Reflections on the Peaceable Exchange of Power in Ireland

A scene from the recent campaign. One very welcome outcome is the death of the political-environmentalist movement of the Green Party, lead by John Gormley, pictured above.

I never liked Fine Gael.

I’ll qualify that statement somewhat. Fine Gael ran on a platform of fiscal responsibility in this election. The Smaller, Better Government idea was key to the public sector policy espoused in their Manifesto, which proposed to cut the size of the state by ten percent during their first term. That’s a great start. Normally, I will vote for any party that aims to cut spending, reduce the deficit and not increase the tax burden. It may be a far cry from what I, as a libertarian, incessantly demand: an end to the graduated income tax, the de-nationalisation of money, the abolition of public schools and all aspects of prohibition on victimless human vices, such as marijuana use, gambling and prostitution.

We live in a world of compromises, however, and many of my friends were surprised that I did not enthusiastically embrace Fine Gael in 2011. Shouldn’t I endorse the most ‘small government’ party in the Dáil?

No, I would not, because I never liked Fine Gael.

I remember Fine Gael in 2007, and even way back in 2002, at the somewhat disinterested age of thirteen. Fine Gael, on those occasions, was clearly running on a social justice, left-of-centre platform. Remember the ill-fated ‘Celtic Snail’ campaign? How about the constant rallying against the infrastructure deficit? Like Fianna Fáil, they were promising the world: more hospital beds, more schools, and more spending of almost every kind, which could be magically achieved without raising taxes. Goodness, look at Enda Kenny trying, badly, to present himself as an FDR figure without scaring anyone away by actually articulating a clear legislative agenda:

At least they were never as bad as Labour in 2007, which had a campaign predicated upon increasing individual happiness, and remedying the ‘stress’ of everyday life. I still suspect the whole thing was drafted by Scientologists. All my life, until the release of the 2011 Manifesto, Fine Gael seemed to me to be another Labour Party in Ireland. More accurately, they were populists – just like Fianna Fáil. Only they were less good at it, forever doomed to be out of power until the electorate got bored with Fianna Fáil, or Fianna Fáil made an insane foul. Plus, the fact that they consistently needed to rely on Labour to obtain power made the party a bitter pill to swallow.

The first and only Irish party I became a member of and supported was the Progressive Democrats. They seemed to be the only folks with brains (which is probably why they were widely hated) and I thought they could keep Fianna Fáil in check. So I voted for the FF/PD coalition. The PDs were still hindered by the accursed legacy of the Civil War, however. They never could carve out a support base in a country where support for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael could transcend generations.

I am ashamed I once gave indirect support to a party without any real vision, but merely a populist agenda that cut taxes yet still spent and spent much more. A party that was a slave to the special pleading of special interests. I did so because the other crowd were the loony-lefties. Fianna Fáil, it turned out, were no better. Economic populism is endemic to the left. It has no place on the sensible right.

I suspect Fine Gael is just more of the same. For years it has been the similar, valueless accumulation of schoolteachers and bogmen whose only selling point was it wasn’t Fianna Fáil. The 2011 Manifesto, if adhered to, has the potential to change all that. I could be the most significant document in Fine Gael history. It all depends on the role of Labour in the next government, with whom it is of utmost importance to keep out of power. Fine Gael has gone on the path of a centre-right platform. It’s not perfect, as they still support job-killing provisions like minimum wage increases. Proposals to abolish the minimum wage, however, may be too shocking for the Irish masses, and especially the influential Irish poverty industry centred around those like Fergus Finlay.

Irish writer Shane Coleman said the Civil War parties of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael would not last another twenty years. It was in 2007, when people laughed away his warnings that half of Ireland’s construction sector jobs could be lost during the imminent property market downturn. It turned out that over 53% were to be lost. Only an economic disaster would force such a change. Forget Michael Martin warning against Ireland adopting a ‘tired’ national debate between left and right. A debate between two shapeless blurs is even more tired. The dissolution of this Civil War system is imminent. Soon we will have a fiscally responsible, centre-right party whose main opposition will be a continental-style ‘democratic’ socialist movement.

That, I think, could be the real legacy of the 2011 General Election.

The Fianna Fáil movement could be left out in the cold indefinitely.



Brian Lenihan in Israel Begging for Help

Israel should do what is in its own economic interests, but not treat Ireland like an enemy

A colleague in Israel has informed me of an unbelievable but true story in the Israeli economic newspaper Calcalist. It is not available in English, but I will try to scrounge around for a translation later. Calcalist is saying that the Israeli financial authorities gave instructions to investors to sell stocks of about 1.5 billion dollars invested in Irish funds, due to a change in Ireland’s international credit rating. Apparently, the Irish government are seriously concerned that his might cause a chain reaction throughout the world, further damaging the already severely injured Irish economy. Included are international funds based in Ireland from the early years of the Celtic Tiger. The article says Brian Lenihan came to Israel urgently last month, to persuade Israels’ Finance Minister to help.

I am not an expert in finance or translation from Hebrew to English (I am working on both!), but it appears the Israeli authorities, instead of instructing investors to sell within 50 days, lengthened the period of time to 180 days, this due in a major way to opposition to the move by Israeli insurance companies.

The elephant in the room here is the Fianna Fáil party’s consistent populist anti-Israeli and pro-Arab policies. It is amazing to think that Fianna Fáil Deputy Chris Andrews actually advocated using forces from the Irish Navy in May 2010 to assist a Turkish Islamist organization, with a record of running weapons to Al Qaeda, as well as other groups, land a number of vessels in the Gaza Strip to defy the Israeli maritime blockade. Some of these boats contained aid, but the BBC subsequently reported that at least two-thirds of the medicines were out of date and dangerous to consume. Israeli authorities wanted to bring in the aid through the land crossings, used almost every day to bring goods into Gaza. However, aid was not the issue to Islamist group ‘IHH’ on the ship ‘Mavi Marmara’, who fought violently to defy this reasonable measure. It was the only ship out of six in the convoy to do so. Ireland is supposedly a neutral country, and Fianna Fáil supports this policy. Or on paper at least.  Taoiseach Brian Cowen and current Fianna Fáil leader Michael Martin actually supported Andrews in his desire to effectively declare war on a nuclear power with one of the world’s strongest militaries. Martin would subsequently make a farcical ‘humanitarian’ visit to Gaza, of all places, where there has not been one recorded death by starvation since the blockade measures began in 2007. This was not long after a devastating earthquake in Haiti which killed hundreds of thousands, and the murder of around 120 Muslims of the peaceful and non-political Ahmadiya sect in Pakistan, while at prayer, by Islamists in the mold of IHH.

It prompts the question: why should the Israelis help the Irish out of their predicament? The Israelis don’t look at it in that way, and are making a concession to Ireland which may not be a smart business move. Now, the Irish people don’t deserve to be punished for the stupid deeds of it’s populist Israel-bashing government, and their biased elite media centered around state broadcaster RTE and trendy-lefty newspaper The Irish Times. Yet I do not believe the Irish deserve special treatment that could harm Israel interests.

A weaker part of me wishes the Israelis would tell Fianna Failure to just go fuck themselves.

'Peace Activists' on the Gaza Flotilla. Questioning this is Islamophobic, you Cultural Imperialist.


Radical Chic and being more Pro-Palestinian than the Arab Masses

This article from an Australian publication landed in my inbox recently:

In Cairo’s Tahrir Square there were no signs saying “death to Israel, America and global imperialism” or “together to free Palestine.” Yet in the pro-Egypt demonstration in London on Saturday there was a sea of “Free Palestine” placards. In recent years the Palestine issue has moved from the realm of Arab radicalism to become almost the exclusive property of Western radicals.

The power and allure of Palestine in Western radical circles is extraordinary. Palestine is the only issue they get excited about. But their pro-Palestine fervor is not driven by future-oriented demands for economic development in a Palestinian homeland in the West Bank or Gaza. Instead it is driven by a view of Palestinians as the ultimate victims who need kindly, wizened Westerners to protect them from Big Bad Israel.

There is a profound narcissism in the pity-for-Palestinian movement. When American activist Rachel Corrie was killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza in 2003, it gave rise to a play called “My Name Is Rachel Corrie.” The killing of British peace activist Tom Hurndall in Gaza in 2004 led to a film called “The Shooting of Thomas Hurndall.” This is clearly all about Us – the good and pure Westerners who went to find themselves in Palestine – rather than about Them, the actual Palestinians.

It reminded me of a protest in Dublin recently against the closure of two swimming pools, which for some inexplicable reason had attendees waving Palestinian flags or banners. It also brought to mind an earlier incident when I was visiting the University College Cork in 2006/07. My laptop, which I had opened on a crowded table, had wallpaper featuring an Israeli flag. On seeing it one girl nearby proclaimed something along the lines of: ‘Is that the Palestinian flag? Cool! I’m a big supporter of the Palestinians…’’

Yes, a self-described massive Palestinian supporter unable to tell their flag from that of Israel’s.

This kind of thing heartens me in a way. It begs the question that if you look past all the rhetoric, and despite the intimidating displays of the streets of Europe, perhaps the Palestinian movement is really just a display of self-indulgent, clueless radicalism that should not to be taken too seriously? Now, there are no doubt sinister people involved, namely from sections of the Islamic community and the Socialist Workers Party. The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s leadership seems to be dominated by this latter cult (members of which still refer to each other as ‘revolutionaries’) as well as Sinn Fein and similar Irish nationalist groups. The evil of the Islamists is all too obvious, and the strength of groups like the SWP is their rhetoric of peace, brotherhood, and anti-poverty. It helps distract from the fact that the SWP are an absolutely evil organisation, which realised decades ago that Marx was completely wrong in forecasting that the working classes would become increasingly destitute under capitalism and overthrow the ‘capitalist system’ (also known as ‘leaving people alone’). Of course, the opposite happened. Ford brought long distance travel by motorcar to every working man, doing more good for the average person than any politician in history. Tea and coffeehouses would no longer be the preserve of the well off thanks to Starbucks. The ‘jet set’ would no longer be marvelled at when Ryanair can bring shop assistants for long-weekend trips to Prague or Dubrovnik. So with the revolution not happening at home, the SWP and others turned to Third World ‘liberation’ movements like the PLO. Make no mistake that the Palestinian advocacy organisations they run or support are part of a vast Red conspiracy against the West. Groups like the Irish Anti-War Movement are intended to play a part in bringing about the socialist program, which can only entail mass slavery, starvation and propaganda for most of us. Jihadist attacks against the West are supposedly fulfilling Marx’s prophesies. The socialists like Richard Boyd-Barrett actually believe this, and openly admit it in their own publications, and even Al Qaeda affiliated news outlets. That is why they will always be soft on organisations like HAMAS and the Muslim Brotherhood, even if such groups were to, say, impose a blockade of food and other vital goods entering their beloved Gaza Strip and bulldoze Palestinian homes. I find it amazing that Irish leftists like Joe Higgins and the United Left Alliance have not faced more scrutiny in this regard.  Somewhat encouragingly, many regular people have abandoned movements like the IAWM when they discover that it is merely a front, and most I hope will just grow out of it when they get a job. Former IAWM supporter Ted Leddy blogs here and has many a fantastic thing to say on these people.

Despite the dark ideologues pulling the strings, I believe ‘Palestine’ today might just be a brand as meaningless as the ubiquitous Che Guevara t-shirts and wallets. Its interesting that keffiyehs, de rigueur among the campus idiots, have not been exported from Palestine or even most other Arab countries in years. They are almost exclusively made in China, due to cheaper labour costs. Drive your radical-chic friends crazy with this fact.

Anarchists 4 Fianna Fáil – Sligo Branch

This needs no comment.

The Worst Statement of the Week: James Surowiecki Revises American History

Henry Hazlitt, one of the few economists who could write well, claimed economics is haunted by more fallacies than any other discipline. He made his case in Economics in One Lesson, the greatest introductory book to sound economics ever written. Read it, and you can talk more sense in fiscal policy than Paul Krugman. Then read Man, Economy & State by Murray Rothbard and you can talk more sense in every field than Paul Krugman. Hazlitt’s thesis on why the economics profession succumbs to such idiocy is not relevant here – but his sentiment at the time of writing that great book I can certainly channel this evening.

James Surowiecki has by any standard reached the dizzying heights of economic journalism, having contributed articles for the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Fortune magazine, among others. He now has a regular column in The New Yorker (I’m really picking on those guys a lot here so far) and has published a bestselling book called The Wisdom of Crowds. He is a statist, but clearly an intelligent and erudite one. I admit to enjoying a lot of his articles on the corporate scene, though I have little taste for the economic policies he advocates.

This year happens to be the 150th anniversary of the official beginning of America’s Second War of Independence, most often incorrectly dubbed a Civil War. This fact will become more relevant in a minute. It’s an era I have much interest in. Those familiar with the politics of pre-1861 America might be surprised to find Surowiecki coming out with this very brazen statement when he advocates massive government spending on R&D and infrastructure:

‘’Historically, at least, this was a bipartisan position. Alexander Hamilton argued for the “encouragement of new inventions and discoveries” by government. In the nineteenth century, an era of limited government, one of the few things that people were willing to spend money on was “internal improvements”—canals, railroads, and the like—and Abraham Lincoln supported these as being of “general benefit’’.’’

This is one of the most misleading comments I have ever seen in the mainstream media. Even the Guardian might think twice about printing such clear distortion unless it was in covering Israel affairs.

I am going to make three distinct arguments on why Surowiecki’s statement is incorrect, to put it mildly. Economic wisdom is a side issue here, as this just concerns matters of historical record.

Argument One: There were vastly different attitudes towards ‘Internal Improvements’ among the Founding Fathers and American policymakers prior to the Civil War.

Surowiecki attempts to demonstrate that internal improvement policies were supported across the political divide by quoting Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. This is specious reasoning. Hamilton was the leader of the Federalist Party whose policies were formed largely around his own views. These policies included support for internal improvements, a strong Executive Branch, protectionist tariffs and close ties with Britain. Yet Hamilton’s agenda was fiercely opposed by fellow Founder Thomas Jefferson and his Democratic-Republican Party, which advocated strong states-rights policy, support for France (for a while) as well as opposition to virtually all Hamiltonian economic policies like a national bank. ‘Jeffersonian Democracy’ largely won the day in the early years of the American Republic. After Jefferson, Presidents Madison and Monroe took up the mantle against Hamilton’s ideological heirs, namely the Whigs of Henry Clay. Surowiecki’s approach is like a writer quoting Barack Obama’s support for universal healthcare plans one hundred years from now and saying it was never a contentious issue in his first term. Indeed, one need only quote James Madison when he vetoed a bill for $1.5 million for railroad and canal subsidies. According to biographer Robert Rutland:

‘‘… [I]t was time to teach the nation a lesson in Constitutionalism… The bill… failed to take into account the fact that Congress enumerated powers under section eight of the first article of the Constitution, ‘’and it does not appear that the power to be exercised in the bill is among the enumerated powers, or that it falls by any just interpretation within the power to make the laws necessary and proper’’ for carrying out other constitutional powers into execution’’.

Sixteen years later, Andrew Jackson vetoed every internal improvement bill that landed on his desk, bills sponsored by Whig leader Henry Clay, which Jackson claimed were:

‘’…[S]addling upon the government the losses of unsuccessful private speculation’’.

Ever the tough guy, Jackson would boast of his stance against internal improvements in his Farewell Address, and stated his only regret (other than not hanging his Vice-President, Calhoun!) was refraining from shooting Henry Clay.

Prior to Abraham Lincoln, federal subsidies had never appeared for internal improvements. It was left up to the State governments alone to experiment with. It is amazing that Surowiecki is so confident the policy had massive support, when by 1860 no bill granting Federal Government aid for the purpose of building a railroad to the Pacific ever materialised, despite massive support from the Whigs and many Republicans. The Democratic Party at the time was fiercely opposed to all such policies, proving Surowiecki’s point about the existence of bipartisan support for internal improvements to be pure fantasy.

Argument Two: Experiments amongst the States in ‘Internal Improvements’.

Moving from the Founders and Federal Government to local state governments, the story of internal improvements appears to be a bleak one. Since Surowiecki offered Lincoln as an example, looking at Lincoln’s record in Illinois, a state which experimented with internal improvements in a major way in the 1830s and 1840s would be pertinent. Lincoln was an open admirer of Alexander Hamilton’s policies for governance, but even more so of the great supporters of big government that were Henry Clay and the Whigs. Lincoln famously delivered a hagiographic eulogy at Clay’s funeral. The Whig agenda was taken up later by the Republican Party, the first President to win office on the Republican ticket being Abraham Lincoln.

When first running for office in Illinois in 1932, Lincoln, already a famous lawyer, proclaimed:

‘’I presume you all know who I am. I am humble Abraham Lincoln. I have been solicited by my friends to become a candidate for the legislature. My politics are short and sweet, like the old woman’s dance. I am in favour of a national bank… in favour of internal improvements and a high protective tariff’’.

By 1837, Lincoln was powerful enough to help the Illinois Whigs approve over $12 million dollars for multiple ‘internal improvement schemes. Other states had also caught onto the vibe. I will be blunt and say here that the programs lead to atrocious results, which by the 1840s were similar to the effects of Ireland’s recent crash from a Central Bank funded boom: massive state debt and useless, often non-complete pet projects. Lincoln’s own law partner and best friend was able to say:

‘’The gigantic and stupendous operations of the scheme dazzled the eyes of nearly everybody, but in the end it rolled up a debt so enormous as to impede the otherwise marvellous progress of Illinois… [I]t is little wonder that at intervals for years afterward the monster of (debt) repudiation often showed its hideous face above the waves of popular indignation’’.

Lincoln made fantastic promises that the policies would make Illinois the ‘Empire State of the Union’. Every river in the state was to be widened, deepened and made navigable.  Cities were promised to ‘spring up everywhere’. Two men who worked in Lincoln’s law offices in Springfield, Illinois were George Nicolay and John Hay. They later had jobs as administrators in the Lincoln White House. At the time of the internal improvements fiasco they were able to report that nothing came of the schemes other than:

‘‘… [a] load of debt that crippled for many years the energies of the people, a few miles of embankments that the grass hastened to cover, and a few abutments that stood for years by the sides of the leafy rivers, waiting for their long delaying bridges and trains’’.

These men were Lincoln loyalists!

Some examples are always held up as successful projects during this national infatuation, such as New York’s Erie Canal, but even that became obsolete very quickly with the advent of railroad transit. The subsequent public attitude towards internal improvements can be summed up in one word: revulsion. Revulsion at the massive corruption brought about between the integration of government and big business, and revulsion at being saddled with the debt of failed industries. This can be clearly proven by the fact Illinois actually amended its state constitution in the late 1840s to forbid transfer of government moneys to corporations for internal improvements. This was followed by Ohio in 1851, which was in an even worse state than Illinois. Indiana and Michigan were next in passing popular amendments, as they were also bankrupt from internal improvements. The states of Wisconsin and Minnesota would enter the Union in 1848 and 1858 respectively. They saw the disaster internal improvements had caused and prohibited them in their state constitutions from the beginning. They went further in banning loans to private businesses. State Supreme Courts suddenly began to deem internal improvement policies unconstitutional. This occurred in Iowa. By the beginning of the ‘Civil War’, 13 states forbade by amendment internal improvements in their constitutions.

Argument Three: ‘Internal Improvements’ and the Confederacy.

Jefferson, very wrongly overlooked by Surowiecki, was a Virginian, and a man who idolised the yeoman farmer as superior citizens than the captains of industry in North Eastern cities. It is not surprising that the Southern states became fierce defenders of the Jeffersonian anti-internal improvements tradition when Northern Whigs and Republicans threatened to take their moneys, to finance projects which would primarily benefit California, Illinois and especially the North East. Therefore, at the Federal level Southern Senators and Congressmen were vital in preventing internal improvement subsidies, to the constant ire of Northern political classes. It was a sure thing that Article 1, Section VIII, Clause III of the Confederate Constitution would state:

‘‘Neither this, nor any other clause contained in the Constitution, shall ever be construed to delegate power to Congress to appropriate money for any internal improvement intended to facilitate commerce’’.

If the Confederate States, making up 9 million out of 22 million of the American population prior to secession saw it fit to enshrine opposition to internal improvements in its supreme law code, there is little justification indeed for Surowiecki’s blatant revisionism in the service of neo-Keynesian ideology. It is only prudent to warn Mr. Surowiecki of the role internal improvement subsidies played in a very human tragedy beyond state bankruptcies.

Tariffs were a much more important way of raising revenue before the income tax was introduced in 1913, and this disproportionately affected the agrarian states of the Deep South. These states had a small manufacturing base, and relied on imports from Europe or the North for which they exported massive amounts of cotton annually. One of the most significant laws in American history was introduced in 1860, known as the Morrill Tariff Act. This massively increased the tariff from 20% to 47%. The Cotton States were now shouldering 80% of the nation’s tax burden, despite constituting 30% of the population. Lincoln in his Inaugural Address threatened war on any state that refused to pay federal tariffs, while at the same time, Lincoln committed himself to subsidising transcontinental railroads. The most destructive war in history up to that time followed the next year.

Confederate bodies lie where they fell in the immediate aftermath of Antietam

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Cracked.Com Doesn’t Get It Totally Right

Now, we all love for providing brilliant lists, often in the form of ‘5 things you didn’t know about…’ fare, which present truths of which the masses are generally unfamiliar. I blame the schools for why there is such a need for, a simple concept which has become an internet phenomenon.

It is so frustrating, then, to see make a boo-boo when so many people rely on it. The subject in question is on six pieces of music that mean the opposite of what you think. The ubiquitous ‘O Fortuna’ is at #4.

I’ve been listening to and am still enthralled by the Carmina Burana, of which O Fortuna is a part, since high school, when I really listened to the thing and garnered  the real meaning of its famous finale. Then proceeding, of course, to bug people about it. I would especially recommend the Deutsche Grammophon version of 1968, featuring Eugen Jochum with the choir and orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

O Fortuna, the lyrics of which are essentially a song about uncontrollable fate and the divine ‘Wheel of Fortune’, is played at the beginning and end of a suite of 25 songs. The final four are the key to the puzzle. For you see, is correct in pointing out that the Camina Burana is based on a set of 200 Medieval poems, set to music by Carl Orff in the 1930s. All of the poems and (later) songs are on secular subjects. O Fortuna has nothing to do with ‘The Devil’ – it is part of a work that mocks the Medieval Church and Christian beliefs. The songs are about gambling, drinking and sex. We will now focus on sex. is all right so far, but it stops much too soon. They quote Off correctly as wanting to celebrate “the triumph of the human spirit through sexual and holistic balance”. They do not know how true this statement is. Carmina Burana is divided into five sections, called ‘In the Meadow’ and ‘in the Tavern’ (celebrating nature and drinking, respectively) and so on. Then there is ‘The Court of Love’, and this is where Orff gets really cheeky.

The only way to appreciate this is to listen to the final songs themselves, starting with No.22 ‘Tempus Est Iocondum‘. An unusual and unique recording, under the direction of Bennita Hoffman, with a Moorish flair can be heard here. Meaning ‘This is the Joyful Time’, it includes a baritone and boys’ choir trying to seduce a soprano:

”It is the time of joy, O maidens, now enjoy yourselves together, O young men.

Oh, oh, I am all aflower, now with my first love I am all afire, a new love it is of which I am dying”.

The baritone’s overture (I believe he represents a Count) is successful. This song is followed by ‘Dulcissieme‘, a very short piece in which the soprano solely proclaims:

‘Sweetest One – ah! – I accept you totally’.

Now we are getting to the main course. The listener is treated to a triumphant chorus: ‘Ave Formosissima‘, a powerful ode hailing the soprano as the ‘Pride of all Virgins‘. I particularly love the use of the drum percussion near the end.

So, we have:

1. a romantic overture;

2. an acceptance;

3. a choir celebrating the chastity of our soprano.

What immediately follows is superbly clever, and the strength of transition from Ave Formosissima to O Fortuna separates a good performance from the bad.

I don’t need to show you what the O Fortuna sounds like – even X Factor viewers know it by now. Listen to the steady rhythm, the sudden holding back and then gushing forth of the choir. Needless to say, a song which is about change, after one celebrating virginity, is strategically placed:

”O Fortune,
like the moon
you are changeable,
always waxing
or waning;
detestable life
now difficult
and then easy
deceive a sharp mind;
it melts them like ice”.

It shouldn’t take the geniuses that are the contributors to long to realize that the song signifies a young virgin and our noble baritone fornicating, and an orgasm of epic proportions.

And to think THIS song was controversial in its time:

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Malcolm Gladwell, the New Yorker and the Science of the Bloomin’ Obvious

The New Yorker comes out with five double-issues every year and I always buy them. Malcolm Gladwell contributes to this fortnight’s issue. Now, those not familiar with at least one of Gladwell’s books are few (The Tipping Point was on the American bestseller lists for five consecutive years). I don’t need to go too much into his writing other than to say that Gladwell’s books deal heavily with the unexpected implications of research in the social sciences, and make frequent and extended use of academic work, particularly in the areas of psychology and economics. The implications of this is that we have a lot of irritating people who read his books and suddenly think they are academics afterwards, but that aspect is for another post.

Malcolm Gladwell is a journalist and has no academic expertise in the areas he writes in, but credit to him I say for bringing insights from diverse fields in a pop format for the masses. This is despite the annoying members just mentioned, many of whom work in Waterstone’s or happen to be suburban yummy-mummies.

Yet I still have gripes, I do.

I first encountered Gladwell by reading his book Outliers a few years ago, which is essentially about success and statistical anomalies. It has some nifty insights about the economic success of minorities and such, with the result that this famous mulatto’s work was castigated by some as racist. This is complete nonsense, but it was championed by The New Republic, which has been trying desperately to make such allegations stick to Ron Paul and other critics of Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve, such as economic historian Tom DiLorenzo recently. ‘Outliers’ also provides a good introduction on the relation of birth-dates and talent, a topic that has been done to death subsequently in books like The Talent Code.

Good points aside, Outliers contains some perfect examples of what always sours Gladwell’s work somewhat. That is, his tendency to present obvious facts as groundbreaking ‘new discoveries’ that the author has just brought to his readers seeking to break out of Waterstone’s. In the book we are introduced to two contrasting examples of men with super-high IQs and obvious talent. One is Christopher Langan, who possibly has the highest IQ of any person alive. He comes from a broken home and lacks much in the way of social savvy and graces. He never made much out of his life except by appearing on quiz shows. Langan is contrasted to atomic scientist Robert Oppenheimer, who utilised the confidence that comes with being born into an elite family into ability to ‘play the system’ and grab every opportunity by the balls.

Gladwell uses a California study which shows the long-term career success of a group of equally “gifted” children hinged heavily on class, nurture and a strong family than just IQ. So, social skills and a loving family are vital for young people? Amazing. No wonder The Independent says in a book review:

‘’Not for the first time, you wonder why Gladwell does not yet hold a tenured professorship at the University of the Bleedin’ Obvious’’.

Now back to the New Yorker. Remember the New Yorker? This is a song post about the New Yorker. Gladwell opens up his most recent article (titled ‘The Order of Things’, which deals with college rankings) pointing out oddities in the way ‘Car and Driver’ rank their best sports cars. He makes a good point that Car and Driver assigns a mere four percent of a sports car’s total score to exterior styling. Of course, as Gladwell points out than no buyer of a Porsche or Lotus ‘ever placed so little value on how it looks’. The magazine uses largely the same ratings system for sports cars as SUVs and family sedans, and of all magazines they should know better. In their defense, however, looking over back issues I can see Car and Driver do clearly show you what rating they give to sports cars on looks and make extensive recommendations to buyers concerned especially for aesthetics. Yet the paternalistic writer wants to guide the masses through their daily travails, and his next target is college rankings.

US News & World Report publishes one of the best-read college rankings. Gladwell devotes a special focus to colleges 41-50 on the list, particularly Penn State (sharing spot no. 47 with University of Illinois) and Yeshiva University at 50th place. Mr. Gladwell, like many before him, shows the flaws in comparing such different institutions in the manner the ranking does. Penn State, he must point out, has a famous football culture while Orthodox Jewish YU does not, though it can now boast a popular male vocal group. New Yorker readers would never have known this without Gladwell to guide them, apparently. I wonder how many kids from Washington Heights attending shiurim with Rabbi Schachter regret not going to their second choice, Penn State in rural Pennsylvania, as it came slightly higher on a general ranking?

Its all presented as great detective work, and this kind of thing goes on throughout the article – like when he points out what a good option University of Alabama is for a law school when low tuition costs are made a serious factor. The brilliant journalist offers suggestions for the price conscious that amount to ‘perhaps look at colleges other than Harvard/Yale and so on’. Will an aspiring engineer or scientist ever overlook MIT because it comes one spot behind Harvard in an NY Times ranking? Will Orthodox Jews flock to Penn State when they realise it is cheaper than YU and 3 places higher in US News & World Report?

Is this worthy of the New Yorker? Remember this is the magazine viciously mocked for elitism in Family Guy, though one wonders what elitism means for its core viewership, the teenagers and dorm room stoners who juggle between this and Adult Swim.

Another New Yorker contributor, Patricia Marx, is capable of writing fascinating and unique pieces on buying eyeglasses and cars in New York. What a humorist like Marx could have done with the huge topic of college choices is a glorious prospect. One wonders if the pop journalist Malcolm Gladwell has his name on the cover of this artistic and journalistic institution merely for the sake of increasing off the shelf sales.

Family Guy's take on the New Yorker

For your entertainment, here is the excellent Malcolm Gladwell piss-take that is: The Malcolm Gladwell Book Generator.

Also, as we are talking about The New Yorker, I should mention a restaurant with a New Yorker theme appeared not long ago on Golders Green Road. Avoid the place at all costs. The salt beef sandwich I had was very dry, and possibly microwaved. A hearty salt beef sandwich with mustard on rye is my culinary heaven, but that meat should be moist, warm and dripping. There was great matzo ball soup and the service was lovely, but they really disgraced a Yiddish staple. On top of that, the portions are fairly small.

Don't expect what the New York Jewish delis do well in Golders Green