Daily Archives: November 7, 2011

Quote of the Day: “No better than a chimp flipping a coin”

George Monbiot in the Guardian dispels the illusion of merit. The thing the richest in our society are best at is destroying wealth on an historical scale. An excerpt:

If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire. The claims that the ultra-rich 1% make for themselves – that they are possessed of unique intelligence or creativity or drive – are examples of the self-attribution fallacy. This means crediting yourself with outcomes for which you weren’t responsible. Many of those who are rich today got there because they were able to capture certain jobs. This capture owes less to talent and intelligence than to a combination of the ruthless exploitation of others and accidents of birth, as such jobs are taken disproportionately by people born in certain places and into certain classes.

The findings of the psychologist Daniel Kahneman, winner of a Nobel economics prize, are devastating to the beliefs that financial high-fliers entertain about themselves. He discovered that their apparent success is a cognitive illusion. For example, he studied the results achieved by 25 wealth advisers across eight years. He found that the consistency of their performance was zero. “The results resembled what you would expect from a dice-rolling contest, not a game of skill.” Those who received the biggest bonuses had simply got lucky.

Such results have been widely replicated. They show that traders and fund managers throughout Wall Street receive their massive remuneration for doing no better than would a chimpanzee flipping a coin. When Kahneman tried to point this out, they blanked him. “The illusion of skill … is deeply ingrained in their culture.”

Report from Washington Keystone XL Protest

Above is an interview with Bill McKibben conducted just prior to yesterday’s Washington protest. TransCanada is a major villain here, as McKibben’s account makes clear. We now live in a world where Alberta oil interests, facilitated by the Harper government, have decided to make a leading contribution to the destruction of the global environment because it is profitable to do so. The amount of tar sands bitumen extractable on a daily basis is considerably less than one-twentieth of America’s daily needs, but producing it — that is, separating the tar from the sand — makes it the most toxic and environmentally dangerous oil in the world. As NASA’s James Hansen has put it, the large scale and long term production of Alberta tar sands means it’s “game over” for the climate.

Below is an email reporting on the Keystone XL protest yesterday at the White House that I received from McKibben.

Friends–

There are days along any journey that stick with you, and today was one of them.

Under blue Indian Summer skies, more than 12,000 people from every corner of the country descended on Washington DC; then, with great precision, they fanned out to surround the White House and take a stand against the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Here are just a couple of pictures from the day, and you can see lots more by clicking here.

What speaker after speaker today made clear (and they came from every part of our movement: indigenous leaders, labor organizers, environmentalists, young people, preachers) was that today was in no way a grand finale — there’s lots more work to do.

I have no idea how this battle is going to come out — only that, together, we stand a chance to shut down this dirty pipeline and shift the flow not just of oil, but of history. This day was an important part of that history, and we’ll carry its power with us as we take this fight forward.

Thanks in advance for all the work we’ll do together,  shoulder-to-shoulder, on the road ahead.

Onwards,

Bill McKibben for the 350.org team

P.S. This movement milestone deserves to be shared, so forward along this email — and share it on Facebook by clicking here or share it on Twitter by clicking here.

The “Charm” of William F. Buckley

Buckley on Firing Line in 1969 cheerfully offers to “punch” Noam Chomsky “in the goddamn face.” What makes this clip especially interesting is that, Buckley’s quip aside, Chomsky’s opinion on the Vietnam War and its effects on American society turned out to be the right one. Buckley isn’t even in the game on the issue.

Buckley, not cheerful at all, threatens Gore Vidal at the 1968 Democratic convention, ““Now listen you queer, stop calling me a crypto-nazi, or I’ll sock you in the goddamn face.” This may have been shocking behavior in 1968, but it’s pretty much the way it’s done now, Buckley’s example having been picked up and fully exploited by people like Limbaugh, Coulter, Hannity, and O’Reilly.

Andrew Sullivan is the only conservative I trust on a daily basis because he is intelligent, scrupulous in his opinions, and possesses real journalistic talent. He is pragmatic in a way that is progressive in outlook if not in policy.

However, there is one thing about Sullivan that is baffling: his surprisingly conventional estimation of William F. Buckley’s legacy. In a post today Sullivan, citing Terry Teachout, entertains the notion that it is due to his “charm.” I understand that in conservative circles Buckley, since his death three years ago, is regarded as St. Patrick driving slithering entities like the John Birch Society away from any position of influence in the post-Goldwater conservative revival. But “charming”? He was nasty, always: any random clip from Firing Line (like the one with Noam Chomsky above) will confirm as much. Buckley set the standard for supercilious contempt for opposition, with displays of a divine right to verbal violence, which is currently about the only way conservatives in the public eye seem to communicate.

Putting hero-worship aside, here’s an article from Spy magazine published in July 1989. It makes clear that by the 1980s, during the Reagan ascendancy when his influence should have been at its peak, Buckley was a fading cult figure whose diminishing influence was sustained mostly by his belligerent self-regard and the slowing momentum of his glory years in the 1950s and 60s.

This paragraph from “The Boys Who Would Be Buckley” has always stayed with me. It captures the fraying noblesse oblige of Buckley’s National Review, whose offices, on author Bob Mack’s account, seemed to emit the geriatric odor of whiskey and gingivitis:

Still, [new editor John] O’Sullivan faces a daunting task: the deadwood. . .is thick; the atmosphere is musty, quaint and lazy, and a tone of genteel racism endures. This attitude is usually expressed in a third-floor conference room, at the bi-weekly editorial meetings and the usual end-of-the-day cocktail hours that are held there. “There’s this insularity,” says one former NR editorial assistant about the events that occurred in that room, “where you feel among friends who all think the same way you do. You can even express your true feelings about something that, in another situation, you would be more guarded about. This was especially true when Bill was away.” On which subjects have true feelings been expressed? Well, senior editors Sobran and Jeffery Hart have swapped jokes about crematoriums and gas chambers. Race relations is also a popular subject. In November 1986 NR ran a cover story, “Blacks and the GOP: Just Called to Say I Love You,” that outlined possible GOP strategies for attracting black voters. Presiding over the traditional post-issue recap, Buckley quipped, “Maybe it should have been titled, ‘Just Called to Say I Love You, Niggah.'” During another editorial meeting, Jeffery Hart reflected wistfully that “under a real government, Bishop [Desmond] Tutu would be a cake of soap.”

Charming.

Occupy London and the Church of England

A report on the conflict between the Occupy movement and the business interests of the Church of England.

Frye in “The Church: Its Relation to Society”:

The society of power is always a close and searching parody of the society of love. So close and searching, in fact, that without revelation it is hardly possible for man to separate the latent heaven from the latent hell in his own society or in his social thinking. In the kingdom of God there is no place for Caesar as Caesar, for there is no respect of persons there; in the kingdom of Caesar there is nothing but the respect of persons, and hence no place for God as God. In such a society Caesar has to become God. (CW 4, 255-6)

Frye in “The Analogy of Democracy”:

People attached to churches often speak of political issues as though the church were withdrawn from the world, waiting for the world to offer it various theories of government and then inspecting them in order to decide whether they are comparable with Christianity or not. No such remoteness exists. Members of the church are in the world from the start: their secular passions and prejudices inform and shape their conceptions of religion at every point: to be persistently wrong about the contemporary world is a theological error. We have reached the stage in democratic development at which we can roundly say that if any twentieth-century Christian sincerely repudiates what democracy stands for, there is something radically the matter with his Christianity. . .

The church can mediate between the Gospel and the law only when they have been clearly separated. Failure to separate them is Pharisaism, the legalized bastard gospel. When we look at the way the church uses its social energy and influence . . . we can hardly be reassured about the courage, wisdom, or effectiveness of the church’s approach to society. (CW 4, 274-5)