Dumbass Douthat and the clueless conservative perspective

Good god, but the most appalling morons can find a comfortable sinecure on the opinion pages of that blithe harbor for the right-wing tropes of the bourgeois, the NY Times. The latest is some nonsense from the routinely nonsensical Ross Douthat, “Break up the liberal city”. You got the gist from the title — he’d like to somehow rip apart all those big cities, because they’re hotbeds of liberalism.

We should treat liberal cities the way liberals treat corporate monopolies — not as growth-enhancing assets, but as trusts that concentrate wealth and power and conspire against the public good. And instead of trying to make them a little more egalitarian with looser zoning rules and more affordable housing, we should make like Teddy Roosevelt and try to break them up.

Right. Because, like monopolies, big cities are artificial constructs built by violating rules of organic growth and evading regulation. Oh, wait: the opposite of that. He doesn’t seem to consider that maybe it’s not that liberals created cities, but that the diversity and richness of life within a city creates liberals. He also doesn’t have a proposal for how he’s going to disrupt this property of cities. Perhaps he’s going to model it after Mao’s down to the countryside movement? But you know how it goes: scratch a conservative, find an authoritarian.

But I have even greater contempt for his next proposal:

Which is why we’ll go further, starting with the deep-pocketed elite universities clustered around our bloated megalopolises. We’ll tax their endowments heavily, but offer exemptions for schools that expand their student bodies with satellite campuses in areas with well-below-the-median average incomes. M.I.T.-in-Flint has a certain ring to it. So does Stanford-Buffalo, or Harvard-on-the-Mississippi.

HAS THIS ASSHOLE NEVER HEARD OF LAND GRANT UNIVERSITIES? Every state has a network of them. I work in a satellite campus of the University of Minnesota; this branch is located in rural western Minnesota, 3 hours from Minneapolis. The University of Minnesota system has five branch campuses in the Twin Cities, Duluth, Crookston, Morris, and Rochester. We also have MNSCU, which grew from the old system of normal and agricultural colleges, and consists of a parallel network of 30 colleges, 7 universities, and 54 campuses (how can you have more campuses than colleges? Ridgewater College, for instance, has two campuses, one in Willmar and another in Hutchinson). There are 142 colleges in this state, counting all the private colleges, the community colleges, the tribal colleges, the vocational colleges, etc.

Where, exactly, does Harvard-on-the-Mississippi fit into this diverse ecosystem of educational institutions? What advantage would it have over, say, St Cloud State University or the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, which are all located on the banks of the Mississippi already?

I guess if you are a NY Times pundit, you never need to look at how the world actually works to criticize it. Or if you’re a Harvard graduate, like Douthat, you can’t imagine a university that isn’t Harvard.

We’re not done yet

The crappy Republican version of health care went down in flames (yay!), but don’t get cocky, kids. We’re not done. The Republicans still control everything, and they’ve got less flashy, less public, sneakier plans to destroy everything you hold dear.

Like science.

Lamar Smith is still chair of house science committee, which is a ridiculous state of affairs in itself, and he spoke openly about his plans at a Heartland Institute conference — that’s right, the Heartland Institute, that far right source of outrageous denialism and lies. If that’s the “heart” of our “land”, then this land is in the terminal stages of congestive heart failure.

Here’s what he had to say, though:

Next week we’re going to have a hearing on our favorite subject of climate change and also on the scientific method, which has been repeatedly ignored by the so-called self-professed climate scientists, Smith told the Heartland Institute’s 12th annual conference on climate change in Washington, D.C.

Wait, what? A Texas Republican politician is accusing scientists of not giving him the result he wants because they ignore the scientific method, and he’s going to have a hearing on the scientific method? Does he think he can pass a law to change how science works? Yes, he does. He’s also going to juggle the terminology to undermine meaning, shamelessly.

Emboldened by the election of President Donald Trump, Smith appears increasingly comfortable dismissing those who disagree with his stance on any number of issues under the purview of his science committee, from climate research to the use of peer review in assessing research results and grant proposals. And one key element in his strategy appears to be relabeling common terms in hopes of shaping public dialogue.

He wants to somehow exert political influence on what research gets funded.

Smith also signaled that he plans to turn up the volume on his criticism of federally funded research that doesn’t fit his definition of “sound science.” In particular, he expressed support for writing legislation that would punish scientific journals that publish research that doesn’t fit standards of peer review crafted by Smith and the committee (although he didn’t say how that would be accomplished).

It is definitely the case that science has been and always will be influenced by politics and culture, but legislators, who clearly are not elected for their scientific acumen, are isolated from specific control — they own the purse-strings, but disbursement is handled by peer review, by the community of scientists themselves. When politicians meddle, they usually just end up exposing their own ignorance: see also Democrat William Proxmire’s Golden Fleece Award, which was usually a great embarrassment, or Republican Sarah Palin’s stupid remarks about fruit flies. Just on general principle, keep these yahoos away from stuff they don’t understand.

Oh, and look, he’s using the phrase sound science. I haven’t heard that one in a while. For a long time, it’s been an easily spotted tell that you’re dealing with a crank.

When used by scientists it means robustly supported science, confirmed by multiple peer-reviewed studies. When used in politics (generally by wingnuts) it means ideologically sound science, i.e. a euphemism for industry-funded pseudoscientific bullshit.

Smith is quite the happy vulture as he looks forward to feasting on the corpses of our natural resources and our scientific establishment.

In fact, as Smith told one audience member who worried that Trump might renege on some to his campaign promises, the sky’s the limit when it comes to dismantling the past 8 years of environmental regulations.

“I think the president has ushered in a permanent change in the political climate,” Smith asserted. “And by that I mean I think he’ll keep his promises and that he’ll do exactly what he said. You’re seeing that in his appointments, like Scott Pruitt at EPA, for example. So … I don’t think you’ll have any disappointment on any of those issues.”

The wreckers are still in charge, and we all have a long fight ahead of us.

They don’t even see a problem

Our vice president obliviously tweeted this out of his tweeter yesterday.

I truly wonder what he was thinking. Did he take a look at this photo and actually think “this is a proud moment for our administration, show it off to the world”? Did he notice, does he even care how this looks?

That’s not America in that room, but they’re deciding the fate of health care for all Americans.

Breaking news: Racists want you to stop calling them racists

Sam Altman, a gullible Silicon Valley entrepreneur with no sociological qualifications, sent himself on a self-appointed mission to talk to Trump supporters. This was an interesting and helpful experience, he says, although I’m fed up with attempts to puzzle out what Trumpkins have to say, so it was the opposite of interesting to me, and he fails to explain what’s helpful about yet another set of rationalizations. In particular, his “TL;DR summary” of the various conversations is just self-serving extortion, and no, I neither accept this claim nor am I going to obey this suggestion.

“You all can defeat Trump next time, but not if you keep mocking us, refusing to listen to us, and cutting us out. It’s Republicans, not Democrats, who will take Trump down.”

We’ve been listening. We’ve been listening a lot. And it’s the same old crap that justifies mocking them. Like this quote:

“Stop calling us racists. Stop calling us idiots. We aren’t. Listen to us when we try to tell you why we aren’t. Oh, and stop making fun of us.”

But…they are racists! This is a racist comment:

“I’m so tired of hearing about white privilege. I’m white but way less privileged than a black person from your world. I have no hope my life will ever get any better.”

So is this:

“He is anti-immigration.” Note: This sentiment came up a lot. The most surprising takeaway for me how little it seemed to be driven by economic concerns, and how much it was driven by fears about “losing our culture,” “safety,” “community,” and a general Us-vs.-Them mentality.

We can hear them saying they’re not racist, and then making racist comment after racist comment. But then we’re supposed to not mention that what they’re saying is incredibly racist? Why not?

I think it’s way past time we stopped making nice with racists. If it hurts their feelings to point out that they’re racists, there are a couple of ways to resolve it: a) they could change and stop endorsing racist ideas, or b) we could obey their demands and be quiet about their racism.

Option B is no longer tenable, if it ever was. The ball is not in our court, but in theirs.

Then there is this: they say that the way Trump “talks about women is despicable”, but apparently not despicable enough to prevent them for voting for him, and then say stuff like this:

“He is anti-abortion.” Note: This sentiment came up a lot. A number of people I spoke to said they didn’t care about anything else he did and would always vote for whichever candidate was more anti-abortion.

They’re not only racist, but anti-woman. They don’t want us to say anything about Trump’s misogyny, or their implicit support for it.

Sam Altman isn’t very good at this cultural analysis stuff — he seems to accept everything the Trump voters say at face value, and then he turns around to chastise liberals for being mean to the Trumpkins. Not mean enough, I say: we need to make it crystal clear that their vile behavior is not acceptable.

Oh, right.

“The left is more intolerant than the right.” Note: This concept came up a lot, with real animosity in otherwise pleasant conversations.

Then stop doing intolerable things, and we can be tolerant. Otherwise, we’re done standing silent while they promote racism and misogyny.

Also, we’ll keep calling idiots who voted for a narcissistic, incompetent toddler idiots, thank you very much.

It would be nice if it lasted

Cory Doctorow praises Minnesota.

Last fall, I wrote about the strange case of Minnesota governor Mark Dayton, a left-wing billionaire heir to the Target fortune who came to power and reversed his Republican predecessors’ Reagonomic idiocy, instead raising taxes on rich people, increasing public spending, and creating shared prosperity for the people of Minnesota.

The results of the experiment continue to surprise and delight: unemployment is down to 3.7%, private sector earnings are up 1.5% to $891/week, 47,000 new jobs were added to the economy in the past year, and the state just declared a $1.8B budget surplus, even as Forbes ranked it 9th in its table of best states for business.

And our neighboring states are all doing much, much worse under Republican regimes.

I have to add a reality check, though. We’d be doing even better if the other states in this region were sharing in our successes — we are not an island.

And more worrisome still: in the last election, the idiot citizenry elected a Republican legislature. Why? I don’t know.

America for sale

He thinks the Clintons had political opponents murdered. He thinks we should have seized all the oil in Iraq. He believes the nuclear fallout from the bombing of Japan made the Japanese healthier. Civil rights was a terrible mistake, and black people were better off in the 1950s. He’s a climate change denialist. He “believes that human beings have no inherent value other than how much money they make”. This profile of hedge-fund manager and political king-maker Bob Mercer is horrifying for its details about the man — Mercer truly is a Randian incompetent and obnoxious ignoramus with way too much money — but the paragraphs I found most chilling were not about Mercer, but about the way American politics was corrupted by a single Supreme Court decision.

Although Mercer has recently become an object of media speculation, Trevor Potter, the president of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan watchdog group, who formerly served as the chairman of the Federal Election Commission, said, “I have no idea what his political views are—they’re unknown, not just to the public but also to most people who’ve been active in politics for the past thirty years.” Potter, a Republican, sees Mercer as emblematic of a major shift in American politics that has occurred since 2010, when the Supreme Court made a controversial ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. That ruling, and several subsequent ones, removed virtually all limits on how much money corporations and nonprofit groups can spend on federal elections, and how much individuals can give to political-action committees. Since then, power has tilted away from the two main political parties and toward a tiny group of rich mega-donors.

Private money has long played a big role in American elections. When there were limits on how much a single donor could give, however, it was much harder for an individual to have a decisive impact. Now, Potter said, “a single billionaire can write an eight-figure check and put not just their thumb but their whole hand on the scale—and we often have no idea who they are.” He continued, “Suddenly, a random billionaire can change politics and public policy—to sweep everything else off the table—even if they don’t speak publicly, and even if there’s almost no public awareness of his or her views.”

We are so fucked.

By their lies you shall know them

One of those anti-Cultural Marxism folks who are always claiming that their racism is justified by science just sent me a Darwin quote to shut me down. This one:


There are a few problems here, though.

  • Darwin is not our god-king. We recognize that he got quite a few things wrong, and also that his attitudes towards other races were a bit on the patronizing side. Perhaps an authoritarian thinks that citing an authority is persuasive, but we expect a little more.

  • Anyone who is at all familiar with Darwin’s writings would immediately recognize that there’s no way Darwin would have written that. Something’s fishy. This is the Darwin who wrote “I was told before leaving England, that after living in slave countries: all my options would be altered; the only alteration I am aware of is forming a much higher estimate of the Negros character”? He could be accused of condescension, fair enough, but not that kind of ignorance of African history.

  • Most definitively, Glenn Branch reports on the actual source of that quote. It’s not from Darwin at all. It’s from a notorious racist novel and play, The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan. It was a maliciously misattributed by a guy named John Huppenthal, who was a Republican politician who was in the habit of spreading lies under various pseudonyms. I expect he’ll be joining the Trump administration any day now.

The bottom line: anyone who promotes that bogus quote is ignorant of how science works, hasn’t read a lick of Darwin, and is spreading a lie.