Friday, April 29, 2011

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Third Wave

Just read a fascinating article about a student experiment in totalitarianism. From the article:

On Monday, I introduced my sophomore history students to one of the experiences that characterized Nazi Germany. Discipline.... To experience the power of discipline, I invited, no I commanded the class to exercise and use a new seating posture.... It was strange how quickly the students took to this uniform code of behavior I began to wonder just how far they could be pushed.

As the class period was ending and without forethought I created a class salute. It was for class members only. To make the salute you brought your right hand up toward the right shoulder in a curled position.... You would be walking down the hall when all of a sudden three classmates would turn your way each flashing a quick salute. In the library or in gym students would be seen giving this strange hand jive.

I decided to issue membership cards to every student that wanted to continue what I now called the experiment. Not a single student elected to leave the room. In this the third day of activity there were forty-three students in the class. Thirteen students had cut class to be a part of the experiment. While the class sat at attention I gave each person a card. I marked three of the cards with a red X and informed the recipients that they had a special assignment to report any students not complying to class rules.

I won't give away how the experiment ends - read the article to find out - but suffice it to say that it well illustrates the appeal of the fascist mentality. As Solzhenitsyn put it: "If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being."

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Environmental "Truth" in a Nutshell

Yesterday my family visited the Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland. Pretty cool; definitely recommended. It's on a hilltop overlooking the bay, in a beautiful state park, and has many nice exhibits for ages 4-12 or so.

On the downside, a big chunk of the museum is given over to Bill Nye the Climate Guy. One attraction was a bicycle kids could ride while watching a video of Bill biking in front, and confronting a boy and his father for driving to the gym. "Why don't you bike or walk to the gym, or better yet, give up those gym memberships altogether?" says Bill. "Why don't you mind your own *&^# business?" I wanted them to respond.

But the worst one, and this really sums up something essential about the environmentalists, was a wind turbine demonstration. You were supposed to pull a handle, which started a flow of air going, that turned the wind turbines and made a light go on. Simple. Only, when I tried it, because of the angle of the turbine blades, the wind didn't make them turn. They just juddered and rocked back and forth, never actually making more than a few degrees of rotation in either direction.

But the light came on anyway. Obviously, the demo had been rigged: when you pulled the handle, it made the light go on. The turbine had nothing to do with it. I get why a museum would do this, of course: you want the demos to work and not frustrate the kids. But the irony is thick: environmentalists constantly try to rig the numbers to make it look like converting to a more expensive, less efficient form of energy production will create jobs, or to make it look like wind plants produce more energy than they do, or what have you. Are here they are rigging a museum demo about one of their pet technologies. Priceless.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fascinating Fact

Today is the sesquicentennial of the opening shots of the Civil War: the siege of Fort Sumter. And here is a fascinating fact that I just learned: the first shot fired by the Union defenders of Sumter came from the hand of Abner Doubleday, the (alleged) inventor of baseball.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Saving Entitlements

Republicans are making a tactical mistake by calling their efforts to bring spending under control anything other than "saving entitlements". For decades they have been successfully depicted as wanting to throw Granny out on the street, so saying they want to "cut" anything, even though we have to, is not going to win the critical independent vote. The only way this works is if the Republicans can successfully counterattack with the message that the Democrats are actually out to destroy entitlement programs and Republicans are working to save them.

The argument is actually pretty simple. Under the Democrat "plan" - i.e., pretend our budget is fine as long as possible - entitlements will eventually become such a burden that they really will become unsustainable. They will crowd out other government spending; we will see rising interest rates, a devalued dollar, and the crowding out of private investment. The resulting backlash will likely be draconian: people who were "promised" entitlements and paid in for most of their lives will see their benefits cut to the bone, because there really will be no money. This is the future if the Democrats get their way.

As a conservative, I'm fine with saying that entitlements should be cut. But frankly, I don't count in this calculus. Independents will decide the 2012 election, as they have every election for the past 20+ years. And they are suspectible to the Granny-on-the-street argument. The Republicans must argue - and they have the benefit of the facts on their side, so all they have to do is stick to their guns on this - that Granny will be much safer with them than with the Democrats. Up to this point I don't think they've done this.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Republicans in the Mist

Some great quotes from thisSalon article from a woman who discovers that Republicans are people, too. Here's one in particular:

She has the same education as I have, and yet she has made different decisions, decisions that are so counter to what I believe. Decisions I find abhorrent.

"Abhorrent," indeed. It's a commonplace that conservatives view liberals as stupid, while liberals view conservatives as evil. But it certainly is a funny word coming from a representative of the "Party of Tolerance."

This is a democracy, after all. Isn't it worth understanding a bit more about why approximately half the country votes differently than we do? Isn't it important that we understand why people -- good and legitimate Americans, whose votes count as much as ours -- like Sarah Palin? Isn't it crucial we figure out why any woman would want to defund Planned Parenthood, if only so we could then address the argument?

Just so. As a conservative in a family that is largely composed of two wings, the apolitical and the liberal, I'm sometimes on the receiving end of the sort of attitudes the author writes about. What's surprising to me is that the author is so confused. Very few people on either end of the political spectrum are out to ruin the country.

Most people have pretty localized interests: themselves, their families - particularly their offspring - and to a lesser extent, their neighbors, fellow Americans, all of humanity, and most tenuously of all, all living things. That's generally true for both conservatives and liberals. So if we agree on that much, obviously the difference comes down to how we perceive the best interests of those ever-larger groups.

The difference there can be pretty severe, of course. But that doesn't mean your opponents are either evil or stupid. I'm glad to see this one Salon writer finally figured this out.