Archive for June, 2012

Bias in the media and academia

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

June 25, 2012

Around 6:30 every morning I read the Wisconsin State Journal. I save the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal for lunch. I still read a few books and magazines but lately I am close to Will Rogers, “All I know is what I read in the papers.”

One problem is that what I read in the papers is heavily skewed toward the bad and neglectful of the good. It’s understandable. You get a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting that exposes the skullduggery behind oil spills, prison scandals or Scott Walker protests. You don’t get one for explaining how clean the beaches are, how healthy and rich people are, or how great the local bank, factory or car dealer is doing. One of the best video programs I ever made was called “The Good News from Earth.” It was also one of the least popular. We lost a ton of money.

When journalists or photographers address the recession they don’t highlight handsome youths on their college semester in Italy, or African-American scholars studying law on plush campuses of Harvard, UCLA or UW. They find a homeless mother short of food stamps or a cancer victim up to his ears in credit card debt.

I’m not criticizing. It’s just the way it is. But it is a bias and it can be harmful. It becomes particularly so when it combines forces, as it often does, with left-liberal and sustainable green bias in media and academia.

You would be hard put to find a Republican or a Libertarian on the social sciences or humanities faculty of any major university or on the staff of any major media company. It would be even harder to find a professor, a scientist or a mainline journalist who doesn’t believe in green dogma. If you questioned this bias, there would be shock at your naiveté. Aren’t all educated people environmentalists? Don’t all right-thinking intelligent people vote democratic (or socialist)?

Why is that? Why is the bias for left-liberal and green ideology so dominant at universities and in major media outlets? (The single exception is the one left-liberals love to hate, Fox News. In my heretical opinion Fox—more often than the competition at least—lives up to its slogan, “fair, balanced and unafraid.”)

I think much of the reason for this left-liberal and green bias is religion. Even though atheism and agnosticism are popular among professors and journalists and fundamentalist religious beliefs are rare, many memes from our Judeo-Christian background are still alive and well.


As I have emphasized before, there are three pillars that support our exceptional democracy—Capitalism, Science and Judeo-Christianity. At our best these three work in synergy to make us the prosperous humane society we are. Leave out the memes we inherited from our Judeo-Christian ancestors, capitalism and science would still be productive. But they would also be cold, cruel and environmentally destructive. Social welfare would not exist. Nor would most of the arts. Civil rights and Title IX legislation would not have passed. Our air, water and soil would be more polluted. Compassion and common decency would be in short supply. Heck, we might even still have slavery! Some Muslim countries still do.

If you leave out capitalism and science you would not be able to pay the bills. That takes money. And money comes primarily from the profits of win-win capitalist transactions and the success of capitalism depends heavily on the innovations of science.

I still remember when I first came out of college and my mother asked me what work I was doing. I was offended. I thought I was working very hard at the time—studying late at night, reading up a storm, writing poems and articles. My work didn’t get published or make me a cent but to me that was irrelevant. It took me years to realize productive work meant doing something that someone else wanted enough to pay you for it—the kind of work that makes a profit for both worker and payer and results in the taxes so important to the government.

Artists, academics, journalists, students, and helping professionals for the most part don’t usually make that kind of profit for their services. Scientists sometimes do, but not always, especially when it comes to basic research.

In the old days people usually paid directly for a service. Doctors, as late as my youth, were paid directly in cash or kind by their patients. Hospitals too. Today insurance companies or the government pay the bills.

Some scientists today work for profit-making industries but many more are paid by government grants. Environmentalists can work for private profit-making companies but the more interesting and the more lucrative opportunities are in government, academia or other non-profit sectors.

A small number of celebrity musicians, artists, actors, sport stars, journalists and writers make fabulous profits working at their craft—their public pays them for their services. Like other profit-makers they pay large taxes on their large incomes. These celebrity performers are the exception though. The vast majority of musicians, artists, writers, journalists, athletes, etc. would starve if they had to depend solely on the public to pay the piper. More often than not the government steps in and supplements their day jobs with grants, fellowships, food stamps and welfare benefits.

Teachers, firefighters, police officers and government bureaucrats of all kinds depend on local and national taxes for their salaries, benefits and pensions.

Albert Einstein pointed out still another factor that makes for democratic or socialist bias, “One of the strongest motives that lead men to art and science is escape from everyday life with its painful crudity and hopeless dreariness, from the fetters of one’s own ever-shifting desires.”

Among other things, this means that the more educated the population becomes, the more attractive a life devoted to art or science—or to helping others—becomes. And the more unattractive a life devoted to making money at what many consider dreary and crude profit-making businesses becomes. (Remember the classic line when the bourgeois businessman suggested that Dustin Hoffman, The Graduate, go into “plastics.”)

All these things considered it is no mystery why there is a strong bias in favor of left-liberal and sustainable green ideology in media and academic circles. That’s where the money is.

There is an interesting twist here. The green sustainable mantra is strongly anti-growth. Resources are limited, we are overpopulated already and pollution is getting out of hand, so we should recycle and conserve rather than grow. This theology is popular with intellectual leaders but doesn’t win elections.

Left-liberals, like their hero Franklin Roosevelt, believe the problem is not growing the economy but finding a fair way to distribute the already more than sufficient wealth. So they promote the Robin-Hood fantasy that the 99% will be better off if we tax the 1% more heavily.

Both green and left-liberal end up with an anti-growth bias, but both have to disguise it to win elections.

To summarize:

We need capitalism and science as our primary engines to grow and to create wealth. Without growth, without wealth, none of the good things we all want can happen. We need someone to pay the bills. Sounds simple and it is.

We also need a strong government, “to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

To do all of these good things, especially the general welfare part, we need artists, environmentalists, philosophers, doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers, musicians, actors, intellectuals, clergy, pundits, professors and all of the other helping professions. To get them we need to keep the best of the Judeo-Christian memes alive and well.

Finally, in my not-so-humble opinion, to make the synergy stronger we need more diversity of bias in the media and the academy.

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. Out of 764,448 self-published titles (in 2009, probably over a million in 2011), 52 got full reviews last month in Publisher’s Weekly Select. The 52 included, Twilight or Dawn: A Traveller’s Guide to Liberal Free-Market Democracy by Bill Stonebarger. Give it a try.

The Great Depression, Yesterday and Today

Sunday, June 17th, 2012

I was three years old when the stock market crashed in 1929. I am told my father speculated wildly in stocks in the 1920s. He lost. He also lost his membership in the Dayton Country Club, his career as heir to the family laundry business (which went bankrupt), and our house when he was forced into personal bankruptcy.

As a child I don’t remember suffering that much during the Great Depression. My father and mother no doubt did. They were both high school graduates but neither had any college. My grandfathers thought college was for eastern snobs.

After the Crash my father scrambled to find jobs—school bus sales, trucking company dispatcher, used-car sales, Elks Club secretary, General Motors buyer—you name it, he did it.  We had to move every year or so in a middle class neighborhood of Dayton, Ohio. Each house we chose had been foreclosed on, taken over by the bank, and was for sale. We never had money to buy. When someone else did we had to find another foreclosed one to rent.

I think my parents were Roosevelt Democrats but I am not sure since there was little talk of politics at our dinner table. Actually there was little adult talk at our dinner table since my father was seldom there. I did eavesdrop on many arguments about money behind closed doors.

We always had enough to eat, but little money left for vacations or luxuries. We had fun though—sports, riding our bikes, school outings, double-feature movies, listening to Bob Hope, Fibber McGee and Molly, or Joe Louis fights on the radio. In contrast to the usual horror stories of crushing poverty and terrible suffering, we probably were typical of the vast majority of middle class families during the Great Depression.

What, if anything, does this personal story have to do with today?

My hunch is that the vast majority of middle class families today are not suffering that much. There are exceptions I’m sure (there were more exceptions then) but for the most part the middle class today is pretty well off. The poor are also better off than the poor were at any previous time or place in human history.

Free-market capitalist economies have always had booms and busts. There have been 47 recessions or depressions since the country was founded. During the 19th and early 20th century the busts were brief (typically a year or two) and boom times were the norm. The twelve recessions since the Second World War have been shorter, measured in months rather than years (present one excepted). In each case (present one excepted) the recoveries have been rapid and have more than made up for losses during the busts.

In all of the 47 cases (Great Depression and the current recession excepted) the government’s role in recovery has been minimal. In other words, free-market economies do have busts, but like homeostatic systems they tend to right themselves given a fair chance. In the long run we all end up winners. Over the long period of my adult life, for instance, the economy has grown massively so that today just about everybody is better off than they were in 1945. This is so even though there are almost three times as many of us as there were in 1945.

The same story has been repeated in many other countries on all continents where free-market capitalism has been dominant. This is in sharp contrast to government-dominated authoritarian regimes of the left or of the right, which have brought economic misery and terrible brutality.

The 1920s were a time of exceptional economic growth. Automobiles, electricity and industrial growth changed the pace and quality of life everywhere in the United States. In the final decades of the 20th century computers, high-tech industries and the Internet changed the pace and quality of life everywhere in the world. The 1920s were, like today, a time of great inequality in income and wealth. Like today, however, the educated and the skilled grew steadily richer.

Many educated intellectuals in the 1920s and 1930s were sympathetic to command-economy solutions (socialist, fascist or communist). The muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens, for instance, was a passionate supporter of “Fighting Bob” Lafollette in his attacks on corporate malfeasance. After a three-week visit to the Soviet Union Steffens wrote, “I have seen the future, and it works.”

Stuart Chase (the influential economist and engineer from MIT who coined the title “New Deal”) visited the new Soviet Union and greatly admired their “attempt to do away with wastes and frictions that do such dreadful damage in Western countries.” He wholeheartedly approved when he observed, “Sixteen men in Moscow today are attempting one of the most audacious economic experiments in history … they are laying down the industrial future of 146 million.”

Chase and Steffens were not alone. Many other intellectuals, professors, scientists, writers, artists, journalists, and high-level bureaucrats in the Roosevelt administration believed strongly that the command-economy of the Soviet Union was the future. Popular movements, like Upton Sinclair’s End Poverty in California (EPIC), Huey Long’s promise to share the wealth and make every man a King, and Francis Townsend’s Plan to give more money to the elderly in order to increase demand and consumption were eerily similar to today’s OWS protests, “soak the rich” taxes, and barter schemes.

FDR saw himself as a savior of our “democratic way of life” but, like many contemporary leftists, was a severe critic of the free market part. Roosevelt heaped scorn and blame on Coolidge, Hoover and the boom times of the 20s. So Obama heaps scorn and blame on Bush and the Republicans for our problems today.

Roosevelt, like Obama, was very likeable and a master communicator. His speech running for his second term in 1936 could be used as a template for the left today.

“We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering. They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.”

It worked. He won election in a landslide!

Today we seem mired in the same kind of slump (though not nearly as bad) we had in the 1930s. And our government is following a similar Keynesian “demand” theory in hopes of recovery. As in the 1930s it is not working very well. Keynesians today, like the popular Paul Krugman of the NY Times, disagree. They claim that FDR made solid progress in repairing the damage done by the previous decade of growth, greed and speculation. Unfortunately in his second term he tried to prematurely cut spending to balance the budget. This sent us into more depression, only to be rescued by the huge spending splurge in the Second World War.

Is that Keynesian argument valid though? I doubt it.

The 47 recessions and depressions in our past (with the two exceptions) did not use Keynesian spending to recover. The serious recession of 1920-21, for instance, took eighteen months of non-action by President Harding to bring an unemployment rate of 11.7% down to 2.4%. The solid progress of the New Deal took eight years to bring an unemployment rate of 21.5% down to 17.1%.

Roosevelt was an effective wartime leader. Social security proved to be popular and useful. His basic idea that we are rich enough now to provide a safety net for all our citizens makes sense. However, his opposition to free-market businesses, his hatred of what he saw as “organized money,” and his championing of command economy solutions like NRA were reactionary then and still are today.

Freedom works, command-economies not so much.

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. Out of 764,448 self-published titles (in 2009, probably over a million in 2011), 52 got full reviews last month in Publisher’s Weekly Select. The 52 included, Twilight or Dawn: A Traveller’s Guide to Liberal Free-Market Democracy by Bill Stonebarger. Give it a try.

Insults, gloom and other trivia

Sunday, June 10th, 2012

Earl Weaver, manager of the Baltimore Orioles in the old days, used to storm out of the dugout after what he considered a bad call. He would go nose-to-nose with the umpire and grumble, “Are you going to get any better or is this it?”

Some of my readers may feel that way about recent heavy-duty blogs, or with my often optimistic views. In reparation I give you this potpourri of insults, gloom and other trivia.

If you want a really classy insult consult the chart that a friend and loyal reader, Ann Boyer, sent me a few years ago. Here is how Shakespeare might do it:

Pick one word from each column below prefaced with “thou” and gain new stature among the literati.

artless                        base-court                 apple-john

bawdy                        bat-fowling               baggage

bootless                     beef-witted               barnacle

churlish                      beetle-headed           bladder

clouted                      boil-brained               boar-pig

craven                        fly-bitten                  maggot-pie

droning                      common-kissing        bum-bailey

puking                        pox-marked              hugger-mugger

puny                           knotty-pated            malt-worm

saucy                          reeling-ripe               nut-hook

If you want to be accepted in intellectual circles you could use the columns invented by Dinesh D’Souza. Pick a word from each of the three columns, put them together and look au courant at your next cocktail party.

profound                    interpersonal             awareness

diverse                       emotional                   oneness

genuine                      dialectical                   relationship

subjective                   harmonious               network

complex                      communal                  response

mutual                        collective                   dialogue

meaningful                 humane                      linkage

realistic                       societal                      consensus

sophisticated               open                          forum

objective                     interactive                  context

If none of these work try some of the insults below forwarded from friend and long-time reader Gib Docken.

“Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.” Oscar Wilde.

“He has Van Gogh’s ear for music.” Billy Wilder.

“I feel so miserable without you. It’s almost like having you here.” Stephen Bishop.

“This summer one-third of the nation will be ill-housed, ill-nourished and ill-clad. Only they call it a vacation.” Joseph Salak.

“If aliens are smart enough to travel through space

why do they keep abducting the dumbest people on earth?”

A member of Parliament to Disraeli. “Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease.” “That depends, Sir,” said Disraeli, “whether I embrace your policies or your mistress.”

An old friend and faithful reader from California, Lin Haley, (like her father Leroy) loves a good pun. Here are a few she sent recently.

A three-legged dog walks into a saloon in the Old West. He slides up to the bar and announces: “I’m looking for the man who shot my paw.”

She had a boyfriend with a wooden leg, but broke it off.

Two peanuts walk into a bar, and one was a salted.

A dyslexic man walks into a bra.

An invisible man marries an invisible woman. The kids were nothing to look at either.

A Buddhist refused Novocain during a root canal. He wanted to transcend dental medication.

Two cows are standing next to each other in a field. Daisy says to Dolly, “I was artificially inseminated this morning.” “I don’t believe you,” says Dolly. “It’s true, no bull!” exclaims Daisy.

Two vultures board an airplane, each carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looks at them and says, “Sorry gentlemen, only one carrion allowed per passenger.”

Not puns, but fun–and sad to say, accurate:

The graduate with a Science degree asks, “Why does it work?”

The graduate with an Engineering degree asks, “How does it work?”

The graduate with an Accounting degree asks, “How much will it cost?”

The graduate with a Liberal Arts degree asks, “Do you want fries with that?”

Wisdom from kids forwarded by Samuel Dykema (currently working for the State Department in Iraq–not a very fun place).

“No person really decides before they grow up who they’re going to marry. God decides it all way before, and you get to find out later who you’re stuck with.” Kirsten, age 10.

Question: “How do you decide who to marry? Answer: You got to find somebody who likes the same stuff. Like, if you like sports, she should like sports, and she should keep the chips and dip coming.” Alan, age 10.

Question: “How can a stranger tell if two people are married?” Answer: “You might have to guess, based on whether they seem to be yelling at the same kids.” Derrick, age 8.

Question: “When it is ok to kiss someone?” Answers: “When they’re rich.” Pam, age 7. “The law says you have to be eighteen, so I wouldn’t want to mess with that.” Curt, age 7. “The rule goes like this: if you kiss someone, then you should marry them and have kids with them. It’s the right thing to do.” Howard, age 8.

If these quotes aren’t gloomy enough consider the wisdom forwarded by Lisa Woske at Cal Poly State University. In Japan they have replaced the impersonal Microsoft Error messages with haiku poems (five syllables in line one, seven in line two, five in line three).

Your file was so big.

It might by very useful.

But now it is gone.

Yesterday it worked.

Today it is not working.

Windows is like that.

The Website you seek

Cannot be located,

But Countless more exist.

First snow, then silence.

This thousand-dollar screen dies.

So beautifully.

These things are certain.

Death, taxes and lost data.

Guess which has occurred.

I often escape from gloom by taking the long view. Critics are quick to point out that in the long run we’re all dead. Arthur Guiterman understood when he wrote “On the Vanity of Earthly Greatness.”

“The tusks which clashed in mighty brawls

Of mastodons, are billiard balls.

“The sword of Charlemagne the Just

Is ferric oxide, know as rust.

“The grizzly bear, whose mighty hug

Was feared by all, is now a rug.

“Great Caesar’s bust is on the shelf,

And I don’t feel so well myself.”

As to the optimistic flavor in many of my blogs, I am reminded of an Ogden Nash poem I sometimes recite to Jane. It is about a couple, Mr. & Mrs. McCloud. He is a hopeless optimist. She is not. Here are a few lines.

“Whatever happened, no matter how hateful,

McCloud found excuses for being grateful. …

Had he hives, he was grateful it wasn’t measles.

Had he mice, he was grateful it wasn’t weasels.

Had he roaches, he was grateful it wasn’t tarantulas.

Did his wife go to San Francisco,

He was grateful it wasn’t Los Angeles.

“Mrs. McCloud on the other hand was always complaining to beat the band.

If she had the mumps, she found it no tonic

To be told to be grateful it wasn’t bubonic. …

“One day she tired of her husband’s cheery note

And stuffed a silver tea tray down his throat.

Said he from the floor where they found him reclining,

I’m just a McCloud with a silver lining.”

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. Not exactly a Pulitzer Prize but even Mrs. McCloud might be impressed. Out of 764,448 self-published titles (in 2009, probably over a million in 2011), 52 got full reviews last month in Publisher’s Weekly Select. The 52 included, Twilight or Dawn: A Traveller’s Guide to Free-Market Liberal Democracy by Bill Stonebarger. A silver lining indeed.

P.P.S. Continuing to practice what I preach, this blog is shorter and less foggy (8.0) than my average (11.1)–8th grade talk, not foggy enough for high schools.

Sophomoric fog

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

June 4, 2012

In a recent blog I criticized The United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability, because it had a fog-index of 28. Theoretically you would need 28 years of schooling to follow its long multi-syllabic sentences. Several readers (presumably with less than 28 years of schooling) emailed back that they did not have any trouble following the quoted excerpt.

One critical reader led me later to a fog-index study reported on NPR. The Sunlight Foundation took the entire Congressional Record dating back to the 1990s and plugged it into an algorithm that computed the grade level of Congressional discourse. They found that it had declined from an 11.5 level in 2005 to 10.6 last year. “In other words,” said NPR, “Congress dropped from talking like juniors to talking like sophomores.”

My critical friend interpreted this study to mean that, “… one measure of the dumbing down of Congress that the arrival of The Tea Party appears to have accelerated.” Aware that I supported some Bell Curve interpretations he added, “The Republicans and their Tea Party allies are dragging the curve way, way down. In this period of increasingly complex and intellectually challenging problems can we afford to have so many in Congress on the ‘left’ side of the Bell Curve?”

My answer—the Republican Tea Partiers would be in good company if their fog indexes were in the 10.6 range. Great writers like William Shakespeare and Mark Twain wrote at grade levels between 8 and 9.

The actual NPR article by Tamara Keith, “Sophomoric? Members Of Congress Talk Like 10th Graders, Analysis Shows” is more balanced and more fun. It quotes the lowest scoring Congressman, South Carolina Republican Mick Mulvaney (fog of 7.94), “I was trained to write in a clear and concise fashion, and you didn’t get to use big words if small words would do.”

The article points out that Mulvaney graduated with honors from Georgetown University, earned a law degree at the University of North Carolina, and his father was a high school grammar teacher.

Georgia Republican Rob Woodall (fog 8.01) had the second lowest score. Here is a sample of his speech, “What do they say about socialism, Mr. Speaker? It’s a great plan until you run out of other people’s money. Guess what? We’ve run out of other people’s money.” When questioned about his low fog score he said, “My mother will probably be embarrassed to hear this news. But I’m glad to know I’m not obfuscating our challenges with words that are too complicated.”

Concluding the article Keith writes, “Oh, and in case you were wondering, this story was written at an 8.2 level.” Close to Shakespeare and Twain.

The goal of good writing is not to dumb down but to clear up. A low fog index is helpful but not sufficient. You also have to have something significant or clever to say. For that you usually don’t need long sentences or a plethora of multi-syllabic words. Maybe sometimes you do, but usually not.

Far-left and sustainability advocates are often high fog writers. Some think, like Wagner’s music, the results are better than they sound. I’m not so sure. The high fog, more often than not, covers up muddy thought serving to confuse rather than enlighten. Take that passage I quoted before from the UN group …

“The United Nations University’s International Human Dimensions Program (UNU-IHDP) is already working to find these indicators for its “Inclusive Wealth Report” (IWR), which proposes an approach to sustainability based on natural, manufactured, human, and social capital. The UNU-IHDP developed the IWR with support from the United Nations Environment Program, to provide a comprehensive analysis of the different components of wealth by country, their links to economic development and human well-being, and policies that are based on social management of these assets.” (fog 28.1)

Translated it seems to mean, “A UN group wants to find ways to create wealth without hurting the environment—socialism maybe.” (fog 8.6)

Academia is often guilty of high fog obfuscation. My alma mater Antioch is being reborn and describes itself on the new web site, “The mission of Antioch College is to provide a rigorous liberal arts education on the belief that scholarship and life experience are strengthened when linked, that diversity in all its manifestations is a fundamental component of excellence in education, and that authentic social and community engagement is vital for those who strive to win victories for humanity.” (fog 36.1)

I won’t try to translate this one. It could be the exception that proves the rule. Even if so, how many prospective students will read and understand at that level of fog?

Noam Chomsky, the radical Harvard linguist and darling of far-left (especially foreign) intellectuals, writes, “Resistance is feasible even for those who are not heroes by nature, and it is an obligation, I believe, for those who fear the consequences and detest the reality of the attempt to impose American hegemony.” (fog 22.2)

I think he is saying, “Even if you’re not a hero, you should hate America.” (fog 8.0)

I conclude with a story that would have fit in last week’s Memorial Day blog. Jane and I went to our health club that holiday morning to have our usual swim. In the locker room I met a middle-aged gentleman I had seen before but did not know very well. We chatted a bit and I mentioned that Jane and I were both veterans of the Second World War. There was a pause. He looked me in the eye and said, “Thank you.”

He went on to tell me that his uncle had gone ashore on D-Day. I told him that a few years ago Jane and I visited the American cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach.

I didn’t go into detail, but I had a lump in my throat remembering my tears as I knelt on the grass reading the names of so many young men of my generation buried there. My locker-room friend sensed my distress and reminded me of a story.

In 1962 French president Charles de Gaulle confronted Secretary of State Dean Rusk and demanded (no doubt in diplomatic fog) that all American armed forces must be taken out of France at once.

Rusk answered, “the dead ones too?” (fog 1.6)

Bill Stonebarger, Owner/President Hawkhill

P.S. Trying to practice what I preach, this blog is shorter and less foggy (8.9) than my average (11.1)—freshman talk not junior talk.

P.P.S. I still have free Fog Index posters available on request. There is a useful web site with an algorithm that will compute fog indexes.