Quotulatiousness

December 22, 2014

QotD: Celebrity gossip as a common good

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

Celebrity gossip is psychologically healthy.

It provides an outlet, a useful sublimation, of our self-destructive subconscious compulsion to lean over the back fence and cluck (or tweet) about the godawful things our relatives, friends, and neighbors do.

Celebrities are not our family. Although there are so many celebrities that we are probably related to some. But they’re not the niece looking daggers at us across the Thanksgiving turkey because of what we said to Uncle Bill about her hookup with that McDermott idiot. They’re not the daughter locked in her bedroom running up our Visa card bill with online shopping for new makeup, clothes, and other mall finds.

Celebrities are not our friends. They don’t borrow our money or power tools. They don’t forget it’s their turn to carpool the kids to junior high. They don’t come over when we’re busy watching The View and litter the kitchen table with used Kleenex, pouring their hearts out about their (remarkably frequent) divorces. They don’t get caught — unless Dean McDermott is late to the set for his televised therapy session on True Tori — necking with our spouses in the coat closet at our cocktail parties.

P.J. O’Rourke, “Welcome to Showbiz Sharia Law: No talent? Kind of dim-witted? No shame? Perfect. The celebrity industry needs you — just don’t ever veil your face”, The Daily Beast, 2014-05-04

December 21, 2014

QotD: The family as something to escape from

Filed under: Government, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:01

What many movement conservatives can’t or won’t understand is that for some of us, the “family” should not be the base unit of society, because it can just as easily be a locus of evil as for good.

To many people, the “world” is a haven from a heartless family.

I am forever bowled over by my Jewish friends’ affection (or at least, infinite tolerance) for their families. When one of them suggested that I set up some kind of enterprise with “a trusted family member,” I reminded him that, being a gentile, I have no trusted family members.

The idea of wanted to increase one’s ties to one’s relatives rather than snip them as quickly and permanently as possible is utterly foreign to me.

Radical leftists are half-right in wanting to reduce each individual’s forced reliance upon their families for lifelong security and prosperity. They went wrong when they held up the State as a replacement. You can always, if you absolutely have to, kill your family. But the State is, at the end of the day, immortal and a million times more powerful.

Kathy Shaidle, “Christopher Lasch was one of those pseudo-conservative writers, like Chesterton, Buckley and Burke, who left me cold”, Five Feet of Fury, 2014-05-13

December 20, 2014

QotD: When it’s steam engine time

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

Ridcully poked at his pipe with a pipe cleaner and said, “Ye-es, that is a conundrum. Surely the steam engine cannot happen before it’s steam-engine time? If you saw a pig, you would, I think, say to yourself, well, here’s a pig, so it must be time for pigs. You wouldn’t question its right to be there would you?”

“Certainly not,” said Lu-Tze. “In any case, pork gives me the wind something dreadful. What we know is that the universe is never-ending story that, happily, writes itself continuously. The trouble with my brethren in Oi Dong is that they are fixated on the belief that the universe can be totally understood, in every particular jot and tittle.”

Ridcully burst out laughing. “Oh, my word! You know, my wonderful associate Mister Ponder Stibbins appears to have fallen into the same misapprehension. It seems that even the very wise have neglected to take notice of one rather important goddess … Pippina, the lady with the Apple of Discord. She knows that the universe, while it requires rules and stability, also needs just a tincture of chaos, the unexpected, the surprising. Otherwise it would be a mechanism — a wonderful mechanism, ticking away the centuries, but with nothing different happening. And so we may assume that the loss of balance will be allowed this time and the beneficent lady will decree that this mechanism might yield wonderful things, given a chance.”

“For my part, I would like to give it a chance,” said Lu-Tze. “Serendipity is no stranger to me. I know the monks have been carefully shepherding the world, but I rather think they don’t realize that the sheep sometimes have better ideas. Uncertainty is always uncertain, but the difficulty with people who rely on systems is that they begin to believe that nearly everything is in some way a system and therefore, sooner or later, they become bureaucrats.”

Terry Pratchett, Raising Steam, 2013.

December 19, 2014

QotD: The twin rise and fall of unions and manufacturing

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

Unions only help if the underlying economic situation is that the employer is able to charge a great deal more for the amount of product generated per worker-hour than the worker is getting — there is headroom for the worker’s wage to expand into while the manufacturer still makes a net profit. (If the manufacturer doesn’t make a net profit the business collapses and nobody gets paid.)

During the age that manufacturing nostalgisists remember nostalgically, this was true. For most of that period (roughly 1870-1970), the capital goods required to manufacture in a way price-competitive with the U.S. were so expensive that almost nobody outside the U.S. could afford them, and in the few places that could they were mainly preoccupied with supplying their domestic markets rather than the U.S. World War II prolonged this period by hammering those “few places” rather badly.

In that environment, U.S. firms could profit-take hugely, benefited by being scarce suppliers not just to the U.S. but (later on) to the whole world. And unions could pry loose enough of that margin to make manufacturing jobs comfortably middle-class.

All that ended in the early 1970s. A good marker for the change is the ability of the Japanese to make cheap cars for export and sell them for the U.S.

In the new world, the profit margins on manufactured goods narrowed dramatically. The manufacturing firms could no longer effectively ignore overseas competition in the U.S. domestic market. U.S. consumers no longer had to to pay the large price premiums required to sustain domestic manufacturing wages at pre-1970 levels, and they jumped right on that option.

In this environment, unions don’t help because they have almost no negotiating room. If they bid up workers’ wages, the jobs will evaporate or move overseas – not because corporations are being “greedy” but because they can no longer charge the prices that would allow such high wages to be sustained. Too much foreign labor and capital is ready to pounce on the first hint of price-taking.

Eric S. Raymond, “Why labor unions have lost their moxie”, Armed and Dangerous, 2014-11-29.

December 18, 2014

QotD: Fear and fairy tales

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

The timidity of the child or the savage is entirely reasonable; they are alarmed at this world, because this world is a very alarming place. They dislike being alone because it is verily and indeed an awful idea to be alone. Barbarians fear the unknown for the same reason that Agnostics worship it – because it is a fact. Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.

G.K. Chesterton, “The Red Angel”, Tremendous Trifles, 1909.

December 17, 2014

QotD: The mark of a true-born nobleman

Filed under: Britain, Military, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Now, no one in my life that I could remember had ever been so damned civil to me, except toad-eaters like Speedicut who didn’t count. I found myself liking his lordship, and did not realize that I was seeing him at his best. In this mood, he was a charming man enough, and looked well. He was taller than I, straight as a lance, and very slender, even to his hands. Although he was barely forty, he was already bald, with a bush of hair above either ear and magnificent whiskers. His nose was beaky and his eyes blue and prominent and unwinking — they looked out on the world with that serenity which marks the nobleman whose uttermost ancestor was born a nobleman, too. It is I the look that your parvenu would give half his fortune for, that unrufflable gaze of the spoiled child of fortune who knows with unshakeable certainty that he is right and that the world is exactly ordered for his satisfaction and pleasure. It is the look that makes underlings writhe and causes revolutions. I saw it then, and it remained changeless as long as I knew him, even through the roll-call beneath Causeway Heights when the grim silence as the names were shouted testified to the loss of five hundred of his command. ‘It was no fault of mine,’ he said then, and he didn’t just believe it; he knew it.

George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman, 1969.

December 16, 2014

QotD: Gentlemen and politics

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

I do not say that a gentleman may not thrust himself into politics under democracy; I simply say that it is almost impossible for him to stay there and remain a gentleman … If he retains his rectitude he loses his office, and if he retains his office he has to dilute his rectitude with the cologne spirits of the trade … the man of native integrity is either barred from the public service altogether or subjected to almost irresistible temptations after he gets in.

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

December 15, 2014

QotD: The “purity” of Marx

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

You or I, upon hearing that the plan is to get rid of all government and just have people share all property in common, might ask questions like “But what if someone wants more than their share?” Marx had no interest in that question, because he believed that there was no such thing as human nature, and things like “People sometimes want more than their shares of things” are contingent upon material relations and modes of production, most notably capitalism. If you get rid of capitalism, human beings change completely, such that “wanting more than your share” is no more likely than growing a third arm.

A lot of the liberals I know try to distance themselves from people like Stalin by saying that Marx had a pure original doctrine that they corrupted. But I am finding myself much more sympathetic to the dictators and secret police. They may not have been very nice people, but they were, in a sense, operating in Near Mode. They couldn’t just tell themselves “After the Revolution, no one is going to demand more than their share,” because their philosophies were shaped by the experience of having their subordinates come up to them and say “Boss, that Revolution went great, but now someone’s demanding more than their share, what should we do?” Their systems seem to be part of the unavoidable collision of Marxist doctrine with reality. It’s possible that there are other, better ways to deal with that collision, but “returning to the purity of Marx” doesn’t seem like a workable option.

Scott Alexander, “Book Review: Singer on Marx”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-09-13.

December 14, 2014

QotD: The voyage of the Rogue

Filed under: Britain, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Years ago, when I was young and inexperienced, I hired a yacht myself. Three things had combined to lead me into this foolishness: I had had a stroke of unexpected luck; Ethelbertha had expressed a yearning for sea air; and the very next morning, in taking up casually at the club a copy of the Sportsman, I had come across the following advertisement:

    TO YACHTSMEN. Unique Opportunity. Rogue, 28-ton Yawl. Owner, called away suddenly on business, is willing to let this superbly-fitted “greyhound of the sea” for any period short or long. Two cabins and saloon; pianette, by Woffenkoff; new copper. Terms, 10 guineas a week. Apply Pertwee and Co., 3A Bucklersbury.

It had seemed to me like the answer to a prayer. “The new copper” did not interest me; what little washing we might want could wait, I thought. But the “pianette by Woffenkoff” sounded alluring. I pictured Ethelbertha playing in the evening — something with a chorus, in which, perhaps, the crew, with a little training, might join — while our moving home bounded, “greyhound-like,” over the silvery billows.

I took a cab and drove direct to 3A Bucklersbury. Mr. Pertwee was an unpretentious-looking gentleman, who had an unostentatious office on the third floor. He showed me a picture in water-colours of the Rogue flying before the wind. The deck was at an angle of 95 to the ocean. In the picture no human beings were represented on the deck; I suppose they had slipped off. Indeed, I do not see how anyone could have kept on, unless nailed. I pointed out this disadvantage to the agent, who, however, explained to me that the picture represented the Rogue doubling something or other on the well-known occasion of her winning the Medway Challenge Shield. Mr. Pertwee assumed that I knew all about the event, so that I did not like to ask any questions. Two specks near the frame of the picture, which at first I had taken for moths, represented, it appeared, the second and third winners in this celebrated race. A photograph of the yacht at anchor off Gravesend was less impressive, but suggested more stability. All answers to my inquiries being satisfactory, I took the thing for a fortnight. Mr. Pertwee said it was fortunate I wanted it only for a fortnight — later on I came to agree with him — the time fitting in exactly with another hiring. Had I required it for three weeks he would have been compelled to refuse me.

The letting being thus arranged, Mr. Pertwee asked me if I had a skipper in my eye. That I had not was also fortunate — things seemed to be turning out luckily for me all round — because Mr. Pertwee felt sure I could not do better than keep on Mr. Goyles, at present in charge — an excellent skipper, so Mr. Pertwee assured me, a man who knew the sea as a man knows his own wife, and who had never lost a life.
(more…)

December 13, 2014

QotD: Political careers

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

Out of the muck of … swinishness the typical American law-maker emerges. He is a man who has lied and dissembled, and a man who has crawled. He knows the taste of boot-polish. He has suffered kicks in the tonneau of his pantaloons.

He has taken orders from his superiors in knavery and he has wooed and flattered his inferiors in sense. His public life is an endless series of evasions and false pretences. He is willing to embrace any issue, however idiotic, that will get him votes, and he is willing to sacrifice any principle, however sound, that will lose them for him. I do not describe the democratic politician at his inordinate worst; I describe him as he is encountered in the full sunshine of normalcy.

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

December 12, 2014

QotD: Apple isn’t worth the same as Switzerland

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

It is true that Switzerland’s GDP is around $700 billion. But GDP is a measure of value added in a country in one year. That is, it’s the income of the place. Apple’s $700 billion valuation is the total value of the company: this is akin to wealth, not income. And of course the value of a stock is the net present value of all of the future income from it. So, that $700 billion for Apple is the current value (as the market estimates it) of everything that Apple will ever do in the future. The valuation of Switzerland, that $700 billion, is what the place made this year alone. Two very different numbers.

To get to something comparable for Apple we need to work out this year’s added value. A rough and ready definition of that is profits plus wages paid (this is approximately equal to the labour and profit shares in GDP which don’t quite equal total GDP but good enough for rough comparisons). Apple’s profits are around $40 billion, it employs a little under 100,000 people directly. Say each of those is paid $100,000 a year (obviously, some get very much more but when we add in the Genius Bar folks that might be reasonable enough as an average) which gives us another $10 billion. Not entirely accurate but reasonable enough to say that Apple’s value add, the equivalent of GDP, is some $50 billion.

When we go looking for a country at around that we find The Sudan and Luxembourg jointly on some $55 billion. And Luxembourg is some 400,000 people, and roughly half of the people in a country work (take out the kiddies, pensioners, housewives etc, roughly correct) giving us a Luxembourgois workforce of 200,000 people. 100,000 people in one of the most profitable companies on the planet produce about the same value as 200,000 rich world people in a country. OK, that’s impressive for Apple but it’s a much better indication of the company’s economic size than any other measure. It is, around and about, fair to say that Apple produces the same economic value as Luxembourg. […]

And to repeat the point at the top, we’re never going to really understand corporate power or the size of the corporate sector (or corporations) until we start to understand what these different numbers being bandied about as valuations and value of production etc really mean. Corporations really are very much smaller than countries: even the largest and most valuable of corporations is really only comparable to a city sized country. To give you a much better idea of the size of Apple relative to economic output of an area then Apple’s about the size of Raleigh, North Carolina, Omaha Nebraska, maybe, just maybe as large as Forth Worth, Texas, or Charlotte, North Carolina. Somewhere in that range at least. Or to use States, perhaps around Rhode Island or Maine.

Corporations just aren’t as large and economically powerful as some seem to think.

Tim Worstall, “Apple Isn’t Worth Switzerland But It Is Worth All The World’s Airlines”, Forbes, 2014-11-22.

December 11, 2014

QotD: Favourite expressions of the Emperor Augustus

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

“What about Apollo?” interrupted Vinicianus. “I never heard that Apollo was married. That seems to me a very lame argument.” The Consul called Vinicianus to order. It was clear that the word “lame” was intended offensively. But I was accustomed to insults and answered quietly: “I have always understood that the god Apollo remains a bachelor either because he is unable to choose between the Nine Muses, or because he cannot afford to offend eight of them by choosing the other as his bride. And he is immortally young, and so are they, and it is quite safe for him to postpone his choice indefinitely; for they are all in love with him, as the poet What’s-his-name says. But perhaps Augustus will naturally persuade him to do his duty by Olympus, by taking one of the Nine in honourable wedlock, and raising a large family — ‘as quick as boiled asparagus’.”

Vinicianus was silenced in the burst of laughter that followed, ‘quick as boiled asparagus’ was one of Augustus’s favourite expressions. He had several others: ‘As easily as a dog squats’ and ‘There are more ways than one of killing a cat’ and ‘You mind your own business, I’ll mind mine’ and ‘I’ll see that it gets done on the Greek Kalends’ (which, of course, means never) and ‘The knee is nearer than the shin’ (which means that one’s first concern is with matters that affect one personally). And if anyone tried to contradict him on a point of literary scholarship, he used to say: ‘A radish may know no Greek, but I do’. And whenever he was encouraging anyone to bear an unpleasant condition patiently he always used to say: ‘Let us content ourselves with this Cato’. From what I have told you about Cato, that virtuous man, you will easily understand what he meant. I now found myself often using these phrases of Augustus’s: I suppose that this was because I had consented to adopt his name and position. The handiest was the one he used when he was making a speech and had lost his way in a sentence — a thing that constantly happens to me, because I am inclined, when I make an extempore speech, and in historical writing too when I am not watching myself, to get involved in long, ambitious sentences — and now I am doing it again, you notice. However, the point is that Augustus, whenever he got into a tangle, used to cut the Gordian knot, like Alexander, saying ‘Words fail me, my Lords. Nothing that I might utter could possibly match the depth of my feelings in this matter.”

Robert Graves, Claudius the God, 1935.

December 10, 2014

QotD: Quality, innovation, and progress

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

Measured by practically any physical metric, from the quality of the food we eat to the health care we receive to the cars we drive and the houses we live in, Americans are not only wildly rich, but radically richer than we were 30 years ago, to say nothing of 50 or 75 years ago. And so is much of the rest of the world. That such progress is largely invisible to us is part of the genius of capitalism — and it is intricately bound up with why, under the system based on selfishness, avarice, and greed, we do such a remarkably good job taking care of one another, while systems based on sharing and common property turn into miserable, hungry prison camps.

We treat the physical results of capitalism as though they were an inevitability. In 1955, no captain of industry, prince, or potentate could buy a car as good as a Toyota Camry, to say nothing of a 2014 Mustang, the quintessential American Everyman’s car. But who notices the marvel that is a Toyota Camry? In the 1980s, no chairman of the board, president, or prime minister could buy a computer as good as the cheapest one for sale today at Best Buy. In the 1950s, American millionaires did not have access to the quality and variety of food consumed by Americans of relatively modest means today, and the average middle-class household spent a much larger share of its income buying far inferior groceries. Between 1973 and 2008, the average size of an American house increased by more than 50 percent, even as the average number of people living in it declined. Things like swimming pools and air conditioning went from being extravagances for tycoons and movie stars to being common or near-universal. In his heyday, Howard Hughes didn’t have as good a television as you do, and the children of millionaires for generations died from diseases that for your children are at most an inconvenience. As the first 199,746 or so years of human history show, there is no force of nature ensuring that radical material progress happens as it has for the past 250 years. Technological progress does not drive capitalism; capitalism drives technological progress — and most other kinds of progress, too.

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

December 9, 2014

QotD: The rise of the word “fuck” in common usage

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

During the first World war use of the four-letter word, as it is now called, became universal, or more probably its universal use was first observed by the literate classes. Between the wars the word was presented by writers in a modified form — mucking or flicking — or with its initial only: f—ing. Its use in full — fuck — now seems to be approaching literary, though not conversational, respectability.

A.J.P. Taylor, A History of England: England 1914-1945, 1961.

December 8, 2014

QotD: Talking about “rape culture”

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

So I am having a hard time getting my head around something. All week people have been calling me a “rape apologist” and “pro-rape.” I’m being constantly informed that I don’t understand “rape culture.” These often hysterical accusations tend to come from people who seem to understand rape culture the same way some people understand the geopolitics of Westeros or Middle Earth: They’ve studied it, they know every detail about it, they just seem to have forgotten it doesn’t exist.

Now, hold on. I certainly believe rape happens. And I definitely believe we have cultural problems that lead to date rape and other drunken barbarisms and sober atrocities. But the term “rape culture” suggests that there is a large and obvious belief system that condones and enables rape as an end in itself in America. This simply strikes me as an elaborate political lie intended to strengthen the hand of activists. There’s definitely lots that is wrong with our culture, particularly youth culture and specifically campus culture. Sybaritic, crapulent, hedonistic, decadent, bacchanalian: choose your adjectives.

What is most remarkable about our problems is that they seem to take people by surprise. For instance, it would be commonsense to our grandmothers that some drunk men will do bad things, particularly in a moral vacuum, and that women should take that into account. I constantly hear that instead of lecturing women about their behavior we should teach men not to rape. I totally, completely, 100 percent agree that we should teach men not to rape. The problem is we do that. A lot. Maybe we should do it more. We also teach people not to murder — another heinous crime. But murders happen too. That’s why we advise our kids to steer clear of certain neighborhoods at certain times and avoid certain behaviors. I’m not “pro-murder” if I tell my kid not to walk through the park at night and flash money around any more than I am pro-rape if I give her similar advice.

Of course, the problem is that feminists want to expunge any notion that women are gentler and fairer. This requires declaring war on chivalric standards for male conduct, which were once a great bulwark against caddish and rapacious behavior. Take away the notion that men should be protective of women and they will — surprise! — be less protective of women.

None of this means we’d all be better off with women in corsets on fainting couches. (I like strong, assertive women so much I married one. I’m also the son of one, and I’m trying to raise another.) But somehow feminists have gotten themselves into the position of adopting the adolescent male’s fantasy of consequence-and-obligation-free sex as an ideal for women. Uncivilized and morally uneducated men have, for millennia, wanted to treat women like sluts. And now feminists have embraced the word as a badge of honor. Call me an old-fogey, but I think that’s weird.

Jonah Goldberg, The Goldberg File, 2014-12-05.

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