My Days of Not Taking Slate Seriously Are Coming to a Middle

There was an initial wave of angry condemnation when The Triple Package was first released, and my problem with that reactionary wave was just that: It was reactionary. It’s been over a month since those first-pass criticisms were unleashed, and over at Slate Daria Roithmayr has had time to formulate a more nuanced and sophisticated response. Or, as turns out to be the case, not. Instead, her response shows the twin perils of (A) putting politics ahead of reality and (B) espousing historical theories without consulting Wikipedia first.

According to Roithmayr, the real reason that different cultural groups perform differently is that they start out with unequal resources. Otherwise: we are all exactly the same. The problem is that Roithmayr pretends it’s a conclusion of her research when quite obviously it is pure political dogma. She explains the success of each of the seven cultural groups identified by Chua in their turn. I’m not a historian, so I’m not qualified to analyze all of them, but in the case of her hypothesis about what makes Mormons successful, her explanation is so bad that you don’t have to be. Even the most superficial familiarity with our history shows that she has no idea what she’s writing about. Consider:

It’s not just that Mormons have developed a “pioneer spirit” or that they believe that they can receive divine revelations, as Triple Package would have us believe. It’s more that the first Mormons started with enough money to buy a great deal of land in Missouri and Illinois. They then migrated to Utah, where Brigham Young and his followers essentially stole land from the Shoshone and Ute tribes, refusing to pay what the tribes demanded, and petitioning for the government to remove them. Beyond thousands of acres of free land, early political control over Utah was helpful.

So here’s the true story of Mormonism: a bunch of really wealthy families just decided to buy a bunch of land in New York, Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, and so forth. Why did they keep moving around and buying new land? Oh, you know, just because. They were fickle like that. Then they thought it would be fun to move to Utah because, you know, the land by the Great Salt Lake is legendary for being so fertile. That’s what everyone says when they drive through Utah, right? 

The Desert
Look how green everything is!

In case you can’t detect all the sarcasm, the reality is that the Mormons were poor and marginalized from the start and that they moved from one state to the other at the point of a gun, suffering murders, rapes, and theft along the way. When they managed to build the city of Nauvoo up to one of the largest American cities at the time, well, that was about the time Joseph Smith was murdered and they were surrounded by thousands of armed men with, you know, cannons and then forced out of their homes without compensation in the middle of winter. The land they stole in Utah was only marginally fit for agriculture and the reason they were there in the first place was simply to get away from constant oppression, but that ended up not working so well when the United States sent the largest federal expeditionary force of its history (to that point) to subjugate those wacky religious nuts, resulting in the low-grade Utah War of 1857

Since Roithmayr says “For many groups, like Cubans and Mormons, the early wave was a select group endowed with some significant material or nonmaterial resources—wealth, education, or maybe a government resettlement package,” and since Mormons were by and large quite poor the only reasonable conclusion is that she can’t tell the difference between a resettlement package and an armed invasion.

A painting of the Haun's Mill Massacre. Or, as Roithmayr describes it, the Haun's Mill Polite Conversation.
The Haun’s Mill Massacre where a mob of over 200 killed about 20 Mormon men and boys and were never prosecuted. Or, as Roithmayr describes it, the “Haun’s Mill Polite Conversation.”

She mentions Mormons one more time, writing:

The most recent (newly converted) Mormons hail from Africa and Latin America, and many of them have migrated to the U.S. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has also begun outreach to U.S.-born blacks (African-Americans have only been allowed in the Mormon church priesthood since 1978). Black Mormon trajectories look nothing like the white Mormons at the center of The Triple Package’s argument.

Keen observers might point out the obvious fact that “recent” converts are probably not the best indication of the long-run effects of a culture.

Again: I’m still skeptical of Chua’s points. I haven’t read the book and I don’t subscribe to the thesis. I’m also not nearly as familiar with the history of the other cultures described. I do know that in general there’s a serious selection problem when you’re comparing immigrants (often those with the wealth and education to be mobile) with their home population (sometimes slanted towards those unable to get away). I think Roithmayr could probably have made a serious, convincing counter-argument if she’d been willing to put history ahead of ideological wish-fulfillment. As it stands, she’s making the case against Triple Package look worse, and she’s not doing much for the either the credibility of either Slate or the discipline of critical race theory.

Scientifically Literate Tea Partiers?

2013-10-17 Tea Party Scientific Literacy

That’s the conclusion, according to a Yale professor. It’s really not big news, honestly. The Tea Party is already known to be slightly wealthier and more college educated than the average public, so it’s no surprise to find that they are also slightly more scientifically literate.

But it’s still a sharp contrast with the way they are portrayed in the media. As Professor Kahan put it:

I’ve got to confess, though, I found this result surprising. As I pushed the button to run the analysis on my computer, I fully expected I’d be shown a modest negative correlation between identifying with the Tea Party and science comprehension.

But then again, I don’t know a single person who identifies with the Tea Party. All my impressions come from watching cable tv — & I don’t watch Fox News very often — and reading the “paper” (New York Times daily, plus a variety of politics-focused internet sites like Huffington Post & Politico).

The large difference between the image universally presented by the media and the reality is much more interesting than the small difference between scientific literacy for the Tea Party and the public at large.

Is American Journalism Dead?

2013-09-27 Carney
Jay Carney: Just one of many journalists to decide it’s more liberating to cast aside the pretext of impartiality and work for The Man directly.

I think I might be fading into that fabled silent majority of American conservatives. Where I used to get into heated debates with folks in my cohort about their liberal beliefs, I mostly now just shake my head and try to get back to earning a living. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

But I still see stories, now and then, that just irritate me to no end. Here’s a collection. First, there’s all the journalists who jump back and forth between journalism and working for the Obama administration. The Washington Times gives us some numbers: “The current count of press turncoats varies from a low of 15 reported by The Daily Beast to a high of 24 as reported by The Atlantic.” Then there’s old battlehorses like Bob Woodward or, more recently, Seymour Hersh showing up as the only guys willing to go to bad against the Obama administration (short of conservative pundits, of course). Woodward is famous for covering Watergate and Hersh is famous for covering My Lai and Abu Ghraib. Now Hersh says Obama is worse than Bush and castigates the NYT for “carrying water for Obama than I ever thought they would.”

Seymour Hersh
Ordinarily truth tellers who uncover not one but *two* major cover ups of military crimes are lionized by the left, but Seymour Hersh is another one of those erstwhile heroes relegated to “crazy uncle” status for turning on President Obama.

And then, to give a specific example, here’s an obscenely bad story from CNN purporting to do some “mythbusting” about the impact of Obamacare.

Read moreIs American Journalism Dead?

The Mainstream Media and Obama

2013-06-10 Obama

There has definitely been a different tone in mainstream media coverage of the Obama administration since the current wave of scandals hit the headlines. Has the news media finally decided to vet President Obama?

To some extent: yes. I think that the news of the Department of Justice’s monitoring of the AP press pool in particular had an impact in how the press views the White House. And there are only but so many times you can listen to Jay Carney blatantly and obviously lie to you before that starts to get annoying, I would think.

On the other hand, Breitbart is quick to point out that not a single one of the scandals was actually broken by the American press. Now, Breitbart being Breitbart, the site has a definite bias and really reaches to actually make their case, but I think the fundamental reality–that the press doesn’t really pursue the Obama administration they way it has others–is true. The Daily Caller points out that the initial New York Times opinion piece critical of the Obama administration (President Obama’s Dragnet) was quietly edited to dampen the initial criticism of President Obama. Initially, it stated that the Obama administration “has lost all credibility”, but within a few hours this had been qualified to read “administration has now lost all credibility on this issue.” (emphasis added by Daily Caller).

From where I’m standing, it looks like the American journalistic establishment feels a lot less obligated to carry President Obama now that he has secured a second term. Their work, in a sense, is done. There’s therefore a lot more freedom to criticize the President, but not much appetite for it. All the criticism to date is indirect if it refers to President Obama at all. If it were not for international press and the right-wing alternative media, I don’t think we would know as much today as we currently do.

Just Because You’re Paranoid…

As the old saying goes: “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”

Last week has not been kind to the Obama administration in that regard. I watched a lot of the Benghazi hearings on C-SPAN while I was working, and to me it seemed clear that the most explosive accusation the GOP has been making is still completely unsubstantiated. There’s no evidence (that I’ve seen) that President Obama or anyone else refused to send military aid that could have arrived on time and would have made the difference. On the other hand, there seems to be pretty overwhelming evidence that the Administration willfully and knowingly lied to the American people in the immediate aftermath of the attacks and then doubled-down on the first set of lies. And it looks like even the non-paranoid, mainstream media outlets are taking notice.

2013-05-13 Benghazi Hearing

The New Yorker, for example, has a piece with the headline Spinning Benghazi. And it gets right to the main evidence of deception: 

Read moreJust Because You’re Paranoid…

Homegrown American Terrorism: Liberal Edition

The blind eye the media largely turned to the Gosnell story is only one example of the subtle but pervasive media bias in the traditional media establishment. This isn’t a  conspiracy, it’s merely a reflection of homogeneous politics. Journalists and their editors are overwhelmingly from the left of American politics, and they see the world through a center-left lens. So when a someone who claims affiliation with the pro-life movement shoots an abortionists, this is head-line news. It fits a pre-existing narrative. But when someone who claims affiliation with the pro-choice movement shoots a non-violent pro-life protester that gets much less coverage because it doesn’t fit a pre-existing narrative.

In a center-left view of American politics: the right wing is associated with violence, authoritarianism, and oppression.

Flord Corkins II - Mass murder in the name of marriage equality.
Flord Corkins II – Mass murder in the name of marriage equality.

So here’s another story that will get limited coverage because it doesn’t fit that mold. Anyone remember the shooting spree at the Family Research Center that wasn’t? I say “that wasn’t” because an armed security guard managed to stop the attacker (Floyd Corkins II) immediately, but the HuffPo (hat tip for going against the political grain) has some information on what the shooter’s objective was:

A security guard subdued Corkins in the lobby of the Family Research Council in August after he pointed a pistol at the man. Corkins fired three shots, and the guard was the only one wounded. Corkins, who was carrying nearly 100 rounds of ammunition and 15 Chick-fil-A sandwiches, later told authorities that he had planned to kill as many people as possible and then to smear the sandwiches on their faces as a political statement.

According to the government’s case against Corkins, if he had not been defeated by the security guard he “would have almost certainly succeeded in committing a massacre of epic portions.” And smearing each corpse with a Chick-Fil-A sandwich. Why a Chick-Fil-A sandwich? Well here’s some video of Corkins being interrogated by FBI agents in which he discusses why he targeted the Family Research Center.

So, a would-be mass shooter picked the FRC by looking at the Southern Poverty Law Center‘s list of anti-gay organizations (the FRC opposes gay marriage). Now the Chick-Fil-A thing makes sense, since the attack happened around the time that some people were boycotting Chick-Fil-A because the CEO gives money to socially conservative causes that opposed gay marriage. So Corkins thought a good, pro-gay marriage response would be to kill a few dozen people and rub it in their faces, so to speak.

Does Corkins represent the pro-gay marriage side of the debate? Absolutely not. I’m not interested in trying to tar an entire half of the political spectrum with this man’s craziness. I just think it’s instructive how much the news cycle depends on pre-existing stereotypes to news coverage. And this isn’t always friendly to liberals, either. There is absolutely no doubt that if you’re a pretty, young, blonde girl who gets kidnapped you’re going to get wall-to-wall coverage, but if you’re a black girl from an inner city forget it. The center-left political lens of American journalists is, after all, also calibrated to a mostly white, college-educated cohort.

I just think it’s useful to keep in mind that violent people come from all parts of the political spectrum, and I can’t help but wonder what some of the national debate on political issues would look like if the violence of conservatism wasn’t taken as axiomatic…