Quotulatiousness

April 15, 2014

Oval Office trivia

Filed under: Humour, Politics, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 14:08

Chris Kluwe is deputized to answer reader letters for Deadspin. It actually has some football-related stuff, in addition to an answer for this query from Ethan:

    How many people that are not the president, do you think have had sex in the Oval Office?

Has to be at least in the thousands. Think of all the Congressmen working after hours, diligently crafting pork with the help of nubile young interns who’re easily impressed by wrinkly, dead Cryptkeeper flesh and the ephemeral promise of power. One thing leads to another, he says he knows a guy on the Secret Service who can get them into the Oval Office as long as they’re quiet, and boom — now he’s desperately trying to remember where he left the Viagra while she tries to convince herself this will totally launch her career. I bet the Secret Service guys even have a name for it, like the Clinton, or the Kennedy.

“Hey Chip, looks like ‘ol Strom Thurmond’s pulling another Jefferson tonight. Make sure his walker’s outside the door in about three minutes.”

Greeeaat, I’ll let the cleaning staff know it’s gonna be another late one.”

THANKS, OBAMA.

Militarization of the police, pervasive surveillance, incarceration rates, and other police state trappings

Filed under: Government, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:24

An email from Rupert included a link to this infographic illustrating the “progress” of the United States toward a police state:

Click image to see full infographic

Click image to see full infographic

It’s easy to poke fun at people who worry about the ever-growing state involvement in everyday life … well, it used to be fun until the NSA’s incredible list of surveillance programs became known. Now, paranoia is the rational state for anyone concerned with their privacy and freedom of speech. We had Godwin’s Law, which provided a useful rule of thumb for when internet arguments had passed the point of no return. This is a rare example of an argument that meets the condition of Godwin’s Law (in the infographic), yet still remains relevant.

Are breast implants tax-deductable? Only if they’re “extraordinarily large”

Filed under: Business, Law, USA — Tags: — Nicholas Russon @ 07:10

For some reason, the following report at the Tax Foundation website does not have any images to accompany the story:

In filing one’s taxes, it may be necessary to distinguish between breast implants that are merely “large,” and breast implants that are “extraordinarily large.”

The relevant ruling on this subject came in 1994 in a case known as Hess v. Commissioner. The plaintiff, a self-employed exotic dancer, had implants that expanded her bust size to the size 56FF. For tax purposes, she treated these as a deductible business expense on her schedule C. The IRS contested her deduction.

[...]

The relevant issue in Hess was whether breast implants – traditionally thought of as a luxury good bought for personal benefit – could be considered a legitimate business expense. Given that the plaintiff was an exotic dancer, she had a fair argument. But in general, taxpayers aren’t allowed to treat personal appearance expenditures as business expenses unless they aren’t suitable for personal use. Hess, arguing pro se, convincingly established that her implants were inconvenient in everyday life due to the sheer enormity of her breasts. The courts ruled in her favor:

    Because petitioner’s implants were so extraordinarily large, we find that they were useful only in her business. Accordingly, we hold that the cost of petitioner’s implant surgery is depreciable.

H/T to Walter Olson, who assures us that this inquiry is strictly business.

April 14, 2014

In defence of limited corporate liability

Filed under: Business, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:47

The RSS feed that used to track Megan McArdle’s posts at Bloomberg View has been on the fritz for a couple of weeks, so I missed this article when it was posted earlier this month:

The argument for unlimited liability isn’t just a libertarian evergreen; it’s also something you occasionally hear from the far left, because it would basically make the corporate form untenable. Imagine, if you would, that by buying and holding the share of a firm for 10 minutes, you thereby subjected yourself to seizure of all your goods to satisfy potential lawsuit judgments — even if those judgments involved behavior that involved no legal liability at the time of the acts.

Not possible? That’s basically what happened with asbestos liability. Firms that had had no legal liability under the doctrines of the times in which the asbestos was sold or used suddenly found themselves driven into bankruptcy by massive settlements. Moreover, after the first wave of lawsuits exhausted the funds available to pay asbestos claims, plaintiffs’ lawyers started pushing to expand the number of pockets that could be dipped into.

A company that had never manufactured asbestos could be sued and have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on lawsuits and settlements because it had once bought a company with an insulation division that had formerly manufactured asbestos — even though it had immediately sold off that division in the process of completing the merger. Insurers could be forced to pay out for the whole of a company’s liability if they had sold a company insurance for even a year between the time a company started making or using asbestos and the time that the plaintiff discovered the harm. And “harm” wasn’t limited to getting sick; you could sue for the emotional distress of worrying that you might get sick.

Kind of hard to imagine becoming a shareholder under those circumstances, isn’t it? Maybe you’d better put your money in the bank — a small, privately held bank, of course. Commerce would look something like it did in medieval Italy, where all economic activity was basically organized by the family or the partnership.

Growth would have to be financed by debt or by retained earnings. That’s how British firms financed expansion in the early days of the Industrial Revolution. It’s how small businesses tend to finance expansion now.

The traditional libertarian answer is “insurance”, but that’s a non-starter as well.

To which I answer: What insurance company?

Insurers are also corporations, and their owners get the same valuable shield from liability that everyone else gets from the corporate form. They may have shareholders, or they may be mutually held by their policy holders, but either way, someone is getting protection from lawsuit by the same laws that protect General Motors Co. This sort of liability shield is vital for any large aggregation of capital requiring lots of contributors — which is basically the definition of an insurance company.

April 12, 2014

Charles Stross solves the GOP’s 2016 candidate dilemma

Filed under: Humour, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:40

No really:

Now, it occurs to me that the Republican Party over in the USA have a bit of a problem coming up in 2016, namely who to run against Barack Obama’s successor. Whoever they are. (Hilary is looking a little old and Al’s cardboard has mildew.) But the RNC isn’t in good shape. They don’t have anybody out front with the charisma of the Gipper (dead or alive), or the good ole’ boy appeal of George W. Bush: just a bunch of old white guys in dark suits who’re obsessed with the size of their wallets and the contents of every woman’s uterus, or vice versa. Guys who make Karl Rove look like Johnny Depp.

And so it occurred to me (after my fifth pint of IPA) to spin my speculative political satire around the fact that there is only one man on the global political scene today who has what it takes to be a plausible Republican candidate for President Of The United States at the next presidential election.

This man:

Vladimir Putin riding a bear

Vladimir Vladimirovitch Putin.

Let me enumerate the ways in which this man makes sense as a candidate. He’s only 62 years old—not as youthful as Barack Obama, but still well within the age range for POTUS. He has proven experience of leading an aggressive, declining, former military superpower bristling with nuclear weapons and suffering from eating disorders and a tendency to binge on breakaway republics when nobody is looking. As a former KGB Colonel he understands the needs of the security state like no US president before him, except possibly George H. W. Bush (a former Director of the CIA); he’s exactly the right man to be in charge of the NSA, post-Snowden. As a Russian he clearly likes his tea, so he’ll go down well with that wing of the party. Nobody can accuse him of being soft on terrorism, or communism, or gay rights. Nobody can question his virile, macho manhood either, not with his state-run press agency circulating photographs of him bareback-riding a bear. He’s an instinctive authoritarian, a daddy figure, totally in love with god, guts, and guns — and if anyone says otherwise he’ll put powdered Polonium in their soup.

Oh, but it gets better

Under-the-table money in college sports

Filed under: Football, Sports, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:58

As I’ve said before, I don’t follow US college football — which is why the pre-draft churn of names and teams in NFL coverage moves me very little — so my knowledge of how the NCAA organizes and manages team sports is pretty low. I do know that a lot of university student athletes are given scholarships with many nasty strings attached which force them into emphasizing the sport over their education. The scholarships are tied to team performance, so that what should be a great opportunity for a kid to earn a degree that otherwise would be out-of-reach effectively turns into four years of indentured servitude, followed by non-graduation. The students are also forbidden to earn money from activities related to their sport (signing autographs for a fee or selling an old game jersey can get you thrown out of school). Gregg Easterbrook regularly points out that some “powerhouse” football schools have terrible graduation rates for their students: the players are used up and discarded and nobody cares that they leave college no better off — and in many cases much worse-off — than when they started.

That’s one of the reasons I’m fascinated with the drive to introduce unions at the college level: even if the students don’t end up with a salary, they should at least be able to count on their scholarship to keep them attending class regardless of the whims of their coaches.

However, if the allegations in this story are true, the situation is even murkier than I’d been lead to believe:

The Bag Man excuses himself to make a call outside, on his “other phone,” to arrange delivery of $500 in cash to a visiting recruit. The player is rated No. 1 at his position nationally and on his way into town. We’re sitting in a popular restaurant near campus almost a week before National Signing Day, talking about how to arrange cash payments for amateur athletes.

“Nah, there’s no way we’re landing him, but you still have to do it,” he says. “It looks good. It’s good for down the road. Same reason my wife reads Yelp. These kids talk to each other. It’s a waste of money, but they’re doing the same thing to our guys right now in [rival school's town]. Cost of business.”

Technically, this conversation never happened, because I won’t reveal this man’s name or the player’s, or even the town I visited. Accordingly, all the other conversations I had with different bag men representing different SEC programs over a two-month span surrounding National Signing Day didn’t happen either.

Even when I asked for and received proof — in this case a phone call I watched him make to a number I independently verified, then a meeting in which I witnessed cash handed to an active SEC football player — it’s just cash changing hands. When things are done correctly, there’s no proof more substantial than one man’s word over another. That allows for plausible deniability, which is good enough for the coaches, administrators, conference officials, and network executives. And the man I officially didn’t speak with was emphatic that no one really understands how often and how well it almost always works.

[...]

This is the arrangement in high-stakes college football, though of course not every player is paid for. Providing cash and benefits to players is not a scandal or a scheme, merely a function. And when you start listening to the stories, you understand the function can never be stopped.

“Last week I got a call. We’ve got this JUCO transfer that had just got here. And he’s country poor. The [graduate assistant] calls me and tells me he’s watching the AFC Championship Game alone in the lobby of the Union because he doesn’t have a TV. Says he never owned one. Now, you can buy a Walmart TV for $50. What kid in college doesn’t have a TV? So I don’t give him any money. I just go dig out in my garage and find one of those old Vizios from five years back and leave it for him at the desk. I don’t view what I do as a crime, and I don’t give a shit if someone else does, honestly.”

“If we could take a vote for these kids to make a real salary every season, I would vote for it. $40,000 or something. Goes back to mama, buys them a car, lets them go live like normal people after they work their asses off for us. But let’s be honest, that ain’t gonna stop all this. If everyone gets $40,000, someone would still be trying to give ‘em 40 extra on the side.”

This is how you become a college football bag man.

Political religion

Filed under: Politics, Religion, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:19

In the most recent Goldberg File “news”letter, Jonah Goldberg discusses what serves some non-religious groups as an effective religion-replacement:

… I read some reviews of Jody Bottum’s new book (which I’ve now ordered). In, An Anxious Age: The Post Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America, Bottum argues that today’s liberal elites are the same liberal elites that we’ve always had. They come from the ranks of mainline Protestants that have run this country for generations (with some fellow-travelling Jews and Catholics, to be sure). But there’s a hitch. They champion a

    social gospel, without the gospel. For all of them, the sole proof of redemption is the holding of a proper sense of social ills. The only available confidence about their salvation, as something superadded to experience, is the self-esteem that comes with feeling they oppose the social evils of bigotry and power and the groupthink of the mob.

This strikes me as pretty close to exactly right. They’re still elitist moralizers but without the religious doctrine. In place of religious experience, they take their spiritual sustenance from self-satisfaction, often smug self-satisfaction.

One problem with most (but not all) political religions is that they tend to convince themselves that their one true faith is simply the Truth. Marxists believed in “scientific socialism” and all that jazz. Liberalism is still convinced that it is the sole legitimate worldview of the “reality-based community.”

There’s a second problem with political religions, though. When reality stops cooperating with the faith, someone must get the blame, and it can never be the faith itself. And this is where the hunt for heretics within and without begins.

Think about what connects so many of the controversies today: Mozilla’s defenestration of Brendan Eich, Brandeis’ disinviting of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the IRS scandal, Hobby Lobby, Sisters of Mercy, the notion climate skeptics should be put in cages, the obsession with the Koch brothers, not to mention the metronomic succession of assclownery on college campuses. They’re all about either the hunting of heretics and dissidents or the desire to force adherence to the One True Faith.

It’s worth noting that the increase in these sorts of incidents is not necessarily a sign of liberalism’s strength. They’re arguably the result of a crisis of confidence.

April 11, 2014

Virginia bans campus “free speech zones”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:51

The way the fight for free speech has been going, you might be forgiven for reading that headline as “Virginia bans free speech”, but fortunately it’s actually a significant improvement in the right of university students to speak freely:

On Friday, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe signed a bill into law effectively designating outdoor areas on the Commonwealth’s public college campuses as public forums, where student speech is subject only to reasonable, content- and viewpoint-neutral time, place, and manner restrictions. Under this new law, college students at Virginia’s public universities will not be limited to expressing themselves in tiny “free speech zones” or subject to unreasonable registration requirements.

HB 258, championed by its lead patron Delegate Scott Lingamfelter, passed both houses of the Virginia General Assembly unanimously. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) urged the passage of the bill and testified on behalf of the legislation in hearings in both legislative houses.

“FIRE thanks Governor McAuliffe, Delegate Lingamfelter, and all of Virginia’s delegates and senators for coming together and supporting this legislation,” said FIRE Legislative and Policy Director Joe Cohn. “One in six public colleges in the United States unjustly restricts student speech with free speech zones. Thanks to this new law, public institutions in Virginia will no longer be among them.”

Restricting student speech to tiny “free speech zones” diminishes the quality of debate and discussion on campus by preventing expression from reaching its target audience. Often, institutions that maintain these restrictive policies also employ burdensome permitting schemes that require students to obtain administrative permission days or even weeks before being allowed to speak their minds. Even worse, many of these policies grant campus administrators unfettered discretion to deny applications based on the viewpoint or content of the speakers’ intended message.

Dungeons and Dragons versus BADD

Filed under: Gaming, History, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:05

BBC News Magazine looks back at the moral panic about Dungeons & Dragons in the early 1980s:

Dungeons and Dragons rulebooks

In 1982, high school student Irving Lee Pulling died after shooting himself in the chest. Despite an article in the Washington Post at the time commenting “how [Pulling] had trouble ‘fitting in’”, mother Patricia Pulling believed her son’s suicide was caused by him playing D&D.

Again, it was clear that more complex psychological factors were at play. Victoria Rockecharlie, a classmate of Irving Pulling, commented that “he had a lot of problems anyway that weren’t associated with the game”.

At first, Patricia Pulling attempted to sue her son’s high school principal, claiming the curse placed upon her son’s character during a game run by the principal was real. She also sued TSR Inc, the publishers of D&D. Despite the court dismissing these cases, Pulling continued her campaign by forming Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons (BADD) in 1983.

Pulling described D&D as “a fantasy role-playing game which uses demonology, witchcraft, voodoo, murder, rape, blasphemy, suicide, assassination, insanity, sex perversion, homosexuality, prostitution, satanic type rituals, gambling, barbarism, cannibalism, sadism, desecration, demon summoning, necromantics, divination and other teachings”.

Pulling’s pamphlet on the dangers of D&D:

Dungeons and Dragons moral panic

In 1985, Jon Quigley, of the Lakeview Full Gospel Fellowship, spoke for many opponents when he claimed: “The game is an occult tool that opens up young people to influence or possession by demons.”

These fears also found their way into the UK. Fantasy author KT Davies recalls “showing a vicar a gaming figure – he likened D&D to demon worship because there were ‘gods’ in the game”.

Veteran roleplayer Andy Smith found himself in the unusual position of being both a roleplayer and a Christian. “While working for a Christian organisation I was told to remove my roleplaying books from the shared accommodation as they were offensive to some of the other workers and contained references to demon-worship.”

Looking back now, it’s possible to see the tendrils of a classic moral panic, and some elements of the slightly esoteric world of roleplaying did stir the imaginations of panicked outsiders.

April 10, 2014

Erasing the 49th parallel? Not so fast…

Filed under: Cancon, Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:30

Froma Harrop reviews the latest hare-brained scheme geopolitical notion of Diane Francis:

What country do Americans overwhelmingly like the most? Canada.

What country do Canadians pretty much like the most? America.

What country has the natural resources America needs? Canada.

What country has the entrepreneurship, technology and defense capability Canada needs? America.

Has the time come to face the music and dance? Yes, says Diane Francis, editor-at-large at the National Post in Toronto. Her book Merger of the Century: Why Canada and America Should Become One Country is both provocative and persuasive.

“The genius of both societies is that they are very good at assimilating people from all over the world,” Francis told me. “So why can’t they do it themselves?”

Relatively small differences are why. Canadian intellectuals have long portrayed the United States as their violent, unruly twin. Many conservatives in this country, meanwhile, deride Canada as the socialistic land of single-payer medicine, gun control and other heavy regulation.

“I don’t buy the narrative of American exceptionalism or Canadian superiority,” says Francis, a dual citizen (born in Chicago). “Both have good points and bad points.”

Americans close to the border already think a lot like Canadians, she notes. Some northern states actually have more liberal laws and lower crime rates than Canada’s. “They are more Canadian than Canadians.”

We have a set of alliances that ensure continental security is underwritten by the world’s most powerful military. We have a free trade arrangement between the two countries that also includes Mexico. Our respective intelligence services co-operate (along with the UK, New Zealand, and Australia) at a very deep level — both for good (shared military surveillance, analysis, and security) and for ill (very significant individual privacy concerns).

Our economies are strongly inter-linked, but both are still subject to outside forces and inside stresses that affect each country differently.

In other words, aside from the minor convenience of not having to carry passports when moving from one country to the other (and the way the US is moving, that may no longer be true for Americans travelling domestically in a few years), we already have most of the benefits of a merger with none of the drawbacks: the American legal system is a terrifying beast to behold, US federal and state governments are far more intrusive and undemocratic in practice despite the legal framework of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and the US political system is if possible even more terrifying than their legal system.

Canada’s legal system could benefit from a few key reforms (getting rid of the human rights tribunals would be a good one, for example), but seem to work in a manner that is both faster and more visibly fair than their American counterparts. Our form of government looks (to American eyes) to be dictatorial, yet yields to democratic pressure from the voters most of the time (most recent example: Quebec). Our head of government is just a politician … and that’s all we expect of a Prime Minister. Our head of state doesn’t even live here, and we’re totally okay with that, too. Of course, if such a merger did take place, the head of state still wouldn’t live here…

A merger? I don’t think so.

April 9, 2014

Amity Shlaes on “progressive” tax rates

Filed under: Government, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:36

The US tax system, like those in many Western countries, incorporates the concept of “progressivity” — the higher the income you earn, the higher the tax you pay on the last dollar. Your income is divided into blocks where each block of dollars is taxed at a different (rising) rate. In other words, the lower your personal income the less tax you pay per dollar of income. Amity Shlaes explains why this mechanism makes reforming or cutting taxes such a challenge:

Over the hundred years intervening, studies have shown that generally people do think that the greater the wealth, the more dollars wealthy people should pay in tax, proportionally. But that is not a progressive rate structure. That is a flat tax. A progressive tax increases rates as you earn more, disproportionally.

Nor are many people aware that under a progressive structure the last dollar is taxed at a different rate from the first dollar. The top marginal rate is not necessarily the average rate. In the early 1980s, scholar Karlyn Keene found that many Americans, when interviewed, thought flat taxes fair. Before Keene, Walter Blum and Harry Kalven at the University of Chicago studied attitudes toward progressivity and its functions and came away, despite their liberal predilections, concluding that the case for progressivity is “uneasy.”

[...]

Vanity of two sorts provides answers. Most Americans are unwilling to concede that they may not understand or be comfortable with long formulas and complex economic ideas. So, like the Enron audit committee, they simply nod and go along.

The second vanity involves not intelligence but a kind of Puritan pretension. No American wants to be caught appearing unfair, even if in the most fleeting snapshot. “Progressivity” sounds like “progress.” Nobody wants to be seen opposing progress, even if that progress is regress and unfair to boot.

In any case: That willed American ignorance is the single greatest reason our progressive income-tax rates have moved, at times, into the 90 percent range, up from that original 7 percent.

Worse, the attitude makes progressivity hard to undo. When you cut taxes for all in a progressive rate structure, the rich necessarily get a larger tax break because they pay a greater share of the taxes. But “larger tax breaks for the rich” are impossible to sell. A redistributive corollary: benefits for the poor. This week Paul Ryan is getting scourged because his budget cuts affect the poor more than the rich. That is because the poor get more of the benefits in the first place.

Update, 10 April: Here’s a great example of how much tax rates can increase at higher levels (although this particular example is not an income tax). In New York state, a recent change to estate tax rates can result in a marginal tax of 164%:

On its face, the new law seems like tax relief. Under the previous law, New Yorkers paid estate taxes of 3.06 percent to 16 percent on the value of estates over $1 million. The new law raises that exclusion to $2.062 million this year and gradually increases it to more than $5 million by 2017.

But because the law also phases out certain credits related to federal taxes, people who have estates valued just above the $2 million threshold could get massive estate tax bills. An analysis by U.S. Trust found that a New York resident who dies today with a taxable estate of $2,165,625 could have to pay an estate tax of over $112,050. That represents a tax of over 100 percent on the value of the estate over $2,062,000.

It gets worse in a few years. Matz said that assuming that the exclusion rises to $5,250,000, a New Yorker with a taxable estate of $5,512,500 would have to pay an estate tax of $430,050. That’s a marginal tax rate of 164 percent on the value of the estate above the exclusion.

Being “pro-business” does not mean the same as being “pro-market”

Filed under: Business, Economics, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 07:32

It’s a common misunderstanding (especially with people who don’t know what laissez faire actually means):

For years, Republicans benefited from economic growth. So did pretty much everyone else, of course. But I have something specific in mind. Politically, when the economy is booming — or merely improving at a satisfactory clip — the distinction between being pro-business and pro-market is blurry. The distinction is also fuzzy when the economy is shrinking or imploding.

But when the economy is simply limping along — not good, not disastrous — like it is now, the line is easier to see. And GOP politicians typically don’t want to admit they see it.

Just to clarify, the difference between being pro-business and pro-market is categorical. A politician who is a “friend of business” is exactly that, a guy who does favors for his friends. A politician who is pro-market is a referee who will refuse to help protect his friends (or anyone else) from competition unless the competitors have broken the rules. The friend of business supports industry-specific or even business-specific loans, grants, tariffs, or tax breaks. The pro-market referee opposes special treatment for anyone.

[...]

GOP politicians can’t have it both ways anymore. An economic system that simply doles out favors to established stakeholders becomes less dynamic and makes job growth less likely. (Most jobs are created by new businesses.) Politically, the longer we’re in a “new normal” of lousy growth, the more the focus of politics turns to wealth redistribution. That’s bad for the country and just awful politics for Republicans. In that environment, being the party of less — less entitlement spending, less redistribution — is a losing proposition.

Also, for the first time in years, there’s an organized — or mostly organized — grassroots constituency for the market. Historically, the advantage of the pro-business crowd is that its members pick up the phone and call when politicians shaft them. The market, meanwhile, was like a bad Jewish son; it never called and never wrote. Now, there’s an infrastructure of tea-party-affiliated and other free-market groups forcing Republicans to stop fudging.

A big test will be on the Export-Import Bank, which is up for reauthorization this year. A bank in name only, the taxpayer-backed agency rewards big businesses in the name of maximizing exports that often don’t need the help (hence its nickname, “Boeing’s Bank”). In 2008, even then-senator Barack Obama said it was “little more than a fund for corporate welfare.” The bank, however, has thrived on Obama’s watch. It’s even subsidizing the sale of private jets. Remember when Obama hated tax breaks for corporate jets?

April 8, 2014

Map of the day

Filed under: Europe, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:37

Here’s an interesting map. What do you think it shows? An epidemic? Outbreaks of zombies? Incidents of flashmobbing?

Click to see full-sized image at the Washington Post

Click to see full-sized image at the Washington Post

The real answer is this shows where participants in an American survey plotted the location of Ukraine. The headline of the story is “The less Americans know about Ukraine’s location, the more they want U.S. to intervene“.

Where’s Ukraine? Each dot depicts the location where a U.S. survey respondent situated Ukraine; the dots are colored based on how far removed they are from the actual country, with the most accurate responses in red and the least accurate ones in blue. (Data: Survey Sampling International; Figure: Thomas Zeitzoff/The Monkey Cage)

I’m not sure which responses worry me the most: the ones that show Ukraine in “flyover country”, Alaska, or Greenland or those that show Ukraine as an underwater modern-day Atlantis…

Update 10 April: I’m kicking myself for forgetting this Bierce quote.

April 7, 2014

The Non-Libertarian Police Department

Filed under: Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:37

I linked to Tom O’Donnell’s “Libertarian Police Department” article last week. This week, Conor Friedersdorf presents the Non-Libertarian Police Department. The difference is that O’Donnell’s department doesn’t exist, while Friedersdorf is describing far too many actual police departments:

I can laugh along with parodies of libertarian ideology. But shouldn’t a reductio ad absurdum start with a belief that the target of the satire actually holds? Tom O’Donnell proceeds as if libertarians object to the state enforcing property rights – that is to say, one of the very few state actions that virtually all libertarians find legitimate! If America’s sheriffs were all summarily replaced by Libertarian Party officials selected at random, I’m sure some ridiculous things would happen. Just not any of the particular things that were described. That isn’t to say that there weren’t parts of the article that made me laugh. It got me thinking too. If the non-libertarian approach to policing* was the target instead, would you need hyperbole or reductio ad absurdum? Or could you just write down what actually happens under the officials elected by non-libertarians? It is, of course, hard to make it funny when all the horrific examples are true:

I was just finishing up my shift by having sex with a prostitute when I got a call about an opportunity for overtime. A no-knock raid was going down across town.

“You’re trying to have your salary spike this year to game the pension system, right?” my buddy told me. “Well, we’re raiding a house where an informant says there’s marijuana, and it’s going to be awesome – we’ve got a $283,000 military grade armored SWAT truck and the kind of flash grenades that literally scared that one guy to death.”

“Don’t start without me,” I told him. “I just have to stop by this pawn shop. It’s run by some friends of mine from ATF. They paid this mentally disabled teenager $150 dollars to get a neck tattoo of a giant squid smoking a joint. Those guys are hilarious.”

Nick Gillespie on the politics of exhaustion

Filed under: Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:13

Writing in the Daily Beast, Nick Gillespie looks at the terrifying prospect of a 2016 presidential contest between yet another Bush and yet another Clinton:

For partisan and media elites, ‘the past is never dead. It’s not even past,’ which means with these two candidates likely to lead the race in 2016, the future doesn’t look so different.

As if we need it, here’s extra proof that contemporary politics is more thoroughly exhausted than adult actress Lisa Sparkxxx must have been at the end of her record-setting roll in the hay at the 2004 “Eroticon” in Warsaw, Poland.

The Washington Post reports, “Many of the Republican Party’s most powerful insiders and financiers have begun a behind-the-scenes campaign to draft former Florida governor Jeb Bush into the 2016 presidential race, courting him and his intimates and starting talks on fundraising strategy.” For once, I found myself agreeing with Jesse Jackson. Can’t we just “stay out the Bushes” this one time at least?

On the other side of the aisle, it’s a given that Hillary Clinton is not only the presumptive Democratic nominee, but the only possible Democratic nominee anyone can name with a straight face (sorry, Joe Biden, but this just ain’t your century any more than the 20th was). “There was a Bush or a Clinton in the White House and cabinet for 32 years straight,” notes Maureen Dowd at The New York Times, whose headline writer adds, “Brace Yourself for Hillary and Jeb.” As it was, it shall always be. About the only cause for optimism is that there’s no Kennedy in the mix.

At least Lisa Sparkxxx participated voluntarily in her own screwing. For the large and growing plurality of Americans who identify as independent, there’s seemingly no way to opt out of the compulsive-repetitive disorder among legacy media types and partisan string-pullers. What is it that Faulkner said in Requiem for a Nun (1950)? “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Who knew that he was talking about politics in the goddamned 21st century, not Yoknapatawpha County after the Civil War?

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