Quotulatiousness

May 26, 2016

Eighty percent of Americans surveyed favour banning things they know nothing about

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

Don’t get too smug, fellow Canuckistanis, as I suspect the numbers might be just as bad if Canadians were surveyed in this way:

You might have heard that Americans overwhelmingly favor mandatory labeling for foods containing genetically modified ingredients. That’s true, according to a new study: 84 percent of respondents said they support the labels.

Survey of GMO labelling fans

But a nearly identical percentage — 80 percent—in the same survey said they’d also like to see labels on food containing DNA.

Survey of DNA labelling fans

The study, published in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal last week, also found that 33 percent of respondents thought that non-GM tomatoes “did not contain genes” and 32 percent thought that “vegetables did not have DNA.” So there’s that.

University of Florida food economist Brandon R. McFadden and his co-author Jayson L. Lusk surveyed 1,000 American consumers and discovered [PDF] that “consumers think they know more than they actually do about GM food.” In fact, the authors say, “the findings question the usefulness of results from opinion polls as motivation for public policy surrounding GM food.”

My summary for laymen: When it comes to genetically modified food, people don’t know much, they don’t know what they don’t know, and they sure as heck aren’t letting that stop them from having strong opinions.

Terry Teachout on silent movies

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

Ten years ago, Terry Teachout finally got around to watching D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, and found (to his relief) that it was just as offensively racist as everyone had always said. He also discovered that silent movies are becoming terra incognita even to those who love old movies:

None of this, however, interested me half so much as the fact that The Birth of a Nation progresses with the slow-motion solemnity of a funeral march. Even the title cards stay on the screen for three times as long as it takes to read them. Five minutes after the film started, I was squirming with impatience, and after another five minutes passed, I decided out of desperation to try an experiment: I cranked the film up to four times its normal playing speed and watched it that way. It was overly brisk in two or three spots, most notably the re-enactment of Lincoln’s assassination (which turned out to be quite effective – it’s the best scene in the whole film). For the most part, though, I found nearly all of The Birth of a Nation to be perfectly intelligible at the faster speed.

Putting aside for a moment the insurmountable problem of its content, it was the agonizingly slow pace of The Birth of a Nation that proved to be the biggest obstacle to my experiencing it as an objet d’art. Even after I sped it up, my mind continued to wander, and one of the things to which it wandered was my similar inability to extract aesthetic pleasure out of medieval art. With a few exceptions, medieval and early Renaissance art and music don’t speak to me. The gap of sensibility is too wide for me to cross. I have a feeling that silent film – not just just The Birth of a Nation, but all of it – is no more accessible to most modern sensibilities. (The only silent movies I can watch with more than merely antiquarian interest are the comedies of Buster Keaton.) Nor do I think the problem is solely, or even primarily, that it’s silent: I have no problem with plotless dance, for instance. It’s that silent film “speaks” to me in an alien tongue, one I can only master in an intellectual way. That’s not good enough for me when it comes to art, whose immediate appeal is not intellectual but visceral (though the intellect naturally enters into it).

As for The Birth of a Nation, I’m glad I saw it once. My card is now officially punched. On the other hand, I can’t imagine voluntarily seeing it again, any more than I’d attend the premiere of an opera by Philip Glass other than at gunpoint. It is the quintessential example of a work of art that has fulfilled its historical purpose and can now be put aside permanently – and I don’t give a damn about history, at least not in my capacity as an aesthete. I care only for the validity of the immediate experience.

[…] Thrill me and all is forgiven. Bore me and you’ve lost me. That’s why I think it’s now safe to file and forget The Birth of a Nation. Yes, it’s still historically significant, and yes, it tells us something important about the way we once were. But it’s boring — and thank God for that.

QotD: The weaknesses of laws

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

The strange American ardor for passing laws, the insane belief in regulation and punishment, plays into the hands of the reformers, most of them quacks themselves. Their efforts, even when honest, seldom accomplish any appreciable good. The Harrison Act, despite its cruel provisions, has not diminished drug addiction in the slightest. The Mormons, after years of persecution, are still Mormons, and one of them is now a power in the Senate. Socialism in the United States was not laid by the Espionage Act; it was laid by the fact that the socialists, during the war, got their fair share of the loot. Nor was the stately progress of osteopathy and chiropractic halted by the early efforts to put them down. Oppressive laws do not destroy minorities; they simply make bootleggers.

H.L. Mencken, Editorial in The American Mercury, 1924-05.

May 25, 2016

WW2: The Resource War – I: Arsenal of Democracy – Extra History

Filed under: Britain, Economics, Europe, History, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 5 Apr 2016

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To understand nations at war, you have to look at how their economies function. With World War II on the horizon, Europe and Asia dug themselves in for a fight – and a look at each other’s resources told them what to expect.
____________

European economies were so closely connected that some people expected they have to avoid another world war or destroy their finances, but in fact World War I had taught them how to prepare for just such a scenario. Germany, France, and Great Britain all invested in their military before war broke out. When evaluating these economies to see how war would affect them, we look at four main factors: GDP, population, territorial extent, and per capita income. Broadly, this helps us determine how resilient, expansive, self-sufficient, and developed a nation is. All of those factors determine how a nation must conduct its war. For example, the vast territorial holdings of the British Empire meant that they had vast resources to draw upon but needed a long time to mobilize them, which helped Germany determine that they needed to strike fast and win big if they hoped to win the war before Britain’s full resources came into play. Japan also estimated that they could win a war in the Pacific if they managed to win before the US had been involved for more than 6 months. These calculations drove the early strategies of the Axis powers, but the participation of the US would later prove to be a crucial factor.
____________

BONUS! Economies of Japan and China before WWII:

GDP (Bn USD-1990)
Japan – 169.4
Japanese Colonies – 62.9
China (exc. Manchuria): 320.5

POPULATION (mil)
Japan – 71.9
Japanese Colonies: 59.8
China (exc. Manchuria): 411.7

TERRITORY (thous sq.km)
Japan – 382
Japanese Colonies – 1602
China (exc. Manchuria): 9800

AVG ANNUAL WAGE (USD-1990)
Japan – 2,356
Japanese Colonies – 1,052
China (exc. Manchuria) – 778

From: The Economics of World War II: Six Great Powers in International Comparison by Mark Harrison

Teaching girls versus teaching boys in the modern school

Filed under: USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Sarah Hoyt explains why your school-age sons may not be getting as much (if anything) from their education compared to your daughters:

… most of [my sons’] generation PARTICULARLY THE GIRLS are coddled and protected within an inch of their lives and treated as prodigies. And don’t argue with me on the girl thing. If you don’t have kids in school — particularly sons — you don’t know how skewed it is. Most of the work is geared to “a woman’s way of learning”, things are demanded at appropriate ages FOR GIRLS who develop faster than boys (for instance to deliver work on time with no demands. Teen boys can’t do that till about 16, but it’s demanded at 11. If your male middle schooler is floundering, you know why. Add to that that most teachers are women, and women of a certain generation, who feel they are “sticking it to the patriarchy” by “encouraging” girls more and what you have is a recipe for disaster, particularly for girls.

Let’s right now admit men and women are different, with different capacities. If I ever persuade my brain-researcher friend to give you a post on how hormones influence brain development, we’ll have a biological base to build on. But still, statistically across all the various cultures of the world, men and women are different in raw capabilities. Men prefer spacial and mathematical reasoning (well, abstract, where mathematical is iffy) and enjoy danger more. Women are linguistically inclined and able to multitask or work in an “Interrupted environment” better.

Now these are all statistical capabilities, which applied to real life mean very little, and applied to real humans are not predictive. I mean, you’d expect to see more male engineers and more female linguists — and you do — but it means nothing as to whether your own very special male or female apple blossom should be one or the other.

[…]

I’ll add here that I don’t understand the NEED of the cognoscenti in our society to fight natural inclination and make male nurses and female engineers. It seems to me they’re working out some bur under their own psychological saddle, so to speak, by playing with the lives of others.

On the other hand if women want to be engineers and are willing to work hard enough they should stand the same chance as any man. And yet, we have classes that start out with equal numbers of male and female, in engineering, but by the end it is, as younger son puts it “a sausage fest” most women having deserted to Business or Art or Art of Business or Business of Art or whatever.

A lot of these were probably never that interested, and were pushed by parents/teachers. But those that were were handicapped.

Any number of boys quits too. Fewer than the girls, because they weren’t as handicapped.

These kids are handicapped by making their lives too easy. If the school goes out of their way to value “a woman’s way of learning” a woman will never learn to stretch her wings. If even boys are taught “you’re special and unique” and every thing they toss out with little thought is praised, they don’t learn what their blind spots are or to compensate for them.

What this means is that sooner or later they’ll come up against things they’re bad at — the best “rounded” person has things they suck at — and they don’t know what reserves they have, nor how to fill in the holes in natural talent with work.

QotD: Administrative bloat at American universities

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

Some commentators blame lazy, overpaid faculty [for the rising cost of tuition]. But while faculty teaching loads are somewhat lower than they were decades ago, faculty-student ratios have been quite stable over the past several decades, while the ratio of administrators and staff to students has become much less favorable. In his book on administrative bloat, The Fall Of The Faculty, Johns Hopkins professor Benjamin Ginsberg reports that although student-faculty ratios fell slightly between 1975 and 2005, from 16-to-1 to 15-to-1, the student-to-administrator ratio fell from 84-to-1 to 68-to-1, and the student-to-professional-staff ratio fell from 50-to-1 to 21-to-1. Ginsberg concludes: “Apparently, when colleges and universities had more money to spend, they chose not to spend it on expanding their instructional resources, i.e. faculty. They chose, instead, to enhance their administrative and staff resources.”

[…]

And according to a 2010 study by the Goldwater Institute, administrative bloat is the largest driver of high tuition costs. Using Department of Education figures, the study found administration growing more than twice as fast as instruction: “In terms of growth, the number of full-time administrators per 100 students at America’s leading universities increased by 39.3% between 1993 and 2007, while the number of employees engaged in teaching research or service only increased by 17.6%.”

Colleges and universities are nonprofits. When extra money comes in — as, until recently, has been the pattern — they can’t pay out excess profits to shareholders. Instead, the money goes to their effective owners, the administrators who hold the reins. As the Goldwater study notes, they get their “dividends” in the form of higher pay and benefits, and “more fellow administrators who can reduce their own workload or expand their empires.”

But with higher education now facing leaner years, and with students and parents unable to keep up with increasing tuition, what should be done? In short, colleges will have to rein in costs.

When asked what single step would do the most good, I’ve often responded semi-jokingly that U.S. News and World Report should adjust its college-ranking formula to reward schools with low costs and lean administrator-to-student ratios. But that’s not really a joke. Given schools’ exquisite sensitivity to the U.S. News rankings, that step would probably have more impact than most imaginable government regulations.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds, “Beat the tuition bloat”, USA Today, 2014-02-17.

May 24, 2016

Trump is probably thinking “how hard can it be?” to run a government

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

In Monday’s Morning Jolt newsletter, National Review‘s Jim Geraghty overheard Donald Trump Jr.’s breakfast conversation and wrote about what he heard:

We live in a world where congressional Democrats voted to pass Obamacare without reading the full text of the legislation, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee thinks the U.S. has already landed astronauts on Mars, Congressman Hank Johnson fears the island of Guam will become so overly populated that it will tip over and capsize, Maxine Waters warns that because of spending cuts, “over 170 million jobs could be lost”; Nancy Pelosi asserts that “every month that we don’t have an economic recovery package, 500 million Americans lose their jobs,” Harry Reid contended, “Everybody else [besides GOP members of Congress], including rich people, are willing to pay more [in taxes]. They want to pay more,” Republican senator Thad Cochran declared in 2014 that “the Tea Party is something I don’t know a lot about,” and of course, Representative Todd Akin proclaimed, “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

There’s no shortage of lawmakers who seek to make sweeping changes to laws, without understanding the basics of the topic at hand. Take Representative Diana DeGette of Colorado:

    To your last question: ‘What’s the efficacy of banning these magazine clips?’ I will tell you, these are ammunition, they’re bullets, so the people who have those now, they’re going to shoot them. So if you ban, if you ban them in the future, the number of these high capacity magazines is going to decrease dramatically over time because the bullets will be shot and there won’t be any more available.

(DeGette is mixing up clips and ammunition. The magazine is what holds the bullets and is almost always re-used.)

In other words, we’ve had no shortage of high-ranking government officials who have no clue about what they’re talking about, are spectacularly misinformed, dumber than a bag of hammers, are simply crazy, or all of the above.

In light of all this, Trump probably thinks, How hard can it be?  Simply by virtue of not being a moron, Trump feels he is destined to govern better than they do. Indeed, it’s a low bar to clear.

Idiot lawmakers are part of our problem in this country, but our circumstances wouldn’t be significantly improved if we replaced dumb, misinformed progressives with smarter, better-informed progressives. Barack Obama gets the presidential daily briefing every morning, which is presumably chock full of the best information our government can gather about what’s going on in the world, focusing on the most dangerous places and menacing threats. If he doesn’t want to see ISIS rising, no amount of briefings can get him to see ISIS rising.

But the problem with DeGette, and Cuomo, and most of our worst elected officials is that they mix a refusal to learn, acknowledge, or accept new information and a philosophy based upon some shaky-at-best assumptions: that government officials know best, that they will put the public or national interest ahead of their own interests, that the impact of basic forces like supply and demand can be mitigated by regulation, that disarming law-abiding citizens will lead to less crime, not more, and so on.

QotD: The battle of the crony capitalists

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

I am not sure that many politicians are good on this score, but Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are likely as bad as it gets on crony capitalism. Forget their policy positions, which are steeped in government interventionism in the economy, but just look at their personal careers. Each have a long history of taking advantage of political power to enrich themselves and their business associates. I am not sure what Cruz meant when he said “New York values”, but both Trump and Clinton are steeped in the New York political economy, where one builds a fortune through political connections rather than entrepreneurial vigor. Want to build a new parking lot next to your casino or start up a new energy firm — you don’t bother with private investors or arms length transactions, you go to the government.

Warren Meyer, “2016 Presidential Election: Battle of the Crony Capitalists”, Coyote Blog, 2016-05-13.

May 23, 2016

“Kiww the Wabbit” smuggled opera into middle American childhood

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

Some actual opera stars admit that their very first exposure to opera music was through Elmer Fudd’s pursuit of Bugs Bunny in “What’s Opera, Doc?”:

Like many other singers and crew staging the 17-hour, four-opera Wagner extravaganza at the Kennedy Center, Ms. Bishop got her first taste of opera from a cartoon rabbit and his speech-impaired nemesis.

“I could sing you the entire cartoon before I knew what opera really was,” says Ms. Bishop, who performs the part of Fricka, wife of Wotan, king of the gods.

The rabbit in question is Bugs Bunny, who, in the 1957 Warner Bros. cartoon “What’s Opera, Doc?” finds himself hunted by Elmer Fudd, in the part of the hero, Siegfried.

“Kiww the wabbit! Kiww the wabbit!” Elmer, in an ill-fitting magic helmet, sings to the urgent strains of Ride of the Valkyries as he jabs his spear into a rabbit hole.

Bugs flees, dons a breast plate and blond braids, climbs atop an obese white horse, and for two minutes and a ballet interlude, fools the smitten Elmer into thinking he is Brünnhilde.

“Oh, Bwünnhilde, you’re so wovewy,” Elmer croons.

“Yes, I know it,” Bugs answers coquettishly. “I can’t help it.”

“Those of us who didn’t freak at the sight of a rabbit in a winged helmet sliding off of the back of a fat horse — we went into opera,” says Ms. Bishop, 49, who grew up in Greenville, S.C.

It’s just one of those cases of art imitating art imitating art. Generations of people in the opera world grew up spending Saturday mornings eating breakfast cereal and watching Bugs Bunny on TV sets tuned with rabbit ears. For many, “What’s Opera, Doc?” was their first glimpse of opera and Wagner. Even if it didn’t exactly inspire their careers, it planted an ear worm that made the music recognizable once they heard the real thing.

May 22, 2016

Perhaps the US Navy can learn from Denmark on getting the “Little Crappy Ships” right

Filed under: Europe, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

On the National Interest Blog, James Hasik points out that the idea of the Littoral Combat Ships of the US Navy was successfully implemented more than twenty years ago (and much more economically, too):

In contrast, we know it’s possible to get modularity right, because the Royal Danish Navy has been getting it right since the early 1990s. Way back in 1985, Danyard laid down the Flyvefisken (Flying Fish), the first of a class of 14 patrol vessels. The ships were intended to fight the Warsaw Pact on the Baltic — a sea littoral throughout, with an average depth of 180 feet, and a width nowhere greater than 120 miles. Any navy on its waters might find itself fighting surface ships, diesel submarines, rapidly ingressing aircraft, and sea mines in close order. On the budget of a country of fewer than six million people, the Danes figured that they should maximize the utility of any given ship. That meant standardizing a system of modules for flexible mission assignment. The result was the Stanflex modular payload system.

At 450 tons full load, a Flyvefisken is much smaller than a Freedom (3900 tons) or an Independence (3100 tons). Her complement is much smaller too: 19 to 29, depending on the role. At not more than 15 tons, the Stanflex modules are also smaller than the particular system designed anew for the LCSs. But a Flyvefisken came with four such slots (one forward, three aft), and a range of modules surprisingly broad […]

Swapping modules pier-side requires a few hours and a 15-ton crane. Truing the gun module takes some hours longer. Retraining the crew is another matter, but modular specialists can be swapped too. The concept has had some staying power. The Flyvefiskens served Denmark as recently as 2010. In a commercial vote of confidence, the Lithuanian Navy bought three secondhand, and the Portuguese Navy four (as well as a fifth for spare parts). Over time, the Royal Danish Navy has provided Stanflex slots and modules to all its subsequent ships: the former Niels Juel-class corvettes, the Thetis-class frigates, the Knud Rasmussen-class patrol ships, the well-regarded Absalon-class command-and-support ships, and the new Ivar Huitfeldt-class frigates.

HDMS Skaden (hull number P561) and HDMS Thetis (F357) in Copenhagen

Flyvefisken-class patrol ship HDMS Skaden (hull number P561) and HDMS Thetis (F357) in Copenhagen (via WikiMedia)

In short, 25 years ago the Danes figured out how a single ship could hunt and kill mines, submarines and surface ships. A small ship can’t do all those things well at once, but that’s a choice in fleet architecture. Whatever we think of the LCS program, we shouldn’t draw the wrong lessons from it. Why is this important? Modularity is economical, as the Danes have long known. Critically, modularity also lends flexibility in recovering from wartime surprise, in that platforms can be readily provided new payloads without starting from scratch. Because on December the 8th, when you need a face-punched plan, you’d rather be building new boxes than new whole new ships.

Wikipedia has this image of the HDMS Iver Huitfeldt:

HDMS Iver Huitfeldt during a port visit in Århus, 20 January 2012

HDMS Iver Huitfeldt during a port visit in Århus, 20 January 2012

QotD: Western suicidalism

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

The most important weapons of al-Qaeda and the rest of the Islamist terror network are the suicide bomber and the suicide thinker. The suicide bomber is typically a Muslim fanatic whose mission it is to spread terror; the suicide thinker is typically a Western academic or journalist or politician whose mission it is to destroy the West’s will to resist not just terrorism but any ideological challenge at all.

But al-Qaeda didn’t create the ugly streak of nihilism and self-loathing that afflicts too many Western intellectuals. Nor, I believe, is it a natural development. It was brought to us by Department V of the KGB, which was charged during the Cold War with conducting memetic warfare that would destroy the will of the West’s intelligentsia to resist a Communist takeover. This they did with such magnificent effect that the infection outlasted the Soviet Union itself and remains a pervasive disease of contemporary Western intellectual life.

Consider the following propositions:

  • There is no truth, only competing agendas.
  • All Western (and especially American) claims to moral superiority over Communism/Fascism/Islam are vitiated by the West’s history of racism and colonialism.
  • There are no objective standards by which we may judge one culture to be better than another. Anyone who claims that there are such standards is an evil oppressor.
  • The prosperity of the West is built on ruthless exploitation of the Third World; therefore Westerners actually deserve to be impoverished and miserable.
  • Crime is the fault of society, not the individual criminal. Poor criminals are entitled to what they take. Submitting to criminal predation is more virtuous than resisting it.
  • The poor are victims. Criminals are victims. And only victims are virtuous. Therefore only the poor and criminals are virtuous. (Rich people can borrow some virtue by identifying with poor people and criminals.)
  • For a virtuous person, violence and war are never justified. It is always better to be a victim than to fight, or even to defend oneself. But “oppressed” people are allowed to use violence anyway; they are merely reflecting the evil of their oppressors.
  • When confronted with terror, the only moral course for a Westerner is to apologize for past sins, understand the terrorist’s point of view, and make concessions.

These ideas travel under many labels: postmodernism, nihilism, multiculturalism, Third-World-ism, pacifism, “political correctness” to name just a few. It is time to recognize them for what they are, and call them by their right name: suicidalism.

Trace any of these back far enough (e.g. to the period between 1930 and 1950 when Department V was at its most effective) and you’ll find a Stalinist at the bottom. Among the more notorious examples are: Paul de Man — racist and Nazi propagandist turned Stalinist, and founder of postmodernism; Jean-Paul Sarte, who described the effects of Stalinism as “humane terror” and helped invent existentialism; and Paul Baran, who developed the thesis that capitalism depended on the immiseration of the Third World after Marx’s immiseration of the proletariat failed to materialize.

Al-Qaeda didn’t launch any of these memes into the noosphere, but it relies on them for political cover. They have another effect as well: when Islamists characterize the West as “decadent”, and aver that it is waiting to collapse in on itself at the touch of jihad, they are describing quite correctly and accurately the effects of Western suicidalism.

Stalinist agitprop created Western suicidalism by successfully building on the Christian idea that self-sacrifice (and even self-loathing) are the primary indicators of virtue. In this way of thinking, when we surrender our well-being to others we store up grace in Heaven that is far more important than the momentary discomfort of submitting to criminals, predatory governments, and terrorists.

Eric S. Raymond, “Suicidalism”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-09-13.

May 20, 2016

QotD: The law and the US constitution

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

Laws are no longer made by a rational process of public discussion; they are made by a process of blackmail and intimidation, and they are executed in the same manner. The typical lawmaker of today is a man wholly devoid of principle — a mere counter in a grotesque and knavish game. If the right pressure could be applied to him, he would be cheerfully in favor of polygamy, astrology or cannibalism.

It is the aim of the Bill of Rights, if it has any remaining aim at all, to curb such prehensile gentry. Its function is to set a limitation upon their power to harry and oppress us to their own private profit. The Fathers, in framing it, did not have powerful minorities in mind; what they sought to hobble was simply the majority. But that is a detail. The important thing is that the Bill of Rights sets forth, in the plainest of plain language, the limits beyond which even legislatures may not go. The Supreme Court, in Marbury v. Madison, decided that it was bound to execute that intent, and for a hundred years that doctrine remained the corner-stone of American constitutional law.

H.L. Mencken, The American Mercury, 1930-05.

May 16, 2016

President Obama on political correctness and freedom of speech

Filed under: Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:07

I rarely agree with much that Barack Obama says, but I can’t disagree with this part of his speech to the graduating class at Rutgers University this weekend:

President Obama strongly condemned the rising anti-intellectual streak on the right — but also on the left — in his remarks at Rutgers University’s spring commencement on Sunday.

He harshly attacked the policies and rhetoric of Donald Trump (without mentioning him by name), asserting that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s deliberate ignorance is destructive.

“That’s not challenging political correctness,” said Obama. “That’s just not knowing what you’re talking about.”

But he reserved some time at the end of his speech to also criticize students who are too “fragile” to listen to people whose opinions offend them. He said it was a mistake for students to seek to disinvite speakers with whom they disagree.

“I know a couple years ago some folks on this campus got upset that Condoleezza Rice was supposed to speak at a commencement,” said Obama. “I don’t think it’s a secret that I disagree with many of the foreign policies of Dr. Rice and the previous administration. But the notion that this community or the country would be better served by not hearing from a former secretary of state or shutting out what she had to say, I believe that is misguided.”

The answer to bad speech is more speech, Obama continued.

May 13, 2016

Trump’s policies

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

Megan McArdle on the pointlessness of trying to analyze any given policy of Donald Trump:

Critiquing Donald Trump’s policy pronouncements for being implausible feels a bit like belittling bathroom graffiti for its weak use of metaphor and inappropriate deployment of the conditional rather than the subjunctive. Sure, you may be technically correct, but you’ve failed to grapple with the essentials of the form. And neither the author nor his audience is likely to take your criticisms to heart.

But what can we pundits do? The man is now the presumptive presidential nominee of the Republican Party. For the next six months, he will be saying things. Much of what he says will be unbearably silly, if not horrifying. These periodic eruptions must be either dealt with or ignored, and neither option seems very appealing.

QotD: The boring efficiency of North American freight railways

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

The US rail system, unlike nearly every other system in the world, was built (mostly) by private individuals with private capital. It is operated privately, and runs without taxpayer subsidies. And, it is by far the greatest rail system in the world. It has by far the cheapest rates in the world (1/2 of China’s, 1/8 of Germany’s). But here is the real key: it is almost all freight.

As a percentage, far more freight moves in the US by rail (vs. truck) than almost any other country in the world. Europe and Japan are not even close. Specifically, about 40% of US freight moves by rail, vs. just 10% or so in Europe and less than 5% in Japan. As a result, far more of European and Japanese freight jams up the highways in trucks than in the United States. For example, the percentage of freight that hits the roads in Japan is nearly double that of the US.

You see, passenger rail is sexy and pretty and visible. You can build grand stations and entertain visiting dignitaries on your high-speed trains. This is why statist governments have invested so much in passenger rail — not to be more efficient, but to awe their citizens and foreign observers.

But there is little efficiency improvement in moving passengers by rail vs. other modes. Most of the energy consumed goes into hauling not the passengers themselves, but the weight of increasingly plush rail cars. Trains have to be really, really full all the time to make for a net energy savings for high-speed rail vs. cars or even planes, and they seldom are full. I had a lovely trip on the high speed rail last summer between London and Paris and back through the Chunnel — especially nice because my son and I had the rail car entirely to ourselves both ways.

The real rail efficiency comes from moving freight. As compared to passenger rail, more of the total energy budget is used moving the actual freight rather than the cars themselves. Freight is far more efficient to move by rail than by road, but only the US moves a substantial amount of its freight by rail. One reason for this is that freight and high-speed passenger traffic have a variety of problems sharing the same rails, so systems that are optimized for one tend to struggle serving the other.

Freight is boring and un-sexy. Its not a government function in the US. So intellectuals tend to ignore it, even though it is the far more important, from an energy and environmental standpoint, portion of transport to put on the rails.

Warren Meyer, “The US Has The Best Rail System in the World, and Matt Yglesias Actually Pointed Out the Reason”, Coyote Blog, 2016-05-02.

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