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Ben Stein's Diary

Defending the Right Things

By 4.4.16

A few notes from Rancho Mirage.

First, C-SPAN. This amazing set up allows me to watch Congressional hearings on both the Senate and House sides. Just recently, I spent hours watching the Senate Armed Services Committee interview and get testimony from General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Ash Carter, the Secretary of Defense.

Now, I know that polls tell us that the public loathes and hates Congress, that they think Congressmen do no work and get tons of money and fail the nation.

But I found the Senators in this hearing to be brilliant, well informed, incisive, and insightful. They got out of the General and the SecDOD the astounding testimony that the USA cannot even come close to fulfilling its defense commitments around the world — that we are stretched far too thin everywhere, are not getting the best weapons, and are not keeping up with a world that is as dangerous as it has been since Vietnam. Maybe more dangerous.

Buy the Book

The Master Essayist and Story-Teller in Short Form

By 4.4.16

Wind Sprints: Shorter Essays
By Joseph Epstein
(Axios, 608 pages, $24)

Frozen in Time: Twenty Stories
By Joseph Epstein
(Taylor Trade Publishing, 273 pages, $22.95)

Like Auden’s old Masters, T.S. Eliot got a lot of things right. But he was wrong to slander April, so welcome in snowy climes, and to fans of baseball, the return of which we celebrate this month. For discerning readers, this April will be distinctly un-cruel, for they can enjoy not one but two new offerings from the elegant Chicago writer, Joseph Epstein.

Loose Canons

The Narcissism Summit

By 4.4.16

Hours before President Obama convened a fifty-nation summit on nuclear weapons last Thursday, he celebrated himself in a Washington Post op-ed. He began the article by reminding us that nuclear proliferation and the use of nuclear weapons are the greatest dangers facing the world, saying that was why he committed us, seven years ago, to stopping the spread of such weapons and seeking a world without them.

Obama went on to praise his nuclear weapons deal with Iran, saying that it closed every single one of Iran’s paths to the bomb. (He omitted to mention those that remain open, such as the agreement’s risible inspections regime which guarantees Iranian cheating by allowing it to self-inspect some of its key nuclear sites. And the one that allows it, after fifteen years, to enrich as much uranium to weapons grade as it likes, ensuring it can produce nuclear weapons then whenever it likes.)

Media Matters

Today’s Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

By 4.4.16

Centuries from now, when historians attempt to label the age in which we live, there will be no shortage of appellations from which to choose: The Information Age; The Age of Millennial Entitlement; The Genderless Generation.

But if you don’t mind, allow me to do their work for them. For we live, above all else, in the Age of the Meaningless Statistic.

While context has long been the bane of American political debate, unapologetic liberal groupthink and a clickbait-based media model are enabling the propagation of statistics that sound shocking, yet in reality mean very little—numerical plagues that spread rapidly and leave far too much damage in their wakes.

Consider, for instance, a recent statistic on the drug testing of welfare recipients that dominated this writer’s Facebook feed for the better part of a week. I first encountered it in New York magazine, apparently via the Charlotte Observer:

Another Perspective

Media Responsibility for Trump?

By 4.4.16

In recent days the media is arguing with itself over whether it shares responsibility for the success of the Trump campaign. In the Sunday New York Times, Nicholas Kristof did his “Mea culpa,” admitting that the media failed to fact-check Trump, instead displaying an “ironical affection for a celebrity.”

In response, Eugene Robinson in the Washington Post angrily argued that the media didn’t create Trump. He tries to blame Republican voters for rallying to Trump, and exonerates the press for responding to the “free market” by covering the leading candidates.

Both commentators miss the reality of the mass electronic media in the modern telecommunications society. With the rise of cable news, the public looks to the news show for its information. The networks define and control the content of those shows. It is this coverage that makes or breaks the candidates, especially in the early stages of the race when name I.D. determines who shows up in the early polling. The coverage provides the name I.D., which shows up in the polls, which have become the obsession of the networks.

Free Market Accountability Project

Mr. Trump: America’s Economic Problem Is Regulation, Not Trade

By 4.4.16

Even when Donald Trump seems to get something right, he’s mostly wrong. At least when it comes to economics. Many Americans are suffering financially. Yet he hates trade, even though Americans have grown rich as a trading nation. And he says virtually nothing about regulation, which has done so much to harm U.S. competitiveness.

No surprise, the Obama administration is busy writing new rules to turn America into its vision of a good society, irrespective of the impact on liberty or prosperity. Last year Uncle Sam spent $62 billion to run the rest of our lives. Observed Patrick McLaughlin and Oliver Sherouse of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University: “Over the last 20 years the regulatory budget has more than doubled in real terms while the number of total restrictions has grown by about 220,000 — a 25 percent increase.”

Swung On and Missed

Baseball Springs Eternal: My 2016 MLB Predictions

By 4.2.16

Yes, it’s that time of the year yet again. The 2016 MLB season begins on Sunday with four games including a rematch of the 2015 World Series between the Kansas City Royals and the New York Mets. The time has come for me to share how I see this season unfolding.

But before I get to that, here’s a quick review of last year’s predictions. While my Cleveland Indians-Chicago Cubs World Series didn’t come to fruition, the Cubs did get to the NLCS where they were swept by the New York Mets — a team I also predicted would reach the post-season after a long drought. 

But without a doubt the best prediction I made last year (and, in fact, the best prediction I’ve made since writing my annual MLB predictions here at TAS since 2010) involved Chicago Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta. I predicted that Arrieta would win the NL Cy Young Award. Prior to 2015, Arrieta had never won more than 10 games in a single season, but when the Cubs signed free agent pitcher Jon Lester, I wrote the following:

Special Report

Waterboard the Delegates

By 4.1.16

The fifth debate took place at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas last December 15, about fifteen weeks ago, with nine candidates in prime time. Donald Trump was center stage, flanked by Ben Carson (then a contender, now Trump’s supporter) and Ted Cruz (now Trump’s main challenger). The other eight candidates were Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina, both now for Cruz, and Chris Christie, now for Trump, and John Kasich, still in the race. Rand Paul has not endorsed.

Radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt asked Trump what leg of the supposedly outdated nuclear triad was most crucial to update. Trump did not answer but instead talked about his opposition to the Iraq war and the importance of limiting nuclear proliferation. He concluded: “I think for me nuclear — the power, the devastation is very important to me.”

Donald Trump obviously did now know what the nuclear triad is. It is the three components of the strategic nuclear arsenal of the United States. — land-based missiles, bomber aircraft, and submarine launched missiles.


Devils and the Anti-Capitalists

By 4.1.16

People believe some funny stuff — some of it religious, some of it about economics.

A long-running idea in the Catholic Church, for instance, says the devil can be scared off by the sight of the cross or a medal of St. Benedict.

American historian Henry Osburn Taylor (1856-1941) wrote of the dying moments of Odilo, an abbot in a monastery, in his book The Medieval Mind: A History of Thought and Emotion in the Middle Ages.

Odilo’s final words are directed to the devil: “I warn thee, enemy of the human race, turn from me thy plots and hidden wiles, for by me is the Cross of the Lord, which I always adore: the Cross my refuge, my way and virtue; the Cross: unconquerable banner, the invincible weapon. The Cross repels every evil and puts darkness to flight. Through the divine Cross, I approach my journey; the Cross is my life — death to thee, enemy.”

Political Hay

The Corey Lewandowski Wars

By 4.1.16

Enough. It’s time to stand up to bullies so viscerally opposed to Donald Trump that they have now targeted Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski in a deliberate attempt to ruin his life. 

It is wrong. Disgracefully wrong. And I would respectfully suggest to Trump supporters, conservatives, Republicans, Democrats and Independents who agree — Americans one and all — that it is time to fight back. It is at long last time to turn the tables. 

Let’s start with the obvious. Corey Lewandowski made a mistake — and he knows it and has said so. In this interview with the Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty, Corey acknowledged a wisdom that every campaign manager and staffer should know and take to heart. Said Corey, referring to the incident in Tucson where he was seen touching the collar of a protester: