Quotulatiousness

July 27, 2015

The rapid evolution of the US army helmet

Filed under: Military,Technology,USA — Tags: — Nicholas @ 05:00

Strategy Page charts the increasing pace of change to the US army’s combat headgear:

Since 2000 combat helmet design has made enormous advances. The new helmets have increased protection (often against rifle bullets as employed by snipers) while becoming more comfortable to wear, more accommodating of accessories (especially personal radios and night vision gear) without becoming heavier. Combat helmets were long considered low-tech but that has changed since the 1980s. Creation of new materials plus advances in the design and construction of helmets have been accelerating, especially in the last decade. For example, the American ACH (Advanced Combat Helmet), as popular as it was after appearing in the 1990s, soon underwent tweaks to make it more stable. That was required because more troops were being equipped with a flip down (over one eye) transparent computer screen. The device is close to the eye, so it looks like a laptop computer display to the soldier and can display maps, orders, troop locations, or whatever. If the helmet jumps around too much it’s difficult for the solider to make out what’s on the display. This can be dangerous in combat.

The first modern combat helmets appeared during World War I (1914-18), with the U.S. adopting the flat, British design steel model and using it for 25 years. This was replaced by the M1 helmet in the early 1940s. This was the “steel pot” and liner system that lasted over four decades. The PASGT (Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops) replaced the M1 in the early 1980s and lasted twenty years. The ACH replaced PASGT by 2007 but by 2012 the ECH (Enhanced Combat Helmet) began appearing as a replacement. ECH, like ACH is built to take lots of accessories and is the version bought by police and emergency service organizations.

It was only in 2005 that the ACH began entering service. The Kevlar PASGT design was a third generation combat helmet, nicknamed the “Fritz” after its resemblance to the German helmets used in both World Wars. That German World War I design, which was based on an analysis of where troops were being hit by fragments and bullets in combat, was the most successful combat helmet in both world wars. This basic design was finally adopted by most other nations after the American PASGT helmet appeared in the 1980s. Most of the second generation helmets, which appeared largely during World War II, were similar to the old American M1 design. The fourth generation helmets, currently in service, use better synthetic materials and more comfortable design.

The “Ferguson Effect”

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

Radley Balko explains why the concerns and worries of police officials have been totally upheld by the rising tide of violence against police officers in the wake of the events in Ferguson … oh, wait. No, that’s not what happened at all:

The “Ferguson effect,” you might remember, is a phenomenon law-and-order types have been throwing around in an effort to blame police brutality on protesters and public officials who actually try to hold bad cops accountable for an alleged increase in violence, both general violence and violence against police officers.

The problem is that there’s no real evidence to suggest it exists. As I and others pointed out in June, while there have been some increases in crime in a few cities, including Baltimore and St. Louis County, there’s just no empirical data to support the notion that we’re in the middle of some national crime wave. And while there was an increase in killings of police officers in 2014, that came after a year in which such killings were at a historic low. And in any case, the bulk of killings of police officers last year came before the Ferguson protests in August and well before the nationwide Eric Garner protests in December.

Now, the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund has released its mid-year report on police officers’ deaths in 2015. Through the end of June, the number of officers killed by gunfire has dropped 25 percent from last year, from 24 to 18. Two of those incidents were accidental shootings (by other cops), so the number killed by hostile gunfire is 16. (As of today, the news is even better: Police deaths due to firearms through July 23 are down 30 percent from last year.)

[…]

A typical officer on a typical stop is far more likely to die of a heart attack than to be shot by someone inside that car.

It’s important to note here that we’re also talking about very small numbers overall. Police officer deaths have been in such rapid decline since the 1990s that when taken as percentages, even statistical noise in the raw figures can look like a large swing one way or the other. And if we look at the rate of officer fatalities (as opposed to the raw data), the degree to which policing has gotten safer over the last 20 years is only magnified.

But the main takeaway from the first-half figures of 2015 is this: If we really were in the midst of a nationwide “Ferguson effect,” we’d expect to see attacks on police officers increasing. Instead, we’re seeing the opposite. That’s good news for cops. It’s bad news for people who want to blame protesters and reform advocates for the deaths of police officers.

July 26, 2015

The problems when you try to resolve complicated discrimination problems with laws

Filed under: Business,Law,Liberty,USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Warren Meyer explains why he — who organized and lead an effort to legalize gay marriage in Arizona — is not reflexively in favour of using the blunt force of the law to “solve” problems of discrimination:

There are multiple problems with non-discrimination law as currently implemented and enforced in the US. Larger companies, for example, struggle with disparate impact lawsuits from the EEOC, where statistical metrics that may have nothing to do with past discrimination are never-the-less used to justify discrimination penalties.

Smaller companies like mine tend to have a different problem. It is an unfortunate fact of life that the employees who do the worst job and/or break the rules the most frequently tend to be the same ones with the least self-awareness. As a result, no one wants to believe their termination is “fair”, no matter how well documented or justified (I wrote yesterday that I have personally struggled with the same thing in my past employment).

Most folks grumble and walk away. But what if one is in a “protected group” under discrimination law? Now, not only is this person personally convinced that their firing was unfair, but there is a whole body of law geared to the assumption that their group may be treated unfairly. There are also many lawyers and activists who will tell them that they were almost certainly treated unfairly.

So a fair percentage of people in protected groups whom we fire for cause will file complaints with the government or outright sue us for discrimination. I will begin by saying that we have never lost a single one of these cases. In one or two we paid someone a nominal amount just to save legal costs of pursuing the case to the bitter end, but none of these cases were even close.

[…]

To make all this worse, many employees have discovered a legal dodge to enhance their post-employment lawsuits (I know that several advocacy groups in California recommend this tactic). If the employee suspects he or she is about to be fired, they will, before getting fired, claim all sorts of past discrimination. Now, when terminated, they can claim they where a whistle blower that that their termination was not for cause but really was retaliation against them for being a whistle-blower.

I remember one employee in California taking just this tactic, claiming discrimination just ahead of his termination, though he never presented any evidence beyond the vague claim. We wasted weeks with an outside investigator checking into his claims, all while customer complaints about the employee continued to come in. Eventually, we found nothing and fired him. And got sued. The case was so weak it was eventually dropped but it cost us — you guessed it — about $20,000 to defend. Given that this was more than the entire amount this operation had made over five years, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back and led to us walking about from that particular operation and over half of our other California business.

July 23, 2015

I didn’t know formal debates are now also performance art

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

Kathy Shaidle posted this video, which to be honest I first thought was a poorly done parody. I still rather hope to hear that it’s just somebody pulling a fast one on Fox …

Why US military installations are gun-free

Filed under: Bureaucracy,Military,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

L. Neil Smith grew up on and around US Air Force bases, and explains at least some of the reason for the government requiring military installations to be gun-free:

One reason, of course, for military gun-free killing zones is the dire need the military experienced during the 1960s for conscriptees — for which read military slaves. Almost any scum were gratefully-accepted. Judges regularly sentenced car thieves and other such criminals with “go to jail or join the Army”. Would you really like to issue guns to society’s dregs like that? My dad, who ran Vehicle Maintenance Departments in Newfoundland and in Florida, was always having to get his younger men out of jail on various charges. Sometimes, in Florida, it was simply because the Sheriff’s deputies were moronic redneck thugs and many of Dad’s men were black. The uniform made them “uppity.” Sometimes it resembled the Jerry Springer show, one of his Airmen got his wife and mother-in-law pregnant simultaneously. And they say incest is a game the whole family can enjoy.

As a teenager, I was taught to throw a knife and an axe to good effect by a youngish Lieutenant Colonel in the First Air Commando Group who’d remarkably earned his Master’s degree in Anthropology by making and learning to use primitive weapons. He spent his spare time in Vietnam teaching airplane mechanics on the maintenance line to throw a two-foot screwdriver like a knife whenever the Viet Cong came marauding around. But when your enemy is armed with an AK-47 and half a dozen hand grenades, a screwdriver must seem like a pretty frail reed. If possible, it’s even worse than bringing a knife to a gun fight.

So, am I saying that Air Police and Military Police (and Shore Patrols) should be fully armed at all times? Not at all. I’m saying that all military personnel should be armed at all times. A soldier is a guy (or a gal) with a gun. You can’t have it two ways. An unarmed soldier is a joke — and potentially a corpse. Officers should wear their sidearms publicly and proudly; a democratic republic should issue equally-effective sidearms to all of its enlisted personnel as well.

Pentagon officials and other military bigwigs who oppose this principle, which would put an immediate stop to base-shootings like the one in Chattanooga that happened today are criminally negligent. A very big part of the problem is corruption or stupidity in high places. Shamefully, the U.S.government treats its soldiers very badly and without respect. The lower ranks are forced to go on welfare to feed their families, and seek food stamps. The sleazy, sloppy treatment they receive in Veterans’ Administration hospitals closely resembles being sentenced to a Third World prison. Incompetent, uncaring doctors don’t listen and have to be argued into doing what is required of them.

Years ago, I prescribed, in an article for Reason/Frontlines that the raw numbers of American military personnel be reduced, that it should become very difficult to join the military, and that military personnel receive a tenfold raise in wages. Now I say, arm them, as well, and allow them to defend themselves as they defend our country.

The alternative is more death.

July 22, 2015

QotD: The Heinleins and the Goldwater campaign

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

Ginny probably had agreed to the change because she had taken up a new political cause, and the spasms of pain that came on at night interfered with her fund-raising activities for the Barry Goldwater presidential campaign. Heinlein approved of Goldwater, both personally and politically — a New Deal liberal who had evolved in a sensible way, responding to the actual political realities the country had found itself in after World War II.

Ginny was setting up a “Gold for Goldwater” fund-raising campaign with five other field workers — a grassroots organization, outside the somewhat hidebound local Republican hierarchy. “Spend what you think we can afford,” he told Ginny. He had been disillusioned with party politics for nearly a decade, but this was a campaign worth fighting.

William H. Patterson Jr., Robert A. Heinlein, In Dialogue with His Century Volume 2: The Man Who Learned Better, 2014.

July 20, 2015

Making a terrorist

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

Tam at View From The Porch linked to this discussion of how domestic terrorists don’t match the media’s default profile:

Of course, there’s an easy way to make it harder for Da’esh to “recruit Americans,” and that’s to zero out immigration from nations where the common values are inimical to American values. But there are problems with that. Many of the people seeking to immigrate from Da’esh territory to the USA are fleeing that terror and seeking security — and freedom. They have a very high potential to be very solid, freedom-loving Americans. The problem we have seen in the USA (and to a greater extent in some European countries like Sweden and France) is not so much the immigrants, but their children who, exposed to academia that hates the new homeland, regresses to an imagined “golden age” religious extremism.

The conventional wisdom on the left and in the press (but we repeat ourselves) that terrorists are made by poverty and oppression is, frankly, silly. Like the communist terrorists of the 1970s, the mohammedan terrorists of today are a product of wealthy-kid ennui and self-loathing. Well-known terrorist cases range from solidly middle-class (Tsarnaevs) to professional class (Ayman al-Zawahiri) to stankin’ wealthy (bin Laden); it is rare to find one without some university education. Certainly part of the problem is that the moral component of a university education today includes an unhealthy dose and burden of contempt and blame for the host society. That’s beyond the scope of what this report, centered as it is on the nuts and bolts of what ISIS is and how it means to attack our homeland, covers; but if it is not addressed there is another terrorist cause on the far side of this one, and so on endlessly like a land of rolling hills.

July 18, 2015

“No Irish need apply”

Filed under: History,Religion,USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Megan McArdle on the imaginary-then-not-so-imaginary prejudice against Irish workers in the United States:

“No Irish Need Apply.” The signs are legendary in the collective memory of Irish Americans. Our ancestors were warned away from the jobs that were open only to “real Americans,” not to the Papist hordes streaming across the Atlantic, with their drinking and their brawling and their unsavory politicking. It is the epigraphic summation of a long war with America’s WASP elite, one that may now be forgotten by the Anglo Protestants who waged it, but not by the great-great-grandchildren of Erin.

I call it legendary. Historian Richard Jensen actually called it a myth.

Jensen, a professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago, wrote a long article in 2002, in which he argued that these advertisements were rare, and when they were found, applied almost exclusively to women, who disproportionately worked as domestics. Jensen searched the digital archives of a number of newspapers, and found that “ads for men were extremely rare — fewer than two per decade. The complete absence of evidence suggests that probably zero such signs were seen at commercial establishments, shops, factories, stores, hotels, railroads, union halls, hiring halls, personnel offices, labor recruiters etc. anywhere in America, at any time.”

This is a bit of a blow to the pride of Irish Americans, who do love a good martyrdom. Something in me rebelled when I saw this article, but as an empirical matter, there’s no reason it couldn’t be true. I filed it away under “History, maybe not quite as bad as you thought, though still quite bad” and moved on to contemplating the perfidy of Oliver Cromwell.

Then, the other day, another article caught my eye. It seems that Rebecca Fried, a high school student from the Sidwell Friends school in Washington, has done a more thorough search of newspaper archives, made possible by advances in digitizing archives since Professor Jensen did his work. Her results have been published in the Oxford Press Journal of Social History, the same place where the original paper was published. And she found lots of examples of both “No Irish Need Apply” advertisements and newspaper accounts of “No Irish” signs, even though the available archives still cover only a small fraction of the thousands of papers in which such ads and accounts might have appeared.

QotD: Sherman’s March to the Sea

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

Southerners grew confident that the besieger Sherman would become the besieged in Atlanta after the election, as his long supply lines back to Tennessee would be cut and a number of Confederate forces might converge to keep him locked up behind Confederate lines.

Instead, Sherman cut loose on November 15, 1864 — despite Grant’s worries and Lincoln’s bewilderment — and headed to the Atlantic Coast in what would soon be known as “The March to the Sea,” itself a prelude to an even more daring winter march through the Carolinas to arrive at the rear of Robert E. Lee’s army, trapped in Virginia at war’s end.

After daring Sherman to leave Atlanta, and declaring that he would suffer the fate of Napoleon in Russia, Confederate forces wilted. The luminaries of the Confederacy — Generals Bragg, Hardee, and Hood — pled numerical inferiority and usually avoided the long Northern snake that wound through the Georgia heartland. Sherman’s army had been pared down of its sick and auxiliaries, but was still huge, composed of Midwestern yeomen who liked camping out and were used to living off the land. Post-harvest Georgia was indeed rich, and Sherman’s more than 60,000 marchers soon learned that they could live off the land in richer style than they ever had while occupying Atlanta. In their wake, they left a 300 mile-long, 60 mile-wide swath of looting and destruction from Atlanta to Savannah.

Yet there was a method to Sherman’s mad five-week march. He burned plantations, freed slaves, destroyed factories, and tore up railroads — but more or less left alone the farms and small towns of ordinary Southerners. His purposes were threefold: to punish the plantation class, the small minority of Confederates who owned slaves, as the culprits for the war; to destroy the Southern economy and remind the general population, as Sherman put it, “that war and individual ruin were now to be synonymous”; and to humiliate the Confederate military, especially what he called the cavalier classes that boasted of their martial audacity but would not dare confront such a huge army of battle-hardened troopers from Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, and other Midwestern states. In this context, the message was not lost: Unionists were not just New England Yankee manufacturers, but farmers who did their own hard work in harsh, cold lands more challenging than temperate Georgia; material advantages and repeating rifles were not antithetical to martial audacity, as a Michigan farmer with a Sharps rifle was more than a match for a plumed Southern cavalryman who boasted of killing Yankees.

Victor Davis Hanson, “Sherman at 150″, Victor Davis Hanson’s Private Papers, 2014-08-06.

July 17, 2015

QotD: Feminism’s uneasy attitudes to motherhood

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

Last week a person named Amy Glass wrote a breathtakingly honest — and breathless — rejection of traditional motherhood:

    I hear women talk about how “hard” it is to raise kids and manage a household all the time. I never hear men talk about this. It’s because women secretly like to talk about how hard managing a household is so they don’t have to explain their lack of real accomplishments. Men don’t care to “manage a household.” They aren’t conditioned to think stupid things like that are “important.”

    Women will be equal with men when we stop demanding that it be considered equally important to do housework and real work. They are not equal. Doing laundry will never be as important as being a doctor or an engineer or building a business. This word play is holding us back.

First, a few small points.

I hear men talk about how hard it is to manage a household and raise kids all the time. (We may not talk about it in terms Glass can recognize, but as a subscriber to the Happy Wife, Happy Life school of marriage, it’s my experience that husbands who don’t recognize and appreciate how hard it is to run a home soon become ex-husbands or miserable husbands.) Glass also may only be hearing what she wants to hear. Or, she may know only asinine men. Who knows? Frankly I don’t care which one is right because I don’t put a lot of stock in what Glass has to say.

Second, this is truly shabby work:

    Doing laundry will never be as important as being a doctor or an engineer or building a business. This word play is holding us back.

Talk about word play! You see the sleight of hand, right? “Doing laundry” is a single, discrete task, a subset of a vast realm of responsibilities that often come with running a household and being a mother. Being a doctor, engineer, or business-builder are total careers or vocations. In other words, it’s a false analogy. Like saying being a chef isn’t as worthwhile as being a truck driver because chefs “cut vegetables.” Every career or calling involves unpleasant or tedious tasks.

Just in case you still don’t get it, another illustration. Raising kids involves taking the barbarian clay of a baby and through the alchemy of love and the application of intellect turning it into an emotionally, spiritually, and physically healthy human being and citizen. Meanwhile, doctors put their fingers in old men’s butts. So, to sum up: “Putting fingers in old men’s butts will never be as important as raising children. The word play is holding us back.”

Third (as a reader flagged for me), Glass is not exactly a rigorous thinker. On January 15 she writes:

    Every time I hear someone say that feminism is about validating every choice a woman makes I have to fight back vomit.

On January 17 she writes:

    The great thing about Feminism is that it means that women can do anything. You can be a working woman or a stay at home mother and both choices are equally valid. There is no “wrong way” to do feminism.

    This means that as good feminists, we never judge the choices of other women.

Assuming there isn’t a technical explanation for what’s going on here (a false byline, a prank, or maybe an angry capuchin monkey loose in the IT department) this is the kind of inconsistency that doesn’t invite refutation so much as medication.

Jonah Goldberg, “It’s Still Only Two Cheers for Capitalism”, The Goldberg File, 2014-01-31

July 16, 2015

“Biodynamic” wine-making – New Age woo-woo marketing bullshit … that sells

Filed under: Business,Science,USA,Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

On a recent wine tour in the Beamsville Bench region, I watched a fascinating interaction between a winery representative and a potential purchaser. Out of respect, I won’t identify the winery (although there are a few in both Beamsville and Niagara who profess to be “biodynamic” wineries), but the question was asked and the poor winery employee had to fight against her own clear instincts and try to describe in positive terms the utter bullshit that is “biodynamic” theory. Kindly, the questioner allowed her off the hook quickly and our group moved off to taste some other wines.

At Boing-Boing, Maggie Koerth-Baker links to an older article at the SF Weekly saying:

[…] biodynamic farming is, essentially, organic farming … plus a heaping helping of astrology, mysticism and some delightfully medieval-gothic growth preparations. (One involved taking fresh cow skulls, stuffing them with oak bark, burying them at the fall Equinox, unearthing in spring and adding minute amounts of the resulting goop to compost piles. Ostensibly to promote healing in plants.) Perhaps unsurprisingly, large, independent, peer-reviewed studies haven’t found much of a difference between biodynamic and organic grapes. Now, some folks like biodynamic wine, and that’s cool. I just think people ought to know what it is they’re paying a premium for.

The link is broken, but from the old URL, it’s probably this one:

When asked just what was going on, Eierman shot a glance at Jessica LaBounty, Benziger’s marketing manager, who closed her eyes and gave a quick nod. The gardener proceeded to explain that the severed heads were a vital ingredient in Biodynamic Preparation No. 505: Finely ground oak bark will be placed into the cows’ fresh skulls and stored in a shallow, moist hole or rain bucket throughout autumn and winter. The resultant concoction is then applied, in nearly undetectable quantities, to the gargantuan compost piles; Benziger’s promotional literature claims it “stimulates the plant’s immune system and promotes healing.”

Light-years from the surreal scenes at the Sonoma winery, glasses tinkled and forks hit plates of house-marinated olives in a dimly lit San Francisco storefront. Sharply dressed men and their attractive dates laughed over full pours of red and white at Yield Wine Bar in San Francisco’s up-and-coming Dogpatch neighborhood. Nearly half of the 50 wines served that night were grown Biodynamically — a fact prominently displayed on the bar’s menu. When asked what, exactly, this means, bar co-owner Chris Tavelli described Biodynamics as “the highest level of organics, you know, organic above organic.”

Among those who earn a living selling wine to the general public, this was a typical answer. Those with a vested interest in moving Biodynamic wines almost invariably use the words “natural” and “holistic” — terms that are malleable and vague, but near and dear to every San Franciscan’s heart. Its producers and sellers describe the process as “organic to the nth degree,” “the Rolls-Royce of organic farming,” or, simply, “the new organic.”

It’s an explanation Tavelli and fellow wine merchants have to make — or, more accurately, not make — now more than ever. Winemakers recently began aggressively marketing their Biodynamic status as a selling point, claiming their product to be both the “greenest” and most distinctive-tasting available. In San Francisco, Jeff Daniels of the Wine Club has added 10 new Biodynamic labels in the last year alone; Kirk Walker of K & L Wine Merchants says customer queries about Biodynamic wines have jumped in the past few years from roughly one a week to more than 30. Dozens of other San Francisco winesellers concur that they’ve augmented the number of Biodynamic wines they carry by four, five, or even 10 times of late. National chains report the same, and rank San Francisco as perhaps the nation’s top consumer of Biodynamic wine.

QotD: The proper role of government

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

Good government is a constable — it keeps the peace and protects property. Parasitic government — which is, sad to say, practically the only form known in the modern world — is at its best a middleman that takes a cut of every transaction by positioning itself as a nuisance separating you from your goals. At its worst, it is functionally identical to a goon running a protection racket.

[…]

The desire to be left alone is a powerful one, and an American one. It is not, contrary to the rhetoric proffered by the off-brand Cherokee princess currently representing the masochistic masses of Massachusetts in the Senate, an anti-social sentiment. It is not that we necessarily desire to be left alone full stop — it is that we desire to be left alone by people who intend to forcibly seize our assets for their own use. You need not be a radical to desire to live in your own home, to drive your own car, and to perform your own work without having to beg the permission of a politician — and pay them 40 percent for the privilege.

Principles are dangerous things — whiskey is for drinking, water and principles are for fighting over. The anti-ideological current in conservative thinking appreciates this: If we all seek complete and comprehensive satisfaction of our principles, then there will never be peace. This is why scale matters and why priorities matter. In a world in which the public sector consumes 5 percent of my income and uses it for such legitimate public goods as law enforcement and border security, I do not much care whether the tax system is fair or just on a theoretical level; and while I may resent it as a matter of principle, the cost of my consent is relatively low, and I have other things to think about. But in a world in which the parasites take half, and use it mainly to buy political support from an increasingly ovine and dependent electorate, then I care intensely.

Kevin D. Williamson, “Property and Peace”, National Review, 2014-07-20.

July 15, 2015

The media and free speech coverage

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

At Popehat, Ken White explains what to look for in how the media subtly (or not-so-subtly) introduce pro-censorship memes when it covers free speech issues:

American journalists and pundits rely upon vigorous free speech, but are not reliable supporters of it. They both instruct and reflect their fickle audience.

It’s easy to spot overt calls for censorship from the commentariat. Those have become more common in the wake of both tumultuous events (like the violence questionably attributed to the “Innocence of Muslims” video, or Pamela Geller’s “Draw Muhammad” contest) and mundane ones (like fraternity brothers recorded indulging in racist chants).

But it’s harder to detect the subtle pro-censorship assumptions and rhetorical devices that permeate media coverage of free speech controversies. In discussing our First Amendment rights, the media routinely begs the question — it adopts stock phrases and concepts that presume that censorship is desirable or constitutional, and then tries to pass the result off as neutral analysis. This promotes civic ignorance and empowers deliberate censors.

Fortunately, this ain’t rocket science. Americans can train themselves to detect and question the media’s pro-censorship tropes. I’ve collected some of the most pervasive and familiar ones. This post is designed as a resource, and I’ll add to it as people point out more examples and more tropes.

QotD: Modern urban policing

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

Let me interject that I hold no brief for the police in America, at least in the cities. They inspire me with a frisson of fear every time I see one, though I break no law. Their manner is more that of masters of the public than of servants of the same; many of them seem to be the kind of people who wanted to be soldiers but couldn’t make the grade because they were not fit enough. They look menacing and seem to shoot to kill on relatively slight pretexts (or perhaps they are just bad shots). I have little doubt that if I were black my less than warm feelings toward them would be a good deal cooler still. Their increasing militarization, on the flimsiest of pretexts, is another reason to mistrust them. Alas, the British police are increasingly modeling themselves on the American, as if they were permanently on riot duty.

Theodore Dalrymple, “Indulging in Destruction”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-08-24.

July 14, 2015

Washington’s streetcars

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

Warren Meyer isn’t a fan of streetcars in general, but he views the Washington DC streetcar project as being particularly deserving of scorn:

I am increasingly convinced that the appeal of streetcars and light rail has everything to do with class. From any rational perspective, these systems make no sense — they are 10-100x more expensive than buses and lack the flexibility that buses have to adjust to shifting demand patterns over time. A single extra lane of highway adds more capacity than any light rail line.

Streetcar’s single, solitary advantage is that middle and upper class whites who would not be caught dead on a bus seem to be willing to ride streetcars. I don’t know if this is because of some feature of the streetcars (they are shiny and painted pretty) or if it is some sort of self-segregation (the upper classes want to ride on something that is not filled with “riffraff”).

He also points out that even Vox.com can’t make the case for streetcars particularly well:

The arguments are:

  • Tourists like them, because you can’t get lost like you can on buses. My response is, “so what.” Unless you are one of a very few unique cities, tourists are a trivial percentage of transit riders anyway. Why build a huge system just to serve out-of-town visitors? I would add that many of these same cities (e.g. Las Vegas) considering streetcars are the same ones banning Uber, which tourists REALLY love.
  • Developers like them. Ahh, now we are getting somewhere. So they are corporate welfare? But not so fast, they are not even very good corporate welfare. Because most of the studies they cite are total BS, of the same quality as studies that say sports stadium construction spurs all sorts of business. In fact, most cities have linked huge tax abatement and subsidy programs to their streetcars, such that the development you get with the subsidy and the streetcar is about what you would expect from the subsidies alone. Reminds me of the old joke that mimicked cereal commercials: “As part of a breakfast with juice, toast, and milk, Trix cereal has all the nutrition of juice, toast, and milk.”
  • Good for the environment. But even Vox asks, “as compared to what.” Since they are generally an alternative buses, as compared to buses that have little environmental advantage and often are worse (they have a lot more weight to drag around when empty).
  • The Obama Administration likes them. LOL, that’s a recommendation? When you read the text, what they actually say is that mayors like the fact that the Obama Administration likes them, for it means the Feds will throw lots of Federal money at these projects to help mayors look good using other peoples’ money.
  • Jobs. This is hilarious Keynesianism, trying to make the fact that streetcars are 10-100x more expensive than buses some sort of positive. Because they are more inefficient, they employ more people! One could make the exact same argument for banning mechanical harvesters and going back to scythes. Left unquestioned, as Bastiat would tell us, is how many people that money would have employed if it had not been seized by the government for streetcar use.
  • Je ne sais quoi. I kid you not, that is their final argument, that streetcars add that special something to a neighborhood. In my mind, this is Vox’s way of saying the same thing I did the other day — that the streetcar’s appeal is primarily based on class, in that middle and upper class folks don’t want to ride on a bus with the masses. The streetcar feels more upscale than buses. The poor of course, for whom public transit is most vital, don’t want to pay 10 times more for sexiness.

Every argument I have ever been in on streetcars always boils down to something like “well, all the cool kids like them.”

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