Monday, April 03, 2017

Cruising the Web

The WSJ has an interesting interview with Jonathan Haidt about "The Cultural Roots of Campus Rage." Haidt is a professor of psychology and ethical leadership at NYU's School of Business who, in 2012, wrote “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion,” a book on moral psychology which helped expose him to other ways of viewing the world and led him to have more understanding of how conservatives view the world. I first became aware of Haidt's book when a very bright, liberal student of mine was reading it and started telling me how the book had changed the way that he viewed partisanship and helped him to understand why conservatives believe the way they do. His book is still important today as the partisan battle lines have become even more stark. One of his insights is how liberals have developed beliefs that have become religious totems for them, replacing the role that religion used to have in people's lives. Haidt's insight is that people
create “quasireligious” experiences out of seemingly secular activities. Take sports. We wear particular colors, gather as a tribe, and cheer for our team. Even atheists sometimes pray for the Steelers to beat the Patriots.
As a Duke fan with UNC going for the NCAA championship tonight, I can totally relate.

Haidt carries the analogy further by looking at college campuses today with the sometimes violent protests students launch against speakers whose views they don't like such recently as Berkeley and Middlebury.
The student newspaper ran an op-ed justifying the rioting under the headline “Violence helped ensure safety of students.” Read that twice.

Mr. Haidt can explain. Students like the op-ed author “are armed with a set of concepts and words that do not mean what you think they mean,” he says. “People older than 30 think that ‘violence’ generally involves some sort of physical threat or harm. But as students are using the word today, ‘violence’ is words that have a negative effect on members of the sacred victim groups. And so even silence can be violence.” It follows that if offensive speech is “violence,” then actual violence can be a form of self-defense.
Haidt has his own explanations of why today's students have become so intolerant of any ideas with which they disagree.
How did we get here, and what can be done? On the first question, Mr. Haidt points to a braided set of causes. There’s the rise in political polarization, which is related to the relatively recent “political purification of the universities.” While the academy has leaned left since at least the 1920s, Mr. Haidt says “it was always just a lean.” Beginning in the early 1990s, as the professors of the Greatest Generation retired, it became a full-on tilt.

“Now there are no more conservative voices on the faculty or administration,” he says, exaggerating only a little. Heterodox Academy cites research showing that the ratio of left to right professors in 1995 was 2 to 1. Now it is 5 to 1.

The left, meanwhile, has undergone an ideological transformation. A generation ago, social justice was understood as equality of treatment and opportunity: “If gay people don’t have to right to marry and you organize a protest to apply pressure to get them that right, that’s justice,” Mr. Haidt says. “If black people are getting discriminated against in hiring and you fight that, that’s justice.”

Today justice means equal outcomes. “There are two ideas now in the academic left that weren’t there 10 years ago,” he says. “One is that everyone is racist because of unconscious bias, and the other is that everything is racist because of systemic racism.” That makes justice impossible to achieve: “When you cross that line into insisting if there’s not equal outcomes then some people and some institutions and some systems are racist, sexist, then you’re setting yourself up for eternal conflict and injustice.”

Perhaps most troubling, Mr. Haidt cites the new protectiveness in child-rearing over the past few decades. Historically, American children were left to their own devices and had to learn to deal with bullies. Today’s parents, out of compassion, handle it for them. “By the time students get to college they have much, much less experience with unpleasant social encounters, or even being insulted, excluded or marginalized,” Mr. Haidt says. “They expect there will be some adult, some authority, to rectify things.”

Combine that with the universities’ shift to a “customer is always right” mind-set. Add in social media. Suddenly it’s “very, very easy to bring mobs together,” Mr. Haidt says, and make “people very afraid to stand out or stand up for what they think is right.” Students and professors know, he adds, that “if you step out of line at all, you will be called a racist, sexist or homophobe. In fact it’s gotten so bad out there that there’s a new term—‘ophobophobia,’ which is the fear of being called x-ophobic.”

I've begun to see a bit of this in the high school students I teach - not so much that they're calling each other racist, sexist, or homophobic. The students at my school, in general, are very nice kids who understand how to moderate their language in class discussions. I hope they continue that habit in their own private discussions, but don't really know. I sponsor an extra-curricular activity, called Student Legislative Assembly, in which students simulate being the North Carolina legislature and write bills which they debate. Last Friday we had our big assembly to debate their bills. One committee had written a bill to ban hate-speech codes on the campuses of NC public universities. Debate was fierce on the bill, but I was dismayed by how many students got up and made arguments along the lines of how stressful college is and people shouldn't have to hear speech that they deemed racist, sexist, or in any way derogatory of who they are. Other students spoke up for the First Amendment and pointed out that the real world after college was going to also be stressful so students should learn to toughen up. They argued that it was better to refute speech with which you disagreed and expose it in "the marketplace of ideas," than to censor it. Sadly, those arguments did not win the day in our assembly and the bill was voted down.

Jonathan Haidt has some advice for students such as mine who reject the protections of free speech for views they regard as anathema.
Today’s college students also are tomorrow’s leaders—and employees. Companies are already encountering problems with recent graduates unprepared for the challenges of the workplace. “Work requires a certain amount of toughness,” Mr. Haidt says. “Colleges that prepare students to expect a frictionless environment where there are bureaucratic procedures and adult authorities to rectify conflict are very poorly prepared for the workplace. So we can expect a lot more litigation in the coming few years.”

If you lean left—even if you adhere to the campus orthodoxy, or to certain elements of it—you might consider how the failure to respect pluralism puts your own convictions at risk of a backlash. “People are sick and tired of being called racist for innocent things they’ve said or done,” Mr. Haidt observes. “The response to being called a racist unfairly is never to say, ‘Gee, what did I do that led to me being called this? I should be more careful.’ The response is almost always, ‘[Expletive] you!’ ”

He offers this real-world example: “I think that the ‘deplorables’ comment could well have changed the course of human history.”

Peter Berkowitz writes of how these speech codes can work to censor even inoffensive ideas with the story of one Yale student who has been caught up in a Kafkaesque experience at that university.
This case also involves free expression because it began, Doe alleges, with Yale’s draconian regulation of his speech. According to his lawsuit, in late 2013 a female philosophy teaching assistant filed a complaint with the university’s Title IX office about a short paper Doe had written. In the context of Socrates ’ account in Plato’s “Republic” of the tripartite soul, the paper argued that rape was an irrational act in which the soul’s appetitive and spirited parts overwhelm reason, which by right rules.

According to the lawsuit, Pamela Schirmeister, Title IX coordinator and an associate dean in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, summoned Doe to her office and told him his rape example was “unnecessarily provocative.” She ordered him to have no contact with the teaching assistant and directed him to attend sensitivity training at the university’s mental-health center. She also informed him that he had become a “person of interest” to Yale, which meant that the university had to intervene to ensure he “was not a perpetrator himself,” in the lawsuit’s words.
Think of that - he got called in for chastisement and required sensitivity training because he had the gall to write that rape was an "irrational act." Just using it as an example was verboten.
If the lawsuit’s account is accurate, Yale has reached a new low in the annals of campus policing of speech. Surely no female student would incur criticism, much less censorship or punishment, for providing weighty philosophical authority in support of the proposition that rape is wrong.

If Doe’s story is true, Yale is no longer satisfied in enforcing correct opinions. To utter the correct opinion, Yale also demands that you be the correct sex. Far from protecting the right to “discuss the unmentionable” in accordance with the Woodward Report, Yale is stretching the boundaries of censorship by abridging the right to discuss even the uncontroversial.

A few months later, he was charged with sexual assault in one of these "he said, she said" encounters in which he claims that he was denied due process rights as a results of the Obama Education Department's "Dear Colleague" letter. He is now suing Yale.
Doe insists that Title IX must protect men as well as women. In punishing him for sexual assault on the basis of allegations that were either unfounded or refuted by facts to which both sides of the dispute agreed, the lawsuit argues, Yale discriminated against him on the basis of his sex in violation of Title IX.

The novel legal theory flows out of a reading of “state action” doctrine developed by Jed Rubenfeld of Yale Law School, who served as Doe’s faculty adviser during the university’s sexual-assault proceedings. Doe argues that through the “Dear Colleague” letter, the Education Department conscripted Yale to enforce criminal law—thereby transforming the private university into an agent of the government.

That would subject the university to constitutional limitations. Thus Doe alleges Yale violated his 14th Amendment rights to due process and equal protection of the law.
It's an amazing set of circumstances that bear watching in the future to see how Doe's case progresses.

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Rich Lowry writes about what he calls "the crisis of Trumpism." The problem, as Lowry sees it, is that Trump ran as a populist, but Paul Ryan isn't a populist.
Maybe Ryan doesn’t “get” the new political reality created by Trump’s victory, as the president’s boosters like to say. But what excuse does the president himself have for evidently not “getting” it, either?

His energies were taken up trying to placate the conservative House Freedom Caucus. The supposed affinity between Trump and the Freedom Caucus is one of the great ideological misunderstandings of our time. Just because Trump and the conservative caucus are both “anti-establishment” doesn’t mean they have anything else in common. Trump is more naturally an ally of the moderate Tuesday Group, except with a flame-throwing Twitter feed.

A President Trump acting more in keeping with his free-floating reflex to take care of people, as expressed in speeches and interviews, would have pushed the health bill to the left. But Trump so far hasn’t followed the logic of his own politics in dealing with Congress.
Trump might talk about being the ultimate dealmaker, but the Democrats don't demonstrate any interest in a bipartisan deal on anything.
Trump’s style of politics is not well-suited to bipartisanship, regardless. Democrats tend to be fond of Republicans like John Kasich or Jon Huntsman, who are determinedly inoffensive and loath to touch hot-button issues. Trump is neither. He could propose a $2 trillion infrastructure bill funded by forced requisitions from Wall Street bankers and Democrats would probably say, “Hell, no.”

In any case, the White House is moving on to tax reform. This, too, may end up running in well-worn GOP ruts. Trump executed a hostile takeover of a Republican Party that was obsessed with the 1980s and cutting marginal tax rates. Now, the Republican Plan B is revisiting the tax reform of 1986 with ample cuts in marginal tax rates. New boss, same as the old boss — but with much livelier speeches at political rallies.
I'd thought at the time that it made sense for the GOP to work on tax reform first, but now the Republicans have to pull together all their disparate groups to find some sort of agreement on a tax package. Lowry has a prediction that will be dismal for conservatives of what could happen with Trumpism if the Republicans can't get it together.
The loose antecedent for this scenario is Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who swept into office in California as a drain-the-swamp reformer after winning a populist crusade, and then recalibrated to accommodate the system after suffering politically damaging setbacks.

The range of possible outcomes of the Trump presidency is still wide. Unexpectedly, one of them is that his most die-hard populist supporters will eventually be able to say that Trumpism, like socialism, hasn’t failed, it’s just never been tried.

On a brighter note, conservatives can check out the Washington Post's presentation to check out how Trump is rolling back Obama's legacy.

Ah, the logic of government regulation. This is what happens when bureaucrats decide that they know better than anyone who actually has run a business. Next month, the Obamacare regulation requiring any restaurant with 20 or more outlets to post signs in their restaurants with the calorie counts for every item on the menu and it has to include every variation on that item. Have these people ever been to a restaurant? Kevin Williamson reports,
“We did the math,” says Tim McIntyre, an executive at Domino’s and chairman of (not making this up) the American Pizza Community, a thing that exists. “With gluten-free crusts to thick to hand-tossed to pan pizza, multiple sizes, cheeses, toppings . . . there are about 34 million possible combinations.” He does a pretty good deadpan delivery: “That is difficult to put on a menu.”
I think they're going to need a bigger sign.bbDomino's has that information online, but reports that the calorie calculator doesn't get much use.
So the signs are going to be largely useless, but they’re also kind of expensive, “Useless + Expensive” being the classic federal regulatory equation. McIntyre estimates a price between $3,500 and $5,000 per location. That isn’t very much to a big corporation like Domino’s, but the Domino’s corporation doesn’t operate all those Domino’s shops: Those are franchises, run by independent owner-operators. The profit margins are low, and five grand is a lot to put on a business that might only be throwing off $40,000 or $50,000 in profit a year. Or less: Franchise chains are pretty tight-lipped about what their stores actually earn, but if we assume a 5 percent profit margin, typical of such restaurants, and an average sales volume of about $730,000, as reported in 2013 by the Motley Fool, then that’s only $36,500 per store, meaning that a $3,500–$5,000 sign could easily eat up a tenth of a year’s profit.
It would be cheaper to set up a tablet somewhere in the restaurant set to the restaurant's website so curious customers could use that to compete the calorie content if they're interested. I wonder if that would fit the ACA's regulations. Or how about just putting a note on the menu with the URL to the calorie counter or website and let people use their phones to figure it ou.
If you happen to be in that very small subset of people who both are very interested in Friday night’s carb load and are determined to eat takeout pizza for dinner, there’s an app for that.

There are lots of them, in fact. There are dozens of different smartphone apps (and smartphones are emerging as the dominant tool for ordering food deliveries) that provide nutritional data far in excess of anything required by food-labeling rules. There are even apps that turn your phone into a bar-code scanner so that you can get up-to-date information on every can of baked beans during your Saturday-morning Kroger run. The real problem in these early days of the 21st century isn’t scarcity of information but overabundance of it.

Not that anybody cares, really. The sort of people who count calories and total up their daily carbs and protein and monounsaturated fats already moved beyond government-mandated food labels ages ago. As for everybody else: There is basically no evidence that food labeling actually results in consumers’ making healthier choices about their food. The belief that people who are given better information will make better choices is intuitively persuasive, but it does not stand up to empirical scrutiny. In fact, a study of McDonald’s customers found that those who were provided with supplemental information about recommended daily caloric intake ordered lunches with 50 calories more on average than those who were not advised of expert opinion....

But Uncle Stupid is dead serious about this: Violating the new federal pizza rules is not a civil offense but a criminal one.

David Bernstein dissects the evidence to demonstrate that the story that Rudy Giuliani had said on TV that Trump had asked him how to craft an executive order that would be Muslim ban is actually #FakeNEws. I had read that report in several places, but it turns out that such reporting elides what Giuliani actually said.

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Ah, Vanity Fair continues its fascination with Hillary Clinton and her fashion choices by trying to argue that Clinton is wearing a "bolder - and even edgier" style that somehow signals a shift in her attitudes. Apparently, her clothes are more confrontational to fit her attitude toward Donald Trump. Who knew what fashion could signal to the cognoscenti?

Randy Barnett ridicules Erwin Chemerinsky's incoherent attack on originalism which led Chemerinsky to urge the Democrats to fiibuster Judge Gorsuch.. Chemerinsky claims that knowing what "the original understanding of the Constitution is unknowable and and even if it could be known, should not be binding today." And then the next thing he does is write about all the horrible things that would happen under an originalist approach. He seems hung up that the Constitution used the word "he" to refer to the president and vice president means that originalists would preclude electing a woman to either of those positions. Barnett writes,
So his position is that original meaning is both impossible to identify, and would lead to horrible results. Wait, if originalism is “unknowable,” how does Dean Chemerinsky know it would lead to these results? And no, this is not an April Fools’ Day caricature of a critic of originalism. He really did write this. With enemies of originalism like these, who needs friends?

The WSJ reports on how Wisconsin Democrats have continued their decline in the state that began even before Scott Walker was elected. They've been seeing electoral defeats ever since then. It's been six years since leftists stormed the state Capitol to protest Walker's reforms to limit the power of the public employees' union. They lost then and every effort they've staged since then has ended up in defeat.
Some thought those snowy protests would launch a Democratic surge in Wisconsin. Instead they appear to have marked the beginning of the party’s decline. Since 2011 Wisconsin Republicans have been on a winning streak.

In the state Assembly, Republicans enjoy their largest majority since 1957. Twenty of the 33 seats in the state Senate belong to the GOP, the most since 1970. Mr. Walker, who easily survived a recall election in 2012, won a new term in 2014. Last November voters rejected Democrat Russ Feingold’s bid to reclaim the Senate seat he lost in 2010 to Republican Ron Johnson. Remarkably, Donald Trump won Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes—the first GOP presidential candidate to do so since Ronald Reagan in 1984.

The latest evidence of Democrats’ sorry slide is the election next Tuesday for a seat on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court. Only six years after their historic demonstrations against Act 10, Democrats couldn’t find a single candidate willing to run against conservative Justice Annette Ziegler in her bid for another 10-year term....

Wisconsin progressives have scrambled to explain away the conservative ascendancy. “Big business,” they claim, has swayed court races with large contributions to third-party campaign organizations that promote conservatives.

But Democratic-aligned groups have spent millions on behalf of their favored court candidates. In 2011, the liberal Greater Wisconsin Committee put $1.6 million into ads in the last two weeks of the race between conservative Justice David Prosser and liberal JoAnne Kloppenburg, more than any single pro-Prosser group spent. Mr. Prosser eked out a victory anyway, even amid the political storm raging over Gov. Walker’s labor reforms.

Ms. Kloppenburg was later elected to a lower-court seat, but a year ago this April she lost another race for the Supreme Court. Conservative Justice Rebecca Bradley weathered a storm of her own, fending off brutal attacks that dredged up newspaper columns she had written 24 years earlier as a student at Marquette University. Justice Bradley prevailed 52% to 47%, solidifying conservatives’ 5-2 majority.

On election night, Justice Bradley concluded her victory speech with a paraphrase from Winston Churchill : “There is nothing more exhilarating than being shot at without result.” If that’s the case, Wisconsin conservatives have a lot to be exhilarated about. Even more so now that the state’s Democrats are so deeply demoralized that they appear to have given up on shooting altogether.

Ugh! The NYT reports on allegations of sexual harassment against Bill O'Reilly that have led to a total of $13 million in five separate settlements in which the women agreed to not pursue litigation against O'Reilly or Fox News and to keep silent.
The women who made allegations against Mr. O’Reilly either worked for him or appeared on his show. They have complained about a wide range of behavior, including verbal abuse, lewd comments, unwanted advances and phone calls in which it sounded as if Mr. O’Reilly was masturbating, according to documents and interviews.

The reporting suggests a pattern: As an influential figure in the newsroom, Mr. O’Reilly would create a bond with some women by offering advice and promising to help them professionally. He then would pursue sexual relationships with them, causing some to fear that if they rebuffed him, their careers would stall.
On top of the sexual harassment allegations that forced out Roger Ailes last year, this is a serious moment for Fox News. O'Reilly denies the allegations and says he just settled them to protect his children from hearing the allegations. There are a lot of allegations and it seems that O'Reilly has paid out millions to squelch these stories. The stories all sound rather similar - he promised them professional advancement and then made sexual advances and threatened them if they complained. Roger Ailes would then support O'Reilly if they did lodge complaints. It's all very ugly and depicts a nasty atmosphere at the business where O'Reilly was allowed basically to use his power there to harass women. It could spell the end of another powerful Fox News personality. How much of this can the network withstand? As CNN, no doubt secretly loving this story, writes "If Bill O'Reilly weren't the biggest star at Fox News, would he still have a job at Fox News?"
Rupert Murdoch's sons James and Lachlan have signaled interest in reforming the company.
"Rupert's sons, you know, don't like this one bit, I can tell you. And there are people within the network itself who don't like this one bit," the FT's media correspondent Matthew Garrahan, who recently profiled the Murdochs, said on CNN's "Reliable Sources" Sunday.
Garrahan noted that it's Rupert, not the sons, who has been "running Fox News since Roger Ailes was pushed out. These are his decisions."
A generational divide looms over the current controversy. The elder Murdoch and O'Reilly have been in business together, through Fox News, for two decades.
O'Reilly is the cornerstone of the Fox News house. His show has been number one for over a decade. While Fox maintains a sizable audience all day long, more than one million additional viewers turn to Fox right at 8 p.m. for the "Factor," boosting the channel's prime time performance.
Fox has no obvious successor for O'Reilly's time slot, though several other personalities take turns filling in when he is away.
The title of O'Reilly's next book -- "Old School" -- describes him well. That's part of his appeal to his viewers. But if his fans are inclined to dismiss the Times story as a liberal hit job, the channel's staffers and investors are not.
People close to the Murdochs have said that the family members are "making things right," creating a safer climate for women -- an implicit break from the boorish Ailes era.

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As a distraction from politics, I'm ready for the beginning of the baseball season to see if the Cubs can repeat. And to get in the mood, I'm reading Tom Verducci's new book The Cubs Way: The Zen of Building the Best Team in Baseball and Breaking the Curse. It's really getting me in the mood for the season. You can read an excerpt about what was going on behind the scenes during that dramatic rain delay in Game Seven. Politics might have been dismal last Fall, but that World Series was pure magic.

Of course, an opening day loss to the Cardinals is not the start Cubs fans were hoping for, but it's a long season.

Going into the NBA playoffs and the beginning of the MLB season, it's a fun time to be a sports fan. I find baseball a very relaxing sport to have on while I try to get some schoolwork done. The game is slow enough that I can concentrate on my work until something exciting happens. I'm guaranteed to get lots of replays in case I missed it. I love watching NBA games, especially at this time of year, but that involves a lot more concentration since there is a lot I can miss if I'm not actually watching what is going on.