Patterico's Pontifications


Pakistani Taliban Monsters Kill 132 Children

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 9:02 pm

Flashbacks to Beslan:

Militants from the Pakistani Taliban have attacked an army-run school in Peshawar, killing 141 people, 132 of them children, the military say.

Officials say the attack in the north-western city is over, with all the attackers killed. Seven militants took part in all, according to the army.

There is evil in the world.

PolitiFact: Defensible Opinions About the Spread of Ebola are THE LIE OF THE YEAR!!!!1!!!!11!1!!!

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 8:06 pm

Of all the actual lies they could have chosen, they decided to slap the “lie of the year” label on so-called exaggerations about Ebola — citing a mishmash of opinions, including several that are eminently defensible, given the wildly varying guidance on the subject offered by our betters at the Centers for Disease Control.

Here’s the verdict from the Masters of Factual Accuracy at PolitiFact:

While no singular line about Ebola matched last year’s empty rhetoric about health care, the statements together produced a dangerous and incorrect narrative.

PolitiFact and PunditFact rated 16 separate claims about Ebola as Mostly False, False or Pants on Fire on our Truth-O-Meter in 2014. Ten of those claims came in October, as Duncan’s case came to the fore and as voters went to the polls to select a new Congress.

Fox News analyst George Will claimed Ebola could be spread into the general population through a sneeze or a cough, saying the conventional wisdom that Ebola spreads only through direct contact with bodily fluids was wrong.

“The problem is the original assumption, said with great certitude if not certainty, was that you need to have direct contact, meaning with bodily fluids from someone, because it’s not airborne,” Will said. “There are doctors who are saying that in a sneeze or some cough, some of the airborne particles can be infectious.” False.

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., described Ebola as “incredibly contagious,” “very transmissible” and “easy to catch.” Mostly False.

Let me start by simply noting that it is foolish enough for journalists to make ultra-confident pronouncements about something like the spread of Ebola, given how wildly inconsistent the Experts at CDC have been. In a post from November, I surveyed some of the CDC guidance on Ebola and summarized the results as follows:

  • CDC says: “There is no evidence indicating that Ebola virus is spread by coughing or sneezing.”
  • CDC says: Ebola is spread through droplet spread, which includes sneezes. “Droplet spread diseases include Ebola, plague.” Also: “Droplet spread happens when germs traveling inside droplets that are coughed or sneezed from a sick person enter the eyes, nose or mouth of another person.”
  • CDC says: “Droplets travel short distances, less than 3 feet.”
  • CDC says: “Droplets generally travel shorter distances, less than about 6 feet from a source patient.”

Can’t you feel your faith in federal medical expertise swelling — much like, let’s say, the untreated infected extremity of a U.S. veteran?

But mere foolishness becomes a breathtaking mixture of arrogance and ignorance when a “fact-checking” organization starts labeling defensible opinions as “lies” — based on the sort of hairsplitting and sub-moronic reliance on handpicked expert opinion that we see in today’s PolitiFact piece.

Let’s start with the George Will quote. PolitiFact refers us to this October 2014 classic from their annals of factual excellence:

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 7.27.26 PM

LIAR!!!!!!! Here’s Will’s supposedly “false” (not “mostly false” or even “kind of false” but just plain “false”) quote:

“Some doctors say Ebola can be transmitted through the air by “a sneeze or some cough.”

Keep in mind: this is proclaimed by the Sultans of Factual Accuracy at PolitiFact to be, not just an inaccuracy, but a LIE — the foremost example of a LIE that one can justly call the LIE OF THE YEAR.

Except it’s true.

As I noted in this October post, the CDC itself (which I think employs a doctor or two) published this poster:

Screen Shot 2014-10-29 at 7.38.07 AM

This poster clearly says that Ebola is spread through droplet spread, which includes sneezes. Direct quote: “Droplet spread diseases include Ebola.” What is “droplet spread”? Direct quote: “Droplet spread happens when germs traveling inside droplets that are coughed or sneezed from a sick person enter the eyes, nose or mouth of another person.”

What was Will’s quote again? “Some doctors say Ebola can be transmitted through the air by “a sneeze or some cough.” THAT IS PRECISELY WHAT THE CDC SAID.

PolitiFact’s linked post engages in all manner of hand-waving and throat-clearing, and a skill at verbal hairsplitting that would make Bill Clinton turn purple with enraged jealousy. Sample quote:

“It’s important to note that this form of transmission does not constitute ‘airborne,’ ” Gire said. “This is still a form of direct contact.”

See, even though sneeze droplets can be “borne” through the “air” . . . the experts tell us that it is not “airborne.” So when Will says that Ebola can be transmitted through the air through a sneeze, the truth is actually that a sneeze which travels through the air can transmit Ebola. You see the difference, don’t you? If you do, then you can easily see why this is the LIE OF THE YEAR.

Now, let’s move onto the Rand Paul quote. I have actually dealt with this previously, in this post. I noted that the AP ridiculed Paul for the following claim:

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky told a group of college students Wednesday the deadly virus Ebola can spread from a person who has the disease to someone standing three feet away and said the White House should be honest about that.

As I noted with careful links to the CDC:

Rand Paul has accurately repeated what the CDC says: namely, the CDC defines “exposure” (albeit “low-risk”) to include being within “three feet” of an Ebola patient for a “prolonged period of time” — whatever that means. I assume it could include riding on an airplane — or, perhaps, the bus?

President Obama, I noted in that post, assured West Africans: “You cannot get [Ebola] through casual contact like sitting next to someone on a bus.” Which utterly contradicted what the CDC was saying. Which was Rand Paul’s point.

But PolitiFact eschewed any analysis of Rand Paul’s factual statements about CDC guidelines. Instead, consistent with their rigid adherence to long-accepted principles of “fact” checking, PolitiFact got up in Rand Paul’s grill over his opinions, calling “mostly false” his opinions that Ebola is “incredibly contagious,” “very transmissible” and “easy to catch.” Here is an excerpt from their genius band of logic:

So far, though, only two individuals — both Texas health care workers that treated an African man who later died from the disease — have contracted the virus on U.S. soil. This despite the fact that infected individuals have come into contact with dozens, if not hundreds, of people while they purportedly had the disease, including close family members.

That seems to dispel, at least anecdotally, the idea that the disease is “incredibly contagious” and “easy to catch,” even from an infected person. But let’s get into the nitty gritty.

Looking at it another way, “at least anecdotally” (and, let’s face it: fact-checkers around the globe universally agree that anecdotal evidence is the Gold Standard for fact-checking), one might anecdotally observe that health-care workers who believed they were taking every precaution and yet inexplicably ended up contracting the disease might come away from that experience saying: gee, it seems like Ebola is easier to catch than I realized!! Why, one might even call it “incredibly contagious” or “easy to catch”!

If one were expressing a defensible opinion, that is.

Or, one could look at some recent statistics. I found these today at the New York Times, which reports: “The number of new cases in Sierra Leone remained above 600 for a fourth straight week.” Moreover: “More than 18,000 people in Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal and Sierra Leone have contracted Ebola since March, according to the World Health Organization, making this the biggest outbreak on record. More than 6,800 people have died.” Yeah, that doesn’t sound very contagious to me.

A portion of the same New York Times piece that says it was updated October 23 says: “Doctors Without Borders has sent 700 doctors and aid workers from around the world to Ebola-stricken countries. Of those, 270 are currently working there. Only three have contracted Ebola: a doctor from Norway, another from France, and now, an American.” See? Only 1 health care worker per 230 contracts the potentially fatal disease!

Whether you find that reassuring or alarming is up to you, I guess . . . but using that as a basis to label an opinion THE LIE OF THE YEAR is a joke.

But then, PolitiFact has always been a joke. I don’t write this post because they are (or should be) taken seriously. It’s just that a target this fat and juicy simply cannot be ignored. It’s not my fault. I am forced to write this post, simply because of how easy it is to ridicule these people.

This Is Not What Strength Looks Like

Filed under: General — Dana @ 7:44 pm

[guest post by Dana]

Remember when Harvard (and Georgetown and Columbia) law students wanted to delay finals due to grand jury protests? Well, an editor on the Harvard Law Review responded:

Our request for exam extensions is not being made from a position of weakness, but rather from one of strength and critical awareness.

Although over the last few weeks many law students have experienced moments of total despair, minutes of inconsolable tears and hours of utter confusion, many of these same students have also spent days in action—days of protesting, of organizing meetings, of drafting emails and letters, and of starting conversations long overdue. We have been synthesizing decades of police interactions, dissecting problems centuries old, and exposing the hypocrisy of silence.

I have seen the psychological trauma brought on by disillusionment with our justice system send some law students into a period of depression. After all, every death of an unarmed youth at the hands of law enforcement is a tragedy. The hesitancy to recognize the validity of these psychic effects demonstrates that, in addition to conversations on race, gender and class, our nation is starving for a genuine discussion about mental health. But to reduce our calls for exam extensions to mere cries for help exhibits a failure to understand the powerful images of die-ins and the booming chants of protestors disrupting the continuation of business as usual in cities across the country.

Where some commentators see weakness or sensitivity, perhaps they should instead see strength—the strength to know when our cups of endurance have run over and when the time for patience has ended. Perhaps they should instead see courage—the courage to look our peers in the eyes and uncomfortably ask them to bear these burdens of racism and classism that we have together inherited from generations past. We have taken many exams before, but never have we done this. We are scared, but no longer will we be spectators to injustice.


Jeb Bush Is In, Baby!

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 6:23 pm

What’s not to like? There’s the Bush name (voters love it!), the idea that nobody can run for office except family members of former presidents, the pandering on immigration, the contempt for true conservatives . . . why the list just goes on and on!


Federal Judge: Obama’s Executive Amnesty Is Unconstitutional

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 6:21 pm

Jonathan Adler has the details in this post, as well as a link to the opinion.

It’s a rather unusual situation: it’s not as though one party sued to overturn Obama’s action, the government defended itself, and the court resolved the dispute. No, instead the issue arose in the context of a sentencing proceeding for someone convicted of unlawful reentry into the United States. The judge asked for further briefing on the applicability of the executive action, and then (without either party arguing for the unconstitutionality of the action) declared it unconstitutional . . . but took no action to set it aside.

Adler happens to believe that Obama’s unilateral action is constitutional, and opines in his post from today that the judge “appears to have reached out quite aggressively to engage the lawfulness of the President’s actions.”

But no matter what you think of the opinion’s merits, it makes for entertaining reading. The judge notes in some detail Obama’s previous statements that he lacked the authority to do what he is doing, and ridicules the notion that Congress’s inaction expands the president’s power.

A Conflict of Visions, Part 3: The TL;DR Version of the Post Below

Filed under: Books,General — Patterico @ 7:33 am

This is a shorter version of the post below, which is Part 3 of a continuing series on Thomas Sowell’s revelatory work A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles.

I think many of you who are interested in political philosophy will be interested in the post below and will want to read it all. But some of you will say: dude, this is a blog. If I wanted to read a book, I’d actually sit down and read a book. Give me the thrust of it in a few sentences.

Well, I’m not able to do that, but I’ll try to come closer in this post.

Adherents to what Thomas Sowell calls the “constrained vision” believe human nature doesn’t change or improve over time. They therefore place great importance on incentives. Because human nature is constant, they rely on systemic processes that evolve over time to create incentives, such as the free market.

Adherents to an “unconstrained vision,” by contrast, believe in the limitless possibilities of humans to improve their nature. They place great importance on intentions and on personal qualities of wise policy makers who make decisions for us.

I believe that these competing visions inform how we approach the failure of our political system — especially the tendency on the part of politicians to favor their own self-interest over that of the public.

Those from the constrained vision accept that politicians are humans who respond to incentives like anyone else. They expect politicians to favor their self-interest over the common good. They are more likely to accept political compromises, because they don’t believe any magical person is going to ride in on a white horse and save us all.

Those from the unconstrained vision are less apt to accept trade-offs. They believe that the problem with our politicians is that the personal qualities of wise policy makers are lacking in those we have elected. They complain about politicians lacking “spine” and “principle.” If only we could elect tougher people, they believe, everything would be better.

I believe this dichotomy rears its head in the civil war in the GOP between the Tea Party types and the establishment types. Supporters of the establishment accept trade-offs and incrementalism, because they don’t believe better politicians will equal better policies. This is a constrained view. Tea Partiers believe we need to send the establishment a message: elect people who are sincere, whose intentions are pure, and who will reject trade-offs for bold policies that will fundamentally transform the country. This is an unconstrained view.

Complicating the picture greatly is the fact that, while the methods of the Tea Party types seem unconstrained, their policy goals (returning us to the vision of the Founders) are clearly those of the constrained vision. By contrast, the methods of the establishment types may appear constrained, but their policy goals are, by default, unconstrained — since the accumulation of political power depends on a surrender to the unconstrained vision of society in which government and elites control more and more of what happens.

This complication is discussed in meandering fashion in the rambling post below. It’s the reason that the post below is so long, in fact. Please leave your comments in the post below.

A Conflict of Visions, Part 3: What Is Wrong With Our Politics?

Filed under: Books,General — Patterico @ 12:01 am

This is Part 3 of a continuing series on Thomas Sowell’s revelatory work A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles.

Question 15 in my quiz yesterday (if you haven’t taken it yet, please do!) reads as follows:

a. The problem with America’s politics today is that the system incentivizes politicians to take actions that are in their best interest rather than that of the country as a whole. The solution is to change the incentives, because human nature rarely changes.
b. The problem with America’s politics today is that our leaders are self-centered and care only about themselves rather than the good of the country. The solution is to elect people who are more principled.

According to Thomas Sowell, the “constrained vision” concerns itself with incentives. Because those who adhere to the constrained vision do not believe that human nature is ever likely to change for the better, they favor organically developed systemic processes that provide incentives for people to act for the common good.

The free market is a good example, and the price mechanism of the free market is a process favored by those who subscribe to the constrained vision. Prices are created, not by a knowledgeable elite relying on the superiority of reason, but rather by the individual decisions of millions of individual actors, leading to price signals that, in turn, spur entrepreneurs to enter under-served markets, and exit oversaturated ones.

In this vision, like entrepreneurs, politicians are humans who respond to incentives, just like everyone else. The key, then, is not to elect better politicians, although that would be nice — but rather to improve the system to align incentives with the social good. However, those from the constrained vision reject human-designed processes for making social choices, in favor of organically created systemic processes and institutions such as the market, the family, and so forth. The end result is that any political system, being human-designed, is a poor system for making social decisions, and thus the scope of government should be limited to the extent possible.

The constrained vision is well illustrated by Hayek’s famous quote: “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”

By contrast, the unconstrained vision believes in the power of reason, and the unlimited potential of humans to improve their very nature — and, through deliberate design, the lot of men. The unconstrained vision puts great importance on the specialized knowledge of an elite few, who are presumed to have the necessary knowledge and wisdom to lead humans to a better society. Sincerity is critically important in this vision, and the improvement of society thus depends to a great degree upon the quality of the wise leaders who are chosen as surrogate decisionmakers for others in society.

Which am I? It seems, reviewing the record, I have made arguments that fit both visions. (Nobody is fully constrained or unconstrained.)

Here are a couple of examples of posts where I make the constrained argument in terms of political tactics. These quotes are taken from past posts that I wrote long before I ever heard of Sowell’s book.

From last month:

[P]oliticians are human beings, just like everyone else. They may have certain talents, ambitions, and other personality facets that set them apart, but they still tend to respond to incentives the same way other humans do.

We all sit around and decry the way politicians act, but we act as if the solution is to put better politicians in office. It’s not. The system itself is rigged, so that people who truly want to act in the public interest rarely (not never, but very rarely) get into office in the first place. And once they get there, they have to make compromises.

You see there the concern of someone who subscribes to the constrained vision, arguing that human nature is constant, and that the issue is restructuring the incentives that face humans. Similarly, here is a post of mine from 2010, discussing Christine O’Donnell vs. Mike Castle:

I was among those who supported solid conservative Tom McClintock over Arnold Schwarzenegger in the recall election for California governor. My reasoning: McClintock is a hell of an impressive guy, and if everyone who had preferred him had voted for him, he could have won. He was a victim of a “he can’t win” mentality. Plus, I didn’t see Arnold as such a great plus. (I still don’t.)

On the other hand, I am not a fan of throwing away my vote to send a message that the candidate in question isn’t conservative enough for my finicky tastes. As long as he (or she) is conservative enough to help us, that works for me.

There are those who seek to make “pragmatic” a bad word. These people often express disdain at the importance of having Republicans in power if they are not sufficiently attuned to their principles.

I have noticed that these very same people often rant and rave about particular Obama policies, like ObamaCare, that a sufficient number of Republicans in Congress could have stopped.

You can’t have it both ways. If you’re going to complain about Obama’s policies, you can’t turn up your nose at a candidate who can help you fight those policies. Even — and this is important — even if that candidate is less than ideal.

Because every candidate is less than ideal.

So I’m good with trying to elect the more conservative candidate on the theory that the more conservative candidate has a chance. Personally, I’m not good with voting for that person as a protest vote when I know they can’t win.

I agree with William F. Buckley and the editors of the Wall Street Journal. The beat candidate is the most conservative one that can win.

Well, there you go. It’s Patterico the Constrained Guy, right?

Except, remember when Ted Cruz was arguing for shutting down the government? I was foursquare in favor of Cruz then — and guess who I was busy ripping apart? The very constrained Thomas Sowell! Here are three of my posts excoriating Sowell for criticizing Cruz’s radical tactics: here, here, and here. I thought I was right when I wrote those posts. I re-read them last night, and I still think I’m right.

Patterico, the Unconstrained! (I call Sowell philosophically “bipolar” in those posts, but maybe I was projecting, huh?)

So you see that the constrained/unconstrained dichotomy is not a simple left/right issue. It sheds light on one major fault line in the Republican party today. In one corner, we have the “principles” crowd that wants action today, and refuses to settle for half a loaf. In these people’s view, we just need more people with a spine, like Ted Cruz or Justin Amash. This, I submit, is a largely unconstrained vision, which believes that we can radically alter our country for the better, and should do so posthaste if possible — but in no event should we settle for half measures. In the other corner, we have the “trade-offs are necessary” crowd, which urges people to vote Republican even when the candidate is weak, because at least the Republican is better than the Democrat. This, I submit, is largely a constrained vision, which accepts that politicians are human beings who respond to incentives like everyone else. This person is willing to accept the fact that politicians will take imperfect actions in obeisance to electoral reality. They will vote for such politicians — if those imperfect politicians can deliver a reality that less wretched than the one offered by the opposition.

DRJ argued in comments last night that radicalism in trying to return to the constrained view of the Founders is arguably consistent with a constrained vision. Maybe so. But there is potentially a difference between constrained policies (small government, free market) and unconstrained tactics in politics (refusing to vote for the squishy candidate to send a message to the party).

DRJ says the Founders exemplified the essence of a constrained vision, and I agree. Yet their revolutionary tactics were radical. Does that mean, as DRJ contends, that those tactics could be considered constrained — coming as they did from men who shared the constrained vision, who were trying to implement policies consistent with that vision? Maybe. I can’t say for sure DRJ is wrong about that. But I don’t think Sowell would agree.

For one thing, Edmund Burke, whom Sowell holds up as one key philosopher epitomizing the constrained vision, was certainly a supporter of the Founders, but not necessarily of their revolutionary tactics.

And Sowell himself, in those columns I criticized, seems to decry the tactics of a Ted Cruz from the point of view of a pragmatist seeking a trade-off — just as Sowell has described the constrained vision. And in those columns, he makes the exact same point that he makes in the video that I just linked in the last post: people who think you can let the other side win and then capitalize on the backlash are like the Nazis who said the same thing about Hitler. Many of them died in the concentration camps, he says. In the video, he offers that as a reason to vote against Obama and for McCain. In his anti-Cruz columns, he offers them as a reason to oppose Cruz . . . because Cruz, by calling out Republicans, was making their re-election chances more difficult, and thus imperiled Republicans’ ability to retake the Senate and the Presidency and effect real change. (Or so says Sowell. I happen to disagree with him on that point.)

Again, in the video he says: “People ask me why am I going to vote for McCain over Obama. It’s because I prefer disaster to catastrophe.” That, I submit, is a quote from a hardened advocate of the constrained vision.

In summary, people like DRJ and I might favor radical tactics in favor of a constrained policy. Does that make those tactics unconstrained because they are radical? I’m not sure, but I think Sowell would say they are. Now, because in Sowell’s dichotomy the term “unconstrained” ends up sounding Pollyanna-ish and silly, I can understand wanting to argue that our position is constrained. But Sowell doesn’t seem to think so, based on my reading of his anti-Cruz columns, and watching the video I linked last night.

And here’s something else. I note that in my posts attacking Sowell, I resort to the rhetoric of “principle” more often. Which is interesting, in and of itself, isn’t it?

So, while I am open to being persuaded otherwise, I think that when you hear people say that the problem with our politics is that these terrible politicians lack a spine, they are (in my opinion) expressing an unconstrained view. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but it helps you understand where they are coming from.

The more extreme the problems with our country get, the more I sympathize with the unconstrained tactics — largely, I think, because (as DRJ notes) they are part of an effort to get us to constrained, non-elitist, free market, small government policies. But if I am right that the radical tactics are unconstrained, the basic approach runs counter to a general constrained view of humanity in general, and politicians specifically, that runs deep in my psyche.

And, to the extent you generally subscribe to the constrained view in other areas, you might ask yourself whether a devotion to an unconstrained view of politicians make sense. Do you really believe in the potential of politicians to be uncharacteristically honorable, and ignore incentives to benefit themselves?

I still think we must press for radical change, precisely because I think we have reached a point of no return. Interestingly, the “point of no return” argument is the very same argument Sowell makes in favor of, say, voting for McCain, or against shutting down the government — but I say it counsels in favor of more radical tactics.

But I could be wrong. I’m willing to admit I could be wrong. And the very least, understanding the deep-rooted origins of the two different views might help each side understand one another better.

Patterico: bringing the Tea Partiers and the establishment together, courtesy of this blog post. Kumbaya! (This optimism I am expressing is rather . . . unconstrained, isn’t it?)

P.S. If it helps, I don’t really believe this post will do a damned thing to help anyone understand each other. Thus, my constrained bona fides remain intact — and I hereby stick my tongue out at you!

UPDATE: What’s a few more words in a post this long? DRJ links an article by Sowell on tactics which, while not using the words “constrained” and “unconstrained,” nevertheless invokes the constrained Burke in support of a position that approves of the Tea Party’s goals but disapproves of their tactics. I think the column supports my reading of Sowell pretty directly. Sowell says “Burke makes a key distinction between believing in a principle and weighing the likely consequences of taking a particular action to advance that principle.” Sowell goes on to argue that repeal of ObamaCare is critical, and justified by principle — but that the Tea Party tactics of trying to defund it with Obama still in office represented a result not within their power. Burke, he suggests, would have opposed the tactics if not the principle.

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