about--indeed, reflects that science has gone wrong, not conservatism. We've had years of lowbrow right-wing attacks on science re climate, evolution and more. So a highbrow attack was in order, to bolster the confidence of conservative intellectuals that they still deserve the label.

UPDATE: The journal's editor got in touch with me, and I sent a letter discussing this in more detail (focused on the rapamycin story), to be published in due course.

UPDATE 8/30: In debating this topic on Twitter, I came across an amusing aspect of Sarewitz's argument. His description of curiosity-driven science is thus:
The fruits of curiosity-driven scientific exploration into the unknown have often been magnificent. The recent discovery of gravitational waves — an experimental confirmation of Einstein’s theoretical work from a century earlier — provided a high-publicity culmination of billions of dollars of public spending and decades of research by large teams of scientists. Multi-billion dollar investments in space exploration have yielded similarly startling knowledge about our solar system, such as the recent evidence of flowing water on Mars. And, speaking of startling, anthropologists and geneticists have used genome-sequencing technologies to offer evidence that early humans interbred with two other hominin species, Neanderthals and Denisovans. Such discoveries heighten our sense of wonder about the universe and about ourselves.
And he goes on to explain that this kind of science doesn't offer much in the way of practical benefits.
So one might be forgiven for believing that this amazing effusion of technological change truly was the product of “the free play of free intellects, working on subjects of their own choice, in the manner dictated by their curiosity for exploration of the unknown.” But one would be mostly wrong.
And yet...look at one of his (few) examples of curiosity-driven science: the sequencing of the Neanderthal genome. And then look at this:

Of course, this sort of knowledge has all kinds of implications for genetic counseling and genetic therapy. It turns out there are some practical consequences even to that free play of free intellects. I'm reminded of this today because a new batch of Neanderthal genome data has been released

UPDATE 11/28/17: Correspondence.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Candidate Kotlikoff redux

Recommended reading: "Only 6 People Can Be Elected President in November. Guess Who They Are," by Laurence Kotlikoff, economist and presidential candidate whom I interacted with a couple of times in my previous job at Research magazine. (Actually, looking through my archive, I'm reminded I also reviewed a book of his for FrumForum.) I like and respect Larry a great deal, but I should add this isn't an endorsement. I haven't made a definite decision as to whom I'll vote for in November. The only certain thing is that it won't be Donald Trump (or Jill Stein). But the liberty to think about voting for anyone other than Hillary is afforded by New Jersey being among the safest of blue states. Even so, I don't really like the idea of leaving it to others to vote Hillary and thereby stop Trump. So I'll think about it more. But I do think Kotlikoff would be a pretty good president.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The GOP has not hit bottom yet [updated]

"Has the Right Hit Bottom Yet?" That was the debate question back on Feb. 19, 2009 at one of the Lolita Bar events organized by Todd Seavey. I argued the right's comeback was already under way; Ryan Sager thought it had further to fall. There was a guy in the audience, whom I later learned was Richard Spencer, who asked a question suggesting the Republican Party should devote itself to championing the interests of white people rather than trying to win over minorities (except Asians, whom he thought natural allies with whites). I responded with something like "If the Republican Party takes that approach, it will curl up and die." Ryan was similarly dismissive.

Now, over seven years later, I'm an ex-Republican, and Spencer (now a prominent leader of the "alt right") is in Cleveland crowing "It's amazing. We've taken over the right." And it's true enough. Spencer lives in Montana now and has argued for a whites-only "ethno-state" in the Northwest; and while that may take some time to make it into the GOP platform, the party has moved in his direction by nominating Trump, to an extent I never imagined possible back at Lolita Bar.

In that long-ago debate (which I lost by audience vote), I may have been correct that a political comeback for the right was under way (the Tea Party was just starting to brew then) but I was certainly dead wrong in thinking that the right did not have further to fall--much further--morally and intellectually.  I differ with those, including some anti-Trump friends of mine, who see something worth preserving in the GOP.  So, I stand by my "curl up and die" prediction; what's different now from 2009, though, is that I'm looking forward to seeing it happen.

UPDATE 7/24: Spencer evidently no longer advocates a whites-only homeland in the Northwest but rather the more expansive goal of expelling blacks, hispanics and Jews from the United States.

UPDATE 10/8: Trump is melting down and the GOP is in chaos, but I'm updating this post mainly for this:
Now (or it turns out) it's the entire Northern Hemisphere Spencer wants. For recent posts on some immanent flaws in the alt-right vision, see here and here.

UPDATE 11/7: I'd been expecting to write more about the alt-right, probably focusing on Spencer's writings--but then I read this about Trump and Jesus Christ, and honestly don't think it's worth the bother.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Irresponsibility party

Seems to me the Responsibility Party I recently wrote about (whether that would work as a formal name or not) took a hit in the Brexit vote (and in celebrations of that vote now playing on right-wing U.S. talk radio and cable). To recap, I wrote about a putative new American party: "Let it be the party that emphasizes personal responsibility, fiscal responsibility, environmental responsibility, and a U.S. foreign policy that upholds international commitments and confidence." Those seem to be unfashionable concepts at the moment, but I think they'll win out, at least in the U.S., over time. As for how the Brexit vote made a hash of international commitments and confidence, I recommend this Dan Drezner interview: "Brexit's consequences, according to an expert: 'clusterfuck.'"

Monday, May 9, 2016

Thoughts on a new party

Having terminated my longtime membership in the Republican Party, I am interested in the possibility of a new political party taking shape. How fast that can happen remains to be seen (my guess is time is too limited for this election--but I'd be happy to be proved wrong on that point). Let me suggest as a starting point Paul David Miller's recent articles "Let's Resurrect the Federalist Party" and "What the Federalist Party Platform Would Look Like." Broadly speaking, I am sympathetic to his arguments, and here below will make some points of my own about the purposes and priorities of a new party:

1. The new party should be "republican" in a small-r sense. A concise definition of what "republican" has meant through the ages comes from this book The End of Kings, that "no man shall rule alone." 

An irony of Donald Trump's recent statement “don’t forget, this is called the Republican Party. It’s not called the Conservative Party” is that he has violated not only conservative principles but republican ones. He epitomizes the idea of one-person rule, with the leader receiving deference and adulation while operating by whim and intimidation. Having formed in opposition to Trump, a new party should have in its DNA a deep resistance to any form of authoritarianism or cult of personality.

2. The new party should have some reasonable amenability to ideological diversity. A brilliant aspect of federalism is that it allows people of divergent views on various issues to live together in one nation with reduced tensions. Why should my home state of New Jersey have the same social and economic policies as, say, North Carolina or Wyoming, places that are very different culturally and demographically? Striking a dynamic balance between state and federal authority offers some flexibility for experimentation, and a party that favors such an approach would more or less by definition include people of diverse views. On a related point, there are many good reasons to be opposed to Trump, and his deviations from conservative ideology are not the only such reasons.

3. The new party should offer creative policy solutions that neither Democrats nor Republicans have rallied around. On an issue of climate policy, for instance, I'd hope the new party would be willing to consider carbon fee and dividend, a framework that holds the prospect of actually making a difference on climate change and avoiding the economic harms of the regulatory-heavy methods propounded by the Democrats. It may be that many #NeverTrump ex- or soon-to-be-ex-Republicans are also skeptics of the need for action on climate change, but at the very least such an issue needs to be openly debated in the new party and not treated as dogma.

4. What to call the new party? I am wary of going with the "Federalist Party" as it evokes an organization that flourished over two centuries ago, even it is less musty than "Whigs." To indicate a forward-looking quality, I would prefer the "New Federalist Party" and am wondering whether there is a better name out there that strikes a good balance between enduring principles and fresh thinking.

5. Perhaps it could be called the "Responsibility Party" or just "Responsibility" for short. Let it be the party that emphasizes personal responsibility, fiscal responsibility, environmental responsibility, and a U.S. foreign policy that upholds international commitments and confidence. (I presented related ideas, in proto form, in a brief FrumForum post years ago.) Let the Responsibility Party be the party you can trust, while other parties go YOLO and roll the dice with our children's future.

6. Anyone interested?

UPDATE 5/17: The Renegade Party forms.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Not a RINO anymore

Ending a relationship of 32+ years, I mailed this today. (Click to enlarge.)

As I noted on Twitter, it's too bad there's no Federalist Party on this thing. But given the available choices, I'm with her.

P.S., no Trump running mate selection would change my mind, except to lower my opinion of the person who accepts.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Elusive wildlife in Nepal

I've been busy and traveling. Can you spot the rhino in the picture below?

That was taken at Bardia National Park in Nepal a few weeks ago. So was the pic below--where's the tiger?

It's in the water, a white dot just right of upward stem in foreground. It's not easy to get to see a tiger in the wild, so we were grateful for this sighting, even if it wasn't on par with our experience in 2009.

For some interesting recent material on eco-tourism in Nepal, start here.  Count me as on the pro-ecotourism side.

Anyway, one merit of being that far away was a sense of liberation from news about Donald Trump. Sadly, though, it looks like future posts will have to return to that deplorable subject.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Federalist comeback

This blog will be on hiatus for some time; but for those following the political situation, I recommend this article by Paul David Miller: "Let's Resurrect The Federalist Party." Excerpt:
Finally, the party simply got it wrong on some policy issues. I voted for Republicans because I cannot in good conscience support the progressive worldview embodied by the Democratic Party—but I always had to live with the discomfort of knowing that Democrats did a much better job emphasizing the importance of environmental conservation and alleviating poverty. They never had good ideas about how to protect the environment or solve poverty because Democrats have a blind faith in the power of bureaucracy, but at least they gave the issues the attention they deserved. 
Critics are fond of accusing wonks like me of being RINOs for saying such things. Turns out they were right. The Republican Party has settled its mind on these issues, and it is wrong—just one more nail in its coffin.
Me: Having recently seen the fantastic musical "Hamilton," as well as watched the disintegration of my longtime if uncomfortable political home, count me in for a new Federalist Party.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Trump moment (updated)

I find the Trump developments rather grotesque and horrible, and this feeling is not alleviated by my having argued last August that his winning the nomination, and for that matter the presidency, was not all that implausible:
Do I think Trump has any chance of winning the GOP nomination? Yes, though I would certainly bet against it. Do I think he has any chance of winning the presidency? A slim one, but not negligible. If he won the nomination, his credibility by that point would be considerable; and it's not as if the Democrats have a frontrunner currently whose viability looks to be assured going forward. But the likelihood that Trump would lose in a general election has sparked some genuine agonizing on the right, and it's kind of funny to watch conservative pundits suddenly embrace the pragmatic electability criteria they spent the past couple of cycles disparaging.
Going forward: mark me down with Ezra Klein in regarding Trump as a genuine threat to American democracy

Mark me down also as disagreeing strenuously with those (including some I respect highly such as Virginia Postrel) who argue that John Kasich should drop out of the race on the putative grounds that this would make a Trump victory less likely. The way to stop Trump is not by rallying behind someone else who offers a diluted version of his terrible attributes, as Rubio does in his ideological shape-shifting and implicit promise to torture terrorism suspects to "find out everything they know."

Moreover, my concern about Trump is not that he'll go on to be the losing nominee but that, if he is the nominee, there is a chance that he might win the presidency. I would prefer a Kasich presidency over a Clinton presidency, but anybody now running --including Sanders and Cruz -- is manifestly preferable to the authoritarian potential of a Trump presidency.

Finally, I should add that I do share one thing with Trump and his supporters, which is that I now care little about the future of the Republican Party (of which I've been a member since 1983). A party that could get itself into this predicament is far from an indispensable bastion of anything worth preserving. The country does need alternatives to the Democrats, but right now the GOP mainly serves the purpose of making the Democrats look more attractive than they deserve.

UPDATED 2/26: I still would like Kasich to be the nominee, but I have to admit my opinion of Rubio has gone way up in the past 24 hours.

UPDATE: But not as much as my estimation of Chris Christie has gone down.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Who wrecked the GOP?

For the record, I agree with this post by Kevin Drum.

UPDATE: Also, I see a glimmer of hope, but it's narrow at the moment.

UPDATE 2: The glimmer of hope gets slightly brighter. Would Vox and the Daily Beast be going after a candidate over nothing if they didn't think he had some chance to win?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Shultz, climate and why can't handle the truth

George Shultz has been a voice of reason within the Republican Party on climate policy. The following two paragraphs, from a Washington Post op-ed of his last year, "A Reagan Approach to Climate Change," sum up his approach (click to enlarge):

This is just one of many places in which Shultz advocated a carbon tax, with the caveat that the money should be returned to taxpayers. Now, one reaction on the right to this kind of thinking has been the "everyone makes a mistake once in a while, even George Shultz"-type dismissal given by (now thankfully former) presidential candidate Chris Christie a few months ago. Another reaction is to simply deny that Shultz has said what he's said. That's the tack taken at today, in a piece by Chriss W. Street titled "Jerry Brown Tries to Flog a New Carbon Tax." Excerpt:

Notice that there's a link to something or another Laffer said, but nothing substantiating the statement that Shultz has "never backed a new carbon tax." That's because it's demonstrably false.

There's a lot wrong on the right these days, and I would put climate science denialism high on that list. But an unwillingness even to face readily evident facts about who disagrees with you is a sure sign your position is in serious intellectual trouble.

UPDATE: Aaron Huertas points out that's Laffer link leads to something not by Laffer.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Clinton mention

Hillary Clinton, campaigning in Iowa, took note of DeWitt Clinton (not a relation of hers):
“I did a little research,” Mrs. Clinton said at a town-hall-style event at Eagle Heights Elementary School in Clinton on Saturday. “Clinton County is named for DeWitt Clinton, the sixth governor of New York,” Mrs. Clinton continued. “He was the person who said, ‘We’re going to build a canal from the Hudson River down to Lake Erie all the way across New York.’ ”
Me: It was odd to see the subject of my in-progress book show up on the campaign trail. This political season has been a rather engrossing distraction. One thing I admire greatly about DeWitt Clinton is that, even though he was a professional politician, his interests outside politics were many, deep and varied.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A benefit of fighting climate change

There's an interesting piece at Bloomberg Gadfly "Oil's Sum of All Fears" (found via David Frum) discussing that oil prices have departed from their historical tendency to spike when there is geopolitical tension (especially in the Mideast). This passage suggested some factors helping explain what's changed:
In October, BP's chief economist gave a speech on the "New Economics of Oil". In this brave new world, shale resources' vast reserves, short lead times and low upfront investment upend the notion that OPEC's own underground riches are bound to rise in value over time as everyone else's wells run dry. Adding to this is pressure on the demand side in the form of political and technological momentum to limit the burning of fossil fuels.
That last line points to one of the great under-appreciated but obvious facts of our time: trying to limit climate change is not a distraction from our geopolitical problems (as it's often presented as being on the right) but rather an integral part of dealing with those problems. Less dependence on fossil fuels brings a raft of economic and national security benefits, as well as environmental ones: less vulnerability to oil price spikes; and less revenue for terror groups and hostile states. And that's even without assuming any success in fighting climate change; any benefits on that score also have geopolitical benefits, such as less likelihood of droughts such as can exacerbate refugee crises.

If you want better national security, avoid at all costs candidates who say things like this, and ones who don't even understand their own obscurantist arguments about a global warming "pause."

Monday, January 4, 2016

Rethinking the 6% scientists are Republicans meme

I used to be more impressed by these figures, which were cited today by Paul Krugman.

I cited the "6% of scientists are Republicans" figure in various discussions and articles a few years ago. At the time, I also noted that there was some uncertainty as to how accurate the figure was, given that it was based on a sampling of AAAS members. That concern has grown in recent months, precisely because I lately have become an AAAS member in order to subscribe to the journal Science. I already knew that becoming a member does not require being a scientist (I am a part-time science journalist) but the distinction between "AAAS member" and "scientist" has been underscored for me by (a) actually attaining membership for the price of a magazine subscription and (b) receiving subsequent mailings inviting me to further professional memberships, such as in a chemical society, and even being told I was "specially selected" as an AAAS member or some such.

Lest I be misunderstood, I continue to believe that the 6% figure, though clearly not a precise measurement, points to a real problem of heightened alienation between scientists and Republicans. But seeing it repeated now, years later, with no qualifications, does not much incline me toward Krugman's argument, to wit that there's no sign of academia moving left, it's just that crazy Republicans moved right. The current GOP overall is indeed too right-wing for me, as I've made clear, but craziness at one end of the political spectrum often begets and is abetted by craziness at the opposite terminus, and pretending that's not so is a sign you may be succumbing to it yourself.

BTW I came across Krugman's piece via this tweet, with which I sympathize greatly,  by Jonathan Haidt:

Friday, January 1, 2016

Some mostly math-related books

I've just made a few purchases of math-related books:

Edward Frenkel's phenomenally good book Love and Math: The Heart of Hidden Reality is out in paperback, and I wanted to have it on hand. I interviewed Frenkel about a year ago, after reading a library copy of the hardcover. I'd certainly add this if I were doing a new version of my 10+ most influential books, as it got me into learning and writing about math on an ongoing basis.

One of the first things I did in that direction, after reading Frenkel's book, was take Jo Boaler's class How to Learn Math: for Students, which was valuable for thinking about math education (the course had only a limited sampling of math), which I'm interested in as a personal and political matter. I've now ordered her book Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students' Potential through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching, and may review it at some point here.

Also ordered: Patterns of the Universe: A Coloring Adventure in Math and Beauty, which certainly looks interesting.

Recently finished reading: Finding Zero: A Mathematician's Odyssey to Uncover the Origins of Numbers, by Amir Aczel, which is a nice blend of math, history and travelogue, and involves searching for the first zero through South and Southeast Asia.

Current non-math reading: Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, by Jon Meacham. Quite interesting thus far (I'm up to around 1960) and elegaic, with much of the world described seeming not quite as distant as the ancient civilizations described in the zero book above, but pretty distant nonetheless.