What I bin sayin

Kevin Williamson on how to tell what people want, not what they wish they wanted:
People make a moral case for free markets — that people have a moral right to be left free to pursue their own interests as they see fit — and there’s something to that, but it’s easy to make too much of the moral case, too. The case for free markets is mostly instrumental: The possibility of profit causes people to self-organize in such a way as to focus the maximum human attention on solving the problems that people care the most about. Notice there is no should in that sentence: People in the communication business wryly observe that every major advance in communication technology in the past hundred years has been driven at least in part by pornography. That’s a joke, but it isn’t just a joke. There’s what people want, and what you or I think or Senator Snout thinks people should want. They aren’t the same thing. If you want to figure out what people think they should want, give them a survey. If you want to figure out what people actually do want, try selling them something. Vast amounts of capital — including human intelligence, the most valuable of all resources — have gone into making food plentiful, automobiles safer and more reliable, housing more affordable and more comfortable . . . and reality-television shows, artificial-intelligence–enabled face-swapping porn, the Super Bowl, and any number of things that do not strike me as obviously valuable. People value what they value.

Return of the Monstrous Water Maids

The British museum was overturned by the city council, which took the side of the public outcry against the curator's preferences.

Since I'm doing Ballad of the White Horse quotes today, here's his passage on the 'monstrous water maids' of the Rhine. Their magic has won the day in Manchester, even if it was not adequate at Ethandune.

Then from the yelling Northmen
Driven splintering on him ran
Full seven spears, and the seventh
Was never made by man.

Seven spears, and the seventh
Was wrought as the faerie blades,
And given to Elf the minstrel
By the monstrous water-maids;

By them that dwell where luridly
Lost waters of the Rhine
Move among roots of nations,
Being sunken for a sign.

Under all graves they murmur,
They murmur and rebel,
Down to the buried kingdoms creep,
And like a lost rain roar and weep
O’er the red heavens of hell.

Thrice drowned was Elf the minstrel,
And washed as dead on sand;
And the third time men found him
The spear was in his hand.

Seven spears went about Eldred,
Like stays about a mast;
But there was sorrow by the sea
For the driving of the last.


The FISA memo was released.
The Steele dossier formed an essential part of the initial and all three renewal FISA applications against Carter Page.
Andrew McCabe confirmed that no FISA warrant would have been sought from the FISA Court without the Steele dossier information.
The political origins of the Steele dossier were known to senior DOJ and FBI officials, but excluded from the FISA applications.
DOJ official Bruce Ohr met with Steele beginning in the summer of 2016 and relayed to DOJ information about Steele's bias. Steele told Ohr that he, Steele, was desperate that Donald Trump not get elected president and was passionate about him not becoming president.
The FBI and Justice Department mounted a monthslong effort to keep the information outlined in the memo out of the House Intelligence Committee's hands. Only the threat of contempt charges and other forms of pressure forced the FBI and Justice to give up the material.
Once Intelligence Committee leaders and staff compiled some of that information into the memo, the FBI and Justice Department, supported by Capitol Hill Democrats, mounted a ferocious campaign of opposition, saying release of the memo would endanger national security and the rule of law.
But Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes never wavered in his determination to make the information available to the public. President Trump agreed, and, as required by House rules, gave his approval for release.
Finally, the memo released today does not represent the sum total of what House investigators have learned in their review of the FBI and Justice Department Trump-Russia investigation. That means the fight over the memo could be replayed in the future when the Intelligence Committee decides to release more information.
Full copy of the FISA memo here.

Dating the Great Heathen Army

A new paper uses radiocarbon dating to confirm authorship of a mass grave associated with the large Viking armies in late 9th century Britain. There's a more layman-friendly article about it from Popular Archaeology.

Sometimes called the Great Heathen Army, or The Viking Great Army, in fact it was several armies that appear to have linked up or fanned out at the decision of their several leaders. Many of these were the sons of Ragnar Lodbrok, about whom the History Channel has been making its famous series. One of them was not, but was instead Guthrum the Old, who became a Christian after his defeat by Alfred the Great. This is the subject of Chesterton's Ballad of the White Horse. Guthrum, christened Athelstan, went on to found the Danelaw in Northumbria.

Far out to the winding river
The blood ran down for days,
When we put the cross on Guthrum
In the parting of the ways.

Harsh But Fair

Mary Katherine Ham, a University of Georgia alumna, discusses her parenting.

Alexa for Southerners

It's just a joke. Southerners don't voluntarily wiretap their homes.

The Pope Bows to "Scientific Atheism"

This is being portrayed as an attempt by the Church to gain legitimacy within China; but the regime is officially hostile to the idea of a transcendent God whose morals might override the dictates of Party and State. Bowing to that sort of thing does little to secure the legitimacy of the Church. Rather, such a move threatens to cast away any such legitimacy.

Nor is this in response to Chinese overtures of friendship. "The pope’s conciliatory approach stands out at a moment when China is tightening its grip on religious practice under the more assertive leadership of President Xi Jinping."

Giant: The Bible of Texas

So claims Joe Bob Briggs, in this review of a new book. He makes the film sound titanic.
It’s a great movie and has many themes, but the whole arc of the story can be understood as “The Reeducation of Bick Benedict” (the Rock Hudson character). Rock doesn’t choose to stop being a bigot; he gets the bigotry beaten out of him by his wife and son and a Texas that simply can’t keep pushing back against the legacy of the Spanish missions. In 1956, three years after Brown v. Board of Education, that was a message that, in the South, you would think might rustle up some hackles. The fact that it didn’t—and the fact that, to this day, Texas politicians are a moderating influence on the hard-liners who want to close the Mexican border—indicates more than anything that sometimes films can change minds. Nobody watches the 1960 depiction of [The Alamo] anymore. Everybody knows Giant....

[The director] understood Texas. He understood the old-school ranching part, the new-money oil part, and the synthesis of the two that would emerge decades later in the form of distinctive cities like Austin and San Antonio that still make Texas a world of its own. The famous false front of Reata, the Benedict mansion on the prairie, has long since fallen into ruins, and the frenzy surrounding the Giant filming has been all but forgotten, but the land around Marfa is known worldwide today as the domain of Donald Judd and other postmodern sculptors, and Texas remains the only state that has adopted bilingualism so thoroughly that some cities have Spanish media and use Spanish at public meetings. The cattleman’s code, the rebel spirit, and multiculturalism found their center in a region many would consider least likely to succeed, and George Stevens saw that long before anyone else.
Texan readers, what say you? Is this film as central to your understanding of your home as he thinks it is? Did it shape the culture as much as he says?

Water Maids

The Manchester Art Gallery has removed a famous painting.

[The museum removed] John William Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs, one of the most recognisable of the pre-Raphaelite paintings, from its walls. Postcards of the painting will be removed from sale in the shop....

The work usually hangs in a room titled In Pursuit of Beauty, which contains late 19th century paintings showing lots of female flesh.

Why have mildly erotic nymphs been removed from a Manchester gallery? Is Picasso next?

Gannaway said the title was a bad one, as it was male artists pursuing women’s bodies, and paintings that presented the female body as a passive decorative art form or a femme fatale.

“For me personally, there is a sense of embarrassment that we haven’t dealt with it sooner. Our attention has been elsewhere ... we’ve collectively forgotten to look at this space and think about it properly. We want to do something about it now because we have forgotten about it for so long.”

Gannaway said the debates around Time’s Up and #MeToo had fed into the decision.
British high society is now officially more repulsed by sex than the actual Victorians. The Victorians at least used to say that it was the capacity of the erotic to produce high art that redeemed an otherwise troubling emotion. Now we are told that male desire cannot be justified even if it produces high art; rather, the high art is condemned for being an expression of such desire.

A painting like this transcends mere carnal attraction by aiming at something universal to the human experience, or at least more universal than the particular attraction of one man to one woman. It captures something about the awe that men feel in contemplating the beauty of women; the tie to mythology captures the way in which the experience of beauty sacralizes the world. Of course this particular myth warns about the dangers of being swept away by the pursuit of such beauty -- Hylas' capture by the water nymphs removes him from the service of Hercules. Some versions of the story suggest that Hylas ended up happier as a result, but that Hercules was distraught by his loss.

Waterhouse is not the only artist to have treated the question, as the last link suggests: rather, it has been a popular subject of artists of all sorts since Ancient Greece. It is a cultural tie across generations and civilizations, in addition to having that universal quality.

Ultimately people are going to have to rediscover what it means to be an adult. One of the things it usually means is having to deal with the presence of the erotic in one's life: unprompted feelings in the self, but also unprompted and perhaps unwanted attentions from others. Another thing that it means is dealing with the attendant dangers of one's erotic feelings, which can and do cause both men and women to be swept away from existing lives and responsibilities. Sometimes this is to their destruction; sometimes they find a new happiness, but not often without forcing a cost upon others. Spouses are abandoned, like Hercules not understanding how a beloved other was swept away.

The myths are better teachers than almost any. Contemplate this on the tree of woe.

Vive la résistance!

Given current political trends, I find this Call of Duty trailer deeply amusing.

Faint praise

CNN's poll concluded that 70% of the SOTU audience had a "very or somewhat positive" reaction.  CNN was quick to point out, however, that that's what you can expect from the kind of people who would watch a Trump SOTU.

Ordered liberty

A good Andrew McCarthy piece on what's going wrong with a lot of crazy investigations.

Stop Giving Up Symbols

Norway is having a moral panic over the use of runes by their Olympic team.
There is little evidence that the rune originally had any symbolic significance beyond its sound value, but the letter shares the name of a Norse deity popularly understood as the god of war, Tyr. Nowadays, most runologists consider it a letter no more mysterious than the letter T.

Even so, the presence of the Tyr rune on the team’s sweater design was enough to raise alarms. Norway’s security police have warned of the rise of a small but politically extreme and potentially violent group called the Nordic Resistance Movement, which uses the Tyr rune in its branding.
The last thing anyone should want to do is to give up a powerful symbol to a hate group. Declaring an ambiguous symbol to be 'a symbol of hate' surrenders it to the worst sorts of people. No one should go along with this foolishness.

Fact-checking the SOTU

Not bad, though the Daily Signal may be cherry-picking a bit.

The State of the Union

I realized where this speech was going early in the night, during the section on economics and tax cuts. Donald Trump said that Americans were going to be seeing more take-home pay as a result of Congress' having passed tax cuts. Democrats sat on their hands rather than applaud Americans having more take home pay.

There are a lot of summaries of all the things that Democrats refused to applaud going around this morning. Some of them are things you'd have thought they'd applaud even if it meant giving a moment of credit or sunshine to a President they'd prefer wasn't there. Black and Hispanic unemployment being at record lows, for example: that seems like a good thing no matter who gets the credit for it.

Other things are more damning admissions. Some of these continue this morning. You can see, in the moment, a representative storming out of the chamber to protest a chant of "USA! USA!", even though you'd think such a display of patriotism unsurprising at a political event discussing the state of the American union. Still, passions run high in the moment. What is harder to understand is a considered statement by the American Civil Liberties Union, which says that the repeated use of the word America is 'exclusionary.'

Vox, which is tasked with making the speech look as bad as possible, can be forgiven for trying to paint the speech as 'lacking solutions for America's problems.' In fact a good part of the speech was about celebrating solutions for America's problems that have already been achieved, such as robust economic growth and the end to stagnation caused by over-regulation and high taxes. But it's their job to write that piece, and anyway by 'solutions' they mean 'government programs' (of which I thought there were actually far too many in last night's speech, but community standards differ). But how to explain them deciding to paint the story of a North Korean's defiant search for freedom and dignity as 'scary'?

In this speech as in any speech, there's plenty of room for disagreement on policy. It is surprising to see the opposition decide instead to oppose prosperity, the defiance of tyranny, or the celebration of America itself.

Individuality and opportunity: Japan v. U.S.

Another AEI article this mornings looks at national differences in survey responses to questions about attitudes toward risk and reward.  Among smaller differences on subjects like overall happiness, hard work, and competition, the author notes:
the data shows that 79% of Americans believe that they have some control over their lives — this over twice the 37% rate among those in Japan.
* * *
[R]espondents were prompted with “Adventure and taking risks are important to this person; to have an exciting life.” Only 9% of Japanese agreed with this idea compared to 35% of Americans — a huge difference and one which suggests that the Japanese are deeply risk averse. Similarly, respondents were asked about the idea, “It is important to this person to think up new ideas and be creative; to do things one’s own way.” This is another variant on the question of one’s proclivity to focus on the collective or the individual. Once again, a substantial difference emerged with 40% of Japanese believing in individuality and creativity compared to a far greater 67% of Americans.

When economic migration stops

An American Enterprise article discusses what makes Americans stay in economically declining areas instead of seeking a better life in booming areas.  The author focuses on barriers to entry and barriers to exit.  Among the barriers to entry are occupational licensing:
The kind of heroic work of Morris Kleiner and others has shown that more than a quarter of all workers need licenses to work. People don’t move across state lines at the same rate as you’d expect, so moves in-state are much higher than moves across state in licensed industries compared to comparable unlicensed industries. And this makes it harder to move. If you want to be a lawyer in California, it’s hard to move there. You have to take a whole new bar again. It’s costly.
We also put limits on leaving. So if you’re a public worker, that’s 13% of the US economy, moving your pension is very difficult. You’re locked in until it vests. Moving public benefits can be really difficult. So if you’re a worker in Michigan and you want to move to Texas, there’s a law that you may lose your Medicaid. And you may lose your Medicaid because it is less generous in Texas, but you also may lose your Medicaid because just the paperwork is really difficult.
The fact that we subsidize homeownership so much limits mobility because you have to sell your house and there can be lock in. There are a whole variety of other policies that have the effect of making it costly to move.

Shooting With Your White Friends

It's good to have friends. I guess what we think of as 'the gun culture' does look a little intense from the outside, though.

Also Not How This Works

What is the legally binding force of a bill that is approved by one committee in one house of Congress, never by the rest of the Congress, and never signed by the President?
The House Judiciary Committee passed a bill on Jan. 18 that asked the Department of Homeland Security to review Othman Adi’s case, placing a six-month stay on his deportation. ICE defied the legislation.
That sounds like a request. A request can be ignored or denied, but not 'defied.'

And what is this all about?
Facing a deport order since 2009, he was spared under President Barack Obama’s administration, thanks to a private bill passed in the House of Representatives. President Donald Trump did away with that provision...
"A private bill"? What on earth is a private bill? What does the author imagine its legal force to be?

Things are not unconstitutional just because you disapprove of them, and they aren't necessarily illegal either. Those words mean things.

UPDATE: On 'private bills,' see discussion in comments.

And Now for Something Compeltely Different

So. I have ended up following the big Japanese Sumo tournaments--my cable company offers the English language version of the NHK, the Japanese National Broadcasting company, and the NHK runs a half-hour show of highlights from each tournament's day. You can easily google the details if you wish, Sumo is a simple sport, really. Anyway, This tournament, or Basho, was won by a wrestler from Georgia. (Georgia in Caucasuses, not the other Georgia), Of the 40 or so 'Top Division' wrestlers, less than 10 come from out of Japan, and most of them are from Mongolia. I know of one from Bulgaria, one from Brazil, and this guy, who goes by the name Tochinoshin. He suffered a bad knee injury in 2013 that nearly ended his career, but he came back from the lowest ranking back up to the top Division and this tournament he triumphed. Match starts about the 5 minute mark, but its worth watching the whole thing. The guy talking at the start is in Japan and is a serious Sumo fan, so his commentary is enlightening.

So long, McCabe

Some perspective on the FBI bigshot the president was mean enough to fire today, just before he qualifies for full retirement.  Per Mollie Hemingway, McCabe approached White House chief of staff Reince Priebus in February 2017 to tell him "everything" in an explosive NYT piece was "BS."  The story, which alleged that Trump campaign operatives had had multiple contacts with Russian intelligence, was being aired nonstop on nearby TV sets.  Priebus gestured toward them and asked whether the FBI would repeat publicly McCabe's private denial.  McCade answered that he would have to check.  Comey called later to confirm, suggesting he might be able to clear it up in upcoming Senate Intelligence Committee briefings.  Shortly thereafter, CNN reported that
the FBI rejected a White House request to publicly knock down media reports about communications between Donald Trump’s associates and Russians known to U.S. intelligence.

Why the long face?

I guess these posters aren't popular.


I am trying to decide how seriously to take the obstruction of justice narrative that is being prepared on the left. I keep trying to think, 'How would I feel about this story if Barack Obama were the President who wanted his Attorney General to prevent prosecutions of crimes by his cronies?' I don't have to use my imagination very much here because, of course, that was exactly what happened with Barack Obama, his attorneys general, and his cronies.

Ultimately I think this has to be a Congressional responsibility to investigate and pursue, because the AG isn't independent enough -- and probably shouldn't be independent of the elected official over him. On the other hand, it really was maddening to see the IRS used to target conservatives, watch them destroy evidence and lie to Congress, and never face any consequences.

What's to be done about this issue? Destroying Trump doesn't fix it. Electing another Clinton sure wouldn't fix it either. It's a structural issue that I don't know that I see much way around if the Congress won't assert itself.

Where is the FBI in the Constitution?

This argument comes from a well-educated and experienced woman; nevertheless, it's very odd.
Where is my Congress? This is the urgent question posed by these outrageous attempts by the president to subvert the constitution.... Congressional Republicans who stick by Trump and protect him will be remembered as the villains of Washington’s unfolding drama. They are the ones enabling an epic White House end run around the constitution.
What does the Constitution say about the relationship between the FBI and the President? Nothing, since the Founders would never have contemplated establishing an organization like the FBI. The Constitution doesn't even mention the Attorney General, although that office is nearly contemporaneous: George Washington signed the law into effect creating the office. That law says that the President shall choose the Attorney General, provided that the Senate confirms him; it does not give the Attorney General independence from the Executive branch, nor divide his office between the Executive and the Legislature.

The FBI works for the Attorney General, who works for the President. It's an executive department, and what the Constitution actually does say about the Executive Branch is that its power is invested in a President. Though by law Presidents have to run certain appointments by the legislature, usually the Senate, that does not mean that those appointees draw their power from Article I. They're Article II officials, exercising delegated authority.

So what, exactly, is the subversion of the Constitution that is supposed to be taking place? If the legislature wants to investigate and/or impeach the President, they have Article I authority to do that. It's not obviously a power that is wisely invested in an Article II bureaucracy in any case. Nor would I want the Constitution to set up an 'independent' police agency that could not be constrained by elected officials; especially not a secret police.

The author seems to want exactly that.
As the Republicans continue their campaign to discredit the FBI, it’s important to remember a piece of history. Without Deep Throat, the Washington Post’s secret source, the Watergate scandal might never have been exposed. Deep Throat, we learned in 2012, was Mark Felt, the No2 official at the FBI.
This is meant to be the model of what right looks like? Oath-breaking leaks from the secret police, protected from accountability by un-elected journalists? Even if it happened to work out well one time, it's hardly a model I'd invest much faith in.

The budget is broke

An unusually thoughtful article about the Congressional budget process from some months back.

There's also an amusing discussion in McArdle's comment session in this week's article about the furious effort by Blue States to find a way around the tax bill's impact on their SALT deductions.  After the crowd discussed the inability of a state (unlike a city or county) to file for bankruptcy, and how you can default all you like but there's no bankruptcy court to issue an order discharging all your public and pension debt, a reader pointed out that debt arising out of an insurgency need not be honored.  That led to a discussion of the practical value of ginning up an insurgency for the purpose of obtaining debt relief.

Too Good to Check

Conservatives lean right because they're so much prettier than liberals.
The scholars said hot people lean towards the right because they grow to develop a blind spot that leads them to not see the need for more government support or aid in society - a core liberal value.

They add that attractive people don’t face the same hurdles as others as their attractiveness gains them more attention and they are more successful in social situations. Their lives are generally “easier,” the pair claim.

I mean, possibly. But I'll wager that if you study the development of conservative/liberal attitudes, a lot of it depends on personality traits that are set before attractiveness becomes a big deal -- by childhood, I mean, rather than later in life when one becomes physically mature. That's not to say that ideas don't change. We all know people who become liberal in college under the academic and social pressure; we all know people who trend conservative once they get out in the world and see how badly liberal ideas work out in practical terms. Others double down because they become attached to structures that reinforce liberal or conservative ideas.

Still, a lot of the basics are there from the beginning.

Also, I note that the researchers have a clear cognitive bias that is evident in their description of conservatives as having a 'blind spot that leads them not to see the need for more government.' That treats the need for more government as a fact, rather than an opinion. Conservatives are thus supposed to be flawed, even mentally disabled, because they cannot see a thing that is really there. They've just had it so easy that it's crippled their minds.

Is it true that the easier one's life, the more likely one is to be a conservative? Not obviously. Justice Clarence Thomas grew up in a shack insulated with newspaper, his family's sanitation being an outhouse shared with neighbors. It's not hard to name others whose conservatism arose in difficult circumstances; nor is it hard to name celebrities with easy lives who are lefties. Celebrities tend to be attractive, too; not always, but it correlates strongly.

So, my sense is that this study is probably not very valuable. It's still fun, though.

I certainly don't

Mea culpa.  I never make this connection at all:
“Few white people make the connection between their attraction to yoga and the cultural loss their ancestors and relatives experienced when they bought into white dominant culture in order to access resources,” they write.
I can't even sort the sentence out. One of the things I like best about white dominant culture is its persistent nagging to watch your pronoun precedents.