Hardest quiz ever

I've never done this badly on an internet quiz before: only 50%.

A higher authority

The White House is taking that letter more seriously than I expected:
Sure, it’s tasteless for the American president to go over the heads of the American legislative body and appeal to an unelected council of international diplomats in order to outmaneuver his domestic opposition. This kind of behavior is also precisely what the American people have come to expect from Barack Obama.

Scots Magic

A joke I heard today:
An Englishman and a Scotsman go to a pastry shop.
The Englishman whisks three cookies into his pocket with lightning speed.
The baker doesn't notice.
The Englishman says to the Scotsman:
"You see how clever we are? You'll never beat that!"
The Scotsman says to the Englishman:
"Watch this, a Scotsman is always cleverer than an Englishman."
He says to the baker,
"Give me a cookie, I can show you a magic trick!"
The baker gives him the cookie which the Scotsman promptly eats.
Then he says to the baker:
"Give me another cookie for my magic trick."
The baker is getting suspicious but he gives it to him. He eats this one too.
Then he says again:
"Give me one more cookie... "
The baker is getting angry now but gives him one anyway. The Scotsman eats this one too.
Now the baker is really mad, and he yells:
"And where is your famous magic trick?"
The Scotsman says:
"Look in the Englishman's pocket!"

Honor and Food

As I assume is well known to readers here, in the United States Marine Corps it is a standard that leaders do not eat until their men are fed. This is a point of honor, because honor is sacrifice of your interests for the good of others in your community. The leader occupies a position of honor, which means that when there is a sacrifice to be made, it properly belongs to him to be the one who makes it. The leader sees that those under his command are fed first, and only then takes time -- if there is time -- to eat himself.

So I read with interest this article about an attempt to re-invigorate traditional Japanese foodways, in which the person in the position of honor also has a duty related to the order of the eating of food. It's just that it's the opposite order:
“The principal is the first person to eat lunch,” says Masahiro Oji, director of the Ministry of Education’s School Health Education Division. “If he gets sick none of the rest of the food gets served."
Different practical concerns prompt a different order, but the deeper issue is the same.

That Glow

Way back in 2004, Newsweek writer Evan Thomas admitted that "the media ... wants Kerry to win. They're going to portray Kerry and Edwards as being young and dynamic and optimistic .... There’s going to be this glow about them ... that’s going to be worth maybe 15 points."

Apparently their relationship to Hillary Clinton is slightly different.

Sleeping Dogs

Apparently in China, they should be left lying.

No Progress

Grim's Hall, 2008:
I looked up the definition for "sexism" today, and I find that it is defined as "the sense that one sex is inferior to, or more valuable than, the other." We have a number of ways of expressing the same concept: "male chauvanism" or "female chauvanism," "misogyny," and so forth.

What we don't appear to have is a way of expressing a concept that recognizes the real differences between the sexes in a way that honors them. As far as I know, there is no word in the language for a "a sense that though the sexes are genuinely different, both are necessary and valuable." That is to say, we have a lot of ways of describing a problem, but we have no way of talking about the solution.

I've tried to use the term "chivalry" in this context -- that men should regard women, though different, as wonderful and valuable, and should take care to listen to their concerns and help make a world in which they feel welcome.

Two things happened when I did that, which point up the severity of the problem. The first is that it was pointed out to me, by a well-meaning and kind-hearted woman, that I was offering good advice to men, but nothing for women. If "chivalry" is right for men, what is the female version of recognizing the differences between themselves and men, honoring men, and trying to make a world in which we also feel welcome and valued? I have no answer to that question: there is no word I know of that applies.

The other thing that happened was that certain feminists received my use of "chivalry" as a sort of code-word for male chauvanism.
The Daily Mail, today:
They found men whose answers led to them being classed as benevolently sexist smiled more while playing the quiz game and chatting. They were more patient while waiting for their female partners to answer the trivia questions and warmer, friendlier and chattier than those who were hostile sexists... Study co-author Jin Goh said: 'Benevolent sexist men hold women in high regard and are willing to sacrifice themselves to save and protect women.

So, OK. Let's ask the same questions. What is the female version of what is on display in men seeing women as valuable, listening to their advice as a civilizing influence (an impulse rather unfairly degraded by being phrased as "putting on a pedestal"), and trying to do right by them and show them that they are safe and welcome in public places?

And why should we receive men who do it as bad? There are some senses of the word "strong" in which women are stronger than men. There are others, including the most fundamental sense, in which this is not the case. That fact is a fact simply: can't we be honest about it? Can't we show each other honor while recognizing each other's imperfections? If we can't acknowledge the truth about each other's imperfections without failing some assumed duty of respect, talk about putting on a pedestal!

Can't Wait For The Hillary Presidency

The main piece of news to emerge from the session was her confusingly worded disclosure that she has already deleted the emails that she believes are no one’s business but her own.

Go to hell is not typically a sentiment expressed by politicians on the brink of a presidential campaign. But in Hillary Clinton’s case, it reflects a sincerely held belief[.]

OK, So We Can't Make "Treason" Stick...

...how about the Logan Act?
...critically, the citizen must act “without authority of the United States.” Although most assume that means without authority of the Executive Branch, the Logan Act itself does not specify what this term means, and the State Department told Congress in 1975 that “Nothing in section 953 . . . would appear to restrict members of the Congress from engaging in discussions with foreign officials in pursuance of their legislative duties under the Constitution.” That doesn’t mean Members would have immunity under the Constitution’s Speech and Debate Clause; it just means the statute would arguably not apply in the first place. Combined with the rule of lenity and the constitutional concerns identified below, it seems likely that contemporary and/or future courts would interpret this provision to not apply to such official communications from Congress....

Finally, as Peter noted yesterday, the Logan Act has never been successfully used (indeed, the last indictment under the Act was in–not a typo–1803). Although most assume this is just a practical obstacle to a contemporary prosecution, it’s worth reminding folks about “desuetude”–the legal doctrine pursuant to which statutes (especially criminal ones) may lapse if they are never enforced[.]
There's a long history here.
In 1970, as an inactive Naval Reserve Officer, Kerry traveled to Paris and talked with North Vietnamese government officials. He even stated later to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that “I realize that even my visits in Paris,” Kerry testified, “are on the borderline of private individuals negotiating.” He got it wrong there too. Again the Logan Act does not differentiate between public or private individual. It's pretty clear on the "any" part.
That one really was treason in the aid-and-comfort sense, coming from a military officer at a time when we were deployed at war against the very people with whom he was publicly negotiating, but the man went on to a long career in the Senate and now holds the position of Secretary of State.

Small is Beautiful

The polling did not just show the lack of faith in national institutions and leadership; it also shows that people increasingly feel that the best solutions for the country's problems will come from local communities, state governments, and institutions. Sixty-nine percent of respondents said that state and local institutions—from governments to businesses to community groups and volunteers—offer the best new ideas because they were closer to the problems, more adaptable, and had a greater stake in finding solutions. Just 22 percent of respondents thought the federal government and big business were better equipped to solve the country's challenges.

To varying degrees, that attitude remained constant across gender lines, age, race, and party affiliation—reflecting respondents' strong preference for state and local institutions and solutions.... It shows the extent to which people across demographic groups are turning away from the federal government[.]
The Federal government can still do some useful things. It just shouldn't try to do so many things that are better left to smaller governments. State and local governments can often represent a community with a sort of consensus about what should be done, or about what's important or best in life.

The Federal government has to represent a vast number of communities, and Americans simply no longer share a set of common values across the population. As the diversity of the American community grows, the government will either have to become less powerful or less legitimate. Put another way, the Federal government can either let powers pass to smaller communities that can honestly represent the will of the people, or it will have to use increasing amounts of force and compulsion to impose a view without broad support.

I still think the 10th Amendment more or less gets this right: outside of specifically delegated powers, the Federal government should draw back and leave things to the states. We should reconsider the amendments after the original Bill of Rights insofar as they expand Federal power beyond that original allocation, or serve to limit the power of the states vis-à-vis the Federal government. We should encourage a rollback of Federal laws accordingly.

Win Small, Lose Big

A Small Victory:
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) said it will not seek to issue a final framework for the rule “at this time” after receiving more than 80,000 comments on the proposal, the “vast majority” of which were negative.
A Huge Loss:
Regulators won a big victory at the Supreme Court on Monday as the justices endorsed expansive powers for changing the interpretation of federal rules. The Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that federal agencies do not have to follow procedures for notifying the public and collecting comment when changing the interpretations of rules, effectively removing steps from the process that can take months and sometimes years to complete.
So the next time there won't be 80,000 negative comments on a proposed rule change. There will just be a rule change. If you're lucky, you'll find out after the fact. If not, you'll find yourself in violation of a law that "changed." Like magic.

Definition of a problem

As permaculturist Joel Salatin likes to say, sometimes a problem is just a system that worked well but was split into two systems that created seemingly intractable problems.  His example is barren fields and toxic feedlots, as opposed to fields well composted with animal manure.  The "bike desk" is an invention meant to take two problems and combine them into a solution:  people spend too much time inert in front of desks, and it takes a lot of energy to power their desktop toys.


The NY Daily News goes all-out.

Do these people think Americans owe a personal duty of loyalty to the President? That Congress is not a co-equal branch of government structurally designed to counterbalance the Executive, but rather a subordinate branch of government?

No wonder Congress so rarely tells the truth. First honest thing they've said in months, and look how people react.

Right to Work

"Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests." - United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23.4.

Scott Walker signs the Right To Work law in Wisconsin.

Nobody's saying you can't form a trade union. They're just saying you can't force people to join it. If you can deliver on your promises to improve pay and working conditions in a serious way, you can probably get people to sign on. Unions did this for years. Yes, it's harder to do it this way than with a rule that requires workers to join your union; yes, it's harder to do it this way than with rules forbidding the company from hiring scabs. But you can still do it, if you devote yourself to providing returns for the workers who pay dues. You can still make your case to the people, too, who may refuse to cross a picket line if they agree you are being shabbily treated.

It was too easy for a long time. Many unions did badly by their members, and devoted themselves to power and corruption instead of helping their own loyally as the first priority. If you want to survive, you'll have to get back to what made unions strong in the first place.

Wikipedia says that "scabs" in this context dates to the Elizabethan era, by the way. I had no idea.

For Eric Blair

A Roman cavalry project along Hadrian's wall.

Pen and Phone

People are really mad about this letter to Iran.
But to directly communicate with a foreign power in order to undermine ongoing negotiations? That is appalling. And just imagine what those same Republicans would have said if Democratic senators had tried such a thing when George W. Bush was president.
Yeah, good thing nothing like that ever happened.
Bear in mind this was not an official trip to Europe and the Middle East. Kerry was not visiting as a representative of the United States Government. He was in no way commissioned by the executive branch to negotiate alliances with foreign countries. So what was he doing there?
What, never? Well, hardly ever.
[Senator] Obama has built much of his campaign for the Presidency on the fact that he has been against the war in Iraq from the very beginning and would demand an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq were he to be elected President. Yet, on his first trip to Iraq recently, he is alleged to have attempted to negotiate a delay in troop withdrawal from Iraq....

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari reports that Obama made his ‘demands’ the central focus of their talks while he was in Iraq.
“He asked why we were not prepared to delay an agreement until after the US elections and the formation of a new administration in Washington,” Zebari said in an interview.

Obama insisted that Congress should be involved in negotiations on the status of US troops – and that it was in the interests of both sides not to have an agreement negotiated by the Bush administration in its “state of weakness and political confusion.”
But that's just a tu quoque; to stand on it would be an informal fallacy. So let's give a positive argument.

Article I of the US Constitution gives Congress the following powers related to foreign policy, none of which are subject to checks and balances from Article II.
The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises...

To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes;

To establish a uniform rule of naturalization, and uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies throughout the United States...

To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water[.]
In addition to that, Congress has the power to raise and order all the armed forces of the United States, checked by the President's commanding of those powers.

The President's powers to conduct foreign policy are all checked by the Congress. Treaties require the advice and consent of a supermajority of the Senate. Appointing ambassadors requires advice and consent. Commanding the armed forces at war, in theory if less in practice lately, requires Congressional consent to having a war.

I say 'in theory if less in practice lately' with Obama's Libyan adventure especially in mind. The President has frequently acted as if the Constitutional checks on his power did not exist. Similarly, he has ignored his oath to faithfully enforce the laws that Congress has enacted whenever he sees fit to do so, not just in the recent 'executive amnesty' but by directing those under his direct control not to enforce laws nor to defend certain laws in court when they came under challenge.

Why should he not expect the Congress to respond in kind, and to wield its 'pen and phone' authority with as little regard for him as he has shown for them?

If he wants a new atmosphere of comity and cooperation with the Congress, the ball is very much in his court.

Today's Quiz: Are You A Socialist?

It's the Socialist Worker's quiz, so they'd like to convince you that the answer is "yes." But they had to admit that, for me, the answer is "no."

There's a weird throwaway question about the US military being a force for good in the world, which of course it is -- but that's not really a socialism issue, is it? I wondered if it might be a trick question, since some people sometimes argue that the military is the most socialist part of the United States. (It's not a very good argument.)

Partly the problem is that the quiz runs things together that don't belong together. Do I think that schools, clean water, and hospitals should never be run for profit? Well, no; but I also think that there's a huge difference between "schools," "hospitals," and "clean water." To me, that's not a category of things that should be run for the common good instead of private interest; it's an ascending scale. I don't think I'd ever be annoyed at someone for starting a private school, even if they charged a fortune for attendance. We've just seen an argument from Tex that it can make really good sense to run a private hospital business alongside a public one. Even if we agree that we should provide some sort of public access to health care, that doesn't imply that every hospital should be nonprofit.

There are several things about water that make it a stronger case for a public approach. In a city, the infrastructure concerns are going to mean that you'll almost certainly get a monopoly, and monopolies are problematic. We often address them with public regulation. Too, even in rural areas where people have wells, the nature of water means that the water table under your house is the same one your neighbor is pulling from. Let's say that you had a neighbor who came in, dug a well, and began bottling and selling the water to such a degree that everyone began having trouble getting water. Your wells might even go dry, but he can dig a deeper one with the profits from the water he sold after sucking it out of the same water table you were using. When dealing with these kinds of issues, at least some democratic controls on the market activity often make good sense.

Embrace Economic "Degrowth"

Today's novel economic concept to come across my desk: "degrowth."

If you watch the video at the second link, you'll learn that "there's no set script" for degrowth, but there are a lot of really bad ideas he's prepared to spitball. The problem is that none of them work with the laws of economics as I understand them. The first link wants to turn things like Airbnb into a sharing service that provides "the benefits of traditional employment." Nobody's stopping you from setting up such a service now. It just won't go anywhere, because it will provide the same service to the customer as Airbnb but at a higher price. Why shouldn't they prefer to contract the service for less?

Maybe you can make them feel guilty about it, but I doubt it.

Price transparency in medicine

Guess what happens when a single-payer system is unsatisfactory enough to allow a vibrant cash-only market to spring up next to it.


From Cafe Hayek:
Under such rules (along, of course, with basic laws of property, contract, and tort) – and in a culture that honors bourgeois virtues and applauds innovators – there will be lots of entrepreneurs striving to earn profit (and respect) by creating new goods and services. These entrepreneurs will compete with each other, as well as with producers of older, established goods and services. The goods and services that yield profits today for their producers will be the ones that consumers, spending their own money and only their own money, today choose above all others. No finer, more objective, or more accurate test is available for determining how scarce resources should be used.
Tomorrow, of course, entrepreneurs will introduce newer products and newer production processes. Some of these, tested by market competition, will succeed. Others will fail. Some older goods and services, once profitable to produce, will become unprofitable to produce. Resources, including human labor, will shift from these older to the newer lines of production.
And so it goes in a free, prosperous, and growing market economy, day-in and day-out; year-in, year-out; decade-in, decade-out. Such an economy is controlled or guided by no one, yet it serves everyone remarkable well – if, though, with the requirement that everyone abide by the rules of the game. These rules are those listed above. These rules imply that no one has a right to any one else’s property – a rule that, in turn, implies that no producer has a right either to prevent other producers (even those in foreign countries) from competing for the patronage of her customers, or to obstruct her customers from shifting their expenditures away from her product offerings.
No one guarantees that the choices won't be intensely annoying, of course. I often observe that rich people would spend their money much better if they consulted me about their choices. But on the whole, the choices made by free crowds vastly outperform those mandated by wise leaders. Why this should be so is a mystery to me, but I can't dispute it, and therefore discount all economic theories that depend on confidence in the unfettered choice of the single person who is advocating them.

Racist Republicans

The NYT cropped former President George W. Bush and Laura Bush out of a picture of the Selma march.  All that remains now is to photoshop Hillary Clinton in.

ISIS fraying?

If any of this is true, it seems a hopeful sign.  The article has two helpful maps.  One shows areas controlled by ISIS and others by some combination of "government and other rebels," which is an interesting way of having to put it.  The other shows the origins of foreign supporters traveling to ISIS.  Much of the article concerns tensions between locals and these new arrivals, some of whom don't particularly want to fight and all of whom, no matter how dreary a situation they left in their home countries, are accustomed to a higher standard of living than the locals.  Many apparently are drawn by the idea of a culture in which rabid Islam is in the ascendancy, but had little notion what that might look like close up, especially if their clique isn't in charge.

I have slowly been reading "In the Shadow of the Sword," about the roots of Islam.  I was skeptical of the author's thesis, that Islam developed in Syria, in a hotbed of conflict among Jewish and Christian sects over monotheism, and only later became associated with Mecca and Medina.  But he makes a good case.

If ISIS did collapse, of course, it's not as though sane people would take over; Iran, more likely.  Yesterday almost 50 Republican senators signed a letter helpfully explaining to Iran how treaties work in this country.  Which Republican senators refused to sign? Lamar Alexander, Susan Collins, Bob Corker, Dan Coats, Jeff Flake, Lisa Murkowski, and Rob Portman.


From a Gutenberg project about natural disasters, in the flood section, a story about a man-made flood:
Leyden [the Netherlands] was besieged [by Spanish forces in 1574]. The town was well fortified. The Spaniards endeavored to starve the city into surrender. They swarmed about the outworks and taunted the famished people as "beggars." The contest grew daily more hopeless for the besieged. Hundreds were dead of starvation. But the survivors hurled defiance at the Spaniards. They were digging up every green thing, devouring roots of grass, old leather, offal, anything that could in the least aid to sustain life. But "so long as a dog barked in the city, the Spaniards might know they held out." A few faint-hearted ones pleaded with the burgomaster to yield. But the brave Van der Werff, gaunt, pale, wearied with care and watching, told them they could only surrender when they had eaten him; so long as he lived, the city should not yield.
It was a terrible time. Scores crept into out-of-the-way places to die, that their misery might not be seen by their friends. The Dutch without wished to help their friends within--but the lines of the enemy were too strong. As the last resort, the "Silent Man" ordered the dykes cut. It was done. The country folk abandoned their homes. A fleet of two hundred vessels sailed in over the land fifteen miles. They reached the Landscheiding, a great dyke five miles from the city. Three quarters of a mile nearer the town was a second dyke, the Greenway; within that was the Kirkway.
The rising water frightened the Spaniards. But at ten inches, it stopped. The Spaniards renewed their taunts. Again it rose two feet; the vessels drew nearer: then they lay aground in sight of the famished citizens. Then arose a strong southwest wind--and after days of weary waiting, the fleet was close on the last line of fortifications. It was the first of October. In the morning the "beggars" of the sea would make a desperate attack upon the Spanish hordes.
In the night there came a terrible crash. The sea had undermined the wall. The citizens were filled with panic, fearing an immediate irruption of the enemy. They stood under arms through the weary night.
The morning came. Not a Spaniard was in sight. Fearing a sortie of the hunger-maddened people, they had fled in the darkness. The city was saved by the drowning of the land.
A story is told of Frederick the Great, illustrative of the same indomitable spirit. After establishing the supremacy of Prussia, he was suspected of designs upon the independence of the Netherlands. The Dutch envoy at his court, newly appointed, Frederick endeavored to overawe by a display of his power. A great military review was held; and Frederick, who took a peculiar delight in tall men, caused troop after troop of his gigantic grenadiers to file before the weazened little Dutchman, and asked his opinion. Of each one the envoy said: "Very good, but not tall enough." Frederick, much nettled at this oft repeated criticism, asked the ambassador what he meant by it. "I mean," he retorted, "that we can flood our country twelve feet deep!" Frederick left the Dutch in peace.


The Belmont Club:
A striking aspect of this phenomenon of capture is its anonymity, at least as far as most commentary is concerned. PJMedia ran a series called Every Single One documenting the radical takeover of the Department of Justice, and describing the individual attorneys and their resumes, close connections between EPA and environmental groups have been documented, the names and faces of the IRS people have been publicized, and one can dig some names out of government notices and letters. But this information is largely ignored, and as far as the general media is concerned decisions are made by offices or bureaus, not by people....

Deference to agency interpretation of law becomes an invitation to the staff to play games with the language, finding and exploiting ambiguities where none should exist. Judicial reliance on agency expertise triggers skewed analyses; staff knows how things are supposed to come out, and knows that no judge will contradict it technical conclusions. To the informed, EPA science and risk assessments have been jokes for a generation.
“Every once in a while, the Supreme Court will rebel against fictions,” DeLong writes, but most of the time we just accept the diktat of the downloaded code — and accept the fictions. Administrative law is just one mechanism. The media, academy, the entertainment industry — everybody — is selling you their narrow agenda. Suppose the president says there are only “lone wolves”. Then by gum, there are only lone wolves. Shouldn’t we in rational ignorance trust the president of the United States?

People who wonder how marriage went from an institution involving men and women to almost any combination conceivable in the blink of an eye, wonder at record winters in an age of ”Global Warming”, who ask themselves why their “Affordable Care” is so expensive and why the “free and open internet” has 300 pages of secret regulations; who puzzle over the identity of the masked attackers who attack centers of population every day are basically watching the effects of industrial scale entropy. They are watching knowledge — indeed common sense — being erased or obfuscated; destroyed at a rate that would defy the understanding of few guys wielding hammers.

A Confluence of Posts About Women

A number of friends from outside the United States sent me women-oriented stuff this morning. I was surprised by the alignment until I came to understand that today is apparently "International Women's Day." Americans don't do "international" things, no more this than the metric system: in America the whole month of March is "Women's History Month," though we tend to forget that if we don't belong to institutions that remind us (as we do "Black History Month," which falls in February).

Nevertheless, there were some good pieces! Here are the three best.

A brief piece on Phillipa of Hainault (see also the sidebar, as she has a permanent reference here at the Hall).

On Marozia, the woman who was the power behind three Popes.

A paper on the ways in which women in the Medieval Islamic world wielded power and influence.

By the way, Ranger Up has a new Joan of Arc shirt that some of you might like for a brave woman in your life.

Happy International Women's Day! I think I'll go have lunch with my mother -- she lives on the other side of the state, but my sister is visiting from Wyoming, so it's a good day to catch them both.

UPDATE: Here's a good one: Betty McIntosh, one of the few women to work in the OSS during WWII, a pioneer in psychological warfare, turns 100 years old.

On Rare Expressions

A very nice piece on the use of unusual points of reference, ending in a great example from a piece on Wimbledon.
I do remember what Kretchmer eventually said. He said, “Maybe one reader in ten thousand would get that.”

I said, “Look: you have bought thirteen thousand words about Wimbledon with no other complaint. I beg you to keep it as it is for that one reader.”

He said, “Sold!"
Sprezzatura is a term of art in what are sometimes called "Historical European Martial Arts," or sometimes "Martial Arts of Renaissance Europe." That's because -- as the article points out -- it turns up in Castiglione’s “The Courtier" from 1528.

It's a wider ethic, though. The guy who first taught me to ride motorcycles put it this way: "Do you want to know what the Holy Grail is for motorcycle riding?" he asked. "It's to be smooth. Everything, smooth."

I Doubt The Validity Of This Premise

"This film points to ways in which we can say what's on our minds without being accused of being bigots," says Trevor Phillips, former chief of equality measures in the UK, of his new documentary "Things We Won't Say About Race That Are True."