Quotulatiousness

November 2, 2017

“… the United States made a collective choice to let the South have a mythology in place of independence”

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

Colby Cosh is cheering on the carnage of the US-Civil-War-revisionism war that appears to have broken out to our south:

As someone who is relishing the United States’s outburst of Civil War revisionism, I am a little confused by the controversy over a remark by the White House chief of staff, John Kelly. Kelly is being assailed for saying in a Fox News interview that “the lack of an ability to compromise led to the (American) Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.”

This was part of a familiar-sounding encomium to Gen. Robert E. Lee, the Confederacy’s warlord. It is the kind of thing, until recently an accepted part of the American civil religion, that is being instantly challenged in our tempestuous moral climate. And I think this is, on the whole, terrific. About time, and then some.

But I would have thought that the objectionable part of Kelly’s comment was the stuff about “men and women of good faith” — as if Southern whites had not made war for the purpose of preserving a caste’s economic advantage and its political dominance within the federation. Did “good faith” always characterize the Confederacy’s collective behaviour before and during the war? One thinks of Andersonville, or Fort Pillow, or Bleeding Kansas, or — to throw in a Canadian angle — the Confederacy’s use of British North America as a base for conspiracies and violence. We may even recall Preston Brooks beating Charles Sumner nearly to death in the United States Senate in 1856, and being lionized throughout the South for it.

“Good faith,” eh? This reflects the toxic part of the schoolhouse account of history given to Americans: faced with the problem of being bound together in a Union as a victorious nation and a vanquished one, the United States made a collective choice to let the South have a mythology in place of independence. An account of the war as a fateful collision between “ways of life” was allowed to stand — perhaps in the absence of acceptable alternatives — and the South was permitted to commemorate and celebrate war heroes without inviting odium or reprisal. Those heroes ultimately remained part of the ruling class in the South.

It is easy to recognize talk of “good faith” (or “ways of life”) as the thinking of somebody still under the cultural spell of Gone With the Wind. The puzzle is that it does not seem to be the “good faith” part of Kelly’s comment that is inviting the strongest objections. He is being vilified by the “lack of an ability to compromise” part.

October 31, 2017

How Sugar Subsidies Ruin Halloween

Filed under: Economics, Government, Health, Politics, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

ReasonTV
Published on 30 Oct 2017

This Halloween while you’re getting pudgy from candy, crony capitalists are getting rich off of sugar subsidies. The system is rigged through price controls, subsidies, and tariffs, all designed to protect the sugar industry from competition – and basic math. In the latest “Mostly Weekly” Andrew Heaton tears into the Willy Wonkas gaming the system, and shows why an open market can more than handle your sugar craving.

The adage “When you get a free good, you use a lot more of it” also applies to the military

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

John Stossel talks to Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater:

The military uses contractors to provide security, deliver mail, rescue soldiers and more. Private contractors often do jobs well, for much less than the government would spend.

”We did a helicopter resupply mission,” Prince told me. “We showed up with two helicopters and eight people — the Navy was doing it with 35 people.”

I asked, “Why would the Navy use 35 people?”

Prince answered, “The admiral that says, ‘I need 35 people to do that mission,’ didn’t pay for them. When you get a free good, you use a lot more of it.”

Prince also claims the military is slow to adjust. In Afghanistan, it’s “using equipment designed to fight the Soviet Union, (not ideal) for finding enemies living in caves or operating from a pickup truck.”

I suggested that the government eventually adjusts.

”No, they do not,” answered Prince. “In 16 years of warfare, the army never adjusted how they do deployments — never made them smaller and more nimble. You could actually do all the counter-insurgency missions over Afghanistan with propeller-driven aircraft.”

So far, Trump has ignored Prince’s advice. I assume he, like many people, is skeptical of military contractors. The word “mercenary” has a bad reputation.

He moved on after selling Blackwater, and dabbled in fighting piracy:

In 2010, Prince sold his security firm and moved on to other projects.

He persuaded the United Arab Emirates to fund a private anti-pirate force in Somalia. The U.N. called that a “brazen violation” of its arms embargo, but Prince went ahead anyway.

His mercenaries attacked pirates whenever they came near shore. His private army, plus merchant ships finally arming themselves, largely ended piracy in that part of the world. In 2010, Somali pirates took more than a thousand hostages. In 2014, they captured none.

Did you even hear about that success? I hadn’t before doing research on Prince. The media don’t like to report good things about for-profit soldiers. Commentator Keith Olbermann called Blackwater “a full-fledged criminal enterprise.” One TV anchor called Prince “horrible … the poster child for everything wrong with the military-industrial complex.”

When I showed that to Prince, he replied, “the hardcore anti-war left went after the troops in Vietnam … (I)n Iraq and Afghanistan they went after contractors … contractors providing a good service to support the U.S. military — vilified, demonized, because they were for-profit companies.”

If we don’t use private contractors, he added, we will fail in Afghanistan, where we’ve “spent close to a trillion dollars and are still losing.”

H/T to Stephen Green for the link.

October 29, 2017

QotD: Mencken’s revised view of Coolidge

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

In what manner he would have performed himself if the holy angels had shoved the Depression forward a couple of years — this we can only guess, and one man’s hazard is as good as another’s. My own is that he would have responded to bad times precisely as he responded to good ones — that is, by pulling down the blinds, stretching his legs upon his desk, and snoozing away the lazy afternoons…. He slept more than any other President, whether by day or by night. Nero fiddled, but Coolidge only snored…. Counting out Harding as a cipher only, Dr. Coolidge was preceded by one World Saver and followed by two more. What enlightened American, having to choose between any of them and another Coolidge, would hesitate for an instant? There were no thrills while he reigned, but neither were there any headaches. He had no ideas, and he was not a nuisance.

H.L. Mencken, The American Mercury, 1933-04.

October 27, 2017

The revival of the paranoid style in social media

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

During the Clinton presidency, the conspiracy theorists were limited to the reach of their printed-and-mailed newsletters and fringe radio to spread the word (because so relatively few people were online yet). By the time George W. Bush was president, the paranoia had gone digital but had switched sides … now it was the left’s turn to fret about shadowy quasi-governmental organizations amassing arms caches and plotting to throw everyone into prison camps. Then Obama was elected, and the far-right conspiracy theorists re-emerged, bringing in the racist fringe to spice up the crazy. Now Trump is president, and both left and right are free to get their total paranoia on. This is a wonderful example of the type:

H/T to Colby Cosh for the link.

QotD: Russian meddling in US politics

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

In last week’s decidedly un-jocular “news”letter, I wrote about how the hypocrisy of the Left’s newfound outrage at Russia’s meddling in our politics can’t be summarized by saying “Romney was right!” when he said Russia was our biggest geopolitical foe in a debate with Barack Obama. Starting with George Kennan’s Long Telegram [link], conservatives spent the entirety of the Cold War pointing out that the Russians were undermining American life, and we got mocked and ridiculed for it by self-styled sophisticates who thought such concerns were little more than paranoia.

The ridicule didn’t end with the Cold War (when, by the way, the extent and danger of Russian meddling were much greater than they are now). Liberals were so invested in the idea that the political Right made too big a deal about Soviet Communism and that we used our hawkishness as an unfair wedge issue against Democrats that when Mitt Romney said an incandescently true thing about Putin’s Russia, liberals rolled their eyes and then laughed uproariously at Obama’s “the 1980s called” quip. In other words, they were so married to the myth of their moral and intellectual superiority, liberals preferred to stick with the punch-line than even imagine that reality wasn’t on their side.

Jonah Goldberg, “Binders Full of Asininity”, National Review, 2017-10-13.

October 25, 2017

Climb aboard the invective treadmill!

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Megan McArdle tries to point out the urge to call everyone you don’t like a “racist” or “white supremacist” runs you the same trust risk that the boy who cried wolf did:

It’s the inverse of what Steven Pinker has dubbed “the euphemism treadmill,” where we try to find nicer words for something we don’t think is very nice, and find that the new words quickly take on all the old connotations. So “toilet,” turns into “bathroom,” then migrates onward to “rest room.” Only we still know there’s a toilet behind that door, and whatever words we use about it, our feelings don’t change.

This is why attempting to change how Americans feel about illegal migrants by changing the terms we use to describe them is a project doomed to failure; whether they are “illegal aliens” or “undocumented immigrants,” the political realities remain the same. People who feel negatively toward “illegals” feel just as negatively toward “undocumented immigrants.”

The invective treadmill works in a similar fashion, only in reverse.

[…]

During the 2016 presidential campaign, I found myself confronted by a curious problem: Many of my readers simply didn’t take it seriously when I pointed out that Donald Trump was, if not an outright racist himself, at least happily pandering to people who were.

“The media calls every Republican racist,” my conservative readers replied. “They said it about Mitt Romney, they said it about George Bush, so what’s different about Trump?”

They were right. Other columnists had accused Romney and Bush of being racist and pandering to racists. I pointed out that Trump’s racist appeals were different, and much worse, than anything that earlier Republican presidential candidates had been accused of. But it didn’t do any good. The media had cried wolf to condemn garden-variety Republicans; labels like “racist” had been rendered useless when a true threat emerged. We shouted to no avail as Trump coyly flirted with hardcore white supremacists, something no mainstream party had done for decades.

Indeed, it seems to me that critical race theorists have gone to “white supremacy” precisely because the increasingly broad uses of the word “racism” have made it less effective than it used to be at rallying moral outrage. The term still packs some wallop, but less than it once did, because it is now defined so broadly that a Broadway musical could sing “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” White supremacy, on the other hand, is still clearly understood as beyond the pale.

But if we indiscriminately apply the term to everything from the alt-right white nationalist Richard Spencer, to anyone who thinks that football players should stand for the national anthem … for how long will white supremacy still be considered beyond the pale? What happens if people accused of racism start shrugging off the epithet — or worse, embracing it? And when another Richard Spencer comes along, how will we convey how dangerous he is?

The new “movie plot threat” – The Revenge of the Return of the Bride of the Sex Trafficking Mafia

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

The rising moral panic over sex traffic gets a well-deserved takedown by Lenore Skenazy:

We are in the midst of a massive mommy moral panic. Across the country, mothers are writing breathless accounts on Facebook of how sex traffickers nearly snatched their children at Target/Ikea/the grocery store.

While at Sam’s Club, one such post explains, “a man came up to us and asked if the empty cart nearby was ours.…He was an African American with a shaved head.…It seemed like an innocent encounter.” Innocent, that is, until the mom and kids headed to Walmart and there was the guy again, “feverishly texting on his phone but not taking his eye off my daughter.”

It could only mean one thing, she wrote: “I have absolutely NO doubt that that man is a trafficker looking for young girls to steal and sell.”

And I have absolutely no doubt that she’s wrong. This is what security expert Bruce Schneier has dubbed a “movie plot threat” — a narrative that looks suspiciously like what you’d see at the Cineplex. The more “movie plot” a situation seems, the less likely it is to be real.

But it sells. A Facebook post by Diandra Toyos went wildly viral after she said she and her kids were followed by two men at Ikea. “I had a bad feeling,” she wrote. Fortunately, she “managed to lose them.”

Which, frankly, is what one does at Ikea, even with people one is trying not to lose. Nonetheless, the post ricocheted through the media. CBS told viewers that while experts found the scenario unlikely, “that doesn’t mean Toyos didn’t have reason to be concerned.”

Actually, it does.

October 24, 2017

QotD: Tax complexity

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

What’s interesting about this [IRS] scam is that it’s a departure from classic confidence schemes. Think about something like the Nigerian e-mail scams, and how they draw their victims in: greed for a lucrative finder’s fee in exchange for doing something that sounds maybe a little bit shady, but maybe sort of noble too. The victim is then strung along by playing to the greed, and kept from talking to others who might point out the scam by because they think they are complicit in something legally questionable.

The IRS scam, on the other hand, works entirely by fear. It takes people who haven’t done anything wrong, and makes them afraid that they have. That’s a pretty hefty achievement. Imagine trying to extort money from someone by, say, claiming that they had murdered someone. You might elicit laughter, or bewilderment, but you’d rarely elicit much cash.

Which raises the obvious question: How did we get into a situation where it’s so easy for people to believe that the IRS is about to arrest them for a crime they weren’t even aware of having committed?

You guessed it: The IRS is incredibly powerful, and the tax code is incredibly opaque.

Like many journalists, my husband and I pay someone to do our taxes. We have to. The year we married, I realized that with two journalists who both had salary and non-salary income, home offices, various business expenses, and a new home purchase, our taxes had finally passed the point at which I was even marginally competent to do them. Before then, I had always done my taxes myself, and filed them with a sort of wistful hope that I had done them correctly. At this point it seems worth pausing to note that:

  1. I have an MBA.
  2. I write about tax policy for a living.

These things are surprisingly little help. Filling out your taxes is not a matter of being good at math, or accounting, or even knowing how various provisions of the tax code interact in revenue projections. It is entirely a matter of knowing what can be deducted, and how. And because our tax code is so complex, that doesn’t mean “read the statute”; it means “read the statute, and the case law, and develop a sense over long experience of how agents are likely to interpret this or that during an audit.” The only people who can do that are tax professionals; the rest of us are too busy earning a living in our own professions.

There’s no perfect measure of tax complexity, but consider one quick-and-dirty metric: the number of lines on a typical tax form, and the length of the accompanying tax booklet. Quartz did just that a while back, and found that the complexity had been steadily increasing.

Legal complexity does not accumulate linearly; it accumulates exponentially. When you have one law on the books, and you add a second, the new law may (or may not) have some unexpected interaction with the old law. This would be one complexity point for regulators to manage. But with each new law, the number of potential interactions grows quickly, until it passes the ability of any layman to grasp it (and eventually, surpasses the professionals as well, which is why they’re increasingly specialized in narrow areas). We are long past that point with the tax code.

Megan McArdle, “Why We Fear the IRS”, Bloomberg View, 2016-01-04.

October 23, 2017

QotD: Cargo cult economics

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

Once upon a time, government officials decided it would help them keep their jobs if they could claim they had expanded the middle class. Unfortunately, none of them really understood economics or even the historical factors that led to the emergence of the middle class in the first place. But they did know two things: middle class people tended to own their own homes, and they sent their kids to college.

So in true cargo cult fashion, they decided to increase the middle class by promoting these markers of being middle class. They threw the Federal government strongly behind promoting home ownership and college education. A large part of this effort entailed offering easy debt financing for housing and education. Because the whole point was to add poorer people to the middle class, there was a strong push to strip away traditional underwriting criteria for these loans (e.g., down payments, credit history, actual income to pay debt, etc.)

We know what happened in the housing market. The government promoted home ownership with easy loans, and made these loans a favorite investment by giving them a preferential treatment in the capital requirements for banks. And then the bubble burst, with the government taking the blame for the bubble. Just kidding, the government blamed private lenders for their lax underwriting standards, conveniently forgetting that every President since Reagan had encouraged such laxity (they called it something else, like “giving access to the poor”, but it means the same thing).

Warren Meyer, “Cargo Cult Social Engineering”, Coyote Blog, 2012-11-28.

October 20, 2017

Why the Lights Are Still Off in Puerto Rico

Filed under: Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 06:00

ReasonTV
Published on 19 Oct 2017

The government set the stage for a post-hurricane catastrophe.
—–
Puerto Rico was set up for disaster well before Hurricane Maria hit. Revoked tax breaks, needlessly expensive imports, and crippling debt all led to a shoddy infrastructure that’s still without power on most of the island.

On the latest “Mostly Weekly,” Andrew Heaton explores: how did Puerto Rico get screwed over well before the lights went out, and how do we get them back on?

Mostly Weekly is hosted by Andrew Heaton with headwriter Sarah Rose Siskind.
Script by Sarah Rose Siskind with writing assistance from Andrew Heaton, Brian Sack, and Justin Monticello
Edited by Sarah Rose Siskind and Austin Bragg
Produced by Meredith and Austin Bragg.
Theme Song: Frozen by Surfer Blood.

October 19, 2017

America’s third-world air traffic control system

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

In City Journal, John Tierney says there’s hope for improvement, but the crony capitalists might yet manage to keep the crappy system in its current state anyway:

Members of Congress are about to face a tough choice: should they vote to replace America’s scandalously antiquated air-traffic control system with one that would be safer and cheaper, reduce the federal deficit, conserve fuel, ease congestion in the skies, and speed travel for tens of millions of airline passengers? Or should they maintain the status quo to please the lobbyists representing owners of corporate jets?

If that choice doesn’t sound difficult, then you don’t know the power that corporate jet-setters wield in Congress. They’re the consummate Washington crony capitalists: shameless enough to demand that their private flights be subsidized by the masses who fly coach, savvy enough to stymie reforms backed by Democratic and Republican administrations.

While the rest of the industrialized world has been modernizing air-traffic control, the United States remains mired in technology from the mid-twentieth century. Controllers and pilots rely on ground-based radar and radio beacons instead of GPS satellites. They communicate by voice over crowded radio channels because the federal government still hasn’t figured out how to use text messaging. The computers in control towers are so primitive that controllers track planes by passing around slips of paper.

The result: an enormous amount of time wasted by passengers, especially those traveling in the busy airspace of the Northeast. Because the system is so imprecise, planes have to be kept far apart, which limits the number of planes in the air — leaving passengers stranded at terminals listening to the dread announcements about “air traffic delays.” When they do finally take off, they’re often delayed further because the pilot must fly a zig-zag course following radio beacons instead of saving time and fuel by taking a direct route.

Surprisingly, the Canadian air traffic control system is the model to emulate:

The Trump administration is pushing Congress this month to turn over the air-traffic control system to a not-for-profit corporation supported by user fees instead of tax dollars. It would resemble Nav Canada, which has won high praise from the aviation community for modernizing Canada’s system while reducing costs. Nav Canada’s controllers use GPS technology and text messaging, as do the controllers at the corporation that has taken over the United Kingdom’s system.

October 18, 2017

“Obama is actually the most conservative President since World War II”

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

Dan Mitchell does some statistical legerdemain to calculate US government spending increases by presidential terms in office and discovers some surprising results:

I’ve learned that it’s more important to pay attention to hard numbers rather than political rhetoric. Republicans, for instance, love to beat their chests about spending restraint, but I never believe them without first checking the numbers. Likewise, Democrats have a reputation as big spenders, but we occasionally get some surprising results when they’re in charge.

President Obama was especially hard to categorize. Republicans automatically assume he was profligate because he started his tenure with a Keynesian spending binge and the Obamacare entitlement. But after a few years in office, some were arguing he was the most frugal president of modern times.

  • So I crunched the data in 2012 and discovered that he was either a big spender or a closet Reaganite depending on how the numbers were sliced.
  • I then re-calculated the budget numbers in 2013 and found that spending grew at a slower rate the longer Obama was in office.
  • And when I did the same exercise in 2014, using another year of data, Obama looked even more like a tight-fisted fiscal conservative.

Or, to be more accurate, what I basically discovered is that debt limit fights, sequestration, and government shutdowns were actually very effective. Indeed, the United States enjoyed a de facto spending freeze between 2009 and 2014, leading to the biggest five-year reduction in the burden of federal spending since the end of World War II. And it’s unclear that Obama deserves any of the credit since he was on the wrong side of those battles.

Anyhow, I’ve decided to update the numbers now that we have 8 years of data for Obama’s two terms.

But first, a brief digression on methodology: All the numbers you’re about to see have been adjusted for inflation, so these are apples-to-apples comparisons. Moreover, all my calculations are designed to show average annual increases. I also made sure that the “stimulus” spending that took place in the 2009 fiscal year was included in Obama’s totals, even though that fiscal year began (on October 1, 2008) while Bush was President.

Lots of links in the original post that I’m too lazy to re-link, so go read the whole thing. H/T to Rafe Champion for the link.

Are There Parts of German WW1 Warships in Space?

Filed under: Germany, History, Military, Space, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Real Engineering
Published on 19 Jul 2017

October 17, 2017

This is how conspiracy theories begin and persist

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

In the latest Libertarian Enterprise, L. Neil Smith handily illustrates how conspiracy theories get started and why they can last for so long (the use of the term “false flag” is a definite tell):

This is where I came in (does that even mean anything anymore?). Something terrible happens at the hands of a “lone gunman” (in this case, five dozen innocent individuals are randomly and cold-bloodedly murdered, and several hundred are hurt, inexplicably by a rogue multi-millionaire). The usual politicians respond by threatening to punish everyone who didn’t do it, by ripping away great chunks of their human, natural. civil, and Constitutional rights. The event is quickly veiled in an impenetrable cloud of contradictory lies which will not be parted, not for decades, and probably never. We have seen this all before, over and over again.

Look: I have no idea what happened in Las Vegas, neither do you, nor does anybody else I know, but based on what we’ve seen since 1963 in Dallas (or 1865 at Ford’s Theater), what I’ve read, and what I’ve heard, and everything like it that’s happened since, I would bet good money that the person or persons actually responsible collect a government paycheck. I keep hearing talk about Manchurian candidates and MK-Ultra, and each time, I’m closer to believing it. I try to keep in mind that, the more the truth is concealed, the more people will tend to make up their own truths. I only know that future historians are going to have a field day with the 20th and 21st centuries.

I’d like very much to know the truth. I’d like to know what invisible forces and events are shaping the world my grandchildren will live (and possibly die) in, but I have given up any expectation I ever had of such a thing happening. The “real facts” about the John F. Kennedy assassination are supposed to come out soon, but again, I’m willing to bet they will only confuse and obscure things. Those future historians I mentioned will probably be swimming in their own sea of bovine excrement.

I do know one perfect, gigantic fact, and it is nothing that anybody ever told me. It is something I figured out for myself. It is this: these things happen because some people have the power to make them happen and to cover them up, afterward. (I never believed the official story about 9/11, not from the first thirty seconds it was launched.) They happen because those with power want more power, and we let them take it — from us. The craving for power and unearned wealth is a deep sickness, a severe form of mental illness, and you can see the effect it has on people. In the end, I’ll bet that Luke Skywalker would have ended up shrunken and shriveled, first like the Emperor, and finally like Yoda. Possibly green, as well. The Force does that to people, apparently.

Now, take a look at George Soros.

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