Quotulatiousness

October 30, 2014

Words mean exactly what we want them to mean, except when we don’t

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:10

In a post from earlier this year, Scott Alexander discusses a common example of what has been described as a “motte-and-bailey” argument:

I recently learned there is a term for the thing social justice does. But first, a png from racism school dot tumblr dot com.

Check your privilege from Tumblr

So, it turns out that privilege gets used perfectly reasonably. All it means is that you’re interjecting yourself into other people’s conversations and demanding their pain be about you. I think I speak for all straight white men when I say that sounds really bad and if I was doing it I’m sorry and will try to avoid ever doing it again. Problem solved, right? Can’t believe that took us however many centuries to sort out.

A sinking feeling tells me it probably isn’t that easy.

In the comments section of the last disaster of a social justice post on my blog, someone started talking about how much they hated the term “mansplaining”, and someone else popped in to — ironically — explain what “mansplaining” was and why it was a valuable concept that couldn’t be dismissed so easily. Their explanation was lucid and reasonable. At this point I jumped in and commented:

    I feel like every single term in social justice terminology has a totally unobjectionable and obviously important meaning — and then is actually used a completely different way.

    The closest analogy I can think of is those religious people who say “God is just another word for the order and beauty in the Universe” — and then later pray to God to smite their enemies. And if you criticize them for doing the latter, they say “But God just means there is order and beauty in the universe, surely you’re not objecting to that?”

    The result is that people can accuse people of “privilege” or “mansplaining” no matter what they do, and then when people criticize the concept of “privilege” they retreat back to “but ‘privilege’ just means you’re interrupting women in a women-only safe space. Surely no one can object to criticizing people who do that?”

    …even though I get accused of “privilege” for writing things on my blog, even though there’s no possible way that could be “interrupting” or “in a women only safe space”.

    When you bring this up, people just deny they’re doing it and call you paranoid.

    When you record examples of yourself and others getting accused of privilege or mansplaining, and show people the list, and point out that exactly zero percent of them are anything remotely related to “interrupting women in a women-only safe space” and one hundred percent are “making a correct argument that somebody wants to shut down”, then your interlocutor can just say “You’re deliberately only engaging with straw-man feminists who don’t represent the strongest part of the movement, you can’t hold me responsible for what they do” and continue to insist that anyone who is upset by the uses of the word “privilege” just doesn’t understand that it’s wrong to interrupt women in safe spaces.

    I have yet to find a good way around this tactic.

My suspicion about the gif from racism school dot tumblr dot com is that the statements on the top show the ways the majority of people will encounter “privilege” actually being used, and the statements on the bottom show the uncontroversial truisms that people will defensively claim “privilege” means if anyone calls them on it or challenges them. As such it should be taken as a sort of weird Rosetta Stone of social justicing, and I can only hope that similarly illustrative explanations are made of other equally charged terms.

H/T to Sam Bowman for the link.

Copyright’s friends and enemies

Filed under: Business, Law, Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:46

Mike Masnick linked to an article in The New Yorker by Louis Menand which tries to explain the concept of copyrights, the problems of ever-extending copyright terms, and who stands on each side of the ongoing debate:

The point of Peter Baldwin’s fascinating and learned (and also repetitive and disorganized) The Copyright Wars (Princeton) is that the dispute between analog-era and digital-era notions of copyright is simply the latest installment of an argument that goes all the way back to the Statute of Anne. The argument is not really about technology, although major technological changes tend to bring it back to life. It’s about the reason for creating a right to make copies in the first place.

In the United States, the reason is stated in the Constitution. Article I gives Congress power “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” The Copyright Act of 1790 set the length of copyright at fourteen years, renewable for another fourteen, after which the work falls into the public domain.

A right is just the flip side of a prohibition. The thinking behind Article I is that prohibiting people from copying and selling someone else’s original work is a way of encouraging the writing of useful or entertaining books, just as awarding a patent is a way of encouraging the invention of useful or enjoyable things. The prohibition operates as an incentive for the protected party. For a limited period — fourteen or twenty-eight years — authors get to enjoy the profits from sales of their books, and this prospect of reward induces people to write.

But Article I makes it clear that the ultimate beneficiary of books and inventions is the public. Copyrights are granted and patents are issued in order “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts.” This is why the Constitution dictates a limit on the right to make copies. After the term of protection expires, a work cannot be copyrighted again. It becomes a public good. It is thrown into the open market, which allows it to be cheaply reproduced, and this speeds the distribution of knowledge. “Intellectual property is a frail gondola that ferries innovation from the private to the public sphere, from the genius to the commons,” as Paul K. Saint-Amour, one of the leading literary scholars of copyright, elegantly describes it.

Sir Harry Flashman goes to Westeros

Filed under: Humour, Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:20

I’m not much of a fan fiction reader, but I was quite amused at this crossover between George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman series and George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones:

Flashman and the Throne of Swords

“Free Trade” deals usually have little to do with actual free trade

Filed under: Americas, Economics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

It’s not exactly a revelation that what politicians call “free trade” agreements are usually tightly constrained, regulated, and micro-managed trade: almost the exact inverse of what a genuine free trade deal would look like. This is primarily because politicians and diplomats have hijacked the original term to describe modern mercantilism. In The Diplomat, Ji Xianbai looks at how so-called free trade negotiations are little more than diplomatic beat-downs of the weaker parties by the stronger:

The classic mercantilism, the one associated with the idea that the precious metals obtained through a favorable balance of foreign trade were essential to a powerful nation, may be historically obsolete. The core of the mercantilist view, namely that self-interested states maximize economic development by optimizing political control to strengthen national power, is very much alive and well. Indeed, the vitality of mercantilism as a state of mind may have infiltrated every corner of the international political economy. If one considers the essence of mercantilism through Robert Gilpin’s definition – the attempt of governments to manipulate economic arrangements in order to maximize their own interests – multiple examples immediately come to mind: Japan’s “economic totalitarianism” system in which the entire society was united in deterring foreign competition in the postwar period, China’s ascendance since 1980s through an export-led development mode underpinned by a deliberately undervalued currency, and Germany’s unprecedented trade surplus accrued from the stringent austerity imposed on its economy to sustain competitiveness in the aftermath of the euro crisis.

Compared to those national triumphs of classic mercantilism, there is a less visible showroom, but one in which mercantilism presents itself over and over again in the form of legal mercantilism. This would be free trade agreements (FTAs), negotiations of which are usually kept in the dark. In bilateral FTA negotiations, legal mercantilist governments endeavor to impose their own (or desirable) trade rules and economic policies on other sovereign countries, usually with the aid of a combination of economic immensity, political hegemony, and asymmetric trade dependence, to create a sort of “international best practice,” favorable trade rules, and legal gains that can be leveraged and multilateralized at a regional and/or global level. The “competitive liberalization” strategy aptly pursued by the U.S. since 2002 is one such legal mercantilist policy, which aims to create another “gold standard” in international trade standard setting to project U.S.-friendly economic policies all over the world. In short, the U.S. expects the trade policies of other nations to follow those of the U.S., in the same way that their currencies used to peg to the U.S. dollar.

The U.S.–Peru FTA (PTPA) marks the very first success of Washington’s attempts to subordinate other countries’ sovereignty to its own national interest by squeezing non-trade-related provisions into a bilateral trade liberalization agreement and overriding foreign national laws. To provide a level playing field for American companies, the PTPA lays out detailed measures that Peru is obliged to take to govern its forest sector. The Forest Annex of the PTPA requires Peru to set up an independent forestry oversight body and even enact new Forestry and Wildlife Laws to legalize key provisions of PTPA. The U.S.–Colombia FTA (CTPA)’s labor provisions represent an “even more blatant assault on another country’s sovereignty.” Meanwhile, Colombia was forced to agree to establish a dedicated labor ministry; endorse legislations outlawing interference in the exercise of labor rights; double the size of its labor inspectorate; and set up a phone hotline and an internet-based system to deal with labor complaints. Examples of similar provisions abound: Don’t forget that the U.S.-Panama FTA has “helped” revamp Panama’s tax policy on behalf of Panamanians.

QotD: Conservative versus Liberal views on jobs

Filed under: Economics, Media, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:01

For the conservative, people are an asset — in the coldest economic terms, a potentially productive unit of labor. For the progressive, people are a liability — a mouth to be fed, a problem in need of a solution. Understanding that difference of perspective renders understandable the sometimes wildly different views that conservatives and progressives have about things like employment policy. For the conservative, the value of a job is what the worker produces; for the progressive, the value of a job is what the worker is paid. Politicians on both sides frequently talk about jobs as though they were economic products rather than contributors to economic output, as though they were ends rather than means. The phrase “there aren’t enough jobs” is almost completely meaningless, but it is a common refrain.

Kevin D. Williamson, “Welcome to the Paradise of the Real: How to refute progressive fantasies — or, a red-pill economics”, National Review, 2014-04-24

October 29, 2014

Charles Stross – Communist and post-communist Britain, history that didn’t happen

Filed under: Britain, History, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:25

Charles Stross wanders in a Britain of today in a world where Stalin won World War 2, taking all of western Europe into the control of the Soviet Union in the early 1940s:

Here’s a brief thought-experiment for you: imagine what the UK would look like today if the outcome of the second world war had taken a left turn early in 1940, and the whole of western Europe somehow ended up under Soviet control by 1946. (No nuclear weapons or gas attacks need apply: this speculation is about outcomes, not processes — so discussion of precisely how the British People’s Democratic Republic comes about is left as an exercise for the reader (and is not to be explored in comments)).

Let us further postulate that Stalinism passes with its creator, much as happened in our own experience of history: that the Soviet empire eventually undergoes the same fiscal crisis and collapse (alternative discussion of the same process by a former Soviet minister — you can forget the urban legend that Ronald Reagan did it) much as we remember, except possibly somewhat later — as late as the early 21st century, perhaps.

What interests me, in view of recent revelations about police spying and the extent of the British surveillance state is: How would the practice of internal suppression of dissent and state surveillance have differed in a post-Soviet Britain from what we appear to be living with right now?

“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”: as we have no way of knowing when the regime of the British Democratic People’s Republic fell, or what level of technology was available to them, purely technical aspects of the Communist surveillance state of the British Isles must be excluded.

However, we know the general shape of the ideological envelope within which Warsaw Pact regimes operated (or were allowed to operate, before the Kremlin jerked their choke-chain), and so we can speculate as to the structure and objectives of the British regime under Actually Existing Socialism.

Singing the praises of the FN FAL

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, Military, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:13

Paul Huard looks at the brief moment that the United States was poised to adopt the same rifle as almost everyone else in NATO:

FN C1 A1 as used by the Canadian Armed Forces throughout the Cold War (via South Manitoba Rifles)

FN C1 A1 as used by the Canadian Armed Forces throughout the Cold War (via South Manitoba Rifles)

With the formation of the new NATO alliance in 1949, generals and civilian planners both talked of the necessity to standardize equipment, weapons and supplies.

“The laudable aim was one that had been much in the minds of many forward-looking military thinkers for a long time,” writes David Westwood, author of Rifles: An Illustrated History of their Impact. “For experience had shown that the United States and Britain often fought side by side, and commonality would be to the benefit of all including soldiers in the field.”

One thing was certain. The British were impressed with the FAL. They deemed the superior firearm to competitors because it was easy to maintain, field strip and clean. It reassembled without special tools and it was a select-fire weapon — but it fired the lighter round.

The “gravel belly” U.S. generals would accept nothing but a .30-caliber weapon, insisting on the superiority of a prototype called the T25, a forerunner of the M14 that was nothing more than a glorified Garand.

Soon, there was a “Battle of the Bullets” that went as high as the White House and 10 Downing Street. Pres. Harry Truman and Prime Minister Winston Churchill even held a mini-summit, where rumor has it they struck a quid pro quo — the U.S. would adopt the FAL as its main battle rifle if Britain backed NATO adopting the 7.62 x 51-millimeter round.

NATO adopted the round. However, the U.S. reneged, developed the M14 — which fired the NATO 7.62-millimeter cartridge — and adopted it as the American military’s main rifle. In the end, it didn’t matter to FN because NATO countries, including Britain, began snapping up the FAL chambered for the NATO round.

Many consider that combination of weapon and cartridge the quintessential pairing of battle-rifle and bullet during the 20th century — the FAL went into production in 1953 and FN continued to produce the rifle until 1988. The M-14 fell by the wayside as the main U.S. battle rifle within a few years, replaced by the M-16.

“Regardless of the political activity that went on before its adoption, the 7.62 x 51-millimeter NATO turned out to be an excellent, powerful military cartridge,” writes Robert Cashner, author of The FN FAL Battle Rifle. “With millions of FALs manufactured and internationally distributed, the rifle played a large part in making the 7.62 x 51-millimeter NATO the success that it was.”

Passionate about #gamergate? Ken White has a few thoughts for you to ponder

Filed under: Gaming, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

The Popehat grand poobah suspects that if you’re passionate about #gamergate, you’re probably wrong … or at least, wrong-headed about your passions:

GamerGate is label-heavy, and labels are lazy, obfuscating bullshit.

Labels are supposed to be shorthand for collections of ideas. I might say “I am libertarian-ish” because it’s not practical to go around announcing the whole array of views I hold about demolishing public roads and privatizing the air force and so forth. This, up to a point, is useful.

It stops being useful when we argue over labels instead of over ideas. Take, for instance, “feminist.” A person who describes themselves as “feminist” might associate that term with their grandmother being the first woman in the family to go to college and their mother defying a sexist boss in a male-dominated job and the development of laws saying women can’t be relentlessly harassed in the workplace or fired for being women.1 Someone who routinely criticizes “feminism” might be thinking of Andrea Dworkin saying all heterosexual sex is coercive, or that time a woman snapped at him when he held a door open, or the time someone embarrassed his friend by saying his joke was sexist. When these two people use the term “feminist” in an argument, they are talking past each other and engaging with strawmen rather than ideas. The feminist is engaging the anti-feminist as if he opposes women in the workplace or supports gender-based hiring, which he doesn’t necessarily. The anti-feminist is engaging the feminist as if she thinks all marital sex is rape and as if she thinks jokes should get him fired, which she doesn’t necessarily. Neither is really engaging in the particular issue at hand — because why would you engage with a person who holds such extreme views? Why would it matter if the person you are arguing with has an arguable point on a specific issue, if they also necessarily (based on labels) stand for everything you hate?

Oh, and reacting before thinking (or instead of it)?

People are going to say things about your favorite parts of the culture. Some of these things will be stupid or wrong. It is swell to use more speech to disagree with, criticize, or ridicule the criticism. But when you become completely and tragicomically unbalanced by the existence of cultural criticism, or let it send you into a buffoonish spiral of resentful defensiveness, people may not take you seriously. Rule of thumb: a reasoned rebuttal of wrong-headed cultural criticism mostly likely won’t require you to use the word “cunt.”

There are ten points Ken covers in the original post. I really do recommend that you read it all. By my count, he gores everyone’s ox by the time he’s at point four (and by point five, he’s blaming Canada in the footnotes).

Kate Bush – Running Up That Hill

Filed under: Media — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Uploaded on 15 Jan 2011

Official music video for the single “Running Up That Hill” written and produced by British singer Kate Bush.

QotD: The business of the politician

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: — Nicholas @ 00:01

His business is never what it pretends to be. Ostensibly he is an altruist devoted whole-heartedly to the service of his fellow men, and so abjectly public-spirited that his private interest is nothing to him. Actually he is a sturdy rogue whose principal, and often sole, aim in life is to butter his parsnips. His technical equipment consists simply of an armamentarium of deceits.

H.L. Mencken, Notes on Democracy, 1926.

October 28, 2014

Self-driving trucks may be more significant (in the short term) than self-driving cars

Filed under: Business, Economics, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:25

At Samizdata, Brian Micklethwait looks at the likely short-term impact of driverless vehicles:

Robot passenger cars will eventually bring huge benefits. They will be epoch making, when the robot car epoch does finally arrive. I truly believe this. But in the shorter run, the problems of robot cars strike me as bigger than all the car and hi-tech companies are implying, and the benefits less immediate. Robot cars will presumably be good at finding their own parking spaces, and at making themselves useful to others if you aren’t using yours. Robot cars will presumably be less prone to error than humans, except when that turns out not to be the case. But what of those potholes?

In the meantime, making lorry (as we Brits call “trucks”) transport only somewhat more efficient will yield huge, very quantifiable, and fairly immediate benefits. Even if all they do to start with is robotise lorries on motorways, that would surely make a huge difference.

The motorway is the natural habitat of the big lorry, and is a place of far greater predictability than roads in general and hence more congenial for robots, especially robots in their early stages. Motorways are already highly controlled places, and are surely the right part of the road system to start introducing robots, not country lanes or city streets filled with complicated and unpredictable hazards.

Human lorry-drivers get tired, but robots don’t. A robot lorry could cross a continent with all the dogged, error-free serenity of a jumbo jet on autopilot crossing the same continent in the air.

At first, humans would need to sit in the lorries to check on their progress all the time, but pretty soon the human could be taking a nap and it wouldn’t matter. Not long after that, once everything has been shown to work, humans would not be needed to sit in lorries on motorways at all. Soon, all that the humans would need to do is collect the lorries (perhaps just the load bit) from their local off-motorway lorry parks, to which the robot lorries had driven themselves. Upon that solid technological foundation, lorries further into the future could then start travelling much faster. (I seem to recall a plan to concrete over railways and turn them into roads. Maybe that notion will be revived.) They could also make their way into the road system generally. The economic impact will surely be colossal, and more immediate than is the case for robot cars.

Facebook‘s UK tax picture

Filed under: Britain, Business, Economics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:17

Tim Worstall explains why it’s not a scandal that Facebook doesn’t pay more taxes in the UK:

In fact, it’s actually rather a good idea that Facebook isn’t paying UK corporation tax. For the standard economic finding (also known as optimal taxation theory) is that we shouldn’t be taxing corporations at all. Thus, as a matter of public policy we should be abolishing this tax: and also perhaps applauding those companies that take it upon themselves to do what the politicians seem not to have the courage to do, make sure that corporations aren’t paying tax.

That isn’t how most of the press sees it, of course

[...]

That’s an extremely bad piece of reporting actually, for of course Facebook UK did not have advertising revenue of £371 million last year: Facebook Ireland had advertising revenue of that amount from customers in the UK that year. And that’s something rather different: that revenue will be taxed under whatever system Ireland has in place to tax it. And this is the way that the European Union system of corporate taxation is supposed to work. Any company, based in any one of the 28 member countries, can sell entirely without hindrance into all other 27 countries. And the profits from their doing so will be taxed wherever the brass plate announcing the HQ of that company is within the EU. This really is how it was deliberately designed, how it was deliberately set up: it is public policy that it should be this way.

We could also note a few more things here. The UK company itself made a loss and that loss was because they made substantial grants of restricted stock units to the employees. And under the UK system those RSU grants are taxed as income, in full, at the moment of their being granted. Which will mean, given those average wages, at 45% or so. And we should all be able to realise that a 45% tax rate is rather higher than the 24% corporation tax rate. The total tax rate on the series of transactions is thus very much higher than if Facebook has kept its employees as paupers and just kept the profits for themselves. Further, those complaining about the tax bill tend to be those from the left side of the political aisle: which is also where we find those who insist that workers should be earning the full amount of their value to the company which is what seems to be happening here.

Civil service pensions

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:12

In City Magazine, Steven Malanga looks at Canada’s civil service pension problems, which may not be quite as bad as some US state problems, but are still going to be a source of conflict going forward:

Governments throughout the country are grappling with as much as $300 billion in unfunded government-worker retirement debt. In a country of just 38.5 million people, that’s a pension problem roughly equivalent to the one that California faces. And it’s widely shared.

Municipalities throughout Quebec, for instance, owe some $4 billion in retirement promises that have yet to be funded, prompting the province’s new Liberal government to demand this summer that workers pay more to bolster the system. A new report on the finances of Ontario’s government-owned utilities revealed their pensions to be unsustainable without deep subsidies from Canadian electricity customers. For every dollar that workers contribute toward their retirement, government-owned utilities now spend on average about four dollars, raised through electric bills—though the cost is even higher at some operations. The news is even bleaker at the federal level, where Canada faces more than $200 billion in total retirement debt for public workers, when the cost of future health-care promises made to public-sector workers is combined with pension commitments. One big problem is pension debt at Canada Post, whose budget is so strained that the federal government gave the mail service a four-year reprieve on making payments into its pension system, even though it’s already severely underfunded.

At the heart of Canada’s pension woes are some of the same forces that have helped rack up several trillion dollars in state and local pension liabilities in the United States. For years, Canadian governments have provided generous pensions at low costs to employees. Workers could earn full benefits while retiring in their mid-fifties, even as they lived longer. Politicians relied on optimistic assumptions about stock-market returns to justify those benefits. Governments were quick to grant additional benefits to politically powerful employee groups, but they underfunded pensions when budgets got tight.

Scheherazade / Gergiev · Vienna Philharmonic · Salzburg Festival 2005

Filed under: Media — Tags: — Nicholas @ 00:02

H/T to Ghost of a Flea for the link.

QotD: The media’s ability to “shape” the news

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

It is interesting to observe — in oneself — the power of media to implant false impressions on a lazy mind. I noticed this from listening to a television speech by Stephen Harper, after the terrorist event in Ottawa, yesterday. (Harper has now been Canada’s prime minister for almost nine years.) He was described as “shaken” by several of the websites I had consulted for news, and in quickly reviewing the tape of his short talk, I formed that impression myself. It was only when an American correspondent, who had perhaps missed this Canadian media prep, told me Harper did not look shaken to him, that I went back and watched the video again, this time paying close attention to his delivery in both English and French. I realized he was not shaken at all; that his pauses and swallows were characteristic, and would not have been noticed by anyone had he been speaking on any other subject.

[...]

What impressed me, was how easily I fell for the “media narrative” on Harper’s speech, simply by paying insufficient attention. At the back of my mind I was assuming there must be some truth in it, when I ought to be aware that the media specialize in analyses which contain no truth at all. When I am paying attention, with the benefit of my own long experience within the media, I am able to identify the game, and understand what the players are up to.

David Warren, “Ottawa in the news”, Essays in Idleness, 2014-10-23.

Older Posts »
« « Beware the stoner sheep!| Scheherazade / Gergiev · Vienna Philharmonic · Salzburg Festival 2005 » »

Powered by WordPress