The Al Smith Dinner

It was McCain's best moment in 2008. Of course, he lost.

Well, here's what we saw tonight.

It's That Kind of ... Year? Decade?

h/t (or blame) neo-neocon

Paying the Rent

When possible, it's usually best to lock in rates early.
Earlier this October, at a ceremony at the Royal Courts of Justice, London paid its rent to the Queen. The ceremony proceeded much as it had for the past eight centuries. The city handed over a knife, an axe, six oversized horseshoes, and 61 nails to Barbara Janet Fontaine, the Queen’s Remembrancer, the oldest judicial position in England. The job was created in the 12th century to keep track of all that was owed to the crown.

In this case, the Remembrancer has presided over the rent owed on two pieces of property for a very long time—since 1235 in one case, and at least 1211 in the other. Every year, in this Ceremony of Quit Rents, the crown extracts its price from the city for a forge and a piece of moorland.
Heck of a deal, huh? Only one small detail:
No one knows exactly where these two pieces of land are located anymore, but for hundreds of years the city has been paying rent on them.
Well, it could turn out that they're somewhere important. Best to keep up the payments just in case.

Free Trade Is Good For Everybody, Right?

Well, it turns out it wasn't very good for Louis XVI:
France and Britain were longtime rivals and both countries were committed to Mercantilism, yet they struck one of the first “free trade “deals or at least the first deal premised on philosophy of free trade. Even today, many free market types will argue that trade can overcome even the bitterest of rivalries. People like making money more than they like making trouble, so the theory goes. This trade deal is proof of that.

The most notable part of the deal is that it was a disaster for France. Soon after the deal was signed, there was a flood of British manufactured goods into France. Importation of British goods doubled. This put enormous pressure on the already distressed French industries, setting off riots and revolts. Naturally, this put pressure on the already strained relations between the provinces and the crown. Most historians count the Eden Treaty as one of the contributing factors leading up to the French Revolution.
H/t D29, who adds: "We would not, of course, suggest that the guillotine is a remedy. Yet."

A Rigged System, Continued

Lots of people seem to think it's rigged. People who would presumably know.

How about those computers that count your votes? In Georgia, they record your vote on a credit-card shaped device, then wipe it after they transfer the information to the central system. At least, that's allegedly what happens. There's no record of how you voted, and the people transferring the data have nothing to look at that would indicate that the transfer was done fairly. There's also no paper ballot or receipt that could be used for a recount. That doesn't prove the system is correct, but it gives us reason to suspect the system.

In that context, then, here's some sworn testimony from a programmer who says he wrote software to rig elections. There is also a discussion thread at Snopes about him and his testimony.

George Will points out that the IRS scandal is itself proof of official attempts to rig the election against conservatives, by preventing them from organizing or collecting tax-deductible donations, and harassing them with audits.

And of course, as we (and left wing Vox) recently discussed, gerrymandering is the Fire-Breathing Godzilla of vote rigging. My Congressional district is R +27. If I and everyone I know voted Democrat this year, it might fall to R +25. Other districts are just as heavily D +. The same is true of state-level districts.

Of course the vote is rigged, in every way they've figured out how to get away with rigging it. The animating questions should be whether there's anything left that isn't rigged, and what (if anything) we can do about the parts that are. If the answer to that latter question is that we can't do anything that will legally compel the powers that be to back off their vote-rigging, we should start talking about what to do about that.

UPDATE: Another Vox piece demonstrating a proven, actual history of rigging elections -- Jim Crow, of course.

That example is hopeful, in a way, because the Jim Crow system was eventually dismantled (except, arguably, for gerrymandering -- or if you take seriously the complaint that things like Voter ID laws are intimidation efforts). But it's also a telling example for the plausibility of rigging an election. Of course it can be done. It always has been done. It's done everywhere anyone figures out a good way to do it. Often, as in the case of gerrymandering or the IRS scandal, it's done right out in the open.

The question is, what can we do about it?

Something I've Also Noticed

A blogger I've only just learned of recently, thanks to AVI, warns that many people are conditioned to accept and even to proclaim falsehoods. A particular example that he raises, which has bothered me for decades, is the habit of naming things like subdivisions with blatantly false names.
Canadians, for instance — who are among the nicest people in the world; who wouldn’t hurt a fly; who won’t complain about anything, however painful; and will spontaneously apologize to inanimate objects if they happen to collide with them — will suddenly become downright stroppy if one expresses an idea which their betters have ruled to be “not nice.” They will tell you that they “have problems with that.”

One must resist the temptation, simply to give them problems, e.g. by using non-euphemistic language. (Example: you are allowed to be abstractly opposed to abortion; but you are certainly not allowed to be against killing babies.)

Yet, under delicate cross-examination, in the spirit of Mr Socrates’ kindly niece, one finds that they might do it themselves — might express many of these not-nice ideas — if they thought they could get away with it. (We have free speech in Canada, but only between consenting adults.) Their disapproval is an anxious concession to the requirement for niceness, with its comfortable mental and spiritual inanition. It is the line of least resistance when any third party might be within hearing. Alone, with only the not-nice person to talk with, their “problems” begin to disappear.

Secretly, I suspect that across a range of issues, and commercial products, people pretend even to themselves that they like things they actually abhor. Or rather, I think this openly, even though it may not be nice.

The advertising agencies (which work with equal enthusiasm on commercial and political products) know this. It is why Democrats and Liberals exist. It is why products that are obviously not good for any conceivable environment are sold as “ecological” and “organic.” It is why new subdivisions are called “Mountainview” when there is no mountain in sight. Or, “Meadowview” when they are in the heart of an asphalt jungle.
I am always relieved, and even impressed, when I encounter someone who does not give in to this temptation -- even if they say things that are conventionally offensive or dispiriting. On the road to Ballground, Georgia,* there is a subdivision that is actually called "The Preserve at Long Swamp Creek." Just as the name suggests, it sits on the banks of Long Swamp Creek. There's a certain honor in that kind of honesty.

* Ballground itself is descriptively named for a Cherokee game that was played there. I have always heard that it was used as a form of dispute resolution, winner-take-all.

Is It Possible To Rig The Vote?

In opposition to the proposition, this article explaining the controls.

In support of the proposition, this video of a man explaining exactly how he does it, and pondering a scheme to do it harder than ever before.

This Sounds Basically Right

I didn't read this earlier because it was billed as "Donald Trump's speech addressing sexual assault allegations." I already know what I think about that -- I think his character is such that the accusations are completely believable -- so I ignored what he had to say about it.

That was a mistake. Once you get past his denials of wrongdoing, it turns out he has something very interesting to say.
This is not simply another four-year election. This is a crossroads in the history of our civilization that will determine whether or not we the people reclaim control over our government.

The political establishment that is trying to stop us is the same group responsible for our disastrous trade deals, massive illegal immigration and economic and foreign policies that have bled our country dry.

The political establishment has brought about the destruction of our factories, and our jobs, as they flee to Mexico, China and other countries all around the world. Our just-announced job numbers are anemic. Our gross domestic product, or GDP, is barely above 1 percent. And going down. Workers in the United States are making less than they were almost 20 years ago, and yet they are working harder.

It’s a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities.

Just look at what this corrupt establishment has done to our cities like Detroit; Flint, Michigan; and rural towns in Pennsylvania, Ohio, North Carolina and all across our country. Take a look at what’s going on. They stripped away these town bare. And raided the wealth for themselves and taken our jobs away out of our country never to return unless I’m elected president.

The Clinton machine is at the center of this power structure. We’ve seen this first hand in the WikiLeaks documents, in which Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special interest friends and her donors.

Honestly, she should be locked up.

Let’s be clear on one thing, the corporate media in our country is no longer involved in journalism. They’re a political special interest no different than any lobbyist or other financial entity with a total political agenda, and the agenda is not for you, it’s for themselves.

And their agenda is to elect crooked Hillary Clinton at any cost, at any price, no matter how many lives they destroy.
H/t Cold Fury, via D29.

I don't know that I believe that Donald Trump can actually fix any of those problems, but allowing for a few rhetorical flourishes, he's right about what the problems are. Organizations like those set up by the TPP and T-TIP do intend to transfer much of America's sovereignty to international councils and courts that will respond to global corporations instead of the American people. Clinton's speeches to Goldman Sachs, and the large-scale foreign money passed quid-pro-quo through the Clinton Foundation, prove that she's on board with this transfer of power from the American people to this global elite.

Likewise, of course, her Supreme Court appointments will be pointed right at stripping away the limits on Federal power that the Constitution is intended to enshrine. It's already the case that they treat the 10th Amendment like a nullity; it's increasingly the case that the religious liberty guaranteed by the 1st Amendment is a nullity. We will see all such limitations traduced if she has her way on the Court, such that the American people will no longer be self-governing but will be bowed under the will of a tiny, "progressive" elite.

It's a dark future. I don't know if it can be avoided, and I don't know that I believe that Trump is the one who could avoid it in any case. But it's where we are.

UPDATE: Bret Stephens writes at the WSJ that he regards this talk as echoing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories from the last mid-century. As is well known, I have no use for anti-Semitism, and certainly would regard it as a disqualifying aspect of such a theory if it were true that it was merely a renewed telling of an old myth. But these charges about the threat to sovereignty aren't "conspiracy theories," they're an analysis of the language of the TPP -- and they aren't fever dreams of the right, either, as should be proven by this article on the subject by none other than Elizabeth Warren. Now, you may have noticed that there's very little overlap in support for Elizabeth Warren and Donald Trump.

UPDATE: David Foster, in the comments, proposes an analogy to the governor of an engine. The discussion it provoked in the comments section is highly interesting, which is a fact that speaks very well of his audience.

Wonder If He Came From The Old Danelaw?

An SAS soldier does what commandos do best -- with an axe.
An SAS soldier killed an ISIS fighter with an axe as he freed young girls who were being held hostage as sex slaves. According to the Daily Star, the SAS hero struck the jihadi in one blow to the skull during a mission in Syria last month. The mission was a US and British covert operation in northern Syria to free girls who were being held hostage by ISIS and forced to marry their fighters.
That's what it's all about.

Price signals

Financial markets are hard to interpret without them:
Think of zero rates as a compass that can’t point north and only spins around.

Clean Your Guns

It's kind of fun, and also...

Is the System Rigged?

Are we seriously having a debate about whether the system is rigged, rather than to what degree or just how it is rigged?

Here's the perspective from the right, today:

And here it is from the left, last week.

The system is as rigged as the politicians can get away with making it. That shouldn't be controversial. What we should be worried about are these questions:

1) Are there any parts we can have confidence in?

2) What can we do, if anything, to fix the parts we already know are rigged?

So, The UK Has Gun Control, Right?

Pulling Pigtails

So, my beard is now long enough that I can fork and braid it if I wish. I did so at the Highland Games, to the great pleasure of apparently everyone. Men who expressed this pleasure did so through a brotherly nod, or some encouraging words. (One fellow, whose beard was much longer than mine, said: "It's not a competition, it's a brotherhood.") Women who did so almost invariably came up and grabbed one of the forks, stroking and cooing over it.

Now of course this was all very pleasant. It did occur to the philosophical side of me that, were a strange man to grab a woman's plaited hair without first seeking permission, we would now consider it sexual assault. I conferred with a feminist friend of mine about this, and she explained that it's all about a power dynamic in which men have the power and women don't. I could of course stop being handled if I wished, so it's a display of my power that women should handle me if they want to. But women can't necessarily stop me, so it would be a display of my power if I were to do the same thing. She pointed out that women often fondle her plaits at work, whereas a man would never do so because it would be inappropriate as a display of power.

I'm wondering if the assumptions about power aren't baked in, though:

1) A man fondles a woman's hair: this shows male power, as the male is using his power to disregard the woman's wishes.

2) A man doesn't fondle the woman's hair: this shows male power, as the male is tacitly recognizing the inappropriateness of displaying his power over the woman.

3) A woman fondles a woman's hair: this shows male power, as it proves the tacit assumption that men have power over women in such a way that a woman's fondling is inoffensive whereas a man's would not be.

4) A woman fondles a man's hair: This shows male power, as he could stop them if he wanted to do so.

5) A woman doesn't fondle the man's hair: This shows male power, as he is too intimidating to be approached.

6) A woman doesn't fondle a woman's hair: Presumably, she just doesn't want to do so.

Couldn't it be that there is a corresponding female power, one that gives them license to touch others without permission in ways that men are simply forbidden to do? Or are we obligated to cash this out as five-out-of-six expressions of male oppression of women, even though four-out-of-six appear to be choices made by a woman?

Maybe we could even go so far as to suggest that the women who engage in this behavior are doing almost the same thing as the men who do so, and are neither morally better nor worse. That might be too uncomfortable to ponder.

The difference

David Gelerntner asks:
Why do we insist on women in combat but not in the NFL? Because we take football seriously. That’s no joke; it’s the sad truth.

The Stone Games

I will be encamped this weekend at Stone Mountain for the Scottish Highland Games. Come wha' dare.

The King Is Dead: Rest In Peace

The old way was to say, "The King is dead; long live the King." But I do not know that Thailand would be best served by another king. I just know it was well served by the last one. Many years ago when I was watching PACOM/SOCPAC issues professionally, I was continually impressed by how much better off Thailand was than its neighbors -- and how much that seemed to have to do with the wise guidance and steady hand of a good king.

Tolkien would have approved.

Cody Jinks

Tolkein's Reply to a German Publisher in 1939

From an article at Open Culture:

... It didn’t take long after the [Hobbit's] initial success for Berlin publisher Rütten & Loening to express their interest in putting out a German edition, but first — in observance, no doubt, of the Third Reich’s dictates — they asked for proof of Tolkien’s “Aryan descent.” The author drafted two replies, the less civil of which reads as follows:
25 July 1938
20 Northmoor Road, Oxford

Dear Sirs,
Thank you for your letter. I regret that I am not clear as to what you intend by arisch. I am not of Aryan extraction: that is Indo-Iranian; as far as I am aware none of my ancestors spoke Hindustani, Persian, Gypsy, or any related dialects. But if I am to understand that you are enquiring whether I am of Jewish origin, I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people. My great-great-grandfather came to England in the eighteenth century from Germany: the main part of my descent is therefore purely English, and I am an English subject — which should be sufficient. I have been accustomed, nonetheless, to regard my German name with pride, and continued to do so throughout the period of the late regrettable war, in which I served in the English army. I cannot, however, forbear to comment that if impertinent and irrelevant inquiries of this sort are to become the rule in matters of literature, then the time is not far distant when a German name will no longer be a source of pride.

Your enquiry is doubtless made in order to comply with the laws of your own country, but that this should be held to apply to the subjects of another state would be improper, even if it had (as it has not) any bearing whatsoever on the merits of my work or its sustainability for publication, of which you appear to have satisfied yourselves without reference to my Abstammung.

I trust you will find this reply satisfactory, and

remain yours faithfully,

J. R. R. Tolkien

Thrust and Parry

For anyone who likes to read dueling opinion pieces:

Pete Spiliakos's article The Constitution as a Coward's Shield and Barbarian's Rock, which I posted about earlier purely in terms of constitutional rhetoric, was primarily an attack on Trump.

That attack was parried by Julie Ponzi over at American Greatness.

The Constitution as a Coward's Shield and a Barbarian's Rock

Pete Spiliakos at First Things brings up something I've noticed as well over the last decade.

The Constitution is important. ...

But the Constitution (like the Federalist Papers, and Declaration- and Founder-worship in general) has played a larger role in conservative rhetoric than a mere defense of the clear provisions of the document could do. Defense of the Constitution has become a rhetorical crutch. It has become a substitute for an agenda that is relevant to the issues of the day.

This is understandable. ...

Talking about health care policy (any health care policy) will also involve tradeoffs. It is much easier to talk about how, as president, you will protect the beloved Constitution, than to talk about how you will seek to change health coverage in the direction of catastrophic coverage (which will make some health insurance recipients nervous) and how you will seek to make it easier for new market entrants to disrupt existing providers (which will make existing heath care providers very cross). Better to mumble some things about tort reform and then go back to talking about the Founding.


If you make people choose between constitutionalism and their everyday concerns, the Constitution will lose.

I've met a number of conservatives over the last decade or so who were much more interested in discussing the issues of 1773, or 1803, or 1860, than they were the problems of the current day.

I'm absolutely not one of those people who think the Constitution is obsolete. It wasn't written for the times but for humanity, and humanity hasn't changed all that much. But the world does change, and if conservatives hope to influence the nation they'll have to address today's issues in ways consistent with the Constitution. And not just propose solutions, but convince a majority of Americans that those solutions will produce a better future for them than the alternatives.

But I think I'm preaching to the choir, here. Still, something to watch for.