Quotulatiousness

February 24, 2015

A Victorian-era effort equivalent to a moon landing in the 20th century

Filed under: Americas,Britain,Cancon,History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

At sp!ked, Alexander Adams tries to put the Franklin Expedition into a context we can understand:

In May 1845, two Royal Navy ships, HMS Terror and Erebus, embarked from London on a voyage with ambitious aims. The mission would forge a passage through the partially mapped channels of northern Canada and pioneer the Northwest Passage. This route from Greenland to Alaska via the icy channels on the Arctic Circle would open new trading routes and allow vessels to forgo the dangerous and lengthy passage around Cape Horn. The attempt would use new technology pioneered in Britain — coal-fired engines powering propeller screws for locomotion, and tinned food.

The Admiralty decided on a large party in two ships under the command of Arctic veteran Sir John Franklin. Hostile conditions, the use of new technology, and — critically — operating beyond immediate assistance of the few trading forts and whaling stations to the south, meant the expedition was the equivalent of a Victorian-era moon landing. If men, supplies, technology, knowhow or leadership failed, then deaths could be expected. However, experience suggested that if the attempt met insurmountable obstacles there was a fair chance of retreating with only minor casualties, if leadership was decisive enough.

For the purposes of communication, the expedition was supplied with watertight brass tubes to hold written messages, to be left behind in coastal cairns. Provisions for three years were supplied, as it was expected that two overwinterings, locked in sea ice, would have to be borne. Without coal and food depoted ahead, and without a supply ship following the next season, the Admiralty’s plan left Franklin perilously reliant on his own resources.

[…]

It became plain, as search parties brought back the few clues, that 129 officers and men had died in the greatest single disaster in Arctic exploration. A rough outline became clear. All had started well but the ships had been woefully underpowered by their engines and relied on their sails. Much of the tinned food — produced by a contractor who was the lowest bidder — turned out to be rotten. A later expedition, using identical tins, discovered that much of their provisions were inedible. Some tins of meat included bone, which reduced the edible content to half of what it should have been. Loose beads of solder may have caused lead poisoning and inadequate preparation of tinned food may have given rise to cases of botulism. Franklin’s ships became beset during their second and third summers, rendering them prey to tidal movements in ice and leaving men dangerously short of supplies. Their margin for survival had been cut to a bare minimum, as evidence of a terse note (the only one ever found) demonstrates. The message said that Franklin had died and survivors were abandoning the ships to head south with rowing boats. It was an impossibly long journey for starving men. (One of those boats — with skeletons — was discovered.)

February 18, 2015

Maximilian von Spee I WHO DID WHAT IN WW1?

Filed under: Americas,History,Military,Pacific — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 16 Feb 2015

Vice Admiral Maximilian Reichsgraf von Spee is one of the most famous admirals of World War One. When the war broke out, he and his East Asian Squadron are stationed in the Pacific. But instead of surrendering to his superior enemies, he manages to reach South America during an audacious cruiser war. At the Battle of Coronel, he ends the legend of the invincible Royal Navy.

January 20, 2015

A tight squeeze indeed

Filed under: Americas,Military,USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 07:42

The USS Iowa crosses the Panama Canal at Miraflores Lock near Panama City, Panama Wednesday, March 28, 2001.  At 108.2 feet wide, the Iowa-class battleships are the largest vessels ever to scrape their way through the 110-foot-wide locks of the canal. They were designed so that they could just fit through the waterway. (AP Photo/Tomas Munita)

The USS Iowa crosses the Panama Canal at Miraflores Lock near Panama City, Panama Wednesday, March 28, 2001. At 108.2 feet wide, the Iowa-class battleships are the largest vessels ever to scrape their way through the 110-foot-wide locks of the canal. They were designed so that they could just fit through the waterway. (AP Photo/Tomas Munita)

H/T to Tyler Rogoway, who has a few other photos of Iowa-class battleships moving through the Panama canal.

January 14, 2015

“This is what happens when you let the half-wits take charge of economic policy”

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

Tim Worstall on the very sad economic plight of Venezuela:

As times go on the stories about how far and how fast the economy of Venezuela has fallen apart become ever more dramatic. They now actually have the Army, seriously, the armed forces, guarding food supplies. And the police are handing out toilet paper. We can just about imagine such things happening in the wake of some massive natural disaster, the levee breaks, the hurricane comes ashore, but not as day after day activity as something normal for the nation. But there has been no natural disaster in Venezuela, this is just the result of some years of idiot socialism. What makes it all so tragic is that there was and is another way to achieve the stated aim: making the poor better off. And when we consider what we might want to do to make the poor better off we’d better pay attention to this, admittedly extreme, example.

[…]

Sure, Venezuela’s an oil exporter, sure the price of oil has fallen. But this isn’t what happens in a commodity producer when the exports fall in price. This is what happens when you let the half-wits take charge of economic policy for a nation. Actually, in Venezuela, calling them half-wits is probably a mite too polite.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong at all with the intention of making the poor better off. Indeed, I share that aim: that’s why I’m this capitalist free marketeer type, as it’s the only socio-economic system we’ve ever had that has made the poor substantially better off for any period of time. However, there are good ways and bad ways of going about doing this and if we want to succeed in our aim, in the US, of making the poor better off then we’d do well to pay attention.

The short answer is don’t screw with the market.

December 26, 2014

Normalizing US relations with Cuba

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

The United States has been in a Cold War state of tension with one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere for half a century. The benefits of this strategy are hard to find (and harder to justify), but the drawbacks are pretty stark. The recent move by the Obama administration to move to more normal diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba may be driven by short-term petty political considerations, but the move is correct and rational on the larger scale. In The Federalist, Tom Nichols tries to talk the conservative base in off the window ledge by pointing out that there’s a strong conservative case as well:

Okay, everyone. Calm down.

There are a lot of reasons to be worried about the president’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba. Not least among them is that this is the least-adept foreign policy team in post-Cold War history (yes, I include the Carter and Bush 43 White Houses in that evaluation), and after six years of being taken to the cleaners by bad regimes, it feels like it’s happening again. It also looks too much like a quid pro quo for the release of an imprisoned American. And it’s being rationalized by the president himself in terms that show little understanding of the origins of the entire policy he’s about to overturn.

With all of that said, it’s still the right thing to do, and conservatives oppose it at their political peril.

Before we go any farther, however, what exactly are we actually talking about? To judge from the reaction of some conservatives, President Obama just proposed to send Fidel Castro a personal masseuse in a bikini stuffed with hundred-dollar bills. The fact of the matter is, we don’t know what will come from this, other than “normalization:” that is, the ability to establish an embassy, carry on diplomatic relations, and negotiate over trade. Congress — dominated by Republicans for the next two years — will have a large say in how all of that proceeds. So it’s important to maintain some perspective here, especially since there is only so much the president can do by fiat.

[…]

First and foremost, conservatives need to think carefully about the argument that Cuba is simply too evil a country to have a relationship with us. There is a moral “whataboutism” trap in that position, and liberals will gladly (and rightly) spring it. Many of the people thundering that we cannot even think of dealing with the Castros are the same conservatives who celebrate our massive, and utterly immoral, trade relations with China, a nominally Communist giant whose human rights abuses and mischief in the world dwarf Cuba’s.

Is our indulgence on China only because China is huge? Very well: I also note no similar outrage over our healthy relationship with much smaller Vietnam, a country in which American boys were killed and tortured, often with Chinese weapons and Chinese assistance. Other examples abound.

Yet we normalized relations with both nations. How many of us are wearing clothing with a “made in Vietnam” label right now? (I still can’t get used to that.) Think of it this way: all that cheap junk at your local department store eventually funds nuclear missiles aimed directly at the United States. Are we all ready for a China boycott and closing our Beijing embassy, or is moral outrage reserved only for small nations too broke to buy their way out of our condemnation, however justifiable?

November 1, 2014

November 1, 1914 – The Battle of Coronel

Filed under: Americas,Britain,Military,Pacific — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:20

A hundred years ago today, the Royal Navy lost the Battle of Coronel to Vice Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee’s squadron of armoured and light cruisers off the coast of Chile. Rear Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock was killed along with 1,570 men when HMS Monmouth and HMS Good Hope were sunk. Public reaction was furious: blame was cast on the Admiralty and especially on the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill. The British public fiercely believed that any British ship was more than a match for any foreign vessel, and losing two ships while inflicting no serious damage on the enemy was scandalous.

In the Plymouth Herald, Tristan Nichols explains why Plymouth in particular took the news so badly:

TODAY the figure is hard to comprehend. On November 1, 1914, just months after the start of World War One, the Royal Navy lost two warships and nearly 1,600 lives in the South Atlantic.

The outcome of ‘The Battle of Coronel’, as it would become known, sent shockwaves across Britain, not least Plymouth.

HMS Monmouth was one of the two British cruisers involved in the battle 40 nautical miles off the coast of Chile.

She was Devonport-based and Plymouth-manned.

And every one of the 735 men on board the cruiser died on the cold and stormy seas.

Hundreds more were lost on the other Royal Navy vessel, the Portsmouth-based HMS Good Hope.

The German squadron saw just three men injured during the battle.

The build-up, battle, and ultimate demise of the 4th Cruiser Squadron during that fateful day reads like a film script.

Rear Admiral Sir Christopher (Kit) Cradock led the Royal Navy squadron to hunt down and destroy the feared German East Asia Squadron.

Both sides had reportedly only been expecting to meet a solitary cruiser – but fate would play its hand.

Rear Admiral Cradock, leading two British armoured cruisers, was up against two German armoured cruisers, and a further three light cruisers.

He was reportedly given orders to engage with the enemy, despite outlining his concerns at being outnumbered and outgunned.

According to the history books the two British armoured cruisers were inferior in every respect.

Follow orders he did, and it led to a devastating outcome for the proud British squadron.

It’s not quite as clear that Cradock followed all of his orders, as Churchill had specifically instructed him to keep the old battleship HMS Canopus with his squadron at all times until a modern armoured cruiser, HMS Defence, was able to join him (Defence, however, had been recalled part-way to the Falklands). Instead, Cradock had detached Canopus to defend the coaling station in the Falkland Islands before crossing into the Pacific, headed toward Valparaiso. Without Canopus, Cradock was totally out-gunned by von Spee’s ships.

Wikipedia reports a Canadian connection with the battle:

The Coronel Memorial Library at Royal Roads Military College, now Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada was named in honour of the four Canadian midshipmen who perished in HMS Good Hope at the Battle of Coronel.

Update: The Royal Canadian Navy is marking the anniversary.

The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) will mark the Battle of Coronel on November 1st. This battle saw the first Canadian military casualties of the First World War, and the first ever casualties in the history of the RCN. RCN personnel serving today salute the following shipmates from the past:

  • Midshipman Malcolm Cann, 19, of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia;
  • Midshipman John V. W. Hatheway, 19, of Fredericton, New Brunswick;
  • Midshipman William Archibald Palmer, 20, of Halifax, Nova Scotia; and
  • Midshipman Arthur Wiltshire Silver, 20, of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

All four RCN midshipmen died in the Battle of Coronel, which took place on November 1, 1914 off the coast of central Chile near the city of Coronel.

October 30, 2014

“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.

October 5, 2014

Jeremy Clarkson riles up Argentinian car fans

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

For a change, it isn’t anything he said:

Top Gear‘s crew has had to abandon their cars at the roadside and flee Argentina after being pelted with stones. The incident happened after it emerged they were using a vehicle with a number plate that apparently refers to the Falklands War.

A Porsche with the registration number H982 FKL, which some people suggested could refer to the Falklands conflict of 1982, was among those abandoned. BBC bosses have said the number plate was merely a coincidence and was not chosen deliberately, but it led to protests in Argentina, including a demonstration by a group of war veterans who protested outside the hotel used by the show team.

[…]

The executive producer of Top Gear, Andy Wilman, said: “Top Gear production purchased three cars for a forthcoming programme; to suggest that this car was either chosen for its number plate, or that an alternative number plate was substituted for the original, is completely untrue.”

Even if Wilman is dissembling about the license plate … just how flipping sensitive do you have to be to object to a sort-of abbreviation, in a foreign language, in the characters on a license plate? Who would ordinarily notice or care what the license plate may or may not hint at, unless someone is busy trying to stir up trouble? That said, Top Gear thrives on controversy, so it’s quite possible that they hoped they’d draw some attention, but probably not to the extent of being forced out of the country.

Update: Clarkson is now accusing the Argentine government of setting a trap for the Top Gear film crew.

The presenter was said to have infuriated locals by driving through South America in a Porsche with the numberplate H982 FKL, seen as a goading reference to the 1982 Falklands conflict.

However, Clarkson said the plate was “not the issue” — he claimed it was an unfortunate coincidence and that he removed it two days into the trip — and blamed the state government for orchestrating an ambush by mobs armed with pickaxe handles, paving stones and bricks.

“There is no question in my mind that we walked into a trap,” Clarkson said.

“We were English (apart from one Aussie camera guy and a Scottish doctor” and that was a good enough reason for the state government to send 29 people into a night filled with rage and flying bricks.”

He claimed the crew were “plainly herded into an ambush” and said: “Make no mistake, lives were at stake.”

[…]

The team were confronted at their hotel by a group claiming to be war veterans.

“Richard Hammond, James May and I bravely hid under the beds in a researcher’s room while protesters went through the hotel looking for us,” Clarkson said.

They then fled by plane to Buenos Aires — having “rounded up the girls” on the team — leaving the rest of their crew behind.

The crew were forced to make a gruelling six-hour trek to the Chilean border, abandoning the Porsche and their camera equipment at the side of the road.

September 18, 2014

QotD: The Columbus Myth

Filed under: Americas,History,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Another example that I have encountered repeatedly is the Columbus myth, the belief that the difference between Columbus and those who argued against his voyage was that he knew the world was round and they thought it was flat. It is a widely believed story, but it is not only false, it is very nearly the opposite of the truth. A spherical earth had been orthodox cosmology ever since classical antiquity. The difference between Columbus and his critics was that they knew how big around the earth was, they knew how wide Asia was, they could subtract the one number from the other, hence they could calculate that he would run out of food and water long before he got to his intended destination. Columbus, in contrast, combined a much too small estimate for the circumference of the earth with a much too large figure for the width of Asia in order to convince himself that the difference was a short enough distance to make his planned voyage possible.

Why is this wildly ahistorical account so widely believed? Because it lets moderns feel superior to all those ignorant people in the past.

I could offer other examples of the same pattern, beliefs about people in the past inconsistent with the historical evidence, based on and supporting the unstated assumption of our superiority to them. It is the same motive that makes men believe they are superior to women, women that they are superior to men, Americans that they are superior to foreigners, Frenchmen that they are superior to everyone. Feeling superior feels good, and the less likely you are to confront the people you feel superior to, the easier it is to maintain it.

Men often meet women, women men, Americans foreigners, Frenchmen non-French, which can be a problem. Believing in your superiority to people long dead is safer.

David Friedman, “A Modern Conceit”, Ideas, 2014-09-16.

July 10, 2014

Argentina’s economic woes – tourist edition

Filed under: Americas,Economics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:56

How bad is the Argentinian economy right now? So bad that middle class Argentine tourists in Brazil eat at soup kitchens, according to the Wall Street Journal‘s Miriam Jordan:

The state-funded Citizen Restaurant in downtown Rio is accustomed to serving a balanced meal at an unbeatable price to about 5,000 poor residents of this city each day. During the World Cup, however, this cafeteria has been catering to another clientele as well: middle-class Argentines.

“We serve homeless people, drug addicts, blue-collar workers and retirees,” said Jose Barbosa, Rio de Janeiro state coordinator for food security. “This World Cup we have been welcoming Argentine soccer fans, too.”

With the value of the Argentine peso deeply eroded amid the country’s economic woes, many Argentines who have flocked here to root for their soccer team […] say they’re counting every Brazilian real they spend — and hunting for bargains. On Monday, dozens of Argentines lined up alongside Brazilians to buy lunch at the cafeteria, where a meal of black beans, white rice, salad and choice of meatballs or chicken sausage cost 1 real, or about 40 U.S. cents.

“Rio is very expensive — that’s why I am here,” said Fernando Castillo, a 24-year-old bartender from Buenos Aires. With gusto, he dug into his plate of food, which sat on a plastic-blue tray beside a cup of guava juice and a fresh orange for desert, both included in the price. “This is perfect,” he said, “especially at this price.”

“The generous portion keeps us filled all day,” added his cousin, Thomas Castillo.

[…]

To save on accommodations and flights, many Argentines drove to Brazil. In Rio, their campers and cars occupied prime beachfront parking spots until the city evicted them.

It then allowed them to park vehicles and pitch tents in a vast parking lot downtown that abuts the permanent bleachers where Rio’s samba schools perform during the annual carnival celebrations.

Word spread quickly at these parking lots that Citizen Restaurant, within walking distance of the Argentine encampment, offered good Brazilian fare at a bargain-basement price in a clean, safe environment. “It started with 10 of them one day, then 50 of them came and now we’re seeing about 200 Argentines each day,” said Ricardo Chaves, the eatery’s administrator.

July 9, 2014

Thoughts on the “blitzkreig of Belo Horizonte”

Filed under: Americas,Europe,History,Soccer — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 14:59

Colby Cosh, self described as having descended from “multiple generations of German-killers” explains why he’s content with Brazil’s soccer disaster at the hands of the German national team yesterday:

It’s already being called “The Mineiraço. Yesterday’s 7-1 slaughter of Brazil by Germany in the semifinals of the World Cup seemed an awful lot like a historical turning point, and the political ripples are already being discussed. Perhaps they are not even confined to Brazil, although the recriminations there are bound to be awesome: the government spent untold billions on a golden stage for Brazilian glory, and ended up with the sporting equivalent of the Challenger disaster, if Challenger had crashed intact into a packed stadium where the Pope was giving a homily.

What seems most remarkable to me is not the match itself but the prelude. I grew up in a colony of Anglo-Saxon Soccer World in which Germany was inevitably cast as a cartoon villain and Brazil was everybody’s second favourite national side. Brazil were what Canada fancies itself to be in hockey: the native “speakers” of the prestige dialect of the game — a national noblesse, possessing self-conscious power to establish, dictate, and impose its ideal form on lesser breeds. (Even Canadian children who played soccer were dimly aware of this: the rich ones would signify their coolness by wearing Brazil kit to practices, as I’m sure Bulgarian youth hockey players must signify to their mates by flaunting expensive Crosbiana.)

[…]

Anglo Soccer World seemed to be very much leaning toward Germany in the run-up to the Mineiraço. No doubt this is partly because we are getting ever further from the Second World War. Germany has been mostly tame, friendly, and progressive for 70 years, the Biblical specification of a human lifetime. The length of this period is approaching the duration of the trouble to which German hyper-German-ness subjected Europe between the Battle of Sedan and the Holocaust. It is hard to see any lingering trace of the old ills of the German national character in contemporary Germany.

Update: Compare the responses to yesterday’s game to the reaction after the 1954 West German team’s victory:

… the West German victory was hardly something that was welcome elsewhere in Europe, particularly to the authorities in East Berlin. Less than ten years after the end of a world war for which the Germans were held responsible, there was understandably little public enthusiasm in Britain and France at the outcome of the competition. Nonetheless the extent of the dismay and even vitriol at the time expressed in the media of both countries requires further explanation and points to deep-seated concerns in Britain and France about the speed of German economic recovery and re-armament in the mid-1950s.

For the East German regime, West Germany’s victory at the World Cup was the worst possible outcome. Communist leaders had been praying for a Hungarian win in order to prove the much-claimed ‘superiority of socialist sport’ and, by implication, the Communist form of government. Hungary’s defeat appeared to prove that the opposite was true, just at a time when East German leaders were trying to promote their state as the ‘progressive option’ for all Germans, as opposed to what they called the ‘Nazi successor state’ of the Federal Republic.

[…]

It was two events off the pitch – one immediately after the final and the other a few days later – that were to give ammunition to those keen to link the West German victory to allegations of resurgent German nationalism. First, as a rain-soaked Fritz Walter led his team up to collect the Jules Rimet trophy from the man whose name it bore and a Swiss band played the German national anthem, a boozy section of the German fans began singing the banned first verse of the national anthem – ‘Deutschland, Deutschland, über alles’ rather than the Federal Republic’s officially sanctioned third verse – ‘Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit’ (unity, justice and freedom). Foreign journalists present immediately took note.

A few days later the damage was compounded by a speech given at the official victory celebration in a Munich beer cellar by the President of the German Football Association (Deutscher Fussball-Bund), ‘Peco’ Bauwens. In an atmosphere heavy with alcohol and emotion, Bauwens – who had joined the Nazi Party as early as 1933 – told the reportedly bemused players not only that they had been inspired by the spirit of the Nordic God, Wotan, but that victory had been made possible by their adherence to Der Führerprinzip. By this he appears to have meant unflinching obedience to a strategy worked out by the coach, Josef (Sepp) Herberger. The speech, which was being broadcast live by Bavarian Radio, was mysteriously cut short at this point and the tapes subsequently lost, but foreign reporters monitoring the coverage had already heard enough.

July 7, 2014

QotD: The mother of mediocrity is the university

Filed under: Americas,Bureaucracy,History,Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Why, almost everywhere you look, should such mediocrity triumph?

Of course, if mediocrity has not triumphed throughout the Western world, there is nothing to explain. There is, after all, no need to search for the origins of the nonexistent. But let us suppose that there is such a trend to mediocrity, a manifestation of which is bureaucratization: What can explain it? (Here I should mention that we should not get too exercised about definitional matters: Words should be used as precisely as possible, but not more precisely than possible. We know what a cloud is without being able to define its limits.)

The explanation lies in the expansion of tertiary education. Earlier in my life I used to think that this was unequivocally a good thing: The more educated a population, the better. But length of education, or attendance at supposedly educational establishments, is not the same thing as education itself. But in the modern world, where governments have to demonstrate tangible progress to their electorates, length of education and education are confounded.

Guerrilla movements in the last half-century or so in Latin American countries, seeking to establish totalitarian utopias, were caused by the expansion of tertiary education, not by peasant discontent. The graduates of that education — many of them, at any rate — found after obtaining their diplomas that the only work available to them, if any at all, was beneath their new status as educated person, a status that formerly would have entitled them to both respect and an important position in society. If they found work, it was work that they could have done without having gone to university. Bitter disappointment and resentment was the natural consequence.

We in the developed Western world do not have guerrilla movements, at any rate to a significant extent. Our equivalent is the bureaucracy that administers increasingly politically correct regulations. In this way people who have gone to the considerable trouble of obtaining a tertiary education that is of value to them neither vocationally nor intellectually may avenge themselves upon an unjust world, though their anger can’t be assuaged, being the only thing that gives meaning to their lives.

Thus, the mother of mediocrity is the university.

Theodore Dalrymple, “Triumph of the Mediocre”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-01-19.

June 25, 2014

Mexico’s champion crony capitalist

Filed under: Americas,Economics,Government — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:31

I don’t read the various financial magazines’ regular fanboi coverage of multi-billionaires, so I wasn’t all that aware of the fabulous wealth of Mexico’s Carlos Slim. Slim is one of the richest men in the world, but he doesn’t owe his success to technical innovation or outstanding business skills … he owns the Mexican telephone market thanks to a sweetheart “privatization” deal he got from his good friend in the Presidential palace back in 1990. In other words, his fortune largely derives from his ability to skim off vast profits from a captive customer base. Steve Sailer rounds up some interesting snippets about Slim, including a bit from French economist and current media darling Thomas Piketty:

Andres Oppenheimer wrote for PBS:

    Mexico in the early nineties was similar to American capitalism in the late 1870s. Azcarraga, Slim, and Hernandez were not much different from railroad and steel magnate Andrew Carnegie or oil trader John D. Rockefeller. Like the American “Robber Barons” of their time, the Mexico Twelve were making a fortune from their close partnership with the government. And to their immense relief, Mexico was not contemplating anything like the 1890 Sherman Anti-Trust Act, which had broken up U.S. monopolies through forced sell-offs.

In return, Salinas demanded at a private dinner party on February 23, 1993 that Slim and Mexico’s other 29 oligarchs donate $25 million each to the ruling party’s campaign war chest, a total of $750 million. Oppenheimer notes:

    Telecommunications magnate Slim … supported the motion, adding only that he wished the funds had been collected privately, rather than at a dinner, because publicity over the banquet could “turn into a political scandal.”

Now, you might think that there is something unseemly about a regular contender for the title of World’s Richest Man making his fortune off the relatively small Mexican economy. We’re constantly told that Mexicans have to be allowed to flock to America to escape starvation in their own land. Yet one well-connected monopolist is permitted to pile up an enormous trove by charging exorbitant fees for the lifeblood of any economy, communications.

A 2006 article in the New York Times pointed out:

    The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an association of wealthy countries based in Paris, reports that Mexicans pay some of the highest phone rates in the world, with calls costing 50 percent more than the group’s average. Forbes reported that the average monthly phone bill for a small business in Mexico is $132, compared with $60 in the United States.

Slim epitomizes the toll taken on the Mexican economy by monopolists:

    As a result, said Mr. Ortiz of the Bank of Mexico, economic growth is one percentage point less than it could be with real competition. There are not enough jobs to keep workers from migrating to the United States …

Piketty, however, is offended by how Slim

    … is often described in the Western press as one who owes his great wealth to monopoly rents obtained through (implicitly corrupt) government favors…

(Slim, himself, has been proactive about improving his press coverage: in 2008 he financially bailed out the New York Times and is now the newspaper of record’s second-biggest owner. Not surprisingly, Slim, who profits lavishly off long distance calls between illegal immigrants in America and their loved ones in Mexico, doesn’t get mentioned much in the Times’ vociferous denunciations of immigration skeptics.)

Piketty, in his inimitable prose style, explains that criticizing Slim is a mistake, if not downright racist:

    Rather than indulge in constructing a moral hierarchy of wealth, which in practice often amounts to an exercise in Western ethnocentrism, I think it is more useful to try to understand the general laws that govern the dynamics of wealth—leaving individuals aside and thinking instead about modes of regulation, and in particular taxation, that apply equally to everyone, regardless of nationality.

In other words, rather than the citizens of Mexico using the rule of law to break up Slim’s monopoly, as Americans did with Rockefeller’s, the important thing is for readers of Capital to take global control.

What could possibly go wrong in Piketty’s planetary empire?

June 16, 2014

FIFA and the World Cup

Filed under: Americas,Bureaucracy,Football — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:29

H/T to Roger Henry for the link.

June 14, 2014

Spain meets Nemesis (wearing Netherlands team jerseys)

Filed under: Americas,Soccer — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 09:51

I didn’t watch this game, but apparently I missed quite the event. A Dutch friend of mine took to Twitter to express his joy through the course of the game:

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