Archive for the 'politics' Category



16
Aug
12

Enter rant, stage right

LabRat writes about something that pisses me all the fuck off.  Namely, she takes the piss out of this common advice:

Hey, fatties!  Why do you persist in being so fat?  It must be because you’re morally inadequate!  After all we solved fatness way back with Ancel Keyes in the ’60s.  All you have to do is eat lots of carbs, cut back on dietary fat and cholesterol, and waste half your waking hours in low-intensity steady-state jogging like everyone’s been doing for the past forty years.  Oh, rates of obesity have been going up since we started telling you to eat more carbs and less fat and jog instead of sprint?  It must be because you haven’t been listening, you fatties, because obviously if youlistened to caring people likeus you  wouldn’t have been cursed by fatness in the first place.  Anything that goes wrong with our prescribed plan isobviously due to poor adherence.  Because you fatties, being fat, clearly can’t adhere to our obviously correct diets.  Even if you have been trying to do so for ever (or the last fifty years, whichever comes first).

Christ’s quivering tits.  Does anyone actually believe that shit?

Jesus what.

Look, I appreciate Ms. Obama’s efforts to get folks to eat a bit better, and I don’t begrudge her the occasional cheeseburger because if you can hew to an eating plan that works for you — and spoiler warning for that Atomic Nerds link above, “an eating plan that works for you” will depend on a whole fuck-ton of metabolic variables and probably won’t last more than a few months if you’re actually making progress — for 90% of your meals you’re well on your way to whatever body composition you desire.  But holy fucking orthorexia batman, yelling at an Olympic gymnast for eating a fucking Egg McMuffin, on national TV,  just murders the whole idea of “90% compliance is great” and teaches the fucking world that only absolute purity is possible.  You horrible person.  Anyone who eats on a vaguely normal scale gets something like 21 meals a week.  Get 18 of them right — that’s 6 days a week, for example — and you’re way ahead of the curve.  Get 15 of them right and you’re doing a great job.  So that means if you defy the autoapotheosizing First Lady and eat a fucking Egg McMuffin every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning — oh my fucking god you’re doing a great job!  Don’t stop!

Michelle Obama wants to shame you into hating your body and developing an eating disorder because even winning a fucking Olympic gold medal is insufficient justification — in her hateful perverse narrow orthorexic mind — for eating a single meal you might oh my god enjoy.  As you can tell that attitude makes me very fucking angry.  The hell with her.  Eat great six days this week and eat whatever the fuck you want thrice or more after your lifting.  And if you do, why not join me in five or six too many beers?  If you know enough about alcohol metabolism you won’t fear getting lucking foaded… and it’s in a good cause, because fuck the peddlers of orthorexia!

(Hey, wait a minute… “Peddlers of Orthorexia” would be a great name for a band.)

08
Aug
12

A pair of tidbits on public transit

Because fuck my commute right in its furry little ear.

——

Rush-hour public transit is a special hell for introverts because it puts us unavoidably in close contact with other Hated Fellow Bipeds.  Some of those fellow travellers place a quite unreasonable emphasis upon “being sociable” or “friendliness”, which brings with it the need for those of us who don’t want to help you talk about your day to post the nonverbal equivalent of “please die in a crotch fire” without being so offensive as to draw even more attention.  Yale University sociologist Esther Kim actually managed to get published for documenting said FOAD signals:

Kim systematized the unspoken rules into a list of strategies commonly used to keep a free seat:

  • Avoid eye contact.
  • Lean against the window and stretch out your legs.
  • Sit on the aisle seat and listen to music to pretend not to hear people asking for the window seat.
  • Place a large bag or multiple items in the empty seat to make it time-consuming to move.
  • Look out the window with a blank stare to appear crazy.
  • Pretend to be asleep.
  • Put your coat on the seat to make it appear already taken.
  • If all else fails, lie: Say the seat has been taken by someone else.

Good thing someone published that list in a high-impact factor journal or I would never have guessed that those tactics weren’t utterly sincere.

But “keep a free seat” isn’t the only motivation driving transit asshattery, and if you’ve ever actually commuted by bus you can probably guess what comes next:

The game changed, however, when drivers announced a bus would be full. Riders just wanted to avoid the “crazy” person and sit next to a “normal” person.

Kim found that race, class and gender weren’t key concerns when commuters realized someone had to sit next them. They were primarily concerned with maintaining their own safety.

Shockingly, people really don’t want to get assaulted.  Yeah, I’m surprised too.  This is my surprised face.

“Ultimately this nonsocial behavior is due to the many frustrations of sharing a small public space together for a lengthy amount of time,” Kim said in the release. “Yet this deliberate disengagement is a calculated social action, which is part of a wider culture of social isolation in public spaces.”

Surprised.  Face.

——

We go from explaining asshattery on behalf of bus riders to explaining asshattery on behalf of bus-system-running freeriders.  Careful readers will recall Frances Woolley’s excellent piece on the conflicting goals of public transit systems: Getting poor people to work cheaply; getting rich people to work with a (we hope) reduced carbon footprint; and providing good jobs for unionized employees.  I submit that many — most? — public transit decisions are being made for a fourth reason: Accruing status to the system’s directors.

For example, greater Vancouver’s transit administration is running dangerously low on funds, to the point where it’s dipping into its cash reserves (bloated by some admirably canny real-estate deals during the recent boom) to cover operating expenses.  It has consequently cancelled a number of planned improvements and expansions to its commuter bus routes.  The decades-old Evergreen Line project, however, is pressing forward regardless — a stunning piece of triumphalism which just happens to parallel a major bus route in subsuburban Vancouver.  Were this about moving more people from Point A to Point B, it would surely suffice to (say) double the number of buses on that route, at lower cost and with greater flexibility.  This isn’t about making people’s commutes easier, though: it’s about self-satisfied triumphalism rising on brutalist concrete columns above the stuck-in-traffic masses.  Who cares if it bankrupts Translink?  They can just blame the provincial and municipal governments for not wanting to raise taxes in an election year.

 

01
Aug
12

Happy birthday to me

So I’m sitting back, eating steak, drinking bourbon, and skimming my RSS feed for easy topics to blog about when I hear a–

*knock, knock, knock*

–on my door.

I get up from Jason Kuznicki’s intro guest post at The Agitator and look through the peephole, only to cast my eyes upon a rather corpulent individual in a Mk. 1 mod 0 standard-issue Toronto grey flannel suit.  White shirt.  Red tie.

“Who is it, please.”  Not a question.  In American that translates to “fuck off I’m armed”, but I’m (sometimes regrettably) possessed of a very Canadian politeness.

“It’s the Government of Canada” comes the reply.  “Can I come in?”

Second look through the peephole.  Big as this guy is, he’s not big enough to be the whole .gc.ca by a long shot.  Oh, now that makes sense — it’s just the majority party.  None of the Loyal Opposition, certainly this fellow isn’t carrying any of the bureaucracy around his beltline or he wouldn’t fit in the building.  Either way, not a welcome houseguest.

“You have the wrong apartment,” I answer.  Think for a second about what I’ve been reading on the internet.  “And I don’t have any dogs.”

“Mr. Bluntobject?  I brought you something.  For your birthday, I mean.  Can we just talk?”

Oh, christ.  I open the door.

There he is, grinning like an imbecile and wearing a sweatervest under the suit coat.  Looking very pleased with himself.  And proffering an envelope made of gaudy wrapping paper.

“It’s your birthday, so I got you something nice.”  He waggles the envelope.  “Go on, take it!  Open it!”

I hook my thumbs into my pockets, cock my head to one side.  “That’s not an order of rendition to Syria, by chance?”

Government looks puzzled, and very sincere all of a sudden.  “Huh?  Aren’t you white?”

“Last I checked, yeah.”

“Then you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.”

I raise an eyebrow.  “Just like Ian Bush?”

Government gets impatient.  “What, are you one of those G20 anarchists or something?”

“Not just yet, no.”

A vein throbs on his forehead.  “Look, in the past, mistakes were made.  By somebody — you know, shit happens, right?  Anyway, I got you this because I think you’ll like it, it’s not violent at all, just open it and have a look, okay?  It’s a new piece of legislation that just took effect today and I think you’ll be really pleased.”

Canadian politeness.  I take the envelope and tear it open.  And gasp–

“You really did it.”

Government beams.  “Yep!  We got rid of the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopsony on wheat and barley.  I knew you’d like it!”

Okay, I admit it, I’m impressed.  “I didn’t expect you to know what ‘monopsony’ even means.”

Government shrugs.  “I don’t.  Eric Crampton told me to say it.”

Well, close enough.

“I have to say, I’m really impressed.  Well done, sir.”  And, so help me, I hold out my hand.  He grabs it and shakes it vigorously with both of his.

Government grins toothily, an enthusiastic light growing in his widening eyes.  “And with the economic growth this’ll generate across the prairies, we’ll be able to afford to build dozens of new prisons for our–“

*slam*

Well, it was nice while it lasted.

19
Jul
12

All linky, no thinky: Special edition on Reason magazine

So far, blogging seems to be the biggest casualty of my new job.  In any case I’ve accumulated a ton of open tabs, and rather than try to string them together into an intelligible post I’m just going to vomit them forth into WordPress, with a bit of snark and little else in the way of added value.  This one’s all from Reason‘s Hit & Run blog.

——

First we have a lulzily indignant paean to category error:

(h/t Reason, ofc.)

The author of this ironically sincere piece — we’re well into the realm of metacommentary here — is up in arms over the fact that some of her friends might be conservatives (or libertarians; she’s a bit confused on the distinction).  Brian Doherty has a lot to say, and most if it is witty and incisive and includes anecdotes like this:

And I distinctly remember a marketing person at ZDNet, who was trying to organize a debate over Internet regulation, screaming in frustration across the office, “Goddamnit. Is anybody here NOT a libertarian?”

But what I get most strongly out of the Phoenix piece, which Doherty doesn’t mention, is that its author is mostly just frustrated with the realization that libertarians — and even conservatives — are people too, not just abstract and easily-despised Others.  They might even be people with whom she’s friends – or worse, people who buy the same clothes she does.  How horrifying!

(Full disclosure: I’m a vociferous anarchocapitalist and I wear Naked & Famous jeans to work.  Finding hipster jeans that will accommodate legs with muscle on them is a bit of a challenge; fortunately, raw denim stretches.)

——

I hear someone recently gave a speech that sounded a bit like this:

If you have a mosque in Tennessee, somebody along the line gave you a hard time until you paid them off. There was a xenophobic zoning official somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to swim in an ocean of paperwork. Somebody invested in roads and bridges, and used that investment to stonewall you. If you’ve got a mosque — you didn’t build that. Somebody else could have made that happen, but didn’t.

I might’ve gotten a few of the words mixed up, but the intent’s basically there, right?  Government’s inextricably entwined in major struggles and accomplishments, invested in every step of the way — including the three steps back after two steps forward.  If government wants to step up and take credit for the successes of new businesses great and small, it’s also going to have to step up and take the blame for xenophobic disgraces like this one:

——

Next we discover that Jesse Walker — and Alex Pareene — dislike Aaron Sorkin as much as I do:

Pareene:

He’s a smug, condescending know-it-all who isn’t as smart as he thinks he is. His feints toward open-mindedness are transparently phony, he mistakes his opinion for common sense, and he’s preachy. Sorkin has spent years fueling the delusional self-regard of well-educated liberals. He might be more responsible than anyone else for the anti-democratic “everyone would agree with us if they weren’t all so stupid” attitude of the contemporary progressive movement.

Bang.  On.  (There’s more.  Click through and RTWT.)

Sorkin’s worship of the Great Man theory reminds me of the sort of person who admires Robespierre and Stalin — but, carefully, only in the abstract, because those purges are kind of awkward.

——

You know those late-’80s dystopias in which prisoners are subjected to horrible experimental medical experiments?  (Okay, okay, this theme far predates the ’80s but I’m thinking of Skinny Puppy albums.)  Well, imagine a world in which we replace the destitute and disadvantaged with the extremely rich.  After all, those plutocratic fuckers need to “pay their fair share”, right?  Wouldn’t it be great if they helped advance the cause of medical science and maybe scouted out some horrifying side effects the way that douchenozzle in the red Camaro scouts out traffic cops?  Why, progressives would be ecstatic — and not because they’re at all resentful of the successes of others, no sir, it’s just because they only hear noises that might save babies.

Spoiler warning: We actually live in that world.  And of course bioethicists are complaining.

Naturally.  Someone comes up with a new cancer treatment, and the first thing a bioethicist says is “That’s horrible!”

——

Turns out that Jimmy Carter is racist.

——

Finally, you know how people are constantly talking about Canada and Sweden as if they’re basically the Soviet Union with the hammers and sickles filed off (and wonderfully successful, therefore socialism works)?  Yeah, not so much.  Sweden’s been massively privatizing and deregulating its public sector, and Canada’s been deficit-hawkish and growth-focused for quite some time now.  Great comparison, bass-ackwards conclusion.

——

Maybe this weekend I’ll clear up the tagged articles from my economics RSS feed.

10
Jul
12

Kids these days

Being a glib economic dilettante, I’m fantastically underwhelmed by arguments that a large cohort of people are behaving against their best interests.  Demonstrated preference is a pretty blunt, uh, instrument, but as a ballpark approximation it seems to do pretty well when n is large.  So when I get a link to Time magazine asking

and claiming that kids these days are voting against their best interests, I’m skeptical.

On the other hand, I love a good generational warfare rant, particularly one that pegs my confirmation bias and concludes that

Americans over the age of 55 who are able to retire under old-fashioned defined-benefit pension plans and who can look forward to keeping their full Social Security benefits should heartily salute the younger generation for their extraordinary generosity.

Generosity, hell.  Nobody asked me if, pretty please out of the goodness of my own heart, I’d underwrite the extraordinarily optimistic entitlements and expenditures being lavished upon the old by my governments.  Some of that “generosity” was extracted under threat of violence, and I suspect the vast majority was simply put on my tab by mendacious asshats who insist that debt doesn’t matter all that much.  Cover that with generous amounts of lube and shove it right up your quivering chocolate starfish.

*ahem*

Here, courtesy of Time‘s fact-checker — take it with a pinch of salt, and inspect that salt for dumbworm eggs before you do — are some numbers to back that up:

When it comes to government finances, the facts are as well known as they are stark. The federal government spends more than seven times as much on someone 65 or older as it does on a child. Even after you include state and local spending on public schools, total spending per person on children is less than half that for the elderly. Over the past decade, the number of children in poverty has soared, and over the rest of this decade, spending on children will shrink by a fifth (as a percentage of total federal spending), while spending on the elderly will swell even more. On the current path, in 25 years Social Security, health-care and interest on accumulated debt would consume all Federal government revenue, according to the latest Congressional Budget Office projections. As a percentage of GDP, all other Federal spending would fall by at least 15%.

[...]

Current policies will continue to shift resources from the young to the old. Moreover, these policies are ultimately unsustainable, so that when today’s young people retire, they will not be able to count on full benefits. Without a change in policy, in 40 years Social Security will only be able to pay three-quarters of the payouts that have been promised. The gap cannot be closed by tax increases alone without sizable spending cuts.

(Links in original, mind the dumbworms.)

So why aren’t all post-Boomers deficit hawks?  Maybe it has to do with the fact that most of the continent’s loudest hawkers of deficit hawkishness are movement conservatives, which means that signing on to deficit reduction also means signing on with school prayer, “teaching the controversy” of evolution, ever-escalating Wars On Drugs and Terror, virulent opposition to contraception and gay marriage, and stridently-proclaimed anti-foreign bias.  Party politics is a package deal; you can’t pick and choose.

(It’s flat false that movement conservatives are the only ones opposing gay rights, free trade, relaxed immigration, drug-law relaxation, and police demilitarization.  The centre-left — whatever that means on your side of the 49th — has made a core competency of promising de-escalation and then cranking down on the thumbscrews “more in sorrow than in anger”, although their base does manage to police them on a single issue — see for example DADT — about once every other election.  Don’t try to argue about factis with me in the comments, this is all about verbis.)

Deficit hawkishness also tends to go hand in hand with plain old-fashioned hawkishness, and as the saying goes, old soldiers never die — young ones do.  Furthermore, threats to reinstate the draft pop up with irritating consistency, sort of like this one reported (and handily fisked) by David Henderson:

Ricke, as you might suspect, is the mendacious asshat rattling his goddamn sabre:

In late June, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the former commander of international forces in Afghanistan, called for reinstating the draft. “I think if a nation goes to war, every town, every city needs to be at risk,” he said at the Aspen Ideas Festival. “You make that decision and everybody has skin in the game.”

This was the first time in recent years that a high-profile officer has broken ranks to argue that the all-volunteer force is not necessarily good for the country or the military. Unlike Europeans, Americans still seem determined to maintain a serious military force, so we need to think about how to pay for it and staff it by creating a draft that is better and more equitable than the Vietnam-era conscription system.

Permit me first to direct your attention to that airily thrown-in aside — “so we need to think about how to pay for it”.  Go on, cupcake, find me a way where “paying for it” doesn’t land squarely on the shoulders of the post-Boomers.  Even if we were somehow to manage to create an “equitable draft” — this is my raised eyebrow of skepticism — in which every percentile had “skin in the game”, we’d be left with the dismal situation of everyone wanting an enormous and lavishly-equipped military.  How the trembling fuck would we be able to pay for that and blithely continue handing out Social Security to every bluehair with an entitlement complex?  Spoiler warning: We wouldn’t, but it’d take a lot more public debt for the bond markets to convince us of that fact.

Anyway, this is mostly a generational-warfare post, so I’ll briefly excerpt Henderson’s fisking (though it’s really good and you should RTWT — and don’t stop before you get through at least the first half of the comment thread, there’s good stuff to be found there!):

Finally, although Ricks doesn’t say it in the op/ed (although he comes close in the last paragraph), I think Ricks’s argument, and McChrystal’s, is essentially that when the rich and powerful have their kids drafted, they’ll suddenly start paying critical attention to foreign policy. I used to accept this argument. That didn’t make me favor the draft because I always thought it was profoundly unfair–even uncivilized–to put millions of innocent people in involuntary servitude so that their parents would become politically active.

(Emphasis added.)

We’ll call that idea a “nudge”, shall we?  Soft paternalism?  After all, the state isn’t forcing the parents of draftees to become politically active, only giving them some extra incentive to do so.  Something tells me the Pigou Club would not approve.

Finally, some of you are squirming back and forth in your seats, waiting for me to get to the end of this post so you can mention a certain politician’s name in the comments.  (I can see you from here!)  Don’t worry, guys, I got your back: Ron Fucking Paul.  Hawkish on the deficit and doveish on most everything else — and funnily enough he’s rather popular with the young’uns.  Pity he went anti-gay in the Iowa caucuses and horrendously mishandled the racist-newsletters debacle.

27
Jun
12

It’s good to be the incumbent

Andrew Sullivan links to Leo Linbeck:

Money can’t buy love, but it can buy power: in November 2010, Congress had an approval rating of just 17 percent, while the re-election rate in the House was 86 percent. This disconnect between approval and re-election rates is the clearest sign that the congressional accountability system is broken. …  With larger districts, primary elections, the greater influence of money, and a series of reforms that discouraged challengers, House members were freed from the accountability system that had held them in check.

Whence comes that money?  Why, from you and I, dear fellow taxpayer.  The federal budget is, in a lot of ways, merely a giant campaign slush fund for incumbents.

Today the House is a spending machine—it spends $10 billion each day and more than 25 percent of GDP.

(Actually, a lot of it comes from the future generations who’ll have to pay higher taxes and receive fewer services in order to finance increasingly-onerous debt service payments.  But they can’t vote yet.)

This is, pretty much down to the letter, why I’m not particularly fussed about the still mostly hypothetical “money buys power” implications of Citizens United.  Incumbents effectively already have a staggeringly vast money advantage.  When the Super PACs start spending ten billion dollars a day — heck, let’s drop that down to a hundred million dollars a day, one cent for every dollar Congress spends — I might start to take notice.  Until then, I’ll just shake my head at the folks who play Chicken Little whenever a concerned and engaged citizen drops the equivalent of a 2006 mortgage into the marketplace of ideas but don’t flinch a millimetre when high-powered Senators extort protection money from private companies for the outrageous insult of minding their own business and trying to avoid playing the Washington money game.

14
Jun
12

In which I defend Jonathan Chait from David Frum

…ew.

So a few days ago, Sally Quinn wrote a somewhat tone-deaf article bemoaning the fact that she doesn’t get invited to high-powered dinner parties with Big Powerful Senators any more, for which she’s been roundly derided.  Jonathan Chait more recently piled on with, among other cutting remarks, this incisive comment on the good ol’ days:

When assessing Quinn’s sense of the Lost Eden of Washington, we should also have a firmer sense of what the culture was actually like. Here is one scene from Quinn’s inculcation into the Washington elite:

Washington writer Sally Quinn told of a 1950s reception where: “My mother and I headed for the buffet table. As we were reaching for the shrimp, both of us jumped and let out a shriek. Senator Strom Thurmond, grinning from ear to ear, had one hand on my behind and the other on my mother’s. As I recall, we were both quite flattered, and thought it terribly funny and wicked of Ol’ Strom.”

Once Washington was a happy place where a girl and her mother could be groped simultaneously in good fun by a white supremacist. Sadly, it has all been ruined by Kim Kardashian and Ezra Klein.

I have never been more thankful for Kim Kardashian and Ezra Klein.  (In fairness, I don’t think I’ve ever been thankful for either in the first place.)

David Frum clearly enjoyed reading Chait’s piece as much as I did, although he probably wasn’t as surprised to enjoy a Chait column as I was.  However, he sees something sinister in the shift of power from philandering racists to pajama-wearing bloggers:

Over half a human lifetime, Washington has shifted from a city whose status hierarchy was dominated by official rank to one whose status hierarchy is determined almost entirely by money. A US senator is a smaller deal in the Washington of 2012 than his or her predecessor of 1972; a visiting billionaire a much bigger deal. Not that the senator has sunk to zero; not that the billionaire would not have been important in 1972; but the ratios have changed—and changed really quite dramatically.  Sally Quinn may not be the most sympathetic observer of the trend, but she is surely one of the most authoritative. You don’t have to like her piece to hear her message.

Frum’s implication, contra Chait, is that this change is for the worse.  I call bullshit.

Taking Frum’s comparison of Senators to billionaires literally, we see that there are 100 American Senators and, according to Forbes, 1226 billionaires in the world (of which 424 are American).  In terms of power inequality, which do you think is worse?  We’re all about reducing cronyism and spreading out access to power, aren’t we?  Surely a world where power has devolved from its concentration in lifelong Senators to a more dilute community that includes bloggers and sex-tape celebrities is a better one by this metric.

Fractions, motherfucker: Do you speak them?




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