Thursday, March 31, 2022

Joe Biden's Insurance Policy

Here is Kamala Harris, yesterday, in Jamaica. She said this:

For Jamaica, one of the issues that has been presented as an issue that is economic in the way its impact has been the pandemic. ... We will assist Jamaica in COVID recovery by assisting in terms of the recovery efforts in Jamaica that have been essential.

She's Joe Biden's insurance policy. Were it not for Kamala, Joe would today be retired to Delaware.

An Unconventional Analysis of Putin's War on Ukraine

Whenever our corrupt media gloms on to a single narrative, treating it like a higher truth, it is always good to doubt it. Conventional wisdom is for the conventional. The truth is more often unconventional. 

In the stock market people talk about contrary sentiment. In assessing the state of play of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, we ought to examine contrary sentiment. One is confident of only one thing, that the conventional narrative is wrong.

So says Bret Stephens in a New York Times column. Addressing the commonplace belief that Mad Vlad has lost his mind, Stephens suggests, quite correctly, that it is always a bad thing to imagine that your adversary is crazy. Among other things, it suggests that his behavior is erratic and unpredictable. If you have been in the camp of making wrong predictions about his behavior, calling him crazy makes you sound smarter than you are.

Anyway, as general principles go, this one is worth noting:

Then again, in war, politics and life, it’s always wiser to treat your adversary as a canny fox, not a crazy fool.

The conventional narrative has it that Putin is losing his war. His troop morale is in the gutter. His generals have been murdered or fired. His people hate him and hate his war. The Ukrainian people are fighting back valiantly and are winning on the ground. And the European Union has united like never before in their willingness to punish Putin, to punish Russia and to destroy Russia and all things Russian.

From that one would conclude that Putin has miscalculated. Stephens explains:

He thought Russian-speaking Ukrainians would welcome his troops. They didn’t. He thought he’d swiftly depose Volodymyr Zelensky’s government. He hasn’t. He thought he’d divide NATO. He’s united it. He thought he had sanction-proofed his economy. He’s wrecked it. He thought the Chinese would help him out. They’re hedging their bets. He thought his modernized military would make mincemeat of Ukrainian forces. The Ukrainians are making mincemeat of his, at least on some fronts.

Western commentators have suggested that Putin is insane. 

Putin’s miscalculations raise questions about his strategic judgment and mental state. Who, if anyone, is advising him? Has he lost contact with reality? Is he physically unwell? Mentally? Condoleezza Rice warns: “He’s not in control of his emotions. Something is wrong.” Russia’s sieges of Mariupol and Kharkiv — two heavily Russian-speaking cities that Putin claims to be “liberating” from Ukrainian oppression — resemble what the Nazis did to Warsaw, and what Putin himself did to Grozny.

Several analysts have compared Putin to a cornered rat, more dangerous now that he’s no longer in control of events. They want to give him a safe way out of the predicament he allegedly created for himself. Hence the almost universal scorn poured on Joe Biden for saying in Poland, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”

A cornered rat-- we like that kind of invective because it makes us feel good. And we want to feel good. We want to feel that we are winning. We want to feel it even if it is not true. It suggests that the weak and decadent West can still flex some muscle, all the while, allowing Putin to level Ukraine.

The conventional wisdom is entirely plausible. It has the benefit of vindicating the West’s strategy of supporting Ukraine defensively. And it tends toward the conclusion that the best outcome is one in which Putin finds some face-saving exit: additional Ukrainian territory, a Ukrainian pledge of neutrality, a lifting of some of the sanctions.

Actually, I am not opposed, from a personal perspective, to something like a face-saving exit. As it happens, cornered rats and madmen do not accept face-saving exits. The Western attacks on Russia are not aiming at a face-saving exit. They are aiming to destroy Putin’s regime. The two are not the same.

Now, Stephens turns away from the media din and reports on a reminiscence by the New York Times’s Carlotta Gall. It concerns the Russian siege of Grozy and it seems eerily familiar:

The possibility is suggested in a powerful reminiscence from The Times’s Carlotta Gall of her experience covering Russia’s siege of Grozny, during the first Chechen war in the mid-1990s. In the early phases of the war, motivated Chechen fighters wiped out a Russian armored brigade, stunning Moscow. The Russians regrouped and wiped out Grozny from afar, using artillery and air power.

When Western military analysts argue that Putin can’t win militarily in Ukraine, what they really mean is that he can’t win clean. Since when has Putin ever played clean?

Of course, being a military analyst is not the same thing as being a commanding officer. Keep in mind, our great military analysts did not do such a great job in Iraq and Afghanistan. Just a thought.

So, Gall continues with a plausible account of what Putin might do next:

“There is a whole next stage to the Putin playbook, which is well known to the Chechens,” Gall writes. “As Russian troops gained control on the ground in Chechnya, they crushed any further dissent with arrests and filtration camps and by turning and empowering local protégés and collaborators.”

Now, Stephens offers an alternative interpretation of the not-so-mad Vlad. What Putin really wants is Ukraine’s east, which contains massive natural gas reserves. Oh.

Suppose for a moment that Putin never intended to conquer all of Ukraine: that, from the beginning, his real targets were the energy riches of Ukraine’s east, which contain Europe’s second-largest known reserves of natural gas (after Norway’s).

Combine that with Russia’s previous territorial seizures in Crimea (which has huge offshore energy fields) and the eastern provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk (which contain part of an enormous shale-gas field), as well as Putin’s bid to control most or all of Ukraine’s coastline, and the shape of Putin’s ambitions become clear. He’s less interested in reuniting the Russian-speaking world than he is in securing Russia’s energy dominance.

Putin seeks energy dominance. It sounds plausible, at least as plausible as thinking that Putin is insane.

“Under the guise of an invasion, Putin is executing an enormous heist,” said Canadian energy expert David Knight Legg. As for what’s left of a mostly landlocked Ukraine, it will likely become a welfare case for the West, which will help pick up the tab for resettling Ukraine’s refugees to new homes outside of Russian control. In time, a Viktor Orban-like figure could take Ukraine’s presidency, imitating the strongman-style of politics that Putin prefers in his neighbors.

One does understand that Ukraine is fast becoming a Western welfare case. It has always teetered on the edge of complete insolvency anyway. 

Why is Putin leveling cities and killing civilians-- beyond the fact that the West is cheering Zelensky for refusing to surrender and thus to allow his cities to be razed to the ground, their peoples besieged:

More than simply a way of compensating for the incompetence of Russian troops, the mass killing of civilians puts immense pressure on Zelensky to agree to the very things Putin has demanded all along: territorial concessions and Ukrainian neutrality. The West will also look for any opportunity to de-escalate, especially as we convince ourselves that a mentally unstable Putin is prepared to use nuclear weapons.

And, finally, Stephens explains, if Russia gains what it wants in Western Ukraine, it will gain, not just energy independence, but energy supremacy. At that point, your sanctions will not count for very much. We note that Germany, having subjected itself to the stupidity of Angela Merkel, having shut down much of its nuclear generation capacity and having made itself dependent on natural gas, is now beginning to say that it must ration gas.

To the extent that Russia’s military has embarrassed itself, it is more likely to lead to a well-aimed purge from above than a broad revolution from below. Russia’s new energy riches could eventually help it shake loose the grip of sanctions.

There you have it, an alternative interpretation of the mind of Mad Vlad. One does not need to embrace the Stephens reading in toto. But, one does well to consider an alternative to the standard conventional narrative line.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Anti-Semitism at Duke University and Elsewhere

What’s going on at Duke? And not just at Duke?

So, what is the Duke Student Government up to? Could it be that these superior students are simply stupid? Could it be that they do not know how to think? Or could it be that they are happy to pay lip service to the concerns of Jewish students while inviting a rabid anti-Semite to speak on campus?

Need we say that if the Duke Student Government had invited a conservative, the speaker would have been shouted down, and, as happened at Yale Law School, the perpetrators would not have been punished.

Anyway, Duke undergraduate Alexandra Ahdoot explained the story in the Duke Chronicle:

Last month, Duke Student Government took a strong stance against antisemitism by unanimously passing a resolution which defined and condemned antisemitism. In the resolution, DSG expressed its support for the use of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism and supporting examples, which are widely used as an educational tool to identify and combat antisemitism worldwide. Given that antisemitic incidents are not by any means a new occurrence at Duke, the passage of this resolution was long overdue. This resolution, along with the mandatory antisemitism training that DSG senators recently attended, gave me hope that DSG was taking steps in the right direction. 

But then, lo and behold, the DSG went all in for Palestinian anti-Semitism:

But last week, that feeling changed. I woke up to read that DSG had just approved an allocation of over $16,000 to fund Students for Justice in Palestine’s (SJP) “Narrating Resistance and Agency: Shifting the Discourse on Palestine” event. SJP plans to host a few guest speakers in their event series, one of whom is Mohammed El-Kurd. 

Needless to say, this is more than disturbing. El-Kurd has happily indulged in blood libels against Jews.

Ahdoot continues:

For instance, in one of his most famous collections of poetry, “Rifqa,” El Kurd writes, “they [Israelis] harvest organs of the martyred [Palestinians], feed their warriors our own.” Similarly, on June 15, 2021, he linked Zionism to “blood thirsty [sic] and violent” actions in a tweet. In another tweet on May 12, 2021, he stated that Zionists have “an unquenchable thirst for Palestinian blood.” Jewish people like me see these words and are all too familiar with El-Kurd’s rhetoric because it is blood libel. Blood libel is a historic form of antisemitism which began during the Roman Empire as a way to demonize Jewish indivduals as inhumanely violent and even cannibalistic. 

Not to belabor the obvious, but El-Kurd’s unhinged rantings were posted on Twitter. You know about Twitter. If you write something satirical about a transgender admiral you will be thrown off of Twitter. If you are the former president of the United States, you will be banished from Twitter. And yet, if you traffic in blood libels against Jews, and if you indulge in genocidal hatred of Jews, it’s not a problem for Twitter.

Actually, now that we are at it, let’s grant full discredit to another major publication for publishing blood libels against Jews. That would be, the New York Times.

When Hamas was celebrating the election of Joe Biden by launching thousands of rockets into Israel, the Israelis naturally defended themselves.

To the bigoted editors of the New York Times, the important story was the number of Palestinian children who had been murdered by Israel. It was, as Abraham Foxman, former head of the Anti-Defamation League, a blood libel against Jews. Foxman canceled his subscription to the Times.

The Cleveland Jewish News reported the story:

The May 28 print edition of the Times featured photos of children who were killed in the recent Israel-Hamas fighting, in the Gaza Strip and Israel. The headline read: “They Were Just Children.” The story itself, which was published online on May 26, highlights the at least 67 dead Gazan children and the two Israeli children who died in the fighting. “Israel blames Hamas for the high civilian death toll in Gaza because the group fires rockets and conducts military operations from civilian areas,” the article stated. “Israel’s critics cite the death toll as evidence that Israel’s strikes were indiscriminate and disproportionate.”

It also notes that a couple of the Gaza children “may have been killed when Palestinian militants fired a rocket at Israel that fell short.”

“I am cancelling my subscription to NYTimes,” Foxman tweeted. 

“I grew up in America on the NYT—I delivered the NYT to my classmates—I learned civics—democracy and all the news ‘fit to print’ for 65 years but no more. Today’s blood libel of Israel and the Jewish people on the front page is enough.”

“Me too,” replied Newsweek Deputy Opinion Editor Batya Ungar-Sargon.

It’s not just Duke University. But clearly some forms of bigotry are fully acceptable in the halls of academia and on the front page of America’s newspaper of record.

MIT Relents

Two years ago, under cover of Covid, MIT, as venerable a STEM school as exists, dispensed with its requirement that applicants submit standardized test scores.

Many other schools have done the same. The reasoning involved, you guessed it, diversity, inclusion and equity. Since Asian students invariably got better results on the SAT or ACT, the grandees at MIT and elsewhere decided that the tests were biased toward white people. And especially, were biased against black people.

Thus, following the lead of many other institutions, MIT decided to go holistic. That means, granting applicants extra SAT points for having a scintillating personality or for having special personal knowledge of crime ridden neighborhoods. Of course, it also tried an approach used throughout the country, that is, granting special consideration to students who had finished near the top of their high school class. 

The trouble was, as MIT has discovered, grade inflation is pervasive in some schools. Therefore, many top high school students are seriously incompetent when it comes to basic calculus, to say nothing of algebra.

MIT discovered that certain members of the incoming classes over the past two years have been seriously incapable of doing the math.

As it happens, first year students at the school are required to take some high level math classes. They need to master the math if they will ever be capable of taking courses in the STEM subjects that define the institution. Heck, even economics majors are required to know advanced math, like multivariable calculus and real analysis.

So, MIT had to relent. But not without a pathetic outpouring of virtue signaling, to the effect that it still loves students, still favors diversity, but, alas, it cannot remain the institution that it is, and it cannot set up Ethnic Studies programs and an anti-racist curriculum for those who can’t do the math.

An excerpt from the MIT announcement says this:

And MIT does provide support for its students through its excellent tutoring programs, affinity networks, support services, alternative curricula, summer programs, and so on. However, our research shows there is a degree of preparation below which a student, even with those resources, is unlikely to be able to succeed. We feel it is our responsibility to make those difficult calls, and only admit a student to MIT if they are ready to undertake its education at this point in their educational development. Meanwhile, we continue to collaborate with our partners in K-12 education to try and help interrupt persistent, intergenerational inequality where and how we can.⁠

That’s the story, folks. You can whine and whinge and whinny all you want about remedial work, about tutoring and support, but some candidates simply cannot do the work.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

The Success Academy Success Story

Everyone knows that we as a nation need to reduce the performance gap between black and Asian students. Everyone knows that black children underperform academically and that this underperformance will manifest itself in later life-- as they become unhireable adults.

The good news is that we know how to overcome this gap. We know what will radically change the odds in favor of these children. The answer lies in charter schools like New York’s Success Academies.

Dare we mention, since we know fairly well what works, our local politicians are doing everything in their power to ensure that there be no new charter schools. Being notably stupid themselves politicians imagine that throwing money at the failing public school system will solve the problem. They should understand that the extra money will merely pay off teachers for doing a lousy job, but, trust me, they do not care.

Other community leaders believe that the solution lies in more protest marches, more broken statues, more indoctrination in critical race theory. As it happens, CRT, as it is called, is profoundly stupid. The issue is less that this form of radical indoctrination will teach children nothing of what they need to know to compete in the marketplace, but will dumb them down to the point where they will not be able to compete. Then, companies will institute diversity quotas, will hire people who cannot do jobs, and will blame it all on racism.

The New York Post lays out the issue in an editorial. (via Maggie’s Farm) It gains its information from a study performed at the Harvard Business School. Thus, this is not some right wing screed.

A new Harvard Business School case study of the Success Academy charter network offers valuable insight into why its schools are so, well . . . successful. New York officials should read every last word.

It begins with the story of New York City public schools, one of the nation’s academic disaster areas:

The study recounts some of the network’s history: These last two decades, New York City public schools were among the nation’s “lowest performing but highest funded” and, despite still more funding from Mayor Bill de Blasio, “there was scant evidence of improvement at underperforming schools.” (Massive COVID aid from DC has bloated spending even more, and Gov. Kathy Hochul is now pumping in boatloads of added cash on top of that, even as enrollment has plummeted.)

We are unhappy to note that Governess Kathy is pumping more money into the schools, at a time when enrollment is dropping. Why is enrollment dropping? Perhaps because parents are waking up to the calamity and are moving out of the city.

Who is responsible for the success of Success Academies. Why one person, by name, Eva Moskowitz, former public official who set her sights on creating schools that would work for the students, not for the teachers.

Of course, she discovered that the fault lay first with the teachers and their unions. Obviously, this occurred with the connivance of Democratic politicians, voted into office by the parents of the children who were being damaged by these schools:

The paper describes how Success founder Eva Moskowitz, as chairman of the City Council’s Education Committee until 2005, had pored over school-union contracts: “No rational person,” says Moskowitz, could read the union agreements “and say, ‘This is the best for kids and learning.’” They were designed “completely for adult interests.”

The unions have been fighting Moskowitz for seventeen years now. And the lady has been winning, as the children enrolled in Success Academies have excelled:

So in 2005, Moskowitz “set out to prove what was possible.” Over the next 15 years, despite opposition from unions, she opened 47 charter schools (publicly funded, privately run schools open to all kids, free).

“With a student body comprised almost entirely of students from low-socioeconomic households, Success Academy Charter Schools had achieved extraordinary outcomes, with superior test scores and college placement results,” the report notes.

Most remarkably, these schools erased the “achievement gap” that plagues regular public schools: Success kids almost invariably scored at the highest levels, regardless of family income or racial background.

So, race had nothing to do with the achievement gap. Bad pedagogical techniques and a culture of failure was to blame. Note that these children were not drilled in leftist ideology. They were taught the basics of language, math and science.

The disparate results were flagrantly obvious:

Last year, amid COVID, SA saw 100% of its seniors accepted to college. As with earlier Success classes, students got into top schools — Columbia, Yale, University of Pennsylvania, University of Chicago. Compare that to just 30% enrollment in bachelor’s programs among minority and low-income students in the city-run school system.

What was the secret of this success? The Harvard study attributes it to an attention to detail. One might also note that these children wore uniforms, were forced to behave well during the school day and studied traditional subjects. One also notes that the schools enlisted all parents and showed them how to help children with their homework. 

The paper also notes SA’s secret sauce: enormous attention to detail. Careful design of classrooms. More training for staff. A well-constructed, challenging curriculum. Close ties with parents.

The schools have defied labor unions and have exposed them for the failures that they are. Unfortunately, unions have reacted by colluding with politicians in ensuring that no more of such  charter schools be allowed to operate in the city:

Another key factor (though the study doesn’t talk about it much): the lack of union and Board of Education mandates. Success teachers aren’t unionized, and Moskowitz, well-versed in the workings of public-school bureaucracy, knew what to avoid.

Alas, despite the fierce demand for SA seats, the school can no longer expand because lawmakers capped the number of charters in the city.

Educrats can certainly learn valuable lessons about how to run great schools from HBS’s study. But if Gotham wants to broaden opportunity fast for desperate kids, it can simply lift the cap on charters and let schools like Success work their magic.

So, if you care about what works, you should stop complaining about racism and start doing something to reduce the achievement gap. We know what works, and we will be judged harshly for not doing it.

Biden Meets the Press

Biden does a presser. Herewith, the cue card that Biden was reading from during yesterday's effort to repair the damage he had done when he was speaking without cue cards. Note that both the questions and answers were scripted.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Saved by the Dirt

I find the idea intriguing, so, it is well worth our attention. Writing in the Financial Times on Saturday columnist Janan Ganesh suggested that the war in Ukraine is putting “Silicon Valley in its place.”

By that he means that we have all been sold the idea that tech is the present and the future, that tech will and should control our lives, and that we can be freed from the nitty gritty of everyday life to live in something called the metaverse. Fair enough, tech has done wonders for our lives, but its promise, to save us from the indignity of having to deal with the more mundane aspects of human life, is overblown. 

Why, some people imagine that we can dispense with energy, with oil and gas and coal, to replace it all with solar panels and wind turbines? Everyone with a lick of sense understands that this reverie has nothing to do with reality, and yet we keep pushing it. In truth, it and the policies enacted by its proponents, especially in Germany, have fostered war in Ukraine.

So, Silicon Valley’s image is taking a hit. Ganesh writes:

Silicon Valley’s self-image as the Middle Kingdom of the business world (or just the world) comes out in different ways. Executives in retail or manufacturing don’t philosophise obiter dicta with the confidence of Sheryl Sandberg and Mo Gawdat. Wall Street doesn’t yearn to extend everyone a line of credit in the way Mark Zuckerberg wants everyone to have the “human right” of an internet connection. It is only necessary to cite that particular example of digital messianism to see that it is well-intentioned. But it is also built on a conceit: tech as the industry of industries; the shaper of events.

A conceit-- fancy that.  The conceit in question is not your bloated self-esteem but is an elaborate metaphor, a figure of speech that has gotten out of control.

It is a less tenable conceit than it was a month ago. Tech is relevant in Ukraine; see the propaganda war. But next to the existential role of energy, which keeps Russia solvent, and has the west scrambling for alternative sources, what stands out is the modesty of its bearing on events. Silicon Valley is giving history a nudge here and there, no doubt, but not setting its essential course. That is still the role of people who dig stuff out of the ground for fuel.

The importance of energy. The importance of Europeans learning to defend themselves, to replace social spending with military spending. These are the lessons of Ukraine. One will add that it’s not just digging stuff out of the ground. It’s also about planting things in the ground. Ganesh does not mention it, but the Ukraine war, one that the Biden administration helped instigate and that it is working to allow it to continue, is going to produce a famine, food inflation and perhaps mass starvation. 

So, Ganesh suggests that the war's lesson is that we should recover our interest in the old economy:

In truth, if any business has wisdom worth sharing, it is the one that has to penetrate cultures as dissimilar as Kuwait and Santa Barbara: face to face, on the ground, over years. It is the one that is caught up in the most intimate way with matters of war and peace. Yet there it is: ever detached from the zeitgeist. Who reading this can name the CEO of ExxonMobil?

A good point. We know, as well as we know our own names, who runs Google and Microsoft and Facebook and Twitter. We do not know who runs ExxonMobil or any other oil company. How many young people, coming out of college, want to work in the fracking industry?

In his masterly history of oil, The Prize, Daniel Yergin, concedes that in the future political power will “come as much from a computer chip as from a barrel of oil”. Perhaps a Taiwan crisis will bear out his point. For now, though, 32 years after he wrote, the striking thing is the resilience of the barrel (or gas pipe, or nuclear plant) as a decider of events.

The present crisis is not just a lesson for preening tech bros. We almost all live what might be called the immaterial life: a life of service sector employment and contactless everything. It is a culture in which the importance of the tangible is easily lost. I grew up around some rather heavier lines of work than tech or media and I still needed a brute reminder of what makes the world turn.

Frankly, it might just be wish fulfillment, but how many of us are just a bit fed up with “preening tech bros.” How many of us want to grant more value to working the fields, working the mines, working the transportation networks. Fair enough, we all know that an army of hysterical high school students will soon be marching on Washington and the world’s other capitals to proclaim the importance of not getting dirty, of repealing the Industrial Revolution, of not touching the pure and pristine earth. They will tell you that it’s obscene and pornographic to drill holes in the earth.

Just in case you think that I am late to this party, I wrote, on this very blog, some eleven years ago, that we could all be saved by DIRT.

Glenn Greenwald Laments

In his most recent Substack column Glenn Greenwald covers many of the points that we have been discussing here. (via Maggie’s Farm)

Like it or not, the United States, under the leadership of an enfeebled old fool, is now engaged in a proxy war with Russia. 

Worse yet, Greenwald suggests, the engagement has never really been debated. In many ways we are no longer allowed to express certain opinions in public, and thus, those who question government policy are generally denounced as Russian stooges.

One might add that this shutdown of debate seems to correlate well with the fact that much of the public discussion is being led by certifiable imbeciles, Hollywood celebrities and assorted third-rate bureaucrats. It’s not just stupid, which has seemingly permanently infected our university system, but it is also a lack of integrity, at the highest level of government. 

One remarks that Greenwald, a British socialist who lives in Rio with his husband, has been widely denounced for failing to promote the party line-- and, of course, for having appeared on Fox News.

If that is the level of national debate, we are in big trouble. When we attack individuals we are showing that we are incapable of addressing the issues. 

How much do you now trust the people who signed a letter declaring the Hunter Biden laptop story to be Russian disinformation? How much do you respect them, now that not a single one of them has dared apologize for a clear dereliction of duty? And these are the people who have been in charge of the government intelligence bureaucracy. 

As for the issues deserving public debate, Greenwald lists these:

Hovering above all of these grave dangers is the question of why? What interests does the U.S. have in Ukraine that are sufficiently vital or substantial to justify trifling with risks of this magnitude? Why did the U.S. not do more to try to diplomatically avert this horrific war, instead seemingly opting for the opposite: namely, discouraging Ukrainian President Zelensky from pursuing such talks on the alleged grounds of futility and rewarding Russian aggression, and not even exploring whether a vow of non-NATO-membership for Ukraine would suffice? How does growing U.S. involvement in this war benefit the people of the United States, particularly as they were already — before this war — weighed down by the dual burdens of pandemic-based economic depravations and rapidly escalating inflation?

He continues:

These are precisely the questions that a healthy nation discusses and examines before jumping head-first into a major war. But these were precisely the questions declared to be unpatriotic, proof of one's status as a traitor or pro-Russia propagandist, as the hallmark of being pro-Putin. These are the standard tactics used to squash dissent or questioning when war breaks out. That neocons, who perfected these smear tactics, are back in the saddle as discourse and policy leaders — due to their six-year project of ingratiating themselves back into American liberalism with performative anti-Trump agitprop — makes it inevitable that such sleazy attacks will prevail.

So much for the marketplace of ideas. So much for the free trade in ideas. Amazingly, the neocon foreign policy commentariat is now out in force defending Joe Biden’s pathetic performance on the world stage. Even French president Emmanuel Macron needed to walk it all back, suggesting that the Biden language was far from being helpful.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Biden's Dementia on Full Public Display

You may recall July of 2018 when President Trump met with Russian president Vladimir Putin in Warsaw, Poland.

One does not especially like to traffic in analogies, but this one resonates. 

During the meeting Trump tried to be diplomatic. He failed to mention accusations that Putin had had dissidents assassinated. He tried to establish a connection with Putin. He did not rant and rave like the crazy person we were told that he was.

Naturally, the unhinged American left flew into high dudgeon, using the occasion to shower us all with its impotent rage. American leftists were horrified that Donald Trump did not call the Russian president a murderer to his face.

At the time, I was considerably more rational. The truth of the matter is, if you call a foreign leader a murderer to his face in front of television cameras, it would be a declaration of war. Trump was being diplomatic and judicious. You might not have thought it was tough enough, but macho displays of toughness are long on bravado and short on substance.

Beside, you know and I know that if Trump had said what the left had wanted him to say they would have rose up and called for his impeachment, on the grounds of his being unfit to conduct diplomacy with a foreign country.

Those who see the world in terms of strength and weakness often fail to distinguish between true strength and playacted strength. While Trump was certainly capable of both, with Vladimir Putin his approach was correct and, by the by, there was no war on Ukraine during his administration.

So now we have tough guy Joe Biden, who has recently emerged from his cellar to do a tour of Europe. The purpose of the tour is to show how tough he is and to rally the troops, for what exactly, is not clear.

As you know, Biden is cerebrally impaired, and his impairment has been on full notice during the Ukraine war. After all, even before he stepped foot in Europe he had already called Vladimir Putin a war criminal. To which the Russian foreign ministry responded by saying that Biden was a hair-breadth away from have a diplomatic rupture with Russia. Certainly, that would not advance any negotiations.

One would like, of course, to see the war end. One would like there to be fewer casualties and less destruction in Ukraine. The Biden rhetoric, unhinged or demented, guarantees just the opposite. Making the Western war aim the destruction of Putin makes it impossible for Putin to lose. If he has to level Ukraine, he will level Ukraine. 

If you consider that to be a welcome outcome, say so.

Anyway, yesterday Biden was at it again. He was demonstrating why his handlers do not let him out on his own. 

Speaking in Warsaw, to the cheers of his local supporters who are infatuated with macho posturing, Biden said this:

A dictator, bent on rebuilding an empire, will never erase the people’s love for liberty. Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia, for free people refuse to live in a world of hopelessness and darkness. For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.

Apparently, the last sentence was ad-libbed. The White House communications team immediately tried to walk it back, explaining that it meant that they were not going to let Putin exercise power over Ukraine. 

So, we have two interpretations. If you were sitting in the Kremlin, would you bet your life on the latter explanation? You would probably shoot a few missiles into Lviv, the better to make a statement.

The Biden administration has already made clear it wants to use economic sanctions to destroy Russia. It is so hellbent on this macho posturing that it has failed to consider the fallout, in the energy markets and in the grain markets. The sanctions will hurt us and will hurt people around the world. The only people who will not be hurt are… you guessed it… the Chinese. They have accumulated stores of everything that is being sanctioned.

Anyway, it was not the first misstatement that Biden made on his European tour. Nowadays every time he picks up a microphone his handlers cringe. One recalls a meeting he had with our troops in Warsaw two days ago. One will emphasize, because no one else is doing so, that the scene showed us that while Biden speaking, his Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was bowing his head-- in shame. After all, Austin knows, better than most of us that we can count on senile old Joe to embarrass himself, embarrass his administration and embarrass the country.

Anyway, in the course of his colloquy with the troops Biden suggested that he was going to send American troops into Ukraine:

You know, with the Ukrainian people, Ukrainian people have a lot of backbone, they have a lot of guts and I’m sure you’re observing it. And you’re gonna see when you’re there, and some of you have been there. You’re gonna see, you’re gonna see women, young people standing, standing in the middle, in front of a damn tank, just saying I’m not leaving. I’m holding my ground. They’re incredible. But they take a lot of inspiration from us.

The offending phrase was-- “when you’re there.” So, Biden suggested that he, the commander in chief, was going to send American troops into Ukraine.

Given that he had previously said that he would not send American troops to Ukraine, one might forgive foreign leaders for being confused. A president who speaks out of both sides of his mouth is clearly not in control of his policy or his mouth.

Obviously, when he spoke of the man who stopped a column of tanks, he was not talking about Ukraine. He was talking about Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989. As we have noted here, the second part of that heroic image deserves to be emphasized. We did not see it on television, but the Chinese government reaction to that act of bravado was to remove the protester and to send the tank column into Tiananmen Square, where it ran over the student encampment, including the student protesters themselves. It is not necessarily a good idea to humiliate tyrants. Most of the time it is a genuinely bad idea.

Of course, there were more misstatements by our cognitively impaired president. Also on his European tour, Biden suggested that if Russia used chemical weapons we would use them too.

When asked what the American response would be to a Russian chemical weapons attack, Biden said:

… it would trigger a response in-kind.

As it happens, this is contrary to stated American policy. So Jake Sullivan had to walk back Biden’s empty threat.

I will not expound at greater length on Joe Biden’s calamitous foray into the public eye. When it comes to exercising leadership, when it comes to playing a role on the world stage, we will not say that Biden is not ready for prime time, because prime time left Joe behind years ago.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Mask Mandates Damaged College Students Emotionally

Writing for The College Fix site UNLV student Katelynn Richardson assesses the damage done to students by mask mandates and social distancing.

Apparently, the damage our public health officials did to children did not limit itself to elementary schools. These officials, with their mania about controlling behavior and especially with canceling socialization, damaged the mental health of college students.

Naturally, they will now start protesting about how we need more mental health services. Unfortunately, they are responsible for producing the crisis and ought to begin by taking responsibility for it. The self-righteous and self-aggrandizing bureaucrats who took complete charge of the pandemic response ought to be held accountable, not only for the body count but also for the damage they wrought on children’s cognitive and emotional development.

So, college administrators chose to desocialize students. The result, not only loneliness but students who lost the ability to relate to each other face to face. When you cannot see someone’s face, you are likely to lose your capacity to relate to people directly. One understands that Zoom meetings are not an adequate compensation.

Richardson writes:

Students no longer know how to relate to one another face to face

College students are isolated.

A Harvard study from last year found 61 percent of young adults ages 18 to 25 feel “serious loneliness,” with 43 percent of these respondents reporting increases since the pandemic. The Healthy Minds Study, which surveyed students at 36 schools during fall 2020, also found 66 percent felt isolated from others.

It’s not limited to younger students. One non-traditional 43-year-old student said she simply attended class and left, not forming any relationships. She explains, “Everyone had their masks on and you didn’t know anyone’s comfort level.”

Richardson remarks that mask mandates seem to correlate with the currently popular cancel culture. When young people cannot connect by face-to-face contact, they become reduced to mental processing. And when you cannot distinguish between friend and foe by reading facial expressions, you are reduced to worrying about ideological conformity. It might not seem very clear, but surely Richardson is on to something:

So, worried what our peers may think, we hide our faces and our thoughts. Habitual mask-wearing is just a physical reminder of an issue that has been quietly chipping away at the morale of students for years — a lack of deep relationships.

It’s no wonder. Real relationships require some level of openness. Openness becomes socially risky when campus culture is gripped by a progressive ideology that won’t tolerate dissent. As University of Virginia senior Emma Camp shared in a recent New York Times op-ed, self-censorship on college campuses is real.

The smallest misstep can ostracize you from your peers.

Ironically, the very isolation that COVID restrictions exacerbated makes us increasingly susceptible to the kind of social control that was necessary to maintain them. It makes us less likely to risk disagreeing.

So, it is easier to control desocialized students. They lack any sense of belonging to a coherent social group, so they glom on to the approved causes-- because it makes them feel like they belong to a cult or a faction.

We’ll pretend to be brave and vocal, but only about approved causes. It’s why we latch onto every passing social movement and social media trend—from posting a black square on Instagram, to putting pronouns in bios, and yes, to wearing masks. Students are filling their need for fellowship with “solidarity” and political advocacy.

There is something disingenuous about claiming to care about one another while cutting off friends and family who think differently, lest we forget how many people banned each other from family gatherings and were willing to segregate peers from polite society because of a personal decision to decline a medical procedure.