May 26, 2017

A Brief History of Politicians Body-Slamming Journalists

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

Published on 25 May 2017

In the twilight hours of a special election to replace Montana’s lone congressman, Republican hopeful Greg Gianforte reportedly “body slammed” and punched a Guardian reporter after the journalist tried to ferret out an answer about GOP health care plans. In this video Reason TV imagines a world in which other, high profile politicians give into violent impulses when confronted by the press.

Polls opened in Montana less than twenty-four hours after Gianforte’s confrontation with Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, and his subsequent assault charge. In the event that Mr. Gianforte is elected to Congress there is a reasonable chance he will interact with more journalists in the future, and possibly even have to formulate responses to Republican legislation at some point.

Written by Andrew Heaton, Austin Bragg, and Meredith Bragg
Performed by Andrew Heaton and Austin Bragg
Produced by Meredith Bragg and Austin Bragg

German Bombers Over Britain – Arab Revolt On The Advance I THE GREAT WAR Week 148

Filed under: Europe, France, History, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 25 May 2017

This week 100 years ago, Germany is flying concentrated bomber attacks with multiple Gotha bombers on British cities – causing more damage than any Zeppelin raid before. In the Middle East, T.E. Lawrence and his allies from the Arab Revolt are on the march while on the Western Front, the last battles of the Nivelle Offensive come to an end.

Toronto-London high speed train plan – “many Ontarians wouldn’t trust the Liberals to see an HO-scale model of this plan to fruition on time or on budget”

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Railways — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Chris Selley discusses the weak-but-barely-plausible high speed train plans announced by the Ontario government the other day:

High-speed rail is expensive — to build, certainly, and more on that shortly, but just as importantly to ride. It’s 202 kilometres from Le Mans to Gare Montparnasse in Paris. The first TGV of the morning takes 58 minutes — total average speed, 208 km/h — and will set you back €45. It’s 180 kilometres from Frankfurt’s Hauptbanhof to Cologne’s Hauptbanhof. The 7:27 a.m. ICE train takes 65 minutes — average speed: 167 km/h — and Deutsche Bahn wants €60 for the privilege. Brussels to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport is 195 kilometres. The Thalys will get you there in 92 minutes tomorrow morning, at a relatively modest average speed of 127 km/h and for the eye-watering sum of €82.

This is the sort of distance Ontario’s Liberal government says it plans to cover with high-speed rail — from Union Station in Toronto to London via Pearson Airport, Guelph and Kitchener-Waterloo. A report and “preliminary business case” by former federal transport minister David Collenette, released Friday, envisions 185 kilometres of track with a maximum speed of 300 km/h in one scenario and 250 km/h in the other, and by 2025.

The London-to-Toronto trip would take 66 minutes in the faster scenario and 73 in the slower, for a total average speed of between 152 and 168 km/h. Either would represent genuine high-speed rail, and it would come at genuine high-speed rail prices: somewhere between $4 billion and $11 billion under the 250 km/h scenario; somewhere between $15 billion and $44 billion at 300 km/h.


So it’s a bit of a conundrum for the Liberals. This is a big offer — just the sort of thing people in the GTA say they want when they come back from Cologne, Paris and Amsterdam. It ought to be a reasonably compelling plank of an election platform.

But many Ontarians wouldn’t trust the Liberals to see an HO-scale model of this plan to fruition on time or on budget. It’s vulnerable to the sort of grievance-mongering and populism that sometimes makes it hard to tell a New Democrat from a Tory these days. We haven’t even gotten into the technical details. And ultimately, I’m just not really convinced people want this to happen as much as they say they do — not unless it’s free, and stops just the right distance from their back yards.

On the technical details, here’s a very brief overview from a post I wrote several years back, at the time California was beginning their insane high speed rail project:

The best place to build a high speed rail system for the US would be the Boston-New York-Washington corridor (aka “Bosnywash”, for the assumed urban agglomeration that would occur as the cities reach toward one another). It has the necessary population density to potentially turn an HSR system into a practical, possibly even profitable, part of the transportation solution. The problem is that without an enormous eminent domain land-grab to cheat every land-owner of the fair value of their property, it just can’t be done. Buying enough contiguous sections of land to connect these cities would be so expensive that scrapping and replacing the entire navy every year would be a bargain in comparison.

The American railway system is built around freight: passenger traffic is a tiny sliver of the whole picture. Ordinary passenger trains cause traffic and scheduling difficulties because they travel at higher speeds, but require more frequent stops than freight trains, and their schedules have to be adjusted to passenger needs (passenger traffic peaks early to mid-morning and early to mid-evening). The frequency of passenger trains can “crowd out” the freight traffic the railway actually earns money on.

Most railway companies prefer to avoid having the complications of carrying passengers at all — that’s why Amtrak (and VIA Rail in Canada) was set up in the first place, to take the burden of money-losing passenger services off the shoulders of deeply indebted railways. Even after the new entity lopped off huge numbers of passenger trains from its schedule, it couldn’t turn a profit on the scaled-down services it was offering.

Ordinary passenger trains can, at a stretch, share rail with freight traffic, but high speed trains cannot. At higher speeds, the actual construction of the track has to change to deal with the physical problem of safely guiding the fast passenger trains along the rail. Signalling must also change to suit the far-higher speeds — and the matching far-longer safe braking distances. High speed rail lines cannot be interrupted with grade crossings, for the safety of passengers and bystanders, so additional bridges and tunnels must be built to avoid bringing road vehicles and pedestrians too close to the trains.

In other words, a high speed railway line is far from being just a faster version of what we already have: it would have to be built separately, to much higher standards of construction.

A noteworthy historical “Oh, shit!” moment

Filed under: Books, History, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Catallaxy Files, a guest post on a most butt-puckering “Oh, shit!” from long ago:

My favourite Oh Shit moment of all time occurred a while ago. On the 4th of September 401 BC to be exact. At dawn.

Cyrus the brother of the Persian Emperor wanted to knock him off and take the throne. He had plenty of local soldiers, but to add some oomph he hired about 13,000 Greek mercenaries. Many of these were Athenians down on their luck after their city lost the Peloponnesian Wars. The Greek hoplites were the Abrams tanks of the day. Unstoppable.

The Battle of Cunaxa saw Cyrus and his brother face off. It was going reasonably well for Cyrus’s guys – the Greeks routed their Persian opponents. But then Cyrus spotted the Emperor and his guard. According to Xenophon he then took his bodyguard of 600 heavy cavalry off and attacked the Emperor’s 6,000. Cyrus went all in – he personally attacked his brother and wounded him. But in doing so he received a javelin just under one eye and expired.

Which brings us to dawn next morning. The Greeks had no idea that their paymaster had suffered a quite unsuccessful death or glory moment, until the news arrived just then.

The Persians, having sorted out their differences, were now united into a huge army under Artaxerxes the Emperor. Which left the small matter of the Greek mercenary force deep inside the Persian Empire and surrounded by a vast horde of very unhappy Persians.

Oh shit.

The story of their escape back to Greece is awe inspiring and amazing. Well worth reading. Xenophon’s Anabasis is available free from Project Gutenberg at the link.

Puzzle of Growth: Rich Countries and Poor Countries

Filed under: China, Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 16 Feb 2016

Throughout this section of the course, we’ve been trying to solve a complicated economic puzzle — why are some countries rich and others poor?

There are various factors at play, interacting in a dynamic, and changing environment. And the final answer to the puzzle differs depending on the perspective you’re looking from. In this video, you’ll examine different pieces of the wealth puzzle, and learn about how they fit.

The first piece of the puzzle, is about productivity.

You’ll learn how physical capital, human capital, technological knowledge, and entrepreneurs all fit together to spur higher productivity in a population. From this perspective, you’ll see economic growth as a function of a country’s factors of production. You’ll also learn what investments can be made to improve and increase these production factors.

Still, even that is too simplistic to explain everything.

So we’ll also introduce you to another piece of the puzzle: incentives.

In previous videos, you learned about the incentives presented by different economic, cultural, and political models. In this video, we’ll stay on that track, showing how different incentives produce different results.

As an example, you’ll learn why something as simple as agriculture isn’t nearly so simple at all. We’ll put you in the shoes of a hypothetical farmer, for a bit. In those shoes, you’ll see how incentives can mean the difference between getting to keep a whole bag of potatoes from your farm, or just a hundredth of a bag from a collective farm.

(Trust us, the potatoes explain a lot.)

Potatoes aside, you’re also going to see how different incentives shaped China’s economic landscape during the “Great Leap Forward” of the 1950s and 60s. With incentives as a lens, you’ll see why China’s supposed leap forward ended in starvation for tens of millions.

Hold on — incentives still aren’t the end of it. After all, incentives have to come from somewhere.

That “somewhere” is institutions.

As we showed you before, institutions dictate incentives. Things like property rights, cultural norms, honest governments, dependable laws, and political stability, all create incentives of different kinds. Remember our hypothetical farmer? Through that farmer, you’ll learn how different institutions affect all of us. You’ll see how institutions help dictate how hard a person works, and how likely he or she is to invest in the economy, beyond that work.

Then, once you understand the full effect of institutions, you’ll go beyond that, to the final piece of the wealth puzzle. And it’s the most mysterious piece, too.


Because the final piece of the puzzle is the amorphous combination of a country’s history, ideas, culture, geography, and even a little luck. These things aren’t as direct as the previous pieces, but they matter all the same.

You’ll see why the US constitution is the way it is, and you’ll learn about people like Adam Smith and John Locke, whose ideas helped inform it.

And if all this talk of pieces makes you think that the wealth puzzle is a complex one, you’d be right.

Because the truth is, the question of “what creates wealth?” really is complex. Even the puzzle pieces you’ll learn about don’t constitute every variable at play. And as we mentioned earlier, not only are the factors complex, but they’re also constantly changing as they bump against each other.

Luckily, while the quest to finish the wealth puzzle isn’t over, at least we have some of the pieces in hand.

So take the time to dive in and listen to this video and let us know if you have questions along the way. After that, we’ll soon head into a new section of the course: we’ll tackle the factors of production so we can further explore what leads to economic growth.

QotD: The coming of the sexbots

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

Recently I saw online a documentary on sex robots. The reporteress, a short-haired woman seething with quiet indignation, Viewed With Alarm the very idea. Progress is rapid on these love assistants, she said. They move. Some do, anyway. They talk, but not too much. Before long they will have skin-temperature silicone. Today we have all those deplorable men sitting home, lonely and isolated, choking their chickens and pondering suicide. Soon they will instead be rocking and rolling with Robo-Barbie. This worried her. She said.

If this be true, then why, one wonders, do men want sexbots? Aren’t there already women all over the place at skin temperature? Sez me, it’s because women have lived too long in a monopoly economy and so let down quality. It used to be that men had jobs and money, and women had that, so they married to let each get some of what the other had. The woman had to be agreeable as a selling point. Now women have jobs and don’t need men, or to be pleasant. Some are nice anyway, but it’s no longer a design feature. Of course they often end up old and alone with a cat somewhere on upper Connecticut Avenue, but they don’t figure this out until too late. Anyway, they stopped being agreeable. They learned from feminists that everything wrong in their lives was the fault of men.

It is a real problem: American women are inoculated from birth with angry misandry insisting that men are dolts, loutish, irresponsible, and only want sex. (To which a response might be, “Uh…What else have you got?”)


OK, back to sexbots. The short-aired reporteress wondered why men could be interested in such confections instead of real women, the tone being one of elevated moralism and horror. Beneath the usual factitious objectivity one could hear, “How could…what is wrong with….?” and so on.

In the documentary, the short-haired reporteress talked to an ugly anti-sexbot crusader woman who said testily that using sexbots “objectified women.” (To me it sounded more like womanizing objects, but never mind.) These two dragons continued to the effect that sex was about intimacy and closeness and bonding. I wondered how they knew. But understand: They weren’t worried about competition. Oh no. They wanted to preserve intimacy and bonding. They were worried about those poor miserable men.


In modern America I see no sign that women are concerned about masculine misery, and indeed that most of them rather like the idea.

Fred Reed, “Sally Cone Hits the Dating Scene”, The Unz Review, 2017-05-11.

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