Quotulatiousness

March 17, 2017

QotD: No True Irishman

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

I speak for every true potato-loving mick on the planet when I say that St. Patrick’s Day is a genuine Irish holiday that’s been corrupted into Amateur Drunk Day by us filthy Americans. Nobody in Ireland really cared much about it until dumb American tourists started going over there every March, demanding green beer and tunelessly bellowing “Danny Boy” out of their vomit-encrusted cakeholes. St. Paddy’s Day is fake. It’s Kwanzaa for white people.

Jim Treacher, “No True Irishman Loves St. Patrick’s Day”, The Daily Caller, 2016-03-17.

March 16, 2017

Words & Numbers: Blocked by a State’s Wall of Taxes

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

Published on 15 Mar 2017

This week, James & Antony discuss the case of Connecticut’s budget shortfall. The state hopes to solve their financial problems by raiding the retirement accounts of previous Connecticut government employees who have moved out of the state, and take 30% of those savings. This plan would hurt retirees, break promises, and trap many people in the state based on a policy that may be illegal.

March 14, 2017

DIY Biohacking Can Change The World, If the Government Allows It

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

Published on 13 Mar 2017

Biohackers, much like their computer hacker forebears, prefer asking for forgiveness rather than permission.

“Most policy ideas are bad” (especially in US healthcare)

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

Megan McArdle says that the best plan the Republicans could come up with to deal with Obamacare is to do nothing, at least in the short-term:

For a policy columnist, “Don’t do that” is the easiest column to write. Most policy ideas are bad. If you simply blindly oppose everything that anyone ever puts forward, you’ll end up being right most of the time.

However, that’s not very useful for politicians. If they just sit around Congress playing tiddlywinks all day, voters will get cranky. Congress is supposed to do things. So, having spent a few days saying unkind things about the Republican health-care plan, it probably behooves me to state what I think they should do.

Well, boy, that’s a hard question. Here’s the thing: For all the unkind words I’ve said, I get the forces that have brought Republicans to this point. As I wrote Thursday, Democrats built a shoddy and unworkable structure out of the political equivalent of concrete: nearly impossible to repair or renovate, and darned expensive to demolish. The task is made even harder by the fact that Democrats currently control just enough votes in the Senate to keep Republicans from passing any sort of clean, comprehensive bill.

[…]

What would I do in this situation? Well, the first thing I’d do is accept, deep in my heart, that there are no great outcomes possible at this point. The second thing I’d do is remember that nothing is always a policy option: If you can’t do something better than the status quo, don’t do anything. It’s what I said to Democrats in 2009, and it’s what I’m saying to Republicans now.

So what would I do to minimize the damage, within the constraints of political reality? Well, I foresee two potential futures for the current status quo. One, the exchanges where individuals buy policies could fail, leaving people unable to buy insurance. Or two, the exchanges don’t fail, and we’re left with an unsatisfactory but still operational system.

In either case, the Republicans’ best option is to wait. Why? Because what they can do now — hastily, without touching the underlying regulations that have destabilized the individual market — is worse than either of those outcomes. The partial-reform structure they think they’ll be able to get through the Senate is likely to make the problems in the individual market worse, not better. And the fact that they’ve tinkered with the program means that Republicans will take 100 percent of the blame.

She also re-iterates her own ideal solution (which she admits wouldn’t fly with the American public):

Longtime readers of my column know that my pet proposal is a radical overhaul of the whole system in which we zero out all the existing subsidies and just have the government pick up 100 percent of the tab for medical expenses that exceed 15 or 20 percent of a family’s adjusted gross income: basically, a single-payer catastrophic-care system for expenses that no one can realistically save for. Let people buy insurance for expenses below that, or, if it’s not too expensive taxwise, let people set aside more money tax-free in Health Savings Accounts. And make some more generous provisions for people closer to the poverty line, such as prefunding Health Savings Accounts for them. That’s the whole program. It fits on a postcard, though the finer details — like which cancer treatments we’re actually willing to pay for — obviously aren’t.

However, this is completely politically infeasible, because voters don’t want genuine insurance, by which I mean a pool that provides financial assistance for genuinely unforeseeable and unmanageable expenses. Voters want comprehensive coverage that kicks in at close to the first dollar of spending, no restrictions on treatments or their ability to see a doctor, nice American-style facilities, and so forth. They are also fond of their health-care professionals and do not wish to see provider incomes slashed and hospitals closed, nor do they want their taxes to go up, or to pay 10 percent of their annual income in premiums. This conflicting set of deeply held views is one major reason that Obamacare — and American health-care policy more generally — has the problems it does.

March 13, 2017

“It’s not really a debate over Obamacare, it’s a debate over Medicaid”

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

Robert Tracinski explains why the Republicans are having such a hard time with their oft-promised “repeal” of Obamacare:

House Republicans have released their proposed measure to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, and the whole enterprise is already losing steam right out of the gate. The measure is too small and incremental, less a repeal of Obamacare and more of a repair of it, keeping numerous basic features intact.

If you want to know why Republicans have bogged down, notice one peculiar thing about the Obamacare debate so far. It’s not really a debate over Obamacare, it’s a debate over Medicaid. That’s because Obamacare mostly turned out to be a big expansion of Medicaid. The health insurance exchanges that were supposed to provide affordable private health insurance (under a government aegis) never really delivered. They were launched in a state of chaos and incompetence, and ended up mostly offering plans that are expensive yet still have high deductibles. Rather than massively expanding the number of people with private insurance, a lot of the effect of Obamacare was to wreck people’s existing health care plans and push them into new exchange plans.

Ah, but what about all those people the Democrats are claiming were newly covered under Obamacare? A lot of them — up to two-thirds, by some estimates — are people who were made newly eligible for a government health-care entitlement, Medicaid. But shoving people onto Medicaid is not exactly a great achievement, since it is widely acknowledged to be a lousy program.

Conservative health care wonk Avik Roy explains why: “[T]he program’s dysfunctional 1965 design makes it impossible for states to manage their Medicaid budgets without ratcheting down what they pay doctors to care for Medicaid enrollees. That, in turn, has led many doctors to stop accepting Medicaid patients, such that Medicaid enrollees don’t get the care they need.” Partly as a result, a test in Oregon found no difference in health outcomes between those with access to Medicaid and those without.

March 12, 2017

QotD: The waning influence of pop music

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

Pop music’s impact on the greater culture is also largely over. There will never be another Beatles or Rolling Stones. That’s because “American culture” is over. Prior to the two great industrial wars of the 20th century, America did not have a unified national culture. It was federation of regions. New England may as well have been a different country from the Deep South or the Southwest. The South was very different from Appalachia. There was no unified “American” culture to which all the regional cultures submitted.

The great national project of conquering Europe and Asia opened the door for the flowering of an American culture after the war. Into it was drawn anything that could be sold as celebrating this new world power. It is why what we think of as American pop culture blew up after the war. In music, for example, producers scoured the land looking for authentic American sounds to package up and sell, in order to meet the demand of this new growing thing called Americana. It even went global, in search of spice to ad to the mix.

Like the music business itself, the great unifying national culture that blossomed in the 20th century has run its course. America is, to a great degree, falling back to its natural, regional state. Just look at the popularity of movies and TV shows by region and you see old weird America emerging again. Live acts now setup their tours to reflect the fact that they have greater appeal in some regions than in others. If you are a country act, for example, there’s no point in booking a lot of dates in the north, outside of the one-off festivals in the summer that feature a variety of acts.

That’s another lesson from pop music. The past is the actualized, the present is the actualizing and the future in the potential. Culture is that middle part, standing on the past in an effort to realize the potential that lies in the future. Once culture attains its natural end, it dies. What’s left is what it created. The grand unified pop culture of the Cold War era is now like an old factory building that has been renovated to be lofts, shops and boutique restaurants. It’s influence on what comes next is purely utilitarian.

The Z Man, “The Cycle of Life”, The Z Blog, 2017-03-01.

March 11, 2017

The EFF’s guide to digital privacy at US border crossings

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

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) provides a quick overview of your rights when entering the United States:

QotD: US Army awards contract, losing bidder launches appeal (of course)

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

The Services should just acknowledge the reality of contracting anything in the seven-figure realm, and change initial award announcements to read: “The Initial Conditional Award of Contract XYZ is to Defense Conglomerate 1369. Work will commence after all Congressional Outraged Publicity-Seeking Posturing is exhausted and Butthurt Losing Contractor Challenges are adjudicated. We hope to run both those actions concurrently, and anticipate work will commence a minimum of 3-5 years behind schedule and costs grow at an exponential rate during this period, hence the budget supplemental is already in draft form for Newsies, Think Tanks, and Outraged Congresspersons to grind axes with.” Added caveat for this particular contract: “Additionally, a website has been established to collect all the comments from .40/.45 cal and steel-frame fanboyz to rant about How Stupid This Choice Is.”

John Donovan, posting to Facebook, 2017-02-28.

March 10, 2017

The Russian February Revolution 1917 I THE GREAT WAR Week 137

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

Published on 9 Mar 2017

Food shortages, an overall desolate supply situation and great political turmoil make Russia ripe for revolution and this week 100 years ago, the people take to the streets. The US adopts a policy of armed neutrality.

The two Elon Musks – the savvy businessman and the crony capitalist

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

In The Federalist, Eric Peters describes the ways Elon Musk and his SpaceX crew manage to profit from government subsidies in the process of putting their Falcon rockets into space:

Image from SpaceX website.

Today, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration specializes in putting taxpayer dollars into the pockets of crony capitalist chieftains such as Elon Musk, whose SpaceX operation manages to get NASA to pay him to use its launch pads and other infrastructure — all provided at taxpayer expense. He also doesn’t cut NASA in when he uses its facilities — our facilities — to launch rockets carrying private cargo, meaning he effectively gets paid for it twice.

That’s once in the check he gets from the private business whose cargo his rocket is carrying; then again in the de facto subsidy he gets for the free use of NASA’s equipment at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Why isn’t Elon paying the freight, as opposed to blowing it up?

Incidentally, that happens a lot. Over the past five years alone, SpaceX has lost the same number of rockets as NASA did space shuttles over the 30 years it operated them. And the shuttle wasn’t a money-making machine for politically connected crony capitalists such as Musk. Taxpayers funded it, but no private citizens got a check from taxpayers.

The shuttle even made some money for taxpayers. Private businesses paid NASA to carry satellites into orbit, recovering some of the cost of building that infrastructure. The shuttle also did things useful for the public, like put the Hubble telescope in orbit. It has given humanity an unprecedented view of the universe, and not on pay-per-view.

I read a biography of Elon Musk soon after it was published … and it did a good job of pushing a more sympathetic view of its subject than the linked article above.

The rise of toxic “intellectual tribalism” on campus

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

George Leef on how the protests at Middlebury College in Vermont against Charles Murray show just how thin the veneer of civilization has become at America’s institutes of higher learning:

The reason why, I think, is explained by the intellectual tribalism that grips much of America.

I mean that many people label others as either being in their tribe (consisting of people who are righteous and always correct) and the opposing tribe (consisting of people who are evil, stupid, and wrong on everything). Real scholars never impart such ideas because they know that reasonable and moral people can disagree on almost everything. They also know that the only way for civilized people to counter error is through debate; they know that people cannot be persuaded with violence.

Unfortunately, intellectual tribalism is spreading like the Black Death among so-called progressives. Anyone who disagrees with progressive policies is likely to be labeled an enemy, much as Karl Marx labeled everyone who rejected his beliefs a “class enemy.” The more influential such a person is, the more vehement the attacks and hatred against him. Murray, for example, is called a “racist” and “white supremacist” even though he is neither.

(Try this thought experiment. What would have happened if one of the good, liberal students had piped up and asked, “But shouldn’t we find out if this guy really is a white supremacist before we shout him down?”)

And turning to the toxic effects of this indoctrination, one is the growing idea that the enemy tribe must be fought by any means necessary. Not only do evil people like Murray not deserve to be heard, they deserve to be punched.

Professor Michael Munger of Duke University recently commented on this disturbing phenomenon after he discovered a flier on campus. The flier, he wrote, “encouraged students to ‘bash the fash!’ meaning physically assault fascists. The definition of ‘fascist,’ conveniently, appears to be anyone who disagrees with the smothering leftist orthodoxy that the flier-istas embrace.” Just smear your opponents with a nasty name and it’s easy to whip up hatred and violence.

In Orwell’s 1984, Big Brother’s regime utilized the Two Minute Hate against an imaginary villain to maintain support among the people. At Middlebury, it was more like two hours, and the “villain” perfectly real, but the effect was the same. The leftist zealots “won” by preventing discussion and forcing “bad” people to flee in fear.

The veneer of civilization is thin enough under the best of circumstances. Education ought to strengthen it by making people more willing to listen respectfully to others, disagree rationally, and peacefully walk away from intractable disputes. The behavior of the Middlebury mob shows that for a significant number of students, education has taken them away from civilization, putting them back into the mindset of primitive tribalism.

QotD: Most “Authentic” cuisine is anything but authentic

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

Americans of a certain social class love nothing more than an “authentic” food experience. It is the highest praise that they can heap on a restaurant. The ideal food is one that was perfected by honest local peasants in some picturesque locale, then served the same way for centuries, the traditions passed down from mother to daughter (less occasionally, from father to son), with stern admonitions not to dishonor their ancestry by making it wrong.

These American diners are constantly in a quest for their own lost heritage, along with the traditions of other peoples they don’t know very well. We live, the lore says, in a fallen state, victims of Big Agriculture and a food industry that has rendered everything bland, fatty and sweet. By tapping the traditions of centuries past — or other, poorer places — we can regain the paradise that our grandparents unaccountably abandoned.

And who could be against wanting a more authentic, genuine food experience? I’m so glad you asked.

In fact, authenticity is an illusion, and a highly overrated one. Most of the foods we think of as “authentic” are of relatively recent vintage — since capsaicin-containing hot peppers are native to the Americas, any spicy cuisine like Szechuan or Thai is by definition a Johnny-come-lately invention. Or take artisanal breads, like that crusty, moist peasant bread that most of us eat too much of at restaurants: Nathan Myhrvold, the mad genius of the cookbook world, says that this is a new invention. Our peasant ancestors, who got a large portion of their calories from bread, did not make these richly hydrated doughs, because they’re a pain in the butt to work with. Ciabatta, another bread that America likes because it sounds very authentic, was invented in the 1980s to compete with the baguette. (Itself a product of Industrial Revolution bakeries, not the proud local peasant.)

Megan McArdle, “‘Authentic’ Food Is Not What You Think It Is”, Bloomberg View, 2017-02-24.

March 9, 2017

“… we’re psychologically training an entire swath of the population to be crazy”

Filed under: Health, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:12

At Ace of Spades H.Q., Ace talks about the huge rise in reported personality disorders among Millennials:

Therapeutic behavioral conditioning trains people how to de-trigger themselves from triggers that cause panic, anxiety, depression, or bad behavior (drinking, etc.) That sort of behavioral conditioning teaches people to be mindful of their triggers, to understand that the trigger is just a tic with no real world purpose, and to train themselves to associate the trigger not with an adverse behavioral pattern (being in crowd triggers claustrophobia-like panic) but to train the trigger to lead to some other more benign consequence (being in crowd triggers recitation of the Ode to Joy).

The idea is that your brain has miswired itself to connect an input (too many people close to me) to an undesirable psycho-somatic reaction (heart racing, extreme anxiety), and that it takes a determined attempt to reprogram the brain and untangle those wires so that the triggering input leads first to a benign output and, ultimately, no particular output at all.

This works. Allen Carr’s How to Quit Smoking the Easy Way taught me how to re-wire the trigger (the anxiety/stress one feels when one’s 45 minute nicotine clock runs down to 0) into a different behavioral pattern (go outside, gulp in some fresh air, pace around a little bit like I used to do when smoking). It also taught me that the stress of not smoking was irrational, and that it would be helpful to view the addiction as a malignant parasite inside of me trying to manipulate my brain into keeping it fed while it ruined my body.

Works.

[…]

He realized that the process could be reversed. As brains with bad triggers could be un-triggered to be healthy, so too could completely healthy brains be deliberately taught to be triggered by harmless things and bring about various mental ailments, panic, anxiety, irrational emotional outbursts, a compulsion to violence, tantrums, etc.

And he brought this theory to a social psychologist named Haidt and asked him “Is this possible?” And Haidt said, “Damn it, not only is that possible, I think you’ve hit upon a very real malapplication of psychological techniques — we’re psychologically training an entire swath of the population to be crazy.”

Okay, he didn’t really say that. But that’s kind of the gist.

Definitely read it.

There’s no great mystery to what’s going on. People who train themselves to be cool and clear of mind will find themselves becoming more cool and clear of mind.

People who train themselves to go to pieces over every damn thing will find themselves getting better and better at going to pieces over every damn thing.

When you valorize a mental disorder and turn it into a virtue to be cultivated, guess what you’re gonna get? More mental disorders.

March 8, 2017

“…the anti-fascists look a lot closer [to] Nazi brownshirts than the people they’re trying to stop”

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

Megan McArdle on the sudden willingness — even eagerness — on the part of progressive activists to move from agitation to literally beating up the objects of their hatred:

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you. Or so we were told by our mothers. But events on both sides of continent in recent weeks seem to belie that old adage. A new generation of protesters has come to the conclusion that words do hurt — and that therefore, extreme measures, up to and including physical force, are justified to keep them from being spoken.

At Berkeley last month, a riot broke out over a speech planned by Milo Yiannopoulos, a sort of professional conservative troll who worked for Breitbart until a scandal over some hebephilic remarks cost him his job and his book contract. This was not simply setting things on fire or breaking a few windows (though those would have been quite bad enough); multiple people seem to have been beaten by the “antifas” (anti-fascists). In the videos that have been released so far, the anti-fascists look a lot closer [to] Nazi brownshirts than the people they’re trying to stop. There was further violence this weekend in Berkeley at a pro-Trump march.

Then a few days ago, a speech by Charles Murray at Middlebury College in Vermont also turned violent, and a professor was injured as she walked with Murray after his speech. Murray has given his own personal account of what occurred, and a lengthy video of the proceedings is available on the web. They are not as frightening as what happened at Berkeley, but they are plenty horrifying enough: they shouted him down, refusing to allow him to speak, then banged on the building and pulled fire alarms when he was transferred him to a private room to do a streaming talk they were unable to disrupt. Finally, they tried to physically prevent him from leaving.

The fact that two different speeches triggered violence at two different campuses within the space of a month suggests that we may be entering into a new and more dangerous phase of the anti-free-speech movement. Free-speech advocates, particularly the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, have done a great job pushing back against overweening college administrations that try to curtail the speech of students and professors. But these are actions coming from the students. Who do you sue to keep a mob of students from resorting to the heckler’s veto, or their fists, to combat ideas they don’t like?

As more than a few folks on the right have pointed out, if the “antifa” activists continue translating their distaste for certain words and concepts into actual violence, the right is significantly better armed and nobody in their right mind should want to provoke a descent into reciprocal violence when the other side has all the weapons.

March 7, 2017

Senator Charles Schumer

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

L. Neil Smith calls for an investigation into Senator Schumer’s “connection to this remnant Stalinist core, here in the West.”

Following the inglorious collapse of the old Soviet Union back in the late 20th century, without a doubt the new capital of world collectivism has come to be centered somewhere between Washington, D.C. and New York City. (It had already been observed and lamented that, at a moment in history when communism was shriveling and dying all across its native Europe, the evil legacy of Marx and Engels was alive and well in most American universities.)

New York and Washington, D,C, are both both the familiar stomping grounds of a dangerously deluded Democratic Senator who apparently has come to believe that he is the divinely-appointed rightful Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief, and is presently leading a vicious assault on what might be termed “The Peoples’ Presidency”. One can be forgiven from wondering what stone he pulled his sword from.

Judging from his unbrokenly statist legislative record, he has always believed that the “peasants” (that’s you and me) need a Leviathan to tell them what to do, where to go, how to live their lives, even how many gallons their toilet-tanks may hold. Under no circumstances, in his dementedly Draconian view, must the American electorate be permitted to choose their own leader, especially a leader pledged to lift the burden of authoritarian government from their weary shoulders. Their duty, in his view, is simply to be born, obey their masters, pay a lifetime of taxes, die and get out of the way, not to determine the course of the Ship of State (albeit, a sinking ship, aboard which he occupies the highest crow’s- nest—as it stands now, he’ll be among the last to get his feet wet).

However what needs to be investigated is not some entirely fictional collusion between the Trump Administration and Vladimir Putin’s thoroughly post-Marxist, patently anti-communist Russia, repeated over and over and over and over again by the news floozies and gentlemen-of-the-evening of the compliant news media until we’re expected to believe it, but Charles Schumer’s deep connection to this remnant Stalinist core, here in the West.

I will repeat that, because it’s important. What needs to be investigated is not some fictional—mythical—collusion between the Trump Administration and Vladimir Putin’s post- Marxist, anti-communist Russia, repeated over and over again by the round-heeled news media until we’re expected to believe it, but Charles Shumer’s own connection to this remnant Stalinist core, here in the West.

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