11 September 2017

Disasters, natural or self-imposed, do not help the economy

So, one of the big ideas that's completely wrong is that disasters like Hurricane Irma or WWII, or, forsooth! Afghanistan/Iraq/Syria/Yemen/Libya are good for the economy. Of course, they're good for sectors of the economy. But, rebuilding a house is not the same as building a new school. Supplying bombs to kill enemies is not the same as supplying scholarships for people to study how to keep people alive after clashes with cancer. None of this crap is any good most people. It's always better to invest than rebuild or destroy.

Are we looking at the end of science?

So, "gaydar" is a real thing.

Rather than read all the nonsense, go straight to the authors' statement first, then look to those who would debunk. Now, lest you think me a homophobe for using the word gaydar, I've been busted -- mocked might be the better word -- by my gay friends for my gaydar not being very good. They also mock me by saying I should look into Garanimals so I can go into public wearing clothes that match and there is this 18th century technology called an "iron" that could help with the rumpled look. There has been some angst in some of the LGBTQ.* community about the study, but they're wrong for all the wrong reasons (cf. authors' statement), what's really at stake here is the implication that there is a correlation between "behavior" -- in this case sexual preference -- and physical traits.

Before you get all bowed up about where I'm going, go away and listen to the Radiolab podcast on Alex the Gondolier. People are people and have the right to the pursuit of happiness. The best way, if imperfect, is to lead with equal protection for all under just laws that allow folks to live how they please as long as they don't unduly impinge on the rights of others. Equal protection for all. All. Got that? All.

OK.

The notion that we simply should not study certain things is not out of the mainstream. One of my very favorite public intellectuals, John McWhorter whom I've read with great interest and pleasure for years made the case to "stop obsessing" about evidence for race and IQ correlations, that it serves no purpose, in National Review. Read it by all means, and be sure to follow the link to the excellent reference he makes to "On the Reality of Race and the Abhorrence of Racism".

The problem is, that in modern society where outcomes are increasingly correlated to IQ, g, cognitive horsepower, whatever, in order to enable all our citizens the best shot at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -- a goal I hope you won't find too cretinous -- perhaps we need to structure our values and programs toward actually achieving that goal as opposed to conflating the means with their ends. This is pretty much why Charles Murray got lynched for saying in The Bell Curve. That we should care about people. I won't link to SPLC or other slander, but you can google if you like about the lynching bit. Read what he actually writes, listen to what he actually says, then decide for yourself if he's all of those horrible things that have been said about him.

So, if g is heritable (relatively uncontroversial), and other stuff is heritable like height, eye color, whatever, what happens when we turn machine learning algorithms on correlating g and physical traits that can be gleaned en masse from Instagram, Facebook, oh, the DMV, etc. What if the correlation is between other behaviors we don't think as necessarily heritable or caused by prenatal hormone levels, etc? What happens if algorithms can pick out, I don't know, you name it, probability of rape accusation with 70% accuracy? 55% accuracy? I am not endorsing physiognomy writ large -- I have never really much cared or thought about it -- but what if the evidence turns out to support it? The gaydar thing works pretty well, it seems.

It cannot be argued that much of this information would be useful in a wide variety of contexts. But it cannot be argued that the potential for misuse is tremendous. Here is the problem with population statistics: they're incredibly useful about saying things about populations, but they really can't tell you anything about any individual.

To illustrate, let's play a game. You get 10 pennies and I get 5 six sided dice. We're going to play a game where we put in matching antes for each roll, let's say $100. Whoever gets the larger sum (tails 1, heads 2, and each pip on the die counts as 1), takes the pot. My minimum low at 5 is lower than yours at 10, but my maximum 30 is higher than your 20. We're going to play, oh, 1000 times. 10000 times. A million. I don't care. Who wins roll 42? Who knows? But you'd never play that game. Um, unless you do, let's get in touch, because I'll play all day long. Night, too, even if it means coffee after 1500 or so.

If you can play enough games, it's enough to flip 10 pennies against 9. The thing is, if the difference in the odds is detectable, then it's exploitable, but it's also, perhaps, understandable.

We need to press on with the science and let the evidence lead us where it may. But, so too, do we need our shared mythology, or belief, in the the right of all people to live their lives. Science is, in my opinion, our best and most effective collective reasoning construct we have created (beats reading entrails or thrown knucklebones or thinking that Congress can understand the definition of hypocrisy) and one we cannot afford to lose, even at the cost uncomfortable truths. But this is a really big deal, and I'm not sure this is a conversation we're collectively ready to have.

06 September 2017

ACLU defends the folks they don't want to because they have to

This rant was precipitated by David Cole's (National Legal Director, ACLU) article posted on the Fabius Maximus website. It's worth a read.
Yes, I know it's a mixed metaphor or whatever. It's a mashup!

The calls for the end of free speech as we know it by relatively mainstream media types and, more alarmingly, "kids" is a great disturbance in the force, as if millions of voices might suddenly cry out in terror, but were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible might happen.

The ACLU remains one of most effective bulwarks protecting free speech and other Constitutionally-derived civil liberties that one can contribute to by just stroking a check. Their example of defending the rights of people, or the actions of people, that they truly despise, as reflected in the article, should inspire us all.

While it seems that many (though not all) in "the media" have lost the courage to defend what they believe using evidence and principled reasoning, but resort instead to ad hominem attacks, deception, lies, and fear mongering (cf. Charles Murray, James Damore, or Amy Wax, etc.). With the ACLU, it's all about the principles, not the people, even when the people, or their actions at least, might merit vitriol. That's a lesson I need to remind myself every doggone day. I can even agree with Jeff Sessions that there is something to this rule of law thing, but we diverge very quickly after that on many issues (cough *civil asset forfeiture* cough *torture* cough pardon my coughing fit).

Anyway, why don't folks argue the principles and not the "feelings" or whatever? Maybe they can't. Hell, maybe I can't very well, either! It's not like we spring from the forehead of Zeus fully equipped to make reasoned arguments grounded in empirical facts and principles. What kind of epithets would be hung around my neck if I were to Old Man Grumpus "they should be teaching rhetoric and logic in the schools these days"? It might be more useful than WTF 101: Intersectionality, wokeness, hypermasculine arrangement of live wells at the bait shop, and the underrepresentation of the Oppressederati in stumpknocker angling, or so it would seem to me.

There is something further that some "kids these days" don't seem to get, or it just doesn't matter so much to them anymore, but there is a power in virtue, civility, principle, honor, honesty, and courage. Hell, if you want to make me burst into tears (I know it's unmanly) just say "Tank Man". Compare the courage to stand up to tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989 China (89 was a hell of a year!) to macing a girl in a MAGA hat giving an interview to a reporter or that jacknozzle who punched/assaulted that antifa dreadlocked waif.

It's good that the ACLU can still stand up for people they don't like because the principles they're defending are more important than their feelings. I wonder if the Oppressederati will ever grok that.

The rise of the Oppressederati and the Fall of Reed College(?)

"Hum" (pronounced "Hume" like, yeah, that guy (but that's 220)) at Reed College is a spectacular sequence of classes, starting with Hum 110. IIRC, 110 is the only required class in the whole school, but who knows what might have happened in intervening decades since I was there. But I don't doubt if you look up the definition of "awesomesauce" in the Pan-Cosmic Dictionary, one of the alternative definitions near the top would be "Reed College Hum 110". Who can turn awesomesauce into doucebag pruno? The Oppressederati.

I'm coining the word Oppressederati here, and have actually fired a #Oppressederati out on the twitters, but I will refrain from formal definition until after I rant a bit.

Turns out, elements of the Oppressederati have decided to raise hell and not let anyone take in the goodness that is Hum 110. Go check that stuff out, especially the videos (the other). If the Oppressederati had descended upon my contemplation of Homer, I might have been tempted to go Diomedes on their asses (cf. book five of The Iliad (for readable first cut at The Iliad, read Graves)).
Diomedes pic by https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Bibi_Saint-Pol


There are a few things that make me a mite less tolerant of the grievances of these elements of the Oppressederati, including:

  1. They're at Reed f'in College, one of the most selective, wonderful schools ever conceived. If they're looking for a place that exacerbates their place in Crenshaw's Hierarchy of Oppression, I think they could do a better job than Reed. Try the Central African Republic or North Korea.
  2. If the dollar-per-lecture-hour cost of that class were to be calculated, it would be between an ass load and a shit ton. Maybe more. How am I going to get my Aristotelian bang-for-buck with them disrupting the lecture that I paid for?
  3. What, exactly, are they trying to accomplish? I'm pretty sure that Professor Elizabeth Drumm would have announced and facilitated a discussion hosted by the Reedies against Racism titled On the Bullshit that is Western racio-phallocratic Dominance of the Oppressed and the resultant destructive Resonance that destroys Oppressed Bodies in Crenshaw's Hierarchy of Oppression. Open to all, of course, but not to be interrupted by Reedies for Cold Beer and Convivial Conversation.
When I was at Reed, Hum was central, of course, but so too nuclear reactors and goddamn Rugby. Has it become a place where people who tell you that you must listen, even though you have no possible chance of understanding, are allowed to sacrifice our darling baby Hum 110 on the altar of Intersectionality Theory?

Lord, I hope not.

Oppressederati - noun - that group of people who derive their primary identification from a perceived location within Crenshaw's Hierarchy of Oppression that believe simultaneously that it is essential for people above them in the Hierarchy are obligated to listen to them even though it's impossible for those people to understand them.

PS: Any Intersectionality theorist who wants to snarf the title of the imagined talk, go right ahead. I'll put it into the public domain, or CC0.

16 August 2017

The corruption of the 4th Estate


The firing of Google James Damore after the histrionic explosion of outrage in the mainstream media and social media outlets and the subsequent furor after a citation and graph-redacted version of a memo he wrote intended for serious, internal discussion of how the climate of political correctness inside of Google stifles discussion of serious issues, like those related to diversity and how to increase it in certain job categories was troubling, and no doubt a major challenge for him, his family, friends, and whatever cadre of colleagues still at Google who will be branded with the scarlet A of PC apostasy. If the Google execs had just fired him without comment, that probably would have sent the matter skipping down the memory hole. Their Orwellian Doublespeak may come back to haunt them, but that's a matter for a different post.

No, the great disturbance in the Force is the corruption of the credibility of journalism with the near-universal slander, misrepresentation, and lies which comprise the mainstream coverage. No matter what you think of the style of the memo, no matter what you think of the potential efficacy of his earnestly-given suggestions to actually increase diversity by making certain jobs more attractive to a wider swath of women, and no matter how you feel about the current state and conduct of diversity programs, the extrapolations and conclusions converted into vitriol which utterly destroyed an, apparently otherwise promising career at Google, likely destroyed any notion of truly free inquiry with parts of its corporate culture, and will create a legal shit-show that could drag on for years hitting Google and any number of news outlets: major, minor, and otherwise.

Here's the problem: if you just read the articles, it would easy to believe that Google has bravely rid itself of an anti-diversity alt-right bigot and is bravely standing up for all that's right in the world. That's almost exactly opposite of what actually happened. But who is going to take the time to read the memo and try to understand what he wrote in the context he was trying to write it. The public trusts reporters to do this minimum threshold of work for them -- and far and away the majority didn't just fail to do so, it either simply didn't try, or if it did, bent their perceptions away from the evidence to politically correct dogma. The problem stemmed with the classic conflation of the goal of a policy and the policy itself. Being against the means by which you attempt to increase diversity does not imply being against increasing diversity. Repeat:

Being against the means by which you attempt to increase diversity does not imply being against increasing diversity.

Again:

Being against the means by which you attempt to increase diversity does not imply being against increasing diversity.

I am going to reproduce the (here enumerated) TL;DR (too long; didn't read) here:

  1. Google’s political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety.
  2. This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed.
  3. The lack of discussion fosters the most extreme and authoritarian elements of this ideology.
    • Extreme: all disparities in representation are due to oppression
    • Authoritarian: we should discriminate to correct for this oppression
  4. Differences in distributions of traits between men and women (and not "socially constructed oppression") may in part explain why we don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership.
  5. Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.
1. Google’s political bias has equated the freedom from offense with psychological safety, but shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety.

From the search results, an article on psychological safety on the withgoogle.com domain (apparently a site for experimental Google stuff) has a pretty typical notion of what psychological safety is and why it's important:
Psychological safety describes a climate where people recognize their ability and responsibility to overcome fear and reluctance to speak up with potentially controversial ideas or questions. A lack of psychological safety can be found at the root of many noteworthy organizational errors and failures. In corporations, hospitals, and government agencies, our research has shown that reluctance to offer ideas and expertise undermines many decisions and harms the execution of work that requires judgment or collaboration.
Has Google's political bias equated freedom from offense with psychological safety? I surely seems that way, but who's going to speak up now? I don't think the assertion "shaming into silence is the antithesis of psychological safety" can reasonably be challenged if you buy into the definition above. 

2. This silencing has created an ideological echo chamber where some ideas are too sacred to be honestly discussed.


Every now and again, Chomsky is good for something:
The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there’s free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate. -- The Common Good, Noam Chomsky
When you step outside the acceptable opinion spectrum, you are no longer simply wrong or misguided, you're guilty of heresy. The punishment for heresy is excommunication. Or worse. Maybe there is no ideological echo chamber with ideas too sacred to be honestly discussed, but because that memo violated Google's code of conduct for what it expressed? Um, I'll let Conner Friedersdorf and David Brooks take care of that. If that memo marks ideas on the outside of the spectrum of acceptable debate and exploration, Google has more in common with a cult than an organization that values free expression, free thought, debate, and reason.

3. The lack of discussion fosters the most extreme and authoritarian elements of this ideology.

This seems intuitively obvious, but what might the mechanism be? Lack of broad discussion leads to pockets of groupthink. Favored ideas get re-enforced and amplified. Continuous amplification and lack of critical reflection leads to distortion. Bam! Extreme (WTF?) and authoritarian (DON'T SPEAK!) elements. Seems plausible. Argue against it. Lack of discussion fosters tolerant and inclusive elements of some ideology...

4. Differences between men and women may lead to different decisions about what they want to do with their lives. These differences may be biological.

As to the first part with women perhaps making different decisions with what they want to do with their lives. If this is so controversial, why didn't that alt-right propaganda outlet NPR blow up the Internet in 2015 in the scandalous Why the STEM gender gap is overblown? Is it not because it's not controversial? For a really good dig into this, check out Scott Alexander's takedown of the one lone scientific voice in the woods to try to invalidate the memo. The TL;DR is that it seems that many, but certainly not all, really smart women might opt into more people-oriented fields like pediatrics and vet medicine than thing-oriented fields like computer programming and radiology. Seems reasonable. The heresy of the memo, however, is to suggest that these preferences might be in part biological in origin. That men generally prefer sex with women, and that women generally prefer to have sex with men *might* have something to do with biology -- is that controversial? Well, it's certainly a preference, and measurable, at least in some statistical sense across a population. That's certainly a much baser preference, but might not a whole hierarchy of biologically-influenced preferences and notions inform higher-level preferences and decisions? The science seems to indicate that's the case.

5. Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.

Is discrimination unfair? This is a concrete assertion and so can be argued. As an advocate of an "equal protection" form of social justice (everyone should be able to *fairly* play the hand they are dealt to the best of their abilities), I do believe that discrimination is unfair. There are other folks who do not take this view, but it does not invalidate the equal protection argument nor does it make the assertion dismissable as being made in bad faith.

Is discrimination divisive? Again, another concrete assertion. If you're being discriminated against, you likely don't like it, and you're likely not going to be inclined who derives the benefit of your discrimination. Here's a thought experiment. Imagine lining up college applicants in rank order based on their applications, transcripts, etc., with no regard to race -- actually lining them up physically. Then, using a separate set of rankings made with whatever gender, race, legacy, economic, or other factors have the folks who benefit from those weights actually go tell the person in their slot they're replacing them. That's going to be divisive, especially if it's repeated year after year. Now, what if the weighting is done to achieve parity with some sort of diversity goal (none dare call it quota). That would be more divisive still. What is the argument that diversity is not divisive?

Is discrimination bad for business? Concrete assertion, and arguable. It is certainly bad for business if by being unfair and divisive it creates an atmosphere which hinders the performance of the company as a whole. It is certainly bad for business if it excludes talent that would have increased the performance of the company as a whole. If the business is sports, discrimination is certainly bad, and teams that discriminate generally cannot stand against those who don't. Alabama's football team was all white in 1970. Do you think today's Alabama's head coach gives a flying flip about your race, creed, or religion? Not if you can run a 4.4 forty. I think that it's generally unimpeachable that for Google, or any other tech company to get their technical staff to more generally reflect broader society when the CS departments reflect something very different will have to resort to discriminatory practices, and live with the unfairness, divisiveness, and illegality[1]

The actual suggestions that Damore made for non-discriminatory diversity enhancement are not called out explicitly in the TL;DR, but they are reasonable and arguable. They may work, they may not. How do you know until you try?

So, given that Damore wrote anything but an "anti-diversity screed", how could they get it so wrong? A culture of political correctness. A high incentive to generate click bait. A low incentive to get things right. A 24-hour news cycle. An absolute requirement not to miss out. There is not much we can do about the press (though Damore might smack them around a little bit with some law suits if slander can be proved and he can go lawyer-to-lawyer with them), but we can be open minded, critical, and check the sources. We shouldn't have to check the sources with outlets like NYT and BBC (doing that work is their job, after all), but this case is proof positive that we must.

Stay skeptical, my friends.

- 30 -

[1] Using Computer Science as a proxy for what you might expect Google's technical staff to break out demographically. Of course, Google's technical staff has people with a wide variety of degrees working in a wide variety of jobs. However, Computer Science seems like a reasonable proxy, since a large slice of the workforce is developing software, systems, and the like. Electrical Engineering might be another, perhaps better, proxy, or maybe Physics, but it's certainly not Biology or Environmental Engineering.

22 June 2017

The Christian Serpent


The Christian Serpent

A Rattlesnake came home to his brood and said: "My children, gather about and receive your father's last blessing, and see how a Christian dies."

"What ails you, Father?" asked the Small Snakes.

"I have been bitten by the editor of a partisan journal," was the reply, accompanied by the ominous death-rattle.

- 30-

OK, this one tickles me no end. I love the image of the "editor of a partisan journal" as honey badger. Don't know what a honey badger is, well, let me slow down the bandwagon for you:
SPOILER ALERT: The Christian Serpent will not survive this encounter...

In this era of hyper-partisan reporting, one of the most irritating things to me is the apparent increase in imprecise language. I'm certainly *not* the first to notice it. There was that guy, oh yeah, Orwell

The first category of obfuscation is conflation of related, but distinct, things. For example, health insurance is *not* health care, but you'd have a damn hard time figuring that out from reading the papers. Blogs? Forget about it! If the United States government does not enforce a system whereby you pay someone to pay doctors for care your receive, then you will have no access to health care!

Huh? 

Insurance is a *terrible* model for providing things that everybody needs. It's an *excellent* model for pooling risk so by paying a little you can hedge against losing a lot. How many people who voted understand this distinction? I wouldn't hazard a guess, but I have talked to a journalist who didn't care about the distinction. Seriously. That's not the point, apparently.

The second category of obfuscation is euphemism. People who are not citizens or permanent resident visiting a foreign land are "aliens". An alien is by definition:
noun: a foreigner, especially one who is not a naturalized citizen of the country where they are living -- Google's reply for "define: alien"
If you're not in a country legally, then you're likely in it illegally. So, as harsh as it may seem to politically correct ears, illegal alien describes a foreigner living or even temporarily residing in a country illegally concisely. Undocumented immigrant is less concise, and even misleading. An immigrant by definition:
noun: a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country -- Google's reply for "define: immigrant"
A kid from some other country, who by circumstances outside of his control, who overstays his student visa, but is trying to get home, is not an undocumented immigrant. He's documented, though the documentation is expired, and he is not an immigrant.

Now, just by choosing the concise and more accurate definition has become politicized. What's my position on immigration? I bet you're wrong in what you think I think. Such is the power of this politically correct bullshit. Which definition do you think George Carlin would prefer, and why? Now you're getting closer.


The third category of obfuscation is the implied judgement. If a politician is skeptical that the best solution to improving education doesn't mean spending more on the status quo, then reporters might note that she's "anti-education" in a lefty rag. If a politician is skeptical that it's strictly necessary to add 10% on top of a defense budget that is bigger than then next seven or eight (who's counting?) countries combined, then he's "weak on defense" in a righty, or pro-war-party rag. This has a pernicious effect as it slithers its way down the sewers of (anti-)social media.

Think immigration laws, even if they're imperfectly written should be enforced? You're an racist, anti-immigrant, alt-right (nazi, wink, wink, nudge, nudge), pig-dog! Think that folks who came here illegally, live hear illegally breaking no laws other than those related to living and working here, get married, raise kids who are American kids with American dreams might have some path to get right with the law and have a path to legal residency, or maybe even citizenship? You're a traitorous anti-American who despises the rule of law and takes sides with illegals before your own fellow citizens pig-dog!

Good grief! Knock it off already!

In all of my praise of conciseness, I find that Bierce was more concise and entertaining.

21 June 2017

How to make a small fortune


It's the lede for an old joke: how do you make a small fortune? The punchline is "take a large fortune and buy an X", where X might be vineyard, sailboat, whatever. Increasingly it seems, that X might be "college education". Now, I'm no college hater -- I'm that particular kind of masochist that soldiered on through grad school to PhD, and in the process may have burned a few dollars in opportunity cost, but I was getting paid to do research in science and happened to learn a few empirically verifiable items along the way. Fortunately for me, the rise of the "studies" major, while certainly present, had not reached its apparent ubiquity, voice, and venom. The problem with "studies" majors is that they are based upon subjective material that's validated in a closed loop of like-minded "academics" which makes any criticism impossible, because if you disagree, you simply don't understand. I am not the only person to make this observation.

The problem lies not so much that they exist -- certain academics will do whatever -- but that they consume (lots of) money to indoctrinate students into a fantasy world mythology, leaving them four (or five (or six (or more))) years later with a mountain of debt and no practical skills or insight into how the real world actually works and how it got the way it is. This most certainly *not* a critique of history, or philosophy, or English majors, which are grounded in the actual world and its experience, though I would caution kids to select these sorts of majors carefully. For those for whom it's a good fit, they can be very rewarding and edifying, and I'd recommend them for consideration of a double major, preferably complementing physics (I am biased). We don't need everyone to be, nor should everyone be, a physics major, major in STEM, etc., but they shouldn't major in "shit people just make up".

Not only are many "studies" majors bogus, they're dangerously anti-social and destructive. Depending on where you fit in the intersectionality hierarchy of oppression, you are simply not able to understand anything related to people in other locations in the hierarchy. If understanding is impossible, then discussion is useless, and there can be no "solution", though it seems some people think revolution is an option.

The Treasury and the Arms


The Treasury and the Arms

A Public Treasury, feeling Two Arms lifting out its contents, exclaimed:

"Mr. Shareman, I move for a division."

"You seem to know something about parliamentary forms of speech," said the Two Arms.

"Yes," replied the Public Treasury, "I am familiar with the hauls of legislation."

- 30 -

I like the double entendré of "Arms".

08 June 2017

The Thoughtful Warden


The Thoughtful Warden

The Warden of a Penitentiary was one day putting locks on the doors of all the cells when a mechanic said to him:

“Those locks can all be opened from the inside—you are very imprudent.”

The Warden did not look up from his work, but said:

“If that is called imprudence, I wonder what would be called a thoughtful provision against the vicissitudes of fortune.”

- 30 -

James Comey read his Bierce, I'm sure. And his Princess Bride, too. He knew something that Trump didn't know...

07 June 2017

The Politicians


The Politicians

An Old Politician and a Young Politician were travelling through a beautiful country, by the dusty highway which leads to the City of Prosperous Obscurity.  Lured by the flowers and the shade and charmed by the songs of birds which invited to woodland paths and green fields, his imagination fired by glimpses of golden domes and glittering palaces in the distance on either hand, the Young Politician said:

“Let us, I beseech thee, turn aside from this comfortless road leading, thou knowest whither, but not I.  Let us turn our backs upon duty and abandon ourselves to the delights and advantages which beckon from every grove and call to us from every shining hill.  Let us, if so thou wilt, follow this beautiful path, which, as thou seest, hath a guide-board saying, ‘Turn in here all ye who seek the Palace of Political Distinction.’”

“It is a beautiful path, my son,” said the Old Politician, without either slackening his pace or turning his head, “and it leadeth among pleasant scenes.  But the search for the Palace of Political Distinction is beset with one mighty peril.”

“What is that?” said the Young Politician.

“The peril of finding it,” the Old Politician replied, pushing on.

- 30 -

What we have these days are nothing but Occupiers of the Palace of Political Distinction these days. The City of Prosperous Obscurity, well, is largely a theoretical construct as far as modern American politics are concerned above a certain level. Many of the counties in the US are larger than small countries and many of the states are more important on the world scene than many of the middlin' to not-so-middlin' size countries. Hell, all of this damn fool talk of the Russian Bear, our own Golden Bear, Cali-fuckin'-fornia, has about twice the GDP as Russia. Jerry Brown should tell the Italians to get TF out of the G7 and take their place. Russia has nukes, so you got to give them those props, but Italy has great wine, hot coffee (and good!), and, Sophia Loren (thank you, Italy! Really, thank you), but that doesn't mean it can punch with the Golden Bear.
Once upon a time, in a land that never existed, politicians might have cared about stuff like the City of Prosperous Obscurity (I think Marcus Aurelius might have, going with our Roman/Italian thing), but in the age of Trump, he's pushed it up to 11...
Yeah, kinda, arbitrary, but it's a great scene from a great movie, and the YouTube video was posted 11-11-11... Well, the Palace of Political Distinction is all around us now. The Saudis are going to try to squeeze on the Qataris? Well, that's all fine and good, but the Yanks and the Brits like to park their planes at Al Udeid Air Base, which, oh by the way, is in Qatar. They may have stepped in it with this, especially with ISIL/ISIS/Daesh attacking Iran, making clearer (though people are goddamned resistant to evidence) that while Iran may sponsor terrorists (elements of Hizballah, supposedly Muslim Brotherhood, but I suspect that's very tactical as opposed to the deeper ties with Hizballah), they oppose ISIL pretty damn vigorously, and Saudi and their Sunni Gulf state posse are much more responsible for ISIL and the terrorism that people around the world deal with than does Iran. The problem is once poke your head up, some one takes a poke at your head.

Thank you, Ambrose Bierce, for another Fantastic Fable.


06 June 2017

The Moral Sentiment

The Moral Sentiment

A Pugilist met the Moral Sentiment of the Community, who was carrying a hat-box.  “What have you in the hat-box, my friend?” inquired the Pugilist.

“A new frown,” was the answer.  “I am bringing it from the frownery—the one over there with the gilded steeple.”

“And what are you going to do with the nice new frown?” the Pugilist asked.

“Put down pugilism—if I have to wear it night and day,” said the Moral Sentiment of the Community, sternly.

“That‘s right,” said the Pugilist, “that is right, my good friend; if pugilism had been put down yesterday, I wouldn’t have this kind of Nose to-day.  I had a rattling hot fight last evening with—”

“Is that so?” cried the Moral Sentiment of the Community, with sudden animation.  “Which licked?  Sit down here on the hat-box and tell me all about it!”

- 30 -

Yep. Poor Moral Sentiment. Invincible absent of Temptation, but remarkably weak in his presence. I don't even mean to make fun of Trump much but I find that picture so surreal and I had to use it. Moral Sentiments far stronger than the ones supposed to live in Trump crumble not only to Temptation, but to Political Correctness. What's much stronger is Immoral Sentiment whose effect is expressed the Political Correctness that works so effectively against Moral Sentiment. I'm sure the faculty of Evergreen who sided with Snowflakes otherwise would have thought an attempt at a civil discourse is something that might be seen as an opportunity to engage and learn in theory, but no so in practice.

Sigh.

05 June 2017

How Leisure Came

How Leisure Came

A Man to Whom Time Was Money, and who was bolting his breakfast in order to catch a train, had leaned his newspaper against the sugar-bowl and was reading as he ate.  In his haste and abstraction he stuck a pickle-fork into his right eye, and on removing the fork the eye came with it.  In buying spectacles the needless outlay for the right lens soon reduced him to poverty, and the Man to Whom Time Was Money had to sustain life by fishing from the end of a wharf.

- 30 -

This is some of Bierce at his best. You could almost imagine a scene where Bierce wrote the body and asked Hemingway what the title should be, and Ernest said "The Birth of Leisure". Bierce liked it, but in his obsession with concision went with How Leisure Came. I loved Bierce as a child, and I do mean wee bairn, my appreciation has only increased.

The applicability to the first hundred days, now past, of the current Administration does seem to bear a modern reflection of Bierce's imagery and absurdity. Now, not every member of the Trump administration is unfamiliar with Constitutional law and what Article 2 vests in the President (hint: all executive power), so they should have been swinging at the "travel ban" as a fat, middle-of-the-plate, home run derby pitched ball. And maybe they did. Maybe this is all just virtue-signaling. Ditto "repeal-and-replace". Maybe it's all really just kabuki and no one gives a good goddamn about symbolic shit like "Muslim ban!" or tilting at windmills like promising 72 registered nurses in the health care afterlife that will be after they get the budgeting and exchanges and how it'll all be paid for figured out (I don't *know* the big picture, but there are several dollars devoted to nothing particularly productive in the "defense" budget to be had). It makes for good entertainment, if you have the stomach for it. I will leave you with new take on A Man for Whom Time was Money...

04 June 2017

Paul Romer out at World Bank. I think they fired the wrong person.

Via Roslyn Petelin's article (please read), I found the Bloomberg article describing Romer's ouster at World Bank. From the sound of it, Romer didn't like the self-referential, obscure bankspeak bloviation that was being generated by the World Bank economists, and asked that they write more clearly and directly. And, yeah, stop publishing stupid irrelevant journals.

A bunch of insular, bureaucratic careerists happy to keep-on, keepin'-on with no view to effectiveness or relevance, versus someone who asks them to make it clear what the value of their work is by clearer prose and more focused presentations.

Uh oh. I think we know where that is going to go, a priori.

And it did!

I think they fired the wrong person.

PS: Serendipity to me to Petelin's article as the first thing I read after "coining" the Orwellian knock-off bureauspeak and was treated to bankspeak internal bureauspeak gibberish of World Bank economists. It's a symptom of the detachment of academics from public readership and engagement.

The Conscientious Official

The Conscientious Official

While a Division Superintendent of a railway was attending closely to his business of placing obstructions on the track and tampering with the switches he received word that the President of the road was about to discharge him for incompetency.

“Good Heavens!” he cried; “there are more accidents on my division than on all the rest of the line.”

“The President is very particular,” said the Man who brought him the news; “he thinks the same loss of life might be effected with less damage to the company’s property.”

“Does he expect me to shoot passengers through the car windows?” exclaimed the indignant official, spiking a loose tie across the rails.  “Does he take me for an assassin?”

- 30 -

This Fantastic Fable captures beautifully the irrationality and detachment of cause from effect in "bureauthink". The profit/power motives of the organization are preserved and made clear (damage to company property: bad!), but the whole system is inimical to damage free company property. The relevance of public body counts (or lack thereof) is icing on the cake.

Where I may diverge with some people of a libertarian bent, I see private enterprises with different incentives and purposes only very slightly more resistant to the perils of bureauthink. Bureauthink is the underlying cause of military intelligence as being an oxymoron. The so-called Warrior-Monk, our current SECDEF Mattis and some of his crew are undoubtedly very smart and well-educated, but they seem impervious to strategic thinking beyond anything more than "we bomb you as long and hard as we can and ask for more money to do so". Naturally, everyone wants to seem important and relevant, but truth to be told there is absolutely no reason from the perspective of defense and security of the US and her citizens and allies. I am sure Mattis has read "The Art of War" and though he's shown some susceptibility reason in the past, blowing Iran and Russia out of proportion is not something very Sun Tzu-like. Fabius Maximus has an Stratfor-derived post about Russia that's keeps things in their proper perspective. The one thing that Russia does seem the United States and worse, NATO do not is to have is a fairly rational, consistent, and proportionate grand strategy of maintaining global relevance, re-establishing dominance in their sphere of influence, securing their borders, supporting their allies, and limiting the expansion of NATO. There is plenty of US grand strategy bloviation out there, but it will be filled with either explicit or implicit references to mutually-incompatible concepts like support for multiculturalism on the one hand and democracy and human rights on the other. Which wins? Democracy and human rights or the culture that supports neither? We see in practice with "friends" like Saudi Arabia and utterly shittastic what-the-hell-are-these-for-Constitutions written on behalf of and foisted on Afghanistan and Iraq.

Oh, well.

01 June 2017

An Officer and a Thug

An Officer and a Thug

A Chief of Police who had seen an Officer beating a Thug was very indignant, and said he must not do so any more on pain of dismissal.

“Don’t be too hard on me,” said the Officer, smiling; “I was beating him with a stuffed club.”

“Nevertheless,” persisted the Chief of Police, “it was a liberty that must have been very disagreeable, though it may not have hurt.  Please do not repeat it.”

“But,” said the Officer, still smiling, “it was a stuffed Thug.”

In attempting to express his gratification, the Chief of Police thrust out his right hand with such violence that his skin was ruptured at the arm-pit and a stream of sawdust poured from the wound.  He was a stuffed Chief of Police.

- 30 -

So it was with the withdrawal from the Paris Accord, much kabuki, lots of indignance, and the news cycle directed to something other than something that has much significance. Unless it's a giant meteor hurtling toward the Earth or the cancellation of Supernatural, then you're just not going to get global consensus unless it's something that probably doesn't matter much.  Oh, you must be a climate denier, then! People actually use that accusation. No, I don't deny the climate (it would be hard to do, actually), and despite this incompetent phraseology which is, alas, used all of the time, I know what is meant by it. I don't deny the science of climatology (an actual word now), meteorology, physics, chemistry, etc. But "Paris" isn't necessarily related in any meaningful way. What does it mean for everyone to be "bound" by whatever you can at your discretion be bound by? The symbolism of the Paris Accord is real, but so, too, is the symbolism of kicking it to the curb. It's unfortunate that this, of all things, is the thing that bubbled to the top to take the eyes off of the collective ball. How much better it would have been if he said we're getting (the fuck) out of NATO and slashing our "defense" budget by 75%. Take the savings, and set half of it on fire, because, just what the fuck, and parcel the rest out to women with ideas of how to make their own lives and communities better, with some muscle behind them so they don't get robbed by the local robber jackasses and guess what? Better investment one hundred thousand times even with the money just set on fire. The US defense budget should just be whatever it costs to give everyone in the US a gun, ammo, and training to not shoot themselves in the foot. Who is going to fuck with that? Mexico? Canada? Or shittards like MS-13? ISIL? It would cost less than a single F-35. And it would be worth more than the whole goddamn program.

Punch Putin and see how much he's stuffed. Is Russian leadership becoming a better value than the sons of Madison and Jefferson? If Hillary Clinton is any indication, much better, alas.

Dems, seriously, *that's* the best you could do?



31 May 2017

Two Kings

Two Kings

The King of Madagao, being engaged in a dispute with the King of Bornegascar, wrote him as follows:

“Before proceeding further in this matter I demand the recall of your Minister from my capital.”

Greatly enraged by this impossible demand, the King of Bornegascar replied:

“I shall not recall my Minister.  Moreover, if you do not immediately retract your demand I shall withdraw him!”

This threat so terrified the King of Madagao that in hastening to comply he fell over his own feet, breaking the Third Commandment.

- 30 -

This sounds a lot like the reporting revolving around whether Trump is going to stay in the Paris accords. It certainly sounds like there is some covfefe involved. Political kabuki at its best, except when it's not, which is sometimes always and sometimes never which is exactly how the current administration's foreign policy works. Genius!

30 May 2017

The Ingenious Patriot

The Ingenious Patriot

Having obtained an audience of the King an Ingenious Patriot pulled a paper from his pocket, saying:

“May it please your Majesty, I have here a formula for constructing armour-plating which no gun can pierce.  If these plates are adopted in the Royal Navy our warships will be invulnerable, and therefore invincible.  Here, also, are reports of your Majesty’s Ministers, attesting the value of the invention.  I will part with my right in it for a million tumtums.”

After examining the papers, the King put them away and promised him an order on the Lord High Treasurer of the Extortion Department for a million tumtums.

“And here,” said the Ingenious Patriot, pulling another paper from another pocket, “are the working plans of a gun that I have invented, which will pierce that armour.  Your Majesty’s Royal Brother, the Emperor of Bang, is anxious to purchase it, but loyalty to your Majesty’s throne and person constrains me to offer it first to your Majesty.  The price is one million tumtums.”

Having received the promise of another check, he thrust his hand into still another pocket, remarking:

“The price of the irresistible gun would have been much greater, your Majesty, but for the fact that its missiles can be so effectively averted by my peculiar method of treating the armour plates with a new—”

The King signed to the Great Head Factotum to approach.

“Search this man,” he said, “and report how many pockets he has.”

“Forty-three, Sire,” said the Great Head Factotum, completing the scrutiny.

“May it please your Majesty,” cried the Ingenious Patriot, in terror, “one of them contains tobacco.”

“Hold him up by the ankles and shake him,” said the King; “then give him a check for forty-two million tumtums and put him to death.  Let a decree issue declaring ingenuity a capital offence.”

- 30 -

A significant difference between this story is that our Ingenious Patriots of the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex get the tumtums, but not the death.

29 May 2017

On the question of mustaches

I must admit I have been mistaken, as I thought the question of mustaches had been long settled in the minds of men. It seems this is not true. I used to think that certain things were self-evident, but some people remain impervious to things as persistent as facts. This is not hard. If you have and enjoy your mustache, then keep it. If you wonder if you should have a mustache, you certainly don't, because if you did, you would have it. It's one of the beauties of the wisdom of the mustache. No one who doesn't have one will ever need one and should never even contemplate its existence.

It really is that simple.

Is Vladimir Putin the next Fidel Castro?

... or is he the next Prince or David Bowie? How does that guy lose office? They have secret police to keep Putin from killing bystanders or heads of state, not the other way around. Chuck Norris told the honey badger "whatever you do, don't fuck with that guy". That's a true fact. The more Macron talked and the less Putin said, the more Macron was apt to shit his pants. "Oh, hey, this is a building, and it has walls and shit!" (please God let him say something...) "Versailles, nice, I'm glad we could save it for you from those goddamn Germans. Did I tell you that to say you have a handshake like a girl would insult Angela Merkel, who could crush you like the little turnip that you are, "Mister" Macron?" "Please don't eat my liver, Mister Putin, it's not quite fattened enough..." France, occasionally, is the greatest nation on the planet. I would take your average Frenchman or Frenchwoman before any just random who the fuck ever on the planet. After New Zealand, there is only France. France is, to use a technical term, fan-fuckin'-tastic. Anything that actually worth doing, there is some French fucker who knows how to to it better than you do. I promise you this. Sail a boat? No, some French fucker is sailing at 40 plus knots on the edge of disaster in his composite what-the-fuck-is-that-maran. Cook some food? No, Jacques Pepin has personally collected the ballsweat off of 100 really pissed off cape buffalo, but befriending them in the process (go and motherfucking try *that*) to make this amazing meal, which oh, by the way, he flew back in time in a TARDIS to plant the vines form the backbone of this Chateau Margeaux which is the perfect accompaniment to the dish. The French don't give a flying fuck about cars (that's why they invented the Germans, and they have TARDISs and Brigitte Bardot, who was voted "maybe in the top one bazillion of hot French women" by the Hot French Women's Appreciation Society (my dues are paid up through 2020)) but if you want to smoke a cigarette in a really fucking comfortable chair and maybe get laid, you could do worse than an overstuffed seat in a Renault. France rules! But when it comes to "I've come here to kill people for fun, and maybe the profits, but who cares, lolz" who the fuck beats fucking Vladimir Putin? At some point, I wish he'd just rip some random leader's leg of and throw it on the fire, Iliad style, cutting the parts to their proper proportions and putting them on the spits, turning them just so, seeing through all of the formalities so the big boys could get to business. 10 gets you 100 if Putin doesn't eat a whole goddamn bag of Cheetos in the White House. When Toshiro Mifune died, the free world lost its defense against Vladimir Putin. Clint Eastwood can squint all he wants, but Vladimir will rip your ballsack off and make Macron fry it up with some garlic and sherry. And you'll like it. And it will probably taste pretty good.

I see the title of this post and I do need to give props where they are due. Fidel Castro was a long lived motherfucker. But he was fish that looked big in his small pond. Cuba is a foreign policy shame that the US will need a long time to live down. Kitty litter is a bigger industry than all of what is Cuba. Russia is a powerful contender that punches way above its weight. Italy, according to all the metrics, should be as, or more, important than Russia, but who gives a flying fuck about Italy? No serious person. If Russia ponders, the world frets. The realpolitik of Russia is actually pretty simple and, unfortunately for the military industrial congressional complex, is not at all misaligned with that of Europe or the United States. Secure borders. Access to warm water ports. Access to petroleum and other markets for their raw materials and some value-add products like weapons. Don't poke the bear. Buy its oil, gas, and guns. Or let it alone. Don't we have some sex, drugs, and rock and roll to tend to?

Who's that you say?

Who is that scary looking cackling nut-job? I don't know, but it's apparently running for office.

Republicans who can't avoid stepping in the dog shit are still beating Dems, body slams of journalists notwithstanding. I have never seen a group of people more devoid of curiosity and and more resistant to learning than the Dems at the national level. What the fuck happened to Howard Dean? Is there some sort of "loser borg" that you get assimilated into, lose your mind, soul, and any shred of good sense and decency? One where your arguments get reduced to "nuh uh"? Gravity. Nuh uh. Momentum. Nuh uh. Take one add one get two. Nuh uh. Keep running election campaigns the way you do, and you may lose some more seats. Nuh uh. OK. Right. Good luck with that.

Oh right. Intersectionality. Forgot about that.

The Dems have a tactical advantage on their side in that they can give away other people's money as a matter of principle. Republicans have to lie about their willingness to do so. I don't know if Democratic delusion is worse than Republican hypocrisy. It's all part of the same shit show. But, ultimately, people will take the cash, and both sides are willing to sling it.

The race in the 6th here in Georgia will be telling. The Dems are running John Ossoff, who looks like Emmanuel Macron and Jared Kushner's love chile against Karen Handel, who looks like Angela Merkel and Hillary Clinton's love chile. And Handel is going to win. Fucking Dems can't shoot fish in barrels with shotguns aimed for them by DEVGRU. And they have no curiosity, not a scratch, to ask why. Oh, I never thought to look both ways before crossing a street, only dumber.

What might be of pants-shitting terror to Democrats, if they can conjure a moment of self-awareness, is Donald Trump in his clown car way has actually introduced a spectrum of people of compatible, conservative values to one another, even if he has nothing to do with it directly. If the women who attend the Baptist churches meet the women who attend the Catholic churches meet the women who attend the Presbyterian churches and find common cause is that going to be more sex, drugs, and rock and roll or more sit down together as a family for supper? The world would be a different place if women became self-aware and found common cause. And lest you think I'm a sexist jackass, a jackass I may be, but I have no problem in thinking that women with their unique perspectives as the actual whelper of children and moms and grandmoms and great-grandmoms might have something unique and positive to contribute. Let them have a crack. I am willing to bet if you killed every man in the Venezuelan government and replaced him with a Venezuelan woman, Venezuela would be a better place tomorrow. Saudi Arabia? Um. Yeah. But...

Hillary in 2020! That's the answer? New slogan: "I owe her!"

Maybe President Pence and our drooling poltroons we call Congress will address tax reform, but I somehow doubt it.

Dadgumit.

Every member of Congress should be required to carry a gun. Preferably a model 1911 Colt 45 loaded and cocked, and swill at least a pint of Mount Gay rum or some equivalent before deliberating. If any bill exceeds a hundred words, they should yell "shoot the jackass" and fire at least three rounds at someone they don't like. Two things would happen. More people would watch CSPAN and fewer bills would be comprised of more than one hundred words. Like losing weight, the principles are not hard. Eat less. Exercise more. Legislate less. Shoot jackasses more. It's hard to pull off in practice, alas.

The Blotted Escutcheon and the Soiled Ermine

The Blotted Escutcheon and the Soiled Ermine

A Blotted Escutcheon, rising to a question of privilege, said:

“Mr. Speaker, I wish to hurl back an allegation and explain that the spots upon me are the natural markings of one who is a direct descendant of the sun and a spotted fawn.  They come of no accident of character, but inhere in the divine order and constitution of things.”

When the Blotted Escutcheon had resumed his seat a Soiled Ermine rose and said:

“Mr. Speaker, I have heard with profound attention and entire approval the explanation of the honourable member, and wish to offer a few remarks on my own behalf.  I, too, have been foully calumniated by our ancient enemy, the Infamous Falsehood, and I wish to point out that I am made of the fur of the Mustela maculata, which is dirty from birth.”

- 30 -

They don't have a "Punch a Representative Day" but if they did, I'd wager it would be popular. My dear Ambrose Bierce narrowly avoids the shooting fish in a barrel diminution of this piece with his brilliant timing and lyricism. I would seriously consider following the paths of the Dark Arts to resurrect Ambrose Bierce that we may have access to his genius in these modern times. And lest you think it's only the House occupied by numbskulls, we should have a separate day for "Scrotalize a Senator Day". I will leave it to your imagination as to what scrotalize might entail. If you can't figure out how to defend the borders of the United States with, say, 500 billion dollars (probably twice as many dollars as you need or more) then you should be run over with a lawn mower and left to be devoured by fire ants. But, no, they need a trillion, and heap up a body count on both sides of the seas with no end in sight nor any strategic objective reached, except keeping real estate values in Fairfax county astronomical and the money coming to the defense contractors and think tanks. Trump folded like a single-ply knock-off brand toilet paper sheet for all his bold talk of getting us out of these foreign entanglements, and the generals that are running things are looking increasingly like cast offs from the Three Stooges than any kind of warrior-monks one might contemplate. They think strategy is some hillbilly twang grass tribute band but still can't even use it in a sentence. Thought experiment:  ISIL is more likely derived from Saudi-backed Wahhabism or nefarious Iranian plotting? Fuck, let's bomb Iran and give the Saudi's an all you can eat hundred billion dollar bomb package so they can kill the fuck out of those dangerous Houthis before they starve to death (who-thi you ask? Exactly.) and ply them with some Vegas dancers or goats or whatever (but no chickens, because that would just be wrong) they want on the down low. What, exactly, are we doing in Afghanistan? It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken, bitches. At what point does this not become a firing offense, but a firing squad offense? At what point do we just say fuck it and turn the government over to Jeff Bezos who can actually give us what we want at the lowest price possible and oh, by the way, it's actually easy and convenient through the entire process? Look at that! I can have a copy of Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations delivered to my door in 22 hours 21 minutes for less than five bucks.

Scrotalization is looking like a better idea all the time.


You might not have read that rant in this Fantastic Fable, but, it is, as they say, up in there.

28 May 2017

The Crimson Candle

The Crimson Candle

A man lying at the point of death called his wife to his bedside and said:

“I am about to leave you forever; give me, therefore, one last proof of your affection and fidelity, for, according to our holy religion, a married man seeking admittance at the gate of Heaven is required to swear that he has never defiled himself with an unworthy woman.  In my desk you will find a crimson candle, which has been blessed by the High Priest and has a peculiar mystical significance.  Swear to me that while it is in existence you will not remarry.”

The Woman swore and the Man died.  At the funeral the Woman stood at the head of the bier, holding a lighted crimson candle till it was wasted entirely away.

- 30 -

If a person managed to write just this, they would have to be gauged accomplished, yet Ambrose Bierce reeled these off at any clip he chose. I don't care to connect this one with current events, but I believe that it's connection to these modern times remains self evident.

27 May 2017

The Moral Principle and the Material Interest . . .

With this post I begin a series of posts to commemorate the immortal memory of Ambrose Bierce, one of America's great gifts to the world. People like to resolve themselves into gross sides, one or the other. Authors like Bierce slew members on either side, and established an uniquely American skepticism that while may be asphyxiating, is none-the-less alive today.

 The Moral Principle and the Material Interest . . .

A Moral Principle met a Material Interest on a bridge wide enough for but one.

“Down, you base thing!” thundered the Moral Principle, “and let me pass over you!”

The Material Interest merely looked in the other’s eyes without saying anything.

“Ah,” said the Moral Principle, hesitatingly, “let us draw lots to see which shall retire till the other has crossed.”

The Material Interest maintained an unbroken silence and an unwavering stare.

“In order to avoid a conflict,” the Moral Principle resumed, somewhat uneasily, “I shall myself lie down and let you walk over me.”

Then the Material Interest found a tongue, and by a strange coincidence it was its own tongue.  “I don’t think you are very good walking,” it said.  “I am a little particular about what I have underfoot.  Suppose you get off into the water.”

It occurred that way.

- 30 -

So, with the first verse in a much better bible than written by others, Ambrose Bierce wrote that magnificence. Plato had his shot. Shakespeare, too. God, I suppose, but if he/she/kgr (whatever the gender-ambiguous word is) I don't think this is understandable in some languages, but it's perfectly clear in English.

Pretty much all of Washington DC has revealed itself to be mindless knee-jerk unprincipled jackasses less worthy of consideration that Bevis and Butthead because they are uniformly less funny. Thing is, they won't care, because you will pay for their pensions that will pad their multi-million dollar savings ripped off of the public teat. National security? Hah! They're all administrators, going to conferences, playing the DC game with little (but some) regard for the pubic interest. Let's redirect more earnings to meaningless spending. 

It occurred that way.


21 April 2017

Is that a fact?

The March for Science is bogus.

I say this as a scientist.

Science does not take sides.

Science does not reveal truths.

Though, it can reveal untruths.

If you think you know something is true, you're probably wrong.

What time did you wake up this morning?

Really?

What timekeeping system are you referencing?

Is it accurate?

... and how precise?

So, you know within bounds, according to one reference system, what time you got up.

Science is that, but much, much more difficult and demanding.

Facts are simpler, but people extrapolate what facts are to truth.

Fact: sun "rises" in the East.

Based on our language and orientation, etc., yes, this is a fact, and we can predict this will continue to be the case for a few billion years. Maybe several. Not worth arguing too much about.

True and truth sound too much alike.

True, but not truth.

For what it's worth...


Is it "true" that Buffalo Springfield's was better?

Which one?

Is that the truth?

Can you prove that, empirically?

Does mob rule, really rule?

Is that our measure?

Can you tell which version I like best?

Do I like any of them at all?

Hmmm...

19 April 2017

Will Trinity Lutheran Church prevail?

Well, they just might.

I just got done reading the transcript of the oral arguments [PDF] before the Supremes in the case of Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer. Ginsberg can flying out of the chute citing Everson (1947):

... this Court said in no uncertain terms what the Framers didn't want was tax money imposed to pay for building or maintaining churches or church property.
That sounds like something Clarence Thomas might say. I was thinking that this was going to be a "why are we even here" moment and Roberts would invite everyone to head up to the ball court to shoot some hoops.

But no.

There wasn't a whole lot of parsing or twisting in the questions asked of David Cortman, Esq., representing Trinity Lutheran, but a little on how not being able to take advantage of the ground tire program would be a great threat to the practice and fate of the free exercise Lutheranism in the Show Me State.

James Layton, Esq., however, did not get of so lightly. Many of the Supremes seemed to be unwilling or unable to distinguish between general public benefits which might incidentally accrue to a church, or any other organization or individual, like fire protection and law enforcement, on the one hand, and limited benefits in the form of direct cash payments or other material nature distributed by the state on the other. Breyer came up with this hypothetical "State X" which seemed to get Layton wondering WTF this was all going:
Breyer: I mean, we imagine a State, State X. And State X says, we're not going to provide police protection. We will for everybody, but not a church. And by the way, that costs us extra money. We have to hire extra policemen -- revoke. Okay That's all. Why not?
Layton only manages a "That..." before Breyer continues:
We don't want -- we don't -- we don't want to because they're a church. That's why not. Same with fire protection. Same with vaccination programs. Same with public health. Same with with helping children who get sick at school. Okay? But as soon as you answer that, I'll be able to know that ask you a question and how does this differ. Okay?
Again, Layton only gets out a "Well... this differs..." before yet another Breyer smackdown for not being able to understand a question as simple as "Okay?":
No, I'm not asking that yet.
This appears to have prompted some laughter. Breyer gets some more when he clarifies and asks if Layton thinks these would be constitutional, and Layton wisely declines to take a position. I say wisely, because this is all nonsense. You don't vaccinate churches, you vaccinate individuals. If you didn't vaccinate a Lutheran because they're Lutheran, well, that doesn't fly. The benefit of fire and police protection do not accrue exclusively to a church -- they accrue more generally to the community and perhaps individuals case by case (stopping an assault of a church member on church grounds). A direct cash benefit to improve the church grounds is something completely different, even if the general public might enjoy some benefit as a result, as would have possibly been the case in the improvement of the playground at Trinity Lutheran Church.

Now, a I've said before, just because a law is constitutional, as in my opinion Blaine amendments are in general and Missouri's in particular, I don't mean that they are necessarily a good idea. I don't think they should be struck down just because a Supreme Court justice cannot summon the analytical power to resolve the difference between fire protection and a cash payment. No, if this one gets struck down it's because they just want to.

Then get ready to hold your hats because it's going to be Katy, bar the door.
Katy, bar the door! By by Marshall, H. E. (Henrietta Elizabeth), b. 1876 - {https://archive.org/details/scotlandsstoryhi00mars Scotland's story : a history of Scotland for boys and girls by Marshall, H. E. (Henrietta Eliza], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=52921561
Interestingly, one of the primary motivations of the Blaine amendments was to protect public schools by preventing funds being diverted to religious institutions. Striking them down out of hand will put extreme pressure on the public school systems, especially distressed ones, and the outcome is difficult to seem, but I'm confident there will be significant thrash. Now, I'm all for experimentation in education and skeptical of top-down approaches to it. And maybe widespread creative destruction is what we need. But I think prudence would dictate that Blaine amendments and related laws should be restricted and clarified depending on the requirements of the individual states, and let them figure it out, rather than just toss them out because a few Supremes just don't like them.

17 April 2017

ACLU has a strong Brief of Amici Curiae in Trinity Lutheran


Of course, the ACLU would come out guns a blazin'! [PDF] I get their perspective, it's well-grounded in the history and intent of the Founders, and well argued. But here's the thing: while Blaine amendments are Constitutional (IMO), I don't think that religious organizations should be excluded from receiving public funds if the process by which the funds are distributed are non-discriminatory and the use of the funds are for non-religious purposes (e.g., if secular or people of other religions would be doing the same thing (e.g., swinging on swings)) should be proscribed by what has been written into the Constitution. Trinity Lutheran needs to get bounced because Missouri's Blaine amendments are Constitutional, not because Trinity Lutheran's receipt of funds is contra the US Constitution as written.

PS Editors are a good thing...

Blaine amendments: being Constitutional doesn't make it a good idea

The Supremes are hearing Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley [SCOTUS Blog], which is pitting the State of Missouri against a Lutheran Church who wanted to participate in a grant program to cover their playground in ground up tires. Now, per the SCOTUS Blog link above and elsewhere, Trinity Lutheran Church has attracted a bunch of brief amici curiae to their cause. Now, one problem with many of these briefs is that the focus too much on the original intent of so-called Blaine amendments, because of the blatantly anti-Catholic attitude of its principle advocate James Blaine. Before trying to understand the intent, let's take a look at Missouri's implementation:

“That no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion, or in aid of any priest, preacher, minister or teacher thereof, as such; and that no preference shall be given to nor any discrimination made against any church, sect or creed of religion, or any form of religious faith or worship.” Missouri Const. Art. I, § 7.
“Neither the general assembly, nor any county, city, town, township, school district or other municipal corporation, shall ever make an appropriation or pay from any public fund whatever, anything in aid of any religious creed, church or sectarian purpose, or to help to support or sustain any private or public school, academy, seminary, college, university, or other institution of learning controlled by any religious creed, church or sectarian denomination whatever; nor shall any grant or donation of personal property or real estate ever be made by the state, or any county, city, town, or other municipal corporation, for any religious creed, church, or sectarian purpose whatever.” Missouri Const. Art. IX, § 8.
Now, as that is written, I don't see anything in the US Constitution that would prevent Missouri from implementing that as written or repealing it. The equal protection appeals to the Fourteenth Amendment seem to be a bit of a stretch because it does not unduly "abridge the privileges" of citizens that they might not be able to realize through other means. And it's perfectly sound on the Establishment Clause -- it's the Establishment Clause on steroids.

Now, that all said, that doesn't mean that just because I think Blaine amendments are Constitutional, that I think they're a good idea. If a private, secular school can get a grant for ground up tires for their playground, it seems that Trinity Lutheran and Darth Vader's Home for Wayward Sith should be able to get a grant for ground up tires, too. The absolute proscription of public funds falling into the hands of religious organizations through programs that are more generally available, is, in my opinion, foolish and short-sighted. The Establishment Clause does not proscribe government at any level working with religious organizations to further public goals.

The answer to the problem of Blaine amendments is not to have the Court say it hurts their feelings and makes them feel bad and because it was born of anti-Catholic sentiment or whatever, that people can feel free to ignore it, or strike it down because they don't like it. It's bad law. Repeal it, Missouri. And all the rest of the states who have them, too.



16 April 2017

Francis Hutcheson rocked the Scottish Enlightenment like Jimmy Page just rocks

Get to know Francis Hutcheson. He rocks. Like Jimmy Page rocks. Funny, they're both rocking the same look. I guess some things never go permanently out of style.


Our system of "education" in the United States is woefully broken in that the median is so hell and gone away from the average. What do I mean by this? The distribution is skewed such that if you line all the students in a particular grade up from least to best educated and picked the kid in the middle, he'd be way below average. The way this happens is that most kids get a crap education, and a few kids get among the best educations in the world, which leaves the median on the crap side of average. What's worse is that there is a delusion of education in which credentials are equated with achievement and by reaching some arbitrary milestone (e.g., "graduation") you're "educated". You have a BS-MA-PhD in (insert random-ass wtf-ever here) Studies. Great. You ever cover, say Conservation of Momentum? Arma virumque canoWHEN in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another?

Alas.

Well, this dude Francis freakin' Hutcheson was philosophy's first rock star. Instead of lecturing in Latin, he figured he'd lecture in English thereby expanding his audience from the Latin speaking world, to the English speaking world. We can be Lockean in our understanding of the self-evidence of which world was bigger. His intellectual progeny include Adam Smith and David Hume and many of the Founders of the United States of America. He was the Velvet Underground of philosophy; he might not have sold very many albums, but everyone who bought one became a philosopher. Except he *did* sell a bunch -- he was very popular. As if VU was Led Zeppelin.

Thank you, Scotland!

Of Trebuchets and Founding Principles

I particularly enjoyed a NOVA special about trebuchets. In the episode, they build a lathe, to build a better lathe, to finally turn an axle for the trebuchet. This idea that something can be used to make something better than itself is immensely gratifying to me. A process of perfectibility which strives towards perfection, and despite never actually reaching perfection, each iteration can be better than the previous.

So, it grates on me when some of my generally more "progressive" friends conflate what was made in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution with who made them, who they without much study or contemplation dismiss as universally, racist, sexist, slave-owning, evil bastards, incapable of generating anything worthy of our modern, progressive times.

Sadly, they'll never read anything like Robert Curry's spectacular Jefferson, Locke, and the Declaration of Independence  where he shows that despite Jefferson's profound respect and understanding of John Locke, the "self-evident" of the Declaration was not the self-evident of Locke, but rather that of Thomas Reid; the "unalienable rights" were not Lockean, but rather derived from Francis Hutcheson. Sure, Jefferson owned slaves, but his hypocrisy in life cannot in itself diminish the power of the ideal. A couple weeks before his death, Jefferson said:
All eyes are open to or opening to … the palpable truth that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.
Jefferson may have been wearing boots and spurs, but it wasn't nature or God who put those on him. For this Passover, let us please remember there is a difference between where you are, seeing where you need to go, getting there, and finally arriving. Someone can lead you to the promised land even though they are forbidden to reach it them self.

13 April 2017

Happy Birthday, Thomas Jefferson!

The more I learn about the founding of the US, the more of a Straussian of the Jaffa school I become, or that explains an aspect of my admittedly imperfect understanding of the founding of the US.

The radical, eternal, idea is that all men are created equal.

Now, this leads to all sorts of misunderstanding, but it's misunderstanding that, in my opinion, stems more from willful ignorance than just pure ignorance.

First, let us understand that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are incomplete and imperfect. But, try to understand what was trying to be said.

Now, I do subscribe to a mostly originalist perspective when it comes to reading the Constitution as law. My main justification for this is that it's the closest thing that's grounded in an objective reality. That is, if it's a living document that just gets interpreted however the hell you want, then it doesn't really mean anything. With originalism, you can at least try to understand what they were trying to write, and you have something you can analyze and argue about with a whole jurisprudence and history to back it up. Don't like what was meant? Change it. You've been given the tools. For instance, John Yoo over at NR schooled me in my lack of understanding about what declare war meant back in the day, and the precision with which the founders used language to allow us to disambiguate certain things.

My take was the Syria Tomahawk chop was unconstitutional, because only Congress had the power to declare war. Well, turns out back then, declaring war was more of a diplomatic thing that officially signaled times, they are a changing. Initiation of hostilities, combat, etc., was often, nay, usually, undertaken without formal declarations of war. The power Congress had was over the formation of the military. If Congress didn't like what Executive was doing, they just defund the military. Read Yoo's piece for more.

Now, as far as the Declaration goes, I will be a skosh hypocritical, perhaps, in my originalist approach, and submit that, we may and should read "men" as "people".  So, we have:

... all people are created equal ...

This really isn't that much of a stretch, and I'd bet that it would be an easy sell to TJ back in the day, if only it sounded right to his 18th century ear. It actually *is* what he meant, but that's just not the way you talked back then. Originalism is about what it meant then, not how it reads in any time.

Now, the second part that gets folks gummed up is "equal". This really should be as self-evident as self-evident can be, but the power of willful ignorance and delusion is, well, powerful. Equal in this context does not mean "capably equivalent" or "indistinguishable from". This is intuitively obvious to any kid who has had the pleasure of spending recess organizing into teams to play some sport. The two kids who had it the roughest was the third best athlete and the worst. The best and second best were the captains. Third best wasn't picked captain despite thinking they should and the worst kid was picked last. Brutal in its way, but it made sense to everyone, and no one thought anyone was "equal" in ability, focus, commitment, empathy, honor, skill, etc.

No, equal means equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Playing the hand you're dealt, but getting to play it.

Compare this to the divine right of kings and all of the might makes right of most of human history.

Happy Birthday, Thomas Jefferson!