Atlas Shrugged: The Mocking

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Businesses' Best Friend

From Megan McArdle's Facebook Question and Answer:
Bloomberg View From the column's comment section: "If companies think that no one is paying attention, you haven't begun to see the amount of intrusiveness that's possible." Megan, do you think this is true?

Megan McArdle: Companies do think that no one is paying attention to them, and I think they're largely right about this. And that's something worth noting about privacy activists, and other sorts of anti-corporate activists, even when I disagree with them: they are one of the reasons that companies don't go loonie and do a bunch of horrible things.  
Now, I'm not arguing that companies never do horrible things. But really, when you think of all the ways that companies could lie and cheat and abuse their customers, they're actually remarkably honest. That's not an argument against regulation, or whatever, it's just an observation that they could be much worse. It's remarkably true of lots of stuff in American life, actually; for example, tax evasion is actually pretty easy to get away with, but most people don't try.  
There are lots of reasons that companies don't do every bad thing they could do. For one, there are people in these companies, and people do not, on balance, like to do horrible things to other people. Also, many horrible things risk a backlash from your customers, which would cost more than any profit you'd make off said horribleness. One factor that keeps companies afraid of a backlash is the activists who will publicize any dodgy activity that comes to light. So these groups are really useful, even vital, to having a good capitalist society.  
But that doesn't mean that we should therefore think "companies bad, activist groups good". Activist groups, which are also made up of people, can be venal, self-interested, stupid, or simply mistaken, just like companies. And they almost always view their personal preferences and values as synonymous with the public good, even though much of the public does not share these preferences or values. So we should be glad that activist groups are around to keep companies honest--but we should also be skeptical of the activists too.

For instance, take Shell Oil. We all know that they don't really want to do bad stuff because they're rilly nice people and their customers would stop buying gasoline if they did.

Right away.

HOUSTON – Sierra Club and Environment Texas filed a lawsuit today in federal district court against Shell Oil Company and several affiliates. The suit – the first case in Texas in which citizen groups are suing to stop illegal air emissions arising from so-called “upset” events – claims that Shell has repeatedly violated the Clean Air Act at its Deer Park, Texas, oil refinery and chemical plant, resulting in the release of millions of pounds of excess air pollutants over the past five years, including toxic chemicals such as benzene and 1,3-butadiene.
Shell’s Deer Park facility is a 1,500-acre complex located on the Houston Ship Channel in Harris County, about 20 miles east of downtown Houston. It is the nation’s eighth-largest oil refinery and one of the world’s largest producers of petrochemicals. The facility is also the second largest source of air pollution in Harris County, which ranks among the worst in the nation in several measures of air quality.
“I live and work downwind from Shell, in Channelview. My family and my employees simply can’t afford to breathe in any more air pollution,” said Sierra Club member and small business owner Karla Land. “We have laws to protect air quality for a reason. Shell is breaking those laws and they need to be made to stop.” 
“On average of more than once a week for at least the past five years, Shell has reported that it violated its own permit limits by spewing a wide range of harmful pollutants into the air around the Deer Park plant,” said Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. “Because the state of Texas and the U.S. EPA have both failed to put a stop to these blatant violations, ordinary citizens are stepping up to enforce the law themselves.”

Make sure you are skeptical of activists because they "can be venal, self-interested, stupid, or simply mistaken, just like companies."


Megan McArdle is working hard. One hour ago:

Most of her posts look like they were dashed off right before quitting time.  And not many people would tell their audience about how much research they are doing unless they are doing none. Especially when they don't use any research in the article. Or when most of their "facts" are wrong, as they were in her famous kitchen post; after that post she tweeted that she had spent all day researching.

Yesterday she did a one-hour Q&A for Facebook, starting late and ending early. That was it for the day.

Perhaps she is busy working on something else besides her blog, maybe a long-form article, or is travelling for business. And one hour ago was 10:30 in her time zone. She's a journalist, her hours are fluid, she might work 15 hour days for all we know, although we also know she doesn't blog on weekends or holidays, with extremely rare exceptions. Yeah. That has to be it. That must be why she's shopping for new clothes at 10:30 on a weekday. She doesn't punch a clock, after all. And it's not like you can order clothes over the internet at any time you want.

Also, too: Banana Republic? Is that where she bought this tragic dress?

Now, you might think that discussing McArdle's work habits is silly. But we all know that the poor are poor because they don't apply themselves. They don't work hard at school and save their money and think ahead. I'm only thinking of McArdle's happiness. It's for her own good.

ADDED: Hahahaha! From the comments on her second Facebook post:

Thank you, Megan, for resisting the temptation to increase post quantity and the expense of quality. So many blogs, like the MSM, have gradually become a waste of the readers' time. Thank you for never wasting my time with trite articles I could get anywhere on the Internet. Keep it unique and stimulating.

    Trump and Fascism

    Read this article by Rick Perlstein on Donald Trump.  One quote:

    It’s not that his supporters don’t know he’s a con man; they revel in it. It’s what makes Donald a “winner.” Lying is an initiation into the conservative elite.  In these respects, as in so many others, conservatism resembles the “multi-level marketing,” or pyramid schemes, that so many Republicans buy into. Closing the sale is mainly a question of riding out the lie: showing you have the skill and the stones to just brazen it out, and the savvy to ratchet up the stakes higher and higher. 
    Which isn’t fascism. It’s more like professional wrestling––with which, as we know, Trump has a long and storied history.

    Or maybe it’s both.

    Tuesday, October 6, 2015

    Trade--And Everything Else--Should Be Free For The Rich

    I knew nothing about Carly Fiorina until recently and I was shocked when I saw how many people lost jobs because of her business tactics. One of the reasons I was shocked was because the people who were fired took the news submissively. Fiorina should not be able to walk around in public without being reminded of the suffering she inflicted on others. As I already posted in a comment, not everyone takes being fired calmly:
    Air France executives were forced to flee with their clothes in tatters after workers stormed a meeting at Charles de Gaulle airport in protest at 2,900 planned job cuts.  
    Human resources chief Xavier Broseta and Pierre Plissonnier, head of long-haul flights, scaled an eight-foot fence to escape, aided by security guards. Broseta emerged shirtless and Plissonnier had his suit ripped to shreds.  
    Violence erupted Monday as Air France told its works council that 300 pilots, 900 flight attendants and 1,700 ground staff might have to go after failed productivity talks with flight crew. The protest, in which agitators chanted “naked, naked,” is just the latest to turn physical in France, where managers at Michelin & Cie. and Sony Corp. have been held hostage over firings, irate farmers have blocked city streets with tractors and manure, and more than 100 Uber Technologies Inc. taxis were smashed up by rival drivers.
    And we all know someone else who should not be allowed to walk around in public without being censured.

    Yesterday Megan McArdle wrote yet another ode to free trade but ideology was not the impetus for her support. As we could see from her post about piecework, she is motivated by greed. It is the basis for her support for free trade and her animosity for American workers. She wants more money, more goods and services, without giving anything in return. The only thing keeping her from supporting indentured servitude is that she thinks it's easier to rent servants by the hour. Instead of doing her job-analyze and report--she gives a massive sigh and pout that people stand in the way of her greed and selfishness.
    I’ve spent the morning reading about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I went in prepared to deliver a column full of details, winners and losers, strong opinions about the good provisions and the bad. But what really comes to mind is a dismal thought: “Is this the best we can do?” 
    Oh, yes, I know the statistics. Forty percent of the world’s economy. Thousands of tariffs falling. I know the opposition points too, about giveaways to business, intellectual property rules, outsourcing jobs. No one is talking about the larger story, though, which is that the biggest trade news in a decade involves a regional deal of relatively limited impact.

    The real story here is that McArdle doesn't want to pay for goods or services. She wants workers to be forced to pick up work at the whim of someone with an app, to work without stability, a living wage or benefits, so she can buy more consumer goods and have more money in the bank or the stock market and squeeze her servants out of a living wage.

    McArdle admits that breaking down trade barriers has been very successful but not successful enough!

    It was not always thus. When I was a fledgling journalist, a wee slip of a thing, we economics writers looked to major global trade negotiations to advance the cause of freer markets, and not incidentally, the material progress of mankind. We looked down on regional side-deals because they were such weak tea compared with the robust brew of a global agreement. Regional deals distorted the flow of trade, encouraging people not to exploit comparative advantage and production capabilities, but rather to seek the best combination of tariff rules from among competing regional frameworks. I have heard arguments that such deals, by distorting trade and weakening the pressure to make global deals, were actually worse than doing nothing. Indeed, I may have made such arguments.
    Indeed she did, as I pointed out in her comments. Previously she said that labor suffered from free trade but eh, whaddaya gonna do?
    You don’t hear those arguments any more, and that’s because we free-traders have largely given up on global trade agreements. The Doha round of World Trade Organization talks collapsed in the face of European agricultural protectionism and intransigence among countries with large numbers of subsistence farmers. Nativism, protectionism, nationalism seem to be rising as a political force in many countries. Global trade volumes are looking anemic. In this climate, regional agreements seem attractive, in much the same way that the remaining bar patrons assume a winsome glow around closing time.
    She should know, considering the amount of time she spends in bars.
    How have things come to such an unpretty pass?
    Unspoken in her ruminations is the struggle between the rich, who want more money, and the poor, who want jobs. She deliberately leaves out the worker's struggles. No, it's not a fight for your family's survival. It's something else that will be easier to denegrate.
    ... The dismal story, of course, is that free trade has fallen prey to other, darker forces. As automation has done away with what used to be high-paying, semi-skilled jobs, people have given in to the natural human urge to find a foreigner to blame for their troubles. That has undercut the support for free trade when falling global growth rates mean we most need it.... Free trade has been a great success, and that has probably made further liberalization seem less urgent. But just look to the success of the Trump campaign to understand that this is not the only reason that trade liberalization is struggling.
    As a commenter pointed out:
    MC • 21 hours ago  
    "As automation has done away with what used to be high-paying, semi-skilled jobs, people have given in to the natural human urge to find a foreigner to blame for their troubles."  
    WAIT, in your last post, you said that American wage stagnation was likely due to "automation of low- to medium-skilled work in the manufacturing and clerical sectors, or the outsourcing of those jobs abroad." Now, you blame only automation. So which is it? Have American workers lost jobs to outsourcing? If they have, then doesn't that suggest that they aren't just xenophobically blaming free trade, but that free trade is actually somewhat responsible? I'm agnostic on free trade, but maybe free trade is hitting rough sledding politically because it...hasn't worked out as painlessly as was promised?
    People aren't trying to protect their jobs. They're intransigent nativists. They're trying to keep growth rates from increasing. Why won't they think of the .01% instead of their selfish desire to work hard for a living, thereby depriving McArdle of the chance to consume even more than she already does?

    Child's Play

    An argument between two children over puppies turned tragic Saturday when an 11-year-old boy killed his 8-year-old neighbor with a shotgun, according to authorities in Jefferson County, Tenn.
    America’s pediatricians remain undeterred and united in our desire to see significant policy change to address this public health crisis,” the AAP wrote in a statement released on the one-year anniversary of Sandy Hook.
    Several years ago, the American Medical Association advised doctors to ask their patients about firearms and “educate patients to the dangers of firearms to children” in the name of public health. But doctors in Florida may be suppressed from giving this medical advice, now that a federal appeals court upheld a Florida law that became known as the “physician gag rule” because it punishes doctors for talking about guns.
    Somebody said we should use anti-abortion tactics against the gun nuts. That's a very good idea. If the right wants to discuss immorality, let's discuss the immorality of manufacturing death and raising children to reach for a gun, either as a toy or a way to punish a little girl for refusing to show a boy a puppy.

    Sunday, October 4, 2015


    Talking is not enough.
    Who is against whom?  
    by Tom Sullivan  
    Discontent is simmering out there.
    Fear. Fear is simmering out there. The middle class is afraid of getting poorer. The poor are afraid of getting killed and getting poorer. The rich are afraid the poor will kill them and the middle class will make them poorer. Discontent doesn't motivate, it irritates. Fear motivates.
    Donald Trump is one proof. Bernie Sanders is another. The New York Times' Patrick Healy looks at how discontent manifests itself among liberal-leaning voters: Interviews with three dozen Democrats in key early states — a mix of undecided voters and Sanders and Clinton supporters — laid bare a sense of hopelessness that their leaders had answers to problems like income inequality and gun violence. It is frustration that Mr. Sanders, a senator from Vermont, and other progressive candidates are channeling and that Mrs. Clinton has addressed with increasing passion, as when she responded to Thursday’s massacre at an Oregon college by saying she was “just sick of this.”
    Healy reports that similar insurgencies against party-blessed candidates have also popped up in Florida, Illinois and Pennsylvania. Why? Because gun violence is not the only thing Democratic voters are sick of.
    Americans will not accept reality unless their noses have been rubbed in it. Reality is becoming too obvious to ignore. Democrats are finally losing hope, the first step to making changes.
    The disaffection among Democrats flows mainly from three sources, according to interviews with voters and strategists. Disappointment lingers with President Obama over the failure to break up big banks after the Great Recession and fight for single-payer health insurance, among other liberal causes.
    Nobody expected Obama to nationalize banks or get national health care (not insurance). Democrats said anyone who expected these actions were glitter-shitting purity ponies. They just thought the Republicans would be infinitely worse, which of course they would. If they are saying this they are lying to themselves and everyone else. They settled for the lesser of two evils and got exactly what they wanted. Some people are very upset with Obama's actions but most think he is doing a good job, especially considering the alternative. Now that people are poorer they wish Obama had acted but at the time they shrugged.

    Fatigue with Mrs. Clinton’s controversies endures, as does distaste with her connections to the rich. And anger abounds at party leaders for not pursuing an ideologically pure, economically populist agenda.

    Almost nobody asked for "an ideologically pure, economically populist agenda" and those who did were mocked by anyone who wanted to win the presidency.

    Karen Bryant from New Boston, N.H. gets down to the kitchen-table aspect of the problem: “There’s just so much hopelessness about people having any real opportunity to just make a living, take care of their families, support themselves.”
    The left voted for a liberal social agenda and a conservative economic agenda. They got what they voted for.
    David Atkins looks at the issue from a different angle for Political Animal. Voters once called "Middle American Rad­ic­als" are sick of the middle class "being disadvantaged by a focus on both the rich and the poor." Atkins writes:
    I particularly remember a series of focus groups I conducted among undecided, infrequent minority voters who were almost universally angry with food stamp and welfare programs because they worked full-time jobs and made just a little too much to qualify for them. They were angry that friends and neighbors of theirs were able to get assistance from the government, and they themselves were being “punished” for working. These were still liberal-leaning voters who were not going to vote for Republicans anytime soon because of their racism and because they wanted those welfare programs to continue to exist in case they themselves lost their job—but it didn’t change their angry perception that American government, in their eyes, seemed to advantage both the rich and the poor at the expense of the middle class.  
    And, predictably, the effect tends to be even greater among more comfortable white voters, who often have an unrealistically romantic idea of what being unemployed and on welfare is really like.
    If white voters need any primer on that, Rolling Stone provided an invaluable look at that in 2012. But they also have an unrealistically romantic idea of how politics works. 
    Atkins observes:
    It’s an artifact of America’s peculiar winner-take-all political system that we only have two functional parties.
    One functional party.
    Economically, this means that the conservative party works to align the middle class with the wealthy against the poor, while the liberal party works to align the poor and the middle class against the rich. But the middle class ideally wants to promote its own interests above all, and all too often it seems to them like no one is doing that.
     Actually, the rich do what they want and the rest of us beg for scraps. The more money you have the more scraps you get because you have more money to give to the rich.
    Dissatisfaction with the political parties and the economic system form common ground. Sanders' disaffected masses and Trump's share many of the same complaints, just different subsets of scapegoats. The problem is, both groups of voters are still shopping for a new boss that won't be the same as the old boss.
    Yes, authoritarianism is a major problem but not the only one. Nobody has any power but the rich. That is why it is very unwise to vote for people who are economic conservatives.
    Obama was supposed to fill that role for Democrats when he took office in 2009. But when Obama effectively told supporters, "I got this," they let him. They left the political battlefield and went back to trying to get by. The lesson still hasn't sunk in. Unless it does, they'll do the same again with whomever the Democrats elect.  
    They had no power. There was nothing they could do. They are starting to realize this now.
    Sanders says we need a political revolution. He's right. It's not just an electoral revolution. It has to be a revolution in thinking about politics.
    NO NO NO. That is what everyone says during every election. Political and electoral revolutions get you nowhere. Thinking gets you nowhere. We have enough deep thinkers. They get nothing done.

    There has to be a revolution.

    Conservatives know this. The tea parties, the Brooks Brothers riot, the gun obsessions: violence and shows of force to keep the undesirables in check. The toleration for mass murder to keep guns in conservative hands. The left's attempt to have a show of force, the Occupy movement, was quickly and fiercely squashed. Why do  you think conservatives keep telling liberals over and over that they are weak and effeminate? Why the concern trolling over violent rhetoric?

     There has to be a revolution. And there will be. The only question is how long it will be until liberals are desperate enough to physically fight for one. We're not there yet.

    This is not new. American laborers physically fought in the past for economic freedom and they can do it again. The rich know this; that is why they don't want the poor to watch their children starve. Nothing will start a revolution faster. As long as we are not starving we will not revolt and the rich can keep us dissatisfied but quiescent for a very long time. We can have a dangerous, deadly but relatively peaceful revolution now or a very bloody and deadly one later.

    By the time we are ready it might be too late.

    Friday, October 2, 2015

    A Real Piece Of Work

    Megan McArdle wants you to do piecework because she hopes to benefit from your desperation.

    Imagine that I am sitting at home one night, and I would love to go meet some friends for a drink. Unfortunately, it’s hard to get cabs to come to my neighborhood, it’s not quite safe to walk alone at night, and driving to the outing would defeat the purpose, since I couldn’t drink once I got there. So instead, I sit at home and watch reruns.

    Lowering the transaction costs makes it easier for me to find someone who is willing to drive me over to the bar. This hasn’t displaced someone else’s job; it’s an entirely new piece of economic activity that simply wouldn’t have happened if the transaction costs had remained high. We get additional employment, additional consumption and additional happy hours with our friends, drinking margaritas and arguing about "Game of Thrones."

    Kevin Drum does not.

     All this has Kevin Drum concerned: “It now seems as though the 'sharing economy' is any job that's somehow related to a scheduling app and provides workers only with odd bits and pieces of work at the employer's whim. In other words, sort of like manual laborers in the Victorian era, but with smartphones and better pay.”

     McArdle hears his concern but is not convinced. Lots of people would love to have two or three or four jobs.
    Of course, some workers would rather be [fully employed]. But what about people who use these jobs to “moonlight” around other obligations, like day jobs, school or child care? Worker supply, as well as consumer demand, seems likely to fall.
    The real concern, I think, is that these jobs will become substitutes for better jobs: more stable, better paid. This is obviously going to concern left-wing commentators, many of whom have already expressed worry that the “gig economy” is bad for American workers. 
    That may be.
    However, just because workers would suffer doesn't mean workers would suffer.

    But proving that someone got hurt is not the same as proving a net decline in the position of workers.

    But so what? It's not like they can get a good job anymore anyway.

    But that rests on the hidden, and so far unproven, assumption that the gig economy is in fact displacing workers by driving down the value of the work they do, rather than creating new economic activity that simply wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for these apps -- and possibly in the process providing work for workers displaced from other industries, for reasons that have nothing to do with Uber or Instacart.

    I think there are real concerns about what has happened to the wages of American workers. But so far, I don’t see much evidence that Uber or Airbnb is the cause. Most of it seems to come from automation of low- to medium-skilled work in the manufacturing and clerical sectors, or the outsourcing of those jobs abroad. Trying to fix those problems by destroying Uber’s business model is like trying to cure your headache by taking a hammer to the bottle of aspirin.

    Just as McArdle thought that Africans would be lucky to "slave" for $21 a month in a sweatshop, her fellow Americans would be lucky to get whatever work they could scrape up in their spare time, if there is any work.

    Kevin is, of course, right that these apps somewhat mimic the casual labor market of the 19th century. But there’s a difference beyond the labor conditions: The apps radically drive down the transaction costs to providing these sorts of services. A Victorian laborer might have had to tromp from house to house looking for work, or stand outside for hours waiting for someone to come by looking for workers. No longer.

    Just think about how much easier your life of poverty would be if you could wait to be contacted via app instead of waiting in the parking lot of Home Depot in the hopes of getting a painting or construction job.

    Besides, those full-time jobs with benefits were problematic to begin with. Your company is bound to screw you over anyway.

    But doing those things internally, rather than buying services in the market, is expensive. It makes the employer less flexible, and raises its fixed costs. It has to recover those costs somehow, which can happen in one of three ways:
    1. Charge customers more, which will reduce demand and result in fewer hours of labor being consumed
    2. Lower the wage paid to the workers
    3. Exert a lot more control over worker schedules and conditions to maximize the ratio of work to overhead. Workers will probably not be allowed to show up whenever they feel like and work as long as they want. They will, for example, probably have their hours capped to prevent them from qualifying for health insurance.

    If employers have to pay you steady wages and benefits you'd never get a job.

    How much better it would be to just accept your impoverished and precarious situation. And let's face it, how much better it would be for Megan McArdle if you were powerless, and forced to ferry her from her $300,000 gentrified Victorian rowhouse to her favorite bars and back again for the lowest fees the market could provide.

    The Age Of Lies

    It's no longer the Information Age, it's the Age of Lies. Lies are bought and sold; there is an enormous, lucrative market for them. That has always been true but now they are respected, repeated, emulated. We are nostalgic for eras in which lies were never or seldom challenged; the Confederate lies, the Madison Avenue lies. People who lie are hot commodities and seem to vastly outnumber people who are paid to tell the truth.

    Did yesterday's mass murderer actually target Christians? Nobody knows yet but the story is being passed around as truth because it's such a desirable lie. Did Carly Fiorina see an aborted baby kicking? No, but it doesn't matter because if it isn't true it ought to be. Rod Dreher's book on his sister is filled with lies, stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey with self-deception and thin but boldly stated lies meant to make him look like a much better person than he actually is. Donald Trump lies about everything for the same reason, and because it makes him money.

    Does controlling drug prices destroy innovation? It did as long as you never admit it's a lie. Bloomberg publishes McArdle because there is a market for lies and McArdle always comes through with the goods. Demand, meet supply. She will take that lie to her grave because it sells.

    Tuesday, September 29, 2015

    The Rod and the Cross

    Get off the cross. Someone else needs the wood. (TM tengrain)

    We will begin our study of Rod Dreher with his second book, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life because it was the first to be delivered to my library.

    The title of Rod's book immediately calls to mind the story of Saint Therese of Lisiex, the "little flower," as it no doubt is meant to do. St. Therese was a young nun who found relief in abasing herself as much as possible and enjoyed suffering from tuberculosis. She said:

    Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love.

    The Little Way of St. Therese is the devotion of every little action of one's life to God.

    For me, prayer is a movement of the heart; it is a simple glance toward Heaven; it is a cry of gratitude and love in times of trial as well as in times of joy; finally, it is something great, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus...I have not the courage to look through books for beautiful prayers...I do like a child who does not know how to read; I say very simply to God what I want to say, and He always understands me.

    Dreher's book is the story of his sister Ruth and the way in which her goodness revealed Dreher's specialness and sanctity. Through her life devoted to her family, teaching job, and community, she showed the superiority of Rod Dreher and his chosen ways of life. Her death purified and sanctified Rod and perhaps everyone else and the beautiful tale is overflowing with God's gifts and special attentions to him. And Ruth.

    Rod first became aware that there was something special about his younger sister when, at about five years old, she begged her father to beat her with a belt instead of Rod for something obnoxious he had done. Despite the deep impression her attempted sacrifice made on him, Rod could not recall what he had done to deserve the beating. He did, however, remember the exact words she used, and that her father couldn't beat either one of them due to the sweet purity of her act.

    Despite the fact that they both grew up in the country, Rod condescends to refer to his sister as a "country mouse" and to himself as a "city mouse." The two could not have been more different and Rod didn't realize her specialness at first, although he describes her as "quite possibly the kindest person many people in our Louisiana parish had ever met." One aspect of her specialness, which Rod mentions twice in the first two pages of the book, is her Little Way of frequently beating up her brother when his teasing irritated her past all patience.

    Rod lovingly related all the times in which his sister showed him up in sports, speed and strength, in competitiveness, in closeness and rapport with their parents, and in popularity. She had lots of friends and "no enemies," said Rod, and their mother said she was "just kind of magical." He describes their childhood in the small town of Starhill as halcyon days of baseball games, fishing, and neighborly closeness that Rod did not always feel part of. When a local boy died and Rod overheard his father and another man weeping. "I didn't know how to take it, and went away," he said; it was not the last time Rod didn't understand those around him.

    Despite Rod's penchant for needling his sister, his physical description of himself as "pudgy, weak and embarrassingly uncoordinated," his inability to hunt without gagging, and his preference for television, comic books and novels instead of the outdoor activities beloved of almost every other boy in the community, Rod said he "had been one of the most popular kids in my class." And despite Ruth's penchant for whaling the tar out of Rod, when he was jumped by two of his "pals" in childhood, Ruthie came to his rescue. But Ruth couldn't help Rod when, "for some reason," everyone in his school turned on him and hazed him during a class trip. The event made an indelible impression on 14-year-old Rod, so much so that the rest of the first chapter is devoted entirely to his suffering.

    In 19 all-too-brief pages we are shown the course of Ruth's childhood which formed her character and made her into the saint that she became, along with extensive detours into Rod's life, character and travails. "Ruthie and I knew we were in a special family," Rod said. "Our family was happy and secure."

    "Paw was a strict disciplinarian, but he didn't have to do it [beat them with a belt] often because we had such respect for him and for Mam. He was the kind of man you wanted to please because he seemed so strong, so wise, and so good.... We hero-worshipped him, Ruthie and I did."

    Unfortunately, Paw didn't think much of Rod, as Rod explains in loving detail. "Me, the kind of man I was, I wanted you to be outside, with me," his father said.

    "During this time I fought often with my father. I honestly can't remember what we argued over, but I remember him being frustrated with my outcast status.... It was especially hard for my strong-willed father, who could not empathize with a son whose way of seeing the world was increasingly alien to his own. In one of our yelling matches Paw accused me of bringing all this on myself for being so obstinately strange. And that's when I knew how alone I was."
    Paw fought with Rod all the time. "To my father for me to disagree with him on important matters was not simply to be mistaken. It was to reject him and what he stood for. You can imagine the hurt he suffered. You can imagine the frustration I endured." Actually we don't need to imagine because Rod covers it in great detail. Rod tells of how his father buckled under and did what his own parents wanted instead of what he wanted to do. Paw endured family disapproval and rejection but did his duty anyway, putting family and community first. The least Rod could have done was reinforce the validity of Paw's sacrifices by doing the same but Rod refused.

    Rod's only consolation as a child was his two ancient great-great aunts, who petted him but rejected Ruth, not caring for little girls. They described their adventures in France to little Rod and read his palm, mystically predicting he would travel far as they had. They met famous people and ate exotic foods, had expensive and fine works of art, read the newspapers and discussed world events with the little boy, and Rod adored the special attention they gave him and him alone. As an adult Rod continued to feel special through fine foods, travel and writing.

    Ruth's Little Way blossomed in her teenage years, where her saintly "doing of the least actions for love" manifested as happy days spent working hard in school, hanging out at beery parties with her friends, and making out with her boyfriend and eventual husband Mike. Mike became the son Paw never had, one who actually enjoyed being with him and learning from him. Ruth was class valedictorian and homecoming queen and fit in with the elite students that tormented young Rod until he escaped to a public boarding school for gifted and talented students. Ruth's girlhood speeds by in 14 short pages and before we know it Ruth and Rod are both attending LSU. But Ruth was still the simple girl with, Rod pointed out over and over, a simple mind and simple heart.

    During the week [Ruth] stayed buried in her books, worked hard, and made perfect grades. I was studying journalism, philosophy, political science, and considered long, beery arguments over existentialism with my fellow young scholars to be time well spent. My college transcript, while respectable, does not support this generous interpretation.

    At LSU Ruthie thought I was getting away with something, and not only because I managed to ace tests even though I had stayed out late drinking beer and barely studied. she my have experienced on campus the same frustration and envy I felt when Ruthie triumphed on every front back home with so little effort. Worse, Ruthie could not understand what I studied, and what engaged me intellectually, and therefore she regarded it with suspicion, even loathing.  
    One evening she shared a table in the cafeteria with my best friend Paul and me. Paul, a political theory major and I, minoring in philosophy and political science, loved to talk about big ideas. That evening we got off on something about Nietzsche and the death of God. Ruthie listened patiently, but finally lost her cool. She told us she thought that was the "stupidest bunch of you-know-what" that she had ever heard.  
    "What is wrong with y'all? she said. "Listen to you. You sit here for hours talking about his crap, and it doesn't mean anything. You're just talking; you're not doing anything.  
    We thought she was putting us on, but Ruthie wasn't joking.  
    "I'm serious, y'all," she said. "I don't understand the two of you. I really don't . What good is any of this y'all are talking about going to do anybody? Do you really think you're going to support yourselves with this stuff? What does any of it mean in the real world?"  
    She wouldn't listen to anything either of us had to say in defense of philosophy or philosophizing. At the time I thought Ruthie's prickly anti-intellectualism was funny.
    Despite her holiness, Ruth underestimated Rod's ability to talk (and write) endlessly about nothing and sell his nothings to conservative venues eager to publish rambling, pseudo-intellectual moralizing,  spiteful, angry attacks on people Rod considered his enemies, and self-satisfied, condescending observations of people Rod considered his inferiors.

    When Ruth's first daughter was born Rod tried to return home and his father was triumphant. Rod was horrified that his father thought Rod was finally giving in and reinforcing his father's values instead of accepting and appreciating his son for who he was. He left home once again but Rod never stopped trying to get approval and acceptance and what he did get was never enough because it wasn't from his father and sister.  He turned each of his likes and dislikes into movements and crusades. His elitism became the Crunch Con movement, as he tried to show that his way was the right and moral and only way to live and he deflected his anger at his family by showering scorn on people who lived in McMansions or refused to homeschool their children.

    Rod's suffering is central and foremost to his depiction of Ruth and her Little Way.  He subtitles his book "the secret to a good life" but alas, the secret is never revealed to him because he is so different from Ruth. Rod tells us that he is complex where Ruth is simple in mind and faith, stubbornly set in her mind where "it was my nature to investigate, to dissect, to analyze." Ruth hated elitism and extravagance while Rod loved eating elite foods, renting grand homes, and mixing with the great and powerful at places such as National Review (one assumes; he never mentions that job). Every shopping trip to buy imported ham or every fine bottle of wine reinforced Rod's elite status in his own eyes but Ruth just didn't understand their or his importance in the world.

    Ruth's inability to appreciate Rod's specialness affected their relationship for the rest of her brief life. While Ruth taught school and gave birth to three daughters, Mike joined the National Guard, served in Iraq, and became a fireman. Rod made "twice their salary combined" writing movie review in New York for the New York Post and his wife Julie worked at Commentary with "a number of the leading intellectual polemicists and essayists of our time," such as John Podhoretz, Elliot Abrams, and  Marty Peretz. Rod's visits home were always filled with tension as Ruth stubbornly refused to appreciate Rod's "important work" in journalism and as intellectual thought leader.

    His overwhelming need to feel special to compensate for his family's rejection sent him on a permanent religious quest, to get from God what he could not get from them. He joined the Catholic Church, attracted to the grandeur of its possessions and its self-soothing rituals. Its enemies became his enemies and he raged at and scorned gays, blaming them for the priest's rapes and molestations.  Ruth told him he was "holier-than-thou." He bought icons, relics, rosaries, and prayer ropes, went on pilgrimages and prayed obsessively. He saw miracles everywhere, telling himself that the Blessed Virgin Mary took time out of her busy afterlife to bathe him in the scent of roses, that angels and dead relatives visited him and his family. He became Orthodox Christian for the mysticism. He said, "I don't know what my sister thought of this, but if she gave it any thought at all, she probably figured it was more of her flighty brother's churchy nonsense."

    Whenever Rod visited home he patiently tried to explain to her why public schools were cultural and moral wastelands but inexplicably the public school teacher was not impressed that Julie homeschooled their children because it was the only moral way to raise children. Ross's alienation from home and family became the country's alienation from family and community.
    "I had spent my professional life writing newspaper columns, blog posts, and even a book, lamenting the loss of community and traditions in American life. I had a reputation as a pop theoretician of cultural decline, but in truth I was long on words, short on deeds.... My friends and I talked a lot about the fragmentation of the modern family, about the deracinating effects of late capitalism, about mass media and the erosion of localist consciousness, about the consumerization of religion and the levanthian state and every other thing under the sun that undermines our sense of home and permanence."
    But Ruth's illness from lung cancer and death revealed that for some people, community support and family love still existed. Rod badly wanted what Ruth had and couldn't understand why she didn't like or respect him despite all his great accomplishments and refined, godly nature.  "Ruthie plainly loved me, but she just as plainly though that I was a snob and a fraud," he said. He wrote The Little Way as a glorification of what he had once rejected, imbuing Ruth with sanctity and telling himself that her suffering had purified him, Rod Dreher, and brought him closer to God and family. As the book closes Rod and family move back home to have "the opportunity to be a part of something extraordinary." He rented a beautiful house in the Historic District and pictured himself "sipping bourbon and putting the world to rights." He felt "the grace around us, pushing us forward."

    Rod and Julie "made sure to explain [to their Philadelphia friends] that we weren't moving away from something bad-we loved them, and we loved our Philly life-but toward something good." Their friends all were no doubt grateful for the Rod Dreher Seal of Approval despite their failure to appreciate rural life because they all immediately told Rod that he was right and they were lacking something in their lives. But it didn't work. Rod still felt unwanted and unappreciated by his father and developed a new movement and wrote a new book about using Dante to find one's way in life.

    Recently Rod's father died, forever denying him his unconditional love,  and he is now pushing yet another book in which he tells his readers that the only way to live is to retreat from others into a small, tightly knit community of Orthodox Christians. He still battles his enemies, for Islam and secular humanism are trying to destroy his little communities, just like gays destroyed the Catholic Church and the cool kids in high school destroyed his happy childhood.

    Thursday, September 24, 2015

    A Hanky For Megan

    As we have seen in the past, it is possible to obtain Megan McArdle's sympathy if she personally sees or has personally experienced your suffering. (See: unemployment.) While avoiding any blogging on the drug pricing scandal, McArdle took the time to (over)write an ode to Syrian refugee suffering.

    Her commenters are having none of it. Attracted to McArdle's work by the natural section of their own lack of empathy, they are now informing the little miss that the refugees are just gold-digging proto-terrorists.

    You get the commenters you deserve, which is why Roy Edroso's comment section is awesome.

    Tuesday, September 22, 2015

    There Are None So Blind As Those Who Will Not See

    Clock-truther Rod Dreher backs up his crazy by using his son.
    One of those teenagers [upset about Ahmed Mohammad] is my electronics geek son, who was initially furious over what happened to Ahmed, but now thinks Ahmed is a plagiarizing little punk. My son said to me last night, wearing his MIT t-shirt, “I’m actually inventing things, but this kid is getting all the intention for something he didn’t even invent. This is really disappointing.”
    Dreher's son supported Ahmed at first, identifying with the other boy's love of electronics. Then something happened to change his mind. That something is almost certainly dear old Dad. It might be that Dreher is passing on his sense of entitlement and bottomless resentments as well as his bigotry.
    You know what’s interesting about the Talbot part of that story? That here’s a scientist offering an analysis that debunks what might be a tall tale, but the Social Justice Warriors want to shut him up because his analysis might disprove the initial narrative. I jumped to conclusions about Ahmed’s clock the first time, so I’m not going to do it now.
    Dreher immediately goes on to jump to conclusions. Dreher always makes observations that he then ignores. It's incredible. He can see a problem and see the effect of that problem but invariably goes on to embrace the problematic action.
    But what these geeks show us makes the entire episode look very fishy. The early Ahmed Truthers on this blog who suspected the kid was put up to this stunt by his attention-seeking gadfly of a father might have been on to something. Whatever the truth is, it seems at least likely that Ahmed did not “invent” anything. That may not justify the overreaction of school officials and the Irving police, but it’s worth seriously considering, if Ahmed did, in fact, plagiarize this device, whether or not he was trying to provoke exactly this kind of overreaction. Somebody needs to get to the bottom of this — or has the story become too useful for the White House and others who rushed to Ahmed’s defense to discredit?
    If you looked up "attention-seeking gadfly" in the dictionary you would find a picture of Dreher.

    ADDED: A commenter warns Rod to avoid emotional reactions:

    We need Conservatives to be cool, calm, and collected, especially our best thinkers – so as to offer the perfect opposite of the prevailing sentiment. I understand this must be difficult in blog format where one is expected to opine on the day’s cultural news. I am thinking here, too, of the immature reaction from a lot of the Right around the early stages of information flow regarding the Trayvon and Michael Brown incidents.

    We need you, Rod…and we need you to be penetrating!

    Yes, conservatives need a penetrating Rod.