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February 07, 2008

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You do not know how deliriously happy I am to read something about Obama that is not simply, "He's so dreamy!"

Christ, what's your height? Slightly over 160 centimetres? I remember that Obama is about as tall as I am, somewhere around 185 or so.

Never mind, I apologize for bringing that up. I sort of thought you were taller.

Back to the topic, I suppose you wouldn't mind writing something on his standpoints on foreign policy, where pragmatism and ability to improvize tend to trump the philosophical concerns?

And to keep things interesting, would it be possible to describe his foreign policy approaches on regions _outside_ the Mid-East? What does Obama think of the Russian matters, exactly? McCain has made his opinions on Putin clear, and Hillary has made it equally clear that she doesn't have any thoughts of the matter in her pretty little head, but so far, Obama's views on Russia (if he has any) are still a complete mystery to me.

Cheers,

J. J.

Great picture!

And, yes, nice to see a discussion of his philosophy and how it shapes his policy choices. Cool.


Doug M.

*awesome* pic, Noel.

Jussi, this is a little dated, but: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/12/28/AR2007122802062_pf.html

I don't doubt Obama has a stronger personal opinion on Russia and Putin, because Putin induces strong opinions and Obama didn't just fall off the back of a turnip truck. Similarly, I think you do Clinton a disservice (same reasoning). Neither, unlike the incumbent or much of his staff, is an airhead. But Russia is almost completely off the radar for this election cycle.

Now, McCain's remarks, while they might be based on heartfelt conviction or even principle -- hey, they might; he was in a CAGE! -- in practice are actually shout-outs to that part of the Republican Party which desires further foreign confrontation and brinksmanship, it having worked so well over the past few years.

(Sometimes I wonder if we should just subsidize Viagra to these guys and be done with it. Or would that worsen the problem?)

And I'm sure the Russian media, which is even more narcissistic than its American counterpart, is eating McCain's comments up.

Jussi: "Christ"? And 160? 5'3"???

I'm not sure how to take this. But ni modo.

I have some thoughts on what would drive Obama's policy towards Russia, but first let me give you an (outdated) article by the fellow who will probably have quite a lot to say on the matter if Obama is elected:

http://www.hoover.org/publications/policyreview/2921316.html

Frankly, I thought that McCain's remarks were based simply on falling out of the loop and being a bit too old.

Not that confrontation is a bad thing; it just has to be of the _right_ sort.

Personally, I wouldn't mind some desire for brinkmanship from the people who run this country. It's sort of pointless to have a president who keeps on hammering about how she's in charge of the foreign policy and acts a "value leader"... and then turns in deep silence and isolation at the time of the Bronze Warrior riots, when such leadership would actually be required.

At that time, seeing the events as a test-ball and actually deploying the much-vaunted "NATO-option" openly - that's what options are for, no? - would have been perfectly appropriate. Instead, she did - hm, well, nothing. And the folks in the Kremlin were served with an exercise in passivity rivaling even the compliant politicians of the old Grand-Duchy.

Noel, thanks for the article, even though it does certainly seem to be ancient. Not surprisingly, the author subscribes to the saga of how the Yukos coup and the Khodorkovsky affair were the "scam of the year". Of course, back in 1998, Khodorkovsky himself screwed over his American minority partners well and good, in a manner that was ruthless even by Russian standards.

An analysis of how former Leningraders have suddenly popped up as plenipotentiaries all over the Federation seems to be missing, obviously.


Cheers,

J. J.

Very cool picture. Congrats on meeting Obama!

“He's got all these friends from when he was in academia, and he doesn't want to embarrass himself in front of them.”

Actually, that may be the best single explanation I've seen for why, despite having been the President of the HLR and active on the faculty of the University of Chicago for 11 years, he has never published a single academic paper.

Oh, snap! Colin, you're mean.

Like, seriously mean. After all, he was only a lecturer (which doesn't mean what it means in the U.K.) on the Chicago faculty. More importantly, he was never a full-time lecturer. Between '93 and '96 his real job was as a civil rights lawyer with Miner, Barnhill & Galland, and after '96 he served in the Illinois state senate.

Good snap, but y'didn't think I'd let it go unchallenged, didja?

I didn't think it would go unchallenged. But during the same period as Obama, there was another man who held the exact same position, Lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, and who also held down a rather taxing 'real job': Richard A. Posner, Chief Judge of the 7th Circuit, US Circuit Court of Appeals. Any rough guess how many academic papers he had published between 1993 and 2004?

Admittedly an extreme counter-example. But can any other lecturer at Chicago (or any other top ten law school), let alone one in constitutional law, be identified who similarly has absolutely no academic paper trail over more than a decade? I dunno...

Not that law review articles are usually all that controversial, but demonstrated intellectual curiosity would be a nice thing in a candidate.

I think the incumbent has permanently lowered that bar. Now I'm kind of happy that any candidate reads the newspaper, even if it's only to do the Jumble.

The answer to your question about lecturers and paper trails, by the way, is, "Yes, lots," but if I'm reading you correctly that's not relevant to your concerns.

In regard to Posner, there are more synergies (I hate that word, but it fits) between a judgeship and academic writing than there are between being a full-time legislator and academic writing. The synergy is quite simply that judges write the equivalent of law review articles in the course of their jobs, whereas legislators spend a lot of time schmoozing. But again, I don't think that's relevant to your point either.

Now, I'll admit that I'm not sure where your skepticism comes from, but hey. So ...

I suggest you read Obama's books. They're quite good (and the first was written well before he thought about running for President) and I do believe that they'll address the particular character concern that you raised.

I'm sure that the Senator has all sorts of undesireable lacuna in his character, but "intellectual curiosity" is not one of them.

Here's an article from Jeffrey Rosen, the New Republic's regular legal columnist, on Obama's intellectual leadership with regard to civil rights. It sounds like he had plenty of ideas that would have made good papers in legal journals, but which he instead got written into legislation...

http://tnr.com/politics/story.html?id=56b5000b-a425-4ff9-a818-ad218bbe8d1b

Noel:

I would say that Colin's comment is remarkably similar to a vein that Steve Sailer mined up on his blog. Like word for word similar. Sailer has been pulling an Ahab about Obama for months now. Y'all can probably guess why he's doing that.

And no, I don't read that blog because I agree with the people there about much of anything at all. I realize that its suspect for me to even read such things regularly, but so it goes.

Still, I think it's rather remarkable (in a good way) that even with such a idee fixee, Sailer hasn't been able to dig up anything of note and has simply resorted to casting aspertions.

Spike, why do you read Steve Sailer? He's, like, not even interesting.

Now that the idea is in my head: Colin, from whence comes this line of questioning? It's a more than a little weird. First, there are lots of character references for Obama out there. Second, he's written two books, the second of which is a policy tract aimed at a popular audience. Third, there's nothing like the trail of evidence of intellectual disinterest given by, say, Dubya.

Finally, it isn't hard at all to discover that non-publishing is far from strange among law school lecturers.

It's very weird. So what is it that you don't like about him?

I'm slightly pleased by the fact that, with a single comment on his blog, I got Steve Sailer to call me an idiot. Twice.


Doug M.

Seconding the recommendation on the first book, particularly because it's clear that he wrote it, that it wasn't staffed out at all. Besides the obvious things, the book shows that he knows how to tell a story, how to shape a narrative, how to frame things. That's an extremely useful skill to have if you find yourself in possession of a very bully pulpit.

Sailer? Um. I thought shwi had given you a better BS detector than that. Man skates that thin line between being a crypto-racist and wearing the full white hood.

It's not necessary to show every opinion of liars and hatemongers wrong, you know. And in fact, they prefer it if you try. "This clock is in fact correct *four* times a day! I guess I'll set my watch to it."

So ... Colin?

Noel, I would guess that Sailer passed on the idea from elsewhere, because Sailer prefers dealing in 'ideas' like Obama will govern like a Luo big man in Kenya because NEGRO NEGRO NEGRO.

It's a little too complex for his single-issue brain. Just another fellow who really should be kneeling before Zod. (Not that I want his head anywhere near my crotch, thank you.)

Carlos,

I'm confused as to why you say that there's any line skating going on for Sailer--all he does is talk about how The Power of Science shows that black people are stupid. There's nothing "crypto-" about anything he does.

Unless you were being tongue-in-cheek and I missed the sarcasm (which has been known to happen from time to time).

The "science" part is often enough to confuse people of good will who would otherwise know better into giving Sailer the benefit of the doubt, instead of wondering which klavern he attends. Hence the "crypto".

Fair enough.

I wonder, though, how much he's even trying to get the benefit of the doubt--it seems to me that the "science" bit is more plausible deniability than anything else.

It seems to work with the Atlantic's Matthew Yglesias, who is a pretty liberal young guy. Science-iness in general has been excellent cover for all sorts of crap in recent years.

It's been a while since I regularly read Yglesias's blog--does he really give Steve the benefit of the doubt in any way apart from not banning him from the comment section?

Dunno about Sailer's racial issues with Obama, but there has been a fair amount of talk this month on Volokh about Obama and LR publishing. Hardly matters though; as I said I'm well aware law review article publishing isn't meant to be controversial, or much of an insight at all into the character of a candidate. I'm curious because, like plenty of people I'm sure, I'm puzzled by the lack of much hard background on the guy beyond his own autobiography. *Any* law review articles would shed more light as to his philosophies and logical approach than what we've been given so far, even if it was on a subject as non-germane to the Oval Office as, say, expansion of federal diversity jurisdiction.

Beyond the speeches, so much of his *public* life remains hidden (we'll obviously never know what went on Springfield cloakrooms or Chicago conference rooms, and there is no THOMAS or GalleryWatch for the IL legislature) compared to other candidates present or past, that hard-nosed curiosity is natural.

Look, I think it is *likely* that he'll be the 44th President of the United States, and the prospect doesn't even fill me with dread. But that probability makes should make one more inquisitive and skeptical, not less. I think Dubya was definitely a pig in a poke when presented to GOP primary voters in 1999, to a great deal of regret all around. I honestly don't see this as a completely different set of circumstances.

"Science-iness in general has been excellent cover for all sorts of crap in recent years."

No kidding. Why? I don't get it. What's changed? I really don't get it.

mmm.

Maybe its because now any idiot can set up a blog.

Noel, don't look at me that way. :P

Carlos:

I don't comment there. In fact experience has proven that talking to folks like that is like talking to walls. They see my last name, and for some God unknown reason they think I'm hispanic (mind you, these are people who think that somehow Argentinians are not Hispanic). It doesn't seem to register to them that a significant proportion of my ancestry derives from people who were on what is now American soil for generations back when William the Bastard illegally immigrated to England.

So why do I read them? By virtue of my interests in other areas, where they cherry pick information to their liking.

I know you have a low opinion of gnxp. To tell the truth, I have a low opinion of quite a few of the people on their blogroll, and quite a few mixed feelings about others on it. However, the majority of posts there are not about IQ, at least at the current date, and while I in no way contest the insane social positions given a gloss of science by many, I cannot with good conscience say that I believe we as humans are a blank slate at the group level when it comes to attributes of cognitive action and behavior any more than they are a blank slate when it comes to things like complexion or lactose tolerance. Granted, environmental input plays a hugely significant role in ability and behavior, and I would like to grant it the dominant one, but the sole one?

So, given that understanding, I think it would be downright harmful for people with racial hobbyhorses to dominate the discussion about group human biology by fiat, and to dismiss the subject as the rightful domain of loons and cranks. I read those people with the aim not of disproving them of their own delusions, much less convincing myself that they have a point, but to winnow away my own misunderstandings of the subject matter.

That being said, my own ignorance is a huge and looming thing, and I am open to being criticized for doing what I am doing. For all that I really, truly comprehend, I might be simply pissing away time I could better use to write a novel or learn how to play Go. I'm quixotic like that.

Spike, "I cannot with good conscience say that I believe we as humans are a blank slate at the group level when it comes to attributes of cognitive action and behavior any more than they are a blank slate when it comes to things like complexion or lactose tolerance."

Let me compare this to a similar statement of C.S. Lewis's: "A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse."

Like Lewis, you're using the fallacy of the excluded middle as a substitute for thought.

Let me also point out that there are currently tens if not hundreds of thousands of researchers in human genetics, many of whom also have blogs. You've managed to find the tiny group that obsesses about their racial behavioral implications. This is an accomplishment, of a sort.

Moving on. Andrew, what Noel said. Yglesias will try to engage Sailer's argument, when the proper response should be cock-punching him until his nose bleeds.

Will, a lot of money has gone into promoting science-iness. It goes back for several decades. You've probably read Feynman's memoirs; do you remember how he was (briefly) hired to evaluate textbooks? Consider the number of school-age children in the U.S., and the price of a textbook. It was hundreds of millions of dollars a year even then, which is why one of the publishers' representatives was (how to put) willing to cater to Feynman's desire for trouble for a good review.

Of course, the books had to be approved at the local level, and Texas was a large market amenable to wingnut pressure tactics. (One of the tacticians recently died; she had a nice obit in the NYT.) Hence the gelding of American science textbooks.

The same process was put into play during the Reagan administration. AIDS, of course, but also seemingly uncontroversial topics, like the need to help the handicapped -- there are quotes from Reagan appointees which will make your blood boil. (Even pinch-penny Southern governors during the worst years of Jim Crow found that helping the "spastics" was an uncontroversial bit of social spending, a bit of good will on the cheap. In this respect, Reagan was a pioneer.)

In addition, bad ideas were promoted to 'balance' solid research which did not conform to the administration's ideologies. I can think of several off-hand which have become shibboleths of movement conservatism, like the Laffer curve. George H.W. Bush called this stuff "voodoo economics", but really, it was in any area of research which touched public policy. American Lysenkoism.

It's not completely partisan in origin, although it is almost completely wingnut. There's a large component which derives from how tobacco-cancer denialism was promoted. Southern Democrat plus Madison Avenue. The energy companies have really picked this method up and run with it.

Carlos:

Yes, it is that fallacy if you take that statement on it's own, without any of the further qualifications that I said after. Taking it on it's own is a strawman statement, as it:

A. Assumes I'm not reading and seriously considering other blogs on the subject that don't broach controversial subjects or take an opposite approach at all. I *do* read Three-Toed-Sloth and Pharangula and the like.

What I'm doing is simply not taking the opposition as completely and utterly wrong on its face. I don't think that's a moral failing, and that's what I'm arguing.

B. Secondly just about the only blog that I take on its face in that regard is gnxp, which I hold is not a blog that is a cesspool of "racial science". The majority of posts currently are completely uncontroversial things on subjects such as allele frequencies and the like. Even with the controversial postings, there are those on the blogroll who disagree, and disagree vocally.

I read guys like Sailer because they are linked to and from the blogroll. Note I said *read*, not seriously engage, not that guys like that would seriously engage me in the first place.

God knows why I'm even bothering to justify what I'm doing. I do respect you deeply, but for God's sake, you're really damn judgemental. I'd like to think I could have an honest difference of opinion from you about something more controversial than drink choice without eliciting comments dripping with contempt, patronization and intellectual belittlement. You know who I am, and why it's pretty damn unlikely I'd get brain eaten by this kind of stuff.

Can we agree to disagree without you intimating I'm some sort of half-wit for doing so?

Spike, I think Carlos was being completely respectful in the above posts. Honestly.

I've seen him when he gets patronizing, and I've certainly written things "dripping with contempt" myself.

His above comment is neither.

And you did engage in the fallacy of the excluded middle when you wrote, "I [do not] believe we as humans are a blank slate at the group level when it comes to attributes of cognitive action and behavior any more than they are a blank slate when it comes to things like complexion or lactose tolerance."

The problem, Spike, is that there is no reason to think that the abilities to process information, engage in creative thinking, apply abstract models to real-world problems, or (consciously or otherwise) work through problems in symbolic logic (or any of the other barely-related skills lumped together as "intelligence") are as heritable as skin color, have the same variation within descent groups as skin color, or derive as much of their heritability from genes as skin color.

Better still, there is lots and lots of empirical evidence that they aren't. Particularly the middle point --- it is undeniable that "intelligence" is way more variable within descent groups than skin color.

There is also an overwhelming amount of evidence in favor of the proposition that "intelligence" is less heritable than skin color.

Finally, even if it turned out that the heritability of "intelligence" derived as much from the genes as skin color (a dubious proposition, of course) there would be absolutely no social or policy implications to draw from that fact.

So ... why is the subject even interesting?

Back to Colin. Colin, I'm bothered here.

Let me make sure I understand what's going on here.

You went to a partisan website (Volokh) and found that they claim that there's a "lack of much hard background on the guy beyond his own autobiography."

That doubt prompted first a direct insult about Obama's intelligence --- your first comment --- followed by a claim of doubt about his intellectual curiosity despite the evidence from not one but two books.

Then when other commenters brought up the books, you stated that your worries about him came from the aforementioned lack of a record about someone who ... was a practicing lawyer with a paper trail of cases, fought no less than five election campaigns (not including the current one), and worked in one of the nation's most prestigious university.

WTF?

No, seriously. WTF?

Are you claiming that Obama has less of a public record than ... oh ... any other 46-year-old politician with a 12-year political career behind them?

I sure as hell hope not, because that would be crazy.

I have to ask again, where are these doubts coming from?

This took less than two minutes to find, Colin.

http://www.boston.com/news/nation/articles/2007/02/20/obama_got_start_in_civil_rights_practice/

Noel:

I don't disagree with what you said at all. Certainly it's *not* as heritable as skin color or lactose tolerance by any means at all. The loci are diverse and heavily influenced by environmental factors. I said as much in my original. What I'm saying is:

1. That it's a fact that to some extent certain attributes of cognitive ability and human behavior are genetically determined. How much, how it interacts with other genetic markers and the environment and what in particular, I don't know, and I don't think anyone knows yet. I don't think it's bad to look into the question, however.

2. Secondly, and more trickily, that certain genetic aspects of this *may* cluster at a higher (but not at a deterministic rates anymore than with any other allele) within coherent genetically determined subgroups in the human population.

What I mean by this is not "ZOMG hordes of mudmen from south of the border are polluting our lifeblood and a Luo strongman is running for president, form White Nationalist Voltron!" Lordy, by the math those people use, my racial admixture is fit only for farming taro and building rock walls. I literally shouldn't exist in their worldview. They don't react well to people who don't fit into their determinist worldview, hence Sailer's Ahab on Obama.

What I'm interested in has nothing to do with skin color, cultural ethnicity, self-identification or what have you. If I was to quantify the disagreement I have with you in the subject, I would put it that I'm probably more towards the nature rather than the nurture end of the spectrum than you are.

So why do I read guys like Sailer? Put yourself in my position. If you're a bit more towards the nature side of the equation, like I am, would you want guys like that completely defining the answers of the question to the general public? It's stuff like that that made Bruce Lahn switch his research focus. You don't want the creeps misusing your data. If you want to see how they're misusing it, you have to watch them misuse it. They're not all completely stupid. I had to teach myself statistics in order to disprove La Griffe du Lion to myself.

So, why is this such a bad thing to you and Carlos? At worst I'm wasting my time due to my own blinding ignorance and lack of intellectual confidence.

Spike, the only straw man I see is your "blank slate". While I respect your desire to be evenhanded, in this case it's much like the legendary headline, "Shape of Earth: Opinions Differ".

More to the point, as far as I can tell, there is no argument which could convince you that one side is in fact wrong. This puts your evenhandedness into the realm of faith, not science, which is another reason why I used the C.S. Lewis analogy.

I hope I'm not being patronizing here. I am not usually subtle about my contempt, though on re-reading my comment I can see how you might have received that impression.

What I am is _impatient_. You seem very conflicted about the issue, but you don't want to take the next step.

I am weirded out enough by the strange direction that this comment thread has taken to be tempted to erase it.

naw. if it's fretting you, just turn the comments off. anyway, I'm not sure whether Will has read my response concerning science-iness.

I'll trust your judgment, Carlos, but consider that a post concerning the economic policies of America's first black presidential candidate turned first into a debate over whether the author of two books, former editor of the Harvard Law Review, and wide-ranging U.S. senator was intellectually curious. A somewhat jokey retort attracted a claim that said black candidate had less of a public record than, say, any other politician in his age group ... and orthogonally segged into a discussion of the link between race and intelligence.

That's just creepy. I'm ashamed of having let myself get drawn into it.

Carlos:

Yes, I suppose that is a strawman, what I said, and a somewhat knee-jerk one at that.

However, I would take umbrage about it really being a "shape of the earth" sort of question. Apples and oranges. We really don't know all that much about cognitive and such like yet on a genetic level. As it is it's "How much nature, how much nurture? Opinions differ." An honest state of the question, eh?

If so, and on the nature side of the equation given precidence of other genetic traits, there's a good chance certain elements won't be evenly distributed. Whether or not that is absolutely true, there is a damn certain chance someone is going to jump on that and ride it for all its worth, even if an unevenly distributed marker say for the nature of mylinated nerve sheaths means nothing in the big picture of things all by itself, I feel the need to make sure it doesn't. Like I said, purging my own misunderstandings about the subject matter. That's a net plus, right? I learn a bit more about something I didn't know anything about, even if it is in service of a rather pointless cause. I suppose I could just take it as a given that it *does* mean nothing given the record of their pronouncements. Still, while I can obviously ignore the vastness of their social and cultural prejudices, can I or should I ignore what they do with biology?

If that's the case, I don't really know what the next step I'm supposed to take is. Humor me. What *is* the next step I'm supposed to take? From my own internal point of view, my inner voice keeps telling me I'm wasting my time pretending I could ever understand this stuff like a scientist would and that I should just stop pretending I have the chops for any intellectual endevour at all.

If anything, it's not a faith in the power of evenhandedness that compels me, but a nagging bitching voice of doubt that says "but what if, just what if, these nasty unpleasant people that mock you have some little truths under all that crap, don't you owe it to yourself to be sure they don't?" Hence I am driven by a lack of faith and lack of confidence in others and in myself.

Frankly, while I remain convinced that they are nasty people riding even more unpleasant hobbyhorses, my moving towards the nature side of the equation has been thouroughly unhappy enough for me as a person without all that.

Curiosity, doubt and revulsion is a nauseating mixture... and in the minutes spent contemplating and rereading this before posting this makes me think that the next step you're talking about is simply letting go of all this nature-nurture crap and moving on, since contemplating this shit for a couple hours everyday isn't doing me much good given my personality. Curiosity isn't much good if it involves picking scabs.

Noel:

I apologize. It's my damn fault for starting the segueing. Kill it if you feel the need.

I'm going to post something on race after the Tuesday primaries (will need the exit poll data). Hopefully that will bleed off some of the energy. It is the secret engine that drives America, after all, and the ride isn't over yet.

And consider: everyone here is a person of good will, and yet the idea still percolates, a classic conversational strange attractor. It makes me wonder about the upcoming election and people of bad will. Best to analyze it now.

You're correct, Carlos.

Spike, you're a person of good will. Colin, you're a person of good will.

Colin, I obviously have inside information about Obama that you don't. I've met the man; I've been in the same room as his old professors gave him resounding endorsements.

But still. You read this stuff on Volokh about his lack of academic publications, and you found it credible evidence of his lack of intellectual curiosity, despite much evidence to the contrary. Certainly you found it credible enough to /insult/ Obama at your first first mention of the issue.

But why? Why was it credible? Because Barack Obama is reminiscent of /George Bush/? That's hard to believe, given that Bush's intellectual attributes were very well known in 2000 --- everyone knew what they were buying; it just didn't seem to matter.

Because it's unusual for lecturers not to have a publication record after three years? Well, that's just not true.

Because Obama has a mysteriously invisible record? That's not true either.

It's strange.

So, Spike, as far as I can tell, you just ran with an obvious (if uncharitable) explanation for Colin's doubts about Obama's intellectual prowess. At which point I asked you why you read Sailer at all, and we were off to the races.

Strange attractor indeed. I don't like it.

Thanx for not deleting, Noel.

I've been a little busy and would have missed Carlos' comment. Crashing Crays and Power5 clusters, a near 3 year old, and trying to keep my wife half happy, trying to raise money for my latest crazy idea, and moving the new project forward has been sapping me big time.

"The energy companies have really picked this method up and run with it."

Yeah, this is one I've been confronted with a nontrivial number of times since I've been at the Lab and even peripherally involved in climate work (or not so peripherally as it may be at times).

Ideologically inconvenient science - and engineering - gets whacked every turn of an administration. Or turn over of Congress. Right now I'm pretty pissed at both parties' recent actions there.

Whoa. "doubt prompted first a direct insult about Obama's intelligence --- your first comment"

Ok, that shows up the perils of comboxing and being taken too seriously. It wasn't really meant as insulting. Honestly. It was a (failed) attempt at snark to carom off the quote of your academic friend. If it came across as deeply insulting to you, I'm sorry. I wouldn't bother apologizing to Obama as a) he isn't reading this, b) wouldn't care if he did--as a politician he's used to hearing far worse and has steeled himself against still more to come.

But I never actually accused him directly of lack of intellectual curiosity--if you look upthread it came from a garbled wish that the next POTUS would be so curious. The point I was making was not that lack of a Posnerian bibliography is evidence of incuriosity--that *would* be silly. So far as I know the three primary authors of this blog have not a single _law_ _review_ authorship credit among themselves, yet are probably the most wide-ranging polymaths I can set my browser to. But by the same token, the absence of the bibliography is part and parcel of what I think some people are uneasy about--the *notion* (fair or not) that the man is a blank screen--onto which people project their particular hopes (and fears for that matter). Sure, he's crazy smart--no one can say someone who graduated MCL from Harvard Law isn't intellectually gifted (although I would hasten to add that as a fellow graduate of a top law school in 1991, that achievement is also no guarantee of curiosity in and of itself--lemme tell you about some of the editors *I* knew). But I think you'd agree that if he had more of a discernible paper trail in the years since (beyond the memoir) besides group-authored appellate briefs, he'd be less positioned to be all things to all men, as he is now. I'm not saying your support of Obama is part of a cult of personality, Noel--but you have to agree that there is some of that going around.

And I'm also sorry for another reason that I started this with a damp-squib snark : I make a comment about friggin' authorship lists, and within 5 minutes the thread gets filled with a free-for-all where insinuations get thrown around about racism and pseudo-science--with the irony that this is supposed to be the transcendent 'post-racial' candidacy! It's depressing--if this is the climate we will have for the next four years, how will it any better than the one where any expression of doubt, let alone dissent, gets labeled unpatriotic or retorted with "why do you hate America?"?

Hi, Colin,

Your writing was a bit sloppy, and made three claims, apparently unintentionally:

(1) There is no proof that Obama is intellectually curious;

(2) He has no paper trail;

and

(3) We bought Dubya and don't want to be fooled again.

The problem was simply that all three claims are odd. Regarding the first, there is quite a bit of evidence about Obama's curiosity and knowledge, from those who know him to those who've met him to anyone who's watched him on C-Span. There's also the /second/ book --- which is a policy book. (I don't think you mentioned it above.)

Regarding the second, and I really can't say this strongly enough: Obama has more of a paper trail than any other politician in his age group (or most age groups, for that matter) whom I can think of.

Regarding the third, I'll put up a short post.

Considering, therefore, that those three claims appear rather obviously contrary to fact, it was hard to see what point you were trying to make.

I now understand that you were trying to address the "blank screen" notion, something I was also trying to address, and I can't deny that the man has a lot of charisma.

("Charisma," I think, is the way to say "cult of personality" without the connotations of brainwashing and fealty to the great leader.)

Whether that it is a bad thing is left up to the reader, but to be honest, I suspect that it depends on what you think about the /substance/ of Obama's political positions.

At least I'd hope so, because other than getting those positions enacted into law (or carried out in foreign policy), I'm not seeing what the downside of having a charismatic president could possibly be.

I mean, we're a constitutional republic, after all.

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