Wednesday, February 08, 2017

National Review Online | Print

National Review Online | Print

The Shameful War on Betsy DeVos
Betsy DeVos is seeing firsthand that no good deed goes unpunished.
By Rich Lowry — January 18, 2017

Betsy's Page


Thomas Sowell speaks up to defend Betsy DeVos and to point out that the opposition to her is being generated by teachers unions objecting to her support of charter schools.
....
My daughter works for KIPP schools in Washington, D.C. and the stories of the dedicated work of the teachers and administration to help students who otherwise would be condemned to failing regular public schools is truly inspiring. I work at a charter school for which we regularly have over 1000 applications for about 80 spots in the entering class. Like KIPP, we are a public school, a fact often ignored in the overwrought rhetoric against charters. We have to educate students with the same per-student allotment that the regular public schools get. The difference is that we have to pay all our capital expenses out of that amount as well as teachers' health insurance and pensions. And still our students regularly achieve at the highest level in our state. No wonder the teachers' unions see the threat.

The Real Democratic Party - WSJ

The Real Democratic Party - WSJ

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Them Dem Kickers

Them Dem Kickers


How 'bout Them Dem Kickers,
Ain't they fun?
Kickin' them Dems,
Right in they buns.
Kickin' them snowflakes,
Kickin' them sluts,
Kickin' them feminists,
In they butts
Look at Them Dem Kickers,
Ain't they cute?
Some use a shower-shoe,
Some use a boot.
Kickin' them yuuge
Kickin' them tiny
Kickin' them hipsters
In they hiney
Them dadgum Dem Kickers,
Ain't they a scream?
Runnin' 'round kickin',
Ever Dem what's seen.
How to be a Dem Kicker?
Don't need a ticket.
Find a dirty old hippie,
Haul off and kick it!

More (real) "them poems" here

Brave (web browser) - Wikipedia

Brave (web browser) - Wikipedia

https://www.brave.com/

Erratum to “Correlation not Causation: The Relationship between Personality Traits and Political Ideologies” American Journal of Political Science 56 (1), 34–51 - Verhulst - 2015 - American Journal of Political Science - Wiley Online Library

Erratum to “Correlation not Causation: The Relationship between Personality Traits and Political Ideologies” American Journal of Political Science 56 (1), 34–51 - Verhulst - 2015 - American Journal of Political Science - Wiley Online Library


The authors regret that there is an error in the published version of “Correlation not Causation: The Relationship between Personality Traits and Political Ideologies” American Journal of Political Science 56 (1), 34–51. The interpretation of the coding of the political attitude items in the descriptive and preliminary analyses portion of the manuscript was exactly reversed. Thus, where we indicated that higher scores in Table 1 (page 40) reflect a more conservative response, they actually reflect a more liberal response. Specifically, in the original manuscript, the descriptive analyses report that those higher in Eysenck's psychoticism are more conservative, but they are actually more liberal; and where the original manuscript reports those higher in neuroticism and social desirability are more liberal, they are, in fact, more conservative. We highlight the specific errors and corrections by page number below:

Pg. 39

Consistent with our conceptualization of ideology as a set of interrelated attitudes, we specified a confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) to capture three latent attitudinal dimensions from a Wilson-Patterson (1968) inventory: social attitudes (e.g., Gay Rights, Abortion), economic attitudes (e.g., Foreign Aid, Federal Housing), and defense/military attitudes (e.g., The Draft, Military Drill; see online Appendix 1), with higher scores indicating the more liberal response.

Pgs. 40–41

First, opposite our expectations, higher Ρ scores correlate with more liberal military attitudes and more socially liberal beliefs for both females and males.

…Further, we find a positive relationship between Neuroticism and economic conservatism (rfemales = −0.242, rmales = −0.239). People higher in Neuroticism tend to be more economically conservative. What is intriguing about this relationship is that it is in the direction of what past theories would predict (Fromm 1947; Wilson 1973), but opposite with more recent evidence (Gerber et al. 2010; Van Hiél, Pandelaere, and Duriez 2004). That is, neurotic people are less likely to support public policies that provide aid to the economically disadvantaged (public housing, foreign aid, immigration, etc). Moreover, Neuroticism is unrelated to social ideology (rfemale = −0.016, rmale = −0.050). This finding suggests that neurotic individuals cope with their anxiety by supporting more “conservative” economic policies rather than “conservative” social policies.

…Thus, it appears that people who are motivated to present themselves in a socially desirable light also present themselves as socially conservative.

…The analysis above extends the existing personality and politics literature in several important ways. Opposite our expectations, Ρ (positively related to tough mindedness and authoritarianism) is associated with social liberalism and liberal military attitudes.

Intriguingly, the strength of the relationship between Ρ and political ideology differs across sexes. We also find individuals higher in Neuroticism are more likely to be economically conservative. Furthermore, Neuroticism is completely unrelated to social ideology, which has been the focus of many in the field. Finally, those higher in Social Desirability are also more likely to express socially conservative attitudes.

Pg. 46

…Ρ is substantially correlated with liberal military and social attitudes, while Social Desirability is related to conservative social attitudes, and Neuroticism is related to conservative economic attitudes.

The error is important for descriptive purposes, but the main thesis of the paper, analyses, findings and theoretical contribution remain unchanged. The goal of the paper was to explore the nature of the covariance between personality and attitudes, and to test whether the relationship between several personality traits and political attitude dimensions was causal or correlational. The analyses rely on the magnitude of the cross-twin cross-trait covariation, and second moment of data, and are agnostic as to whether liberals or conservatives are higher or lower in any given personality trait. Thus, the direction of the correlation between the personality traits and attitudes was not relevant for our research question and subsequent analyses. As such, the main conclusions of the paper are unaffected. Specifically we find a pattern of relationships that implies a non-causal relationship between personality traits and political attitudes.

Friday, February 03, 2017

Most claims about Trump’s visa Executive Order are false or misleading

Most claims about Trump’s visa Executive Order are false or misleading

Yesterday Donald Trump signed an Executive Order on refugees and visa entry procedures.

You should read the actual EO, because most of the media and leftist pundits either have not or are lying if they have.

There are some stark policy differences about immigration and refugees over which people can disagree — those were argued at length during the election season. But the hyperbole and frenzy being exhibited in the media and by leftist pundits is hyperbole at best, fakery and lying at worst.

....

I’ll go over key features of the EO and address the main accusations being peddled.

“Muslim Ban”

There is no Muslim Ban, even though the Twitter hashtag #MuslimBan is being used by opponents of the EO.

....

There is a postponement of entry from 7 countries (Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen) previously identified by the Obama administration as posing extraordinary risks. That they are 7 majority Muslim countries does not mean there is a Muslim ban, as most of the countries with the largest Muslim populations are not on the list (e.g., Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Turkey, Nigeria and more).

Thus, the overwhelming majority of the Muslim world is not affected.

Moreover, the “ban” is only for four months 90 days while procedures are reviewed, with the exception of Syria for which there is no time limit.

There is a logic to the 7 countries. Six are failed states known to have large ISIS activity, and one, Iran, is a sworn enemy of the U.S. and worldwide sponsor of terrorism.

And, the 7 countries on the list were not even so-designated by Trump. Rather, they were selected last year by the Obama administration as posing special risks for visa entry, as even CNN concedes in passing:

The order bars all people hailing from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. Those countries were named in a 2016 law concerning immigration visas as “countries of concern.”

The executive order also bans entry of those fleeing from war-torn Syria indefinitely.

Seth Frantzman has an excellent analysis of this Obama administration background to the list. Please read the whole thing. The short version is that the Obama administration selected those countries — whose names are not mentioned in Trump’s EO.

....

Frantzman notes that no one complained when the Obama administration selected these countries:

What? So there was a Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 two years before Trump? There was a kind of “Muslim ban” before the Muslim ban? But almost no one critiqued it in 2015 because it was Obama’s administration overseeing it.

So for more than a year it has been US policy to discriminate against, target and even begin to ban people from the seven countries that Trump is accused of banning immigrants and visitors from. CNN even hinted at this by noting “those countries were named in a 2016 law concerning immigration visas as ‘countries of concern.’” But why didn’t CNN note that the seven countries were not named and that in fact they are only on the list because of Obama’s policy? …

Because mainstream media has been purposely lying, either due to ignorance or because of unwillingness to read the document and ask questions and because they are too ready to accept “facts” without investigating. They want to blame Trump for a “Muslim ban” because they were ready with that script since last year.

Trump Business Connections

An offshoot of the “Muslim ban” claim is the claim that Trump deliberately excluded countries in which he does business.

This argument is made in order to claim Muslims are targeted even though most of the Muslim world is not affected.

....

The problem, of course, is that Trump worked off of the Obama administration’s list of particularly risky countries for visa entry. To lay the blame on Trump’s business interests is a lie, or as Frantzman puts it, fake news:

Most disingenuous, truly bordering on fake news, are the reports that claimed the seven countries were connected to Trump business interests, as if Obama’s DHS picked them because of Trump?

It’s an Absolute Ban

The “ban” is not without exceptions. There are categories of visa holders who still may enter even from those 7 countries:

Sec. 3(c) To temporarily reduce investigative burdens on relevant agencies during the review period described in subsection (a) of this section, to ensure the proper review and maximum utilization of available resources for the screening of foreign nationals, and to ensure that adequate standards are established to prevent infiltration by foreign terrorists or criminals, pursuant to section 212(f) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), I hereby proclaim that the immigrant and nonimmigrant entry into the United States of aliens from countries referred to in section 217(a)(12) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1187(a)(12), would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, and I hereby suspend entry into the United States, as immigrants and nonimmigrants, of such persons for 90 days from the date of this order (excluding those foreign nationals traveling on diplomatic visas, North Atlantic Treaty Organization visas, C-2 visas for travel to the United Nations, and G-1, G-2, G-3, and G-4 visas).

Also, the EO allows exceptions on a case by case basis from those 7 countries:

Sec.3(g) Notwithstanding a suspension pursuant to subsection (c) of this section or pursuant to a Presidential proclamation described in subsection (e) of this section, the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security may, on a case-by-case basis, and when in the national interest, issue visas or other immigration benefits to nationals of countries for which visas and benefits are otherwise blocked.

This Ends Refugees Coming to the U.S.

There is a halt to refugee processing, but it is temporary, for 120 days. Moreover, for people already going through the process, this is merely a delay not an ending, because they can resume processing once the system restarts in 120 days:

Sec. 5. Realignment of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for Fiscal Year 2017. (a) The Secretary of State shall suspend the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for 120 days. During the 120-day period, the Secretary of State, in conjunction with the Secretary of Homeland Security and in consultation with the Director of National Intelligence, shall review the USRAP application and adjudication process to determine what additional procedures should be taken to ensure that those approved for refugee admission do not pose a threat to the security and welfare of the United States, and shall implement such additional procedures. Refugee applicants who are already in the USRAP process may be admitted upon the initiation and completion of these revised procedures. Upon the date that is 120 days after the date of this order, the Secretary of State shall resume USRAP admissions only for nationals of countries for which the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, and the Director of National Intelligence have jointly determined that such additional procedures are adequate to ensure the security and welfare of the United States.

Anti-Muslim Discrimination

There are accusations that one particular provision discriminates. It gives preference to those fleeing religious persecution in countries in which they are a religious minority:

Sec. 5(b) Upon the resumption of USRAP admissions, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, is further directed to make changes, to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality. Where necessary and appropriate, the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security shall recommend legislation to the President that would assist with such prioritization.

This is being referred to as a de facto discrimination against Muslims because it mostly applies to Christians.

Well, that’s because Christians are the most persecuted religion in the Middle East, by Muslims. If there were a country in which Muslims were persecuted by another majority religion, they would get preference.

In fact, this religious persecution test has long been the case in refugee cases, but has been twisted to discriminate against Christians, as this September 2016 column by Eliott Abrams explained:

The headline for this column—The U.S. Bars Christian, Not Muslim, Refugees From Syria—will strike many readers as ridiculous.

But the numbers tell a different story: The United States has accepted 10,801 Syrian refugees, of whom 56 are Christian. Not 56 percent; 56 total, out of 10,801. That is to say, one-half of 1 percent.

The BBC says that 10 percent of all Syrians are Christian, which would mean 2.2 million Christians. It is quite obvious, and President Barack Obama and Secretary John Kerry have acknowledged it, that Middle Eastern Christians are an especially persecuted group.

So how is it that one-half of 1 percent of the Syrian refugees we’ve admitted are Christian, or 56, instead of about 1,000 out of 10,801—or far more, given that they certainly meet the legal definition?

The definition: someone who “is located outside of the United States; is of special humanitarian concern to the United States; demonstrates that they were persecuted or fear persecution due to race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.”

Somewhere between a half million and a million Syrian Christians have fled Syria, and the United States has accepted 56. Why?

“This is de facto discrimination and a gross injustice,” Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, told Fox News. Fox notes another theory: The United States takes refugee referrals from the U.N. refugee camps in Jordan, and there are no Christians there.
Dual Nationals

The EO does apply to dual nationals, but not in the way people imply, suggesting U.S. citizens would be barred from reentry.

Dual nationals who are U.S. citizens are not affected. The EO only applies to dual nationals from the 7 countries who travel on the passport of another (non-U.S.) country. The Wall Street Journal explains:

It also applies to people who originally hail from those countries but are traveling on a passport issued by any other nation, the statement [by the State Department] notes. That means Iraqis seeking to enter the U.S. on a British passport, for instance, will be barred, according to a U.S. official. British citizens don’t normally require a visa to enter the U.S.

“Travelers who have nationality or dual nationality of one of these countries will not be permitted for 90 days to enter the United States or be issued an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa,” the statement said. “Those nationals or dual nationals holding valid immigrant or nonimmigrant visas will not be permitted to enter the United States during this period. Visa interviews will generally not be scheduled for nationals of these countries during this period.”

Green Card Holders

There are reports that holders of Green Cards from those 7 countries may not enter the U.S. This is partially true, but it will be handled on a case-by-case basis, according to CBS News:

Senior administration officials told CBS News Saturday that for permanent American residents — those holding green cards — from the listed countries, their readmittance to the U.S. will be done on a “case by case exemption process.”

[Update: On Sunday morning, White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus stated that the EO temporary preclusion for the 7 countries “doesn’t include green card holders going forward” but “you’re going to be subjected to further screening.”]

Detentions, ETC.

There are anecdotal reports of people being detained while trying to enter the U.S., or pulled off planes, or not allowed to board. It’s hard to know whether these reports — if true — are the result of policy or confusion. As with any large bureaucratic endeavor, there seems to be administrative confusion, as the NY Times reported in a story recounting some of these reports:

But the week old administration appeared to be implementing the order chaotically, with agencies and officials around the globe interpreting it in different ways.

Syrian Refugees

It is true that Syrians seeking refugee status are barred entry, and that there is no current time limit on that. Rather, resumption will take place only after security assurance are in place:

Sec. 5(c) Pursuant to section 212(f) of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1182(f), I hereby proclaim that the entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the United States and thus suspend any such entry until such time as I have determined that sufficient changes have been made to the USRAP to ensure that admission of Syrian refugees is consistent with the national interest.

This is consistent with what Trump said during the campaign.

Conclusion: Policy Differences Don’t Justify Fake News

It is possible to criticize the EO and Trump visa/refugee policy without hyperbole and fakery. That opponents feel the need to make false and misleading accusations is a signal that they fear losing the policy argument on its merits.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

How Losing My Political Values Helped Me Gain My Freedom [Warden]

How Losing My Political Values Helped Me Gain My Freedom [Warden]

There's a frustrating game that the left plays with conservatives. It's an Alinksy tactic called, "Make them live up to their values." Now, living up to one's values isn't a bad thing, but setting high standards ultimately means that you'll sometimes fall short.

The left loves to exploit these shortcomings--every Christian who falls short of perfection is a hypocrite; the social values candidate you voted for just got arrested for drunk driving. Haha, everything you believe and advocate is now discredited.

They got away with it for years, waving away the lies, hypocrisy, indiscretions, and criminal behavior from their own politicians while beating the right mercilessly with the missteps of their own. It's effective because the right always maintains a baseline of integrity not displayed by the left, as evidenced by comparing what happens to Republican politicians when they're caught in criminal behavior with what happens to Democrats. Republican voters and politicians reluctantly dump the malefactor while Democrats defend their guy and launch an offensive against those who demand accountability.

And then came along Trump, a guy just ripe for demonization by the left. I think it's fair to say that even his early supporters worried that the Democrats would successfully make him toxic to the general voting public with his boorish behavior, vulgarity, multiple bankruptcies and very public divorces.

But something strange happened. Not only did Donald Trump not care about attacks on his character, neither did anyone else. We saw this new paradigm assert itself over and over during the primary throughout repeated media predictions that this time he's gone to far and he's cooked.

This same indifference that helped Trump carry the election has continued into the early days of his administration. With it comes a refreshingly freeing state of mind. Personally, I don't feel in any way responsible for Trump, nor do I feel compelled to defend him against attack.

Why? Because I voted for retribution.


I stumbled across a rarity yesterday--a leftist who is curious enough about how the right thinks to read and study us.

Someone pointed this series of tweets to me after the writer linked my article, How Losing My Political Values Helped Me Gain My Freedom, as an example of the emotional state of the reactionary right.

....

During the Obama years, we saw a radical shift. No longer were the Tom Delays and the Rush Limbaughs of the world the exclusive targets of what Bill Clinton labeled "the politics of personal destruction." Your average citizen was now in the cross hairs as well.

I first became aware of this during the Joe the Plumber episode when the media relentlessly attacked a citizen simply for asking, on his own property where Barack Obama was a guest, a question that happened to make their Boy-King look silly.

I thought it was a one-off due to the threat that Plumber's inquiry posed, but soon after the examples piled up--the slandering of the Tea Party movement, targeting of Christian wedding photographers, the harassment of the Memories Pizza owners, etc...

Which leads me to social media, Facebook specifically.

As this dramatic shift occurred, we began to see another shift within social media, one that reached its apex during the 2016 presidential election. That was the politicization of everything, not just by the institutional left, but by the soft left as well.

Where before the voters on the left were mostly passive receivers of Cultural Marxism, they had now become active participants via propaganda, slander, social shaming, and otherizing. This meant that conservatives were now being assaulted on two fronts, both from the institutional left and the soft left.

Every conservative who is active on Facebook knows what I'm talking about. After decades of Americans keeping their politics mostly to themselves, suddenly our feeds were jammed up with political invective.

It wasn't just directed at politicians. It was personal--a relentless litany of insults and abuse, first at the Tea Party and then Trump supporters. Most of it was generalized, but the message was clear. They held our kind in contempt and didn't care who knew it. In fact, they seemed to be in a contest to see who could broadcast it the loudest.

Most conservatives were hurt by this. We tend to keep our politics relatively private, both out of decorum and respect for our relationships with people whose politics differ from ours. The message that these public posts sent to us was that our "friends" on the left didn't respect or value us enough to avoid giving offense.

As someone who has been following politics since high school, I tend not to trust my own instincts what the average voter thinks. I'm simply to close to the subject. My wife, however, is a fairly low-key traditionalist who doesn't care to immerse herself in that world and so I use her as my political weather vane.

And so I knew that there was a storm brewing when she snapped down her phone over breakfast one day after reading Facebook and told me how sick and tired she was of her friends' political posts.

"When they say those things," she fumed, "they're talking about our family."

"I'm so sick and tired of being told that I'm a bad person because I disagree with someone's position on abortion or transgender bathrooms. Who do they think they are to tell everyone what they're required to believe?"

The hurt had turned to anger and quiet resolve.

The left sought to reprimand the right. What they did was alienate it. Their social media echo chamber only served to steel conservative misgivings about Donald Trump, if for no other reason than we simply couldn't abide by being pushed around for another 4-8 years.

It's one thing to know that your friends disagree with you. It's another to realize that they think you're stupid, uneducated, a bigot, bully, sexist, jerk and everything that's wrong with the world.

The Persuasion Filter Looks at Torture. Does it... | Scott Adams' Blog

The Persuasion Filter Looks at Torture. Does it... | Scott Adams' Blog

My point is that common sense, combined with everything you know about human beings, tells you that torture works, at least in some cases. It would work on me. It would work on you. It would certainly work on under-trained ISIS prisoners.

So why do the experts say torture doesn’t work?

The answer can be found in the Persuasion Filter. Torture is persuasion, but so is the way you talk about it. If you promote me to the rank of General, put me on television, and ask me if torture works, do you know what I’ll say?

I’ll say it doesn’t work.

I’ll say I can get more cooperation by being nice. I will look you in the eye and lie my ass off. Because that’s my job.

As a military General, my job is to keep my troops safe. So I will lie about the effectiveness of torture for several reasons:

1) An enemy might someday capture my troops. I don’t want the enemy to think torture is a practical option.

2) I don’t want the enemy to know their captured soldiers will be giving up their secrets to my side in under five seconds.

3) I don’t want to tarnish the brand of the United States or the military by associating it with torture.

4) I don’t want to go to jail. Torture is illegal.

So the ideal approach for an “expert” on torture is to say in public that it never works while finding ways to skirt the law and use it anyway when needed. Waterboarding, for example, was an attempt to stay legal while still “torturing.”

Keep in mind that for every “expert” on television that says torture never works, there are lots of “experts” around the world using the method every day. I doubt they would use if it it NEVER worked. After all, they are the experts.

This brings us to President Trump. He says with surprising candor that he believes torture works but will follow the recommendation of his generals who say it doesn’t.

Interpretation: Torture works. The generals know it. We’ll find a way to do it if necessary to keep the country safe. You don’t want to know the details.

We like to believe that experts are more credible than non-experts. And President Trump is no expert on torture. But keep in mind that President Trump is a Master Persuader who can detect bullshit faster than normal people.

You might even call him an expert at detecting bullshit.

When President Trump presents something as fact, the odds are high that it is hyperbole or just persuasion. You don’t want to assume his facts are literally true, although they are usually emotionally or directionally true.

But if President Trump – The Master Persuader – tells you someone else’s facts are bullshit, you can usually take that to the bank. The man knows bullshit when he sees it. And with his skillset he can also smell it coming from miles away.

Friday Food Post: The Economics Behind Grandma's Tuna Casseroles - Bloomberg View

Friday Food Post: The Economics Behind Grandma's Tuna Casseroles - Bloomberg View

And yet, I assume they were thinking something, and it probably wasn't, “This will show those Reds what the Good Life looks like.” In fact, when I try to come up for explanations for their tastes, none of the fashionably political theories even make the top ten.

Here are my prime candidates for why I think they ate like that:

  1. Most people are not that adventurous; they like what's familiar. American adults ate what they did in the 1950s because of what their parents had served them in the 1920s: bland, and heavy on preserved foods like canned pineapple and mayonnaise.
  2. A lot of the ingredients we take for granted were expensive and hard to get. Off-season, fresh produce was elusive: The much-maligned iceberg lettuce was easy to ship, and kept for a long time, making it one of the few things you could reliably get year round. Spices were more expensive, especially relative to household incomes. You have a refrigerator full of good-looking fresh ingredients, and a cabinet overflowing with spices, not because you’re a better person with a more refined palate; you have those things because you live in 2015, when they are cheaply and ubiquitously available. Your average housewife in 1950 did not have the food budget to have 40 spices in her cabinets, or fresh green beans in the crisper drawer all winter.
  3. People were poorer. Household incomes grew enormously, and as they did, food budgets shrank relative to the rest of our consumption. People in the 1960s also liked steak and chicken breasts better than frankfurters and canned meats. But most of them couldn’t afford to indulge their desires so often.
    The same people who chuckle at the things done with cocktail franks and canned tuna will happily eat something like the tripe dishes common in many ethnic cuisines. Yet tripe has absolutely nothing to recommend it as a food product, except that it is practically free; almost anything you cooked with tripe would be just as good, if not better, without the tripe in it. If you understand why folks ate Trippa alla Romana, you should not be confused about the tuna casserole or the creamed chipped beef on toast.
  4. The foods of today’s lower middle class are the foods of yesterday’s tycoons. Before the 1890s, gelatin was a food that only rich people could regularly have. It had to be laboriously made from irish moss, or calf’s foot jelly (a disgusting process), or primitive gelatin products that were hard to use. The invention of modern powdered gelatin made these things not merely easy, but also cheap. Around 1900, people were suddenly given the tools to make luxury foods. As with modern Americans sticking a flat panel television in every room, they went a bit wild. As they did again when refrigerators made frozen delights possible. As they did with jarred mayonnaise, canned pineapple, and every other luxury item that moved down-market. Of course, they still didn’t have a trained hired cook at home, so the versions that made their way into average homes were not as good as the versions that had been served at J. P. Morgan’s table in 1890. But it was still exciting to be able to have a tomato aspic for lunch, in the same way modern foodies would be excited if they found a way to pull together Nobu’s menu in a few minutes, for a few cents a serving.
    Over time, the ubiquity of these foods made them déclassé. Just as rich people stopped installing wall-to-wall carpeting when it became a standard option in tract homes, they stopped eating so many jello molds and mayonnaise salads when they became the mainstay of every church potluck and school cafeteria. That’s why eating those items now has a strong class connotation.
  5. There were a lot of bad cooks around. These days, people who don’t like to cook, or aren’t good at it, mostly don’t. They can serve a rich variety of prepared foods, and enjoy takeout and restaurants. Why would you labor over something you hate, when someone else will sell you something better for only slightly more than it would cost you to make something bad?
    In 1950, the answer was “because we’re not made of money.” A restaurant meal was a special treat, not a nightly event, and prepared foods were not so widely available, in part because women tended not to work, but also because food processing technology was so advanced. So women had to cook whether they liked it or not. Many of them didn’t like it, so they looked for ways to reduce the labor involved. And it’s far from obvious that what they did with those shortcuts was worse than what they would have done without them. Think of the kind of casserole a bad cook might have made without canned soup and frozen vegetables. She’d probably have boiled the vegetables, because that’s the easiest way to prepare them, and boiled them to death, because she wasn’t too fussy about timing. (Out of season, those vegetables would have been limited to a few hearty root vegetables.) If there was a sauce, it probably would have been horrible. Let’s not even start on what she might have done with the meat. Canned soup and frozen vegetables start sounding pretty good.
    That was the baseline most people were working off. They were not comparing what they ate to what they might have gotten at a good restaurant; they were comparing it to what they would have gotten without the shortcuts, because, to reiterate, most of them rarely ate at a good restaurant.
    Modern food writing has an enormous selection bias. The median cookbook reader is a much better cook, and much more interested in food, than the median audience of recipes from decades past. The bad cooks, the indifferent cooks, the folks with the cast iron palates and Teflon stomachs, are all off doing something else. And since good cooks tend to raise good cooks, the median food writer waxing lyrical about Grandma’s homemade beef stew doesn’t realize just how many bad cooks were around. Or that recipes needed to be written for them, because however limited their talents or interest, they still had to put a meal on the table every night. A lot of terribly mediocre recipes are floating around from the era, and that’s exactly what most of the terribly mediocre cooks were looking for.
  6. Look at the sources of our immigrants. Immigration is still the major way that countries get new foods (if you don’t believe me, go out for Mexican food in any European country and report back). With the notable exception of the Italians, in the 19th century, most immigrants were from places with short growing seasons and bland cuisines, heavy on the cream and carbohydrates. After we restricted immigration in the 1920s, that’s what we were left with until immigrants started coming again in the 1960s. Of course, Louisiana had good French food, California and Texas had a Mexican influence, but by and large what we ate in 1960 was about what you’d expect from a German/English/Irish/Eastern European culinary heritage, adapted for modern convenience foods. And people liked it for the same reason I like jello salad: It’s what they were used to.
  7. Entertaining was mandatory. Because people didn’t go to restaurants so much, they spent time having people over, or eating at someone else’s house. If someone had you over, you had to have them over. This meant people had to have “company dinners” they could make, or at least a stock of canapés they could throw together for a cocktail party, even if they weren’t very good at it. Cue the weird focus on prettying everything up, more than occasionally to the detriment of the food itself: if you can’t make it good, you can at least make it pretty, to show people you made an effort.
Explaining the food of yesteryear doesn’t require exotic theories about culture and politics. It mostly requires understanding the economics of food production and distribution, and the path dependence of culinary choices. The past is indeed another country, and like every country, it had its own cuisine that made the most of local resources.