Archive for the 'politics' Category



31
Dec
12

Examining liberaltarianism

Clark has a post doing that over at Popehat:

It is excellent, and well worth your time.

Because I’m a nerd, and way more of an algebraist than an analyst, I like to find principles behind the things I believe and build frameworks out of them.  I’m not always a Good Scientist, trying to falsify my beliefs at every turn, but so far this approach has worked out pretty well for me.  One of the key principles behind liberaltarianism (I prefer the portmanteau because it’s a fun little context switch when you’re talking to people locked into a single-axis political mindset) comes from something Jim Henley wrote a while ago, distinguishing between government-provided crutches and government-enforced shackles.  Most of us libertarians and an-caps like to talk in terms of cuts to government spending, power, and pervasiveness — and then get indignant when “liberals” complain, because we’re including things like scaling back the drug war and opening up immigration law and how dare you suggest we just want to shut down pension funds and fire departments?  Henley sensibly suggests that liberaltarians should prefer to shitcan the more odious shackles first, and remove the crutches from the strong before the weak.

Clark strips this mindset to its foundations, pointing out that liberaltarians pay a lot more attention to the care/harm axis than “regular” libertarians.  This should come as no great surprise.

He also notes that

most [right-libertarians] picture ourselves as captains of industry and not as workers. Ayn Rand wrote about a lot about copper mine owners and train barons, and not much copper miners working 12 hour shifts swinging picks in the dark.

I’d quibble with this, just a little.  I don’t think right-libertarians picture themselves as captains of industry so much as identify with captains of industry.  We see those capital owners as successful wealth sprinters, people with impressive skillsets who worked a lot of eighty-hour weeks to get to the top of the ladder, and we like to think of ourselves as people who could do the same, at least in principle.  So we have a tendency to take soak-the-rich tax proposals as personal put-downs — “even if you finally make it to the big leagues, we’re still going to hate you” — and find the sanctimonious progressives who scold us for not voting in our best interests condescendingly tone-deaf at best.

That shit cuts both ways, though.  Those of us in the aspirational 14% need to recognize that there are a whole fuck-ton of people out there who aren’t.  As commenter jb puts it:

My problem with right-libertarians boils down to the Sympathy with Workers bit–I see how ordinary people, especially the poor, even the poor who are trying to better themselves, are screwed by the powerful in our system, and the way right-libertarians handwave that away annoys me. However, the left-statist solutions to that problem don’t actually work and impose injustice elsewhere.

It’s easy for someone like me to say “just learn some marketable skills and go get a better job” — and probably far more condescendingly tone-deaf.

09
Nov
12

Reality is always right

So there’s been an awful lot of discussion on the Big Truck about the GOP’s rather optimistic interpretations of the polls, which gave rise to (among others) George Will gleefully predicting a landslide victory in the electoral college.  Well, there was a landslide EC victory all right, but it didn’t exactly go his way.  It turns out that if you want to use numbers to determine which of two things is larger, you’re probably better off with a Bayesian statistical model rather than a sheer fucking fantasy model.  Just saying “our model predicts such-and-so” only gives you the appearance of credibility until reality intervenes.

People can say whatever they like, of course, and if partisan hacks didn’t spout off nonsense I’d have a lot fewer things to blog about.  Still, it’s about time the truly fantastical ideologues got some push-back.

On a similar note: Remember when Citizens United was going to destroy democracy as we know it because those evil awful one-percenters were going to just buy every election in perpetuity?  I remember that like it was last Monday, which in fact it was.  Yeah, about that:

Spending by outside groups, it turns out, was the dog that barked but did not bite. Obama and other Democrats had long made dire predictions about the potential impact of the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commissionwhich allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited money on elections and created a new class of wealthy political groups.

I don’t need to tell you how that turned out, do I?  In the cold light of day it’s clear that voters are a heck of a lot less vulnerable to teh ebil advertisings than the Cassandras among us would like to portend.  Why, it’s almost as if the dire predictions of unlimited plutocracy were mere ideological bloviations after all!

People can say whatever they like, of course, and if partisan hacks didn’t spout off nonsense I’d have a lot fewer things to blog about.  Still, it’s about time the truly fantastical ideologues got some push-back.

07
Nov
12

Four more years

By way of the commendably-sufferable Andrew Sullivan we find this eyebrow-raising statement by Samuel Goldman:

[T]he premature elevation of Rubio as frontrunner for 2016 is precisely the wrong strategy for building a Republican majority. Rubio is young and charismatic. But he’s a vocal supporter of the Bush-era policies that voters have twice rejected, especially on foreign policy. One lesson of this election is that Americans do not want another war. I doubt their appetite for confrontation will increase over the next four years.

(Emphasis added.)

Horseshit.

If we judge what “Americans” want by what the executive branch has done under Obama, “Americans” are peachy-keen with the idea of (among other things) staying in Afghanistan, incinerating random Pakistani males of military age who may or may not be in the vicinity of where reported terrorists were sighted sixteen hours before the drone showed up, and straight-up murdering without judicial oversight or due process of law American citizens, provided that those American citizens have brown skin and scary Ay-rab sounding names.  “Americans” in 2008 might have been forgiven for thinking that they weren’t voting for four more years of Bush 43’s foreign policy, but “Americans” in 2012 have no such excuse.

Jonathan Adler puts it succinctly:

It has often been the case that significant political changes can only occur when a President plays against type. So only Nixon could go to China and only George Bush (41) could sign the 1990 Clean Air Act (the largest and most costly environmental statute ever enacted. Perhaps, by the same token, only a Democratic president could legitimize (and in some cases expand) the aggressive anti-terror policies of the Bush (43) Administration, as Obama has done.

“butbutbutROMNEY!“, I hear you cry.  Tango sierra, sugarplum.  Unless you pulled the lever for a third-party candidate I don’t want to hear word one about your so-called anti-war views.  Between drones over Waziristan, bombs over Libya, and “disposition matrices” we have a pretty good view of what you voted for, and I don’t need to know if you voted for Obama or Romney to make that assertion.

By the same token, all you asshats out there who’re pissing and moaning about the size of government and in particular the size of government debt but proudly refused to throw your vote away need to choke on a family-sized can of horse cock.  Don’t let’s pretend that either major-party candidate had either a serious plan for reducing the budget to manageable levels or a serious interest in doing so.  If Obama wanted to do something about the deficit, he’d have endorsed Simpson-Bowles.  If Romney wanted to do something about the deficit, he’d have proposed a plan less fantastical than “extend all the tax cuts, increase military spending, and whatever happens don’t touch Social Security”.  We’ve been kicking this can down the road for a long time, and the only thing that’s changed recently is that in 2005 Bush laced up a pair of soccer cleats for his second term.  And please, people, don’t shout “Obamacare!” in my comments in defence of Mitt Romney’s purported budgetary hawkishness.

In any event, you need to read this piece by Skippystalin most fucking pronto.

06
Nov
12

I guess I should write something about that election

Today is “funny stories about Canadians” day, I guess.

Well teenagers, it’s been four years, time to line up again.

Ballot measures look much more encouraging this time around.  Civil rights look to prevail in ME, MD, MN, and probably WA.  As I write this Colorado’s shitting on the drug war 53 to 47.

On the way home I stopped at the liquor store to stock up on bourbon, for reasons which I really hope I don’t need to explain to you on election night.  This’d be about 6pm PST.  The counter clerk was shaking like a cat shitting a cactus, eyes glued to the flatscreen TV showing Romney up, I dunno, 104 to 30 in electoral votes.  Yes, this is what happens when Georgia and Texas report before New York and California.  I don’t think she could’ve gotten any more agitated if I’d told her that a swarm of flesh-eating zombie wasps had just infested the building.

This leads me to compare Presidential elections — at least when watched by Canadians — to NASCAR.  You get a bunch of people who write it off as “boring politicky shit” and a core of fascinated fans who’re mesmerized by the spectacle of cars flying past each other and zooming around corners in huge packs.  Then you get joy-killing nerds like me, who point out that the one guy only took two tires last pit stop and is getting just a little bit too loose exiting the corners, and thirty laps later when they call California for Obama and you go OH WOW DID YOU SEE THAT HE WENT RIGHT PAST THE OTHER GUY we say “Yeah, toldjaso, now what’s happening in Ohio?  He’s making his tires last?  He oughta be able to leapfrog NC in the pits, take fuel only, and get right back up to the front on the last stint”.  And then you’re all like “It’s no fun when they gain places in the pits, you’re such a nerd, don’t you want to watch something exciting?” and I’m like “learn2spreadsheet, noob, now let’s look at the Senate races.”

(Insert “NASCAR’s boring, they only turn left” political joke here, you clever reader you.)

Finally, a number of my friends who’re too sensible to follow politics (let alone foreign politics) for more than five minutes a year have approached me wondering why anyone beyond a raving psychopath would even consider voting for a hate-filled fucked up bag of evil like Romney.  I ask them what Romney’s done to out himself as a hate-filled fucked up bag of evil, and they just kind of sputter until one of us wanders off.  Really, guys?  We had a chance to see Romney contrasted against some genuinely unpleasant people, like Michele Bachmann and Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, and it turns out he’s about as bland as a sawdust milkshake.  If he’s in the “hate-filled fucked up bags of evil” big leagues, it’s only because he’s selling peanuts in the stands.  Not coincidentally, he’s also leading in the popular vote as I write this, and doing better county by county than McCain could ever have dreamed of doing.

After Akin and Mourdock, I rather suspect that the next Republican president will become so by taking a cue from Stephen Harper and snapping an Elastrator around the neck of every GOPper who looks like he might maybe utter the word “rape” or even “abortion”, and if the ballot measures keep going the way they are now s/h/it might do the same for anyone who looks like agitating about teh ghey.

Now in an entirely unexpected turn of events, my glass of Wild Turkey has become more interesting than this fucking election.  Try to shut up for three and a half  years, will you?

31
Oct
12

My schadenfreude

Let me show you it.

——

Over at Reason, A. Barton Hinkle documents the dismally predictable failure of pro sports subsidies in Gwinnett, Georgia to deliver anything other than a regressive transfer from taxpayers to a baseball team:

Government-funded gifts to sports franchises tend to be sold as economic stimulus, which I imagine is why they’re so beloved of progressives.  Guess how well that turned out?

Plans originally called for 300 hotel rooms, 600 residences, more than 300,000 square feet of retail space and twice that much office space. As of last month, the principal developer had broken ground on fewer than 250 apartments—and was so discouraged he wanted to sell part of his holdings to another developer who would build more apartments.

County officials said no. For one thing, nearby homeowners worried about the effect on their property values: “They said they were promised an upscale commercial area,” writes the AJC, “not apartments and car washes.” Besides, Gwinnett officials “say the original plans are worth waiting for.” The chairman of the county planning commission admits the original vision “may not be viable at the moment, but I think it was a good plan originally.”

——

Next, here’s Warren over at Coyote Blog pointing out another virtue of economies of scale:

It’s short, so I’m quoting it in full:

For all you hipster large and small towns in the northeast who have taken great pride in banning big box stores like Wal-Mart and Home Depot, good luck rebuilding after the storm.  I am sure you are going to be really happy that you banned retail establishments with worldwide logistics resources and that have developed special skills in routing supplies needed for post-storm cleanup.  Good luck getting a generator from that boutique hardware store you have been protecting.

It’s worth pointing out that the towns aren’t “hipster towns”, but rather “towns whose governments have been successfully lobbied by hipster constituencies”.  (Also, why are we picking on the hipsters again?  Statists of all parties have been complaining about large corporate big-box stores since long before it was cool.  …oh!)  I imagine that the vast majority of people in boxless communities are more or less blameless for this sort of thing, having been mostly annoyed by the debate until they realized how deep they got fucked by the protectionists.  Let’s not impute the motives of venal politicians and malicious (and/or stupid) “community activists” to everyone in such a town, mmmkay?

Still, I’d dearly love to see Russ Roberts et al. take a sabbatical to rub every last Naomi Klein wannabe’s nose in all the suffering they’ve caused by making things like gensets and hand tools unnecessarily expensive.  Sometimes “that which is unseen” becomes pretty fucking easy to see.

——

Finally, Ken of Popehat and Marc Randazza tag-team a truly vile scammer.  Almost makes me want to go to law school, it does.

08
Oct
12

Higher-ed bubble watch, north-of-the-border edition

One of these days I’d like to use the very same title for a blog post about postsecondary inflation in Alaska, just to fuck with people.

Anyway, the Globe and Mail is running a pretentiously-titled feature on postsecondary education in Canada called “Our Time To Lead”.  It features this rather exhaustive discussion of our higher-ed bubble:

As per the standard template for these stories, it leads off with a Special Snowflake who shuns the sciences for an Arts degree, claims to find that “it’s more important to be happy than financially secure”, and “always thought of [an undergraduate education] as knowledge for the sake of knowledge.”  Cue juxtaposition with a multicredentialed graduate whose Master’s degrees in History and Education can’t get him a job as a schoolteacher in Toronto, so he’s folding towels at a gym alongside teenagers he’d like to be teaching.  And, of course:

And to think, he says, he once looked down on high-school friends for heading west after Grade 12 to land jobs in the oil industry.

“I thought they didn’t understand the importance of university. Now, I see them beginning a phase of life I wanted to have right now,” he says.

You know what they say, guys: Syncrude’s always hiring.

You will find the list of complaints that follows to be tediously familiar:

  • Students saddened when they don’t feel “challenged” or “engaged” by two hundred-seat first-year lectures taught (variously) by distant, distracted, research-focused professors or harried, harassed, and underpaid adjuncts and TAs;
  • Faculty frustrated with undergraduates who arrive ill-prepared, who can neither construct a sentence nor factor a quadratic, and who “prefer to amble leisurely through a four-year degree like consumers ordering an education to go”; and
  • Employers exasperated with graduates who present themselves without critical communication and problem-solving skills.

We’ll charitably look past the juxtaposition of undergrads who see university as a temple of Higher Learning, rather than a crass skill-factory churning out employees for consumption by the Great Corporate Maw, and those that complain that they’re not being taught relevant job skills.  Perhaps those two sets of students are independent.  (Perhaps, if you were in the second set, you even know what it means for two sets to be independent — although if you’re anything like the comp-sci undergrads alongside whom I suffered you probably don’t consider set algebra to be a relevant job skill.  If that’s the case, then God willing, your DBA will drag you out into the parking lot and beat you with a rubber hose like your Intro Databases prof should have.  Look: Now even I’m complaining about Universities These Days.)

The verbiage that follows contains an eloquent anecdote in support of the signaling theory of education:

The head of a trucking company told Dr. Weingarten that he hired only university grads as truckers. The cab of a truck is complicated, he said, as are the logistics of warehousing. In any case, “if I have two students come to me, both prepared to be a truck driver and work for x amount of money, and one of them has a degree, why shouldn’t I hire the university grad?”

Why indeed?

It also points to a rather compelling story about the inflation of the higher-ed bubble, at least on this side of the 49th (opening caveat obviously excluded), which begins with this delightful piece of omphaloskepsis:

“Whom does the university serve – the students, their families, the faculty?” asks Ken Coates, the Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation at the University of Saskatchewan and co-author of Campus Confidential, which explores how the system’s failure to manage a growing student population has eroded the quality and value of a degree. “As long as they are publicly funded institutions, shouldn’t we be focused on how we serve society as a whole?”

Are universities — and/or university educations — designed or expected to serve “society as a whole”?  We surely shovel enough public funds at them.  (Sorry, homeless people, Ken Coates needs a Canada Research Chair in Regional Innovation!  Maybe we’ll build you a shelter next fiscal year.)  Indeed they are, as Canada’s fourth most-beloved Prime Minister, Lester B. Pearson, would tell you:

[T]he loftier ambition of liberal education has always been to create citizens who are well-read, critical thinkers, strong communicators and civically engaged – the qualities Mr. Pearson lauded when he told the students that a degree called on them “to serve their country” and not themselves.

(It is perhaps too lofty an ambition of journalism programmes to create writers who can use the Oxford Comma properly.  We’ll let that pass.)

This is a bit of a creepy ambition to rabid individualists like me — it reads like a tepid Canadian mandate to transform malleable, putty-like young adults into a rather diffident set of New Socialist Men.  But have a read at another Pearson sound bite:

“Will the emphasis on wise and unhurried teaching and research be replaced by the demand and the dimensions of a knowledge economy?”

Maybe the best way to serve your country rather than yourself would be to forego that taxpayer-subsidized four-year vacation in the Land of the Liberal Arts and pick up a B.Sc. and a good job in that knowledge economy, eh hippy?  It brings to mind this admonition from P. J. O’Rourke’s commencement address:

Don’t chain yourself to a redwood tree. Instead, be a corporate lawyer and make $500,000 a year. No matter how much you cheat the IRS, you’ll still end up paying $100,000 in property, sales and excise taxes. That’s $100,000 to schools, sewers, roads, firefighters and police. You’ll be doing good for society.

How many people are willing to chain themselves to a seventy-hour work week in order to “do good for society” by bumping themselves into the highest tax bracket?  Some sacrifices, especially the chronic and banal, are too great to make for an abstract ideal.  Fuck civic virtue.  But don’t let’s pretend that you’re serving your country by studying Keats and Kant rather than Kronecker and Kepler.

There’s a less theoretical and more immediate benefit to shovelling people into post-secondary institutions, too: It keeps them out of the unemployment numbers.

As James Côté, co-author of Lowering Higher Education, points out, the government’s postsecondary cheerleading solved the supply problem of youth labour by parking them on campus. But it failed to plan for how graduates would find work related to their field of study. Canada has one of the highest graduate underemployment rates among Western countries, swelling the ranks of Keats-quoting baristas.

The classical education so beloved by fictional terrorist Hans Grüber, and which is the inspiration for if not the fact of many modern Bachelor’s of Arts curricula, is an aristocratic relic.  It’s a nostalgic throwback to a class and age when gainful employment was considered vulgar rather than laudable.  It, along with with the marked diaeresis, should perhaps be reëxamined.

21
Aug
12

/r/apeculture

(This post is only partly about reddit, but I couldn’t resist the title.)

So one of the things that’s been going around geek culture lately is that geeks are not immune from being creepy threatening misogynistic assclowns.  This is apparently controversial.

A particularly facepalmogenic manifestation comes from everyone’s favourite “slashdot is getting trendy, where do we go now?” community, reddit.  See, way back three weeks ago (which is years in internet time, a scale factor which makes reddit’s golden age of cultural relevance the better part of a millennium in the past), reddit hosted a “rapists explain themselves” thread.  Everyone put on their Serious Hats and frowned concernedly and furrowed their brows, because while the content was disturbing it’s Important That We Understand This Phenomenon.

Then a remarkably slimy used car salesman started a similar confessional thread, and within a day someone had threatened to use the thread’s contents to get the fellow fired.

Compare and contrast.

——

While we’re on the subject of rape-related asshattery, I’d be negligent to ignore the latest frothings to erupt from evangelical conservative gasbag Todd Akin, who’s doing a bang-up job of coming across as exactly the sort of creepy fuck you’d expect to distinguish between “rape” and “forcible rape” (or, perhaps, “rape-rape“).  It turns out that Akin, who’s doing a fucking fantastic job of smearing Romney and Ryan by ideological association, is more or less analogous to the sort of pompous high-school political evangelist who tries to channel Ayn Rand and ends up channeling Gordon Gekko.  Andrew Sullivan points us to the bizarre pseudoscience of Jack Willke, apparently the leading purveyor of this sort of magical mystery biology:

To get and stay pregnant a woman’s body must produce a very sophisticated mix of hormones. Hormone production is controlled by a part of the brain that is easily influenced by emotions. There’s no greater emotional trauma that can be experienced by a woman than an assault rape. This can radically upset her possibility of ovulation, fertilization, implantation and even nurturing of a pregnancy.

Hormones, apparently, are fucking magic.  This must be how The Secret works.  (Note also the “assault rape” formulation, because apparently if it doesn’t involve back-alley violence the bitch must’ve wanted it.)  That excerpt is so densely packed with handwaving just-so folk biochemistry I had to double check to make sure it wasn’t the USDA trying to peddle me some nutrition advice.

——

Now, in a political landscape where the right has claimed the dubious position of “To be sure, rape — or at least rape-rape — is a horrible thing, but“, you’d expect the left to attack that glaring weakness with “There’s no but there, rape is always horrible”.  And most of the time,  you’d be right.  The only problem is that the left has a depressing tendency to punctuate its message with “…and whatever our guy did isn’t rape (or at least rape-rape)”.

OH GEORGE GALLOWAY NO!

Defending Julian Assange, Gorgeous George claims:

It might be really bad manners not to have tapped her on the shoulder and said, ‘do you mind if I do it again?’ It might be…bad sexual etiquette, but whatever else it is, it is not rape or you bankrupt the term rape of all meaning.

Reason‘s Matthew Feeney elaborates:

The BBC reported on what British law would have to say in such a case:

… the law was clear that if the woman was asleep when a sexual encounter began, consent cannot “reasonably” have been given and having had sex before did not give a man the right to have sex again at any time and assume consent.

Quite where Galloway picked up that having sex with someone while they are asleep is not rape is anyone’s guess.

Galloway’s model of consent is more or less the same as my model of bus fare — I pay my relationship tokens, obtain a consent token, and may use that consent token to obtain personal gratification until it expires.  That is creepy beyond belief.  “Do you mind if I do it again?”  Someone please tell me this is devastating British understatement, normally delivered with a sly wink that acknowledges the participation of the partner(s).

——

Update: Will Wilkinson introduces us to the stunningly vile notion, promulgated by a certain Peter Cornswalled, that (a) for a woman to become pregnant it is necessary for her to orgasm during intercourse, and further that (b) orgasm is retroactive consent.  Just look at this shit:

Because pregnancy is not possible without both partners achieving a moment of issue, it is not possible for a woman who is actually raped to become pregnant. A woman who becomes pregnant must have had a moment of issue, meaning she enjoyed what happened. Regardless of how the encounter began, by achieving a moment of issue the woman has consented to all that went before. The act of becoming pregnant is, due to the biology with which God gifted us, proof that the woman was not raped.

The next time I have to explain to someone the apparent contradiction that one may have the right to do something but still be an asshole if one does it, I’ll use this amazing hate-dropping as an illustrative example.

All of this horseshit comes, incidentally, in service to the efforts of social conservatives to remove “what if she was raped?” from the list of objections to laws against abortion.  Given the shuddering odiousness of these efforts to define away “rape-rape”, I have to wonder why they even bother to try.  It’s rather like masking the smell of your rotting kitchen garbage by smearing dog shit on the cabinetry.




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