As my fellow editor-to-the-stars, Jon Gabriel, noted earlier this week, Montana Democratic Senator John Walsh is in—to use the term of art—a mess of trouble. It looks likely that Walsh lifted large parts of his master’s thesis at the Army War College from outside sources, including an article in Foreign Affairs and Natan Sharansky’s book The Case for Democracy. (Walsh hardly bothered to make even cosmetic changes to the text, leaving it a toss up whether he is more to be loathed for cheating or pitied for how bad he is at it).
I wasn’t particularly shocked by this story—not because it’s within the range of acceptable behavior, but because it seems so pedestrian by contemporary standards. These days, if your political scandal doesn’t feature a prostitute, a crack pipe, or some transcontinental gun-running it just seems like you’re not taking the job that seriously. If anything shocked me about Walsh’s story it’s that you can apparently get a master’s degree from the Army War College with a 14-page paper. In other words, Victor Davis Hanson could’ve knocked it out in the time it took you to get this point in the post—but the task apparently broke the iron ethical resolve of John Walsh.Read On
While at the Netroots Nation conference in Detroit last week, I attended a few panels on public education. I’ve kept up to date on the school choice movement for the past few years, but hadn’t witnessed an anti-choice meeting for quite some time.
Compared to the education reformers’ message of optimism, enterprise and fresh thinking, the Netroots discussions seemed like an alternate universe — and a grim one at that.Read On
Today I addressed the United States Commission on Civil Rights to talk about the role that federal law and regulations have played in encouraging campus speech codes. Here is my testimony:
If you had told me before I started working at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, the leading defender of free speech rights on college campuses, that I would routinely battle the startling misapplications of harassment codes to punish speech that is clearly protected by the First Amendment, I probably wouldn’t have believed you.Read On
Yesterday, while perusing the headlines that chronicle the self mutilation that is US foreign policy under Barack Obama, I paused to look in on friends and topics here on Ricochet, wherein I found that our own Fred Cole has stirred the pudding, so to speak. I have a great deal of affection for Fred and his lovely wife, both of whom I had the pleasure of meeting last year at a Ricochet gathering in Las Vegas. A one-man distillery of compelling argument and straightforward prose, Fred has a gift for being simultaneously provocative and good-natured, so I hope I will not run afoul of his good graces when I paraphrase Bill Buckley in saying that while I’d like to take Fred’s stance on immigration seriously, I’m afraid that doing so would insult his intelligence.
I remember several years ago, while driving to southern California where I had hoped to visit with Rob Long during a layover in Fontana (the schedules didn’t work out), calling him with my revelation that the folks at Rand McNally (the road atlas people) were actually communists. This was due to the fact that, while the highways on their maps appeared straight and simple, the reality was a convoluted, twisted, coagulated mess that had no resemblance at all to the neat lines in their little book, hearkening to the oft-repeated critique that while communism looked plausible on paper, the reality of its application was catastrophic.Read On
In 1780, François de Barbé Marbois, a French diplomat, sent a series of questions to each of the 13 states. His goal: To compile a report, to be sent back to Paris, on the economic life of the new country. In Virginia, the questions were forwarded to the state’s governor, Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson’s answers were eventually published as Notes on the State of Virginia. Among its most famous passages is Jefferson’s paean to agriculture:Read On
I flew into Ben Gurion Airport outside Tel Aviv a week ago today. On the evening I arrived, I received by email an invitation to join a Hillsdale College cruise as a shipboard lecturer and to bring my wife along for the ride. I was scheduled to leave Ben Gurion airport at 12:20 a.m. on Saturday, the 26th of July — which is to say, tonight. I am scheduled to be in Istanbul for the cruise on Tuesday, the 29th.
At first, I thought this impossible! Then, I thought again. I was to arrive at the Detroit Airport at 11:12 a.m. on the 26th. My wife could pick me up and we could then drive directly to her parents’ home in Maine, drop off the children, leave the car, take the bus down to Logan Airport in Boston on the 28th, and fly from there to Istanbul.Read On
I’ve been reading with great interest the threads from Salvatore, Ryan and Midge on elitism, meritocracy, and higher education. I discovered them too late to get into the discussion, but I’ll throw in an oar by asking a question: do Americans value intelligence too much? I was recently reading this piece on parenting around the world, which claims that Americans care far more about raising “smart” kids than, say, the Dutch, who actually worry that having a smarty-pants child may be a bad thing.
This is not a foolish concern. Intelligence can be an asset in a wide range of circumstances, but it can also be isolating, and can increase the odds of a person ending up jaded, bored, or insufferably arrogant. In Coming Apart, Charles Murray explains his theory about how higher education allowed the new upper class to get ahead through their smarts, winning the good, brainy jobs that were suddenly more abundant in an information economy. They then took their lavish salaries and formed enclaves of snooty people who look down on the rest of us.Read On
The topic of lethal injection lends itself to analysis from numerous perspectives. I approach it as a reluctant and ambivalent opponent of the death penalty. That view derives from two overriding principles: one, the state (federal or otherwise) is not the owner of citizens’ lives and ought not have the power to extinguish them; two, the state — demonstrably incompetent to deliver mail, control national borders, or even conduct credible elections — is not competent to do so.
Having said that, I only hope to impart to Ricochet members the actual medical facts surrounding this controversy. The media are way off the mark in what passes for “reporting” on this topic. Whatever one’s opinions regarding the death penalty or the methods used, actual facts are helpful. I have no agenda here to persuade anyone of anything. As I said, my own opinion is highly ambivalent.Read On
I’m doing research for a consulting project and came across this little gem. It’s a simple breakdown of staff and students in the entire University of California system that gives a pretty clear indication of why the state is falling apart. (The information comes from UC Financial Reports).
Academic staff—18,896 (Fall 2011) — [update: this number would be better labeled full-time instructors. UC considers student TAs and non-instruction research as academic staff, and list 42,327 FTEs as Academic staff. However, subtracting TAs and research, this number is pretty accurate.]Read On
I usually like reading Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball. He’s a smart and dispassionate observer of the horse race.
In his latest roundup of the battle for the Senate, he comes to roughly the same conclusion everyone else is — that the Senate is very much winnable for the Republicans. But then he adds something more, something tantalizing, something, frankly, that is too delicious to hope for:Read On
Some people really don’t like “big box” retailers. The openings of new stores, particularly in cities, are frequently accompanied by protests. Recall that Occupy Wall Street targeted retailers, including Wal-Mart, Target, and Best Buy. Critics knock these companies for a variety of reason, including low wages, meager benefits, and their effect on local “mom and pop” stores.
But a new study suggests the big boxes are good for wages and upward mobility. From the new NBER working paper “Do Large Modern Retailers Pay Premium Wages?” by Brianna Cardiff-Hicks, Francine Lafontaine, and Kathryn Shaw:Read On
I’ve been pitching Professor Epstein this episode of the podcast for a while—a guided tour through the Supreme Court justices he believes history has unjustly forgotten. There’ll be a lot of unfamiliar names from the late 19th and early 20th century, as well as a lot of insight into the qualities that Richard thinks make a great justice. Come for the whirlwind tour through American legal history, stay for the rousing defense of the presidency of Warren G. Harding!
Richard Epstein recently wrote about President Obama’s new executive order refusing federal contracts to organizations that discriminate against gays and lesbians, including religious organizations. The order has already created a mini firestorm here on the North Shore of Boston.
It might surprise some readers to hear that in Wenham, Massachusetts, a little north of Salem, is a theologically conservative Christian institution of higher learning: Gordon College. You might think having a conservative college like this in true blue Massachusetts would make it a perpetual vortex of the culture wars, but Gordon is conservative in an old-style New England way, concentrating on making their community one of virtue in following Christ and essentially staying out of everyone else’s business; in particular, staying out of politics. The Gordon administration and their alumni, spread out over the area, are known for being mild-mannered and compassionate; basically just good people, as this editorial in the Salem Evening News points out (while insisting that Gordon is getting what it deserves.)Read On
Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post wrote a piece this week about the inability of modern Presidents to be successful, identifying three factors that made it nearly impossible for Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama to live up to their promise or their desires as President.
Cillizza argues that three large trends (the decline of the bully pulpit, Washington’s relentless partisanship, and the end of the traditional media) make being President a no-win. There’s little doubt that the increasing partisanship and the evolution of the media climate play a role, but, on the bully pulpit front, I think he’s off-target, particularly regarding Obama.Read On
From a friend who just watched the Uncommon Knowledge interview with Steve Wynn:
Steve Wynn was great — an unexpectedly good story teller. Michael Lewis, George Gilder, Charles Ellis, Walter Isaacson and others have shown that the stories behind American business are fascinating.Read On
If I had more faith in the capabilities of the Obama Administration—if I was willing to ignore Occam’s Razor and attribute to malice that which can be more readily explained by incompetence—I’d be thinking right about now that the hailstorm of controversies over the last few months—the Russian presence in Ukraine, the surge of Central American child immigrants, the VA scandal, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Hobby Lobby case, the president’s assertion that the constitution entitles him to the right of droit du seigneur, the IRS debacle, the Bowe Bergdahl swap, the ongoing Obamacare fight, the first quarter economic growth numbers—have all been part of a darkly genius plan (and yes, one item on that list is purely to separate the readers from the skimmers). With the zone sufficiently flooded—with every day essentially turned into a news dump Friday— it’s easy to miss the newest developments; even those as provocative as, say, the latest on the IRS scandal. From Byron York in the Washington Examiner:
Top IRS officials told congressional investigators that Lois Lerner‘s hard drive — the one containing emails that could shed light on the IRS targeting scandal – was irreparably damaged before it was destroyed completely in 2011. But now, investigators have had a chance to talk to the technical experts inside the IRS who actually examined Lerner’s computer, and the experts say the hard drive in question was actually just “scratched,” and that most of the data on it was recoverable.Read On
“Sooner or later, academic dishonesty will be discovered,” the Army War College warns in its student handbook. A graduate degree from the prestigious school indicates not only academic rigor, but harder to find attributes of honor and integrity.
Army War College grad Sen. John Walsh (D–Mont.) has used that reputation to promote his political career. But according to a piece in today’s New York Times, he appears to be guilty of plagiarism:Read On
Fred Cole started a thread responding to my comments on last week’s flagship podcast (how about this for a name?: “Let’s Ro.L.L.”, in the spirit of GLoP) about immigration. In any such discussion, comments can wander in many directions, as they did here with explorations of immigration’s interaction with welfare, the economy, etc. Those are important matters, but secondary ones. The first node on the decision tree is whether immigration policy is even subject to democratic control. I, and virtually every other American, answer “yes,” a judgment that leads to an endless number of other decisions regarding how many immigrants we allow in, how we choose them, what characteristics we’re looking for, how we enforce the rules, etc..
Fred answers “no,” which is the end of the discussion. His contention, and that of other open-borders libertarians, is that We the People have no right to act collectively to regulate immigration. This is a perfectly respectable, internally coherent point of view that, unfortunately, negates the very concept of self-government. Indeed, it negates the concept of nationhood itself—or at least rejects any political expression of nationhood. Democracy requires a demos, a people, with sovereign rights. If the people, through constitutionally established procedures, lack “the power to exclude from the sovereign’s territory people who have no right to be there” (that’s Justice Scalia’s description of “the defining characteristic of sovereignty”), then collective self-government would appear to be illegitimate. That way lies anarchism.Read On
Everything you thought you knew about what to eat and what not to eat is wrong. That’s the thesis of guest Nina Teicholz’s book The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat, and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet. No, Need to Know has not become the Today Show, and Mona hastens to clarify that she finds diet discussions a major bore. Teicholz’s book is something different – a deep reflection on how scientists, public health authorities, government bodies, and nutritionists could have gotten it so wrong for so long. Teicholz doesn’t shrink from drawing lessons about other areas where conventional wisdom might be mistaken.
Jay and Mona then move on to the competing appeals court decisions on Obamacare this week. Looking forward to a Supreme Court resolution, Jay notes that it’s never the liberal justices who surprise us.Read On
It was very nice of Mark Krikorian to mention me and my recent post during the last Ricochet Flagship podcast. If you’re interested, here is the podcast, and the relevant section can be found starting around the 55:00 mark.
I need to respond to a few things Mark said. First, I’m not a member of the “political class,” and if their position is at all similar to mine, that people should be able to move freely across borders, well that’s news to me. Would that it were so! If it were, frankly, we wouldn’t be having the problems we’re having with this. It’s not a lack of action on the part of the government to exclude people that’s causing problems, rather its the federal government’s byzantine immigration system that in no way matches reality. This graphic from the good people at Reason gives you a good idea of what the system looks like. The government’s legal immigration system has the efficiency and rationality of the VA or the Post Office. (When I ran that graphic by a friend of mine, now back in England because she left when she was asked to, she dismissed it as oversimplified.) Small wonder people, when faced with an non-functional immigration system choose to avoid the system all together.Read On
Apparently, you do!
Last week, I received a charming e-mail from Troy Senik—the secret to charm, my friends, is lavish flattery—telling me that I was much missed on Ricochet and asking if I might consider visiting now and again. Just by coincidence, the next e-mail in my spam folder (sorry, Troy, I’ve adjusted the filter now), was titled “WIN HIM BACK—EVEN IF HE’S ALREADY WITH SOMEONE ELSE.” Applying the wisdom from e-mail B to e-mail A, I prudently waited 48 hours to answer.Read On
Democrats know how to reach voters. I’m not talking about using better data or GOTV techniques – I mean how to reach people emotionally. That’s exactly the point of the new video – “Run Liz Run” – promoting Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Set to a catchy folk-song it’s a portrait of enthusiastic supporters carrying signs and cheering for the Senator as she gives a passionate speech at the progressive Netroots Nation conference. It makes you feel hopeful, excited about the prospects of seeing a woman in the White House, and paints politics as accessible.
Despite the video’s positive vibe, however, it’s clear supporters of Liz Warren view life in America as inherently unfair. “Run Liz Run” calls for a “leader who won’t stand for all the Wall Street bull—-;” stresses that “people think the system is rigged because it is,” and reminds us that “nobody got rich on their own, not nobody.” The video skillfully pits Americans against one another – a technique Warren has already perfected, by using the word “fighting” with great frequency – without ever making the viewer feel angry.Read On
Meritocracy has two major problems. The “merit” part and the “-ocracy” part.
Most people unwittingly use “merit” to conflate two different ideas. While “merit” can be used to denote any admirable quality, “merit” is also typically opposed to “luck” — that is, “merit” is what you “deserve” after luck is factored out of the equation.Read On