Shut up, you silencer

Desperation rules the debate over the health reform policy that will lower the oceans, or whatever it was supposed to do:
“Don’t deploy the very principles of white privilege to silence a black man on the panel because you don’t want to talk about race.  So be quiet,” the hustler screamed at Lewis.
An even more puzzling complaint: the observation that young, healthy people aren't flocking to the exchanges as hoped is "very gendered."   I was hoping for some explanation, but alas.

Part of this week's Friday news dump is the decision to delay the posting of price increases for 2015 policies from October 15 to November 15, 2014.  Nothing to do with the election, of course; there's just a reasonable desire to give insurance companies more time to complete their calculations.  Suspicions to the contrary are gendered.


Everyone probably has heard by now that C.S. Lewis died 50 years ago today. Here is Michael Gerson on C.S. Lewis and myth:
Having found truth in myths, Lewis decided to produce his own -- not as pleasing distractions but as reminders that we actually inhabit a world of fantastical, eternal creatures, with noble quests to perform and stories that do not end.  And when we discover our true citizenship, he says, it comes with a "happiness ... so great that it even weakens me like a wound."

Here's Something You Don't See Everyday

In fact, you've likely never seen or heard it before: an instrument designed by Leonardo Da Vinci, constructed and played for the first time. It somehow combines the effects of a piano and a cello.

Power To The... Central Government

A writer named Richard Kim explains that it would have all been much smoother if the Federal government were in a better position to force the states to heel at command.

That seems unlikely to me, for the reason Tex was citing Warren Buffett explaining not long ago -- which, as discussed in the comments, Schumpeter himself had laid out before. The problem has to do with organizations that rise to a certain level of complexity and scale. They really can't do any better than this. It's ossification: making them bigger and stronger just makes the failures worse and more destructive.

What's With The Scare Quotes?

National Journal deploys them in a strange way.
Obama didn't say that in July 2009—or any time while the program was being debated in Congress. He couldn't. He couldn't stand up before the American public and say that the only way to achieve the program's goals was to reallocate money within the health insurance market. That there would need to be a transfer of wealth—from the young to the old, from men to women, from the healthy to the sick. That to raise the floor, you had to lower the ceiling. To do so would have handed his enemies the kind of weaponry they craved, validation that Obama was indeed some sort of "socialist" who believed in "redistribution."
Fine, but isn't the point of the article that "redistribution" is exactly what the law does? Why are we wagging our fingers over a word agreed to be a completely accurate description?

Now That's Interesting...

Not news: Scientists discover a new genus of bacteria.

News: far found exclusively in NASA and European Space Agency clean-rooms thousands of miles apart.

A Temporary Victory

At least for a while, a Federal court has blocked the ACA from forcing Catholic groups to violate a basic tenet of their faith.

It's interesting that Cardinal Dolan testified, under oath and in public court, that the services in question are "evil." That's the position of the Church, to be sure, but how strange to see it said.

A Moment of Congratulations

I would like to call the attention of the Hall to four young women who have done something remarkable: they have succeeded in surviving the United States Marine Corps' enlisted School of Infantry.

We here have differing opinions about the wisdom of incorporating women into the combat arms, and certainly on another occasion we ought to talk about what the success of these four women -- part of a group of fifteen, the other eleven of whom did not make it -- might mean in the context of that debate. Not today, though.

Today, I just want to take a moment to celebrate the heart and self-discipline it took to volunteer and to succeed against such odds. Well done!

UPDATE: Apparently that number has been reduced to three, because of a leg injury sustained in the final stages of testing by one of the women. Reportedly the fourth will be allowed to graduate with a later company.

Cryptocurrency and rebellion

A old science fiction story posited a country in which the country's chief executive had a free hand in almost every way, with one curb:  three anonymous citizens controlled a radio link to a bomb in his head.  If they unanimously agreed he was screwing up:  a sudden, dramatic impeachment.  Now a self-described cryptoanarchist is setting up something similar with a crowd-sourced bitcoin-financed website that he calls the Kickstarter of political assassinations.

The long view

George W. Bush on Leno:
“You have to believe in what you’re doing, first and foremost,” Bush said. “I relied upon my faith, my family helped a lot, and I had a good team around me, and did the best I could do. I’m also very comfortable with the fact that it’s going to take a while for history to judge whether the decisions I made are consequential or not and therefore, I’m not too worried about it, which I read some biographies of Washington, my attitude is if they are still writing about biographies of the first guy, the 43rd guy doesn’t need to worry about it.”


“Systemic processes tend to reward people for making decisions that turn out to be right—creating great resentment among the anointed, who feel themselves entitled to rewards for being articulate, politically active, and morally fervent.”
Thomas Sowell, The Vision of the Anointed.

Logic in Another Language

This post is especially for Piercello, who is working on a project around human reason. It will also interested Cassidy, though, because it's a long-time subject of interest of hers.

A study of intelligence analysis suggests that we are more rational when evaluating things in our second language, not our native tongue.
The three groups of participants had English as a first language and Japanese as a second, Korean as a first language and English as a second or English as a first language and French as a second, indicating that this effect is replicable within and across language family boundaries.

So why, then, do we make more rational, less biased decisions in our second language than in our first? It largely has to do with the lack of “emotional resonance” that we derive from foreign language text. Literature on second language acquisition unanimously agrees that people perceive messages delivered in their second language as less emotional (and consequently less impactful) than messages delivered in their first language; this concept applies to everything from political opinion to curse words.
Emphasis added.

"Can I help you?"

Not the words this test pilot expected to hear.

Race in REH and Tolkien: A Brief Comparison

Lars Walker has a review of several works by Robert E. Howard related to his character Solomon Kane. It's a review generally pleased with the subject, but he offers a cautionary note about the handling of race:
Something should probably be said about Howard's handling of race. Solomon Kane is not hostile to the black people he encounters. In fact he often acts as their protector, flying into volcanic rage over injustices and violence visited upon them. But he is patronizing in the extreme. The author's view seems to be that Africans are a lower evolutionary form of human being, soon destined for extinction, and that it's the duty of superior whites to look after them.
It might be interesting to compare his handling of the race issue here with the way it is handled in his Conan books, and to contrast how it is handled in Tolkien. Clearly REH was excited by the idea of race as an explanation for cultural differences -- so, it should be said, was almost everyone of a scientific mindset in the early 20th century. The world of Conan reads almost like an attempt to catalog the legitimate races in REH's opinion, and show how their racial characteristics persist over tens of thousands of years.

And so you get (as you do in Tolkien, for reasons he manages to slide out of a race-based concept) a notion of High Men, Middle Men, and Low Men. But whereas Tolkien assumes a kind of basic human nature to which the High Men are always falling, but to which the Low Men might aspire, REH thinks the categories are permanent. Conan is a barbarian but a High Man because his blood is of ancient Atlantis. Tolkien's High Men (also of an island kingdom, Numenor) are High because of their friendship with the elves: only a very few of them have any admixture of actual elvish blood. Their fall -- expressed in terms of a loss of physical height, and length of years, but also in terms of a collapse of knowledge -- is cultural, resulting from a turning away from the elves (who, in turn, are High or Low depending on their friendship with the next highest rank in the Chain of Being, the Ainur, better known as Maiar or, in the case of the higher ones, Valar).

Another way of expressing this would be to say that, in Tolkien, you can rise or fall through friendship: and not just any friendship, but a kind of hierarchical friendship with those who stand in a closer relationship to the divine. When that friendship fails -- and it is friendship, a kind of love, even though one side is meant to guide and the other to be guided in how to actualize the divine order -- the fall occurs. And they have fallen farthest who have fallen under the dominion of Melkor, or later Sauron, powers that utterly reject and defy the divine order. These are sometimes (but far from always, and in fact not usually) black men "from Far Harad." There aren't any counterexamples of "good" black men in Tolkien, but one suspects there might have been: his literary structure is such that they should have improved or fallen on the same terms as others.

That contrasts sharply with REH's vision, but it is worth noticing that REH's vision isn't "evolution," either. There isn't any substantial evolution going on in the races he envisions. The ones that Conan encounters in his analog to sub-Saharan Africa are exactly the same as REH's worst ideas about the blacks down the road in his modern South (who appear in a collection of American stories, in which they are similarly more bestial, and more easily swayed by the darker powers and aspects of human nature than those descended from what REH calls, in his poem about King Kull, "high Atlantis").

Yet friendship is possible, though it brings no benefits to either party. Conan is a great friend to one of the black kings, so much so that they rule for a while together as brother kings of a tribe. In the end, though, the pull of the darker powers of the universe sways the people out from under both of them, so that his brother-king is murdered by his own people and Conan nearly so.

So I don't take REH's view to be that blacks are "a lower evolutionary form of human being," but rather a lower form per se. He believes that race is real, and as immutable by evolution as by any other process.

He still believes that it is possible to be unjust to them, or to befriend them (though it remains perilous to be close to them). It's a permanent condition, a feature of the world that a million years will never change. That's a pessimistic view, neither scientific nor religious, but one he levered for its literary force.

"This Is Aspirational."

Once upon a time, the Atlanta Police Department explained that their motto "Answer the Call!" didn't actually mean that they intended to answer your calls.
[Director Kelly of the APD's foundation] said it didn't help matters when a person was told by a 911 operator to quit calling to report shooting because the caller rang in too much.

"This is aspirational," Kelly said. "The Police Department doesn't want this problem to be there forever. They want to solve that problem."
So when we said 'this is going to be just like Amazon or Travelocity,' well... this is aspirational, don't you see?

Of course, aspirational usually means 'having to do with audible breath that accompanies or comprises a speech sound.'

Who could have foreseen it?

Imagine for a moment we had a press that was reporting on controversial issues. Here's an exchange in 2009 between an Obamacare shill and a skeptical member of Congress:
REP. PRICE: You also mentioned, as other folks have, that the president's goal -- and it's reiterated over and over and over -- that if you like your current plan or if you like your current doctor, you can keep them. Do you know where that is in the bill? 
MS. ROMER: Absolutely. And things like the employer mandate is part of making sure that large employers that today -- the vast majority of them do provide health insurance. One of the things that's -- 
REP. PRICE: I'm asking about if an individual likes their current plan and maybe they don't get it through their employer and maybe in fact their plan doesn't comply with every parameter of the current draft bill, how are they going to be able to keep that? 
MS. ROMER: So the president is fundamentally talking about maintaining what's good about the system that we have. And -- 
REP. PRICE: That's not my question. 
MS. ROMER: One of the things that he has been saying is, for example, you may like your plan and one of the things we may do is slow the growth rate of the cost of your plan, right? So that's something that is not only -- 
REP. PRICE: The question is whether or not patients are going to be able to keep their plan if they like it. What if, for example, there's an employer out there -- and you've said that if the employers that already provide health insurance, health coverage for their employees, that they'll be just fine, right? What if the policy that those employees and that employer like and provide for their employees doesn't comply with the specifics of the bill? Will they be able to keep that one? 
MS. ROMER: So certainly my understanding -- and I won't pretend to be an expert in the bill -- but certainly I think what's being planned is, for example, for plans in the exchange to have a minimum level of benefits. 
REP. PRICE: So if I were to tell you that in the bill it says that if a plan doesn't comply with the specifics that are outlined in the bill that that employer's going to have to move to the -- to a different plan within five years -- would you -- would that be unusual, or would that seem outrageous to you? 
MS. ROMER: I think the crucial thing is, what kind of changes are we talking about? The president was saying he wanted the American people to know that fundamentally if you like what you have it will still be there. 
REP. PRICE: What if you like what you have, Dr. Romer, though, and it doesn't fit with the definition in the bill? My reading of the bill is that you can't keep that. 
MS. ROMER: I think the crucial thing -- the bill is talking about setting a minimum standard of what can count -- 
REP. PRICE: So it's possible that you may like what you have, but you may not be able to keep it? Right? 
MS. ROMER: We'd have -- I'd have to look at the specifics.

This promise he'll keep

"If you like your nukes, you can keep your nukes."  That's the way you solve conflict when you're a Nobel Peace Prize winner.  Iran won't exactly freeze its enrichment program, but it will potentially stop accelerating the rate of its production, if it feels like it, after we lift sanctions.  Such a deal!

As Ace noted recently, the President really is earning that Prize:  this lunacy has induced Israel and Saudi Arabia to work together.  He's even stirred up France, which has vivid memories of the last time it tried to get Israel to swallow a mortal threat while making ineffectual, scrabbling motions in the direction of controlling anti-semitic madness in the Middle East.  In 1967, when it was Israel's chief military supplier, France threatened to cut off the pipeline if Israel launched a pre-emptive strike.  Israel thought about it, then decided not to commit suicide, many of its people having vivid memories of the last time they failed to fight back before it was too late.  These days, France knows that wagging its finger at Israel isn't going to cut any ice as long as that country is under existential threat.  Israel is not in the habit of making idle threats about its self-preservation.

Credibility trickle-down

You can't get low-information voters to pay attention to much detail, but you can create a mood of powerful skepticism if you screw the pooch often enough.  A small-town Pennsylvania mayor found that out when he lost his seat to a candidate who didn't think much of his support for Mayor Bloomberg nationwide anti-gun crusade:
“Look, people outside of Washington look at all of the spying with the NSA and problems with the IRS they see coming out of D.C., and they just don't trust the government,” he said.  “I understand that, they just don't want any more interference.”