Different Types of Veterans

Language warning, as usual with the vet videos. That last one is a sympathetic character.

In the Senate, Disasters Follow Disasters

The Republicans' health care bill had few good points, but it would have broken us free from the idea that Democrats had to save Obamacare. Whatever problems it created could be fixed because we wouldn't have this great white elephant to protect.

The far better plan, to repeal and not replace Obamacare with anything whatsoever, died because of three Senators -- both Vox and Vice think it's very amusing that they're all women -- who simply refused to consider that an option. Every single Republican ran on repealing Obamacare, but when it comes time to do it, these three have decided that it can only be done if we have some other form of Federalized control of the market to offer instead.

If Republican Senators have internalized the idea that we must force coverage of pre-existing conditions at non-market rates, there's no possibility of a better solution on health care. We will have only worse solutions.

One Jane Orient, M.D., wants you to know that this is really just about control. The more the government controls your health care, the more it can force you to live the way it wants.

She's right.

In Britain, home of the highest rated health care service in the world -- rated, of course, by advocates of socialized medicine -- the NHS announced last September that it would deny routine surgery to the obese and smokers in "almost all cases." That plan was put on hold, but appears to be back this year.

Obesity is a pre-existing condition, isn't it? But there are shortages, you see, because everyone's entitled and there isn't enough to go around. Since the market can't be allowed to settle that -- pre-existing conditions shouldn't cost more! -- instead the solution will be rationing by government bureaucrats who judge your worth as a person based on how much they agree with your lifestyle and fitness choices.

These people aren't going to solve the problem that not all care can be afforded. They're just going to take control over who gets care. That will be used to punish, of course.

The Net Neutrality Campaign

I thought I might write about this, but Robert Tracinski has saved me the trouble.

Mozilla and a bunch of other internet-dependent companies like Netflix and Amazon have been campaigning to get the FCC to keep the "net neutrality" regulations implemented under Obama, warning that without it big companies may restrict "free speech" on the internet. (This from the company that burned Brendan Eich at the stake for having the "wrong" views on marriage.)

Wikipedia explains the basic claim of these companies:

Proponents of net neutrality, in particular those in favor of reclassification of broadband to "common carrier", have many concerns about the potential for discriminatory service on the part of providers such as Comcast. Common-carriage principles require network operators to serve the public regardless of geographical location, district income levels, or usage. Telecommunications companies are required to provide services, such as phone access, to all consumers on the premise that it is a necessity that should be available to all people equally. If the FCC's ability to regulate this aspect is removed, providers could cease to offer services to low income neighborhoods or rural environments. Those in favor of net neutrality often cite that the internet is now an educational necessity, and as such should not be doled out at the discrimination of private companies, whose profit-oriented models cause a conflict of interest.

Tracinski explains what he believes is the real conflict over "net neutrality":

... The Federal Communications Commission’s attempt to turn Internet service providers into regulated utilities ... was never about stopping them from controlling content. It’s actually about money. It’s about who pays for all of that bandwidth we’re using. To be more specific, it’s about trying to make certain unpopular companies (like Comcast) pay for it, so that other, more popular companies (like Netflix) don’t have to.

The signature case cited as the reason we need net neutrality was the accusation that several big service providers were slowing down people’s Netflix downloads. And you don’t mess with the Netflix download speeds of this nation’s cultural elite.

But if they did this, the ISPs didn’t do it to show their disapproval of “House of Cards.” The real issue was a dispute between Netflix’s service provider, Cogent, and bigger ISPs like Comcast and Verizon, whom Cogent accused of “refus[ing] to upgrade the equipment that handles ISP traffic across the country.” Translation: everyone suddenly wanting to download all their television viewing off the Internet means the ISPs need to spend a lot of money on upgrades, and the big ISPs were asking Cogent and Netflix to foot part of the bill. This is a dispute over who should bear the cost of the Web’s considerable infrastructure, and net neutrality was the government coming in to put a thumb on the scales and dictate the winners and losers.

NYT: Germany's Newest Intellectual Anti-Hero

According to Christopher Caldwell in the New York Times, Rolf Peter Sieferle was a highly respected German historian before his death last September. After his death, a collection of his observations on Germany called "Finis Germania" was published and he seems to have become a pariah in intellectual circles. However, his book has become a best-seller in Germany.

Sieferle sounds like an interesting man:

A socialist in his youth like most German intellectuals of the 1968 generation, Mr. Sieferle was drifting out of sync with that tradition by the 1990s. He came increasingly to aim his sarcasm at naïve idealists. At the height of Germany’s refugee crisis two summers ago, he wrote, “A society that can no longer distinguish between itself and the forces that would dissolve it is living morally beyond its means.” The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung described him as “embittered, humorless, ever more isolated.” 
On the other hand, “Finis Germaniae” (“the end of Germany”) is a familiar and resonant phrase. (Why Mr. Sieferle chose to drop the final “e” in his title has been much discussed.) The phrase captures a fear, or paranoia, about national decline that has been widespread in German history — and explains much about that history. Prosperous though Germany is, one can see reasons such fears might be reviving. Germany is senescent, with a median age of about 46. It is helping construct a European Union meant to supplant the German government in many of its traditional competencies. Germans appear to want to disappear. This, in fact, is the thesis that drives Mr. Sieferle’s passionate book on migration. 
After World War II, the Allied occupiers, as Mr. Sieferle sees it, saddled Germans with a false idea of their own history — the idea that there was something premodern about Germany, a fundamental difference between it and the West. That may describe Russia, but not Germany, and Germany’s modernity is painful for Westerners to face. “If Germany belonged to the most progressive, civilized, cultivated countries,” he writes, “then ‘Auschwitz’ means that, at any moment, the human ‘progress’ of modernity can go into reverse.” 
Mr. Sieferle neither denies nor minimizes the Holocaust. ... But Mr. Sieferle is critical of Germany’s postwar culture of Holocaust memory, which he argues has taken on the traits of a religion. The country’s sins are held to be unique and absolute, beyond either redemption or comparison. “The First Commandment,” he writes, “is ‘Thou shalt have no Holocausts before me.’ ” Hitler, in retrospect, turns out to have done a paradoxical thing: He bound Germans and Jews together in a narrative for all time. In an otherwise relativistic and disenchanted world, Mr. Sieferle writes, Germans appear in this narrative as the absolute enemies of our common humanity, as a scapegoat people. The role is hereditary. There are Germans whose grandparents were not born when the war ended, yet they, too, must take on the role. 
Mr. Sieferle’s is a complex argument. It is linked to his concern, in “Das Migrationsproblem,” with the challenges of mass migration. He believed that Germany’s self-demonization had left it unable to say anything but yes to a million or so migrants seeking entry to Europe in 2015 and that such a welcome was unsustainable. Whether he was right or wrong, this was a concern shared by many Germans, and not necessarily an idle expression of animus.

I am always wary of commenting on intellectual works from other cultures published in languages I can't read, so please take my comments as tentative.

First, I had not heard the idea that there was something premodern about Germany, but it would make sense that Progressives would claim that. But Germany was instrumental in shaping modernity; if anything, it has been one of the most modern of nations.

I think Japan, too, suffers from the way it handles the memory and history of WWII, and they, too, seem to have a desire to disappear. Japan and Germany both seem to have developed a sense that their nations have done uniquely evil things. However, that seems to be SOP for Progressives: I feel they want us to believe that about the US as well. I think it's part of destroying the soul of the nation so they can take over the body.

I think it would be healthy for both Germany and Japan to develop a new sense of patriotism. I can't say nationalism, because for both nationalism is tied to a "blood and soil" idea of the nation that I believe leads to racism. But a love and appreciation for all of the good things their nation has done would be a good thing, I think, along with a desire to see their nations continue. That's healthy, whereas ongoing, generations-long self-flagellation is not.

Snopes: The Lies of Donald Trump's Critics

Snopes has an article up examining the issue of anti-Trump lies headlined "The Lies of Donald Trump, and How They Shape His Many Personas: An in-depth analysis of the false allegations and misleading claims made against the 45th president since his inauguration."

The article begins:

Broadly speaking, most of the falsehoods levelled against Trump fall into one or more of four categories, each of them drawing from and feeding into four public personas inhabited by the President.
They are:
  • Donald Trump: International Embarrassment
  • Trump the Tyrant
  • Donald Trump: Bully baby
  • Trump the Buffoon.

Some of these claims are downright fake, entirely fabricated by unreliable or dubious web sites and presented as satire, or otherwise blatantly false. But the rest — some of which have gained significant traction and credibility from otherwise serious people and organizations — provide a fascinating insight into the tactics and preoccupations of the broad anti-Trump movement known as “the Resistance,” whether they were created by critics of the President or merely shared by them.
Generally speaking, we discovered that they are characterized and driven by four types of errors of thought:
  • Alarmism
  • A lack of historical context or awareness
  • Cherry-picking of evidence (especially visual evidence)
  • A failure to adhere to Occam’s Razor — the common-sense understanding that the simplest explanation for an event or behavior is the most likely.

Infused throughout almost all these claims, behind their successful dissemination, is confirmation bias: the fuel that drives the spread of all propaganda and false or misleading claims among otherwise sensible and skeptical people. Confirmation bias is the tendency to look for, find, remember and share information that confirms the beliefs we already have, and the tendency to dismiss, ignore and forget information that contradicts those beliefs. It is one of the keys to why clever people, on all sides of every disagreement, sometimes believe stupid things that aren’t true.

The analysis is organized by the four "personas" Trump's enemies have created for him and seems good to me.

You Don't Say

Headline, Washington Post: "A ‘very credible’ new study on Seattle’s $15 minimum wage has bad news for liberals."

Time for "Acid Control"

The British decided to ban guns, so people began stabbing each other. So the British decided to ban knives. Now, people are carrying around acid and throwing it in each other's faces.
The reason acid has become such a popular weapon is because it’s easier to carry than a knife — which has a higher chance of being found by law enforcement — and it’s cheap and accessible.

Last month one London acid attack victim told VICE News: “These scars are not going to disappear. I’m going to have to live with what those two individuals done, whenever I look in the mirror. Whenever I have a happy moment in my life, it’s going to be sort of scarred.”
The 'control' model doesn't get rid of the real source of the evil. It just makes evil look for another tool.


What exactly does it mean for a 'man to be safe'? Is that really something a man ought to be?

Cf. this old post on the virtue of at least older men being dangerous.

The author never defines her terms, although in the last usage she specifies that she doesn't feel "emotionally safe" with sons who take offense at the way she talks and writes about them. I presume she does feel physically safe with her children, even though she has offended them. If you can offend someone and embarrass them publicly and still be physically safe with them, that's pretty safe. I'm not sure it's plausible to suggest that even a son, let alone a "man" of any other sort, has a duty to protect your emotions -- especially not while they feel like you are mistreating them. That quality is known as "standing up for one's self," and it used to be thought a quality worthy of a man.

Indeed many years ago, I read a book called Iron John that interpreted an old Germanic myth as a set of lessons on how to become a man. One part of that book that struck me as funny was a part where Iron John has to steal a key from his mother in order to attain manhood. I thought it was odd because stealing is wrong, and how could it be a necessary part of attaining manhood to engage in something like theft? But over time I came to see what the author meant: to become a man and not a boy, it is necessary to take back something that your mother has long regarded as properly her own, an authority she has laid claim to and exercised for a long time for what she believes is your own good. The boy, as a youth becoming a man, has to lay claim to that whether she likes it or not. He has to take the key, and if she will not give it, then he must steal it or rob her of it. But it turns out that this is not wrong, because the key is his by right. She has held it in trust, and sometimes some mothers will try to hold it too long.

To claim the young men are not safe because they stole the key is to fail to understand. It is to fail to understand that they had the right, and it is to fail to understand that 'safe' is not what men are meant to be. Men, like ships, are meant for something else.

UPDATE: Valerie's comment reminded me of a thing I'd seen recently. To ask if men should be safe implies asking if women should be. I doubt that anyone has ever suggested it, not in the same sense of "safe." Indeed, there are many who value women in part because they are dangerous.

The Regulatory Instinct

Hunters attained a small victory in avoiding having sound-boosting aids classified as medical devices and made prescription-only.
The Democrats’ pieces of legislation would force hearing amplifying devices created for hunters or recreational bird watchers, for example, to be regulated by the federal government, so sound amplification products (PSAP) for recreational purposes would have to be regulated like present medically prescribed hearing devices.
Understand that what these things are is nothing more than a microphone, a set of protective earmuffs, and a speaker wired to the microphone through a rheostat that allows you to boost sound to levels you find helpful. The headset typically already controls maximum volume because these things double as hearing protection for hunters. Thus, there's no danger of hearing loss -- certainly less from a stereo system for music. The high-decibel gunshot will be tamped down to the same levels as everything else.

There is no reason why the government or any doctor needs to be in between you and your ability to buy any of this technology. It's just part of that impulse to regulate everything we do.

There's way too much of this that goes on. People with sleep apnea have to pay thousands of dollars to get a diagnosis so that they can buy breathing machines that are nothing more than a plastic tube/mask assembly, a fan, a filter, and a control board. In the old days you might have built one out of parts from Radio Shack plus a medical supply store. Now it's Rx-only, which means it's expensive and unavailable to many who could benefit from it.

And then we hear that "health care is too expensive!", so we need -- of course -- more government regulation!

No more of this nonsense.

"If P Then Q" does not imply "If Not P Then Not Q"

Just because bad politics can drive you to drink does not mean that you can fix politics by stopping the drinking.
Over 73 percent of Democrats would give up alcohol for the rest of their life if it meant President Trump would be impeached tomorrow, according to a survey released on Thursday by a drug and alcohol rehabilitation group.

Only 17 percent of Republicans would give up alcohol for Trump’s impeachment. The poll also found that nearly 31 percent of Republicans would give up drinking if it meant the media stopped writing negative things about President Trump.
Sorry. You can give up drinking if you want, and it might improve your health outcomes -- or it might not. But it's not going to do anything to change your political environment.

UPDATE: By the way, if you're trying to understand health outcomes from drinking, this article is quite helpful.
So at what level does alcohol consumption become equally as dangerous as alcohol abstinence? It appears that the cut off point is somewhere between 20 and 40 US standard drinks per week. We will split the difference and say that it probably lies at around 30 US standard drinks (420 grams of ethanol) per week, a far cry from the puritanical US government limits of 7 for women and 14 for men. Current government limits may have far more to do with the politics of the addiction treatment lobby than any relation to scientific evidence.
That recommendation happens to line up with an earlier study out of Australia, which occasioned a poem.

Opioids and the Government

Even Vox has noticed -- those opioids are coming from the government's plans.

We've talked about this before. The Federal Government could largely end the opioid crisis by refusing to continue paying for it.

I'm Sure This Will Work Out Great

When we talk about morality, we talk about reason, about the experience of pleasure or pain, and about the virtues. People who make robots appear to think that that morality comes down to a combination of culture and guilt.
Rosa views AI as a child, a blank slate onto which basic values can be inscribed, and which will, in time, be able to apply those principles in unforeseen scenarios. The logic is sound. Humans acquire an intuitive sense of what’s ethically acceptable by watching how others behave (albeit with the danger that we may learn bad behaviour when presented with the wrong role models).

GoodAI polices the acquisition of values by providing a digital mentor, and then slowly ramps up the complexity of situations in which the AI must make decisions. Parents don’t just let their children wander into a road, Rosa argues. Instead they introduce them to traffic slowly. “In the same way we expose the AI to increasingly complex environments where it can build upon previously learned knowledge and receive feedback from our team.”...

To help robots and their creators navigate such questions on the battlefield, Arkin has been working on a model that differs from that of GoodAI. The “ethical adapter”, as it’s known, seeks to simulate human emotions, rather than emulate human behaviour, in order to help robots to learn from their mistakes. His system allows a robot to experience something similar to human guilt. “Guilt is a mechanism that discourages us from repeating a particular behaviour,” he explains. It is, therefore, a useful learning tool, not only in humans, but also in robots.

“Imagine an agent is in the field and conducts a battle damage assessment both before and after firing a weapon,” explains Arkin. “If the battle damage has been exceeded by a significant proportion, the agent experiences something analogous to guilt.” The sense of guilt increases each time, for example, there’s more collateral damage than was expected. “At a certain threshold the agent will stop using a particular weapon system. Then, beyond that, it will stop using weapons systems altogether.”
I'm sure you'll have a lot of success getting that military contract you're after with a robot that will teach itself to stop using its weapons systems in the middle of combat.

There seems to be a complete lack of awareness that morality isn't just what you're taught, plus what you feel. The closest thing they get to admitting that moral principles exist is to run them down as a source of moral norms, because they don't change with the culture. Moral relativity isn't just the assumption, it's assumed to be morally good.

If that's true, of course, then there's at least one thing that is good in and of itself. What makes it good? When you AI makers start to grapple with that question, you'll begin to figure out why the games you're playing are not adequate.

David Brooks Gets One Right

...and in the process, of course, he comes in for ruthless mockery from those who want to defend the barriers he is trying to break down.

Taken out of context, his remarks about the discomfort of a high-school-educated friend with European sandwiches sound pretentious. But in context, it should be obvious that he's trying to solve the problem represented by this kind of pretentiousness. He's trying to open a road for ordinary Americans to cross those social barriers. I quote at length to give that context.
I was braced by Reeves’s book, but after speaking with him a few times about it, I’ve come to think the structural barriers he emphasizes are less important than the informal social barriers that segregate the lower 80 percent.

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

American upper-middle-class culture (where the opportunities are) is now laced with cultural signifiers that are completely illegible unless you happen to have grown up in this class. They play on the normal human fear of humiliation and exclusion. Their chief message is, “You are not welcome here.” ...

To feel at home in opportunity-rich areas, you’ve got to understand the right barre techniques, sport the right baby carrier, have the right podcast, food truck, tea, wine and Pilates tastes, not to mention possess the right attitudes about David Foster Wallace, child-rearing, gender norms and intersectionality....

Status rules are partly about collusion, about attracting educated people to your circle, tightening the bonds between you and erecting shields against everybody else. We in the educated class have created barriers to mobility that are more devastating for being invisible.
That's all correct. This comes after the earlier parts of the column on breaking down regulatory burdens in zoning laws (to make it easier for poorer Americans to live in better school districts), and on breaking down barriers in higher education that make it harder for poorer Americans to attain success there. Normally, when a left-leaning guy like Brooks calls attention to a problem, it's to propose a government program. Here, he's gone as far as suggesting the heresy of stripping layers of government away.

He's also right that many Americans -- I think of my father, who was college educated in East Tennessee -- would be totally uncomfortable in that restaurant, and would find the offer to go for Mexican a huge relief. And yet Mexican food is just as loaded with foreign terminology as French or Italian food. The word "capicollo" is no more impenetrable than the word "chimichanga." The point isn't that folks are xenophobic or incapable of appreciating foreign foods.

The point is about raising barriers designed to keep ordinary people out. Once the ordinary guy learns to order a "croque-monsieur" instead of a "grilled ham and cheese sandwich," they'll change the game and start offering only something else. And you'll learn about this code change if you listen to all the right radio programs on NPR, or the right podcasts, or have the right social groups to walk you through them. The barrier stays up, and the unwelcome remain not welcome.

I Have Read That This Works Wonders

Saying the strategy was certain to attract the most eligible men of the highest repute, relationship experts recommended Friday that single women frustrated with their current romantic options try bathing in an open stream until the ideal suitor glimpses them through the trees.... [P]rofessional dating coach Priscilla Adams [added] that women should choose a location with a small waterfall cascading lightly into a natural bathing pool, where a man out riding his horse or returning from a distant war might catch sight of them from the stream’s wooded banks.

Will Trump Kill the Bourbon Boom?

If President Trump follows through on his threat to impose tariffs on steel imports, expect to see an immediate response from the European Union — including retaliatory tariffs on, of all things, bourbon. 
Still, why bourbon? Trade officials aren’t stupid; when they retaliate, they hit where it hurts — which is not always obvious. 
Consider a recent trade battle between the United States and the European Union. In 2009 Washington imposed a 300 percent tariff on Roquefort cheese to force Brussels to lift a ban on American beef. Roquefort cheese may not be a strategic European industry, but it’s the lifeblood of many French villages, and the tariff was among the reasons the union eased the ban. 
Kentucky and Tennessee face similar financial burdens if trade talks go south and countries target American distilled spirits. Thanks to the $1 billion in spirits that America now exports, over the next six years Kentucky distilleries will invest more than $1 billion in expansions and new facilities.
It’s not just about tariffs. When you’re selling “America” abroad, you need deals in place to make sure no one else is copying the brand. But absent trade agreements, other countries are free to sell their own versions of American products. Like Champagne and cognac, bourbon’s name protection relies largely on trade deals that set standards and definitions; without them, foreign distillers are surely tempted to slap “bourbon” on anything they want.
Clearly, Trump is a threat to the republic that must be taken seriously. (Yes, sarcasm.)

This article is interesting because it highlights some of the intricacies of international trade today. On the other hand, there is a faint whiff of "Trump supporters are voting against their own interests" here as well, though maybe not. The author is Fred Minnick, author of “Bourbon: The Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of an American Whiskey,” so its in his wheelhouse, I suppose.

In Praise of Sir Gawain

An Arthurian discussion.

Chief Justice Roberts: I Wish You Injustice

And just to make sure we got his wish, he rewrote Obamacare to save it -- twice!

Oh, maybe that isn't what he meant.
"Now, the commencement speakers will typically also wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you," Roberts said. "I will not do that, and I’ll tell you why. From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty."
Well, wish fulfilled, either way.

Hardship can build virtue, but it doesn't necessarily do so. Suffering injustice might make you more likely to value justice, or it might make you more likely to decide that a rigged game is meant to be cheated.


H/t: Vid.me.