Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Center Cannot Hold

The urge to quote the Second Coming by William Butler Yeats is almost irresistible in this political environment. I say this, because Andrew Gelman has a great post about the limited usefulness of median voter theorem. Simply put, the median voter theorem is a political science theory that restates the conventional wisdom about how politicians must "run to the center" and accomodate the desires of centrist voters in order to gain and hold onto power. It's a comforting theory, because it assumes that the political system is self-correcting, stabilizing itself before sliding into extremism. Unfortunately, the reality is much different. According to the chart in Gelman's post (from Chapter 9 of Gelman's book Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do), adopting the position of the median voter gets you only about 2% of the vote in any election. The benefit of adopting the median voter position was higher in the '80s, but still wasn't any higher than 5% of the vote in Congressional elections.

Gelman doesn't point out that the benefit from adopting the centrist position has decreased continuously from the 1980s to the current decade. If I had to come up with an explanation, I would attribute it to increases in the importance of campaign contributions that give Congressional representatives the right to "buy" an extremist political position. (Votes, Money, and the Clinton Impeachment by Irwin Morris makes an extremely good case that Bill Clinton's impeachment occurred, despite large majorities of the public opposing it, because Republicans who supported the impeachment were more likely to get the campaign contributions they needed to survive the next election.) Even if a representative is way ideologically out of step with his or her constituents, a massive campaign warchest can go a long way in scaring off any challengers competent enough to run a campaign against an incumbent.

An Economic Theory of Democracy by Anthony Downs may also provide an explanation. In the model proposed by Downs, the Democratic and Republican parties are like two ice cream vendors competing for market share on the same street. Economic equilibrium can be achieved in two different ways. In one scenario, if you have a lot of people living in the center of the street, both the Democrats and Republicans locate their ice cream shop as close to the center of the street as possible. This would be the scenario predicted by the median voter model. In the other scenario, the Democrats stake out the left side of the street, while the Republicans stake out the right side of the street. This occurs when most of the population is concentrated on either the left side of the street or the right side of the street, with fewer people in the center. This distribution, called a bimodal distribution, is similar to what happens in American politics today.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

More Hippie History

We hear about the major events of the 1960s, such as Woodstock and the riots at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, but a lot of interesting events never made the national radar screen, because too many other events were competing for newspaper column inches. Here are some of the weirder, more obscure hippie happenings that developed out of the 60s and early 70s.

This one was a new one on me, but I just learned about a 1970 protest against the Red Barn hamburger chain in the Minneapolis, Minnesota neighborhood of Dinkytown. The protest was especially heated, because it occurred within such close proximity of the killings at Kent State. Hippies and politicos and Dinkytown were so twitchy that riot police were necessary to get protesters to vacate the site of a Red Barn. The whole affair later became known as "The Battle of Dinkytown." The protesters' "statement of purpose" even included a reference that linked Burger King to imperialism! At least it made sense to people at the time.

Another obscure hippie happening was the 1969 Zip to Zap in the small town of Zap, North Dakota. According to this article, it became the site of the only riot in the North Dakota history, when students who descended on the town for an impromptu spring festival discovered that the town's only two bars had run out of beer.

Then, there's this YouTube clip below from Vortex I, a rock festival from 1970 that was actually funded by Governor Tom McCall of Oregon in order to divert hippies from an appearance Richard Nixon would make at an American Legion convention. That's right! It was the only rock festival ever to be funded by a state government (although I think the city of Boston once used some petty cash to help simulcast a James Brown concert at Boston Garden to encourage people to stay off the streets after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

More Hippie Etymology, Part II

While looking on Google News, I found this 1964 article from the Time magazine online archive that I believe is the first Time magazine article to use the word "hippies." The use of "hippies" in 1964 is interesting on its own, but it's not as interesting as the story in the article. It describes a young man named William G. Alpert who testified in the trial of 19-year-old Michael Smith for negligent homicide for killing Nancy Hitchings in a car accident in suburban Darien, Connecticut. According to the article,
He himself did not drink, said Alpert, airily explaining: "I have no need to dull my senses."

Not with alcohol. Last week Alpert was arrested for the possession of narcotics. When Norwalk police stopped his blue 1958 Volkswagen, they found 1½ oz. of marijuana hidden where the batteries should be in a 3-in. flashlight in the glove compartment. And in his pocket was a tin tobacco box containing several marijuana cigarettes.

Alpert, according to the police, admitted that he had been using marijuana for about a year, and that he also kept his senses spinning by sniffing model-airplane glue and eating "goofballs" (barbiturates) and hallucinogenic peyote.

In the article, Alpert is described as part of "a fast set of hard-shell hippies ... who seem utterly glamorous to more sheltered types."

Torture, the Ticking Time Bomb, and Film History

The debate about torture during the administration of George W. Bush often had less to do with real life than with Hollywood cinematic recreations of real life. Nowhere was this more apparent than with the endless philosophical debates about "the ticking time bomb" scenario and whether this scenario justified the use of torture to prevent the bomb from going off. According to Darius Rejali's Torture and Democracy, the origin of the "ticking time bomb" scenario comes from Jean Larteguy's Les Centurions, a novel about the French war against Algeria's independence. In the novel, the protagonist Boisfeuras tortures a dentist fighting with Algerian resistance who has hidden 15 time bombs. After being tortured for several hours, the dentist then reveals to Boisfeuras the location of every single bomb. Aside from the credibility problems inherent in that version of "ticking bomb" scenario (Could you remember a list of 15 items after being tortured for hours?), it turns out the incident in the novel is a distortion of an actual incident from the Franco-Algerian War from 1956, when forty people were treated to electric shocks, choking, and other tortures in order to locate some hand grenades seized by Algerian rebels. In the real life incident, only one female prisoner confessed, but her confession gave false information. Despite the distortion of the reality of the Algerian war found in Larteguy's novel, a 2007 article by Robert Kaplan in the Atlantic Monthly revealed that the English translation of Les Centurions is a cult novel among many high-ranking members of the American military, including General David Petraeus. To see more about how the Franco-Algerian War has been portrayed in fiction, watch the trailer below for the 1966 movie, Lost Command.

After reading Rejali, I started thinking about how the history of film has influenced what people think about torture. It was at that point that I wondered what was the first movie to include the familiar cliché of the ticking time bomb. The earliest example I could find was from David Bordwell's book, The Classical Hollywood Cinema. According to Bordwell,
In The Dynamiters, a drunken man joins an anarchist group and is given a time bomb to plant, set to go off at noon. When he sobers up, he races around trying to get rid of the bomb, finally leaving it in the anarchists' own hideout. Inter-titles punctuate the action, informing us that it is "20 minutes to 12," "10 minutes to 12," "5 minutes to 12," and "12 o'clock."
Evidently, the "ticking time bomb" cliché is so old that it existed during the silent film era when movies couldn't even include the sound of a ticking clock!

In fact, the use of a ticking time bomb in films is so familiar to us that screenwriting manuals often encourage writers to include a metaphorical "ticking clock" in their film. In metaphorical terms, a "ticking clock" refers to any implicit deadline that the main characters of a film must adhere to. When the protagonists in the Hangover have to find the missing groom before the wedding happens, that's a "ticking clock." More subtle variations of the "ticking clock" can even be found in classic foreign films, such as when the protagonist in Bicycle Thief has to find a replacement for his stolen bicycle before starting his job on Monday.

One of the best directors at using "ticking clocks" was Alfred Hitchcock, who once used a scene with a time bomb in the movie Sabotage to illustrate the important distinction between surprise and suspense. Surprise occurs when nobody knows what will happen. It's the equivalent of yelling "Boo!" at somebody from behind the door. Hitchcock, to his credit, generally viewed surprise as a cheaper stunt to pull off than suspense (although we must grant that Psycho includes one of the best moments of surprise ever captured on film). Suspense, on the other hand, occurs when the viewer has more knowledge about what's going to happen than the characters onscreen do. (See the YouTube clip below for more info about the distinction between suspense vs. surprise in Hitchcock's Sabotage.)

What does this have to do with the debate on torture? The answer is that the ticking time bomb cliché is so politically powerful precisely because it manipulates how we experience suspense and surprise. Would-be political philosophers who try to justify torture with the ticking time bomb scenario are just like hack screenwriters who are looking for a cheap stunt to generate fear, when they haven't really earned those emotions from the audience.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The International Relations Guide to Parenting

International relations theorist Stephen Walt has posted a hilarious and insightful guide to international relations that attempts to apply international relations theory to parenting, especially the challenge of parenting two or more children. Having one child is like managing a bipolar foreign policy regime (e.g., the U.S. vs. USSR during the Cold War), whereas having two or more children is like managing a multipolar foreign policy regime (e.g., more like what we have now). Meanwhile, when my cousin Karen gave birth to two male twins, I would suggest that Stephen Walt would compare it to the destabilizing effects of the breakup of Yugoslavia.

Insect Life on Asssateague

I was briefly on blogging hiatus, because my wife and I were on Assateague Island, a national park known for its wild horses. One of the things that fascinated me about Assateague was its island ecosystem. Since building is strictly limited on the island, most people on the island, like me and my wife, must camp in tents. Since we didn't have an RV, our only bathroom facilities were several hundred yards from our campsite. At each bathroom facility, there is a community bulletin board illuminated by a fluorescent light. If you look closely at any of the bulletin board, you can see an amazing diversity of insects attracted by the fluorescent light. It's as if you can see the evolution of insect species right before your eyes. In fact, I even found on Google Scholar a scientific paper about the distribution of tiger beetles on Assateague and other nearby less inhabited islands. Most people focus only on the insects at Assateagues that bite them, but if you look closer, you can see a range of insects that you would never see in your own backyard.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Obama & Reinhold Niebuhr: Where Hope Meets Washington Realism

I just read an interesting article by Hent de Vries on the influence of the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr on Obama's personal political ideology and style of governance. Obama is well-known as the candidate of "hope," but the influence of Niebuhr shows how that hope is tempered by a sometimes dour Protestant brand of theological realism. As Hent de Vries summarizes it,
One of the most important elements of Obama’s pragmatism is the sense that “hope” can only be “realistic” if it wishes to be more than wishful thinking and whistling in the dark, just as much as “realism” without “hope” leads principally nowhere, but merely brutally affirms whatever is and only strengthens the powers that be.

This intrigues me from a standpoint of intellectual history, especially because of how Niebuhr's philosophy about how liberals must acknowledge the presence of evil in the world is intimately tied with Christian notions of original sin. I agree that liberalism cannot govern effectively without wrestling with "the problem of evil," but the emphasis on original sin is problematic for me, because the Christian concept of original sin is too often tied to an interpretation of Adam & Eve in the Garden of the Eden that has historically been associated with punishing sexual pleasure, discouraging the search for knowledge, and marking all earthly disobedience as rebellion against God. As far as Obama's "Christian realism" is concerned, I agree that hope without realism is mere "whistling in the dark," but I fear that Obama's belief in the ineradicable nature of political evil and sin has led him to confuse what is structurally and politically impossible with what is merely disfavored by Washington elites at a particular point in time.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

More Hippie Etymology

I have some JPEGs of old newspaper clippings that demonstrate how the categorical boundaries between "beatniks" and "hippies" were rather fuzzy in the period between 1963 and 1965. In a UPI wire service report from March 8, 1963, the writer uses the terms "arty beatniks" and "bewhiskered young hippies" interchangably. Allegedly, the beatniks had awarded a hipness prize to Muhammad Ali (then known as Cassius Clay) for his skills at poetry.

I also have a clipping from a Wisconsin newspaper that describes the "fashion scene" on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus circa 1965. The article divides the student body into three groups: fraternity/sorority members, beatniks, and the unaffiliated students who don't fit into the first two groups. Interestingly, one of the paragraphs about beatniks begins, "Hippies, as Beatniks prefer to call themselves..." The beginning of that sentence is historically important not only because it is one of the first appearances of the word "hippies" in its modern sense to appear in a local newspaper, but also because it suggests that beatniks and hippies had much more in common than previous historians of the 1960s have been willing to admit.

Help Isn't Help If It Doesn't Help

Neoconservative Robert Kagan is accusing the Obama Administration of undercutting the Iranian election demonstrators, because he claims to believe that Obama is a Machiavellian realist on the issue of Iran who secretly wants to resume negotiations with a stabilized Ahmadinejad regime. Kagan makes this inference simply because Obama has kept relatively quiet on the subject of Iran, instead of engaging in the counterproductive saber-rattling of the previous Bush administration. The problem with this assumption is that Obama has just been praised by Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi for his relatively deft and diplomatic methods for handling the Iranian election crisis. The neoconservative approach typified by Kagan is fatally flawed, because it claims to help Iranian opposition, even though the Iranian opposition wants no part of the help that Kagan and his neoconservatives claim to provide. When you consider that Kagan's neoconservative colleague, Norman Podhoretz, favored bombing Iran as recently as 2007, the Iranian dissidents (who definitely might have been vaporized in any bombing raid on Iran) are more than warranted in rejecting neoconservative "help."

How You Can Help the Iranian Election Protesters

Boing Boing has an excellent cyberwar guide that provides instructions about how you can use your Twitter account to provide an online shield for Iranian dissidents. I've reprinted the guide below:

Yishay sez, "The road to hell is paved with the best intentions (including mine). Learn how to actually help the protesters and not the gov't in Iran."

The purpose of this guide is to help you participate constructively in the Iranian election protests through Twitter.

1. Do NOT publicise proxy IP's over twitter, and especially not using the #iranelection hashtag. Security forces are monitoring this hashtag, and the moment they identify a proxy IP they will block it in Iran. If you are creating new proxies for the Iranian bloggers, DM them to @stopAhmadi or @iran09 and they will distributed them discretely to bloggers in Iran.

2. Hashtags, the only two legitimate hashtags being used by bloggers in Iran are #iranelection and #gr88, other hashtag ideas run the risk of diluting the conversation.

3. Keep you bull$hit filter up! Security forces are now setting up twitter accounts to spread disinformation by posing as Iranian protesters. Please don't retweet impetuosly, try to confirm information with reliable sources before retweeting. The legitimate sources are not hard to find and follow.

4. Help cover the bloggers: change your twitter settings so that your location is TEHRAN and your time zone is GMT +3.30. Security forces are hunting for bloggers using location and timezone searches. If we all become 'Iranians' it becomes much harder to find them.

5. Don't blow their cover! If you discover a genuine source, please don't publicise their name or location on a website. These bloggers are in REAL danger. Spread the word discretely through your own networks but don't signpost them to the security forces. People are dying there, for real, please keep that in mind...

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pat Buchanan and the 1970s Ethnic Revival

The fine blog Nixon Ghosts has uncovered a memo written by Pat Buchanan for the Nixon White House that suggests making ethnic quotas for Italians in order to help Nixon win the 1972 presidential election. The memo states:
[I]nstead of sending the orders out to all our other agencies — hire blacks and women — the order should go out — hire ethnic Catholics preferable women, for visible posts. One example: Italian Americans, unlike blacks, have never had a Supreme Court member — they are deeply concerned with their “criminal” image; they do not dislike the President. Give those fellows the “Jewish seat” or the “black seat” on the Court when it becomes available.

I find this extremely interesting in light of Buchanan's attempts to play the ethnic card in undermining Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court. Another interesting bit of historical context from the 1970s comes from Nixon's failed Supreme Court nomination of the segregationist Harold Carswell to the Supreme Court. When the media and Democratic Senators rightfully criticized Carswell for his segregationist record, the Republican Senator from Nebraska, Roman Hruska, said:
Even if he [Carswell] were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they? We can't have all Brandeises and Frankfurters and Cardozos.

Please note that Brandeis, Frankfurter, and Cardozo were the only Jewish justices to have presided over the Supreme Court at that time. Anyhow, even if we grant that Hruska was not trying to be anti-Semitic, we still have a historical example of how conservative Republicans have thrown considerations of merit completely out the window when it comes to advancing their reactionary judicial agenda on the Supreme Court.

So where does the ethnic revival come in? It's almost completely forgotten today, but the African-American civil rights movement gave rise to numerous offshoots among many different groups demanding better political representation. One of those groups, believe it or not, was Italian-Americans. The Nixon Administration watched this white ethnic revolt and did everything it to create schisms between white non-WASP ethnics and non-white minority groups. In the process, many white ethnic groups, including Italian-Americans, became more likely to vote Republican. As Pat Buchanan's memo suggests, nominating a culturally conservative Italian-American Catholic to the Supreme Court was a way to pursue some of the same right-wing judicial goals as nominating a segregationist like Harold Carswell, but without the malodorous stench of Jim Crow racism to stink everything up. When you consider that two of the most conservative justices on the Supreme Court (Scalia and Alito) are Italian-American Catholics, I'd say that Nixon's 1970s strategy has finally come to fruition, only he never lived to see it. Just because Scalia and Alito are racially classified as "white," that doesn't mean that there weren't ethnic and racial considerations made when they were nominated for the Supreme Court, too.

The Beatles and JFK Assassination Myth

A common myth is the belief that Beatlemania in the United States was a reaction to the trauma of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. One problem with this myth is that news of the frenzy that Beatles were causing in England was already reaching the United States before JFK's assassination. To illustrated why this is a myth, I located an interesting travel column in the Lowell, Massachusetts Sun, dated November 19, 1963, exactly three days before John F. Kennedy died. A travel columnist with the pseudonym "Pertinax" wrote, "Saw the rage of England, a singing group called the Beatles who look as though they could use both baths and haircuts."

Pertinax not only sounds similar to the adult naysayers in 1964 who derided the Beatles for their long hair, but he also publicized them as the latest "rage of England," which would have been enough to attract some fashion-conscious teens, regardless of the circumstances of the JFK assassination.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Erupting Plastic Inevitable Velvet Underground Kids

Looking at this photo, you might think it comes from 1977 during the early days of the punk rock era, but it's actually a newspaper photo I found in the Pocono News-Record that appeared on May 5, 1966! The caption misindentifies Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable as the Erupting Plastic Inevitable, but otherwise the caption is surprisingly nonjudgmental about the caveman/S&M get-up that the Velvet Underground fans are wearing. Since the Velvet Underground borrowed their name from a trashy paperback about wife-swapping and S&M, I guess it's not surprising that some of their fans were on the same wavelength.

Another interesting fact about the caption is that Andy Warhol refers to the Exploding Plastic Inevitable as a "disco-flicka-theque." I suppose the "flicka" refers to the flickering strobe lights included in the light shows that accompanied the Velvet Underground. Perhaps Andy Warhol was influenced by Tony Conrad's experimental film, The Flicker, a movie consisting of solid black and solid white frames that created a "flicker" effect strong enough to induce trances and even epileptic seizures in the audience. Since Tony Conrad was a member of the Primitives, the first band to include Lou Reed and John Cale of the Velvet Underground, the possibility of Tony Conrad influencing Warhol is not totally implausible.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Hippies of the 1950s

One of things I love about Google Books is how you can search the full text of old magazines, especially the music industry trade journal Billboard. One thing I find interesting is how the use of the word "hippies" has changed over time. Since Billboard is a music trade journal, "hippies" originally seemed to be used to refer to "hip" rhythm & blues or jazz fans who had musical preferences that were too "hip" to be a reliable gauge of what would be a hit. Here are some interesting examples of the word "hippies" appearing in Billboard before the mid 1960s:

Lyric is slight, Miss Wright does what she can with it. More for "hippies" than general r. and b. market (record review from July 15, 1950)

Draper and Young also come through solidly. Strong bop for the hippies. (record review from April 13, 1959)

"There are basically three types of teenagers today, 'conservative', Ivy League type; 'hippies,' who dig the heavy rock beat, and 'jive,' who are more on the square side, espouse the Rick Nelson sound." (quote from disc jockey, September 28, 1963)

Concerned Alitos for Princeton

The disparagement of Sonia Sotomayor by Pat Buchanan and other Republicans as an affirmative action mediocrity is especially irksome when you consider Justice Samuel Alito's membership in Concerned Alumni of Princeton, a group that spent the early 1970s opposing the admission of women to the previously all-male bastions of the Ivy League. But I never realized how much the media had missed during Alito's confirmation hearings until I took a look at The Chosen: The Hidden History of Admission and Exclusion at Harvard, Yale, and Princeton by the sociologist Jerome Karabel. According to Karabel, one of the problems that Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP) had with the changes in admissions policies in the 1970s was that admissions were becoming too meritocratic:

The rejection of the demand to limit (and, preferably to reduce) the number of women was one of its many defeats. One of CAP's primary objectives was to reduce the number of students accepted almost exclusively on the basis of "brains," but the Admissions Office was moving precisely in the opposite direction...

In fact, when Princeton reduced the number of students it admitted with mediocre academic records, Concerned Alumni of Princeton were the first to complain, because the new policies resulted in a reduction in the number of college athletes! In other words, don't be fooled! The right wing's complaints about Sonia Sotomayor have less to do with her qualifications and judicial acumen than with the fact that Obama isn't giving the slot to some mediocre right-wing white guy.

Be Not A Cancer on the Earth?

Yesterday, I bought a copy of the April 2009 issue of Wired, because it had this interesting article about this weird monument in the Southern United States called the Georgia Guidestones. Built near the rural town of Elberton, Georgia, it has several large granite monoliths with cryptic instructions that have already earned the monument the nickname of "the American Stonehenge." Currently, the monument has raised the ire of a lot of right-leaning conspiracy theorists who see the instructions as part of plan put forth by some occult New World Order conspiracy. Personally, I think the more likely explanation is some crazy old eccentric has too much money and time on his hands.

The "instructions" on the guidestones are as follows:

1. Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.

2. Guide reproduction wisely - improving fitness and diversity.

3. Unite humanity with a living new language.

4. Rule passion - faith - tradition - and all things with tempered reason.

5. Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts.

6. Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court.

7. Avoid petty laws and useless officials.

8. Balance personal rights with social duties.

9. Prize truth - beauty - love - seeking harmony with the infinite.

10. Be not a cancer on the earth - Leave room for nature - Leave room for nature.

Even though I don't believe in the New World Order conspiracy theories, I still find the inscriptions on the Guidestones fascinating, because it is so difficult to figure out what religious or political or occult ideology the man who wrote them actually adheres to. On the other hand, in attempting to find an origin for the phrase "be not a cancer on the earth," I think I have found a relatively simple and mundane explanation. As you can see by the photo on this blog post, the idea that mankind and its ballooning population growth is akin to a cancerous growth on Mother Earth can be found in a 1970 essay by the sci-fi writer Isaac Asimov called The Case Against Man. The headline "Is Mankind a Cancer on the Earth" was a blow-up quote that I found accompanying a copy of the Asimov essay in the July 5, 1970 issue of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. If my theory is correct, then the Georgia Guidestones, which were built in 1979, comes from the same late-1960s, early-1970s anxieties about population growth that produced the Zero Population Growth movement, Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb, and the movie Soylent Green.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Viewing Iran Through an American Lens

The post-election unrest in Iran has inspired debate in the blogosphere about whether Ahmedinejad stole the election or won the election in a landslide. I do not have enough specific knowledge about Iran to make deeply knowledgeable judgments about the legitimacy of the Iranian election. However, I find it interesting that discussion of the Iranian election has paralleled the discussions of red state vs. blue state polarization in the 2004 presidential election. The belief that Bush could not have beaten Kerry without swiftboating or fraud is analogous to the belief that Ahmadinejad could not have won the landslide he claimed in the Iranian election without massive vote-rigging. Likewise, the belief that Ahmadinejad won handily because liberal Iranian urbanites were blind to Ahmedinejad's appeal with the pious rural population (i.e., Iran's equivalent of the "heartland") is extremely similar to the accusations that excessively aloof "latte liberals" made John Kerry lose the 2004 election. Americans think they're looking through the telescope at Iran, but they're really just looking at distorted reflections of their own political history.

Pat Buchanan and the "Base Alloy of Hypocrisy"

In a recent column, the paleoconservative Pat Buchanan uses as affirmative action as a rhetorical bludgeon against Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Sonia Sotomayor. But what I found interesting was Pat Buchanan's attempt to quote Abraham Lincoln to argue that old-school bigotry is better than affirmative action by private universities:

This is bigotry pure and simple. To salve their consciences for past societal sins, the Ivy League is deep into discrimination again, this time with white males as victims rather than as beneficiaries.

One prefers the old bigotry. At least it was honest, and not, as Abraham Lincoln observed, adulterated "with the base alloy of hypocrisy."

The quotation about the "base alloy of hypocrisy" sounded familiar to me, so I decided to look it up in the Yale Book of Quotations. When I did so, I realized that Pat Buchanan could not have been more tone-deaf to the original context of Abraham Lincoln's quote:

Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that "all men are created equal." We now practically read it "all men are created equal, except Negroes." When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read "all men are created equal, except Negroes and foreigners and Catholics." When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty—to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.

The reference comes from an 1855 letter in which Abraham Lincoln declares to his friend Joshua Speed his opposition to slavery, a letter that would later strain Lincoln's friendship with Speed for the rest of the 1850s. What's even more ironic is that the quote sampled by Buchanan comes from a letter extremely critical of the Know Nothing Party, a 19th century political party focused on excluding immigrants. Since Buchanan himself has run as a candidate of nativist third parties, Buchanan's tone-deafness in selecting the quote could not be more pronounced. Or perhaps that was his plan all along?