Quotulatiousness

February 14, 2016

QotD: President Herbert Hoover’s lasting economic legacy

Until March 1933, these were the years of President Herbert Hoover — the man that anti-capitalists depict as a champion of non-interventionist, laissez-faire economics.

Did Hoover really subscribe to a “hands off the economy,” free-market philosophy? His opponent in the 1932 election, Franklin Roosevelt, didn’t think so. During the campaign, Roosevelt blasted Hoover for spending and taxing too much, boosting the national debt, choking off trade, and putting millions of people on the dole. He accused the president of “reckless and extravagant” spending, of thinking “that we ought to center control of everything in Washington as rapidly as possible,” and of presiding over “the greatest spending administration in peacetime in all of history.” Roosevelt’s running mate, John Nance Garner, charged that Hoover was “leading the country down the path of socialism.” Contrary to the modern myth about Hoover, Roosevelt and Garner were absolutely right.

The crowning folly of the Hoover administration was the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, passed in June 1930. It came on top of the Fordney-McCumber Tariff of 1922, which had already put American agriculture in a tailspin during the preceding decade. The most protectionist legislation in U.S. history, Smoot-Hawley virtually closed the borders to foreign goods and ignited a vicious international trade war.

Officials in the administration and in Congress believed that raising trade barriers would force Americans to buy more goods made at home, which would solve the nagging unemployment problem. They ignored an important principle of international commerce: trade is ultimately a two-way street; if foreigners cannot sell their goods here, then they cannot earn the dollars they need to buy here.

Foreign companies and their workers were flattened by Smoot-Hawley’s steep tariff rates, and foreign governments soon retaliated with trade barriers of their own. With their ability to sell in the American market severely hampered, they curtailed their purchases of American goods. American agriculture was particularly hard hit. With a stroke of the presidential pen, farmers in this country lost nearly a third of their markets. Farm prices plummeted and tens of thousands of farmers went bankrupt. With the collapse of agriculture, rural banks failed in record numbers, dragging down hundreds of thousands of their customers.

Hoover dramatically increased government spending for subsidy and relief schemes. In the space of one year alone, from 1930 to 1931, the federal government’s share of GNP increased by about one-third.

Hoover’s agricultural bureaucracy doled out hundreds of millions of dollars to wheat and cotton farmers even as the new tariffs wiped out their markets. His Reconstruction Finance Corporation ladled out billions more in business subsidies. Commenting decades later on Hoover’s administration, Rexford Guy Tugwell, one of the architects of Franklin Roosevelt’s policies of the 1930s, explained, “We didn’t admit it at the time, but practically the whole New Deal was extrapolated from programs that Hoover started.”

To compound the folly of high tariffs and huge subsidies, Congress then passed and Hoover signed the Revenue Act of 1932. It doubled the income tax for most Americans; the top bracket more than doubled, going from 24 percent to 63 percent. Exemptions were lowered; the earned income credit was abolished; corporate and estate taxes were raised; new gift, gasoline, and auto taxes were imposed; and postal rates were sharply hiked.

Can any serious scholar observe the Hoover administration’s massive economic intervention and, with a straight face, pronounce the inevitably deleterious effects as the fault of free markets?

Lawrence W. Reed, “The Great Depression was a Calamity of Unfettered Capitalism”, The Freeman, 2014-11-28.

February 11, 2016

QotD: Dissing Wal-Mart as a cultural signalling device

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

There’s no sign of it here in Magnolia, Ark., but the boycott season is upon us, and graduates of Princeton and Bryn Mawr are demanding “justice” from Wal-Mart, which is not in the justice business but in the groceries, clothes, and car-batteries business. It is easy to scoff, but I am ready to start taking the social-justice warriors’ insipid rhetoric seriously — as soon as two things happen: First, I want to hear from the Wal-Mart-protesting riffraff a definition of “justice” that is something that does not boil down to “I Get What I Want, Irrespective of Other Concerns.”

Second, I want to turn on the radio and hear Jay-Z boasting about his new Timex.

It is remarkable that Wal-Mart, a company that makes a modest profit margin (typically between 3 percent and 3.5 percent) selling ordinary people ordinary goods at low prices, is the great hate totem for the well-heeled Left, whose best-known celebrity spokesclowns would not be caught so much as downwind from a Supercenter, while at the same time, nobody is out with placards and illiterate slogans and generally risible moral posturing in front of boutiques dealing in Rolex, Prada, Hermès, et al. It’s almost as if there is a motive at work here other than that which is stated by our big-box-bashing friends on the left and their A-list human bullhorns.

What might that be?

Kevin D. Williamson, “Who Boycotts Wal-Mart? Social-justice warriors who are too enlightened to let their poor neighbors pay lower prices”, National Review, 2014-11-30.

February 10, 2016

“It is as if the world had suddenly, mysteriously, begun to clamour for Dumbledores and Gandalfs”

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

Colby Cosh suspects we’ve just hit “Peak Bernie”:

You are reading this on what is the probable date of Peak Bernie. Although you never know. The 74-year-old Vermont senator Bernie Sanders has become the unlikely sex symbol of American politics, fighting Hillary Clinton to a draw in last week’s Iowa Democratic caucus voting. Sanders has been in Congress for a quarter-century as an independent socialist who voted with the Democrats and participated in their seniority structure for the purpose of taking committee assignments.

[…]

What is the secret of Sanders’ success? It’s a combination, I think, of closely related phenomena that are hard to distinguish, and that are related to his advanced age. First, there’s what I like to call John Waters’ Law, after the movie director from Baltimore: if you do the same thing over and over again for long enough, people will reach the irresistible conclusion that you are a genius. Especially if you stay put in the same place.

But there is a form of this general principle specific to politics, which is, broadly, that what goes around comes around. It is close enough to the truth that there are no new ideas in politics — that we are just reiterating debates that were already stale in old Sumer. So if some idea seems temporarily discredited by experience — like democratic socialism! — you can just wait long enough, if you have the nerve and the time, for a bunch of people to be born who have not had that experience.

It is hardly a coincidence that Sanders is popular with young students, with his improvised nostrums for cheap health care and free education. Those fanbros don’t have a strong sense of how socialism makes the world drab and crummy and creates a civilization of queues, shortages and political pull. They certainly don’t know what a hundred different countries could tell them, if countries could speak, about how giving political authority to a fanciful, ambitious studentariat works out.

February 9, 2016

Cam Newton’s 198.8% tax rate for his Super Bowl “winnings”

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

Dan Mitchell explains how Cam Newton is being taxed at nearly 200% on his California income for playing in the Super Bowl:

When I give speeches in favor of tax reform, I argue for policies such as the flat tax on the basis of both ethics and economics.

The ethical argument is about the desire for a fair system that neither punishes people for being productive nor rewards them for being politically powerful. As is etched above the entrance to the Supreme Court, the law should treat everyone equally.

The economic argument is about lowering tax rates, eliminating double taxation, and getting rid of distorting tax preferences.

Today, let’s focus on the importance of low tax rates and Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers is going to be our poster child. But before we get to his story, let’s look at why it’s important to have a low marginal tax rate, which is the rate that applies when people earn more income.

[…]

Now let’s look at the tax implication for Cam Newton.

    If the Panthers win the Super Bowl, Newton will earn another $102,000 in playoff bonuses, but if they lose he will only net another $51,000. The Panthers will have about 206 total duty days during 2016, including the playoffs, preseason, regular season and organized team activities (OTAs), which Newton must attend or lose $500,000. Seven of those duty days will be in California for the Super Bowl… To determine what Newton will pay California on his Super Bowl winnings alone, …looking at the seven days Newton will spend in California this week for Super Bowl 50, he will pay the state $101,600 on $102,000 of income should the Panthers be victorious or $101,360 on $51,000 should they lose.

So what was Cam’s marginal tax rate for playing yesterday?

    Losing means his effective tax rate will be a whopping 198.8%. Oh yeah, he will also pay the IRS 40.5% on his earnings.

In other words, Cam Newton will pay a Barack Obama-style flat tax. The rules are very simple. The government simply takes all your money.

Or, in this case, more than all your money. So it’s akin to a French-style flat tax.

February 7, 2016

QotD: How we solved the drug problem

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

Today during an otherwise terrible lecture on ADHD I realized something important we get sort of backwards.

There’s this stereotype that the Left believes that human characteristics are socially determined, and therefore mutable. And social problems are easy to fix, through things like education and social services and public awareness campaigns and “calling people out”, and so we have a responsiblity to fix them, thus radically improving society and making life better for everyone.

But the Right (by now I guess the far right) believes human characteristics are biologically determined, and biology is fixed. Therefore we shouldn’t bother trying to improve things, and any attempt is just utopianism or “immanentizing the eschaton” or a shady justification for tyranny and busybodyness.

And I think I reject this whole premise.

See, my terrible lecture on ADHD suggested several reasons for the increasing prevalence of the disease. Of these I remember two: the spiritual desert of modern adolescence, and insufficient iron in the diet. And I remember thinking “Man, I hope it’s the iron one, because that seems a lot easier to fix.”

Society is really hard to change. We figured drug use was “just” a social problem, and it’s obvious how to solve social problems, so we gave kids nice little lessons in school about how you should Just Say No. There were advertisements in sports and video games about how Winners Don’t Do Drugs. And just in case that didn’t work, the cherry on the social engineering sundae was putting all the drug users in jail, where they would have a lot of time to think about what they’d done and be so moved by the prospect of further punishment that they would come clean.

And that is why, even to this day, nobody uses drugs.

Scott Alexander, “Society Is Fixed, Biology Is Mutable”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-09-10.

February 5, 2016

“I’m all for a Darwinian Search and Rescue Plan, if you follow me”

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

Duffelblog reports on the kind of boaters the US Coast Guard has to rescue:

Nearly 83 percent of mariner rescues since 1960 involved unrelentingly stupid behaviors and/or people, according to a recent study by the U.S. Coast Guard.

Though the service treats all search and rescue situations equally, most on-scene commanders will privately admit that a majority of the time “it was just some dumb bastard with no concern for personal safety,” according to the study’s authors.

“These statistics are unthinkable,” said Coast Guard spokesperson Lt. Carla Willmington. “Our service prides itself on response time, SAR organization, and comprehensive rescue pattern analysis. But it’s tough to stay on task when the bulk of these cases involve people paralyzed from the neck up. ”

The U. S. Coast Guard Office of Search and Rescue report examined nearly all cases handled on inland and offshore waters from 1960 through 2014. Following the Federal Boating Act of 1971, increases in cases by “fucking idiots” and “goddamn morons” have been staggering, and very challenging to the service as it struggles to operate under a minimal budget.

Between 2010 and 2014, the most recent years studied, incidents involving “total assholery” increased from 10,687 to 38,335.

February 3, 2016

Brace yourself for the predictable bullshit about “trafficked” prostitutes at the Super Bowl

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

In Reason, J.D. Tuccille explains why the usual media coverage of underage/trafficked/sex slave prostitutes being shipped in to cater to the depraved masses at the Super Bowl are so much hysterical nonsense:

When the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos face off in San Francisco, experts warn us to expect Cam Newton and Peyton Manning to face burial under a tidal wave of human flesh — not the opposing team’s defensive line, as you might expect, but a writhing mass of sex slaves inundating the Super Bowl and the Bay Area.

Or so government officials and moral panic types would have it.

“Super Bowl host cities typically see a jump not just in tourists, but also in some crimes, including human trafficking and prostitution,” San Francisco’s KGO warned earlier this month on Human Trafficking Awareness Day, an annual event held every January 11.

“The good news is that we are continuing our efforts to fight human trafficking,” San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón said the same day. “The bad news is that the problem continues to increase.”

Gascón made his comments at a press conference deliberately tied to the big game, in anticipation of a wave of “trafficked” sex workers descending on the area.

That term – not “prostitution,” but “trafficking” — is a deliberate choice, selected to confuse people accustomed to the plain language established over the long history of the buying and selling of sexual services. The reason why is obvious. While the trade in sex was once frowned upon in itself, that’s no longer necessarily the case. A YouGov poll published this past September found Americans almost evenly divided, with 44 percent favoring legalization of prostitution, and 46 percent opposed. That’s up from 38 percent support for legalization in 2012. Amnesty International is among the organizations seeking to recognize people’s right to, in the organization’s words, “the full decriminalization of all aspects of consensual sex work.”

Opponents of commercial sex find themselves on the wrong side of shifting public opinion, so they pull a little rhetorical sleight of hand to get around that inconvenient word “consensual.” The implication of the “trafficking” terminology is that prostitutes are slaves — and they’re being hustled off to a major sporting event near you.

“Coercion is much rarer than ‘trafficking’ fetishists pretend it is,” insists Reason contributor and former call girl Maggie McNeill. “The term ‘trafficking’ is used to describe many different things along a broad spectrum running from absolutely coercive to absolutely not coercive, yet all of them are shoehorned into a lurid, melodramatic and highly-stereotyped narrative.”

QotD: The wealthy and their status-signalling spending habits

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

If you want an illuminating example of the fact that there is more to the way that prices work in a free market than can be captured by the pragmatic calculations of cold-eyed util-traders, consider the luxury-goods market and its enthusiastic following among people who do not themselves consume many or any of those goods. One of the oddball aspects of rich societies such as ours is the fact that when people pile up a little bit more disposable income than they might have expected to, they develop a taste for measurably inferior goods and outdated technologies: If you have money that is a little bit obscene, you might get into classic cars, i.e., an outmoded form of transportation; if your money is super-dirty obscene, you get into horses, an even more outmoded form of transportation.

Or consider the case of fine watches: Though he — and it’s a “he” in the overwhelming majority of cases — may not be eager to admit it, a serious watch enthusiast knows that even the finest mechanical timepiece put together by magical elves on the shores of Lake Geneva is, as a timekeeping instrument, dramatically inferior to the cheapest quartz-movement watch coming out of a Chinese sweatshop and available for a few bucks at, among other outlets, Wal-Mart. (To say nothing of the cheap digital watches sold under blister-pack at downscale retailers everywhere, or the clock on your cellphone.) But even as our celebrity social-justice warriors covet those high-margin items — and get paid vast sums of money to help sell them, too — they denounce the people who deal in less rarefied goods sold at much lower profit margins.

If economic “exploitation” means making “obscene profits” — an empty cliché if ever there were one — then Wal-Mart and the oil companies ought to be the good guys; not only do they have relatively low profit margins, but they also support millions of union workers and retirees through stock profits and the payment of dividends into pension funds. By way of comparison, consider that Hermès, the luxury-goods label that is a favorite of well-heeled social-justice warriors of all sorts, makes a profit margin that is typically seven or eight times what Wal-Mart makes, even though, as rapper Lloyd Banks discovered, its $1,300 sneakers may not always be up to the task. If Wal-Mart is the epitome of evil for selling you a Timex at a 3 percent markup, then shouldn’t Rolex be extra-super evil?

Kevin D. Williamson, “Who Boycotts Wal-Mart? Social-justice warriors who are too enlightened to let their poor neighbors pay lower prices”, National Review, 2014-11-30.

January 31, 2016

The odd role of Iowa in the 2016 election

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

Colby Cosh on the notion that the “typical state” of Iowa is being weirded by its unusual prominence every four years in the election cycle:

Iowa’s prominent place in the party primary system is often justified on the grounds that it is a highly typical U.S. state, a perfect measurement sample of middle American values. (No one ever works the word “white” in there when discussing Iowa or its partner, New Hampshire. That part is left implicit, just like the extra political power our Senate gives to the paler Canadian provinces.) But every student of physics knows that the act of measurement influences the experiment, and one can’t help suspecting that Iowa’s position in the American political process may actually be making the state weirder.

If you have watched the Iowa caucuses unfold live on C-Span, you know they reward fervour as much as organizational ability. A few people with fringe beliefs and free time may count for as much as a hundred names on a mailing list. As Santorum and Huckabee remind us, right-wing candidates who shrivel like vampires in the sun of other states often do well in Iowa.

Steve Forbes ran a very strong second there to G.W. Bush in 2000; the downright bizarre Alan Keyes finished third. Pat Robertson took 25 per cent of the votes in ’88. Ron Paul, outsider of outsiders, finished a bare smidgen behind Santorum. That bodes well for Donald Trump (and it offers hope to Ron Paul’s son Rand, who barely qualified for the main Fox News debate but brought the loudest following to the hall).

And on the “Trump as mass hypnotist” theme promulgated by Scott Adams:

It’s a strange election season, all right. Scott Adams, best known as the creator of Dilbert, has carved out a niche on his weblog as the leading expositor of Trumpian strategy. Adams believes Trump is literally hypnotizing the American public, using an arcana of powerful persuasion methods. The cartoonist disavows any claim to support Trump per se, but he has remained bullish even as other commentators predicted disaster after every grandiose halfwittery or scornful bon (?) mot.

Adams’ Trump-as-Master-Persuader schtick is becoming tacitly influential, I think, among chastened journalists who thought Trump would crash months ago. When the revered psephologist Nate Silver did a dramatic U-turn last week and admitted that he had harmed his prophetic bona fides by underestimating Trump, one could not help thinking of it as a surrender — could not help envisioning the sudden cinematic crumbling of a mighty fortification built out of Excel spreadsheets and wishful thinking. Silver almost seemed … relieved.

The problem with Adams’ analysis is that he never gets too specific about what Trump’s secret techniques actually are. In practice it seems to boil down to “Develop the conviction that you are a winner, whatever the evidence actually suggests, and pour that conviction into every word, gesture, and manoeuvre.”

That certainly accounts for much of Trump’s appeal to the American public. (As George S. Patton said, Americans love a winner.) Trump also infuriates the “right” people, and that will automatically attract a certain following. He has a starry-eyed following among neo-fascists and conspiracy theorists of various flavours, who would never otherwise venerate a billionaire advocate of single-payer medicare and corporate bailouts. They like him for explosively expanding the possibilities for what can be said out loud in politics.

A while back, it was becoming generally acknowledged that Trump had managed the unusual trick of moving the Overton Window well to the right. It’s probably now safe to say that he’s actually blown a huge hole in the wall where that window used to be: like it or hate it, a much wider range of topics are open for discussion than in any election campaign in generations.

January 30, 2016

The vast chasm between Trump supporters and the “conservative establishment”

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

In Politico, Tucker Carlson explains why the conservative establishment so badly misjudged the folks who are now vociferously supporting The Donald:

Consider the conservative nonprofit establishment, which seems to employ most right-of-center adults in Washington. Over the past 40 years, how much donated money have all those think tanks and foundations consumed? Billions, certainly. (Someone better at math and less prone to melancholy should probably figure out the precise number.) Has America become more conservative over that same period? Come on. Most of that cash went to self-perpetuation: Salaries, bonuses, retirement funds, medical, dental, lunches, car services, leases on high-end office space, retreats in Mexico, more fundraising. Unless you were the direct beneficiary of any of that, you’d have to consider it wasted.

Pretty embarrassing. And yet they’re not embarrassed. Many of those same overpaid, underperforming tax-exempt sinecure-holders are now demanding that Trump be stopped. Why? Because, as his critics have noted in a rising chorus of hysteria, Trump represents “an existential threat to conservatism.”

Let that sink in. Conservative voters are being scolded for supporting a candidate they consider conservative because it would be bad for conservatism? And by the way, the people doing the scolding? They’re the ones who’ve been advocating for open borders, and nation-building in countries whose populations hate us, and trade deals that eliminated jobs while enriching their donors, all while implicitly mocking the base for its worries about abortion and gay marriage and the pace of demographic change. Now they’re telling their voters to shut up and obey, and if they don’t, they’re liberal.

It turns out the GOP wasn’t simply out of touch with its voters; the party had no idea who its voters were or what they believed. For decades, party leaders and intellectuals imagined that most Republicans were broadly libertarian on economics and basically neoconservative on foreign policy. That may sound absurd now, after Trump has attacked nearly the entire Republican catechism (he savaged the Iraq War and hedge fund managers in the same debate) and been greatly rewarded for it, but that was the assumption the GOP brain trust operated under. They had no way of knowing otherwise. The only Republicans they talked to read the Wall Street Journal too.

On immigration policy, party elders were caught completely by surprise. Even canny operators like Ted Cruz didn’t appreciate the depth of voter anger on the subject. And why would they? If you live in an affluent ZIP code, it’s hard to see a downside to mass low-wage immigration. Your kids don’t go to public school. You don’t take the bus or use the emergency room for health care. No immigrant is competing for your job. (The day Hondurans start getting hired as green energy lobbyists is the day my neighbors become nativists.) Plus, you get cheap servants, and get to feel welcoming and virtuous while paying them less per hour than your kids make at a summer job on Nantucket. It’s all good.

Apart from his line about Mexican rapists early in the campaign, Trump hasn’t said anything especially shocking about immigration. Control the border, deport lawbreakers, try not to admit violent criminals — these are the ravings of a Nazi? This is the “ghost of George Wallace” that a Politico piece described last August? A lot of Republican leaders think so. No wonder their voters are rebelling.

January 29, 2016

QotD: Summing up the Wal-Mart fortunes

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

One of the obvious points being made, as is now traditional, concerning the great wealth of the Walton family, those inheritors of Sam Walton’s cash and stock. It’s not actually all that difficult to get people riled up about a store paying an average of $8.80 an hour (for non-supervisory staff) when the people who own the company have some $150 billion in wealth. However, that’s not actually the correct response. And insisting upon a change in public policy so that some of that wealth is paid to those workers, or that it should be taxed away in some manner, would be very much the wrong answer. For, you see, those Waltons actually deserve that $150 billion: we should be absolutely overjoyed that they have it in fact.

[…]

So, we get $250 billion a year and the Waltons, the inheritors of the man who started it all off, get $150 billion. We get more than they do: that sounds like a pretty good deal really. Except that is of course to grossly overstate what they are getting. That mountain of cash they’ve got is not an annual figure: that’s the capital value, their wealth, not the income from one year. Our benefit is what we save in one year. That value of WalMart stock is the net present value of everything that WalMart is expected to make in profits from now until eternity (although obviously we use a discount rate so that something 40 years out is given less importance than something next year). So we need to adjust our $250 billion figure in the same manner to make the two numbers comparable.

The easiest way to do that is simply to ignore discounting and to also impose a 20 year time limit. Neither assumption is correct but it’ll give us a nice rough and ready guess at the capital value to us all of those annual savings. And the answer if we do it that way is that the current value of WalMart’s existence to the rest of us is $5 trillion. That’s the number that is comparable to that $150 billion family fortune. They’re both the net present values of future income streams which does indeed make them comparable even if that value to us is calculated in a much simpler manner than the way the stock market values WalMart.

At which point it looks like we’re getting a massive bargain. We get $5 trillion and the people who made it happen only get $150 billion? Why aren’t we cheering in the streets over this rather than demonstrating in them about how awful it all is?

Tim Worstall, “The Waltons Deserve Their Hundred Fifty Billion; The Rest Of Us Gain $5 Trillion From Walmart’s Existence”, Forbes, 2014-11-29.

January 28, 2016

It’s the new Republican way of politics: “Calling your own base a bunch of stupid hicks is not good strategy”

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

At Ace of Spades H.Q., Monty responds to what he calls a “feculent little bolus” of a political story:

May God save us all from the scourge of unintellectualism! It’s almost like these rubes don’t appreciate the unparalleled record of cultural and policy triumphs the GOP has accrued over the past two decades!

So…yeah. They really do think we’re stupid. Their Delphic prophecies and magisterial command of political philosophy flies right over our thick ape-like craniums. Their brilliance is wasted on us, and they would like nothing better than to trade us in for a smarter (or at least more pliable, and certainly less white and male) base. Alas, they need our votes for the foreseeable future, so they must bottle up their contempt as best they can and lie to us through fake smiles. But the bitterness and contempt is seeping through the facade, as it always does.

Calling your own base a bunch of stupid hicks is not good strategy (not to mention petty and rude) if you want them to vote for you or your preferred candidates. Mainly because the so-called “intellectuals” who have been driving GOP policy for the past two decades have done a spectacularly shitty job of it. If I’m forced to choose between the lumpenproles and the think-tank eggheads, I’ll throw my lot in with the peasants. They’re a lot smarter than the sneering elites give them credit for, and they don’t sit around all day inhaling their own ass-waft.

If the GOP brain-trust was arguing from a baseline of stellar success and policy wins, it’d be different. But the post-Reagan era has been an utter catastrophe in terms of actual conservative policy, and on all fronts: cultural, economic, foreign-policy, tax policy, you name it. The arrogance of these pissants is pretty rich, given their two-decade run of fecklessness and failure.

QotD: George Orwell on American fashion magazines of the 1940s

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

Someone has just sent me a copy of an American fashion magazine which shall be nameless. It consists of 325 large quarto pages, of which no less than 15 are given up to articles on world politics, literature, etc. The rest consists entirely of pictures with a little letterpress creeping round their edges: pictures of ball dresses, mink coats, step-ins, panties, brassières, silk stockings, slippers, perfumes, lipsticks, nail polish — and, of course, of the women, unrelievedly beautiful, who wear them or make use of them.

One striking thing when one looks at these pictures is the overbred, exhausted, even decadent style of beauty that now seems to be striven after. Nearly all of these women are immensely elongated. A thin-boned, ancient-Egyptian type of face seems to predominate: narrow hips are general, and slender, non-prehensile hands like those of a lizard are quite universal. Evidently it is a real physical type, for it occurs as much in the photographs as in the drawings. Another striking thing is the prose style of the advertisements, an extraordinary mixture of sheer lushness with clipped and sometimes very expensive technical jargon. Words like suave-mannered, custom-finished, contour-conforming, mitt-back, inner-sole, backdip, midriff, swoosh, swash, curvaceous, slenderize and pet-smooth are flung about with evident full expectation that the reader will understand them at a glance. Here are a few sample sentences taken at random:

“A new Shimmer Sheen color that sets your hands and his head in a whirl.” “Bared and beautifully bosomy.” “Feathery-light Milliken Fleece to keep her kitten-snug!” “Others see you through a veil of sheer beauty, and they wonder why!” “An exclamation point of a dress that depends on fluid fabric for much of its drama.” “The miracle of figure flattery!” “Molds your bosom into proud feminine lines.” “Isn’t it wonderful to know that Corsets wash and wear and whittle you down… even though they weigh only four ounces!” “The distilled witchery of one woman who was forever desirable… forever beloved… Forever Amber.” And so on and so on and so on.

A fairly diligent search through the magazine reveals two discreet allusions to gray hair, but if there is anywhere a direct mention of fatness or middle-age I have not found it. Birth and death are not mentioned either: nor is work, except that a few recipes for breakfast dishes are given. The male sex enters directly or indirectly into perhaps one advertisement in twenty, and photographs of dogs or kittens appear here and there. In only two pictures, out of about three hundred, is a child represented.

On the front cover there is a colored photograph of the usual elegant female, standing on a chair while a gray-haired, spectacled, crushed-looking man in shirtsleeves kneels at her feet, doing something to the edge of her skirt. If one looks closely one finds that actually he is about to take a measurement with a yardstick. But to a casual glance he looks as though he were kissing the hem of the woman’s garment — not a bad symbolical picture of American civilization, or at least of one important side of it.

George Orwell, retitled as “George Orwell Wrote One of the Most Incensed Takedowns of American Fashion Magazines”, The New Republic, 1946-12-02.

January 26, 2016

Inventing ISIS

Filed under: Middle East, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Strategy Page looks at some of the prevailing beliefs about the origins of ISIS among refugees:

Interviews with refugees from the fighting in Iraq and Syria as well as people still in those countries shows that over 80 percent believe the Islamic terrorists in general and ISIL and al Qaeda in particular are creations of the West (particularly the United States) and Israel as a means to destroy their countries and Islam. This is nothing new and while all this is unbelievable to most Westerners and largely ignored by Western media and politicians it is very real and has been for a long time. Media in these countries is full of even more fanciful (to Westerners) inventions. This has caused problems for Western troops operating in those countries, although some have figured out how to take advantage of it.

All cultures have a certain belief in magic and what Westerners call “conspiracy theories” to explain otherwise unexplainable events. In the Islamic world, there is a lot of attention paid to sorcery and magic, and people accused of practicing such things are regularly attacked and sometimes executed because “sorcery” is a capital crime under Islamic law. Conspiracy theories are also a popular way to explain away inconvenient facts and this is often found useful in countries that are hostile to other forms of sorcery.

For example back in 2008 many Pakistanis believed that the then recent Islamic terrorist attack in Mumbai, India was actually the work of the Israeli Mossad or the American CIA and not the Pakistani terrorists who were killed or captured and identified. Such fantasies are a common explanation, in Moslem nations, for Islamic terrorist atrocities. Especially when Moslems, particularly women and children are among the victims. In response many Moslems tend to accept fantastic explanations shifting the blame to infidels (non-Moslems).

After the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, many Moslems again blamed Israel for staging those attacks. A favorite variation of this is that, before the attacks on the World Trade Center, a secret message went out to all Jews in the area to stay away. Another variation has it that the 19 attackers (all of them Arab, 15 from Saudi Arabia) were really not Arabs but falsely identified as part of the Israeli deception. In the United States some Americans insist that the attack was the work of the U.S. government, complete with the World Trade Center towers being brought down by prepositioned explosive charges. While few Americans accept this, the CIA and Mossad fantasies are widely accepted in the Moslem world. Even Western educated Arabs, speaking good English, will casually express, and accept, these tales of the Israeli Mossad staging the attacks, in an effort to trick the U.S. into attacking Afghanistan and Iraq. Americans are shocked at this, but the Moslems expressing these beliefs just shrug when confronted with contradictory evidence.

January 23, 2016

Scott Adams’ theory about Donald Trump is looking better all the time

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

At the American Enterprise Institute blog, James Pethokoukis is starting to believe that Scott Adams has had Trump’s number this whole time:

Maybe all those explanations are necessary to fully understand the Trump phenomenon. But they may not be sufficient without one more, one that is both simple and sophisticated. The simple part: Trump is just a really, really good salesman. Or, as the campaign pros put it, a “political athlete.” The sophisticated part is how Trump is making that sale to voters. Consider the possibility that Trump — a billionaire businessman with an Ivy League MBA and a best-selling author on dealmaking — isn’t some blithering idiot blurting out populist nonsense. Instead, perhaps Trump is calculatedly using tried-and-true influencing and negotiating techniques — ones used by persuaders from carnival hypnotists to high-profile motivational speakers such as Tony Robbins — to literally mesmerize the GOP.

[…]

These and other of Trump’s “master persuader” tricks and techniques — including engineered insults like calling Jeb Bush “low energy” — have been outlined and explained since last summer in a series of prescient blog posts by cartoonist Scott Adams. Best known as creator of the Dilbert comic strip, Adams is also a Berkeley MBA and trained hypnotist. While many analysts dismiss Trump as an idiot clown benefiting from America’s anxious id, Adams sees Trump as a savvy communicator “highly trained in the art of persuasion [who] literally wrote the book on it …There is a reason Trump’s message penetrates the crowd noise” while the other candidates flounder.

Adams too points out that Trump is friends with Robbins, someone deeply studied in the art of persuasion and making emotional connections, including hypnotic techniques. Also keep in mind that while Adams may not be a member of the national pundit corp, he has been dead on in forecasting the seemingly inexorable rise of Trump, including Trump’s emerging acceptance from the GOP establishment.

Of course, maybe Adams is giving Trump more credit here than he deserves. Maybe Trump is just, as Adams puts it, a “lucky Hitler.” The wrong man at the right time to gain power. But if Adams is right, Trump is intentionally playing a different game than his rivals are, with their tired 30-second ads and think-tank approved policy agendas. And he’s winning that game by a landslide right now — which, by the way, is what Adams is predicting for November 2016.

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