Sunday, August 29, 2010

PART 2: President Obama, What We Mean by "Intelligence," and What He Means by "Hope"

In  Part 1 of this article, appearing a few posts ago, -- Your Cool Hot Center had hoped to persuade you that our very smart President's policymaking proceeds from abstract thinking, from the application of theory, not deductions from observations of the world as it is.  Put another way, he governs by deduction -- reasoning from the general (theory and ideology) to the particular (legislation, regulation, and policy) rather than by induction (observing facts and reasoning upwards to the theory or general belief, from which policy then proceeds). 

The theories from which the President proceeds are predominantly found in the writings of the academic left.  The theories are highly idealistic and prescriptive, even utopian; they arise mostly a priori from the ways that liberals would like the world to be.  Some of them are highly sophisticated and subtle and have gained a wide following among faculty and students.  A lot of those students are now stalwarts of this administration and the Democratic Party.  The influence of John Rawls's A Theory of Justice, about which I've briefly written before, is central. 

People who have the ability to think abstractly, and who do it well, are regarded as intelligent.  (I myself regard them in that way.)  In formulating his policies, President Obama has relied on academics who think this way and share the President's preference for abstraction. 

And that's the point I want to make here: "high intelligence" -- the ability to think abstractly and reason from creative a priori assumptions -- is a very valuable and, I think, a pretty rare thing.  It is a critical part, if not the beginning, of almost all scientific and cultural advance.  It can be inspired; it can be laboriously thought out.   But we only know if that smart brain work has reached the right result when reasoning from abstract assumptions is tested by experiment. Brilliant or difficult thoughts may turn out to be false when they're tested against actual observation.  

This is a great way to run science.   It's a great way to run a university where all that brainy work product can get debated and tested and exposed and tried and, with any luck, let loose only when it's ripe.

It's a damned bad way to run a country.  

Barack Obama is the first one to try it as his fundamental basis of governing.  An exception might be Franklin Roosevelt and his Keynesian spending on public employment, but Roosevelt faced crises that make those identified by today's political leaders (not just Dems) look ridiculous.  And it didn't work. (Keynes's General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money was not published until 1936, but his ideas were widely circulated -- including direct presentation to Roosevelt -- in years prior.) 

To President Obama, the United States is his laboratory. He's got a fistful of theories from the academics he admires and he's trying them out.   He has no particular reason to believe they'll work.  But that's what the theory says, that's what the smart guys believe should be tried to achieve social justice and world peace, so that's what he's going to do.

And if we lab rats don't like what it's doing to our health care, our bank accounts, our standing abroad, and our freedom generally -- well, we just don't understand the theory.  Too dumb.  You can feel the President's impatience, his dismissiveness, when challenged.  As though there's little point in dealing with present reality when his whole point is that he is the author of a new reality, arriving any day now.

That this smart guy is failing with these theories will, I think, somewhat change the way the public perceives "intelligence" generally.  It may still admire the brilliant men and women of the academy, business, the arts, but it will no longer think of their gift in quite the same way.  The IQ required for the creation of lovely theories and the corralling of abstract concepts into something understandable is not the kind of "intelligence" required to get a fractured, diverse, freedom-loving people all headed in the same direction, and in identifying and solving real problems.  Not the problems imagined by social theorists (and, regrettably, sometimes by agenda- and grant-driven scientists), but the ones that really exist for folks generally. 

That kind of leadership requires some empathy for one's constituents and some understanding of their real concerns, not the pretend crises ginned up by social scientists and promoted by the journalists who graduated from their liberal arts programs. 

Which is not to say that effective leaders are not smart.  They are.  But consider this list of modern-era presidents I believe most people would regard as effective, whether or not they agreed with the agenda:  .  Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, Dwight Eisenhower, Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson.    (So I'm excluding both Bushes, Carter, Obama, Kennedy (too short a tenure), and Nixon's on the bubble.)  You may think these guys were inspired, or you may think they were just politically crafty operators, or you may think they were lucky --  but a list of the top three virtues of any one of them would not include "unusually high intelligence."   Because we don't think of their particular gift of practical leadership in that way. 

Again, my point:  Obama changes this.  In the future we are going to be much more skeptical of the claims for intelligence of persons whose smarts appear mainly derived from book-larnin', and elevate our regard for the cerebral circuitry of men and women who have actually slugged it out, actually gotten a big batch of humans to change things, accomplish something.

*   *   *

One last thing.

When the Obama presidency is viewed as largely experimental, we gain a better understanding of what he means by "hope."  He has used that phrase a lot, most notably in the title of his (?) book, The Audacity of Hope.  Now, when he used that phrase, he was addressing a population that, by and large, did not feel itself in a "hopeless" condition.  (Oh, there were the Bush Derangement Syndrome people whose frantic loathing of the former president may have made them think they were without hope.  Those people don't count.)

So when he used that word, he could not have meant that he was offering hope where none existed.  I think he meant -- and I'm not making a joke here -- that he had in mind to try out all these pet theories of the academic left that no politician who cared about reelection would ever attempt, and hoped that the marvelous advantages that they predicted would come to pass.  (You may recall my theory that President Obama doesn't care so very much about re-election.)

We're Barack Obama's experiment.  He's "hoping" it will work.  (In fact, we'd all better "hope.")   That he's performing it on what is, for all its present problems, still the most successful and prosperous and free political system the world has ever seen -- that's the "audacity" part.

Intelligence is a wonderful thing and it is wonderful that we have a President who possesses it.   After I published Part 1 I heard from a several people who disagreed with my premise that Barack Obama is smart.   How could anybody so smart advance such dumb policies?    Well, again -- that's my point:   People we regard as intelligent have as a characteristic that they speculate  a lot -- there's a lot of what ifs  in their thinking.   Thinking that the President is dumb because his policies are having bad results or are poorly explained to the people they affect underestimates the guy and misidentifies the source of his problem. 

Barack Obama is a gifted, intelligent person steeped in the speculations of other intelligent people.   But we are now seeing the tragedy of his inexperience and, it must be said, his laziness.  His thinking is starved by his not knowing -- or, perhaps less charitably, by his willful ignoring.  (It's widely noted how prickly he gets when he's questioned about facts.)   He doesn't care.  The results of the leftist policies he has gotten the truly pathetic Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid to bully through Congress will be the new facts, his experimental data.  He hopes his experiments give the results the people he admires have predicted.

Think back.  Remember your most arrogant and ideological (which is to say, theory-bound) professor.  Now imagine him or her as President.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Michael Gerson Has Written the Article I've Been Wanting to Write

The Cool Hot Center has been warning Republicans against a too rapid and too close embrace of the Tea Party.  There is a lot to like about insurgent conservatism, and a lot to admire about the Tea Party.  But the Tea Party has -- perhaps unavoidably -- found itself sheltering some extremists, crackpots, reactionaries, and the odd racist here and there.  Michael Gerson's column in today's Washington Post, "Why the Tea Party is Toxic for the GOP", sums it all up.  

The Republican Party in 2010 is not so different from the party that the voters rejected in 2008.   The Democrats are clever to remind people of that.  Can anyone identify the Republicans' position -- as a party -- on any major topic?  Even health care?  Is it repeal?   Do they propose a replacement?  What exactly do they propose to do about immigration?   Michael Steele, Republican chairman, is a weak leader -- let's face it, he's been a complete flop -- during a time when Republicans should be riding high by preempting the Tea Partiers with vigorous and creative proposals.  Instead, it's hanging around outside the Tea Party hoping some of its energy will rub off on it.

If the Republicans represented a vital alternative to the Obama-marginalized Democrats, the Tea Party would have no reason to exist.  It does not, so the Tea Party has rushed in to fill the void and, regrettably, brought with it some knuckleheads.  Some of those knuckleheads are prominent, and that is not good news for the Republicans in November.

Left to Right: Jerry Mahoney, master ventriloquist Paul Winchell,
and Jerry's pal Knucklehead Smiff

I'm looking forward to November, but if Republicans are licking their chops they need to think again.  People do not want peckerwoods running the United States.  Michael Gerson nails it in today's column.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

NOTE:  A couple of folks have asked when Part 2 of my article on the effect of the President's intelligence on his style of governing will appear.  ANSWER:   Couple days.  Thanks for asking.

Breaking News: This Guy Agrees with Me

In several posts I have suggested that Barack Obama does not care much about being re-elected in 2012.

Toby Hamden agrees with me in this article in the Telegraph (UK).  (Astonishingly, he neglects to cite to my trailblazing posts.)

We disagree somewhat on Obama's thinking.  I have written that Obama cares only about the approval of his social-justice-redistributionist academic and leftist journalist constituency, the only people he respects.  These people will lionize him and hire him even if he goes down to defeat in 2012.   Electoral failure in the future cannot rob him of his schoolchild's title of Our First Black President, for which he will be (justifiably) noted forever, no matter how lousy a president he turned out to be.

Hamden takes a different view, speculating that Obama is thinking ahead to becoming a figure on the world stage in a "post-American" era.  In fact, these positions are not so far apart.  Hamden writes:

"Obama does not suffer from self-doubt.  He has long seemed so convinced of his own virtue that to question his motives is illogical.  Increasingly, his pronouncements carry the tone of one who believes those who disagree are stupid or bigoted.

*   *   *

"In Berlin in 2008, Obama cast himself as a 'citizen of the world.'  He has dismissed the bedrock notion of American exceptionalism by describing it  .  .  .  as little more than narrow patriotism.  Elite opinion among liberal Ivy League types -- of which Obama is the embodiment -- holds that we are already living in a post-American world."

That's right.  He is looking forward to the time when he need move only among -- and answer only to -- liberal opinion leaders.  However, I don't think he will become a respected world leader.  Oh, he'll be greeted politely by those who are already delighted at the weakening of the United States that began several administrations ago (Republicans most assuredly included) and that he has greatly accelerated.  He is not respected -- he seems almost to be regarded as a faintly comical figure -- among leaders of Western democracies. 

He is, in short, Jimmy Carter.

Unlike Carter and Bill Clinton, however, Obama will never travel to hostile countries to free incarcerated Americans in hostile lands.  He'll never pound nails into a Habitat for Humanity home; he'll never co-chair disaster relief efforts with George W. Bush.   That's a far too, too  .  .  .  practical a use of his grand and mostly self-imagined moral authority.  Let the politicians do stuff like that. 

I see for Obama a rather sad old age.  Oh, he'll do fine in the decade or so after he leaves office, serving on the Harvard faculty (good luck finding him in a classroom -- this is not an industrious man), chairing left-of-center foundations (again, mostly honorarily), speechifying vaporously around the world, with that odd head-swing of his as he pivots from teleprompter to teleprompter.  But in the long run, after the history books acknowledge his historical significance, the next paragraphs will note his failed promise.  He will not be influential, as Bill Clinton has been (aided to some degree, in his case, by the visibility and talents of Mrs. Clinton, but mainly because of his political intelligence and resonance with voters).   For future generations he won't be much more than a picture on a plate. 

And the guy whose profligacy they're still paying for.

It's really too bad.  I didn't vote for the guy, but there was promise there.   Turns out he's just another pol who confused the title with the task.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I'm Going to Write a Book . . .

.  .  .   about (i) my worldwide pursuit of food to delight the senses, (ii) my quest for spiritual fulfillment, and (iii) my pursuit of that one lifelong passion.

I'm going to call it "Eat - Eat - Eat ."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Wherein Mr. Cube Sympathizes with Mr.Fishburne Over His Daughter's Hardcore Sex Video

Distinguished actor Mr. Laurence Fishburne is upset.

Mr. Fishburne

His daughter, Miss Montana Fishburne, 18, has decided that she wants to become famous, right now.  In aid of that ambition she has made a hard-core sex video which she hopes will get her noticed.  It is titled "Montana Fishburne."

"I view making this movie as an important first step in my career," Miss Fishburne said, almost single-handedly making the argument for raising the voting age back to 21, or maybe 28 or 29. "I've watched how successful Kim Kardashian became and I think a lot of it was due to the release of her sex tape by Vivid [well-known distributor of homemade celebrity porn and distributor of "Montana Fishburne"].  I'm hoping the same magic will work for me. I'm impatient about getting well-known and having more opportunities and this seemed like a great way to get started on it."

Miss Fishburne

One can hardly blame Mr. Fishburne for his unhappiness over his daughter's chosen path to fame. At least he has the support of his friends, including his former co-star in "Boyz n the Hood," famed rapper-actor-producer Mr. Ice Cube, a founding member of influential rap group N.W.A.  "Once your kids get to a certain age you can't control what they do," Mr. Cube recently stated.   "You can only hope that they do the right thing, do what you taught them, and sometimes they don't."  He concluded:    "Kids just do what they do."

Mr. Cube

Well put, Mr. Cube!  Indeed they do.   And sometimes, a young woman will have apparently been taught that her only value is to be found in her use as a oversized dehumanized sex tool.   But where on earth would a girl like Miss Fishburne have aquired such a notion?

As I was mulling this puzzle, I found myself humming Mr. Cube's catchy hit, "It's a Man's World" from his album "AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted":

     Women they're good for nothing no maybe one thing
     To serve needs to my ding-a-ling
     I'm a man who loves the one-night stand
     Cause after I do ya
     Huh I never knew ya
     Cause to kick it man it gives me the fits
     They wanna lay with they nose under your armpits
     Ice Cube won't wait so give it up cow
     After we do it you can go home now

Girls these days.  You try to instill some self-respect, but what the heck's a dad to do?   It's a real problem.  I was considering this very issue, recalling Mr. Cube's comforting words to his friend Mr. Fishburne, and pretty soon my toe started tappin', and next thing I knew I was transported back to the first time I heard Mr. Cube's moody lyrical meditation, "Get Off My D____ and Tell Yo B_____ to Come Here," a crossover favorite from the remix on the EP "Kill at Will":

     N_____ still tripping off the s____ I said last year
    About a b_____ is b_____ is a hoe is a slut
    Then I got rich but I'll never switch
     I'm not saying this to dis each and every fan
     Women you can ride but man be a man
     Cause if you're hangin there I'm a tell you loud and clear
     Get off my my d____ n _____ and tell yo b______ to come here

I mean, a guy becomes a father to a precious little girl, and he can't help but dread the day when she comes of age.  All he can do is hope that the influences he has brought to bear in her life will lead her down the path to self-respect and give her the strength to be the unique and valuable individual you raised her to be -- just like Mr. Cube said. 

But sometimes, as Mr. Cube also noted, young women just do what they do.  (All the time, actually, when you stop to parse that sentiment.)   It's great that Mr. Fishburne has the support of chums who are major artists like Mr. Cube, who "rocks the house," as the kids say these days, with memorable ditties like the irresistibly danceable "Dirty Mack" from his album "The Predator":
     There's a new girl on my street
     And I'ma introduce her to my meat
     Told my homeboy I was scoping hoping
     To crack them legs wide open
     Ready to break that thang in half, get it in with the shaft
     Take a bath and I'm out, yeah, better keep the Trojan
     And if the sex was good, still be the hoe's friend

I have just got to download that one to my ringtone.  Where was I?  Oh, yeah, wondering where a young AA woman might have gotten the idea that society values women solely for their willingness to engage in wide-release exhibitionistic sexual displays aimed solely at fueling male potency fantasies.  It's too bad Mr. Fishburne didn't have Mr. Cube's advice earlier on, as Mr. Cube is himself a strong family man.

When your Pop is a musician, I'd imagine that moral instruction begins with the earliest of lullabies, like maybe some of Mr. Cube's tuneful elegies on young womanhood, like "If I Was F_______ You" or "X-B_______," or "Givin' Up the N______ Dug Out."

In the end, we can all sympathize with Mr. Fishburne.   All you can do with today's precocious young lady is to expose her  to the best that modern culture has to offer and hope that she internalizes the values that will inspire her to choose a path other than to become a faceless adolescent spank dream.  Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go skag some t____rs, burn me some fl____z, and, if the mood strikes me, maybe even r____ some qu______ out. 

*     *     *
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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

President Obama, What We Mean by "Intelligence," and What He Means by "Hope" -- PART 1

Whew.  A pretty grand heading, that.  My usual course in these entries is to mosey through bloggish reflections and eventually say what I want to say.  I thought you might be grateful if I got to the damned point.  So: 

(1) President Obama's high intelligence is connected to his being the first President whose policies are dominated -- not just influenced, but almost completely swamped -- by concept, theory, and ideology, and scarcely at all by political observation (or, put less kindly, by facts).

(2) His presidency will subtly alter the popular view of "intelligence," if not its clinical definition.

(3) Understanding the President's intelligence helps us understand what he means by "hope."

*     *     *
I regard Barack Obama as an extremely intelligent person.  More, I regard him as the most intelligent President we have had since -- I don't know.  Long time.  

The objective evidence of this is considerable.  Although I have seen suggestions that some of his publications are not entirely his own, one does not become the President of the Harvard Law Review from his beginnings without some serious smarts.  His genuine eloquence from the podium is widely acknowledged.  It is true that personal charm -- or skillful BS -- has a lot to do with conveying the impression of intelligence.  There is also the uncertain effect of informal affirmative action.  But I'm a believer.  The guy is brainy.  He's sold me, anyway.

Barack Obama as President of Harvard Law Review (holding copy)

It's one of the reasons I wasn't all that bent when he was elected.  I heard the warnings of the Hannities and O'Reillys and their ilk, and I believed them, but I was hopeful that, like other ideologues elected to high office or appointed to the bench, he would govern more from the middle, even if somewhat left of the middle.  I thought that, like the Clintons, he would apply the political shrewdness he had shown in his political rise.   He certainly portrayed himself as willing to cast off the extreme partisanship that had characterized political discourse in recent decades.  Alas, the electorate's revulsion over Republican rule resulted in bulletproof Democratic legislative majorities, and any need he may have felt to rein in his impulses dissolved.  We should have listened to Sean and Bill and their ilk.

So I find myself asking -- how can such a smart guy be advancing such dumb policies, and saying such dumb things, and worse, things that he knows to be untrue whose untruth is easily shown and widely noted?

Ah, Steverino, you say, you believe yourself to be a smart guy and therefore you believe that any ideas that conflict with your own could only be the result of dumb thinking.  I have considered this possibility and, since it's my website, I reject it.

No, actually, I don't reject it.  I do think that the center and right and Tea Partiers, putting aside their occasionally obnoxious rhetoric and methods, are correct in their rejection of almost everything this administration has advanced. 

But my point in this post is not to prove that Barack Obama is a fraud.  He is, but the fraud is not that he has falsely conveyed an impression of intelligence.  I concede that his braininess is established.  What I want to explore is what we mean when we say that someone is "intelligent."  The President is very intelligent, but I don't want him anywhere near a position of civil authority.

Why is this?  I think it has something to do with how we understand -- what we mean by -- "intelligence."

I am fortunate in having had the opportunity to attend and teach at some of the most highly-regarded educational institutions in the United States.  I found myself frequently awed by the raw intellect of many of the men and women who taught and attended there (and simultaneously wondered what I was doing there).  Some were touched by genius.  But I recall a remark made by William F. Buckley in a debate at Harvard:  "I would rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston telephone directory than the Harvard faculty." 

The measurement and meaning of intelligence is a vast topic and not one in which I have any technical background.  But there is a lay understanding of what we mean when we say someone is "highly intelligent," is there not?  And in general, don't we admire those people?  On the other hand, a lot of highly intelligent people -- not all, maybe not even most -- have some characteristics that correlate with their intelligence that are not so attractive:  dreaminess; neglect of the person; arrogance; difficulty in communicating; and -- here we go -- an preference for the abstract to the concrete.

What has all of this to do with the President?  He recently made a statement which summed up for me the reasons I have come to find the course of his Presidency so disturbing.  At a speech at the American University School of International Service a couple of weeks ago, he reportedly said:  "Being an American is not a matter of blood or birth, it’s a matter of faith."  Even allowing the President some rhetorical license here, it's a very revealing remark, and a silly one.  Being an American has almost everything to do with birth.  The very first sentence of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution reads:  "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."  

While the President knows this, he doesn't really feel its truth.  He far prefers the comfort of the abstract thought that America is not a chunk of real estate with borders, but rather a bundle of concepts that have something to do with freedom and equality and abundance and other fine things everyone should experience.  And if you value those things, if you have faith in those Americanish things, well, then you must be an American.  

It is similar to what John F. Kennedy meant when he said "Ich bin ein Berliner" -- that is, all people who love freedom are, in a sense, citizens of Berlin who had been confined by the Berlin Wall.   President Kennedy was speaking conceptually, and in his hands it was a powerful metaphor and a signal moment of the Cold War.

But President Obama wasn't just offering an attractive metaphor like Kennedy was.  He didn't just say that people who have faith in American values are Americans, a pleasant but not terribly helpful thought in the current border controversy.  He said that being born here had nothing to do with being an American.  Unlike President Kennedy's graceful formulation, President Obama's treats the metaphor as reality by expressly rejecting the fact that where you are born has anything to do with being an American

This is how he thinks.  Not troubled by rules, constitutions, statutes, traditions, voting.  Very impressed by academic concepts like income redistribution, enforced leveling of social status, racial preference, downplaying Islamist terror, the merits of international kowtowing, and, in general, "social justice" in all of its uncertain outcomes.  (I've commented on this unfortunate mindset here and here and here.)

Thus:  The President, like lots of intelligent people, and especially like those we regard as the very most intelligent, is more comfortable with the abstract than with the concrete, with theories than with the uncertainty of their real world application.

PART 2 of these speculations will appear in a few days.