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!


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.


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?