Friday, September 18, 2015

A Lazy Summer

Okay, so you may have noticed I took the summer off. Or maybe not, but many of you gave me grief, so I suppose it's nice someone's paying attention.

There were stories I meant to write, of course, but, well...I mentioned it was summer, right? That, and I'm pretty busy with my new startup, LiquidSky. So here are a few thoughts that accumulated during the dog days.

In June, we had the whole Bruce/Caitlin Jenner thing.

My immediate reaction was if people can just decide what sex they are because it's how they feel, why not race? Why couldn't some white kid, rejected by Harvard for checking the "African American" box, sue Harvard's pants off, saying he identifies black? After all, how you feel now trumps objective fact on a fairly routine basis.

I was about to travel to France with my family, so I figured my piece could wait. 

It couldn't:

While we were in France, the Rachel Dolezal story broke. Damn, that'll teach me to sit on an idea.

It's breathtaking to ponder how much our culture has moved in the last decade or so, and not in the right direction. Miss Dolezal neatly captures many of our current perversities. 

Speaking of France, I hadn't been in a while, and I found it a very perplexing place. Beautiful, for sure. We visited WWI sights in La Somme, WWII sights in Normandy, chateau country in Loire, and finally Paris for a few days. But this is a country so caught up in its own self-identity, that they have achieved a weird, unhealthy, stasis. While the rest of the world moves forward, France remains frozen by choice.

Ever hear of a movie called Bottle Shock? It was made by a classmate of mine, Mark Lhormer. It's a wonderful movie about wine and the "Judgement of Paris," a blind tasting back in the 70s when California wines trounced French wines. The judges were all French, and they were predictably horrified. At that time California wines were thought of as screw-top jugs, maybe from Gallo, perhaps a step removed from Welch's grape juice.

It's a great movie, go rent it. But the point is that the Californians, the crazy cowboys of the industry, were trying new methods. There was no set way of doing things, so they innovated. The French had their methods, and everyone knew French wine was the best, so creativity ground to a halt. To do anything else meant you weren't doing it the "French" way.

So, the Americans blew by them.

I found Bottle Shock to be an apt metaphor for all of France. There is a French way, and you don't mess with it. In all matters cultural, France has immersed itself in a cryogenic chamber of its own making. Honestly, I had very few good meals in two weeks. The art is wonderful, but none of it was created in the last half century. The language itself is tightly regulated by the government, lest "un-French" words dilute its purity. On the business side, well, name one French startup.

All this is also why France has never encouraged the melting pot concept for its immigrants. As a result, Muslims have evolved their own ghettos where Sharia dominates and little French is heard. As Arab immigrants swarm over Europe, it will be interesting to see how France survives as "France."

Which brings me, of course, to Donald Trump.

Look at that hair, would you? It looks like an orange wave, cresting over his face. But whatever. I get asked a lot for my take, so I'll get this out of the way: I don't support him. For one, I don't really know where he stands on many things, and I'm not sure I'd trust him anyway. His views seemed to have "evolved" quite a bit over the years. A little is okay. A lot, not so much.

More importantly, I don't believe he's a man of high character. His business dealings are said to be borderline sleazy, and I've heard many times over the years, from many people, that he cheats at golf. There is absolutely no way someone who cheats at golf - a game where you self-police - should ever be president of the United States. You better believe Mitt Romney would never cheat at golf (but of course he had other issues).

Having said this, Trump is GREAT for the race. Ratings for the debates - debates where many in the field have distinguished themselves - have gone through the roof. Millions of people now know who, say, Carly Fiorina, is because of Trump. I also think he's showing the others how to not be afraid of their own shadows, or the media. I believe that most of the Trump "phenomenon" is explained by his lack of political correctness. People are awfully tired of the ever-growing list of proscribed words and thoughts, and finally, here, someone says, "I couldn't give a crap what you think."

So, Trump has been good for the process, but it's nearing the time to put this flight of fancy to bed.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Joyous Republican Free-for-All

A message to GOP voters: don't be in a hurry to pick a horse. There's no hurry, we will learn much more over the coming months.

For conservatives, we have an embarrassment of riches, quite the opposite of four years ago when every option seemed like settling. An informal, totally unscientific poll of friends suggests most are leaning towards Walker. I am inclined to agree, but we need to see how he and others handle the rigors of the campaign trail. We need to see them handle debates, a hostile press corps, and unfolding world affairs, etc.

But just for fun, let's give some early ratings to the potential field. I'll give them a grades for desirability and electability, and I've included every conceivable name. This is totally my own opinion, so feel free to disagree. I'll also show the current prediction market odds for those names that have them.

(You may notice that the odds for all the candidates adds up to over 200%, which is obviously impossible. These odds come from a new political gambling site called PredictIt, and it's still highly inefficient. Easy money, if you're interested.)

By reckoning, there are at least four outstanding potential candidates. There are Republicans of every stripe and inclination: establishment, Tea Party, social conservative, and libertarian. There are three Hispanics, three women, an African-American, and one guy with orange hair. How much fun this is going to be compared with Hillary's forced march!

Sit back and enjoy.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Periscope - The New New Thing

Every so often, a game changing technology comes along. Go back far enough - five hundred years would do it - and you could live your whole life without a new invention coming along that changed the way the world worked. Go back a century, and there were a handful of game-changers every generation.

Now, it's fair to say there's something that comes along every few months. The latest that I'd like to point in your direction is an app called Periscope. It's pretty simple, really. The idea is that you can use your phone as a video camera and stream what you're seeing live to anyone in the world who wants to watch on their own phone. It's Twitter (who owns Periscope, fyi), except with video. Those watching can live-text messages to which the broadcaster can respond.

Okay, I know what you're thinking. People are going to broadcast all sorts of stupid crap. Kittens, musings on morning coffee, etc. And you'd be right. Most of it is ridiculous. Think of Twitter's early days, when people posted things like, "Hello, world!" I, myself, "periscoped" dinner from a restaurant, just to kick the app's tires. Not interesting, except a high school friend of mine that I've seen once in 30 years jumped on as a viewer. It was a cool moment.

But that's the nature of new mediums, the inane beginnings. People have to figure them out. As Twitter matured, use cases emerged, and Twitter is now inextricably bound to our culture.

So, where will Periscope go? Let me start with a small use case. I was at a baseball game, watching my son, and I turned on Periscope (one click) to broadcast one of my son's at-bats to my wife, who couldn't be there. She watched on her phone while she went about her business (as did six other people, one of whom was from Venezuela). After, with one more click, I saved the video to my camera roll (obligingly, my boy had hit a home run).

But also in recent days I have watched a live feed from the Baltimore riots, a Q&A with Periscope's founder, and a live demo of the Apple Watch.

But so much more is coming, I suspect. How about watching...

  • an ascent of Everest?
  • Q&As with politicians or celebrities?
  • local or school events?
  • the morning break the Pipeline?
  • an arrest gone bad?
  • a concert you couldn't get tickets to?

I'm only scratching the surface here. Periscope doesn't have a search function yet, but when they do, it won't be long until you'll be able to watch anything of significance going on in the world, live. Imagine that.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Is Hillary Stronger Without a Primary Opponent?

Today, Joe Biden made noises about running. Jerry Brown and Bernie Sanders have also stirred. Jim Webb, and, of course, Elizabeth Warren wait in the wings, pondering, perhaps planning.

Will Hillary have a challenger?

I suspect strongly she will. One of the above will say "it's for the good of the party that there be a choice." If it's Warren, she'd stand a real chance, as I've written before.

Perhaps the interesting question, though, is whether Hillary would be better (or worse) off with a primary opponent. Most pundits I listen to assume she wouldn't be, and I don't doubt Camp Clinton would just as soon dispense with the whole matter. But might she be better off? Normally, my answer would be yes.

A vigorous challenge in the primaries is almost always good for a nominee (assuming, of course, you survive the challenge itself). You get to fine tune your campaign's machinery, hiring and firing to get the optimal staff before the main event, hone your message. You get to practice debating. In Hillary's case, this will be vital, because the Republican nominee will have cut his teeth on nine debates with multiple challengers. And let's face it, Hillary is not a natural. 

Quick, what was the last time Hillary campaigned for office? Answer: 2008. One can assume she's rusty, and she's not a gifted campaigner to begin with, possessing none of her husband's elan or empathy on the trail. In short, the primaries are like spring training, and Hillary will need the innings.

Let's look at the other side, though.

Money is something most people immediately point out. Spend lots of it in the primaries, and you have less for the general. Sure, most of the time, but access to money is not a Clinton weak point. She will have gushers and gushers of it.

Then there's the pesky fact that Hillary's poll numbers always decline the more people are exposed to her. Hiding out for a few months, going to fundraisers in Hollywood while the Republicans exchange blows, seems wise.

But there's something else, something much deadlier, and it's the real reason Hillary desperately wants a coronation. Any of her would-be challengers will come at her from her left flank, and that poses a major problem. 

Now, as an aside, Naked Dollar readers might not think there's much room there, and I would agree. But there's a bit on foreign policy, where she's a sometimes-hawk, and her tight relationship with Wall Street (particularly Goldman Sachs) will be awkward, but really, the situation is that she's a liberal who will be attacked, potentially, by an uber-liberal. Given that Democrat primaries are dominated by the more liberal elements in the party, Hillary will be forced to tack left, and that is not where she wants to go, not at all. For instance, would she have to match Warren's ardor for more Obama-like redistributionist tax schemes? She might, and that would pose a huge problem in the general.

No Democrat ever gets elected president by campaigning as a liberal. Basically, they have to lie about their beliefs. This is most particularly true of Obama, who blatantly campaigned as a middle-of-the-road alternative to Republican extremism, a post-partisan man.

There is a reason this is so, and it's because not very many Americans are liberal. Oh, I know it seems like it, particularly if you live on the coasts, watch mainstream news, or have any exposure to our universities, but it's not the case. Very consistently over time, only 20% Americans self-identify as liberals. (There are far more Democrats than liberals, interestingly.)

Twenty is a long way from fifty, so to win a national election, any Democrat must crush it among moderates. (The opposite is true for Republicans - 40% of America self-identifies as conservative, so Republicans have to run base elections to win, something they seldom seem to understand.)

Hillary would love to spend the primary season staking out all sorts of unchallenged, milk-toasty moderate positions. She would raise the art of vagueness to new heights because that would be the smart thing to do, and how convenient that a platitudinous approach is right in her wheelhouse. But forced by a challenger to apply salve to the base, come the general she won't survive having to defend the things she'll have to say.

I almost always say candidates are stronger having fended off a primary challenge. This time I do not. Camp Clinton is using all its muscle to scare away the pretenders, and their instinct is right.

P.S. The Republican field should be licking it's lips, because this is a win-win for them either way. Rusty Hillary or Liberal Hillary. Game on.

Friday, January 16, 2015

In Defense of Hazing

Have you noticed there has been an explosion of hazing and sexual harassment on America’s campuses? It's everywhere. Not a day goes by when we don't hear of another terrible accusation leveled at some school, somewhere. For every one we hear about, there are likely a hundred that we don't. What's going on?

Much of this stems from the left's usurpation of the language, which I wrote about in De-Coding the Language of the Left. Progressives have been actively redefining certain concepts in order to make them seem like bigger problems than they are, and by so doing, gin up outrage, raise money, and accumulate power. 

President Obama told us recently that one-in-five college women have been the victim of sexual harassment. One in five! Holy cow, our campuses are plagued with rapists. 

It turns out that Obama wasn't lying...if you accept the federal government's new definitions of sexual harassment.

Obama knows, of course, that most of us still think that when he says "harassment," he's referring to "rape." That's what he wants you to think. Outrage, money, power. Repeat. 

Here is an excerpt from the EEOC guidelines on sexual harassment:
Harassment does not have to be of a sexual nature, however, and can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general.

Wait, wait, wait - sexual harassment doesn't have to be of a sexual nature? I can just yell, say, "I hate women!" and suddenly I am a sexual predator? Yikes! 

You don't have to take my word for this, you can read the EEOC guidelines here. See for yourself how the bureaucratic minions of the left have been justifying deeper intrusions into American society (Title IX is a popular cudgel).

Of course, the recent Rolling Stone/UVA hoax, as well as Lena's Dunham's fabricated story about being raped by a prominent college Republican, have exposed the Big Lie behind all this, at least to all except the left. It turns out the actual incidence of rape on college campuses is 0.6%, which is actually less than for the rest of society.

At best, sexual harassment is a silly matter, a wolf whistle, at worst something that sends you to prison. You can't say it’s ever a social positive. And therein lies the difference with hazing, for which I'm going to offer a slightly different take. Much of the time is a good thing, one that serves a purpose. That purpose is to bind groups of people together, people who may not have had a connection previously.

Let's take an almost silly example. At my son's school, there is a beautiful grass circle in the middle of campus, and there's a quaint tradition whereby freshmen are not allowed to cross the circle - they have to walk around. If upperclassmen catch them, they chase the offenders off, usually with snowballs or water balloons. They did, that is, until the school administration decided that this constituted hazing. 

As a student, you don't want to mess with a hazing charge, not in today's environment. It can get you expelled in a hurry. "But, ma'am, it was only snowballs" doesn't fly. You are guilty of hazing. You are labeled. The word itself has become politically charged, and it is poison.

The freshman enjoyed the whole ritual, though. Sure, it was a pain to walk around, or to occasionally have snowballs hit you in the face, but it was something they shared, that they endured together. The next year, they would take pleasure in meting out the same punishment to the new kids. Years later, they would reminisce; a small thing, maybe, but a bond nonetheless.

Then there's the typical fraternity initiation, and I speak from experience here. Much of what we were put through I'd be hesitant to put in print (and I'm pretty sure I'd be violating some long-forgotten secret oath), but suffice it to say, while much of the process was harmless, there were other aspects that, if inflicted on anyone at Gitmo, Diane Feinstein would be crying torture and issuing 800-page briefs. The Times would swoon. 

But here's the thing: it was fun. I’ll never forget it. 

It also served a purpose. I didn't know most of the other guys at the start, but by the end I considered them lifelong friends. We had been through this ordeal together, and had to act as a team. I also felt closer to the older guys, because they, too, had endured the same process. So had brothers ten, twenty, or thirty years older. We all had a bond.

Perhaps the harshest example is basic training. Most of us know someone who's been through it, or perhaps you once saw An Officer and a Gentlemen - it's brutal, and it lasts months. But here again, there is a higher purpose, one that saves lives. It's about fitness, teamwork, and esprit de corps. You go in a man, and come out a soldier, as the saying goes. It's not fraternity-like fun, but few say they regret going through it.

So, here's where I have to give the obligatory caveat: there are obviously lines that can't be crossed, mostly ones involving physical harm. But most cases don't cross this line. We need to use some common sense and realize that not all hazing created equally. 

The problem is that hazing has been sucked up into the maelstrom of cultural politics. Think about the institutions most frequently associated with hazing - they are exactly the sort of patriarchal organizations that progressives loathe. Broadening hazing's definition to include harmless traditions is part of a strategy of diminishment. Let's not kid ourselves, it's effective. 

Hazing accusations have been used so successfully that they are now a permanent part of the left's arsenal.

Thank you, sir, you may not have another.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Limits of Facts

I don't blog every day, which probably limits my audience. In particular, I don't generally blog about hyper-current events. When Obama issued his executive order on immigration last week, you can imagine that I might have had a serious problem with that - I did. But there were probably hundreds of pieces out there that felt the same way, and expressed it well. I write something only when I think I have something original to say. That explains why sometimes I will go a month without writing anything.

Today's media tsunami is about Ferguson. There is little, on either side, unexpressed. But let me add one thought to the noise.

Facts don't matter much anymore, at least to the progressive left. Perhaps they never did, but Ferguson really seals it.

I watched the Ferguson DA lay out the case (or lack of one). It was thorough, logical, and overwhelming. But the crowds outside weren't listening - they couldn't, since they weren't in front of TVs. But even if they had been, it wouldn't have mattered. Witness all the people around the country who took to the streets in the hours after. Presumably, many of them had been watching. No matter.

The real proof came yesterday, when social media lit up with outrage, and left-wing journalists goaded on the mob. 

Or how about this, in an email from the Episcopal Diocese of New York:

Join Faith leaders and community members at First Corinthian's Baptist Church as we grieve with the Brown family and at justice denied in Ferguson. Join us as we also recommit to changing the system that perpetuates these injustices.

What injustices? Did they watch the DAs presentation? Did they look at the evidence that was subsequently made public? Perhaps, perhaps not. It wouldn't have mattered, because facts that disturb the narrative are facts to be ignored.

There is an anarchist element within the left that is going mainstream. It was Occupy. It was the G8 protests. It was the climate march. Now, Ferguson. They move from opportunity to opportunity, with little coherent thread other than a tearing down of America's traditions and values.

That's why you can argue all you want, you can lay down the most bulletproof argument imaginable, you won't get anywhere. They can't be reached.

Facts don't matter.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Who You Calling Stupid, Gruber?

Jonathan Gruber, Liberal Man

By now, Jonathan Gruber's comments about the stupidity of the American voter are well publicized. (Oh, wait, except for two of the three major networks that decided not to report a word of the scandal.) 

But what I want to know is, who did he mean?

Every conservative in America knew the truth about all those things in Obamacare that Gruber said had to be obfuscated. Every conservative talk show host and every GOP lawmaker raised those issues and shouted them from the rooftop for months. And remember all those town hall meetings when Democrat congressmen were getting yelled at? That was conservatives doing the yelling. I remember well, since I was one (rest in peace, Congressman John Hall).

So who does that leave? Who did Gruber need to dupe?

His own people, of course. Liberals. More specifically, the media and Democrat lawmakers. Gruber, Obama & Co. knew this crowd was in their pocket, of course, but air cover was required. To secure every last Democrat vote, a rosy picture had to be painted, one that would be reliably passed on without any unpleasant questions being asked. (And certainly no one would bother to read the 2000 page bill!)

Not a single conservative supported Obamacare, and not a single Republican lawmaker voted for it. So don't call us stupid, Gruber, you incredible asshole. We got it. Your people didn't.

One more thing about this guy. I have to think, that when he was sitting on all those podia, that there was a little voice inside his head saying, Don't say those things out loud. It might be a bad idea.

But he just had to show everyone what a smartypants he was. Not only only am I responsible for this wonderful law, but I used my superior intellect to trick people into liking it.

This guy is the very embodiment of liberalism. We are really smart and know what's best for you, so, really, the ends justify any means we want to use.

At least MIT has fired this guy. Hahahahaha...just kidding.

P.S. Don't you love the fact this guy wrote a comic book allegedly explaining the law. Apparently, even the lies had to be dumbed down.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Failure of Diversity

I had an interesting conversation with a member of the admissions staff of a major university recently. I asked, had the university ever done an analysis of how well their students do, both while at college and after? After all, the admissions department makes many assumptions about what a successful freshman class should look like - are they good assumptions? How effective a job, in other words, was the admissions staff doing?

The short answer was no, they had never looked into it. More interestingly, it was clear it had never occurred to them. One would think, in a place like a university, filled with professors whose job it is to study things, that the first thing they would study would be, well, themselves.

One would think wrong. To my knowledge, no college or university has ever analyzed the success of their own students. In fact, it's the last thing they want to know. Which brings me to one of the principle reasons why: the pervasive cult of diversity, and its misunderstood effects.

If you talk to anyone on the board of a school at any level these days, you will hear about the staggering amount of time taken up at meetings about diversity efforts, often to the exclusion of other matters. Look at the literature the schools hand out; diversity is often featured before academics. But to what end? The theory behind diversity seems logical (and noble): students with differing backgrounds and perspectives come together and learn from each other, the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

But that's not how it goes down, not at all. The whole effort gets derailed by diversity's evil twin, multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism's key tenet holds that all cultures, other than America's, are equally valid and should be celebrated. Leaving aside the fact that this is ridiculous, that some cultures are horrific, in practice this view leads to Balkanization. If my culture is better than yours, why should I join yours? I'll keep mine, thank you, especially since you keep telling me how awful yours is.

All you have to do is walk into the dining hall at most schools to see the result: the black table, the Asian table, etc. Then there are the cultural clubs, the ethnic studies classes, and so on. What good is diversity if no one is actually talking to each other?

Diversity, to schools, is checking a bunch of ethnic boxes. The admissions office checks them, and then pats themselves on the back. A job well done. But what about what comes after? They won't look, because they know, on some level, it's not working. They are bringing the kids together but then promoting a poisonous ideology that drives them apart. The end result? Diversity likely hurts more than it helps. But, hey, we don't know exactly, because no one will study it!

I have children in two different schools, and they are an interesting contrast. One is in full throes of the diversity fetish. The result is drawn lines and a cynical student body. Last year, the student body president, a black lesbian, was removed, reluctantly, from her post for mocking white students. There is bad will all around. Many students believed that the school, in a desperate bid to have both their first female and first LGBT president, rigged the election. I seriously doubt this, but the mere fact the students think this way shows you how polarized things have become.

My other child's school is quite different. On the surface, it looks the same, a broad ethnic palette. The headmaster is black, but you won't hear the word diversity much. Instead, he speaks of "inclusion," as in, we want to include everyone in what we have here. The school has a very strong culture, and students are expected to join it, not to spend four years in some sort of parallel existence. No, they are not expected to throw their cultural identities overboard, but rather to bring them to the party. The students get in and buy in. The whole becomes greater than the parts.

It is noteworthy that this same headmaster says, "I am an American African," placing "American" - that thing that unites us - first. 

Unfortunately, most schools and universities resemble the first school far more than the second. They are diverse, but highly polarized. This means that assumptions about diversity's benefits are flawed, and that is something no one wants to hear.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

How Bad Were the Polls?

First, the Naked Dollar's report card. Our calls were:

+9 in the Senate 

Actual result: +9 (assuming Cassidy wins the LA runoff, which he will)

+11 in the House

Actual result: +14 with four more too close to call (all of which would be GOP pickups)

-1 Governorships

Actual result: +3

Regarding the governorships, holy cow. No one saw that coming, and in states like Massachusetts and Maryland, no less. And no one saw the GOP picking up 14 house seats (with the potential for 18). After netting 63 four years ago, their upside was limited.

A wave, indeed.

So, how bad were the polls? Pretty bad, as it turns out. I did a quick analysis, comparing the actual results with the RCP polling average in each race. The results are as follows...

The average poll in the Senate missed the mark by 5.5 points. Out of 36 races, the polls underestimated the GOP result in 24.

The average governor poll missed by 5.4 points. Out of 36 races, the polls underestimated the GOP results in 29.

Bottom line: the pollsters missed by a lot, and they systematically underestimated GOP turnout (or overestimated Democrat).

No, I don't think they were biased. Every election usually produces a bias, but there is no consistent direction. Poll is a science, but an inexact one. Heck, the polls for the Virginia Senate race were off by 10 points. The lesson here is that they are useful, but only to an extent.

Will Obama Pivot NOW?


Are you kidding? There's not a chance.

When most pundits predicted he would after the 2010 thumping, the Naked Dollar said no way. The man is a committed progressive, and it's just not in his DNA. More to the point, he doesn't understand conservatives because he's never been around any. His entire life, from Hawaii to Columbia, to Harvard, to Chicago, has been spent in a series of left wing echo chambers.

Bill Clinton, by contrast, came up through Arkansas, where little could get done without compromise with Republicans. He famously pivoted after the huge GOP win in 1994, and it saved his presidency.

No such thing will happen now. I will now tell you exactly what's going to happen: Obama will say that he needs to save us from the evil GOP, that they are the problem, and then he will embark on an unprecedented series of executive actions, possibly triggering a Constitutional crisis.

What does he have to lose? He's never running for anything again, and we've already established that he doesn't give a crap about collateral damage to his own party. He will blatantly dare the GOP to do anything about it. Under McConnell's leadership, they likely won't. the wounds from the Clinton impeachment overreach have not entirely healed.