Quotulatiousness

November 25, 2014

Shami Chakrabarti’s On Liberty fails to persuade

Filed under: Britain, Liberty, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

Tim Black thinks John Stuart Mill (were he still alive) would be within his rights to sue Chakrabarti for mis-appropriating the title of his famous book:

Given the eponymous nod to John Stuart Mill, Shami Chakrabarti’s On Liberty promises to be a tribute to individual freedom. It promises to be a stirring defence of liberty written by someone who, as the head of the 80-year-old civil-rights campaign group Liberty, has been knee-deep, holding back the tide of aggressive, illiberal legislation. It promises to be an unbowed affirmation of freedom at a time when it has rarely been more devalued.

But the reality of Chakrabarti’s On Liberty, an awkward amalgam of the semi-personal and the mainstream political, never even comes close to realising the promise. Instead, it turns out to be a desperately dull encomium to the human-rights industry, a verveless trudge down Good Cause lane, with every battle against New Labour anti-terror legislation, each scuffle with the ASBO-happy authorities, eventually turning into a victory for the indispensable European Court of Human Rights. Hooray for Strasbourg! If John Stuart Mill wasn’t so liberal (and dead), he’d be within his rights to sue Chakrabarti for calumny.

But first, the prose. Whatever vital impulse there was behind writing this book must have expired long before it reached the page. There’s no life here, no spirit. It as if Chakrabarti has barely thought about the words she’s using. Even when she’s describing the frustrations of her ‘university-educated’ mum, held back ‘by a lack of affordable childcare’, she sounds as if she’s dashing off a policy document, not portraying a loved one. Admittedly, she does prove capable of a geekish whimsy at points — ‘You might say that I am a Jedi Knight who began on the dark side of the force’, she writes of her career beginnings at the UK Home Office. But On Liberty is mainly composed of dead phrases and, worse still, argument-averse legalese. ‘This type of administrative detention by the UK secretary of state’, she writes of the internment of foreign terror suspects at Belmarsh, ‘is not incompatible with the right to personal liberty and the right against arbitrary detention under Article 5 of the Human Rights Convention, as long as it is necessary to the stated purpose, provided for in legislation and subject to scrutiny and appeals in the appropriate courts and tribunals’. Magical stuff.

November 10, 2014

A critical view of the Zumwalt class of destroyers

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

James R. Holmes makes the case that the latest class of US Navy destroyers are already obsolete:

BATH, Maine (Oct. 28, 2013) The Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer DDG 1000 is floated out of dry dock at the General Dynamics Bath Iron Works shipyard. The ship, the first of three Zumwalt-class destroyers, will provide independent forward presence and deterrence, support special operations forces and operate as part of joint and combined expeditionary forces. The lead ship and class are named in honor of former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo R. "Bud" Zumwalt Jr., who served as chief of naval operations from 1970-1974. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of General Dynamics/Released)

BATH, Maine (Oct. 28, 2013) The Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer DDG 1000 is floated out of dry dock at the General Dynamics Bath Iron Works shipyard. The ship, the first of three Zumwalt-class destroyers, will provide independent forward presence and deterrence, support special operations forces and operate as part of joint and combined expeditionary forces. The lead ship and class are named in honor of former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo R. “Bud” Zumwalt Jr., who served as chief of naval operations from 1970-1974. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of General Dynamics/Released)

Hie thee hence, sea fighters, to peruse Information Dissemination‘s take on the U.S. Navy’s Zumwalt-class destroyer. Pseudo-pseudonymous pundit “Lazarus” gives a nifty profile of the newfangled vessel. That’s worth your time in itself. Though not in so many words, moreover, he depicts the attention-grabbing DDG-1000 stories of recent weeks and months as a red herring. Sure, Zumwalt features a “tumblehome” hull that makes the ship look like the second coming of USS Monitor. (This is not a compliment.) The hull tapers where it should flare and flares where it should taper. Zounds!

Yet more than cosmetics occasions commentary. Some navy-watchers voice concern about tumblehome hulls’ seakeeping ability in rough waters. Others question their ability to remain buoyant and stable after suffering mishaps or battle damage. That’s a worry in a “minimum manned” ship that relies on automated damage control. (The very idea of automated firefighting and flooding control, and sparsely populated fire parties, sits poorly with this former fire marshal.) In any event, time will tell whether the naval architects got it right.

Even if problems do come to light, Zumwalt would be far from the first fighting ship to undergo modifications to remedy problems baked into her design. The flattop USS Midway, for example, underwent repeated change over her long life — including to correct such maladies. Plus ça change.

Zumwalt‘s secondary armament has made headlines as well. The navy recently opted to substitute lesser-caliber 30-mm guns for the 57-mm guns originally envisioned to empower the ship to duel small boats and light surface combatants. The smaller mount evidently meets performance parameters for close-in engagements that its bigger counterpart misses. This too is a controversy that, in all likelihood, will be settled once sea trials put the ship through her paces. Tempest, meet teapot.

November 7, 2014

Criticizing someone for making an error … while making the same error yourself

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:26

That’s another concept that I’m sure must have an eighteen-syllable descriptor in German but doesn’t have a matching name in English. David Friedman has a great illustration of this in the criticism of a nineteenth century anthropologist by Stephen Jay Gould:

The late Stephen Jay Gould was both an evolutionary biologist and a popular essayist. In the book The Mismeasure of Man he argued that scientists unconsciously manipulate their data to fit their preexisting prejudices. As evidence he cited the work of Samuel George Morton, a 19th century physical anthropologist who assembled a large collection of skulls from many parts of the world and measured their cranial capacity in an attempt to answer questions about racial differences. According to Gould, Morton skewed his data in various ways to fit his racial beliefs.

I have just read an article by a group of modern anthropologists who went over Morton’s data and remeasured many of the skulls that Morton measured — something Gould did not do. The authors concluded that most of Gould’s criticisms were poorly supported or falsified. The errors that Gould reported in Morton’s analysis resulted from errors by Gould, not by Morton. Morton did make some mistakes in his work, but they were in the opposite direction from his biases.

[…]

The obvious conclusion, not stated by the authors of the article, is that Gould’s central claim was correct. Scientists sometimes bias their work to fit their preconceptions. As Gould demonstrated by doing so.

November 6, 2014

QotD: Political iconoclasts in modern society

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

People in ancient societies thought their societies were obviously great. The imperial Chinese thought nothing could beat imperial China, the medieval Spaniards thought medieval Spain was a singularly impressive example of perfection, and Communist Soviets were pretty big on Soviet Communism. Meanwhile, we think 21st-century Western civilization, with its democracy, secularism, and ethnic tolerance is pretty neat. Since the first three examples now seem laughably wrong, we should be suspicious of the hypothesis that we finally live in the one era whose claim to have gotten political philosophy right is totally justified.

But it seems like we have an advantage they don’t. Speak out against the Chinese Empire and you lose your head. Speak out against the King of Spain and you face the Inquisition. Speak out against Comrade Stalin and you get sent to Siberia. The great thing about western liberal democracy is that it has a free marketplace of ideas. Everybody criticizes some aspect of our society. Noam Chomsky made a career of criticizing our society and became rich and famous and got a cushy professorship. So our advantage is that we admit our society’s imperfections, reward those who point them out, and so keep inching closer and closer to this ideal of perfect government.

Okay, back up. Suppose you went back to Stalinist Russia and you said “You know, people just don’t respect Comrade Stalin enough. There isn’t enough Stalinism in this country! I say we need two Stalins! No, fifty Stalins!”

Congratulations. You have found a way to criticize the government in Stalinist Russia and totally get away with it. Who knows, you might even get that cushy professorship.

If you “criticize” society by telling it to keep doing exactly what it’s doing only much much more so, society recognizes you as an ally and rewards you for being a “bold iconoclast” or “having brave and revolutionary new ideas” or whatever. It’s only when you tell them something they actually don’t want to hear that you get in trouble.

Western society has been moving gradually further to the left for the past several hundred years at least. It went from divine right of kings to constutitional monarchy to libertarian democracy to federal democracy to New Deal democracy through the civil rights movement to social democracy to ???. If you catch up to society as it’s pushing leftward and say “Hey guys, I think we should go leftward even faster! Two times faster! No, fifty times faster!”, society will call you a bold revolutionary iconoclast and give you a professorship.

If you start suggesting maybe it should switch directions and move the direction opposite the one the engine is pointed, then you might have a bad time.

Scott Alexander, “Reactionary Philosophy In An Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell”, Slate Star Codex, 2013-03-03.

November 5, 2014

It’s not a paradox after all – Easterlin refuted

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Tim Worstall explains that the so-called Easterlin Paradox — that economic growth did not make people happy — is clearly not supported by the evidence:

As background here: the basic paradox that Easterlin pointed to is that, past a certain level (roughly when we’ve become rich enough to solve the supply of basic creature comforts like food, shelter, clothing etc, something like a GDP per capita of $15,000 say), a country getting richer doesn’t seem to make the population any happier. While we’ve now got rather better data than he could work with, and thus we know that people do keep getting happier but at a much lower rate, that basic idea has proven very popular. Of course it has: for it’s allowed all sorts of people to argue that we don’t have to chase that Great God, GDP, and we can thus do things that make people happier and not richer. It’s a lovely argument to use when someone objects that taxing the heck out of the rich will reduce growth for example. For one can just riposte that more growth wouldn’t make people happier while taxing the heck out of the rich would. It’s used as the opening argument in The Spirit Level in this manner: as higher GDP doesn’t make people happier we can therefore concentrate upon inequality instead. And there’s many other such uses around and about.

I’ve never thought that was quite right and I said so. My argument being that it’s not the level of economic wealth that makes people happy or unhappy (above that basics level that is). Rather, it’s the direction of change of it. If a country is gradually getting richer then people will be happier than if the economy is stagnant or shrinking. And the association of greater happiness with the richer countries is not really because they are richer, but because in becoming rich those countries have obviously had decades, if not centuries, of gradually rising incomes: that very thing that makes people happy.

October 25, 2014

QotD: Hugging

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

Part of the problem with hugging is that it has become a social convention, rather than what it once was, which was an expression of genuine emotion.

There are some times when a hug is appropriate. Those times are when there’s a marriage proposal in the air or a body in the ground.

Hugging is for celebration, or comforting someone who’s had a setback. Hugging is not for noting that two people have both managed to meet at Chili’s after work. Being at Chili’s is not a cause for celebration, and nor is it quite dire enough to require comforting.

An even more important rule is Men don’t hug. The only time men should hug is when male family members are observing a major life milestone, such as a major promotion, the safe return from overseas deployment, or noting a witty observation in the commentary audio track of Die Hard.

The only exception to these guidelines if a man tells another man, “Boy, I could sure use a hug.” But he won’t say that, because he’s a man, so just stop with the male-on-male hugging.

To be serious, if I could: There are rules of physical distance, and there are meanings to breaches of those rules.

People of course do occasionally touch each other. But those touches have important communicative purposes precisely because of the general rule that we don’t touch each other.

[…]

There’s something a little child-like about hugging, too. It’s an innocent gesture — it’s intended to be so.

But it sort of ignores the adult-world meaning of intimate touching.

So I wonder if it’s somehow connected to a growing preference for Child World rules, and an increasing rejection of Adult World rules.

Ace, “Arms Are Not Made For Hugging”, Ace of Spades H.Q., 2014-10-10.

October 15, 2014

QotD: The value of economics

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

Having taken a stab at sociology and political science, let me wrap up economics while I’m at it. Economics is a highly sophisticated field of thought that is superb at explaining to policymakers precisely why the choices they made in the past were wrong. About the future, not so much. However, careful economic analysis does have one important benefit, which is that it can help kill ideas that are completely logically inconsistent or wildly at variance with the data. This insight covers at least 90 percent of proposed economic policies.

Ben Bernanke “The Ten Suggestions”, speech at the Baccalaureate Ceremony at Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey. June 2, 2013.

September 30, 2014

“…the outcomes of U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Libya disprove libertarianism”

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Middle East, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 08:30

Nick Gillespie responds to a really dumb argument against libertarianism:

As one of the folks (along with Matt Welch, natch), who started the whole “Libertarian Moment” meme way back in 2008, it’s been interesting to see all the ways in which folks on the right and left get into such a lather at the very notion of expanding freedom and choice in many (though sadly not all) aspects of human activity.

Indeed, the brain freeze can get so intense that it turns occasionally smart people into mental defectives.

To wit, Damon Linker’s recent essay in The Week (a great magazine, by the way), which argues that the outcomes of U.S. military intervention in Iraq and Libya disprove libertarianism, in particular, the Hayekian principle of “spontaneous order.”

No shit. Linker is being super-cereal here, kids:

    Now it just so happens that within the past decade or so the United States has, in effect, run two experiments — one in Iraq, the other in Libya — to test whether the theory of spontaneous order works out as the libertarian tradition would predict.

    In both cases, spontaneity brought the opposite of order. It produced anarchy and civil war, mass death and human suffering.

You got that? An archetypal effort in what Hayek would call “constructivism,” neocon hawks would call “nation building,” and what virtually all libertarians (well, me anyways) called a “non sequitur” in the war on terror that was doomed to failure from the moment of conception is proof positive that libertarianism is, in Linker’s eyes, “a particularly bad idea” whose “pernicious consequences” are plain to see.

In the sort of junior-high-school rhetorical move to which desperate debaters cling, Linker even plays a variation on the reductio ad Hitlerum in building case:

    Some bad ideas inspire world-historical acts of evil. “The Jews are subhuman parasites that deserve to be exterminated” may be the worst idea ever conceived. Compared with such a grotesquely awful idea, other bad ideas may appear trivial. But that doesn’t mean we should ignore them and their pernicious consequences.

    Into this category I would place the extraordinarily influential libertarian idea of “spontaneous order.”

What nuance: Exterminating Jews may be the worst idea…! When a person travels down such a rhetorical path, it’s best to back away quickly, with a wave of the hand and best wishes for the rest of his journey. Who can seriously engage somebody who starts a discussion by saying, “You’re not as bad as the Nazis, I’ll grant you that”…? I’d love to read his review of the recent Teenage Mutant Ninjas movie: “Not as bad as Triumph of the Will, but still a bad film…”

September 28, 2014

QotD: Domestic negotiations in egalitarian marriages

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

It’s a perfect illustration of a major drawback of the modern egalitarian marriage: coordination failure. In a traditional household, paper towel acquisition was within the wifesphere. She monitored the stocks, arranged for any necessary purchases and put them away within a storage scheme of her own devising. No one had to discuss the distribution of responsibilities or quarrel about their execution. But egalitarian marriages split things up along the idiosyncratic preferences of each couple. That creates three problems that every couple must deal with: Negotiations, Overlaps and Gaps.

Let me make one thing clear: I am not writing a brief against egalitarian marriage. I am in one. Both of us work, often quite long hours. Both of us assume some household duties: I oversee the plant life (ineptly), buy groceries, cook, vacuum and clean out the roof gutters as necessary; my husband, who is much neater than I am, is in charge of storage, dishwashing, home electronics and the termination of any pests larger than an ant. Nor am I a Self-Hating Egalitarian; I think this is a splendid arrangement. But like everything else in life, it has drawbacks, and this one is worth noting.

[…]

Take the kitchen. I am in charge of kitchen equipment, cooking and organization. But my husband is in charge of dishwashing and storage. The result: We have a carefully thought-out scheme of What Goes Where that is completely intuitive — to me. He doesn’t know where the measuring spoons go, and half the time, I can’t find them.

We could fix this by carefully mapping out a scheme that both of us find intuitive. Unfortunately, we don’t have six weeks and a crack team of high-level diplomats to devote to the negotiations. Peter could also simply ask me where every single item goes every single time he does the dishes, but our yard is small and our basement is on a concrete slab, and I can’t figure out where I’d put the grave. So what if I haven’t seen my sifter in three months? It seems a small price to pay.

Megan McArdle, “How to Stop Money From Killing Your Marriage”, Bloomberg View, 2014-09-12.

September 18, 2014

If Rush Limbaugh didn’t exist, the left would have to invent him

Filed under: Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:16

Hans Bader on how Rush Limbaugh is a constant gift to his enemies … almost a Rob Ford of US political commentary:

Rush Limbaugh can take a winning issue for conservatives and turn it into a loser just by shooting his mouth off. He gives advocates of extreme left-wing policies ammunition for their views by making stupid arguments when smarter arguments exist, and by lacing his arguments with sexism or scurrilous remarks. He did it recently in response to my commentary about Ohio State University’s ridiculously overbroad and intrusive “sexual assault” definition — which seemingly requires students to agree on “why” they are having sex or making out, which is none of the university’s business. And he did it in 2012, when his scurrilous remarks about contraceptive advocate Sandra Fluke being a “slut” and a “prostitute” drove even moderate liberals to support a contraceptive mandate on religious employers that they had earlier opposed (and which the Supreme Court later ruled 5-to-4 violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.)

[…]

But instead of focusing on that in his criticism of Ohio State’s policy, Limbaugh changed the subject to asking whether “no” really means “no,” saying “How many of you guys in your own experience with women have learned that no means yes, if you know how to spot it?” He then temporarily backed away from this remark by saying, “Let me tell you something, in this modern world, that’s simply…that’s not tolerated.” But then he returned to the inflammatory subject of “no” supposedly not meaning “no” by saying “It used to be that it was a cliché. It used to be part of the advice young boys were given.”

Liberal blogs like Think Progress, and newspaper blogs had a field day making fun of his comments questioning whether no means no, and using them to imply that the only reason anybody would ever oppose requiring “affirmative consent” is because they are a misogynistic troll like Limbaugh. In response, a columnist at a major midwestern newspaper endorsed the policy as supposedly being “smart” in light of the need to educate people like Limbaugh about consent. (Never mind that Limbaugh is not a college student, and it’s hard to imagine many college students sharing his ancient views.)

As a result, all of my efforts were undone, by a factor of ten. Overnight, a policy that seemed extreme even to liberals I discussed it with became embraced by many liberal commenters at these blogs, partly out of a desire to spite the hateful Limbaugh. It is being used to depict critics of the extreme policy as themselves being extreme.

The Cosmos reboot “flatter[s] the sensibilities of the I Love Science Sexually camp”

Filed under: Media, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:38

I didn’t watch the original Cosmos TV series, but I’ve heard retrospective rave reviews of the original show. I also haven’t watched any of the reboot, but Ace has, and he’s not impressed at all:

More Tyson “quotes” that serve no purpose except to stroke his own ego while he simultaneously strokes the egos of his fanbois and fangurlz.

I was taken aback by the first episode of the Cosmos reboot. That episode also contained, get this, a generally dishonest accounting of a mad monk named Giordani Bruno who challenged the prevailing theory that the sun was singular in the heavens in its possession of a planetary system.

That story was fable-ized — stripped of the complicated reality of truth, turned into a simplistic Aesop Fable for children — in order to flatter the sensibilities of the I Love Science Sexually camp while insulting anyone of even a mild religious disposition.

This is quite jackass, if you assume that the show’s creators actually wanted to evangelize for science among those who had come to distrust science. The show began by making things up in order to denigrate those who distrust science — certainly not evangelizing them to join Team Science at all.

[…]

But this approach does make sense if one assumes their stated motivations for the show (evangelize for science among the “science pagans,” if you will) were not their real motivations.

It makes sense if you assume their actual motivation was to tell the Science Flock that They’re Awesome and that the people who do not believe in The God Science are apes and monkeys.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s position grants him power; it also imposes on him responsibility. I would never myself have nominated what is essentially a planetarium manager as Head of Science of the Western World; but the I Love Science Sexually brigade, the fanbois and fangurlz, did, so this is what we have.

By Tyson’s own lights, is he actually popularizing science, or is making science look rather shabby and stupid by confusing actual science with its sorta-lookalike, “Science”?

I think the latter. He doesn’t seem to be talking about science; he’s talking about “Science,” which is not an intellectual discipline, but a tribal signifier and I Win Button for stupid internet political arguments.

Update:

Update the second: Sean Davis wonders “Why Is Wikipedia Deleting All References To Neil Tyson’s Fabrication?”

Judging by many of the responses to the three pieces I wrote detailing Neil Tyson’s history of fabricating quotes and embellishing stories (part 1, part 2, and part 3), you’d think I had defamed somebody’s god. It turns out that fanatical cultists do not appreciate being shown evidence that the object of their worship may not, in fact, be infallible.

Which brings us to Wikipedia. Oh, Wikipedia. After I published my piece about Neil Tyson’s fabrication of the George W. Bush quote, several users edited Neil Tyson’s wiki page to include details of the quote fabrication controversy. The fact-loving, evidence-weighing, ever-objective editors of the online encyclopedia did not appreciate the inclusion of the evidence of Tyson’s fabrication. Not at all.

According to a review of the edit history of Tyson’s page, one long-time Wikipedia editor deleted an entire pending section summarizing the issue of Tyson’s fabricated quotes. Another editor attempted to insert a brief mention of Tyson’s fabrication of the George W. Bush quote. That mention was also deleted. When it was reinserted, it was deleted yet again by an editor who describes himself as a childless progressive and an apostle of Daily Kos (h/t @kerpen). Here are just a few of that user’s political ramblings, in case you were curious about the motivation behind the scrubbing of Tyson’s wiki.

Literally every single mention of Tyson’s history of fabricating quotes has been removed from Tyson’s Wikipedia page.

August 19, 2014

Academic criticism kills everything it touches

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 07:57

In the LA Review of Books, Daniel Marc Janes explains why so much academic writing — especially literary criticism — is so tediously dust-dry and boring:

IN THE COURSE of this essay, I want to examine Geoff Dyer and his relationship with the academic establishment. The aforementioned relationship, I will go on to argue, has heretofore been an uneasy one, but the occurrence of a significant, apparently paradoxical event has provided the ideal research opportunity with which to conduct said examination. As I will reveal, this event — the organization of an academic conference in his honor — lays bare the manifest tensions in his work between a hostility to what he considers deadening academic analysis and a profound desire to get closer to his subject. The organization of my essay is as follows.

I cannot blame you if you have stopped reading by now; Geoff Dyer certainly would have. To Dyer, this kind of prose — with its pathological signposting and life-sucking verbosity — exemplifies all that is wrong with the academic world. In a 2011 New York Times column, he eviscerates a work of criticism for precisely these reasons: the art historian Michael Fried’s Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before, whose long-windedness trickles down from its title.

But it is in 1998’s Out of Sheer Rage that Dyer truly gets his knives out. The book describes his failed attempts to write a scholarly study of D. H. Lawrence. As he drudges through a Longman Critical Reader on the author, he finds himself increasingly angered by its contents: trendy theoretical titles like “Lawrence, Foucault and the Language of Sexuality” and “Radical Indeterminacy: a post-modern Lawrence.” He wonders:

    How could these people with no feeling for literature have ended up teaching it, writing about it? […] writing like that kills everything it touches. That is the hallmark of academic criticism: it kills everything it touches. Walk around a university campus and there is an almost palpable smell of death about the place because hundreds of academics are busy killing everything they touch.

In Dyer’s mind, the academic conference may be the worst offender of all. He goes on to describe his horror on meeting an academic who specialises in Rainer Maria Rilke:

    You don’t teach Rilke, I wanted to say, you kill Rilke! You turn him to dust and then you go off to conferences where dozens of other academic-morticians gather with the express intention of killing Rilke and turning him to dust. Then, as part of the cover-up, the conference papers are published, the dust is embalmed and before you know it literature is a vast graveyard of dust, a dustyard of graves.

August 15, 2014

QotD: Mobile phone companies

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

I recently cancelled a contract with a different provider after some gizmo broke. The company first told me the whole thing was my problem, then at the last moment offered me hundreds of pounds to stay. When your phone company starts using the playbook of an emotionally abusive spouse, this is not a market in good working order.

Tim Harford, “Casinos’ worrying knack for consumer manipulation: The spread of machine gambling offers a portent of other economic developments”, TimHarford.com, 2014-01-07

July 25, 2014

US Marine Corps Commandant goes off-message

Filed under: Media, Middle East, Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 06:56

James Joyner discusses the problem with depending on partial reporting:

Many of us have experienced occasions where we’ve read about an event in which we were a participant — either as a direct actor or merely an observer — and found ourselves perplexed by the written account. Whether because of an ideological agenda, an inadequate understanding of the topic, or — more commonly — a desire for a juicy headline and a scandal, reporters frequently misrepresent what transpired or was said. Paradoxically, however, we instinctively treat reports about events where we were not present as gospel.

Recently, a collaborator and I fell into this trap. A series of venues reported some remarks by General Jim Amos, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, which seemingly questioned the president’s leadership on issues of international security, blamed the current crisis in Iraq on his fecklessness, and strongly implied that the president had betrayed the sacrifices of American warriors who had died there. As strong advocates for civilian control of the military, we submitted a blistering piece to War on the Rocks outlining the proper limitations for general officers publicly speaking on matters of policy, explaining the rationale for those limitations, and ending with Amos standing at attention in the Oval Office being reminded of his place in the chain of command. It was right on all counts — except for the not so minor detail that Amos hadn’t done what we were criticizing him for doing.

July 22, 2014

QotD: Drinking wine

Filed under: Quotations, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Follow the advice of wine merchants, wine clubs, wine waiters, even wine journalists, but never forget that your own taste is the final judge. Like the solicitor who keeps his clientele safely under sedation by the use of fanciful legal jargon — did you know that any fool can do his own conveyancing, i.e. legally transfer property between himself and another? — so the wine snob, the so-called expert and the jealous wine merchant (there are a few) will conspire to persuade you that the subject is too mysterious for the plain man to penetrate without continuous assistance. This is, to put it politely, disingenuous flummery. It is up to you to drink what you like and can afford. You would not let a tailor tell you that a pair of trousers finishing a couple of inches below the knee actually fitted you perfectly; so, with wine, do not be told what is correct or what you are sure to like or what suits you. Specifically:

(a) Drink any wine you like with any dish. You will, in practice, perhaps find that a heavy red burgundy drowns the taste of oysters (though my wife likes claret with them), or that a light flowery hock is overpowered by a steak au poivre. But what is wrong with red wine and chicken, a light claret accompanying a Dover sole? The no-reds-with-fish superstition is widespread and ingrained, so much so that, in the film of From Russia, With Love, James Bond was able to say, in jest but without further explanation, that he ought to have spotted one of the opposition when the man broke that “rule” in the dining-car of the Orient Express. All he should reasonably have inferred was that the chap was rather independent-minded. I myself will even more happily drink a hock, a Moselle, or an Alsatian wine with my fish stems from the other fact that I am particularly fond of hocks, Moselles, and Alsatian wines. The North of England couple I once read about who shared a bottle of crème de menthe (I hope it was a half-bottle) to go with their grilled turbot should be an inspiration, if not a literal example to us all. Anyway, why not start by choosing a wine you know you like and then build your meal round it?

(b) Vintages — aargh! Most of the crap talked about wine centres on these. “The older the better” is another popular pseudo-rule. It does apply up to a point to chateau-bottled clarets, especially those known as classed growths. This is a precise technical term, not a piece of wine-snobs’ jargon, but I cannot expound it here: consult your wine merchant or wine encyclopedia. There are rich men who will drink nothing but old first-growth clarets to show their friends how well they know their wines (and how rich they are). These are likely to be wonderful wines, true, but such men are missing a lot — see below. And old wines as such are not necessarily good: they may well have gone off or always have been bad, whatever that bloody vintage chart or card may have said. Throw it away, or keep it in a drawer until you know the subject a bit and can pick up cheap the good wines of a “bad” year.

Kingsley Amis, Everyday Drinking: The Distilled Kingsley Amis, 2008.

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