A science teacher responds

Scott Hatfield replies to my post supporting his call to reject a proposal to further federalize education:

Vox’s reply is interesting and wide-ranging. I can only touch on a few points (in fact, three) that might be said to fall in my area of knowledge. Vox writes:

“I’m curious to know how Scott would prefer to see teachers evaluated.”

This is a thorny question, in that there are political realities at work. Most teachers are affiliated with teacher’s unions which tend to resist objective measures tied to student performance on standardized tests, for reasons that Vox acknowledges. Unfortunately, many unions tend to resist objective measures in general, and many educational professionals in administration and in government are so wedded to ‘standards-based reform’ that considering a different approach is unlikely to occur during my teaching career. I’m not punting, you understand, just acknowledging that there are practical reasons why we have the impasse that presently exists in terms of assessing instructor performance.

One of the things I enjoy about discourse with Scott is that unlike so many other evolutionists, he is open to the possibility that skepticism about TENS is not intrinsically related to one’s religious faith; this happens to be a position that is also in accord with the observable fact of numerous irreligious evolutionary skeptics. Nevertheless, I have to take some small exception to Scott’s belief that I misread the 8a of the California standards, specifically the second sentence quoted: “Students know how natural selection determines the differential survival of groups of organisms.” Because there is insufficient scientific evidence to indicate that natural selection even exists beyond the tautological level, I don’t see how anyone, let alone students, can presently know how it determines the differential survival of anything, including groups of organisms.

And in the interest of forestalling all the poorly read evolutionists who will be tempted to claim that I don’t understand the science due to their failure to keep up on the latest research, please note that the erroneous basis of most of the evidence presently cited in support of natural selection isn’t something you should take up with me, but rather, with Masatoshi Nei, Shozo Yokoyama, and Yoshiyuki Suzuki. And yes, I know they still believe in natural selection despite their criticism of the statistical evidence, but then, their personal opinions are neither science nor the point.

Political science

The UK attempts to whitewash Climategate:

The first of several British investigations into the e-mails leaked from one of the world’s leading climate research centers has largely vindicated the scientists involved.

The House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee said Wednesday that they’d seen no evidence to support charges that the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit or its director, Phil Jones, had tampered with data or perverted the peer review process to exaggerate the threat of global warming—two of the most serious criticisms levied against the climatologist and his colleagues.

In their report, the committee said that, as far as it was able to ascertain, “the scientific reputation of Professor Jones and CRU remains intact,” adding that nothing in the more than 1,000 stolen e-mails, or the controversy kicked up by their publication, challenged scientific consensus that “global warming is happening and that it is induced by human activity.”…

Lawmakers stressed that their report—which was written after only a single day of oral testimony—did not cover all the issues and would not be as in-depth as the two other inquiries into the e-mail scandal that are still pending.

Translation: we found nothing too terribly damning… mostly because we were careful not to look very hard. Please, please, please be sure to notice all the qualifiers we were careful to insert so we don’t look like we were covering anything up when more in-depth investigations reach opposite conclusions.

The stonewalling didn’t work. Neither will the whitewashing.

Water cooler conversation

This may explain a certain amount of workplace inefficiency. The context for this, as will no doubt be completely obvious to the casual reader, is firmware updates via USB.

MK: By the way, do you reject the doctrine of infallibility of the original scrolls of the Bible? Because, as the PUOSU states, I had assumed at least that of the reader, and if you reject it, there is no reason to even respond, because you would fall outside of the scope of the argument. In terms of forming an opinion with an evolutionary algorithm, this would mean a cost of irreconcilable conflict between two passages being similar to thisAlgorithmBecomingSkynetCost. Without the doctrine, the costs are different, and one can reach an opposite conclusion based on the same information.

VD: I believe so, assuming that I understand what you mean by “doctrine of infallibility” correctly. My position on the overall message being correct and the various details not necessarily being correct is reasonably well-known at this point. The part that most people fail to understand is that we are not capable of determining the perfectly correct from the not perfectly correct, so we should regard it as being correct to the greatest extent possible.

MK: Right, but there is still a division between inerrancy and infallibility. The former means that all statements that are given with the “voice of the narrator” in the Bible are true, and infallibility means that all THEOLOGICAL statements are true.

VD: I think something can be true without being perfectly or even properly understood. So, I’m not sure I can say that I reject infallibility.

MK: Where the difference plays out in practice, is the cost of a conflict when interpreted according to the various doctrines. If there is an interpretation that resolves the conflict but feels a tad iffy (and the conflict is in a theological statement), the infallibility believer will always take it. Whereas the disbeliever may say “that’s just one verse, so it could be wrong.”

VD: Right, particularly when there are other verses pointing in another direction. In this context, I would say that I am not a subscriber to the infallability doctrine. If anything, I am a subscriber to the ineffability doctrine.

MK: Of course, I’m still interested to see the response, but just so that I understand that you assign the costs differently in the algorithm. You are the first person not to give the textual equivalent of a blank stare, by the way.

VD: I am not as technical as you, but neither am I an idiot.

MK: Just my frustration with how there are perfectly concise ways to describe certain theological issues, that would otherwise take like five sermons, but I can’t use them due to the “huh?” problem.

VD: Imagine how God feels trying to explain things to us… in fact, this tends to metaphorically support the ineffability doctrine.

MK: But God would be able to accurately predict when the problem is going to happen, and wouldn’t even take the trouble of saying it. Which would force us to conclude that when He does say something, it is possible to understand it…. Can’t BELIEVE I didn’t see your argument coming, though. Total sucker punch.

Mailvox: take another look

HR asks an unexpected question:

I am reading your book and find it fascinating. I really appreciate your laying out the several possible scenarios and the arguments pro and con as well as identifying their supporters. The chart on your blog of “Debt Outstanding 2004-2009” I find quite convincing for your position on the key question of inflation vs deflation. However I also find that the Fed Statistics (see page 9 of this link) seem to show quite different trends and support the opposite conclusion. What is the source for your chart?

I’m glad HR finds it worthwhile reading. My source for the sector debt is the Federal Reserve flow of funds account. Notice how the red line for Federal debt on the chart ends a little below the $8,000 billion line. If you look a little more carefully at the linked PDF, you’ll see that this corresponds rather neatly with the $7,805 billion reported in 2009-Q4 for the Federal Government. The reason for this is that the Federal Reserve flow of funds account is, in fact, the very Z1 report that HR cited.

In other words, you have to look at the bottom of the page, not the top, since those are the 1978 numbers. It’s a bit easier to see this in the online version, in which the years run from left to right.

Mailvox: a waste of time and effort

The Baseball Savant questions my time allocations:

Leaving aside the fact that we pretty much disagree about everything when it comes to Christianity, the one thing I have a problem with in reading your blog the last couple of years is your fight in atheism/religion. Admittedly I haven’t read “TIA”, but I think for this discussion I get the gist that you basically used the same logic that the unholy trinity provided to disprove atheism or at least show that it’s more unlikely than religious thought/belief. I might be oversimplifying it, but I think you get my point. My problem though is that you spend an enormous amount of time on this very topic. That I don’t understand. I would think even as an open theist we would have similar views on eternal perspective and the problem that I have is that your writing of TIA, although interesting, doesn’t further that cause too much.

I can certainly see the rationale behind it if you believe that you are the first domino to fall in that equation in that

ATHEIST –> READ TIA —-> DOUBT ATHEISM —–> DISREGARD ATHEISM —-> BELIEVE IN RELIGION —-> COME TO CHRIST

But the last part is very dicey. There are a million religions in the world, and it seems your argument is only that atheism is illogical. I agree with it. I guess I’m just wondering the end? Not that everything has to be done with eternal perspective in mind, but this is something that I think definitely coincides with that sort of thing because you are delving into religious matters. Does open theism teach that God is pleased if something comes to religion even if that religion is still pagan in nature and hell is the final destination for the person who converts to that religion from atheism?

If it’s all for intellectual masturbation then I get it, but you seem too bright to waste time on an endeavor such as this with no real cost/benefit analysis in the end.

Obviously you write for you. You’ve always said as much, but the time aspect is odd for me. What do you think?

First, I don’t spend anywhere nearly as much time on the subject as most people think. Because I read very fast and think a bit more quickly than the norm, it doesn’t take me very long to notice the flaws in an argument and use them to pick it apart. The only thing that occasionally takes an amount of time is doing the research to prove what I already have concluded to the satisfaction of others. Second, as always, I highly recommend reading the relevant material before commenting on it.

Because the Baseball Savant hasn’t read TIA, he isn’t aware that my ambitions for the book have always been modest. I not only think the last link in his chain is very dicey, I think the one preceding it is too. TIA is not a work of Christian apologetics nor is it even a theological work, the one speculative chapter notwithstanding, as it is nothing more than a work dedicated to destroying a collection of spurious, illogical, and demonstrably false arguments by a small group of well-known intellectual charlatans. Convincing the reader to disregard a specific form of atheism is the most that the book was ever even potentially going to achieve, and it’s quite clear that it has been very successful in that regard. The feeble and insubstantial protestations with which the Against the New Atheism slideshow has been met is testimony to the way in which even the most militant atheists have largely abandoned certain arguments they once believed to be powerfully effective.

Removing a bar to belief isn’t always going to lead to belief. I would even say that it usually isn’t. But, having seen so many well-meaning Christians struggle so ineffectively against unoriginal and outdated arguments that were fundamentally flawed, I thought it was worth the small effort it took to dismantle them in such a comprehensive manner that practically anyone who has read the book can now do the same with ease. I expect that I will continue to tear apart their future arguments since it costs me nothing and I find it more entertaining than sitting down and watching 151 hours of television per month like the average American. Needless to say, I will be providing a detailed critique of Sam Harris’s all-too-characteristically incoherent argument in favor of utilizing science to answer moral questions at some point in the future.

The truth is that I spend far more time on what could be characterized as even less important matters. I am currently designing five games, none of which are of any importance to the human race and only two of which will be potentially profitable to me. I am spending a great deal of time and money on a superior input device which will allow people to do useful, useless and even harmful things on a computer up to 50% faster. I am writing a sequel to a novel that probably didn’t sell more than 500 copies. I play board games and computer games, alone and with others. And I just finished reading a novel by Balzac that wasn’t particularly interesting and has taught me nothing useful.

The ironic thing about this email is the way it shows how people, even those who haven’t read the book, are still far more interested in discussing The Irrational Atheist than they are in discussing either of the two books I have published since. And this is despite the fact that we’re now in the midst of the very economic contraction that I describe in The Return of the Great Depression!

Time passes whether we spend it wisely or not. I have numerous regrets for opportunities and time I have wasted in the past, but writing TIA and discussing the related issues is not one of them.

Mailvox: Obama vs science education

Scott Hatfield of Monkey Trials writes about the standards of science education:

I invite you to read the state science standards for high school biology in California. You’ll find those on pages 51-56 of this PDF file. It’s true that evolution is in there, but there is absolutely no requirement to teach ‘scientific history.’ I admit that I give one lecture on Mendel and his experiments when I teach genetics, and one lecture on Darwin’s voyage of the Beagle and how that (and the thought of others, like Malthus) influenced his thought.

Other than that, the other 178-days of instruction are pretty much the concepts and facts that you can see on the standards, which are in fact voluminous. I can’t speak for PZ and Dawkins, but I assure you that I care very much about the fact that there is less time for experiments and far too much time spent prepping for the standardized tests which, under NCLB, are used by the states and the fed to rate schools.

By the way, if your looking for a way to improve science ed, then please join me in rejecting the OBAMA administration proposal to tie teacher evaluations more closely to testing. A rare offer for you and I to unite in a criticism of the present administration!

Again, check out what we actually have to teach. There’s a lot to cram in 180 days, and to do it, we typically are sacrificing labs, especially the highly-instructive but time-consuming ones that take weeks to complete.

I have no problem whatsoever condemning the Obama administration proposal. Teacher evaluations and education standards are not Constitutional concerns of the U.S. federal government and Obama has no business attempting to dictate such things. Now, I’m certainly not against the use of standards in evaluating teachers; one reason for the drive towards objective standards is that the political power of the teachers unions is completely out of hand in some states. Given that testing can be an over-blunt club, I’m curious to know how Scott would prefer to see teachers evaluated. And while I don’t understand how opposing a proposal for a change can improve the current situation, I am happy to oppose it nonetheless.

Obviously, a science teacher whose black, inner-city, public school students score an average 80th percentile is probably a much better teacher than one whose Chinese, suburban, private school students average 85th percentile. And it’s also clear that straightforward teaching to the test will tend to restrict a teacher’s ability to focus on whatever aspects of his subject he thinks is important. But I’m sure Scott also realizes that for every good science teacher who wants to push his students and expose them to actually learning how to utilize the scientific method, there are several who would spend the entire school day haranguing their students on anything from Marxism and patriarchal oppression to Genesis and Scientology if given the opportunity.

I don’t have an answer myself. But I’m curious to know what Scott’s recommendation would be. As for “science history”, that’s often what is taught in lieu of science. Whether one considers the cult of Adam Smith or the cult of Charles Darwin, even a moment of reflection should suffice to determine that the Great Men of Science theme is actually a historical theme, not a scientific one. An astronomer has absolutely no need to know if it was Pythagoras or Copernicus who thought the Sun orbited the Earth in order to calculate the orbit of an extrasolar planet just as a biologist has absolutely no need to know if it was Darwin or Paley who articulated evolution by natural selection when he is figuring out the utility of junk DNA.

Don’t get me wrong, I think scientific history is tremendously interesting and knowledge of economic history is actually quite valuable in understanding how and why the present orthodoxy went so badly awry. The more unsettled a science is, the more important the historical knowledge will be. Reading Joseph Schumpeter’s mammoth History of Economic Thought played a major role in my critical revisitation of Ricardian free trade, then Friedmanite monetarism. But repeating anecdotes about finches and shoemakers should never be confused with actually calculating debt/GDP ratios or collecting butterflies.

For the record, I no more object to teaching evolution than I do to teaching Keynesian macroeconomics or any other extant idea. In other words, I insist on them being taught and being taught accurately. It is only when you have fully and correctly understood a concept that you can truly grasp the intrinsic and/or potential flaws in it. For example, I found this requirement to be more than a little amusing: “8. Evolution is the result of genetic changes that occur in constantly changing environments. As a basis for understanding this concept: a. Students know how natural selection determines the differential survival of groups of organisms.” I should, of course, be very interested to know how they know that, given that even Richard Dawkins has now admitted that the science is still unsettled on whether Darwin was fundamentally wrong about the very core of his so-called “dangerous idea”. The logic is at least superficially sound, but is the science? After all, that is precisely what still remains to be determined.

But to be clear, it must be understood that while I am an outright Keynesian Denier, a Marxian Denier, and a Friedmanite Denier, I am but a mere Darwinian Skeptic.

Derbyshire is correct

In case you’re wondering why the USA is utterly dooomed, consider the results of a recent Right Wing News poll on which right-wing figures 80 right-wing bloggers like and dislike. (Full disclosure: I was one of the 80 polled.)

How do you feel about Ron Paul?
Strongly like: 7% (6 votes)
Like: 23% (19 votes)
Dislike 28%: (23 votes)
Strongly dislike: 40% (32 votes)

How do you feel about George W. Bush?
Strongly like: 30% (25 votes)
Like: 56% (46 votes)
Dislike 11% (9 votes)
Strongly dislike: 1% (1 vote)

When Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan are on the most unpopular list and Michelle Malkin and George W. Bush are among the most popular among self-styled conservatives, the only logical conclusion is that John Derbyshire is entirely correct. American conservatism is absolutely doomed.

The danger of degrees

I find it all too predictable how the expansion of “computer science education” over the last two decades has created a whole class of “programmers” who can’t actually program anything:

I wrote that article in 2007, and I am stunned, but not entirely surprised, to hear that three years later “the vast majority” of so-called programmers who apply for a programming job interview are unable to write the smallest of programs. To be clear, hard is a relative term — we’re not talking about complicated, Google-style graduate computer science interview problems. This is extremely simple stuff we’re asking candidates to do. And they can’t. It’s the equivalent of attempting to hire a truck driver and finding out that 90 percent of the job applicants can’t find the gas pedal or the gear shift.

I agree, it’s insane. But it happens every day, and is (apparently) an epidemic hiring problem in our industry.

Some of the best and most successful programmers I know still don’t even have college degrees. They might not be able to get past the average corporation’s HR department, but then, they don’t need to. I don’t know how anyone can still argue that education is the answer to anything when, in its current form, it produces junior high school students who can’t read, high school graduates who can’t do math, and college graduates who can’t program.

I still remember playing Ultima I with a young friend. He was a few years younger than me but was an accomplished Apple II programmer at the age of 12.

Interview with John Derbyshire

Vox Day interviewed John Derbyshire, the National Review contributor and author of We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism, on March 23, 2010.

Who is this “we” of whom you speak? Are you speaking of America, the West, conservatism, or the human race?

Primarily conservatism. But touching in a larger way on Western civilization.

You’re a fairly serious student of science. Isn’t your theme of doom somewhat in opposition to the usual notion of inevitable progress towards a shiny, sexy, science fiction future?

No, I don’t think so. Science is neutral so far as optimism or pessimism is concerned. Indeed, it is neutral so far as all the affairs of the heart are concerned. As I said in the book, the universe doesn’t care what we think of it, it just goes on its way. I understand what you mean, that sort of H.G. Wells breezy optimism about the prospects for the future based on our understanding more and more about the world is commonplace, although not as commonplace as it was when H.G. Wells was alive. But it’s not founded in any solid principles.

Of the various issues you address directly, from politics, diversity, and culture to immigration, empire, and economy, which do you consider to be the most responsible for this doom?

Let’s see. Probably nature. Most of the truths about the world are contained in the world and they are contained in the nature of reality. It’s that that drives everything. I’m more and more inclined, and this is an odd sort of thing for a conservative to say, perhaps, but particularly this last few days, I’m more and more tempted to the old Marxian idea of impersonal forces driving our affairs, with we ourselves having very little to say about it. That’s actually an awful thing to say and I’d like to qualify it at length, but that would take about 45 minutes, which of course we don’t have. But that’s the mood that’s coming on me, I’m afraid.

Fortunately, we have no word limits on the blog. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Robert Prechter and Elliott Wave theory, which applies primarily to the financial markets but can be utilized for purposes well beyond them. Dating back to Tolstoy, there have been a number of non-Marxian thinkers who have reached similar conclusions about larger forces, waves of mass human emotion rather than individual decisions as per Great Man theory dictating events.

It’s a naughty business and obviously one wouldn’t want to discard altogether the possibility that things can be decisively turned this way or that by a single personality, by a Napoleon or an Alexander. But possibly those turnings are just harmonics imposed on a bigger, deeper wave form driven by very cold natural forces.

What do you think some of those forces might be? I mentioned waves of mass human emotion already, but do you have any other candidates in mind?

That’s fairly appealing. I think so far as human history is concerned that in some way that we are not currently even close to understanding, somehow a kind of vector sum of individual human drives and emotions, a sum that is of hundreds of millions of such drives. There probably are some kind of underlying laws there, if only we could discern them.

One of the most terrifying things I have ever read was Paul Krugman’s statement that he decided to become an economist after reading Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novels.

Yeah, we’re veering a bit close to that here, aren’t we? It was Hari Seldon and psychohistory, wasn’t it? I think if you think we’re close to understanding anything like that, you’re in the zone of what is called misplaced concreteness. I think that’s far beyond our grasp at the moment. But it’s very suggestive. There are great forces and great tides at work, ebbing and flowing. Perhaps we’ll understand them, though I doubt we’ll ever reduce them to mathematics as Hari Seldon did. It’s a strong temptation for economists, and one reason to keep economists at arms-length. They do tend to do this kind of thing. You know, if it’s not Hari Seldon, it’s Ayn Rand, one of these other mechanistic thinkers. We’re not even close to understanding any of those dynamics, but that doesn’t mean they might not be impersonal dynamics.

I am somewhat in awe of your prediction in the book that we shall all be Icelanders, given recent events of that island nation and our own debt/GDP ratio. How was it that you so accurately foresaw the collapse into debt-servitude of the Icelandic economy?

(Chuckles) Yes, yes. Do you know the joke that was going around? What’s the capital of Iceland? About $45. That was just fortuitous. That was in my chapter on religion and when I spoke of us being Icelanders I was saying that even in the least religious nation in the world, where only two percent of the population attend church regularly, if you poll them you get big majorities believing in life after death, supernatural powers, and so on. Just by way of illustrating the fact that you can have these diffuse spiritual longings, human beings do have them in the generality, without much in the way of organized religion. It wasn’t actually related to the economics; although I would have liked to have predicted the economic crash in Iceland, but no, I didn’t.

I was aware of that, I just thought you might like to take the credit. You know, one of the interesting data points in one of the Barna religion surveys was that half of the self-identified atheists surveyed believed in Heaven and Hell.

Oh yes, you get all kinds of things. Way back when I was a student, I read Marghanita Laski’s very fine book, Ecstasy in Secular and Religious Experience. It was an inquiry into the religious experience. She found as many people she could who had claimed to have had a religious experience and asked them to describe it in order to draw out the common elements in the experiences, and some striking proportion of her respondents, something like 30 percent, were atheists! Religious experiences for everyone!

Now, you’re not a religious man, but it seems to me there is a certain Voltairean theme in your book. It is customary among the scientific cognoscenti to consider religion a sign of backwardness, however, in We Are Doomed, one of the things you cite as evidence of our doom is this rising tide of unbelief. How do you balance that in terms of where you stand between Voltaire on one side and Sam Harris on the other?

Well, there’s a tragic element there, always. As a number of commentators have pointed out, if you survey the human race dispassionately, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion that a) human beings are better off with religion, and yet, b) religion is ultimately a wishful fantasy. So that the kind of adherence to cold realism that you would want people to have in spheres like scientific inquiry and jurisprudence doesn’t serve the human race well if it is taken up in all aspects of life. Probably people who are not very reflective – Hazlitt had a phrase that I liked very much, “the reflective portion of humanity” amongst which he of course included himself – the reflective portion of humanity is probably only a quarter or a third of the human race at best. And the rest, ordinary people who just want to go about their lives and raise their families and do some type of useful work, I doubt they can be sustained in life without some sort of supernatural beliefs. So, yeah, there’s a tragic element there. What one might wish human beings to be like and what they’re actually like is an unbridgeable gap. That’s the tragic dimension. But the Voltairean optimism is not apt, certainly not in our present circumstances. I think we will lose our faith. I think we’re losing it visibly. I’ve been living in America since 1973 and this is a much less religious country now than it was then. I give the example in the book of the countries I grew up adjacent to, Ireland and Wales, which were then deeply religious in the 1950s and are now completely irreligious. They’re as irreligious as Iceland now, Ireland not quite, but Wales is there already. I don’t know why this wouldn’t happen to any other Western country. The cause is the same and the basic genetic stock is much the same.

Speaking of the change of nations, recent studies have shown that immigrants tend to lean heavily Democrat. You’ve got a chapter devoted to immigration in the book, so how do you explain the continued enthusiasm for immigration into the USA among conservatives and the Republican Party?

It’s based in a heady optimism about American exceptionalism. What I was really arguing about in my chapter in religion is American exceptionalism draining away. The great exceptionalism that America has amongst Western nations is its religiosity. That’s draining away. I think a lot of American conservatives are very much attached to this notion of exceptionalism. Patriotism is one of the half-dozen core features of conservatism, the belief that one’s own country is special and has some sort of special mission in the world. That’s been a core feature, not just of American conservatism but every kind of conservatism. Even the much older, European, Throne-and-Altar conservatism, the Squire Weston type in 18th century England. The exceptionalism of “our King, our Church, our Nation”. That’s a core feature, so in what does American exceptionalism consist? And one of the things it consists of is this having been a nation populated in very recent times. Most of the populating of American has taken place just in the last 400 years; that’s a very exceptional thing. It makes us a new country, structurally, and American conservatives would like to feel that’s going to go on, that we’re going to go on populating ourselves. I think that’s the main pull there. But of course, it’s an illusion. It’s a fantasy. We already have far more people than we can reasonably support. The ideal population for the continental USA is probably about 100 million, I should think. It doesn’t make any sense in terms of economics or demographics. But there’s the pull of wanting to be that unusual nation, wanting to maintain the things that made us what we are, one of those things having been occasional waves of mass immigration. But you know, conservatives aren’t very knowledgeable here. Peter Brimelow likes to point out that the New England states had practically zero immigration for 200 years, from the mid-17th century to the mid-19th century, from the last of the Pilgrims to the first of the Irish. There was essentially no inflow into New England and the population increased naturally. So, these spells of immigration were few and far between, but they caught the imagination of conservatives because they speak to our exceptionalism.

After the passage of the Obamacare bill, you made an analogy to a sinking cruise ship. What are some of the issues that you feel have drawn the bilge-pumpers away from the pumps and onto the dance floor over the last two decades?

The temptations of power. There’s always been enough discontent with the way things are going to draw people to vote conservatives into power now and again. When conservatives are in power, then the temptations of power take over and they become statists. They want to do things – they want to do conservative things – but the only way to do things is to use the apparatus of the federal government – so they then become proponents of federal power and are sucked into the abyss like that. We’ve fallen into the trap of active conservatism, conservatism to do something, conservatism to ban something, conservatism to fix something. And that really isn’t conservatism, it certainly isn’t real American conservatism. That’s why I obsess about Calvin Coolidge, who was the quintessential American conservative.

I admired your refusal to end We Are Doomed on an up note. Since you finished the book, have you seen any evidence that you need to alter your conclusions of doom?

Oh, none at all. I think my conclusions stand. I was writing something for NRO this morning and I was going to quote myself, the bit where I say that I fully expect to live the rest of my life without ever seeing any major conservative legislation passed. I stand by that. I think it looks better now than when I wrote it.

There is a lot of talk on National Review and elsewhere that the Obamacare bill is really going to energize the Right, that people are going to react strongly against the Congressional Democrats and Obama as a result of their ramming health care legislation down the collective throat of the country. Do you think this is true and we’re on the verge of a 1994, Contract With America-style revolution or is something else in the cards?

So what if we are? After ’94 came ’95. The forces that are dragging the ship down quickly reasserted themselves after 1994 and they will after 2010. They are irresistible, I’m sure. Thomas Sowell, who in my book is a wise man, has a piece on NRO where he pours cold water on the dreams of 2010 being another 1994. It just may not be like that, it may be a nine-days wonder and now that it’s done, everyone will just breathe a sigh of relief and say “oh, thank goodness we don’t have to talk about that stuff anymore.” I think inertia will settle in. I’m pessimistic. (laughs) So, don’t take it for granted that there’s going to be some huge upheaval in 2010. A lot of politicians will get voted out of office, perhaps the balance of power will even change in the House. But we’ll still have this president, we’ll still have this establishment, we’ll still have this Federal apparatus, we’ll still have a largely torpid general public not willing to concentrate very long on any of the things that matter.

A descent into madness

I have a random idea for something that may be of interest to a small and masochistic fraction of the Ilk. Most of you will recall that we have, on occasion, collectively contemplated the possibility of Japan invading the West Coast. Being a game designer, I have often found that a wargame nicely clarifies one’s thinking on the range of practical possibilities. However, since there does not appear to be a wargame dedicated to this proposition, for what I believe to be the obvious reason that it wasn’t considered even a remote possibility by any of the functional military minds on either side, my thought is to design one which will clearly illustrate the various points I have repeatedly explained to those who bought into Michelle Malkin’s thesis.

If anyone is interested participating, the first thing we’ll need to do is work out orders of battle for both sides, decide on a scale for the map, and settle on potential victory conditions. I intend to work out the Japanese OOB circa spring 1942; I have already reinstalled the War in the Pacific complete with the latest updates to assist in this process. So, if you’re a wargamer or WWII enthusiast, feel free to share your thoughts on the idea here.