How can voters make informed decisions without knowing how our government works? The answer is—they can’t.
How ignorant is the American public? This ignorant:
An October Farleigh Dickinson survey found that only 34% of Americans can name the three branches of government, and 30% cannot even name one. Studies routinely find that large numbers of voters do not know which officials are responsible for which issues, a circumstance that makes it hard to hold them accountable for their performance. All too often, voters reward and punish incumbents for outcomes they do not control, including such things as droughts and even victories by local sports teams.
The biggest determinant of most electoral outcomes is the very recent performance of the economy, even though experts recognize that incumbents usually have little control over short-term economic trends. Such ignorance weakens political accountability, and incentivizes politicians to pursue dangerously misguided policies that prove popular with poorly informed voters…
Because there is only an infinitesimally small chance that any one vote can influence the result of an election, even most smart people usually have little motivation to follow politics closely.
Ilya Somin, the article’s author, thinks the level of political ignorance is due to the fact that people aren’t motivated to learn much because with only one vote a single person doesn’t determine much. I find this to be a weak argument. Those who learn a lot about politics and government have the same one vote, and it doesn’t stop them from being interested and motivated. The incentive to learn can’t depend on the number of votes a person has. It depends on the degree of his/her intrinsic interest in the topic, how much else is distracting him/her, the accuracy of that person’s sources of information, and last but not least the school system.
The three branches of government is a topic so basic that everyone should know about it. But is Civics still taught in school? Not so much (see also this).
When was the last time anyone, politician or university president, echoed what Noah Webster said in 1788?
“It is an object of vast magnitude that systems of education should be adopted and pursued which may not only diffuse a knowledge of the sciences but may implant in the minds of the American youth the principles of virtue and of liberty and inspire them with just and liberal ideas of government and with an inviolable attachment to their own country.”
More on the decline:
At old colleges like Harvard, moral philosophy, with civic education a major component, was once a capstone course required of all seniors. But the subject went into decline after the Civil War, as science became ascendant and universities gave pre-eminence to research. As science either marginalized or helped transform other subjects, citizens’ responsibilities for the public good were squeezed out of the mission of higher education. Moral philosophy became a marginal specialty within philosophy departments. At Amherst College, for example, the president still taught moral philosophy to all seniors in 1895; by 1905, it was but a single elective offering.
If you think about it, it’s not at all surprising that the generations coming up are so ignorant about our political system. And this is not the result of accident.
Start-ups are particularly wary, Andreessen said, of legislation proposed recently by Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that would compel tech companies to build technical methods to share customers’ encrypted data, at a court’s request.
“They believe there’s this window of opportunity that if we build strong encryption now, we can make it a fait accompli. But if we let five years pass, it may never happen,” Andreessen said.
In the past two years, more companies have embraced encryption, which scrambles information so that it looks like a stream of unintelligible characters to an outsider who accessed it without permission. What’s changed more recently, industry officials say, is that companies are encrypting data and throwing away the key to prevent their gaining access, a move that started with Apple but is spreading across the Valley.
This latter tactic is the most worrisome to law enforcement. Government officials have said repeatedly they do not want to outlaw encryption; FBI Director James B. Comey has called strong encryption a vital means of protecting the public’s personal information from hackers.
But officials insist that there must be a technical means to access that information when companies are served with warrants. Otherwise, there will be “profound consequences for public safety,” Comey told Congress in March. Terrorists and criminals are already using messaging services to which tech companies have thrown away the key, he said. Investigators say two such services, WhatsApp and Telegram, were used by terrorists in the Paris attacks last November.
I have very mixed feelings about all of this. I see the point of both sides of the argument. Distrust of government is, unfortunately, both rampant and in some cases justified. But there are very real dangers associated with encryption and lack of government ability to break it under certain circumstances. Basically, companies are now trying to put the keys in the hands of the user and keep themselves out of it to a large extent, in order to avoid a situation where they’ll be in a row with the government such as the one Apple faced earlier this year.
Posted by neo-neocon at 2:17 pm. Filed under: Liberty
So it’s probably time to revisit this Jenna Marbles video about packing. This is me, unfortunately—a “just in case” packer. Plus, just my hair products alone weigh several pounds:
I used to send boxes ahead of time for longer trips. But in recent years, the price of sending a box has become exorbitant, so I’ve stopped doing that. Now I just take an extra suitcase if need be (still only $35 on Jet Blue and free on Southwest) and rent one of those cute little carts at the airport.
This next one is apropos of nothing, but I like it so much I’m just going to throw it in:
Actually, maybe it does have something to do with travel. When I returned my rented car at the airport on my most recent trip, in the flurry of activity I left my black coat on the black rear seat. I needed that coat for my Boston airport arrival, and luckily Enterprise got it right back to me, dispensing someone to drive it over to the departure drop-off area where I stood (with my cart and my suitcases), waiting. Now that’s service.
Lastly, if you—like me—sometimes skirt the 50-pound limit on your luggage, this is a great purchase I recently made and am very happy indeed with it:
I’ve figured out a new way to do Amazon links; if you click on that photo above, it leads you to Amazon. I can’t find the exact size I got, which was about a 28-incher and weighs 5.3 pounds, far lighter than other suitcases of its size and yet very strong. The zippers and the wheels glide like dreams, too, and it comes in a myriad of colors and sizes. On Amazon (and sometimes at TJ Maxx) you can find them quite inexpensively.
I recently flew from coast to coast. I remain in awe of how fast and well it is usually done, really a marvel of modern machinery and manpower. I’ve driven coast to coast many times in years past, and I know just how wide the country is. But when I watch that little cartoon airplane on the Jet Blue screen travel across the map of the US, it seems to be moving from state to state with such ease and rapidity it might well just be a piece on a board game like checkers.
But still, I’ve got the following observations:
(1) If airlines tell you to get to the airport at least 3 hours early because of TSA lines, they also should have someone at the departure desk to take checked luggage 3 hours early. At one airport where I complied with the suggestion, they did not—and we passengers stood in line there for about an hour, before ever getting anywhere near the TSA lines (which, by the way, were non-existent).
(2) How is it that so many people can fall asleep on the redeye and remain asleep through everything? Do they all take heavy-duty sleeping pills? Or have they just adapted better than I have to modern life?
(3) Why do so many flight attendants these days make all their announcements in an extremely rapid monotone? It sounds like they’re reciting the possible side effects on a prescription medication ad on TV.
(4) What can a person do if—as happened to me on my most recent flight—the passenger next to them snores in a truly alarming fashion, with loud snorts and choking and gurgling sounds and in no particular rhythm? And when that snoring next-seat-neighbor has some sort of restless leg syndrome as well, and keeps vigorously encroaching on your leg space with their leg, even while snoringly asleep? Oh, let me add that the flight was completely full, so movement to another seat didn’t seem possible.
(5) On the other hand, those Terra chips are pretty good for freebies.
For years, the Clintons and Trump used to be friends—or what passes for friends these days among the rich, famous, narcissistic, and hypocritical.
That’s one of the reasons why, early this primary season, a lot of people thought Trump was just a stalking horse for Hillary. I didn’t ascribe to that theory, and it seems even less likely to be true now that Trump has been reviving and re-airing some of the most sordid Bill Clinton allegations from the past.
“He defended Bill Clinton for years. He said the same allegations that [he is] talking about now were a waste of time, were wrong, were hollow, that Bill Clinton was a terrific guy. That he was a great president, that the impeachment was wrong, that it was a waste of time…” the host of CNN’s New Day Chris Cuomo rattled off.
But as Trump supporter and attorney Michael Cohen has explained:
[In the 90s Trump] was a private citizen who was friendly with the Clintons and he was trying to protect a friend. Now, it’s a different game. It’s 2016, he is the Republican presidential nominee.
Yes, it’s a different game. One of Trump’s most salient characteristics is that he is willing and able to turn on a dime without an ounce of shame—friend one minute, enemy the next, depending on whether you are in his way or not. We saw that phenomenon demonstrated during the Republican primaries.
Now, Hillary Clinton is an interesting—even unique—candidate in many ways. Not only is she (like Trump) unpopular to an unprecedented degree for a party’s almost-certain nominee, but she first entered the national consciousness as First-Lady-to-be and later drew attention as First Lady saddled with a philandering husband. When Bill was first running for president, Hillary said she wasn’t just some little woman standing by her man:
And yet the public had the experience just a few years later of watching her turn into exactly and precisely that, in the most humiliating way possible.
Many of us remember. But enough years have passed that younger voters probably don’t know much about it at all, and so Trump is kindly reminding them (and us) of the history. He’s also serving notice that those who would criticize him for his affairs should take a good look at the sins of the opposition, and that there’s a price to pay for taking up that line of attack against him.
Traditionally, candidates’ spouses have been considered off-limits from attacks by other candidates during campaigns (although we’ve had the Melania/Heidi wars this time). But Bill Clinton is as special a spouse as Hillary is a candidate. Maybe even more so. After all, he was the president, and a very popular 2-term one at that. He also was proven to have boldly lied to the American people back in the days when lying actually would have been thought to have meant something, and yet he remained very popular.
In a recent thread, commenter “Mrs Whatsit” wrote this:
…it seems to me that after the past eight years and what’s clearly coming next – the election, either way, of an impossible disaster to the presidency and then the necessary consequences, whatever they may be – some central assumption or understanding is already irretrievably gone, some shared idea that was once organically part of who we are but, once lost, can never be artificially recreated.
I agree. I’ve been searching for what it might be, and I’ve decided it’s not one thing but many. However, one very important shared idea that we’ve lost is the notion that presidents should be people of integrity. And if we discover they’re not, more of us used to be shocked and disappointed and disapproving. I think very few on right or left care about that sort of thing any more, and Bill Clinton was just one step along the way. I sometimes think that “integrity” (like “honor”) has become an obsolete word.
[NOTE: This is a somewhat-edited version of a post that first appeared in December of 2006.]
Make no mistake about it: if those leftists who defend Islamist terrorists and the regimes that sponsor them and deplore US efforts to stop them had their way, the other side (Islamist totalitarianism) might get its way and become victorious in its goal of a worldwide caliphate. Then not only would there be no sites left like this, but such people would find their own freedom curtailed so forcefully that they would no longer be able to be trolls on conservative blogs. And that would be the least of their (and our) worries.
I’ve often wondered about the failure of the Left to understand this very simple fact. Surely, they are interested in the Enlightenment values of reason, human rights (such as for homosexuals and for women) and individual freedom? Surely they understand what sharia law is all about? Surely they understand that these people are quite serious?
But no; a rather large segment of the left attributes all third-world violence and ills to the always-dastardly doings of those twin repositories of all that’s really evil: the Great and Little Satans, the US and Israel. Yes, yes, yes, of course; it’s the corruption of the US and Israel that is the cause of all the flaws of the Arab world, and if those things went away all the other problems would magically go away—(or perhaps “wither away,” in the old Marxist phrase).
What’s going on here? I believe that at least part of the answer lies in the philosophical underpinnings of Leftist thought. One of these days I hope to write a long post on its origins in the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who had a similar reductionist theory of human nature and history (a while back I waded through this book on the subject, which I highly recommend).
To Rousseau, civilization and society (and reason itself, to a certain extent) were corrupting influences, and must be reformed to better reflect the condition of pre-civilized humanity—supposedly a happy state of nature in which people were at peace and non-exploitative towards each other. Civilization led to power inequities and private property (very important to Rousseau, as well as to his heirs, the Jacobins, the Left, and the Communists) and all sorts of unfairness that needed redressing by a state that was not afraid to use Draconian measures and subordinate the people to its will.
In Rousseau’s seminal Social Contract (which, along with Hobbes’ Leviathan, we were made to read in public high school; somehow I doubt whether that’s still the case) he writes [my emphasis]:
…whoever refuses to obey the general will will be forced to do so by the entire body [the public and the state]; this means merely that he will be forced to be free…[if the leaders of the state say to the citizen] “it is expedient for the state that you should die,” he should die.
So the resemblance of the Left to Islamist fundamentalist totalitarianism isn’t such a stretch after all. The similarity is their profound dislike of modernism, jettisoning of individual freedom for a sort of mythical collective freedom that will be expressed in the general will, the embrace of violent methods for achieving this heaven on earth, and the glorification of feeling over reason. It’s all there in the left’s hero, Rousseau–whether they’ve read him or not.
I decided to feature two today. Compare and contrast—
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I’ve noticed that a lot of people on the right have had it with politics, at least for now. After many years of struggling to explain the details of the Iraq War and why it was waged rather than why people think it was waged, after nearly two terms of assimilating each fresh outrage from the Obama administration and frustration with Congress for not fighting back hard enough, people were ready for an invigorating change.
The primaries dawned, with so many credible and viable GOP candidates it seemed an embarrassment of riches. Some (approximately a third) on the right were enthusiastic about Donald Trump, and remain so. Everyone else—plus most Democrats and just about all the people I know—are demoralized and confused, worn out by day after day of news they don’t like about people they don’t admire who are now our designated leaders.
It’s come to a pretty pass. As some pundit somewhere said, we had a long arduous process to separate the wheat from the chaff, and we did so. Unfortunately we threw out the wheat and kept the chaff.
Even political junkies in the blogosphere are tired. I sense it. For the last month or so on this blog, traffic has been up and down but in general down a bit from the fairly stable levels it had been pulling for years. Traffic often goes down somewhat when the nice weather comes, but it seems somewhat more extreme this year. I think this may be true for a lot of blogs, although I have no way of knowing. But it makes sense to me that enthusiasm is down, hope is down, and some people would like to ignore the whole thing.
Now that Trump and Clinton seem to be the obvious nominees, we’re in a holding period, a waiting period. People can speculate all they want (and we do, we do!) about who will win in the epic match between Hillary and Trump, and what each might do if elected, but there are so many unknowns right now it’s really a bunch of blah-blah-blah at this point. The primaries were unusually fascinating, and although it was a fascination tinged with mounting anxiety and even horror, it was hard to turn away. Now a lot people are turning away.
I’m trying to write less about Trump/Hillary for now. That does not mean I won’t write about them, but it just means that I’m trying to take the long view and branch out a bit more than I have in recent months—although there’s always this possibility:
[ADDENDUM: Perhaps in my own self-interest I need to add that I hope your understandable weariness doesn’t extend to the myriad delights involved in reading this blog.]
The charges were second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and two counts of misconduct in office:
WJZ’s Ron Matz says the trial was attended by a group of Baltimore City police officers, most in plain clothes. After the verdict was read, they came up to Nero one by one, embracing him and patting him on the back. Nero was seen with tears in his eyes.
On the other hand, there was predictable fury from those who have been on the protest lines:
According to WJZ’s Mike Schuh, who was outside the courthouse, there was a huge “roar of disapproval” that came from the protesters outside.
One of the people leading the charge is Rev. Wesley West.
“I’m angry because this is what we deal with, and when I say ‘we,’ we’re talking about the black community and I’m a part of and represent that community as well, it seems like we have no voice when it comes to these issues,” he said. “When it comes to conversations like this, we’re not involved. This should have been a jury trial where the community had a voice in this case.
I assume that the Rev. West is against a defendant having a choice between a judge and a jury trial? I bet not—not in all cases, just in the ones he’d like to see tried by jury. And I also bet that, if Nero had chosen a jury and the jury had acquitted him, Rev. West would have been denouncing the jury system or the jurors, who (whatever their race or other demographic characteristics) would have been found by West to have not represented “the community.”
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the right thing, however (which is somewhat of a surprise, given her history; see this and this, for example):
Today Judge Barry G. Williams found Officer Edward Nero not guilty of all criminal charges. This is our American system of justice and police officers must be afforded the same justice system as every other citizen in this city, state, and country. Now that the criminal case has come to an end, Officer Nero will face an administrative review by the Police Department. We once again ask the citizens to be patient and to allow the entire process to come to a conclusion. In the case of any disturbance in the city, we are prepared to respond. We will protect our neighborhoods, our businesses and the people of our city.
I’ve not seen any articles reporting on the verdict that mention this, but I note that the presiding judge in the case is a black man. To me this seems like a great advantage, at least potentially, in placating the rage. Of course, if he doesn’t find some of the other defendants guilty in later trials, to some people it will make no difference what race Williams belongs to and they will be fighting mad. In addition, other defendants may end up preferring a jury for one reason or another. Each person’s case is different and some are stronger than others (although IMHO they are all weak), with Officer Nero’s case being one of the very weakest of all.
[NOTE: Legal Insurrection has had excellent and thorough coverage of the case from attorney Andrew Branca. You can read today’s analysis from Branca here.]
But do many people know about their master, Pavlov himself?
The other day I started to wonder—apropos of just about nothing—why dogs? And was Pavlov mean to his dogs, or were they treated well? That curiosity led to learning something about a fascinating, laudable man—Ivan Pavlov—about whom I’d previously known next to nothing.
Take a look:
After completing his doctorate, Pavlov went to Germany where he studied in Leipzig with Carl Ludwig in the Heidenhain laboratories in Breslau. He remained there from 1884 to 1886. Heidenhain was studying digestion in dogs, using an exteriorized section of the stomach.
So it started with studying digestion, with dogs as the subject.
In 1891, Pavlov was invited to the Imperial Institute of Experimental Medicine in St. Petersburg to organize and direct the Department of Physiology. Over a 45-year period, under his direction it became one of the most important centers of physiological research…
In 1904, Pavlov was awarded the Nobel Prize “in recognition of his work on the physiology of digestion, through which knowledge on vital aspects of the subject has been transformed and enlarged”.
While at the Institute of Experimental Medicine he carried out his classical experiments on the digestive glands which is how he eventually won the Nobel prize mentioned above. Pavlov investigated the gastric function of dogs, and later, children, by externalizing a salivary gland so he could collect, measure, and analyze the saliva and what response it had to food under different conditions.
And then he noticed something surprising, and decided to look into it:
He noticed that the dogs tended to salivate before food was actually delivered to their mouths, and set out to investigate this “psychic secretion”, as he called it.
This is how he treated his dogs:
Pavlov’s laboratory housed a full-scale kennel for the experimental animals. Pavlov was interested in observing their long-term physiological processes. This required keeping them alive and healthy in order to conduct chronic experiments, as he called them. These were experiments over time, designed to understand the normal functions of animals. This was a new kind of study, because previously experiments had been “acute,” meaning that the dog went through vivisection and was ultimately killed in the process.
But perhaps best of all is how he later dealt with the Soviets:
Pavlov was highly regarded by the Soviet government, and he was able to continue his research until he reached a considerable age. He was praised by Lenin. However, despite the praise from the Soviet Union government, the money that poured out to support his laboratory, and the honours he was given, Pavlov made no attempts to conceal the disapproval and contempt in which he held Soviet Communism. For example, in 1923 he claimed that he would not sacrifice even the hind leg of a frog to the type of social experiment that the regime was conducting in Russia. Also, in 1927, he wrote to Stalin protesting at what was being done to Russian intellectuals and saying he was ashamed to be a Russian. After the murder of Sergei Kirov in 1934, Pavlov wrote several letters to Molotov criticizing the mass persecutions which followed and asking for the reconsideration of cases pertaining to several people he knew personally.
He could get away with it because of the esteem in which he was held. But it was still brave of him.
His lab is now a museum.
[NOTE: In case you’re not familiar with Pavlov’s major work with dogs and salivation, here’s an explanation:
The concept for which Pavlov is famous is the “conditioned reflex” (or in his own words the conditional reflex) he developed jointly with his assistant Ivan Filippovitch Tolochinov in 1901. He had come to learn this concept of conditioned reflex when examining the rates of salivations among dogs. Pavlov had learned that when a buzzer or metronome was sounded in subsequent time with food being presented to the dog in consecutive sequences, the dog would initially salivate when the food was presented. The dog would later come to associate the sound with the presentation of the food and salivate upon the presentation of that stimulus…
It is popularly believed that Pavlov always signaled the occurrence of food by ringing a bell. However, his writings record the use of a wide variety of stimuli, including electric shocks, whistles, metronomes, tuning forks, and a range of visual stimuli, in addition to the ring of a bell.]
I’ve long known the basics of the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. You probably do, too. But except for the history buffs among you, some of the details may have escaped you, as they had escaped me.
Right now I’m reading a book by Christopher Hibbert called The Days of the French Revolution, and I’ve had to put it down periodically to rest from the horror I’m reading, as well as to think about it—even though, as I said, I already knew the broad outlines of what happened.
Here are a couple of the things I’d never thought about before: most of the protagonists were trained as lawyers. And most were young—some really really young (for example, Robespierre’s ironically-named right-hand man Saint-Just, one of the coldest and cruelist of them all, was 25-26 years old during the height of the Reign of Terror, and Robespierre himself was a relative elder statesmen when he became an influential revolutionary at barely 30).
Here is a quote from Robespierre which I found at this website. Robespierre justified what he did in the Terror this way:
If the basis of popular government in peacetime is virtue, the basis of popular government during a revolution is both virtue and terror; virtue, without which terror is baneful; terror, without which virtue is powerless. Terror is nothing more than speedy, severe and inflexible justice; it is thus an emanation of virtue; it is less a principle in itself, than a consequence of the general principle of democracy, applied to the most pressing needs of the patrie.
In other words, the ends justify the means.
At that same website, Marisa Linton describes the process:
[Robespierre] had an unshakable belief that his own aims coincided with what was best for the Revolution. He was a man of painful sincerity. He was not a hypocrite. He really did believe that the Terror could sustain the republic of virtue. But he was naturally self-righteous, suspicious and unforgiving. All these qualities came to the fore as it became evident that while the Terror played a key part in winning the war and quelling the counter-revolution, it was having the reverse effect as far as installing the republic of virtue was concerned, undermining any genuine enthusiasm for the Revolution.
Very early in the uprising that became known as the French Revolution, massacres had been perpetrated by the mob itself. During the Reign of Terror, revolutionary leaders Robespierre and many of the other Jacobins rationalized their use of government as an instrument of terror to prevent more terror by the mob:
The most notorious instance of the crowd’s rough justice was the prison massacres of September 1792, when around 2,000 people, including priests and nuns, were dragged from their prison cells, and subjected to summary ‘justice’. The Convention was determined to avoid a repeat of these brutal scenes, but that meant taking violence into their own hands as an instrument of government.
When the Convention debated the fate of Louis XVI, now a prisoner of the revolutionaries, Robespierre and his youthful colleague, Saint-Just (1767-94) – also once an opponent of the death penalty – led the way in claiming that ‘Louis must die in order for the Revolution to live’. Robespierre…was coming to the conclusion that the ends justified the means, and that in order to defend the Revolution against those who would destroy it, the shedding of blood was justified.
In June 1793, the sans-culottes, exasperated by the inadequacies of the government, invaded the Convention and overthrew the Girondins. In their place they endorsed the political ascendancy of the Jacobins. Thus Robespierre came to power on the back of popular street violence. Though the Girondins and the Jacobins were both on the extreme left, and shared many of the same radical republican convictions, the Jacobins were much more brutally efficient in setting up a war government…
…As fellow revolutionary Danton said, “let us be terrible in order to stop the people from being so”…
Many people in France were already indifferent, if not openly hostile, to the Revolution. For many the Revolution now meant requisitioning of supplies, military conscription and the constant threat to their traditional ways of life, churches, even time – for the revolutionaries had even invented a new calendar. Throughout the year of Jacobin rule, it was the sans-culottes who kept them in power. But the price of that support was the blood-letting.
Food for thought. Let me add that once Robespierre and confederates like Saint-Just had been guillotined by former colleagues who had (justifiably) become afraid that they themselves would be next on the block, the Terror abated—although massacres and killings and suffering continued on a somewhat smaller scale. Society and civil order had been broken, and the task of putting them back together (never in the same way, of course) was long and arduous.
Why am I interested? I’ve had a lifelong fascination for the ways in which “good intentions” can lead to—well, you know where they can lead to—and just how it has happened time and again in human history. The French Revolution was just one example, a populist movement of the left based on a philosophy that ignores human nature, run by people who seem to have had no idea what they had unleashed or how to control it.
Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon. Read More >>