The post-monopoly world

I'm enjoying Kevin D. Williamson's new book, "The End Is Near and It's Going to Be Awesome," a proposition from the cheerful end of the TEOTWAWKI spectrum.   Williamson begins with these questions:
Why is it that the [iPhone] in my pocket gets better and cheaper every year, but many of our critical institutions grow more expensive and less effective?  Why does the young Bengali immigrant [who served me coffee this morning while using her own iPhone] have access to the same communication technology enjoyed by men of great wealth and power, but at the same time she must send her children to inferior school, receive inferior health care, and age into an inferior retirement?  And how is it that Apple can make these improvements while generating so much profit that one of its most serious corporate challenges is managing its "cash mountain"--about $100 billion at this writing, and headed toward $200 billion by some estimates--whereas government at all levels is running up enormous debts to fund stagnating or declining services?
The author's thesis is that monopolies always crumble, to be replaced by smaller units whose performance improves under competition, and that governments follow this same trajectory.  I'm curious to see if he can make it stick.

The Tragedy Is They'll Never Understand

Via DL Sly, a gaffe. That's what we call this kind of thing these days. But it's not a gaffe, not really. It's a massive philosophical error. It's a failure to understand the facts of the world. I wonder after it. I do.

Political economy

Another from Maggie's Farm: Wow, sugar policy is hard. I think it's about supporting domestic sugar growers so they can make sure we don't suffer a critical shortage in case we're embargoed. But then there's that whole problem of sugar being the white poison. I wonder if we shouldn't take a page out of Pennsylvania's prohibition-era approach, which is to make a nightmare out of the process of buying liquor, and nationalize the sugar industry to the same effect. That way we could subsidize profits to compliant crony capitalists, employ lots of people in secure jobs with good benefits at taxpayer expense, and limit the sugar intake of a vulnerable populace while balancing the federal budget by eliminating obesity and diabetes. We can probably find a way to make cars run on sugar, too, if we make gasoline expensive enough.

The Right and the Wrong Way to Learn About Your Ancestors

Two new works on Medieval sexuality have been brought to my attention in recent days. I'm going to bring them to yours, because they exemplify two very different approaches to understanding the past. One of them is good. One of them is so wrong I almost don't know where to begin explaining why.

Let's start with the bad one: Ogling Ladies: Scopophilia in Medieval German Literature. Here's a description of the approach and findings.
"Successfully applies modern psychoanalytic theory to analysis of medieval texts in a creative way..." The love of looking, or scopophilia, is a common motif among female figures in medieval art and literature where it is usually expressed as a motherly or sexually interested gaze—one sanctioned, the other forbidden. Sandra Summers investigates these two major variants of female voyeurism in exemplary didactic and courtly literature by medieval German authors. Setting the motif against the period’s dominant patriarchal ethos and its almost exclusive pattern of male authorship, Summers argues that the maternal gaze was endorsed as a stabilizing influence while the erotic gaze was condemned as a threat to medieval order.
So we are interpreting what the Medievals were doing according to a completely modern form of analysis, which functions as a kind of meat grinder that produces findings in the shape that the grinder itself is designed to produce. If you apply Freudian analysis to the ancient Greeks, you won't get a picture that looks much like Homer, but you'll get one that looks a lot like Freud.

Unsurprisingly, then, we discover what our modern thinker expected to find: a deep fear of female sexuality, and a forbidding refusal to permit its expression.

Now let's look at the good approach. Why not just translate the poetry and read it?
The poems, many with unprintable names, offer a glimpse into the Middle Ages that has nothing to do with courtly love, warring knights or church teachings. Instead they show cuckolded husbands, randy priests, lusty women—and a fondness for scatological humor....

These racy poems shed light on the lives of regular people in medieval times. "This shows the common people being as down and dirty as you can get. It will change people ideas about the Middle Ages as dark and church-bound and unknowable," says Mr. Bloch....

"The Fisherman of Pont-Sur-Seine," exemplifies the power negotiations between a man and wife, says Mr. Dubin. In the tale, a wife loves having sex with her fisherman husband, but tells her husband otherwise, so as not to seem crass. To prove that his wife is lying, the fisherman happens upon a dead priest in the river and cuts off his genitals. He presents them to his wife as his own, saying that knights attacked him. Furious, the wife readies to leave him. When she reaches into his pocket to take money for her trip, she realizes he's lying and flings her arms around him, happy again. The fisherman is pleased to have made his point.
Both of these books have Medieval sexuality as their subject, but only one of them is really a book about the people of the Middle Ages.

More fun with climate

De hot come go, come go. H/t Maggie's Farm.

Against Catholic Schools

Apparently our President doesn't approve of Catholic education. Well, American public schools produced the Lightworker. What have Catholic schools ever produced to compare with that? Naught but a few saints.

Really, these remarks are incredibly offensive. They are not, however, surprising. The drive to push religion our of the public space, and force it to hide itself inside churches and private homes, has been going on for about fifty years. Nobody much over thirty approves of it, most of them in the Northeast; in the South the ban on prayer in school is about as popular as the IRS (but still more popular than Congress!).

Religious toleration is a great good, but not anti-religious sentiment. The public space needs more saints, not fewer.

PC sex

From Dr. Joy Bliss at Maggie's Farm, about sexual harassment panic in the military:
The PC attitude seems to be to overstimulate children, but to de-sexualize adults.  Or de-sexualize heterosexual adults, anyway.  Does that make sense?

306° NW, 2027 Romeo

So let it be recorded in the Book of the Day.

Tea Party v. IRS

Guns are scary

Ted Cruz recently asked, "Anyone know if President Obama intends to perform background checks on the Syrian rebels before providing them weapons?"

I wonder if there's a way to trace the weapons after we turn them loose in Syria? Some kind of i.d. we could check if we later find them at the scene of a crime.

Olympics Committee announces new gymnastics event

Mental pretzels.  What do you do when the facts contradict your models?

(1)  Create new models that find hypothetical facts hiding in the historical record, now that they can't be measured directly.

(2)  Explain that your model always allowed for the possibility that warming would plateau out; the deniers were just too dumb to see it when they looked at all those smooth, upward curves in the graphs you used to justify hugely expensive political proposals.  (The words "monotonic increase" are starting to show up in comment threads.  Only an unscientific idiot would have expected something so crass and un-nuanced as a monotonic increase.)

(3)  Dream up places the warming could be hiding, because you know it's there somewhere.  Unless it didn't come in in the first place, which is possible, but don't talk about that in front of reporters, who are always looking for the kind of simplistic prediction that is suitable for a news cycle, not to mention for supporting hugely expensive political proposals.

(4)  Explain that, as your understanding of climate increases, it becomes so complex that it's unfair to expect you to make accurate predictions.  Isn't that what always happens when your understanding deepens?  Your ability to predict results goes right down the tubes.

(5)  If all else fails, explain that greenhouse warming is obviously the strongest variable in climate, because what else could possibly explain how much warmer it is on Venus than here?

Wait, isn't Venus closer to a mysterious potential source of thermal energy?  As the soberly intense scientist says in disaster movies:  "This effect can't be explained so easily, Mr. President.  It would have to be coming from something huge -- something approximately the size of our own Sun."

Booze, public and private

This post isn't about discrete drunkenness (like Ron White's complaint when he was accused of public drunkenness:  "I didn't want to be drunk in public.  I wanted to be drunk in a bar.  They threw me into public").  Instead, it's about confusion over the best way to supply customers with the liquor they want (and are legally entitled) to buy and consume.  One way, long the norm in Pennsylvania, is to give the state a monopoly on liquor sales.  That approach avoids the evils of competition and ensures stable jobs for 5,000 public union members.  It also ensures that the number and size of stores will be entirely divorced from public demand, that prices and selection will be lousy, and that there will be a thriving smuggling operation across nearby state lines, which promotes the stability of a lot of jobs for public-union policemen.

So if the main purpose of the liquor-distribution system is to create public jobs, it's going splendidly.  But if the idea is to bring suppliers and consumers of liquor together in a mutually satisfactory way, things aren't so great.  Change is afoot, however:  Pennsylvania's state legislature is dominated by Republicans, who predictably are pushing a scheme to privatize the liquor stores.  Those nutty Republicans!  The idea is that people who want to sell alcohol will get together with people who want to buy it in stores at mutually agreeable prices, with competition among stores to attract interested buyers.  These anarchists want anyone who can get a heavily regulated liquor license to be able to sell any liquor they like to anyone who can prove he's of legal age.  Stores will be able to stock and sell any liquor they like, not just brands on the state's approved list.

The notion that any job losses by union workers would be more than offset by all the new, private liquor stores that would have to start hiring as they start their businesses from scratch and expand to fill the pent-up demand?  That's just crazy talk:
Most of the licenses under Turzai’s plan would go to Walmart, Costco, Target, and other big box and chain stores that would reallocate current shelf space and use their current employees to stock the shelves.  That’s just what happened in other states, and it would happen here.
Every time the private sector expands, it's sucking the life-blood out of the public sector, and besides, those private-sector employers are all about profit, which is the very antithesis of employment.

For those who aren't yet convinced that the Republicans' plan is a job-killer, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union is running an ad pointing out the substantive evils of the capitalist approach:   a 30-second spot that features the sad internal dialogue of a little girl who's just lost her father to a drunk driver.  This isn't as bizarre a line of argument as it sounds, considering the milieu.  According to Wikipedia,
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) . . . was established in conjunction with the 21st Amendment and the repeal of prohibition.  In 1933, just four days before the sale of alcohol became legal in Pennsylvania, the Board was officially organized.  Upon its creation, Governor Gifford Pinchot stated that the purpose of the Board was to "discourage the purchase of alcoholic beverages by making it as inconvenient and expensive as possible."
The private sector will never be able to match that performance.

Good Dog

Once in a while, it's good to wash your boots in the sea.  Apparently, also your dog.

Colt always belonged to Texas, anyway

Samuel Walter, the Texas Ranger who did more than anyone else to make the Colt revolver synonymous with Texas and the Wild West, supposedly uttered these last words in 1847 upon receiving his mortal wound near Vera Cruz, during the war with Mexico:  “I am gone, boys.  Never surrender! Never surrender!  Hand me my six-shooter.

He meant, of course, his Colt six-shooter, produced in the Connecticut factory of the extraordinary Samuel Colt, inventor of the revolving firearm mechanism that automatically revolved the cylinder upon the cocking of the hammer, and locked it in place.  This new design permitted the user to fire repeatedly without reloading.   (Previous gunsmiths had used some version of a revolving cylinder as early as the 17th century, and 19th-century Boston inventor Elisha Collier had patented a revolving flintlock firing mechanism for muskets and rifles, but the approach became practical only with Colt's innovation.)

There is a persistent, but apparently completely unfounded, local tradition that Samuel Colt is buried here in our tiny community of Lamar in Aransas County.  Despite his deep connection to Texas, it seems he never came here; his early Texian promoters all traveled to Connecticut to do business with him.  Colt has quite a prominent burial monument in his hometown of Hartford, where he died in 1862 at the age of 48, after revolutionizing gun design and the use of machine tooling and standardization in manufacturing.

Colt was born in 1814 in Hartford, where his father operated a textile plant.  He lost his mother in early childhood to tuberculosis and was apprenticed at the age of 11 (like my own grandfather) to a local farmer.  The formal schooling included in his indenture terms led him to encounter a scientific encyclopedia whose stories about Robert Fulton and gunpowder secured a lifelong grip on his imagination.  By the age of 15, he had returned to his father's plant, where his access to tools permitted him to experiment with explosives and the new technology of electricity.  A brief encounter with boarding school at Amherst in Massachusetts terminated abruptly in the wake of a pyrotechnic incident that evidently amused his classmates more than the school's administration.  (What aspiring young science student hasn't blown up his school at some point?)  So Colt was sent to sea, where he served before the mast on a voyage to Calcutta.  On board, he noticed an interesting ratcheting mechanism in the ship's capstan and amused himself by whittling a wooden prototype of a revolving firearm, including a six-barrel cylinder, locking pin, and hammer.

Upon his return to New England, young Colt patented his idea in 1835 and embarked on a slightly shady series of huckstering enterprises to raise capital for its manufacturing and marketing.  Despite the promising performance of the revolver in Indian combat in Texas and Florida, Colt's first gun factory went bust in 1842.  Fortunately, however, he had the foresight to buy the patent for his revolver design, abandoned as worthless by his contemporaries.

Colt turned for several years to other visionary schemes, including underwater munitions and telegraph cables.  In 1846, however, he was able to return to his beloved revolver, when legendary Texas Ranger Captain Samuel Walker demanded a large shipment of Colts to assist in the new war with Mexico.  Colt had to scramble to start a new factory to fulfill the order.  This time he retained the services of Elisha K. Root, a brilliant mechanic who put the factory on a revolutionary footing of standardization and machine tooling.  Colt quickly became one of the wealthiest men in America, making a name for himself as a prototype for the modern businessman in the fields of mass marketing and product placement.  He died of gout in 1862, shortly after putting together a Union regiment that was to be manned exclusively by men over six feet tall wielding Colt revolvers, in order to quiet talk of his being a Confederate sympathizer.

Though the Colt also brought lasting fame and glory to Captain Walker of the Rangers, he didn't last long with it. He fell in battle shortly after obtaining his shipment.

The Colt's Manufacturing Company went on to produce the Colt .45 or "Peacemaker," the standard service revolver of the U.S. military between 1873 and 1892.  Still in business today, the company has produced more than 30 million pistols, revolvers and rifles.  Which brings us to today's story: in the wake of Connecticut's post-Newtown anti-gun legislation, Texas Governor Rick Perry is trying to lure Mossberg & Sons and Colt's Manufacturing to Texas.  Well, it's where Colt should have been to begin with. If only he'd understood where his true home lay, I'm sure he'd have elected to be buried here in Lamar, where local sentiment already has placed him in honor.

More sources here, here, here, here, here, and here.  There's an enormous literature on the man.  My brief summary above hardly touches on some of the most interesting episodes of his life, such as the love child he passed off as his nephew, and his brother's scandalous suicide on the eve of his conviction for murder.