Roadblocks and workarounds

Stalling the Keystone XL pipeline may not keep all that Canadian tar-sand oil under the ground after all.

Freaky overtone singing

Watch this.


The European version of our CDC reports on some Ebola outbreaks, and mentions that someone at GlaxSmithKline accidentally dumped 45 liters of live polio virus solution into the Belgian water supply.

Update:  link fixed.

Economics comics

From Zero Hedge:  Subversive materials for the schoolkids.

You're a Thousand Years Late

PBS wants you to consider suicide.... er, well, end-of-life care short of lifesaving.  We may still yet avoid the Death Panels if we can get enough of you to volunteer of your own good will!

The better way is to live otherwise from the beginning, as we were told in the Havamal.

The coward believes he will live forever
If he holds back in the battle,
But in old age he shall have no peace
Though spears have spared his limbs


Cattle die, kindred die,
Every man is mortal:
But the good name never dies
Of one who has done well

Cattle die, kindred die,
Every man is mortal:
But I know one thing that never dies,
The glory of the great dead.

Some of you, perhaps the ones with less Viking blood, may prefer the Irish version of the sentiment.


Whatever bad things anyone has said about Herodotus -- aye, even Aristotle -- the histories he wrote are among the most interesting things you will ever read. Yet among scholars he has a respect he didn't used to enjoy:
Cicero called Herodotus the “father of history.” Yet Arnaldo Momigliano, the great 20th-century historiographer of the ancient world, ends his brilliant essay on Herodotus by noting, “It is a strange truth that Herodotus has really become the father of history only in modern times.” History, or, more precisely, historical methods, Momigliano explains, finally caught up with Herodotus. Ethnographic research brought a new respect for Herodotus’ own early interest in ethnography. Those who did archaeological exploration in Egypt and Mesopotamia found Herodotus’ writings on these subjects useful. His writings also became valuable to biblical scholars in their study of Oriental history. Oral history, on which he drew heavily, became a standard tool of modern social science and history. Herodotus was also the first serious historian to give due attention to women. In his Histories, he devotes several pages to Artemisia, the queen of Halicarnassus, who commanded the Asian Dorian fleet during Xerxes’ attack on Greece. As for his accuracy, Momigliano writes, “We have now collected enough evidence to be able to say that he can be trusted.”
Well, it's not a one-off thing; Herodotus writes about the women of almost every civilization he discusses. And I say "almost" only because I don't want to go back through a long and detailed book to make sure it's fully 100% of them; but I can't recall one where he didn't.
Herodotus’ philosophy arises out of the plentitude of his details. This philosophy holds men to be perpetually in peril of overstepping their bounds—bounds set by good sense and reinforced by the gods. Those who do not understand this go under. But even those who understand may not necessarily come to a good end. Herodotus provides story after story proving that human justice is not the first order of the gods.
So it seems.


Megan McArdle posted about the California law requiring affirmative consent for sexual encounters. She objected to the strange tone of a Jezebel post responding to an argument that intrusive consent requirements might ruin sex, where I found this interesting comment:
Funny how I've never had anyone tell me that doorbells have ruined inviting friends over.
Clever, but I'm not convinced it works. Doorbells are for strangers, aren't they?--or for friends who are being at least a bit formal. Is that a good model for lovers, or should we assume that communication in that context is a lot more tacit?

I expect friends to drop by unannounced sometimes.  They know they can count on me to speak up if there's some reason they can't come in.  Don't we expect a lover to make a few presumptions, too, as long as he keeps his eyes and ears open for our response, which won't always be signed, sealed, and notarized?  There are always people who can't take a hint, and you gradually ease them out of your life, without making a federal case out of it.

Card-carrying non-infidels

ISIS is issuing certificates, good for three months, showing that persons unlucky enough to be caught in their territory are provisionally considered non-infidels:
To whom it may concern,
We hereby notify you that the one named Na’il Salu bin Basaam of the people of the al-Raqa emirate took and satisfactorily passed a course on Repentance.
Based on this, we hereby grant him this certificate confirming that he is not an infidel [kafir] and that it is impermissible to lash, crucify, or rape him, unless a legitimate reason arises for the soldiers of the caliphate or if it’s been established that he has returned to apostasy and wants his freedom.
That's almost as bad as requiring a voter i.d., which is just like a poll tax.

A & ~A: It's the Law

News from the Pacific Northwest:
Two competing measures on the Washington state ballot this fall ask voters to take a stance on expanded background checks for gun sales. One is seeking universal checks for all sales and transfers, including private transactions. The other would prevent any such expansion... What happens if both pass on Nov. 4 is anyone's guess, though the Washington secretary of state's office has said that either the Legislature or the courts would have to sort it out.
Well, the Legislature could sort it out by passing a new law that superseded both measures. How would a court sort it out, though? It's a logical contradiction, passed by majorities of voters in the same way at the same time via the same method. The stronger majority wins? Both laws are null and void?

Restless urges

U.S. oil producers have begun to export their product for the first time in almost 40 years, and imports are dropping.  (The two don't match exactly, because there are different levels of crude with different markets, much of the variance having to do with what product our expensive refineries were designed to handle.)

The current administration is uneasily going along with an export-restriction loophole for now.  As usual, politicians can't decide whether the problem is that resulting fuel prices will be too high or too low, but they're gearing up to interfere somehow, once the midterms are over.  For one thing, if you let people sell their product, they'll just frack more, and we can't have that.

Snooping through Private Things

Samuel Beckett was very clear on the subject of whether he wanted his letters published after his death. Most of them were to a lover, and in addition to being private, were on the subjects he thought divorced from his art.
Writing in January 1958 to his American publisher Barney Rosset, he declared, “I dislike the ventilation of private documents. These throw no light on my work,” and the next day, to the theatre director and long-time Beckett collaborator Alan Schneider, “I do not like publication of letters.”
In the last days of his life, under pressure from many whose meal ticket depended in part on having continued material from him to publish (or analyze, in the case of the academics), he relented -- a little. He agreed that only those letters that had bearing on his work might be published for study.

So, of course:
Surely there is nothing in a writer’s life or letters that does not have a bearing on his work, as life and work inextricably commingle.

This problem was more acute in the first two volumes. In the period of his life that they covered, from 1929 to 1956, Beckett was virtually unknown to the public, and the majority of his letters were, inevitably, personal. However, the thing was managed, and those first two volumes are substantial indeed, and seem destined to be the most interesting of the projected four.
The first two volumes! Irrelevant, private material now published in two thick, academic volumes for your pleasant consideration in direct violation of the author's wishes -- even that small exception extorted at his deathbed.

Honor is without price.

The special burden of being me

Gwynneth Paltrow explains how the lack of a routine in her life made it unusually hard to hold her marriage together.

New wine in old skins

Richard Fernandez on paradigm shifts:
But Obama’s not without ideas. He’s full of ideas, all of them out of date. All of them from the last century’s paradigms. He wanted to become like European social democracy at the very moment when it finally collapsed into the dust-bin of history. He hankered after the ideals of ‘progressivism’ when it had already become reactionary. He is like a man who has saved all his life to buy a pair of bell-bottomed pants only to reach the required sum just when they were 40 years out of style. He’s at the store looking to buy them and can’t find them on the rack.
H/t Maggie's Farm.

Hope Ya'll Have Enjoyed Georgia's Excellent Season...

...because it's apparently over.

If this guy had just asked around campus, people would have given him $400. Heck, season he's had, some of them would have given him $400 each.

UPDATE:  After a convincing 34-0 win, I suppose the winning season is not completely over.

Riding in the Rain

Good ride today. Dodged the thunderheads as well as I could, as long as I could, but rode back in it. It's a good idea to stay out of the stuff because it isn't safe, but it is invigorating.

It's a good time of year. The firewood was laid in during the summer, and needs no more attention until it's time to start bringing it in during the cold. Need to clear some weeds now that the cool weather will slow them growing back, weed-and-seed that pasture. Clear the gutters, a few other tasks, but mostly the autumn season is relaxing. It is full of beautiful days, when there's 'no better place than the saddle, and no better companion than the rifle or the oar.'

What do women want?

If they're female voters in Kentucky, and they're interested in a functioning economy, it turns out they may want a candidate who's not anti-coal, even if she's a card-carrying member of the no-war-on-women party:
Simply having the correct set of genitals does not mean that one is going to fall in line with the predicted talking points of the day. The women voters of Kentucky seem to have more on their minds than just how much contraception costs. They have families to raise and bills to pay like anyone else. When the Democrats run a candidate who is anti-coal and so many jobs in the local economy depend on that industry, that resonates more than hours of glam commercials. Bluegrass values tend to be fairly old school, and I’m guessing that a lot of these Southern Belles don’t spend their days glued to the latest talking points from Debbie Wassermann-Schultz.
Maybe … just maybe … you have to really talk to – and listen to – the voters and look beyond their gender, their skin color or which church they attend. What a novel concept.

Where y'all from?

This is a dialect quiz from a year or so ago.  It places me somewhere between Jackson, Mississippi, and my actual hometown, Houston.  I tried to choose the answers that seemed most natural from my childhood, though sometimes two answers seemed equally valid, perhaps from listening to other people's conversation over the years.  For instance, I'm pretty sure we said "pillbug" at home, but "doodlebug" seems right, too.  I might call an 18-wheeler a semi or a tractor-trailer, interchangeably.  I was taught to say "feeder road," but I also say "frontage road."  I say "crawfish" and "crawdad" without much preference.  I say "cray-ahn" and can't remember ever hearing anyone say anything different.  I say "cair-ah-mel" not "car-mel." For "aunt," I say "ant," not "awwwnt."  Do people really say "loy-yer" instead of "law-yer"?  Yankees, please advise.

A Silly Question

Cass was schooling me on the equal protection clause recently and a random, silly question popped into my squirrelly brain.

First, the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment:

No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

And now, the silly question:
Tangentially, if we apply the equal protection clause as it's written, doesn't it eliminate any limits on marriage or age or ability? Polygamy should certainly be allowed for every reason same-sex marriage is, but not only that, what about all the age discrimination?

Wouldn't any drinking age above 18 be unconstitutional under this clause? Clearly, we are depriving citizens of a privilege w/o due process of law. Could we even have a legal age of majority at all? Are 2-year-olds not citizens?

Just thinking out loud. Anyone know?
I should have said, "... as it's written and the courts have interpreted it" given that the courts have interpreted it to preclude state bans on same-sex marriage.

Yeah, I fully expect to get slapped, but hopefully it will be an educational slap.

In Honor of Cass' Repost...

...of an old discussion, with new discussion.

Let's Talk about Government Control of Our Bodies

So there I was, trying to slip an argument in on another thread, when the Big Guy busts me and tells me to put up my own post. Well, clearly I'm not pulling my blogging weight around here lately, but I thought I could slide by one more time. Dang.

Without further introduction or transition, over in the Lies, Damned Lies, and Abortion thread, Cass and Grim got into a discussion of government control over a woman's body in the case of pregnancy.

The pro-choice / pro-life debate is an active one, so we hear about it and about a woman's right to control her body. However, in the context of government control over the body, we don't hear much about conscription, probably because we haven't conscripted for about 40 years, though also probably because it's about men's rights and that's just evil and misogynistic.

Hater that I am, I'm curious about how the Hall sees this. Are these two issues similar in any way? If you are uncomfortable with any level of government control over a pregnant woman's body, are you also uncomfortable with government control over a man's body? Or are they completely different matters?

There Are Ways To Defy An Order Short of Disobeying It

For example, conduct honest and dispassionate tests.
Faced with a January 2016 deadline for introducing women to combat units, the U.S. Marines have discovered that for every man who fails a simulated artillery lift-and-carry test, 28 women fail.

And for a test simulating moving over a seven-foot high wall, less than 1.2 percent of the men could not get over, compared to 21.32 percent of women.

The results were found in Marine Corps documentation by the Center for Military Readiness, which issued a report called “U.S. Marine Corps Research Findings: Where is the Case for Co-Ed Ground Combat?”

According to CMR, a non-profit think tank, the Obama administration expects the Marine Corps to find a way to assign women to ground combat units without lowering standards.

“In the independent view of CMR, quantitative research done so far indicates that these expectations cannot be met,” the group said....

In a pull-up test, women averaged 3.59 while men averaged 15.69 – more than four times as many.

A “clean and press” event involved single lifts of 70, 80, 95 and 115 pounds plus six repetitions of a 65 pound lift.

Eighty percent of the men passed the 115 pound test but only 8.7 percent of the women.

In the 120 mm tank loading simulation, participants were asked to lift a simulated round weighing 55 pounds five times in 35 seconds or less. Men failed at a less than 1 percent rate while women failed at a rate of 18.68 percent.

The Marines said nearly one in five women “could not complete the tank loading drill in the allotted time.”

“It would be very likely that failure rates would increase in a more confined space [such as a tank].”

The artillery lift and carry had volunteers pick up a 95 pound artillery round and carry it 50 meters in under two minutes. Again, less than 1 percent of the men failed but 28.2 percent of women.

The obstacle involved a seven-foot wall with a 20-inch box, simulating a fellow soldier’s helping hand. Less than 1.2 percent of the men failed and 21.3 percent of the women.

CMR’s report said while the tests don’t replicate combat, “they do constitute empirical data based on reality, not theories about gender equality.”
We've all been following these USMC efforts, and I don't think there's anything to suggest they've been stacked against the women who have volunteered. Anyone disagree?

No, Georgia's Not Turning Blue

Has anyone at the New York Times ever been to Georgia?
No other plausibly competitive state has seen a more favorable shift for Democrats in the racial composition of eligible voters over the last decade. The pace of demographic change is so fast that Michelle Nunn, a Democrat, is locked in a tight race against the Republican David Perdue for an open Senate seat — even with an off-year electorate that is favorable for the G.O.P....

According to data from the Georgia secretary of state, the 2010 electorate was 66.3 percent white and 28.2 percent black.... I expect the 2014 electorate to be about 64.2 percent white and 28.8 percent black. (Ms. Nunn is expected to win at least 90 percent of the black vote.) Yet the last four nonpartisan polls that released demographic data showed an electorate that’s 65.7 percent white and 25.7 percent black. Those polls show Mr. Perdue ahead by 3.3 points, but they would show something closer to a dead heat if the likely electorate matched my estimates....

Georgia is perhaps the single state where [demographic change] would make a noticeable difference, because of the degree of racial polarization and the pace of demographic change.
Emphasis added.

The reason Michelle Nunn is running more-or-less even with Perdue is that she comes from a family famous in the state for excellent service in the Senate. Her father is almost a watchword for what a good Senator should look like. In addition, she's made her career working with the Bush family ever since the first Bush administration. So Republicans can look at her and see a woman who can reach across the aisle, has plenty of respect from their own party, and has a kind of life-long apprenticeship from the man whose Senate career Georgia voters already most respect.

David Perdue comes from the same family as Sonny Perdue, a recent governor who broke key election promises to base voters, and was unimpressive as governor. David Perdue has no experience in politics from which to judge, but he made his career on Wall Street, a place whose name normally turns up in Georgia elections as a curse: e.g., 'If elected, I will defend the values of Main Street against Wall Street.'

Of course he's running weak. That doesn't mean the state is turning blue. It means he's running from a very weak position, against the best candidate the Democratic party has fielded in more than a decade.

A "racial" analysis of this election is neither helpful nor wise. For that matter, it's wrong. The reason Nunn is doing well is that the Georgia electorate is less polarized by race -- whether or not black voters have moved off their traditional support for the Democratic party, more white Georgians are willing to vote for this Democrat.

Pushing Costs Onto Taxpayers

Vox is very happy that Walmart workers are going to lose their health insurance thanks to the ACA.
Namely, anybody who gets access to affordable coverage at work is barred from getting subsidies through the new exchanges. This is even true for people who don't buy insurance at work; just the act of getting offered employer coverage blocks individuals from using getting financial help.

That financial help can be a big deal for those with lower incomes. Think of the 36-year-old Walmart employee here in Washington, D.C. who works 29 hours per week at the company's average wage of $12.73 per hour. She earns just about $19,000 annually if she works every week of the year.

If Walmart doesn't offer her insurance, the Kaiser Family Foundation's subsidy calculator shows that she qualifies for a $1,751 subsidy from the federal government to help buy coverage on the exchange. With that financial help, she can buy insurance for as little as an $7 per month. As a low-wage worker, she gets some of the most generous financial help.

But if Walmart does offer her coverage, it becomes her only option. She doesn't qualify for federal help and the $7 plan disappears. Walmart's plan, meanwhile, is way more expensive. The average premium there works out to $111 per month.
They do kind of get around to mentioning, at the end, that "the loser in the Walmart decision is the Federal budget." What that means is that the loser is the taxpayer, i.e., you and me and everyone we know. Walmart is saving money at our expense.

Great news! Good job, progressives. You've managed to enrich the Walton family.

Also, though they won't do it all at once, you've managed to depress the wages of Walmart workers and other workers in similar industries. That's because right now Walmart has been paying them enough that they could afford that $111 a month if it was important to them. Now, raises can slim and come fewer and further between, as Walmart has $111/month cushion in its workers' paycheck that it can play with. Since Walmart competes for workers with many other similar companies, all of those companies will also be able to pay less over time and still draw the workers they need.

Especially if they get that comprehensive immigration reform you'd like, right? Imagine when we can vastly inflate the labor supply at that level of competition, and with people who are accustomed to living the lifestyle of an undocumented immigrant.

Yes sir, you're really helping out the working man. Morons.

Does Your Dog Love You?

Science can't say! Who knows what the experience is like for a dog? But we can say that the dog experiences excitement in a certain region of the brain associated with reward:
Greg Berns, an Emory neuroscientist, has found that when dogs sniff a rag soaked in their owner's scent, activity spikes in their caudate nucleus — a reward center involved in emotional attachment. It doesn't when they smell a stranger's scent. He's also found that the same activity occurs when these dogs' owners walk into the room, but not when strangers do.
Also, turns out dogs can learn hundreds of words. Not just "dinnertime" and "no!"

UPDATE: Do you love your dog?


Katharine Stevens argues that eroding tenure rights will help, not hurt, the effort to retain the best teachers.  Even more than they want ironclad job security, good teachers want to be able to depend on their colleagues, especially the colleagues who had charge last year of this year's class.

Military Strength

RangerUp has a video with Mark Rippletoe that proposes a very significant change to the military's physical fitness test.
[M]ilitary fitness operates under a 100-year-old paradigm that places endurance training above strength. I think the realities of modern mechanization have made endurance testing for military people obsolete, and it ignores the physical reality of the Soldier in 2014. Soldiers in 2014, as opposed to 1914, come from a completely different background. In 1914, people worked on a farm – they bailed hay, they picked heavy things up, they were stronger. You can get people in endurance condition pretty quickly. Endurance for people who are not endurance specialists comes on pretty quickly. Strength, on the other hand, takes years to develop. If it is not trained, it never develops. Having talked to lots of people who have occupied a combat role, it is my studied opinion, and theirs, that strength contributes more to combat readiness in 2014 than endurance does....

[E]verybody in the military ought to be able to deadlift twice their bodyweight. And that does not represent a powerlifting specialization. For a 165-pound Soldier, a 330-pound deadlift is not a remarkable feat of strength. But it at least ensures that there is a minimum standard. Next, we would have an overhead press test that would be 75% bodyweight... I would also test chin-ups and 400-meter sprint. I think a Soldier should be able to do 12 chin-ups and run 400 meters in 75 seconds or less. The additional benefit of having the press, chin-up, and 400 meter run tests is that they do away with the need to do body composition testing, which takes up a lot of time and can be a problem for muscular Soldiers.
"Everybody in the military" includes general officers nearing 30 years of service, as well as grizzled sergeants who have piled on a certain amount of battle damage. Likewise, as he says, it takes years to develop strength: you can't expect to deadlift twice your bodyweight tomorrow if you've never done it before.

As an aspirational standard, though, it sounds good to me. If we said that everyone in the military should be able to do this by the end of their first four-year enlistment period, it might make sense. We'd have to combine a sense of what is reasonable to ask given natural aging and also service-related injuries, but it's otherwise not a bad idea at all.

UPDATE: I suppose I should add that I think he's on his best ground in arguing that we should move from endurance-based to strength-based testing as the minimum standard for military personnel. Endurance is nevertheless of critical importance for some specific jobs in the military -- loading artillery, for example, as well as many special operations missions. That's the reason to have a tough, endurance-based course as an additional layer of selection for those especially onerous jobs. This is a function performed by, for example, the USSF Q-course, or the Marine Infantry Officers' course.

Words and Ideas

A pair of articles by thinking men, and writers, on the dangers of thought and word. The first one is especially reflective on the way in which we can't even express the danger without falling into a kind of contradiction. That doesn't mean the danger isn't real:

Tolkien’s ring of power is a plain gold ring, of course, and embodies a series of quite complex valences to do with binding, with vows and marriage. But at the same time as being a blank surface, the ring is also paradoxically (which is to say, magically) lettered. The ring, in other words, is a book. To be sure it is a short book; its whole text is the one ring charm. But a short book is still a book. Looked at this way, Lord of the Rings becomes a strangely self-destructive fable—a book about the quest to destroy a book, a long string of carefully chosen words positing a world in which words have magical power to huge evil. How few books there are in Middle Earth!... Gandalf scratches his rune at Weathertop; the hobbits misread it. The elven door in Moria, beautifully lettered, commands 'speak friend and enter!' and nobody understands its simple instruction. The fellowship find a dwarfish book in the mines, as scorched and battered as poor old Beowulf; but as they read it aloud ('drums in the deep', 'we cannot get out') it becomes true to them, and they repeat the words as suddenly, horribly, appropriate to their own predicament. The repeated theme is the danger of words; their slipperiness but also the ease with which they can move us directly into the malign world of the text. One ring to bind us all.

...This is not as straightforward as it might be. As both a Christian and a scholar of Old English, Tolkien has a necessary investment in the spoken word, especially as it is passed between a communion of loving friends: the logos, the face-to-face, the speak-friend-and-enter. The Lord’s Prayer (which Tolkien liked to recite in the Gothic language) was conveyed by Christ to his followers verbally, not in written form. Of course, Christ’s whole life is conveyed to us via a written text.... The world of Middle Earth is a raw world compared to the ‘cooked’ world of 20th- and 21st-century urban living. And so for Fantasy more generally: the word is raw in its immediacy and naturalness, its directness and magic. Magic here is spoken aloud; songs are sung directly to an audience; nothing is written down except the everything that is written down to construe the Fantasy realm.
What is the distinction between the 'book' that Tolkien burns, and the one that he made? One difference lies in beauty. The ring is beautiful, but the language inscribed upon it is foul. So is the idea expressed by the words:
Not long ago I was introduced to an audience as an “intellectual.” This was a well-meaning choice of word, and a flattering one, but it was slightly off. An intellectual is a person who is mainly interested in ideas. I am an aesthete—a person who is mainly interested in beauty. Nowadays the word aesthete carries with it the musty reek of high Victoriana. Still, there remains no better word to describe the way certain people—people like me—view the world.

It’s not that aesthetes are hostile to ideas. But it’s part of aesthetic wisdom that there is great danger in allowing ideas alone to take the reins and ride mankind, since too often they end up riding individual men and women into mass graves. Far too many intellectuals have been what Jacob Burckhardt called “terrible simplifiers,” the power-hungry idea-mongers whose utopian visions have inspired the world’s most murderous tyrants. That is reason enough to decline to be counted among their number.
The author follows this up with a long insight on the importance of art to political thinking, in part to leverage against the force of binding ideas. He ends on a note that turns on a highly intellectual distinction, I notice: the distinction between 'making art that moralizes' and 'being alive to the moral force of created art.'
When making art or writing about it, the aesthete tries never to moralize. Nor will he look with favor upon artists who do so, no matter whether their particular brand of moralizing is religious or secular. But he can and must be fully, intensely alive to the moral force of art whose creators aspire merely to make the world around us more beautiful, and in so doing to pierce the veil of the visible and give us a glimpse of the permanently true.
Tolkien said that he hated allegory. I suspect he meant something like the distinction. The world he crafted was very much alive to permanent moral truth. Indeed, its beauty arises chiefly from its truth.

(H/t: Brandywine Books and Arts & Letters Daily.)

Lies, Damned Lies, and Abortion

Tennessee is voting on abortion.
Amendment 1 on the Tennessee ballot in November would strip the right to abortion from the state’s constitution, the first time that any constitution in the U.S. would be amended to remove an established right. It would also be the first time the word abortion is added to any constitution and singled out as the only medical procedure outside the zone of privacy.
Wait, how can both those propositions be true?

Oh, right. There is no right to abortion to be 'stripped' from the Tennessee constitution. Tennessee is just clarifying its constitution in light of Supreme Court meddling. It's not removing an established right: it's clarifying that no such right was ever intended to be established.

Why It Matters More to be Right than to Win

Republics die, as all men do. What matters is the seeds we sow:
I study ancient history, so I know nothing lasts forever: Republics have fallen before.... Cicero... became known, according to his biographer, Plutarch, “as the best orator ... of the Romans.” He was a true republican, dedicated to preserving Rome's representative government. When Julius Caesar invited him to join a backroom political coalition, Cicero refused. He worried that conspiratorial demagogues were undermining the republic.

He was right. The republic was dying.


The story of freedom is long; it's written by an author who plans millenniums in advance.
Don't worry if it works today. Worry that it's right.

Worst Videogame Ever

"Car Mechanic Simulator." I kid you not.

Hey, kids! Want to spend several sweaty afternoons cursing and cutting your knuckles up trying to find the right wrench to undo a rusty bolt? Long to spend hours trying to figure out the right order to disassemble, clean, and then reassemble a carburetor? Care to memorize the timing sequences of numerous engines? Do we have a deal for you! For the low, low price of only....

Is there a retirement crisis?

Andrews Biggs and Sylvester Schieber argue that there isn't.  Their figures for retirement income include what workers saved for themselves, as well as what they'll receive from the government-mandated "retirement" program we call Social Security, in which a lot of money is taken from the worker throughout his career, not invested, and partially redistributed to him at below-market interest rates according to whatever Congress decides will garner the most votes.

We'll never know how much the workers could have saved for retirement without these career-long expropriations from their paychecks.  As is usual in this sort of analysis, the answer probably is that the more prudent among them would have saved a ton and invested it in a reasonably diverse portfolio, and had a fine nest-egg upon retirement, while the less prudent would have found that an uncaring and unjust society conspired against them to ensure that they either never saved or lost it all later.

So Social Security continues to redistribute money from ants to the grasshoppers, or (if you prefer) from the lucky to the unlucky, while nevertheless serving as a vehicle to transfer wealth from the needy to the wealthy, which you have to admit is a neat trick.  All it requires is selling the program as forcible retirement savings (which is what it takes to get votes to implement it) but administering it as a current subsidy of old retirees by young workers (which is what it takes to delay the day on which you acknowledge that it's flat broke, so that you'd be forced to discontinue it and take your political lumps).  This rhetorical gambit reminds me of how industrial society is simultaneously causing global warming and global cooling.  The important takeaway is:  the government must always intervene to prevent a catastrophe!  Unless, of course, voters decide to cut it out.

A cop doesn't fit in my pocket

Four against one, one wins.


Steyn, reflecting on border security's seizure of bagpipes and other inexplicable dangers to the republic:
Come to that, US border security devotes more time and resources to my kid bringing in a Kinder chocolate egg from Canada than to Thomas Duncan bringing in Ebola. . . .
If you're wondering why the seizure of my kids' chocolate eggs is in the same book as war and terrorism and all the big-boy stuff, the answer is it's part of the same story. To function, institutions have to be able to prioritize -- even big, bloated, money-no-object SWAT-teams-for-every-penpusher institutions like the US Government. You can't crack down on Kinder eggs, bagpipes and Ebola: At a certain point, you have to choose. My line with the Homeland Security guys is a simple one: every 20 minutes you spend on me, or my kids' chocolate eggs, or Cameron Webster's bagpipe is 20 minutes you're not spending on the guy with Ebola, or Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The price of bagpipe scrutiny is a big hole blown in the lives of American families attending the Boston Marathon, or a bunch of schoolkids in Dallas having to be quarantined for a vicious, ravaging disease with a high fatality rate.
But, of course, giving additional attention to West African visitors would be racist. Not like terrorizing Scotsmen over their bagpipes.
Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security expands its curious priorities from raiding Boston strip clubs for selling knock-off Red Sox T-shirts to raiding private homes to seize vintage cars that don't meet EPA standards.

"You Got Me. I Ain't Even Married."

1990 was long ago. 24 years, I guess: I wonder if as much changed between 1950 and 1974? Between 1974 and 1998?

Perhaps things did. Perhaps things wither away so quickly now that it is like trying to stand firm on quicksand. Perhaps: but that puts me in mind of an old story.

Cottage Bakers Unite!

Speaking of the way regulations destroy small businesses, a good way to estimate the damage is to repeal a few regulations and see what happens:
Since Texas does not issue permits or licenses for cottage food production operations, the state does not have a precise way to track them. However, anyone who wants to operate a cottage food business is required to become a certified food handler. In Texas, there are at least two organizations that offer courses specifically designed for cottage food: Texas Food Safety Training and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension. Between the two of them, over 1,400 individuals have purchased and completed courses over the past year. Given that cottage food entrepreneurs can also comply with the state’s regulations by taking a general food handler course, the true number of home baking businesses may be even higher.
This makes a huge amount of sense, as many kinds of foods are very safe and don't require tight regulations to ensure consumer health. Breads may have eggs or milk in them, say, but they're going to be baked at several hundred degrees until they are dry and firm. As long as the ingredients were relatively fresh, there's very little danger. If you use powdered milk and eggs, the danger nearly ceases to exist.

The future is dire . . .

. . . and always has been.  From The Age of Global Warming:  a History, by Rupert Darwall, about the "small is beautiful" movement that inspired a lot of environmentalists to abandon not only capitalism but the very idea that an economic system should be evaluated by its ability to produce growth and prosperity:
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) set up a study group chaired by Harvey Brooks, a Harvard engineering professor.  In a 1971 report, the group argued that developed societies were fast approaching a condition of near saturation.  Even in higher education, people were suffering from information overload which risked stifling the production of new knowledge.
Somehow or another, new knowledge was produced after 1971, but perhaps not by this guy and his buddies.

What Ails American Democracy?

Fukuyama writes:
The fundamental problem, he argues, lies in the Madisonian machinery of American constitutional law. The Founders’ separation of powers can generate positive outcomes only when political opponents trust one another sufficiently to approve one another’s nominees, support one another’s bills, and practice the grubby but essential arts of political compromise. When the spirit of trust breaks down, the result is not democracy but vetocracy, a term coined by Fukuyama. Too many political players—courts, congressional committees, special interests like the National Rifle Association and the American Medical Association, independent commissions, regulatory authorities—have acquired the power to veto measures; too few have the power to get things done....

Contemporary American conservatism has no solution to paralysis; “starving the beast” ignores the necessity of capable government regulation for any efficient capitalist economy. The progressive side, Fukuyama argues, is equally at fault: encumbering American government with contradictory and unfunded mandates only reduces public confidence in the state’s capacity to serve its citizens fairly and efficiently.

What separates Fukuyama’s analysis from conservative and progressive polemics alike is his argument that this crisis of government results from “too much law and too much ‘democracy’ relative to American state capacity.”
I'm sure it would be easier to get things done if bureaucrats didn't have to ask the people very often. In recommending a more British system, what he wants is what Sir Humphrey wants: control of the important things taken out of the hands of the barbarians.

But the last time the American political system girded itself up and did what it wanted in spite of clear and robust public opinion, what we got was the ACA -- the worst piece of legislation in the history of the country, the ramifications of which are still not clear years after it passed and which no one had even read at the time they passed it. They could not have read it: it was too long, and passed in too short a time, for a human being to have gotten through it even had it been as easy and light as a romance novel, let alone the technically dense and logically disrupted tangle that it was. What we get when the elite put aside their concern for the 'veto' of public opinion is exactly this.

Another example he raises is infrastructure. But there's no opposition from the American people to repairing infrastructure. The only opposition comes from within the elite class itself:
The president-elect's original plan was designed to stop the hemorrhaging in construction and manufacturing while investing in physical infrastructure that is indispensable for long-term economic growth. It was not a grab bag of gender-correct programs, nor was it a macho plan--the whole idea of economic stimulus is to use government spending to put idle factors of production back to work.

The president-elect responded to the protests by sending Jason Furman, his soon-to-be deputy director at the National Economic Council, along with his senior aides to a meeting organized by Kim Gandy and Feminist Majority president Eleanor Smeal. Gandy described the scene:
I can't resist saying that this meeting didn't look like the other transition meetings I attended. In addition to the presence of more women, the room actually looked different--because Feminist Majority President Ellie Smeal had asked that the chairs be set in a circle, with no table in the center.

The senior economists listened attentively as Gandy and Smeal and other advocates argued for a stimulus package that would add jobs for nurses, social workers, teachers, and librarians in our crumbling "human infrastructure" (they had found their testosterone-free slogan). Did Furman mention that jobs in the "human infrastructure"--health, education, and government--had increased by more than half a million since December 2007?
Now I will admit that our public libraries are looking better these days. Both of the ones within twenty-five miles of here have undergone significant expansion, adding computer rooms and staff (who are not only exclusively female, but the only people in that twenty-five mile radius with Obama bumper stickers). Mission accomplished!

The roads are a little rougher than they used to be, but that's OK: there isn't as much industrial traffic. Or agricultural traffic either: all the local dairies that used to be here have gone out of business due to the cost of increased regulations.

Speaking of milk, have you noticed how steep the price is for a gallon of milk lately? Partially that's from driving farmers out of the market, but partially it's from robust regulation. The USDA congratulates itself on its regulation of that market, as the regulators openly disdain the market as a method for balancing supply and demand.

There's one more thing that is at work, which is that people nationally don't agree on what should be done in many cases. Localities have the kind of agreement about political problems that can produce progress; nationally we are divided, and shouldn't expect or even want "progress." All "progress" of that kind would mean is increasing the tension between Americans.

So from my perspective, the problem isn't that the government can't get anything done. The problem is that it shouldn't be doing at least half the things it's trying to do.

Democracy is like the market in that it takes advantage of local information to make complex decisions. For that reason, its effects work best when they remain local: when townships and school boards and churches and clubs vote on the rules that govern them as bodies. The more power is centralized, and the more it is slowed by the ossification that comes with size and bureaucracy, the more even democratic decisions are bad ones.

Want to fix America? Push power down. Break the Federal government's stranglehold on everything except its few limited, Constitutional roles. Eliminate most of the government, repeal all regulations back to say the first Bush administration, and have state and local governments decide which ones they want.

The Federal government can retain its basic role, the one Jefferson thought was important:
With respect to our State and federal governments, I do not think their relations correctly understood by foreigners. They generally suppose the former subordinate to the latter. But this is not the case. They are co-ordinate departments of one simple and integral whole. To the State governments are reserved all legislation and administration, in affairs which concern their own citizens only, and to the federal government is given whatever concerns foreigners, or the citizens of other States; these functions alone being made federal. The one is the domestic, the other the foreign branch of the same government; neither having control over the other, but within its own department. There are one or two exceptions only to this partition of power. But, you may ask, if the two departments should claim each the same subject of power, where is the common umpire to decide ultimately between them? In cases of little importance or urgency, the prudence of both parties will keep them aloof from the questionable ground: but if it can neither be avoided nor compromised, a convention of the States must be called, to ascribe the doubtful power to that department which they may think best.
We've added one more constitutional role to Jefferson's ideal, which is making sure that even within states government does not violate basic rights. Generally the Federal government has done this badly, but at times they've been the only one to do it at all. For now, it might be retained.

But do these few things, and nothing else, at the Federal level. That would radically reduce the power available to the elite, and radically increase democratic forms. It would also improve the nation in every respect.