Quotulatiousness

April 25, 2017

Cultural appropriation of “poverty culture” in the Tiny House Movement

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

Ann Althouse linked to this older article by July Westhale on “Poverty Appropriation”:

How many folks, I wonder, who have engaged in the Tiny House Movement have ever actually lived in a tiny, mobile place? Because what those who can afford homes call “living light,” poor folks call “gratitude for what we’ve got.”

And it’s not just the Tiny House Movement that incites my discontent. From dumpster diving to trailer-themed bars to haute cuisine in the form of poor-household staples, it’s become trendy for those with money to appropriate the poverty lifestyle — and it troubles me for one simple reason. Choice.

The Tiny House Movement began in the ’90s, but has only been rising in popularity since the recession. And to be fair, it’s rooted in a very real problem: more and more people being displaced as a result of soaring housing costs, especially in tech-boom areas like the Bay Area.

[…]

It’s likely, from where I sit, that this back-to-nature and boxed-up simplicity is not being marketed to people like me, who come from simplicity and heightened knowledge of poverty, but to people who have not wanted for creature comforts. For them to try on, glamorize, identify with.

Such appropriation isn’t limited to the Tiny House trend, or even to the idea of simplicity. In major cities, people who come from high-income backgrounds flock to bars and restaurants that both appropriate, and mock, low-income communities. Perhaps the most egregious example is San Francisco’s Butter Bar, a trendy outpost that prides itself on being a true-blue, trailer park-themed bar, serving up the best in “trashy” cuisine and cocktails. With tater tots, microwaved food, and deep-fried Twinkies on the menu, the bar also serves cocktails that contain cheap ingredients, such as Welch’s grape soda. The bar has an actual trailer inside, and serves cans in paper bags, so that bar flies can have a paid-for experience of being what the owners of this bar think of when they think of trailer trash.

Butter Bar in San Francisco (Credit: Facebook)

It’s but one example of an entire hipster movement — can it be called a movement when it’s a subculture rooted not in political consciousness, but in capitalism? — that has brought with it an ethos of poor-culture appropriation and the “re-invention” of things that have largely been tools of survival for poor, disabled, working class, and/or communities of color for decades.

April 24, 2017

Today’s study in “problematic” issues for Teen Vogue

Amy Alkon fisks a recent Teen Vogue piece on soi-disant “cultural appropriation”:

Silly Teen Vogue-ers, Fashion *Is* Appropriation

This bit — from Teen Vogue — is hilariously sad and sadly hilarious:

    In our new column Don’t Do It Girl, Jessica Andrews explores the cultural appropriation epidemic at Coachella.

EPIDEMIC! Like AIDS, Zika, or Ebola!

Fashion always has been about appropriation. Appropriating style and appropriating culture. Those lace-up-the-ankle sandals? Ancient Rome!

Yet, do you see Italian kids mewling that you stole their culture? Of course not, because Italians, generally speaking, are exuberant people who really know how to live life.

Meanwhile, back here in America…

The kids growing up now, especially in the United States, are the freest people in human history — both as individuals and through the technology that removes the drudgery that’s been a constant companion for humans throughout the ages.

Naturally, their response to all this unparalleled freedom is to try to control other people’s behavior.

Fashion policing, in this case. Here, from Andrews story on that EPIDEMIC of appreciation:

    Even when people feign ignorance, there’s little excuse. In the past, I’ve worn a Pocahontas costume for Halloween. It’s a mistake I regret, and I’ll never do it again knowing how hurtful it is.

Oh, please. I grew up Jewish. If you pretend to be a character from Fiddler on the Roof, should I take to bed and cry for a few days?

    With appropriation being such a huge conversation these days…

So much talk…so little reasoning

    Like fashion, appropriative hairstyles are now ubiquitous at Coachella. Cornrows or box braids are not a “hot new festival trend”; black women have been wearing them for centuries. When outlets cover the hairstyle as if it started with Kylie Jenner, it’s not appreciation; it’s erasure. Those celebratory headlines are yet another reminder that black hairstyles are only acceptable when they’re removed from actual black people.

Do you need to be high to write for Teen Vogue? It’s a fucking hairstyle. Women wear it because they think it will look good on them. If they’re white with dark hair, they’re probably wrong (nothing like rows of scalpage showing through to make a woman’s head remind us of freshly plowed fields). Women with big honking faces like mine don’t look so hot in them, either.

    Unbeknownst to some Coachella attendees, there’s a stigma associated with cornrows and braids when black people wear them.

Unbeknownst to a fucking lot of us, I’d guess.

April 23, 2017

QotD: Unthinking conservative support for the police fuels the public’s growing distrust

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

Here is what conservatives do not understand — they did this. The hatred you see for cops in this country? It is all on them. They are the cause behind modern hatred of American police officers because while cops were taking kids on nickle rides and were beating suspects with hoses; were mistreating inner city blacks in a fashion conservative whites would never have allowed should it have occurred in their own neighborhoods; were torturing suspects and beating bartenders in Chicago; were shooting dogs to death for no reason and skating due to horrifying laws that shield them from any sort of consequence for their actions, those same conservatives were bowing and scraping and licking the boots of every police officer who happened to come walking by. Then, when one, random cop gets pistol whipped and claims that this was the fault of all who dared to criticize his profession, suddenly conservatives work themselves into a spittle inflected frenzy that they could not seem to manage when cops were doing far worse to their fellow citizens.

Where was the howling right-wing outrage when a cop beat a woman in a bar and his buddies tried to protect him from rightful consequences? Where was this conservative anger and angst when marines, those wonderful soldiers that conservatives adore so very much, were killed during ridiculous no-knock SWAT raids that, in a legitimately free society, never should have even been conducted?

They were nowhere — they did not say a word, they hardly cared. When black and Hispanics were provably tortured by the police, they hardly cared. When marines were killed, there was not a peep from the right and we had to rely on those evil anti-American progressives and libertarians to even discuss the matter.

And then they have the audacity to criticize me for daring to be too mean to the poor widdle boys and girls of our national constabulary. Well, respectfully, I don’t feel too bad about criticizing cops and attacking the unreasonable and often criminal actions of American police officers, and I will continue whether or not I have the permission of National Review or The Blaze or any other conservative media outlet. Maybe one day, if conservatives actually begin to care about the ‘small government’ ideals they’re constantly babbling about but never exercising, they’ll join me in my protest against illegitimate police activity. Until that day, though, I will continue to assume that conservatives are all talk and bluster and mindless blather, and that they don’t actually give a good Goddamn about any of the ideals they pretend to hold.

J.R. Ireland, “Cops Deserve Rightful Criticism No Matter What Whiny, Boot Licking Conservatives Might Like to Pretend”, Locust Kings, 2015-08-20.

April 22, 2017

It’s silly to criticize any president for their travel and security expenses

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

Earlier this week, Kevin Williamson lamented critics both on the right and on the left for misguided complaints about the costs of the presidency:

The Obama administration represented a great missed opportunity for conservatives, because conservatives spent so much time criticizing him for the wrong things. It’s not that there wasn’t serious criticism of the president’s thinking and his policies (see eight years worth of this magazine, for starters) but much of the popular/populist criticism was pretty dumb: He plays too much golf, he takes too many vacations, his family spends too much money on fancy hotels and resorts, etc. Some of these stupid criticisms were made in a similarly stupid fashion by similarly stupid people for similarly stupid reasons when George W. Bush was president.

A lot of those stories went something like: “Heavens, it costs $x for the Obamas to spent six days at Martha’s Vineyard!” But that $x is generally misleading, inasmuch as it costs tons of money to keep Air Force One staffed and prepped and ready to fly irrespective of whether the president actually is traveling in it, and we pay those Secret Service (the name of that agency is odious) agents irrespective of whether the president is in the White House or Hawaii. It isn’t lobster tails and upgrades at the Ritz that really drive the cost of presidential travel expenditures: It is the presidency itself.

The presidential entourage is bloated and monarchical, and it is an affront to our republican traditions. But “even if his household entourage does resemble the Ringling Bros. Circus as reimagined by Imelda Marcos when it moves about from Kailua Beach to Blue Heron Farm,” the cost of operating the presidential household is small beans in the context of federal spending. It just doesn’t matter — it is boob bait for Bubba.

Now, we’re getting the same thing about Trump. It costs $x for him to keep moving about from Trump Tower to the White House to Mar a Lago. Some have tried to make hay out of the fact that some $500,000 in Trump campaign funds (not tax dollars, contrary to some claims) has been paid out to Trump-affiliated companies. This is deeply silly criticism: If there is a campaign event at a Trump hotel or another property, then of course the campaign has to pay for it: If it does not, then the Trump Organization almost certainly is making an illegal political donation to the Trump campaign. Trump did not write the rules.

(They’d probably be a hell of a lot worse if he had.)

April 21, 2017

Trump “doesn’t actually have any sort of coherent large-scale vision”

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Charlie Martin discusses what really drives Donald Trump and why the media is so hard-pressed to pin him down:

The confusion here is rooted in trying to figure out what Trump’s convictions are, what his foreign policy is. This inevitably goes astray, because Trump doesn’t actually have any firm convictions, at least along those lines. He can be in favor of and against gun control; be against the government being involved in healthcare and in favor of a government single-payer system; be opposed to bombing Syria and okay with Tomahawk cruise missiles striking Syrian airbases—because he doesn’t actually have any sort of coherent large-scale vision or any particular ideals about the human condition.

He’s a salesman. What he cares about is the Deal. He even says it outright: his autobiographical business book is called The Art of the Deal.

If you want to understand salesmen, the best start is to watch the famous “Always Be Closing” speech from Glengarry Glen Ross.

“Always Be Closing” is not David Mamet’s invention, it’s an observation. It was the advice given to salesmen back at least into the ’60s when I was reading sales training materials that my grandfather had for the salesmen that worked selling pianos and appliances in the family business. (Yes, I actually will read anything.) It’s the advice given to salespeople now.

“Always Be Closing” means everything you do should be in the service of getting the deal, getting a signature and a check.

Whatever else one may think of Trump, you have to admit that Trump is a master salesman. Look at the campaign, where he took various positions — expel Muslims, deport Mexicans, or well, maybe not all Muslims, and Mexicans are mostly wonderful people — one after another, clearly responding to the reaction. Always Be Closing: he made sure his positions got him closer to closing the deal on the presidency. Did it matter that he contradicted himself? No! Concerns about things like that weren’t helping him close the deal.

The oddly appropriate subtext to New York’s “Fearless Girl” statue

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

In the New York Post, Nicole Gelinas points out that Mayor De Blasio has set a precedent that might well come back to bite the city (the example she cites would be “Black Lives Matter protesters want a statue of police brutalizing a black man in front of One Police Plaza”. She also explains why the statue highlights an uncomfortable detail about the role of women on Wall Street:

The “Fearless Girl” statue faces the Arturo Di Modica “Charging Bull” on Wall Street (Wikipedia)

But the bigger problem with Fearless Girl is that it casts stereotypes in bronze: Men do important things, and women get in the way.

The bull is the primary actor: He is charging. The girl’s job is to impede him. This is how Wall Street has long worked — and it’s changing, but slowly.

Take the management committee of State Street’s parent company. Of its 14 members, two are women. One, the chief administrative officer, is a top regulatory official. The other is the human-resources chief and “citizenship officer.”

On Goldman Sachs’ 33-member management committee, five of our women — at least four of whom are in similar, growth-restraining positions.

Yes, growth-restraining: These are great jobs and require deep skill. But they’re bureaucratic rather than entrepreneurial. If a department head — a man — wants to start up a new unit, it’s the regulatory experts who will say, no, you can’t.

Similarly, a trading head may want to hire someone — but the human-resources chief nixes it.

Indeed, the area of “compliance” — which sounds like an S&M activity but has to do with ensuring that the bank and its employees don’t launder money, steal or do other bad things — is where women have done well.

[…]

This work is necessary. A company can’t grow if it’s convicted of money-laundering or if its employees are thieves (in theory).

But it’s also the depressing age-old relationship: A man wants to do something fun and cool, like take the children paragliding before they’ve had a proper breakfast. His wife says, “But honey, the kids have band practice today, and maybe we should save the money for the mortgage.”

Fearless Girl fails in another way. It’s terrific to have courage and fight important battles. But it’s not a good idea — for men, women or children — to be recklessly fearless.

Fear is a good thing. If a bull is charging you, according to the farming manuals, the best thing to do is what you instinctively do: get out of the way. If you don’t pick your battles, you’ll lose them.

QotD: Male sexuality

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

What I’m saying is that male sexuality is extremely complicated, and the formation of male identity is very tentative and sensitive – but feminist rhetoric doesn’t allow for it. This is why women are having so much trouble dealing with men in the feminist era. They don’t understand men, and they demonize men. They accord to men far more power than men actually have in sex. Women control the sexual world in ways that most feminists simply don’t understand.

My explanation is that second-wave feminism dispensed with motherhood. The ideal woman was the career woman – and I do support that. To me, the mission of feminism is to remove all barriers to women’s advancement in the social and political realm – to give women equal opportunities with men. However, what I kept saying in Sexual Personae is that equality in the workplace is not going to solve the problems between men and women which are occurring in the private, emotional realm, where every man is subordinate to women, because he emerged as a tiny helpless thing from a woman’s body. Professional women today don’t want to think about this or deal with it.

The erasure of motherhood from feminist rhetoric has led us to this current politicization of sex talk, which doesn’t allow women to recognize their immense power vis-à-vis men. When motherhood was more at the center of culture, you had mothers who understood the fragility of boys and the boy’s need for nurturance and for confidence to overcome his weaknesses. The old-style country women – the Italian matriarchs and Jewish mothers – they all understood the fragility of men. The mothers ruled their own world and didn’t take men that seriously. They understood how to nurture men and encourage them to be strong – whereas current feminism simply doesn’t perceive the power of women vis-a-vis men. But when you talk like this with most men, it really resonates with them, and they say “Yes, yes! That’s it!”

Currently, feminists lack sympathy and compassion for men and for the difficulties that men face in the formation of their identities. I’m not talking in terms of the men’s rights movement, which got infected by p.c. The heterosexual professional woman, emerging with her shiny Ivy League degree, wants to communicate with her husband exactly the way she communicates with her friends – as in Sex and the City. That show really caught the animated way that women actually talk with each other. But that’s not a style that straight men can do! Gay men can do it, sure – but not straight men! Guess what – women are different than men! When will feminism wake up to this basic reality? Women relate differently to each other than they do to men. And straight men do not have the same communication skills or values as women – their brains are different!

Camille Paglia, interviewed by David Daley in “Camille Paglia: How Bill Clinton is like Bill Cosby”, Salon, 2015-07-28.

April 20, 2017

Words & Numbers: Hypocritical Partisans Pass Political Power

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 19 Apr 2017

This week, Antony and James are equal-opportunity offenders, discussing the way power not only changes hands from one party to another, but support for political ideas flips back and forth as well. Neither the right nor the left is immune to this kind of hypocrisy.

Learn more:
https://fee.org/articles/hypocritical-partisans-pass-political-power/

April 19, 2017

A graphical representation of the difference between the US federal deficit and the debt

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

In USA Today, Jon Gabriel shows why it’s important to know the difference between a deficit and a debt, especially when discussing the US federal government:

It’s an imperfect analogy, but imagine the green is your salary, the yellow is the amount you’re spending over your salary, and the red is your credit card statement. Then tell your spouse, “Don’t worry, dear, I just increased our debt ceiling with a new Visa card!”

The chart is brutally bipartisan. Debt increased under Republican presidents and Democratic presidents. It increased under Democratic congresses and Republican congresses. In war and in peace, in boom times and in busts, after tax hikes and tax cuts, the Potomac flowed ever deeper with red ink.

Our leaders like to talk about sustainability. Forget sustainable — how is this sane?

Yet when any politician hesitates before increasing spending, he’s portrayed as a madman. When Paul Ryan, R–Wis., offered a thoughtful plan to reduce the debt over decades, he was pushing grannies into the Grand Canyon and pantsing park rangers on the way out.

I’m sure that my chart will be criticized. A few on the right will say it’s too tough on the GOP while those on the left will claim it doesn’t matter or it’s all a big lie.

Wonks will say the chart should be weighted for this variable and have lines showing that trend. All are free to create their own charts to better fit their narrative, and I’m sure they will. But the numbers shown can’t be spun by either side.

All the figures come directly from the federal government, and math doesn’t care about fairness or good intentions. Spending vastly more than you have, decade after decade, is foolish when done by a Republican or a Democrat. Two plus two doesn’t equal 33.2317 after you factor in a secret “social justice” multiplier.

And my chart doesn’t mention future projections due to exploding entitlements, which Trump didn’t touch. Turn to the much scarier Congressional Budget Office chart for that.

QotD: Hubris and Nemesis, or pride goeth before the fall

Filed under: Europe, Germany, History, Military, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Few things are more likely to precede defeat than the conviction that you are on the verge of victory. One hundred years ago, in the spring of 1917, Germany had every reason to believe that it would triumph over its enemies in the First World War. France had been bled white in repeated attacks on the German army’s fortified lines, England was suffering from shortages of both munitions and military manpower, and Russia was descending into a revolution that would, within a year, enable Germany and its Austro-Hungarian allies to shift enormous numbers of troops and guns to the Western Front. Yet the entry of the United States into the war on April 6, 1917, proved to be the counterweight that shifted the balance. By the autumn of 1918, the fond hope of Germany victory had been exposed as a delusion. The ultimate result of the Kaiser’s war was the destruction of the Kaiser’s empire, and of much else besides.

What is true in war is true also in politics. Hubris is nearly always the precedent to unexpected defeat. In 1964, Lyndon Johnson won a landslide victory; less than four years later, LBJ could not even win his own party’s nomination for re-election. In 1972, Richard Nixon was re-elected in a landslide; less than two years later, he was forced to resign from office. More recently, after George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election, some imagined that this victory was the harbinger of a “permanent Republican majority” — a GOP electoral hegemony based on a so-called “center-right” realignment — but two years later, Democrats captured control of Congress and in 2008 Barack Obama was elected president. Obama’s success in turn led Democrats to become overconfident, and Hillary Clinton’s supporters believed they were “on the right side of history,” as rock singer Bruce Springsteen told a rally in Philadelphia on the eve of the 2016 election. Unfortunately for Democrats, history disagreed.

Robert Stacy McCain, “Why Is the ‘Right Side of History’ Losing?”, The American Spectator, 2017-04-05.

April 18, 2017

In WW1, the United States “was not fighting for survival. It was fighting for an ideal.”

Filed under: History, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Reason‘s Glenn Garvin reviews two new documentaries, including one called American Experience: The Great War (no relation to the YouTube channel I regularly reblog).

World War I, as American Experience: The Great War paraphrases a conclusion already reached by the cast of Friends many years ago, is probably the biggest event in U.S. history of which Americans know next to nothing. In some ways, that will still be true even if they watch The Great War, which views the events strictly through the lens of how Americans were affected. The welter of royal bloodlines and backdoor treaties that turned a seemingly isolated event — the assassination of an Austrian nobleman by a Serbian teenager — into a worldwide conflagration involving Russia, France, England, Italy, Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, Bulgaria, Japan, and the United States is barely explored [*]. Nor are many of the war’s geopolitical shockwaves. Even the implosion of Russia’s czarist government, which would eventually result in a Cold War that for nearly five decades threatened to turn apocalyptically hot, only gets a minute or two.

What The Great War does do, in truly spectacular fashion, is limn the voracious expansion of the American government midwifed by World War I. When Woodrow Wilson’s uncertain attempts at neutrality floundered and he called for a declaration of war in 1917 because “the world must be made safe for democracy,” it made the United States unique among the combatants, notes a historian in The Great War: “It was not fighting for survival. It was fighting for an ideal.”

But as The Great War documents in horrifying detail, that ideal was the creation of a Leviathan state with unprecedented power: to draft young men and send them to a foreign war. To set price controls on food and impose dietary restrictions. To arrest and even deport political dissidents. To create a powerful government propaganda organ aimed not at enemy nations but the American people. (It expanded from one employee to about 100,000 in a couple of months.) To send goon squads known as Liberty Loan Committees roaming neighborhoods offering deals on war bonds that couldn’t be refused.

Wilson’s actions did not go without dissent (signs at a protest march in New York City: MR. PRESIDENT, WHY NOT MAKE AMERICA SAFE FOR DEMOCRACY?) and dissent did not go without punishment. Wilson demanded, and got, a new Espionage Act that made it a crime to collect, record and disseminate information “harmful to the war effort,” and he wielded it like an axe against the anti-war movement. By the fall of 1917, the federal government opened prison camps in Utah, Georgia, and North Carolina to house all the “security threats” Wilson’s Justice Department had detected.

Wilson’s security mania spread out into the population, too, where it unleashed what The Great War calls the “wholesale destruction of German culture in the United States. There were moves to ban German music, plays, and even the spoken language. Some of the xenophobic spasms, like beer-stein-smashing contests, were loony enough to be funny; others, like the slaughter of German dog breeds in Ohio, were almost too ugly for words. Though Wilson’s supporters managed to utter some. When an Illinois coal miner of German heritage was lynched by coworkers who thought he might be a spy, the Washington Post labeled it a nothing more than a slightly over-exuberant sign of “a healthful and wholesome awakening in the interior part of the country.”

* Should you want to know more about the non-American aspects of how World War 1 began, you could read my Origins of WW1 series of posts, starting here (there are 12 posts in the series, and even so, I could be accused of omitting a lot of detail).

Examples of the “Paranoid Thriller” genre

Filed under: Books, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In the latest Libertarian Enterprise, J. Neil Schulman discusses a type of book that he characterizes as the Paranoid Thriller:

It’s probably no surprise to anyone who’s read my books, but I’m a long-time fan of what might best be called the Paranoid Thriller.

“Paranoid Thriller” isn’t a book publishing category. You won’t find such a classification in the Library of Congress, or in the shelving system of Barnes and Noble. Amazon.com has the most cross-referenced indexing system of any bookseller I can think of and even it doesn’t seem to have that as a sub-category of fiction.

Technically — because these stories are often set in the “near future” or “the day after tomorrow” or sometimes in an alternate history — the Paranoid Thriller is a sub-genre of science fiction. But usually, beyond the element of political speculation, there are none of the usual tropes of science fiction — extraterrestrials, space, time, or dimensional travel, artificial intelligence, biological engineering, new inventions, scientists as action heroes, virtual realities, and so forth.

I’m sure even this list shows how outdated I am when it comes to what’s being published as science-fiction these days, which within the publishing genre has abandoned all those cardinal literary virtues of clarity, kindness to the reader, and just good storytelling in favor of all those fractal fetishes that previously made much of “mainstream” fiction garbage unworthy of reading: dysfunctional characters, an overwhelming sense of helplessness and despair, and of course hatred of anything ever accomplished to better the entire human race by old dead European-extraction white men.

[…]

The Paranoid Thriller is step-brother to the Dystopian novel, such as Yvgeny Zamyatin’s We, Ayn Rand’s Anthem, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, and George Orwell’s Nineteen-eighty-four, and brother to the espionage novel — everything from Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels to John Le Carre and Tom Clancy’s spy novels; and at least kissing cousin to alternate history thrillers like Brad Linaweaver’s 1988 Prometheus Award-winning novel, Moon of Ice, about a Cold War not between the United States and the Soviet Union but between a non-interventionist libertarian United States and a victorious Nazi Germany.

Some examples of the Paranoid Thriller:

In books, let’s start with Sinclair Lewis’s 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here, the story of an American president who rises to power by enforcing a Mussolini-type fascism in America, published three years after the movie Gabriel Over the White House enthusiastically endorsed such a presidency, well into the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who did it for real, and a year after Adolf Hitler became the Führer of Germany.

Three years before Jack Finney’s novel The Body Snatchers was serialized in Colliers, Robert A. Heinlein’s 1951 Doubleday hardcover novel, The Puppet Masters crossed genre between futuristic science-fiction and the Paranoid Thriller — in effect creating an entire new genre of Paranoid Science-Fiction Horror — in which unlike H.G. Wells’ invaders from Mars in The War of the Worlds who had the decency to exterminate you, the alien invaders instead jumped onto your back and controlled your brain making you their zombie.

But then again, Heinlein had already created the Ultimate Paranoid Thrillers in his 1941 short story “They” and 1942 novella “The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag” — over a-half-century before The Wachowski Brothers’ 1999 movie The Matrix — in which the entire world is a vast conspiracy to convince one man of its reality.

Jumping two decades forward I’ll use as my next example Ayn Rand’s 1957 epic Atlas Shrugged, in which the Soviet- refugee author warned how the United States — by following the path of a kindler, gentler socialism — could end up as the fetid garbage dump that had devolved from her once European-bound Mother Russia.

April 14, 2017

Eugene Volokh: Free Speech on Campus

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 4 Apr 2017

Eugene Volokh has a few things to say about things that aren’t supposed to be said. Volokh, a professor of free speech law at U.C.L.A., has seen books banned, professors censored, and the ordinary expression of students stifled on university campuses across the nation.

Volokh believes free speech and open inquiry, once paramount values of higher education, are increasingly jeopardized by restrictive university speech codes. Instead of formally banning speech, speech codes discourage broad categories of human expression. “Hate speech. Harassment. Micro-aggressions,” Volokh says. “Often they’re not defined. They’re just assumed to be bad, assumed they’re something we need to ban.”

Edited by Todd Krainin. Cameras by Meredith Bragg and Jim Epstein.

QotD: How to negotiate

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

All negotiations are defined by something called the ZOPA: the Zone of Possible Agreement. The boundaries of that zone are defined by another buzzword, the BATNA: the best alternative to negotiated agreement.

The ultimate deal has to be better for both sides than their BATNA. Anything that either side considers worse than no deal at all is outside of the ZOPA, and no amount of strategery is going to get you there. Getting rid of Social Security and Medicare: outside of the ZOPA. Raising tax rates to Danish levels: outside of the ZOPA. Single-payer health care: outside of the ZOPA. Defunding Planned Parenthood: outside of the current ZOPA.

Is the ZOPA fixed? Nope. If a Republican president were in the White House, and a few more Republicans were in the Senate, defunding Planned Parenthood might well be feasible. The massacre at Newtown moved the ZOPA on gun control leftward. The financial crisis made all sorts of previously unthinkable things — like TARP and a nearly $900 billion stimulus bill — eminently feasible. The ZOPA moves all the time, which is why we’re no longer debating the free and unlimited coinage of silver at a ratio of 16 to 1.

But note that these movements didn’t come from some sort of deft negotiation strategy. They came from external events that changed the BATNA of one side or the other. Note too that even though the ZOPA had shifted in his favor, President Obama lost on gun control because he included an assault weapons ban in his list of demands as a bargaining chip, and the other side decided to walk away instead of negotiating a deal.

How did this happen? Because the bargaining chips you include send signals about your intent, and how serious you are about negotiating — and they can therefore change the facts on the ground in ways that hurt you rather than help you.

Imagine that you tried negotiating for a car by announcing that you intended to pay no more than $2,400 for a fully-loaded new truck. Would this improve your bargaining position? Of course not; the salesman would decide that you were wasting his time, and go find another customer. Similarly, if the car salesman announced that he wanted $100,000 for a well-used Camry, that wouldn’t make you more willing to pay $30,000 for it; it would make you go seek a dealer who wasn’t obviously crazy.

Megan McArdle, “Let’s See What Republicans Learn From Losing Boehner”, Bloomberg View, 2015-09-25.

April 13, 2017

Words & Numbers: Even Economists Can’t Do Their Own Taxes

Filed under: Economics, Government, USA — Tags: — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 12 Apr 2017

In honor of Tax Day, Antony Davies & James R. Harrigan talk about the absurdity of the US tax code. If your tax situation is more complicated or more uncomfortable than you like dealing with, you can pay another human being to do your taxes so you don’t have to. There are dependents, mortgages, deductions from energy-efficient household additions, charity, student loan interest … even with a Ph.D. in economics, it’s hard to understand!

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