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died in office, 1989. Rest in piss, asshole.

I made a snarky comment referencing him over at Protein Wisdom, and commenter “mcgruder”, who declares himself a member of the Press, asked

Proxmire was most famous for the Golden Fleece awards highliting absurd government spending. It was shocking because of the useless crap our morons in Congress allocated and because he was a Democrat.
Did he do something stoogelike elsewhere, or were the Golden Fleece’s nonsense?[1]

Proxmire was an ass who did stoogelike things everywhere he went, much like J. Hairplugs the VP, but yes, most of the Golden Fleece awards were nonsense, especially coming from somebody who spilled more on bars than the poor schlubs who got the awards were “wasting”. Just about everybody in R&D, military, civilian, or academic, had a side-project going to develop a way to assassinate the grandstanding dickweed without jeapordizing their lives or their main work, because he specialized in ridiculing researchers whose work hadn’t panned out.

The nasty thing about real science, rather than the sort of thing that plays well on teevee, is that most research doesn’t pan out. There is more genuine heartbreak and pathos in the CONCLUSIONS section of most scientific papers than in the first chapters of any ten romance novels put together, if you know the code, and Proxmire’s schtick was making it worse. The one I remember best was Frisbees™.

Practically everybody who’s ever played with a Frisbee™ has wondered if it could be used for something else, and some guys got a DARPA grant to see if that was the case. They spent a year trying things out, working at it fairly exhaustively, and reported a totally negative result, with experiments and equations and data and graphs: No, you can’t use Frisbees™ to deliver the mail, or for flare carriers, or as an adjunct to parachutists, or as extra-maneuverable drone aircraft, or… it’s a toy, with no profitable or military use whatever. They did a lot of good work, and the fact that they had fun, too, shouldn’t count against them. Note, too, that this isn’t a case of research “not panning out”. They were tasked with finding the answer to a question, and they asked it, and got a solid, dependable “No!” with clear evidence to back it up. (IIRC — I’ve long since lost my copy of the paper — they did note that it made a field-expedient dish for watering the dog after a long session of chase-the-disk.) Proxmire gave them a Golden Fleece award accompanied by a nicely snarky speech, and the Press ate it up.

Now, the thing is — negative results are just as valuable as positive ones, sometimes more so; if you can establish, certainly, once and for all, that something isn’t possible and/or worthwhile, nobody after that has to waste time or resources on it. That result probably saves the Government, especially DOD and NASA, a couple grand a year. That doesn’t seem like much, but it means that since the Seventies it’s paid for itself long since, just by enabling suggestion screeners to dismiss some of the cleverer and more plausible cranks (of which there are a LOT, in case you didn’t know). But it made a great headline for Proxmire to preen on.

That, along with a number of similar incidents, is one of the bases of the present-day relationship between scientists and the Press, which is piss-poor. Media guys loved him and printed all his bullshit, because he put on a great show; scientists learned, by observation (a scientific procedure), that Teh Press were too ignorant to pound sand and were happy to make fun of people who were trying to figure it out, and that they could be conned into going along with any sufficiently gaudy and noisy medicine-wagon. Therefore we have scientists who hate to make their work public, to the detriment of any real science, and won’t come forward when they should, and showboat scams like “Global Warming”. The pennies Proxmire may have saved — I’m not sure he actually saved a cent, but allow for lightning to strike — have cost a lot in the long run.

And writing that up reminded me of something from long ago: I was listening to a bar-based bull session one night, the basic subject of which was untraceable ways to off Proxmire. Somebody suggested that they ought to go after the reporters, too, but one guy rejected the notion. “Look, I’d shoot Fidel without a second thought,” he said[2], “but I wouldn’t shoot his dog.” [cue 30 sec. of “maniacal laugh” track]

[1] (sic) Give the guy a break. He’s used to having a copy editor.
[2] Well, I said it was a long time ago. It was in the South to boot.

I often use the word “leftoid”, and people occasionally ask why.

It is commonplace for those who are on the conservative side of an issue, or are at least somewhat aligned with that position, to accuse opponents of Leftism. xx is a Socialist! yy is a Communist! zz is a Leftist asshole!

Of course they aren’t Leftists. Marx would dismiss them as “Fabian elitists”; the Fabian Society would blackball them for being pretentious bourgeois; Engels would punch them out; Trotsky would attempt to “re-educate” them, more in sorrow than in anger; Lenin, Stalin, or Pol Pot would have them in the labor camp so fast they wouldn’t notice the train ride.

They can, however, cite chapter and verse of Leftist ideals to further their own agenda(s), in the same way and for the same ends as the charlatans who can and do produce unshakable Scriptural support for their demands for money and/or sexual gratification. Something that looks alive but only simulates life is an android; something that looks human but is only similar in superficial ways is a humanoid; something that looks like a Leftist until you find out what they’re actually up to is a leftoid[1].

Confusion arises because the genuine Leftists, above, would in reality not make such judgements in public; even the trip to the labor camp would be in the dark of night, the transportee becoming a desapericido, a “disappeared one”. Among the bases of Leftist thought are the concepts of “useful tool” and “fellow traveler”, both of which express the notion that anybody who is advancing the cause of Socialism, regardless of motive, is to be patted on the back and encouraged to do more; meanwhile the Left is ensuring that its knife is sharp and will be ready to hand when the tool becomes less useful or the road companion seeks another path. It’s a major weakness of the Left, because it exposes them to opportunists who are often smart enough to wear puncture-resistant clothing. That’s not much consolation to the rest of us, because Leftism, being inherently centripetal, is extremely attractive to would-be tyrants wishing to use it for cover; when (as often) they survive the knife in the back they can point to the Left’s support in the past as justification for their actions. That doesn’t make them Leftists; it makes them leftoids.

[1] A wag suggests that something that looks like a “him” but isn’t is a hemorrhoid. Sorry, you left a syllable out; something that looks like, but isn’t, uncontrolled bleeding — a hemorrhage — is a hemorrhoid. The similarity may go deeper, but is beyond the scope of the discussion.

The New York Times shows once again that they have no windows, only mirrors, and moreover that the mirrors are distorting funhouse appliances:

Some counterterrorism experts say the anti-Muslim sentiment that has saturated the airwaves and blogs in the debate over plans for an Islamic center near ground zero in Lower Manhattan is playing into the hands of extremists by bolstering their claims that the United States is hostile to Islam.

In other words, they live in an environment where political protest is easy, cheap, and sometimes effective; therefore everybody else on the planet lives in such an environment, and the reaction to anything they don’t like will be protest.

In part this is self-serving. By their own admission, New York is the Center of the Universe, and they are (proudly!) aware that, to the vast majority of people outside the United States, the U.S. consists of New York and environs. An Islamist wishing to strike a blow at the heart of the Great Satan will naturally think of New York as the first place to target, as Atta and company did. The Times looks at itself in the mirror, sees fat, easy-to-hit targets, and falls to its knees, sniveling “don’t stir them up any worse, they’ll hurt meeeee!” If that was all there was to it, it would be understandable if [ahem] somewhat less than admirable because counterproductive — for a determined competitor in peace, war, or interoffice politics, seeing the opposition snivel is an interim goal. We’ve got ’em on the run, boys! Keep up the skeer!

That isn’t all there is to it, though, and to me it seems that it isn’t even a conscious part.

Opposition to the Cordoba House/Park51 project has, from the beginning, centered on reaction to the affront it represents to those with strong feelings about the attacks of 9-11-01, and when proponents “double down” it tends strongly to confirm the dark suspicion that the affront is deliberate. One would imagine that the New York Times, a (proudly self-confirmed) bastion of liberal thought, deeply concerned with feelings and ready at the fall of a tear to decry affronts to emotional states, would either defend the affronted or attempt to assuage their distress. It does neither because it cannot see the opposition in those terms. If the Times, or the leftoid constituency it serves, find themselves accused of insult, they don’t, because cannot, look beyond the mirror at why those who feel themselves disparaged have that impression; instead they see the hate, fear, and disgust that led to their giving insult in the reflection of their own souls, and conclude that those are the motives of the complainers because those are the only motives that exist or could possibly exist.

There is no better example of that than insisting that robust opposition to Islamist opportunism merely creates more terrorists, but firm (if not shrieking) resistance to Tea Partiers and mosque opponents will diminish their numbers by inducing second thoughts. Pick a principle and stick to it, guys. But they can’t do that, can they?

It’s not a matter of “cognitive dissonance”. Detecting a dissonance requires that the hearer be able to perceive all the notes that make it up. A radio receiver must be delicate and sensitive, in order to respond to the weak signals from remote transmitters, but a transmitter must be robust and powerful, so that its signals are detectable after attenuation by distance. A strong signal creates havoc in a sensitive receiver, making it incapable of detecting anything else — the phenomenon called “interference”. When the overstrong signal is deliberately emitted with the purpose of disabling receivers, it is termed “jamming”. One disadvantage of jamming is that it disables everybody’s receiver, including the jammer’s.  If the jammer’s receiver is tuned to the reflection of the set’s own output the receiver will never “hear” anything but that, and if the reflector is nearby the received reflection is likely to be strong enough to cause damage. Leftoids, including the New York Times, have for so long been emitting so strongly, and so carefully tuning their receivers to their reflections, that all other signals are lost. They don’t hear the dissonance, because they can no longer detect the dissonant notes.

By definition, any deficiency in an opponent can and should be exploited, and the leftoids’ failure to detect anything but their own output is such a deficiency. That deficiency has not been exploited until recently, largely because it has not been perceived as such. Tea Partiers and opponents of Cordoba House have, each in their own way, stumbled upon the principle and are starting to utilize it; a person who attends a Tea Party rally, then goes home and opens the Times or turns the teevee to CNN, must immediately start to wonder what else they’re lying about, and opponents of Cordoba House, accused of “racism” or “Islamophobia”, look in their hearts, see nothing like that (whether or not that perception is self-serving), and begin to discount the accusations. In both cases the response is to go around, by trying to emit a stronger signal (thus overcoming the interference in non-leftoid receivers) and by building and disseminating wave traps and filters to attenuate the signal, frustrating the attempt at jamming the channel.

The tactics are effective, but slow and incremental; if the share of “eyeballs” enjoyed by the leftoid media drops any further the jammers may find themselves unable to pay the electric bill and forced to shut down their emitters, and the Internet serves as an extremely effective back channel, allowing opponents to produce a signal that will be received. It would be better if the principle were intellectualized, formulized, and made an explicit basis of both tactics and strategy. A Special Ops squad who discovered that the people they were sent against were spending so much time and energy on speeches that they were unable to detect rustling in the brush would conclude with joy that it had been granted a free hand. Hey, guys, they can’t hear you or see you, because they’re shouting at the top of their lungs and all their glass is reflective. Maneuver at will.

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August 2010