Quotulatiousness

August 31, 2017

Words and Numbers: Do Americans still have freedom of speech?

Filed under: Economics, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Apparently, James and Antony have given up the YouTube version of Words and Numbers and reverted to an audio-only version (at least I can still embed the player version):

These days, everybody is nervous about what you can say in public without getting slammed by retribution. But is that a free-speech problem, or does it only become one when the police start showing up? Do we live in a truly tolerant society if voicing an opinion, even if it doesn’t land you in jail, ends up ending your career? Antony and James explore these intricate issues.

“Harvey is not Katrina”

Nicole Gelinas on the crucial differences between the situation faced by New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and that currently faced by Houston after being inundated by Hurricane Harvey:

The Houston region has received record rain, more falling in less than a week than it usually does in a year, and at least 30 people, including a Houston police officer, have died. Harvey, however, is not Katrina. One measure of this difference is in electricity provision. After Katrina, New Orleans was almost entirely without power for weeks. In Houston, by contrast, 94 percent of customers still had power as of early Wednesday.

Though we won’t know for sure for a while, the fact that Houston has kept the power on is likely in part a legacy of infrastructure investment after previous storms. Five years ago, Hurricane Ike actually cut power to 95 percent of Houston. But, as NPR reported after the storm, the city’s power company, CenterPoint, took steps after Ike, as well as after Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, to upgrade the grid, spending $400 million. Houston, helped by $50 million in federal money, cut down tens of thousands of trees along power lines and outfitted poles with the ability to re-route electricity away from damaged routes toward undamaged ones.

With power, hospitals can continue to operate; even Ben Taub Hospital, surrounded by water, kept the power on. Stores, too, have quickly begun to reopen. Power also means that people whose homes didn’t flood can stay put, lessening the burden on police to keep neighborhoods safe from looters. If the power stays on — as it should, now that worst of the storm is over — Houston should do well. If it goes out, the city will have far more serious problems.

[…]

Empty neighborhoods and business districts invite looting. Houston had already arrested 15 people as of late Tuesday for allegedly trying to steal everything from liquor to an ATM, and for attempted robbery, as well. These arrests, plus a nighttime curfew, are a good sign; after Katrina, New Orleans police officers failed to keep control over the city, both because of the severity of the damage, which left most of the city empty and dark, but also due to their longstanding poor performance. Harris County district attorney Kim Ogg and Houston police chief Art Acevado have already set the right tone to deter wrongdoing. Ogg said Tuesday that thieves “are going to feel the full weight of the law,” and Acevedo said he would push for tough sentences for people convicted. In New Orleans, by contrast, state and local officials’ apocalyptic invocation of “martial law,” rather than calm reliance on the rule of normal law, only exacerbated the sense of chaos.

With some, though not most, Houston neighborhoods now deserted, state law enforcement have a role to play here, as well, with federal support. A competent local police force will be busy, after a storm, in helping still-populated areas. In turn, state police and the National Guard, who have less experience interacting with people on a neighborhood level, can help by patrolling and securing empty areas. To that end, Texas has already activated the National Guard, adding 12,000 people to safety efforts, as well as for rescue and food distribution.

Oh, and as Caroline Baum points out, don’t be misled by idiotic claims that hurricane damage is somehow good for the economy:

You will no doubt hear assertions that the rebuilding effort will provide a boost to contractors, manufacturers and GDP in general. But before these claims turn into predictable nonsense about all the good that comes from natural disasters, I thought it might be useful to provide some context for these sorts of events.

The destruction wrought by a hurricane and flooding qualifies as a negative supply shock. Normal production and distribution channels are destroyed or disrupted. Producers have to find less-efficient (i.e. more expensive) ways to transport their goods. The net effect is lost output and income, and higher prices.

Over the years, I’ve observed a tendency among economists and traders to view such events through a demand-side prism. They see lost income translating into reduced spending on goods and services, which might even warrant some largesse from the central bank.

Of course, that is precisely the wrong medicine. Supply shocks reduce output and raise prices. The Federal Reserve’s interest-rate medicine affects demand. Lower interest rates will increase the demand for gasoline, among other goods and services, but they have no effect on supply. An easing of monetary policy under such circumstances would increase demand for already curtailed supply, raising prices even more.

But wait. What about all the new construction and investment necessitated by the devastation? Homeowners will have to rebuild. Businesses will have to replace destroyed or damaged plants and equipment. Pretty soon, we should start to hear about a boost to GDP growth.

In the short run, yes. But focus on the prefix, “re,” as in re-building and re-placing. After a natural disaster, housing starts are bound to increase, but there will be no net addition to the supply of homes. Capital spending will increase as well, but it will not expand the nation’s capital stock.

She also provides a link to this very topical essay by Frédéric Bastiat: That Which Is Seen and That Which Is Unseen. In short, we see the spending caused by the need to repair damages (in this case from the flooding), but we don’t see what might have been done if the money hadn’t needed to be spent just to replace existing stock.

“… as if millions of future lit-crit students suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced”

Filed under: Books, Britain, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The late Sir Terry Pratchett hatched a cunning plan to thwart the inchoate plans of uncounted would-be literary ghouls:

A hard drive containing the unfinished books of Terry Pratchett has been destroyed by a steamroller, in fulfilment of the late author’s last wishes.

The works were crushed by a vintage John Fowler & Co steamroller at the Great Dorset Steam Fair, ahead of the opening of a new exhibition about the author’s life and work. It is thought up to 10 incomplete novels were flattened.

Friend Neil Gaiman, with whom Pratchett cowrote Good Omens, had revealed in 2015 that Pratchett had instructed that he wanted “whatever he was working on at the time of his death to be taken out along with his computers, to be put in the middle of a road and for a steamroller to steamroll over them all”.

Pratchett’s former assistant Rob Wilkins tweeted that he was “about to fulfil [his] obligation to Terry”.

The hard drive will go on display as part of a major exhibition about the author’s life and work, Terry Pratchett: HisWorld, which opens at the Salisbury Museum in September.

The Dieppe raid and the failure of the Churchill tank

Filed under: Britain, Cancon, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 15 Oct 2010

The Dieppe Raid, also known as the Battle of Dieppe, Operation Rutter and, later, Operation Jubilee, was a Second World War Allied attack on the German-occupied port of Dieppe. The raid took place on the northern coast of France on 19 August 1942. The assault began at 5:00 a.m. and by 10:50 a.m. the Allied commanders were forced to call a retreat. Over 6,000 infantrymen, predominantly Canadian, were supported by a Canadian Armoured regiment and a strong force of Royal Navy and smaller Royal Air Force landing contingents. It involved 5,000 Canadians, 1,000 British troops, and 50 United States Rangers.

Objectives included seizing and holding a major port for a short period, both to prove that it was possible and to gather intelligence. Upon retreat, the Allies also wanted to destroy coastal defences, port structures and all strategic buildings. The raid had the added objectives of boosting morale and demonstrating the firm commitment of the United Kingdom to open a western front in Europe.

Virtually none of these objectives were met.

QotD: Standardized production versus customization

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

Standardization is the inevitable byproduct of industrialization. Yes, mass-market frocks do not fit as well as custom-made ones; yes, cabinets rolled out of factories by the thousands do not fit their owners as well as ones hand-made by your friendly local carpenter. That’s because the amount of additional labor required to customize handmade cabinets and sink installations to the height of the chef is trivial, and adds little to the cost of the job. On the other hand, stopping your assembly line and retooling to produce a different size adds quite a lot of cost. So does carrying multiple sizes of cabinets in inventory.

Arndt lightheartedly suggests going to customized kitchens, perhaps do-it-yourself ones. I suggest that Arndt price the tool kit that would be needed to make your own reasonably functional and attractive kitchen cabinets. Be sure to add in, too, the hours of labor that would be needed to do this, and the space you’d need in your home to build said cabinets. Go price custom cabinets, versus the one-size-fits-most available from Ikea or your local big box retailer. Compare these numbers. Suddenly you see why women happily embraced mass-produced kitchens that weren’t quite the ideal height.

Megan McArdle, “Kitchen Design Isn’t Sexist. It Liberated Women”, Bloomberg View, 2015-10-18.

August 30, 2017

“Houston is built on what amounts to a massive flood plain”

Filed under: Environment, Science, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

While nobody expects 50 inches of rain to fall in one storm, Houston is still badly situated to withstand flooding even from lesser weather events due to its location on a flood plain:

Houston is built on what amounts to a massive flood plain, pitted against the tempestuous Gulf of Mexico and routinely hammered by the biggest rainstorms in the nation.

It is a combination of malicious climate and unforgiving geology, along with a deficit of zoning and land-use controls, that scientists and engineers say leaves the nation’s fourth most populous city vulnerable to devastating floods like the one caused this week by Hurricane Harvey.

“Houston is very flat,” said Robert Gilbert, a University of Texas at Austin civil engineer who helped investigate the flooding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. “There is no way for the water to drain out.”

Indeed, the city has less slope than a shower floor.

Harvey poured as much as 374 billion gallons of water within the city limits, exceeding the capacity of rivers, bayous, lakes and reservoirs. Experts said the result was predictable.

The storm was unprecedented, but the city has been deceiving itself for decades about its vulnerability to flooding, said Robert Bea, a member of the National Academy of Engineering and UC Berkeley emeritus civil engineering professor who has studied hurricane risks along the Gulf Coast.

The city’s flood system is supposed to protect the public from a 100-year storm, but Bea calls that “a 100-year lie” because it is based on a rainfall total of 13 inches in 24 hours.

“That has happened more than eight times in the last 27 years,” Bea said. “It is wrong on two counts. It isn’t accurate about the past risk and it doesn’t reflect what will happen in the next 100 years.”

Some of the blame (a lot of the blame) for locating vulnerable properties in flood-prone areas is due to the US government’s flood insurance program:

Texans, watch out. An aftershock is following behind the catastrophic flooding produced by Hurricane Harvey in coastal Texas: The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is coming up for reauthorization.

The main lesson that the public and policymakers ought to learn from Harvey is: Don’t build in flood plains, and especially don’t rebuild in flood plains. Unfortunately, the flood insurance program teaches the exact opposite lesson, selling subsidized insurance whose premiums do not come close to covering the risks home and business owners in flood prone areas face.

As a result, the NFIP is currently $25 billion in debt.

Federally subsidized flood insurance represents a moral hazard, Kevin Starbuck, Assistant City Manager and former Emergency Management Coordinator for the City of Amarillo, argues, because it encourages people to take on more risk because taxpayers bear the cost of those hazards.

Federal Emergency Management Agency data shows that from 1978 through 2015, 3.8 percent of flood insurance policyholders have filed repetitively for losses that account for a disproportionate 35.5 percent of flood loss claims and 30.5 percent of claim payments, Starbuck says. Most of these properties were grandfathered in before the NFIP issued its flood insurance rate maps. The NFIP is not permitted to refuse them insurance or charge them rates based on the actual risks they face.

Clearly, taxpayers should not be required to subsidize people who choose to build and live on flood plains. When Congress reauthorizes the NFIP, it should initiate a phase-in of charging grandfathered properities premiums commensurate with their risks. This will likely lower the market values of affected homes and businesses and thus send a strong signal to others to avoid building and living in such risky areas.

James May loves airships! MORE EXTRAS – James May’s Q&A – Head Squeeze

Filed under: Germany, History, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 17 Mar 2013

You asked for it! In a previous episode of James May’s Q&A, James discussed the sad demise of the airship as a popular mode of transport. And during filming we literally couldn’t get him to stop talking about them! Clearly he loves airships and loves to talk about airships. A lot! Lucky for all you people we captured it all and can present it now as Exclusive Extended Extras on the rise and fall of airships.

Original clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ug5UafJFEYc

James May’s Q&A:
With his own unique spin, James May asks and answers the oddball questions we’ve all wondered about from ‘What Exactly Is One Second?’ to ‘Is Invisibility Possible?’

QotD: Democratic education

Filed under: Education, Quotations, Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… a passage transcribed from one of Étienne Gilson’s public lectures in the early 1950s, and let it be said that a man in the Deep South who signs himself N.W. Flitcraft, found it first. (He is here.) Gilson has been one of my own “heroes,” or guiding lights, these last few decades:

    “If our school system exists, not in view of a chosen minority, but in view of all, its average level should answer the average level of the population as a whole. Hence the unavoidable consequence that the best gifted among the pupils will be discriminated against. Nor should we imagine that creative minds will multiply in direct proportion to the growth of the school population. The reverse is much more likely to happen. In aristocratic societies, genius has often found access to higher culture, even under adverse circumstances; in democratic societies, it will have no higher culture to which to gain access. Since equality in ignorance is easier to achieve than equality in learning, each and every teacher will have to equalize his class at the bottom level rather than at the top one, and the whole school system will spontaneously obey the same law. It is anti-democratic to teach all children what only some of them are able to learn. Nay, it is anti-democratic to teach what all children can learn by means of methods which only a minority of pupils are able to follow. Since, as has been said, democracy stands for equality, democratic societies have a duty to teach only what is accessible to all and to see to it that it be made accessible to all. The overwhelming weight of their school population is therefore bound to lower the centre of gravity in their school systems. The first peril for democracies, therefore, is to consider it their duty, in order to educate all citizens, to teach each of them less and less and in a less and less intelligent way.”

Pause, gentle, then read that through again, until committed to memory. I cannot think of a better single-paragraph explanation of how John Dewey’s “democratic vistas” sent us all to hell. Verily, I wish I’d been armed with that when asked, some forty-six years ago, why I was leaving school with only a Grade X education (plus, to be fair to me, nearly one full term of Grade XI). It explains everything, in less than three hundred words.

David Warren, “Democracy versus God”, Essays in Idleness, 2015-11-10.

August 29, 2017

Inside A British Bristol Scout WW1 Airplane I THE GREAT WAR Special

Filed under: Britain, History, Military, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 28 Aug 2017

★★★★★ “Bristol Scout Rebuilding History” on Vimeo: http://bit.ly/BristolScoutVimeo ★★★★★

★★★★ “Bristol Scout Rebuilding History on DVD:
http://bit.ly/BristolScoutDVD ★★★★

In our first episode from Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome we talk with David Bremner about his Bristol Scout 1264 which is an exact copy of his granddad’s WW1 airplane that he flew on the Mesopotamian front.

The benefits and costs of an “open borders” policy

Filed under: Economics, Government, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

David Thompson linked to this Ben Sixsmith article on the pro and con arguments for open borders:

No one except a militant nativist would deny that some level of immigration is beneficial and should be accepted. After that, we face a question of scale. There are those, however, on the opposite end of the spectrum, who believe that no level of immigration should ever be denied. These are advocates of “open borders”; an idea as strange as that of the nativist — yet more dangerous for being considered respectable.

The liberal Economist magazine contains an essay promoting open borders. It imagines a world in which people are free to live and work wherever they please. It is an astonishingly biased and unreflective piece, which illuminates dangerous extremes of progressive utopianism:

Perhaps I sound inhuman. Who could dislike people living and working wherever they please? It can be a splendid thing, but if everybody did it think of what that would entail. The Economist reports that if borders were opened, 630 million people would be likely to migrate. Perhaps 138 million would go to the US, expanding its population by almost a half. About 42 million would join the British, expanding their numbers by more than a half. How many would go to Australia, a country with a population of 24 million, and with infrastructure already under strain? Such influxes would pose monumental demographic changes, soon made more dramatic by the higher birth rates. It will be exacerbated by the fact that local governments will not be able to keep up with the building of roads, hospitals, schools and transport systems that citizens — both old and new — will demand.

A commenter at David’s blog quips that “It’s amazing how quickly the Economist turned into the Guardian“, but The Economist began to go in that direction quite suddenly in the late 1990s … at least, that was the point I noticed and gave up my annual subscription. As The Economist generally does not use author bylines, it’s not clear whether the change was driven by editorial diktat or staff changes over time, but what used to be a pretty staunch free market newspaper (as they prefer to call themselves) turned into a British version of typical American “liberal” magazines.

As Sixsmith points out, the masses of would-be immigrants to the west are not an undifferentiated cultural mass with broadly similar cultural, educational, and demographic profiles:

But what of proposed merits of open borders? A consistent failure of the Economist’s article is a reluctance to distinguish between different migrants. If one finds the study, it turns out that 54% of the men and women who expressed a desire to migrate came from Africa and the Middle East — with another 20% being from Central America. Yet the most successful immigrants, in terms of launching businesses and earning wealth, have been found to hail from Asia and Europe. A UCL study found that European immigrants to Britain contribute more to the economy than they take from it while the opposite is true for non-European immigrants. It is senseless, then, to claim, as the author of The Economist article does, that immigrants are “more likely than the native-born to bring new ideas and start their own businesses”. Immigrants do not come from “Immigrantland”. Population differences related to entrepreneurial and earning potential are real, and significant, and difficult to bridge.

Tank Chats #17 Tiger I

Filed under: Germany, History, Military, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 1 Apr 2016

David Willey, The Tank Museum Curator and co-author of the Tiger Tank Owner’s Workshop Manual, presents this Tank Chat on the subject of the most famous tank in the Bovington collection – and perhaps the world – the German Tiger 1 from the Second World War, also known as Tiger 131.

QotD: The power of unions

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

Moreover, the ability of unions to raise the wages of some workers does not mean that universal unionism could raise the wages of all workers. On the contrary, and this is a fundamental source of misunderstanding, the gains that strong unions win for their members are primarily at the expense of other workers.

The key to understanding the situation is the most elementary principle of economics: the law of demand — the higher the price of anything, the less of it people will be willing to buy. Make labor of any kind more expensive and the number of jobs of that kind will be fewer.

Milton and Rose Friedman, Free to Choose, 1980.

August 28, 2017

Vikings edge 49ers 32-31 with last-second two-point conversion

Filed under: Football — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

For most teams, the third preseason game is a dress rehearsal for the regular season: they play their starters for the first half, getting in some good drives (ideally) and shutting down their opponents’ drives (also ideally). One of the teams playing in Minneapolis last night did both of those things, while the other team signally failed to do either. Unfortunately for the home fans, it was San Francisco’s starters who clearly outplayed the Vikings’ starters on both sides of the ball, and it wasn’t close.

The Vikings’ expensively retooled offensive line did not show well, and the 49er defence made them look almost as bad as last season’s collection of tackling dummies. Sam Bradford was under siege and that forced several check-down passes that failed to move the chains. Top wide receiver Stefon Diggs dropped two passes that would have secured first downs, and Dalvin Cook was not being given a lot of running room between the tackles. A few players did show up to play: Adam Thielen and Laquon Treadwell made some tough catches, but overall the starters made enough mistakes to ensure they were down 14 points at the end of the first half, and the starting defence seemed to be out-of-synch through two quarters as well. Defenders seemed to have a knack for getting in one anothers’ way, which created opportunities for 49er receivers and running backs. At one point two linebackers each ran the wrong way — almost colliding — effectively taking them both out of the play. The defensive backs also showed an inability to track receivers or to tackle them after the ball arrived. Safety Harrison Smith and corner Xavier Rhodes both made blatant mistakes in coverage, allowing key completions to San Francisco.

During the second half, backup quarterback Case Keenum was able to get the offence moving, eventually scoring two touchdowns (one to tight end Kyle Carter and the other to receiver Stacy Coley). Running back Jerick McKinnon helped shift momentum back to the Vikings after a terrible defensive breakdown led to a long San Francisco touchdown by returning the ensuing kickoff for a Vikings touchdown.

Finally, reportedly playing with a rib injury, third-string quarterback Taylor Heinicke put together the final drive of the game, finishing with a short rushing touchdown by Terrell Newby and then sealing the win with a quarterback scramble to score the two-point conversion right at the pylon. He certainly showed grit and determination, although his passes were not as accurate as usual (probably also due to his injury). The NBC announcers were quite impressed with Heinicke’s effort and even if he doesn’t make the Vikings roster, he certainly boosted his chances of making another team’s roster after cut-down.

Sexism in the original Star Trek

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Dave Leigh stands up for Gene Roddenberry:

… the most infamous case is in part a running gag throughout the series. It’s dictated in the Guide, runs the length of the series, and culminates in the final episode. And I’m pretty sure that very few people other than Gene Roddenberry himself knew that it was a running gag.

It’s sexism.

First… history. And this part is well-known. When the first pilot (“The Cage”) was delivered, Roddenberry cast his future wife, Majel Barrett, as “Number One”, the coldly logical second-in-command of the Enterprise. When the studio rejected that pilot and commissioned a second one, they made a few demands. They wanted to “get rid of the guy with the ears” (as Roddenberry told it). They also wanted to axe Number One, because they claimed that their test audiences didn’t like a woman as executive officer. For decades, Roddenberry told the joke that he kept the alien and married the woman because the other way ’round wouldn’t be legal. He also transferred Number One’s coldly logical nature to Mister Spock.

In the years that followed, many fans and critics completely forgot this story when examining the rest of the series. For instance, there’s the fact that the captain’s yeoman is always a pretty female. This is by decree. In fact, the Guide describes the character as follows:

    YEOMAN — Played by a succession of young actresses, always lovely. One such character has been well established in the first year, “YEOMAN JANICE RAND”, played by the lovely Grace Lee Whitney. Whether Yeoman Rand or a new character provided by the writer, this female Yeoman serves Kirk as his combination Executive Secretary-Valet-Military Aide. As such, she is always capable, a highly professional career girl. As with all female Crewman aboard, during duty hours she is treated co-equal with males of the same rank, and the same level of efficient performance is expected. The Yeoman often carries a small over-the-shoulder case, a TRICORDER, about the size of a small handbag, which is also an electronic recorder-camera-sensor combination, immediately available to the Captain should he be away from his Command Console.

In the real-world Navy, a yeoman is simply a clerk. Most of them are men. But in Star Fleet, this is women’s work, at least superficially. Note that in other respects these women were to be treated co-equally. What isn’t women’s work — ever (in the original series) — is the Captaincy. And this is stated explicitly in the very last episode of the series, “The Turnabout Intruder”.

Now, this has been retconned over and over, but this episode was deliberate, and it was conceived and outlined by Gene Roddenberry. By now you probably know that I don’t like retcons because they suck. They’re poor explanations that say, “it didn’t happen”. It’s better to explain why it did happen. And to do that, we have to start with an understanding of what Star Trek was for. It was first and foremost a platform for storytelling. Fantastic elements were readily employed whenever they served a storytelling need. It’s one of the strengths of science fiction:

    “I was working in a medium, television, which is heavily censored, and in contemporary shows I found I couldn’t talk about sex, religion, politics and all or the other things I wanted to talk about. It seemed to me that if I had things happen to little polka-dotted people on a far-off planet I might get past the network censors, as Swift did in his day. And indeed that’s what we did.”

    — Gene Roddenberry

Great Northern War – II: A Good Plan – Extra History

Filed under: Europe, History, Military, Russia — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 26 Aug 2017

The wrath of Charles XII was now aimed directly at Poland-Lithuania. But their leader had a plan! ..A terrible plan.

Augustus the Strong was determined to prove his might by defeated Charles XII on the battlefield. He gathered his Polish-Lithuanian forces, met the Swedes, and proceded to… lose. And lose. And lose. Then he got deposed and started a civil war which of course he also lost.

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