Land of the Free, Home of the Brave

Sigh. H/t: Ranger Up.

Truthy fiction

The USDA shut down a small-town library's "seed library," citing concerns about corruption of the nation's precious bodily food supply.  The library would be permitted to keep a seed library (from which residents could withdraw seeds at the beginning of the planting season, and replace them with new seeds at the conclusion) only if it tested each sample for germination.  Which brings to mind Jim Gerraghty's well-reviewed new humorous novel, "The Weed Agency."

Senate rules

Yesterday the multi-billion program to keep the border wide open went down in flames in the Senate, for a surprising reason.  Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) first tried to crack open Harry Reid's no-amendment gambit to permit the Cruz amendment, which would have prohibited the President from carrying out his promise/threat to grant amnesty to 6 million or so illegal immigrants by executive order.  That vote failed, 43 yea/52 nay.  But Sessions wasn't done:  he raised a point of order that the expensive program violated the pay-as-you-go rules, because its cost was balanced by neither spending cuts nor tax increases.  The vote to waive Sessions' point of order, which would have required a 60-vote majority to succeed, received only a 50 yea/44 nay vote.

No Surprise: Latest QDR Too Weak For Global Role

It's a feature not a bug, if you want America to decline in global importance and assume a more humble role.  Of course, the question is:  who will fill the gaps?  Iran?  ISIS?  Or someone else?
The panel’s report said the past several years of budget cuts and mandated reduction in personnel and weapons have stirred deep unease among allies who would count on the U.S. in a crisis.

“Not only have they caused significant investment shortfalls in U.S. military readiness and both present and future capabilities, they have prompted our current and potential allies and adversaries to question our commitment and resolve,” the report said. “Unless reversed, these shortfalls will lead to a high-risk force in the near future. That in turn will lead to an America that is not only less secure but also far less prosperous. In this sense, these cuts are ultimately self-defeating.”
Exactly! Nobody else could defeat us, so if America was to be defeated on the world stage, we had to do it ourselves.

The Sentimental Answer May Not Be the Truthful One

This morning on the way to work, I heard an ABC News report out of Gaza. The reporter was listening to a couple of Palestinian women rant about the war, one saying "we should kill Israeli women and children" (she thinks they haven't been?), and another claiming to be tired of it all...In an effort to seem even-handed and humane, no doubt, the reporter ended by saying the real question was "how to explain war to bewildered children." (Paraphrasing from memory.) She didn't back that statement up with any witnesses. If she'd investigated, she'd've found that explaining war to children is easy...especially if those children are boys. Simply have schools and a community that teach them the national myth, the dominant religion, or both...just as the Palestinians do (and Israelis too). Then a ready explanation will come to them.

(Is that a good explanation or a truthful understanding? Separate question, and the answer differs from myth to myth. But neither Palestinians nor most peoples in the world...outside of modern-day Americans...are at a loss for an answer, the way that reporter was.)

Justice

The man who killed my neighbors' grandson appeared in court yesterday, almost a year after the fatal accident, to accept a plea.  The sentence is sixteen years on two or more counts.  Because the sentences will run concurrently, he is likely to serve 90% of the sentence.


Certainly the last parole did not work out well.  This was no freak accident resulting from bad luck or a split-second loss of attention.  Several cars had called in reports of a dangerous, weaving driver in the minutes before the wreck.  There were reports that he had been up all night on meth while on a "fishing trip" with his girlfriend, her child, and his own two children; on the return trip he furiously refused to relinquish the wheel.  Despite his criminal record, he had a good job and a real chance of turning his life around.  Instead it all went up in smoke.


The family were told that normally two or three people show up at a plea-bargain hearing.  Yesterday thirty people appeared for the victims, including police officers from the scene, marshals who retrieved the defendant from Arkansas after he jumped bail, and the family of the two people he killed and the half dozen (including five children) that he injured very seriously.  No one appeared for the defendant, who was hauled off to Huntsville prison at the conclusion of the hearing.

Several people gave victim impact statements.  My neighbor said that the judge frequently brought out his handkerchief to wipe his eyes.  I have never seen a judge in tears.  There is something oddly touching about this official, but human, acknowledgement of the family's pain.

Competition and innovation

Mark Perry is an Uber fan.  He loves to chronicle the desperate fight of the taxi cartels to protect themselves from competition, and the innovations that Uber keeps introducing to delight its growing customer base.  In a local fight, the taxi cartels often seem to have the upper hand, with their crony-capitalist lock on protectionism.  What happens when Uber ignores all that and exploits two big advantages:  the willingness to innovate in the areas that are important to their customers, rather than to the entrenched taxi/city power bases, and the ability to coordinate over large geographical areas rather than to tighten their maniacal grip on a local monopoly?

Update:  an oddly absorbing site that shows a New York taxi's typical workday, mostly centered on Manhattan trips.

Invisible antlers

I've always been a little confused by the "male display" explanation for elaborate feathers and antlers and so on. What have they got to do with real survival capability? Why is it a winning evolutionary strategy for females to be impressed? But for whatever reason, they seem to work, unless there's another explanation for their natural selection. Anyway, it's fascinating to see that male beaked whales may have internal antlers that are invisible except to echo-locating females of the species:
These inner structures don’t wreck the whales’ streamlined bodies, as horns or external ornaments surely would. That’s important given how frequently they dive. With internal antlers, they could get the advertising space of a bus and the profile of a Ferrari at the same time.

Market-based medicine

Oklahoma public employees have saved a boatload of money by using a surgery center devoted to price transparency and consumer choice:
Unlike most other medical providers, the Surgery Center of Oklahoma actually posts transparent pricing and offers deeply-discounted, payable-in-advance, cash-only medical procedures. The center does accept private insurance, but it does not accept Medicaid or Medicare — government regulations won’t allow them to post transparent prices online.

Sometimes the Guns Come Out

Mark Steyn links us to a reminder of the nature of government.

Man Shot, Paralyzed Over 31 Unpaid Parking Tickets.

A matter we were discussing at Cassandra's a couple of weeks back: Statists love to pretend that government isn't force, doesn't work through force, and oughtn't to be morally analyzed as force. The first political speech I remember a line from...I mean, I remember hearing it at the time...was Bruce Babbitt addressing a group of schoolkids in the 1988 primaries. I paraphrase: "The Republicans will tell you to be afraid of government. Don't be. Government is us." Or there's the even more repulsive formulation of Barney Frank: "Government is simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together." (Go do 'em to yourself, Barney, thanks very much.)

If the city government wants a tax for parking, or to control where you park...and you don't obey, and pretend the taxes don't apply to you...sooner or later, there's a man with a gun to enforce it. Most of the time we obey and the guns don't come out. But sometimes they do and they're always there. If it oughtn't to be done with guns -- government oughtn't to be doing it at all.

Is it worth pointing a gun to collect city tax and control city parking? I think so...though the traffic cops of Hanoi, if they exist, may not agree[1]. No police force, cars parked wherever urban barbarians want them...this would be less safe yet than having the Pennsylvania State Constables on the prowl. I have a hard time accepting the moral order of the dueling culture, when people pointed guns to enforce simple good manners. (But Grim might talk me around on that one before it's all through.) Wherever we draw that line, though, let's never forget what it really is, and the moral angle of government security, government charity, government culture, or government anything.

[1] Michael Totten's first dispatch from Vietnam is excellent reading and heartwarming, and says some fine things about what humans can do after being crushed by tyranny. You should be reading that instead of me.

Theodore VanKirk

...the last survivor of the Enola Gay's crew, has died. I was glad to read he lived a full life after his service ended, went on to a long career as a chemical engineer, kept his mind sharp, and died peacefully.

The event calls for reflection, of just the kind you've been doing, and that Grim's done before. For World War II was the last U.S. war that ended before the Geneva Conventions of 1948 (the centerpiece of the modern jus in bello) and the U.N. Charter (the centerpiece of the modern jus ad bellum) went into effect. And with it the radical new idea that civilians..."persons taking no active part in the hostilities...no matter what kind of war it was, or between whom...were simply immune as targets. (Jean Pictet's commentary on Common Article 3, which you can get here, describes it as an "almost unhoped-for" extension of common article 2...designed to apply even to civil wars or insurrections, to the savage as well as the civilized.

Islamic radicals sometimes defend 9/11 with a tu quoque...."What about Hiroshima?" There are several answers, but one of them is: "The law changed after that. We wouldn't be allowed to do that now; and by agreement and by custom, neither can anyone else." If you're much younger than VanKirk, older wars feel wrong...punitive expeditions, attacking villages, sacking towns, the jubilation at Marchin' Through Georgia...it feels like something that doesn't belong in war. Yet that is an ancient norm, and it is the modern standard that's in its experimental stage.

Problem is, the experiment may be failing.

Unsurprisingly, John Derbyshire's over a decade ahead of me on that, on the attitude adjustment that a violent people can show when they're well and truly crushed...in this column he takes it further, looking at the different ways a nation can view military defeat, from "total denial" through dolchstosslegende all the way to "full repentance." And then noticing that the more the civilian population suffered in the war, the closer they came to "full repentance"...and, more importantly, to fighting no more wars. It's a decently robust if not perfect model. He notes many examples from the 19th and 20th centuries. I notice it broadly fits the Jewish Wars of the Roman Empire. After the third one was mercilessly crushed, says this, "Jewish messianism was abstracted and spiritualized" -- as well it might be; eternal spiritual truths do have a way of bending to fit the facts on the ground -- and the Jewish leader was vilified in the Talmud. The Scottish suppression was brutal in a lesser way...but also effective. There really was peace tho' Jamie never came hame.

I don't think this comes through a cold calculation (as in the reasoning of Grim's excellent Blackfive post), but more likely through evolved instinct. Every man can talk about fighting to the last...but we're not descended from the men who did. Neither are we descended from the men who caved at the first attack. Thus: a little violence inspires revenge; a lot of it brings submission and peace. It's been made a joke and a funny one...because of the grim truth behind it. Their hands tied by the modern law of war, the Israelis get the worst of all worlds. They get the reputation of Genghis Khan or Tamurlane, and draw as much hatred as they did if not more...but they don't get the security that real brutality might've brought them long ago (and Genghis Khan is a national hero in Mongolia, and got respectful treatment in my elementary school history books; and Tamurlane is still admired at least in some parts of Afghanistan). Israel itself is just as old as the Geneva regime; a citadel of advanced civilization born in the year war was to be civilized, and has suffered ever since from that very fact.

Terrorism lives in that safe space created by the modern order. Terrorism isn't new, as you all know well. The Sicarii were practicing a version in Palestine not too long after Jesus. But the Romans of that era were quite capable of treating a city the way a strategic bombing raid could, only up close and personal, with sword and spear. Hiding behind children only works while the enemy's not willing to target them. And that wasn't a good assumption back then.

Supposing Palestinians continue as a UN-welfare population full of frustrated young men, and the Israelis remain addicted to life, so that the attacks never cease...will Israelis forever hold their hands, if it means dying for their principles?

I don't know. But as I said -- they're not descended from men who did.

Apparently Successfully


So the next challenge is... how to regain respect?

The Wonders of the Internet

Allapundit at Hot Air tagged his recent collection of quotes on a resurgent Anti-Semitism "the socialism of fools," and I had not heard the expression (although it was easy to guess the antecedent, not only from the context but because the two movements made such similar arguments in the 19th century). I searched to see who had said it originally, and from there was drawn to read about Königstein Fortress, where the original socialist was imprisoned for a time. Along the way I discovered that it had held not only state prisoners, but the greatest wine barrel in human history:

From 1722 to 1725, at the behest of August the Strong, coopers under Böttger built the enormous Königstein Wine Barrel (Königsteiner Weinfass), the greatest wine barrel in the world, in the cellar of the Magdalenenburg which had a capacity of 249,838 litres. It cost 8,230 thalers, 18 groschen and 9 pfennigs. The butt, which was once completely filled with country wine from the Meißen vineyards, had to be removed again in 1818 due to its poor condition.
That's just over 66,000 gallons, which at a quart per person per day would last a family of four for 180 years -- longer than the barrel itself lasted.

Moral non-relativism

From Sam Harris via Bookworm Room:
Consider the moral difference between using human shields and being deterred by them. . . . The Muslims are acting on the assumption—the knowledge, in fact—that the infidels with whom they fight, the very people whom their religion does nothing but vilify, will be deterred by their use of Muslim human shields. They consider the Jews the spawn of apes and pigs—and yet they rely on the fact that they don’t want to kill Muslim noncombatants.
Hamas is not just a rogue terrorist organization.  It was elected.

Keep it simple

Gavin McInnes advises hewing to tradition unless you've got a much better idea.  In marriage, we're allowed to alter the gender-role rules slightly to take reality into account, as long as we don't go too crazy:
If a woman is conservative in some duties, she should be liberal in others. To the non-married much of this talk will sound like rape. There is no such thing in marriage. It’s more like if your sibling was a vampire. If things got really bad, you’d cut yourself so he could eat.

100 Years ago today...

...the middle ages ended. The Empire of Austria-Hungary, with a pedigree stretching back nearly 1000 years, (remember that the Duchy of Austria was created by Emperor Otto III in AD 996, the Kingdom of Hungary in AD1000), declared war on the Kingdom of Serbia (established AD1217, conquered by the Ottomans in AD1459, and reestablished in AD1882), and starting the first world war.

By 1918, Three of the 4 big monarchies in Europe, Austria, Russia, and Germany, were gone. The British survived, but began to yield it's global supremacy to the USA.

The old European civilization, and it's notions of societal order, hierarchy, and supremacy,  were all overthrown.

And while it took another world war to completely settle the matter (and get rid of even more of the remaining monarchies in Europe), the die had been cast, and there was no going back.

The war's effects are still being felt today, most obviously in the middle east and the Ukraine.

There's A Small Problem With This Idea...

Let's see if we can spot it.
“Radical regulations strangle small business and increase the costs for hard-working taxpayers,” said Congressman Scalise. “This much-needed legislation makes unelected bureaucrats think twice before proposing job-killing rules and regulations by increasing transparency and accountability. If our economy is ever to recover from six years of the president’s failed economic policies, we must rein in the out of control costs of this Administration’s radical regulations. I applaud Congressman Collins for joining me in introducing this bill and for being a leader in the House on holding this Administration accountable.”

“Our federal budget tells Americans how much money the government spends. The national Regulatory Budget would tell them how much the government is really costing them,” Congressman Collins said. “Too many regulations, however they were intended, cost hardworking Americans in money and in opportunity. We can’t bring about reform and relief if we can’t identify the roots of the regulatory burden, and this is a straightforward and transparent way to do that. Congressman Scalise is a trusted leader on regulatory reform and I know with his leadership, we can get this moving.”

“Regulations are another impediment to investment. For free enterprise to work, it needs a reasonable regulatory system that ensures safety, protects consumers and achieves fair competition,” said U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL). Putting the federal government on a National Regulatory Budget will help restrain the job-killing impulses of regulators and reduce obstacles to innovation that creates jobs."
So far, so good. What's your plan for addressing it?
Specifically, the National Regulatory Budget Act would establish the Office of Regulatory Analysis (OAR), which would be required to provide an annual regulatory analysis of federal rules for the upcoming fiscal year and their estimated cost on the economy. The legislation also creates a National Regulatory Budget, which allows Congress to set a cap on the total economic cost of new federal regulations to be implemented in the coming fiscal year. Congress would also set caps on the regulatory cost allowed by individual agencies.

The legislation requires that all newly proposed regulations receive an OAR estimate before being implemented. Agencies that fail to comply with the OAR will be subject to a 0.5 percent reduction in their appropriation based on their previous budget amount.
The solution you propose is to establish yet another Federal agency?

Failure to comply with which means a half-percent cut in appropriations?

Back to the drawing board, boys.

Perhaps You Have Never Heard of John Kerry

The Times of Israel has a piece called "John Kerry: The Betrayal."
It seemed inconceivable that the secretary’s initiative would specify the need to address Hamas’s demands for a lifting of the siege of Gaza, as though Hamas were a legitimate injured party acting in the interests of the people of Gaza — rather than the terror group that violently seized control of the Strip in 2007, diverted Gaza’s resources to its war effort against Israel, and could be relied upon to exploit any lifting of the “siege” in order to import yet more devastating weaponry with which to kill Israelis.

Israel and the US are meant to be allies; the US is meant to be committed to the protection of Israel in this most ruthless of neighborhoods; together, the US and Israel are meant to be trying to marginalize the murderous Islamic extremism that threatens the free world. Yet....
I can understand your confusion. The Secretary of State is the position of highest honor in the United States government, the highest-ranking position that is appointed instead of elected. Now any demagogue can get elected; but to be appointed the head diplomat, whose word speaks for the nation, is to be entrusted with a position of extraordinary honor.

Nevertheless, you must understand, this is John Kerry. This is a man who swore he had seen and participated in great crimes of war in Vietnam, which he was obligated to report to his chain of command: but he made no such reports. So he is either a criminal of the worst kind, a murderer most foul who broke his nation's most sacred laws against his sworn oath as an officer; or he is a liar who has slandered his brothers in arms, for personal advantage.

Either way, by his own words he deserves a scoundrel's death. Instead he has been elevated to the position of highest honor in our nation's government. That is our fault. I can understand your confusion. I can. It should never have been this way.

The military-industrial complex

In 1798, we scarcely had one, or even an ordinary industrial complex.  Something I didn't know about Eli Whitney was that his famous cotton-engine, or "gin," was a bit of a financial bust; patent protection was hit-or-miss back then, and the idea was easily appropriated by an enthusiastic public.  Broke, he managed to finagle a defense contract with an uneasy young U.S. government for 10,000 muskets.  He used the progress payments to set up a new kind of factory from scratch, not yet owning so much as the mill he intended to use to power it.  He held off his nervous government contact for years, until four months after the original due date, with reports of how he was assembling a team of workers and first building the tools that would facilitate the new steam-powered assembly process.  Then he blew his client away with a demonstration of interchangeable parts:
[In January 1801,] Whitney made his entry into a room of dignitaries in blue coats, knee breeches and silk hose, assembled most likely in the newly occupied president's mansion. He took a large box with him and laid out its contents on a table. It was not a musket but all sorts of anticlimactic bits and pieces--or so it seemed for a few moments. Then he surprised the observers, including [his original mentor's] more skeptical successor, by quickly assembling the bits into fine new muskets. He picked apparently at random among ten different firelocks and with a screwdriver fitted them to ten muskets. On the testimony of Thomas Jefferson, he also assembled the actual firelock mechanism from a random selection of the internal pieces (tumbler, sear, hammer, lock plate, etc.), a far more impressive accomplishment, since it was the most delicately calibrated part of the weapon. In a letter introducing "Mr. Whitney of Connecticut, a mechanic of the first order of ingenuity," Jefferson told Virginia's governor, James Monroe: "He has invented molds and machines for making all the pieces of his locks so exactly equal that take 100 locks to pieces and mingle their parts and the hundred locks may be put together as well by taking the first piece that comes to hand. This is of importance in repairing, because out of ten locks e.g. disabled for want of different pieces, 9 good locks may be put together without employing a smith."
"They Made America: From the Steam Engine to the Search Engine: Two Centuries of Innovators," by Harold Evans, Gail Buckland, and David Lefer.

X-ray vision

It's not a matter of making things transparent, just of routing the information from cameras to a helmet.  Pilots will be able to look around, even straight down through the aircraft, and "see" what the skin of the aircraft "sees."

The cost of going bare

This is the first article I've ever found with hard numbers and analysis of the real cost of medical care, including how it's borne by a combination of consumers, taxpayers, and providers in the absence of health insurance.  I know you'll be shocked to learn that the ACA's solution of universal expensive subsidized coverage makes absolutely no sense, regardless of whether you're concerned about medical bankruptcy, erosion of life expectancy among the uninsured, the profit margin of doctors and hospitals, or the burden on taxpayers.  On the subject of life expectancy, by the way, we'd all do better to stay married, go to college, lose weight, and quit smoking--all of which are at least as effective as being insured, if not much more so.

There's an idea

From a Korean history I'm proofreading:
One of this king's most interesting edicts was in connection with the census. Having ordered a numbering of the people, he found that objections were raised, because it would mean a more systematic and thorough collection of taxes. So he put forth the edict that whenever murder occurred, if the murdered man's name was not on the list of tax payers, the murderer would be immediately pardoned. Of course everybody hastened to get their names on the books and to let it be known.

Looking familiar

Demagogues have no trouble employing the ideology of identity politics to stir up a sense of grievance against the festering injustice that is Amerika. What's odd is that they're comfortable doing so in support of people who want to get to Amerika because their own cultures have failed, and that they're using the favorite tropes of fascism to do it:
Does Representative Gutierrez have any notion that the reason why tens of thousands of what he refers to as “our people” are risking their lives to enter the U.S. is that because, unlike their home nations, America’s prosperity is ultimately based on the sanctity of racially-blind and politically-blind laws, laws that cannot be simply created or dismissed for particular interest groups by someone shouting to an assembly, convening under the banner of “The Race”?
Strip away the very thin leftist veneer of all this and we can see the old demagogic and ethnic fascism of the European 1930s.
Ein Volk, ein Land.

Community & isolation

Via some sort of link I was following from (probably) Maggie's Farm (which I don't want to omit, in light of discouraging recent stories about plagiarists who don't understand what's wrong with pretending their ideas are original):
Stella Morabito wrote the other day here at The Federalist about how personal relationships threaten the power of the state – and they do, because in their absence, the state inevitably seizes more power. We have a good example of this from the experience of Mexican society, as described in Jorge Castañeda’s book “Mañana Forever”:
“In the United States, there are approximately 2 million civil society organizations, or one for every 150 inhabitants; in Chile there are 35,000, or one for every 428 Chileans; in Mexico there are only 8,500, or one for every 12,000, according to Mexican public intellectual Federico Reyes Heroles. Eighty-five percent of all Americans belong to five or more organizations; in Mexico 85% belong to no organization and, according to Reyes Heroles, the largest type, by far, is religious. In the United States, one out of every ten jobs is located in the so-called third sector (or civil society); in Mexico the equivalent figure is one out of every 210 jobs. [internal citation omitted] In polls taken in 2001, 2003, and 2005 on political culture in Mexico, a constant 82% of those surveyed stated they had never worked formally or informally with others to address their community’s problems.”
Castañeda is describing a nation with nothing resembling the “little platoons” of Burke or the network of free associations that de Tocqueville credited with American democracy’s vitality. It is a nation which lacks lateral social bonds. Instead, it encourages a patronage society where the force of government surges in response to the clamor of the masses. [Rick] Santorum seems to think that is the American destiny in the wake of the current societal shifts, or barring some series of the enactment of pro-family policies. But that’s not necessarily the case, in part because American individualism in the modern sense is not what Santorum thinks it is.
The number of true individualists is still relatively small – they are the people who spend holidays staring vacantly into space. If you buy or sell things, consume popular culture, or have anyone in your life you say “I love you” to, you’re not a true individualist. [Abortion selfie-ist] Emily Letts is the furthest thing from an individualist – her confused expression of the destruction of the life growing inside her comes across as something between a struggling actress craving an audience and a human being craving someone to hold her hand through a difficult time.
The Morabito piece linked within the link is a fascinating look at how progressives fear families as the primary source of inequality in our society, and the primary competition for government influence.

Unexpectedly

Faced with food price inflation, Panama's new president has a brainstorm:  "I know!  Let's try price controls!"  Because no one's ever tried that one before, and experienced empty shelves.  Must be those hoarders.

That business with printing money like crazy in order to create prosperity with a magic wand is working like a charm, too.  Anything to take the focus off of production and free exchange, I guess.

Friday Night AMV



Every movie trailer you've ever seen.

Congress Banned from Editing Wikipedia

Again.

Also, apparently Donald Rumsfeld is not an alien lizard.

New math

No matter how it's taught, it's still too hard.

Dangerous childhoods

I didn't write about the woman who was arrested for letting her kid play alone in the park because the story was too exasperating.  Now, however, I feel compelled to warn all you parents out there of the new looming threat: rubber bands.

Ah, For A Muse of Fire...

On the news I saw the extremists replaced the cross on our church in Mosul with the black flag of the Islamic State. They are doing a call of Islamic prayer from our church. They have turned it into a mosque.

I can't believe it. I wanted to cry when I saw this on the news.
Much is being asked of these. Joy without a cause. Faith without a hope.

Banhus Gebrocen

Later, when Beowulf’s corpse burns on the funeral pyre, it doesn’t gently disappear. He is cooked until the “banhus gebrocen—the bonehouse was broken. A great hero is reduced to a bunch of bones snapping in a bonfire. A solitary woman sings over his burning body, her lament mixing with the smoke (just as Grendel’s screams had drifted up on the air, “sweg up astag”) as it is swallowed by heaven—“heofon rece swealg.”